It’s been two weeks since almost remaining Covid measures were dropped in England, though restrictions continue in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Self-isolation requirements for those who tested positive for coronavirus ended in England on February 24, meaning people can effectively leave their homes while still infectious.
Mandatory face masks were also lifted but continue to be recommended in some enclosed spaces including public transport and healthcare settings.
Unfortunately, Covid cases are once again rising. In the past seven days, there have been 346,059 new cases reported, according to government data – that’s a rise of 109,725 cases (or 46.4%) week on week.
Covid hospital admissions are now up by 21% over the past week, as Alasdair McLellan, editor of the Health Services Journal, tweeted on Wednesday.
We asked public health experts about how the past fortnight might have impacted these figures.
Professor Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia says restrictions may have been lifted prematurely.
He tells HuffPost UK: “My view, which I expressed at the time of the prime minister’s initial announcement, was that it would have been better to wait until the end of March to lift these restrictions as respiratory viruses generally spread less readily in spring and summer than in autumn winter.”
So, why are we seeing a rise in Covid cases?
“Reported cases are indeed increasing again,” confirms Prof Hunter. “The main reason for this is that the sub lineage of Omicron has become dominant. But on top of that there may be some additional upward pressure on transmission as a result of the recent relaxation of rules.”
It will be five days or so before enough samples have been sequenced to get decent estimates, Prof Hunter adds, so is not yet possible to be certain by how much this has contributed, “But it’s likely to have had some impact,” he says.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, agrees more time is needed to assess the impact of relaxing rules.
If you create or allow conditions for the virus to spread, that is what it will do. It cannot simply be wished away.Dr Simon Clark, University of Reading
“This latest increase in infections could be because people are mixing more or because of a drop in population-wide immunity,” he tells HuffPost UK.
“Most likely, it’s a of bit of both, but at the moment nobody can say for sure. The ONS data will reveal this in time.”
Dr Clarke is not hopeful about the impact of lifting remaining restrictions in England. “There’s something of an inevitability to increasing infection numbers. Control measures were put in place to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, so removing them, by definition, creates an environment where transmission can occur more easily,” he says.
“If you create or allow conditions for the virus to spread, that is what it will do. It cannot simply be wished away.”
Should we be worried about rising cases?
As Dr Clarke explains: “Whether the UK sees the number of hospitalisations like we have seen previously and whether admissions result in a higher proportion of patients going to ICU remains to be seen, and it’s the latter that will be important as it’s something of a bottleneck for the NHS.”
There are reasons to be hopeful, he adds. “It shouldn’t be forgotten that our ability to treat serious infections is now much better than at any time and will continue to improve, but none of these are 100% successful.”
In the meantime, get jabbed and boosted, wear your masks where you can, and test if you have reason to think you may have Covid.