UK

COVID-19 infections in the UK have climbed to their highest level since the beginning of the year, final official estimates of the prevalence of the virus have revealed.

While the trend is uncertain in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are signs the virus is continuing to spread.

It marks the last time that regular estimates of COVID-19 are being published, as the long-running infection survey – dubbed “the envy of the world” due to its success in tracking the virus, has been halted.

The UK Health Security Agency said that any further monitoring of the virus will be announced after a review to ensure it is “cost-effective”.

The data showed that in the week ending 13 March, an estimated 1.5 million people in private households in England were likely to have had coronavirus.

It is the highest total of COVID cases in England since the week to 3 January, when the total stood at around 2.2 million.

Due to a low number of samples received by the ONS there is greater uncertainty in the latest figures for Scotland and Wales, while too few samples were returned in Northern Ireland to produce a new estimate.

Around 136,200 people in Scotland were likely to have the virus in the week to 13 March, or around one in 40, compared with 105,100 or one in 50 the week before.

For Wales, the latest estimate is 74,500 COVID cases, or one in 40, compared with 68,200 or one in 45 the week prior.

Michelle Bowen, ONS head of health surveillance dissemination, said: “This week’s data show infections are rising in England; however, the trend is uncertain across the rest of the UK.

“In England, positivity increased in children and those aged 50 and over.

“The North West, East Midlands and South East of England all saw infections increase, though the trend is uncertain in all other regions.”

The infection survey has run for nearly three years, providing valuable weekly data on levels of the virus across the UK, allowing successive waves to be identified and tracked.

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It has also provided vital information on the emergence of new variants, antibody levels and long COVID.

Sir David Spiegelhalter, emeritus professor of statistics at Cambridge University and chairman of the advisory board for the survey, told the PA news agency it had been an “extraordinary achievement” which has provided “vital evidence of great value both to national policy and international scientific understanding”.

He continued: “There is a general consensus that the survey has been a world-leading demonstration of how health surveillance can best be done. It is expensive, and this has led to it being paused, but the participant group is not being disbanded and a survey should be able to ramp up when necessary.

“Meanwhile there are important lessons to be learned for future emergencies, both by us and every other country. The survey has been the envy of the world and is a jewel in the crown of UK science.”

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