Covid-19 infections in England and Wales are continuing to increase, new figures show.
The rise means the total number of infections in the UK has also gone up, though the trend in Scotland and Northern Ireland is unclear.
Some 1.1 million people in private households across the UK are likely to have tested positive for coronavirus in the latest survey, which covers the seven days to September 17 in England and the week to September 20 in the other three nations, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is a rise of 14% from 927,900 in the previous survey, which covered the week to September 13/14.
It is the first time the UK-wide total has been above one million since late August, though it is still some way below the 3.8 million weekly infections in early July at the peak of the wave caused by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the virus.
The figures come as the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is also continuing to rise.
Sarah Crofts, ONS deputy director for the Covid-19 infection survey, said it is “too early to identify whether this is the start of a new wave”.
But Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of the Zoe Health Study which is based on coronavirus symptoms reported by volunteers across the country, said on Thursday it was “clear we’re now seeing an autumn wave of Covid-19, combined with increases in hospital admissions”.
In England, the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the week to September 17 was 857,400, or around one in 65 – up from 766,500, or one in 70, in the seven days to September 14.
Wales has also seen a rise, where the latest estimate for infections is 62,900, or one in 50 people, up from 39,700, or one in 75.
In both Scotland and Northern Ireland the trend is described by the ONS as “uncertain”.
In Scotland, 117,100 people were likely to have had Covid-19 in the latest survey, or around one in 45, compared with 98,800 or one in 55 in the previous week.
And in Northern Ireland, the estimate is 23,100, or one in 80 people, compared with 22,900, also one in 80.
The percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus has risen in all regions of England except the East Midlands, North East and South West, where the trend in the most recent week was uncertain.
All age groups in England are estimated to have seen an increase.
Infection rates are highest among over-70s, where 1.7% of people were likely to test positive in the most recent week, or around one in 60.
Rates are lowest among young children between the age of two and school Year 6, at 1.2% – the equivalent of one in 85.
The ONS infection survey is the most reliable measure of the prevalence of coronavirus and is based on a sample of swab tests from households across the UK.
Separate figures from the NHS show the number of people in hospital in England with Covid-19 stood at 7,024 on September 28, up 37% week-on-week.
Patient numbers topped 14,000 in mid-July at the peak of the BA.4/5 wave, after which they started to fall steadily.
This decline came to a halt in mid-September, however.
The rate of Covid-19 hospital admissions is also increasing, with 7.6 admissions per 100,000 people in the week to September 25, up from 5.0 the previous week.
Rates are highest among people aged 85 and over, at 82 per 100,000.
This is up sharply from 49.4 and is the highest rate for this age group since mid-August.
In Scotland and Wales, patient levels are now on an upwards trend, while in Northern Ireland the latest available data shows numbers are still falling.
Around six in 10 patients who test positive for Covid-19 are being treated primarily for something else.
But they need to be isolated from patients who do not have Covid, putting extra pressure on hospital staff already struggling to clear a record backlog of treatment.
Professor Tim Spector of the Zoe study said: “With rates on the rise, especially in the vulnerable elderly age groups, the impact on hospitalisations could be higher.
“However, the youngest age group are showing possible early signs of case numbers slowing. Children tend to be a leader of infection trends, so if this continues next week it is possible that the Covid wave might not be as bad as previously predicted.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said it was “clear now that we are seeing an increase” in levels of Covid-19.
“Cases have started to climb and hospitalisations are increasing in the oldest age groups. In the coming weeks, we expect a double threat of low immunity and widely circulating flu and Covid-19, creating an unpredictable winter and additional pressure on health services,” she added.
The number of people in hospital with coronavirus throughout 2022 has remained well below levels seen in 2020 and early 2021, before the rollout of vaccines.
More than a quarter (28%) of over-80s in England have now received an autumn booster dose of vaccine, along with a similar proportion (28.3%) of 75 to 79-year-olds.
The UKHSA figures, which cover vaccinations up to September 25, also show that 18.5% of 70 to 74-year-olds have had the booster, as well as 12.9% of people aged 65 to 69.
All people aged 65 and over in the UK are eligible for the booster, providing they had their last jab at least three months ago.
Doses are also available to frontline health and care workers, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
The booster is intended to increase protection against serious illness during the next waves of the virus and will eventually be offered to everyone aged 50 and over.
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