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Covid levels starting to fall in UK, says ONS

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The number of people in the UK infected with coronavirus is falling, says the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

About 4.4 million people had the virus in their body in the week up to 9 April, down from nearly 4.9 million the week before.

That's about one in 15 people testing positive for the virus.

The study, which uses its own testing, gives the clearest indication of the virus's spread since free testing ended in England.

It tests thousands of people at random – whether or not they have symptoms – to estimate how much virus there is in the country.

The number infected still remains very high, despite the 10% drop recorded by the ONS.

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The BA.2 form of the Omicron variant helped push up the number infected with the virus to record levels in recent weeks, and is only now starting to decline.

Sarah Crofts, from the ONS, said: "Across most parts of the UK, infections have thankfully begun to decrease.

"It is too early to say if we have passed the peak of infections, and infections overall remain high."

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In the week leading up to 9 April, the ONS estimates:

  • One in 14 people in England had coronavirus, about 6.9% of the population – down from 7.6% last week
  • One in 13 people in Wales had coronavirus, about 7.6% – the same as last week
  • One in 19 people in Northern Ireland had coronavirus, about 5.2% – down from 6.2% last week
  • One in 17 people in Scotland had coronavirus, about 6% – down from 7.5% last week

Rates of Covid are falling in most of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. They seem to have plateaued in Wales, but are still climbing in north-east England, which now has the highest rates in any part of the UK.

The overall drop will be a welcome development as the NHS is under intense pressure.

The success of vaccines has helped prevent the NHS from being completely overwhelmed with Covid patients. However, the sheer volume of people infected – including NHS staff – is adding to the pressure on the health service.

A record 6.2 million people are waiting for routine NHS treatment. A&E is heaving, with only 71% of patients seen, treated and then admitted or discharged in under four hours, compared with 87% in March 2019 – before the pandemic began.

  • NHS faces an Easter 'as bad as any winter'

However, the number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid across the UK is starting to fall. The figures had risen from about 1,100 a day in mid-February to nearly 2,400 by the end of March. It has since dropped to about 2,250 a day.

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