The increase in admissions has yet to be linked definitively to the new Omicron variant, with other factors such as increased social interactions also potentially contributing to the rise.
News reporter @luciabinding
Thursday 31 August 2023 21:00, UK
The number of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in England has reached its highest rate in three months.
There were 3.4 admissions per 100,000 people in the week leading up to 27 August, which remained unchanged from the previous seven days and marked the highest rate since mid-May, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The highest admission rates concern people aged 85 and older, at 34.2 per 100,000, followed by the 75 to 84 age group, at 17.7.
The overall number is up on the rates recorded in July. However, it remains significantly below those witnessed in spring 2023 (10.5 per 100,000) and during Christmas 2022 (11.8 per 100,000).
It is too early to determine if the recent increase in admissions is directly linked to the emergence of the new Omicron variant (BA.2.86) of the virus, which was first identified in the UK on 18 August.
Other factors, such as increased social interactions in households or at large indoor venues, may have contributed to this rise.
Although the BA.2.86 strain has not yet been classified as a variant of concern, it is believed to possess a substantial number of mutations and has been detected in multiple countries among individuals without a travel history.
The UKHSA data suggests several Omicron subvariants of COVID-19 are currently circulating in the UK, with XBB.1.16 likely being the most prevalent.
As a precautionary measure against the BA.2.86 variant, the government yesterday announced the earlier rollout of the latest COVID vaccine booster.
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Originally scheduled for October, the booster programme will now begin in England on 11 September.
Jabs will be initially offered to residents of adult care homes and clinically vulnerable individuals, followed by the expansion of eligibility to everyone aged 65 and above across the UK.
Dr Mary Ramsay, UKHSA head of immunisation, said: “Over the last two weeks we have seen an increase in some COVID-19 indicators. This includes hospital admissions and ICU admissions, but these have all stabilised over the last week.
“While case rates have continued to rise, rates remain low overall, and we will continue to monitor them closely.”
In terms of tracking the spread of the virus, the lack of official estimates for COVID-19 prevalence among the UK population, as well as the significant reduction in testing capacity, particularly within the NHS, means that comprehensive and reliable data is limited.
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Dame Jenny Harries, UKHSA chief executive, said there was “limited information available at present” about the new variant, meaning its potential impact was difficult to estimate.
“As with all emergent and circulating COVID-19 variants – both in the UK and internationally – we will continue to monitor BA.2.86 and to advise government and the public as we learn more. In the meantime, please come forward for the vaccine when you are called,” she added.