More than 70 coronavirus deaths were recorded across England and Wales in just a week, official figures show.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 74 people died due to the virus in the seven days to August 11.
It marks a 57.4 per cent increase on the previous week when just 47 Covid deaths were logged — signalling the biggest surge in virus fatalities this year.
Scientists today warned that the uptick in deaths could signal that a new variant is spreading.
They also called for a return of pandemic mitigation measures, including mask wearing, and increased ventilation because of the virus’ resurgence.
Office of National Statistics data released today shows there were 74 Covid deaths registered across the two countries in the week ending August 11. This was a 57 per cent rise on the 47 logged in the previous seven-day spell. But for comparison, this is just a fraction of January’s toll, when cases soared to pandemic highs and deaths peaked at 654
While the weekly surge in deaths is the biggest logged this year, the number dying due to the virus is still a fraction of the death toll earlier in the year.
For comparison, weekly deaths caused by the virus spiked at 654 in January.
These ONS figures only include fatalities when Covid was the main cause of death.
In the most recent week, there were 108 deaths involving the virus up 58.8 per cent from 68 one week earlier.
However, this toll includes cases where Covid or suspected Covid was mentioned on a person’s death certificate, including in combination with other health conditions.
Trends in Covid deaths lag two weeks behind infection levels, given how long it takes for the infected to become seriously ill.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, told MailOnline today the increase in Covid-related deaths could be ‘an early warning sign that new virus variants’ may be spreading.
He said: ‘This slight increase in Covid-related deaths is worrying. It may be an early warning sign that new virus variants could be spreading.
‘Reduced surveillance means we can’t be sure about the levels of infection.
‘Perhaps the biggest concern is seeing this increase in deaths at this time of year.
‘The hope is that this doesn’t represent the start of a new wave of infection.’
Brits are no longer testing en masse like they were earlier in the pandemic — with free community mass testing ending in May 2022.
But while officials no longer track the prevalence of the virus in the same way they used to, as part of the Government’s ushering in of pre-pandemic normalities, testing levels have remained stable over the past few months.
Around 5,000 lateral flow test results and 2,700 PCR readings have been uploaded per day in the last week.
Positive test results are reported by the minority of the public still eligible for a free Covid test or have taken a PCR swab — such as health and social care workers and some with underlying health conditions.
Professor Young added: ‘It stresses the need to keep an eye on Covid infections as we enter the autumn and winter.
Pirola’s arrival comes as Covid cases take off once again, sparking concerns that the UK is on the brink of another wave just as the country heads into the winter when the NHS is busiest. NHS hospital data shows daily Covid admissions in England have increased on average by almost a fifth in week, rising from a seven-day rolling average of 258 on August 4, to 308 on August 11
UK Health Security Agency statistics show that 589 out of 6,500 neighbourhoods in England had detected at least three Covid cases in the week to August 12. For comparison, just 58 areas had reached this threshold — given to protect the anonymity of patients sickened in tiny clusters — at the start of July. MailOnline analysis shows the figure has gradually increased week-on-week since then, hitting 270 on July 29 and 448 on August 5
‘With people returning to work and schools reopening after the summer break, we need to raise awareness of the risks of infection particularly for the most vulnerable.
‘The government should expedite the autumn vaccination campaign and extend this to people below the age of 65.
‘There should also be more public information alerting folk to the fact that Covid has not gone away and that other mitigations — face masks, increased ventilation — will be necessary over the coming months.’
The uptick in virus fatalities coincides with the arrival of Eris, known scientifically as EG.5.1, a variant which already makes up one in four new cases.
But experts are spooked by another strain, nicknamed Pirola, that is quickly spreading globally due to its catalogue of mutations.
The heavily-mutated Covid variant nicknamed Pirola was detected in Sweden and Canada yesterday, taking the total number of cases reported globally up to 24. The highly-evolved strain has already been spotted in Denmark, Israel, Portugal, South Africa and the USA, while wastewater samples in Thailand, Switzerland and the US have also tested positive for the strain, suggesting Pirola is in local circulation within those countries
Alarm bells were raised in the UK however on August 18 after genetic tests revealed a patient had the new strain BA.2.86, nicknamed Pirola.
It concerned officials as the unidentified patient, who tested positive while being treated in a London hospital, had not left the country so would not have contracted it abroad.
In a risk assessment published on the same day, the UKHSA team designated the strain as a ‘variant for the purposes of tracking and assessment’.
The heavily-mutated Covid variant dubbed the ‘real deal’ was detected in Sweden and Canada yesterday, taking the total number of cases reported globally up to 24.
The highly-evolved strain has already been spotted in Denmark, Israel, Portugal, South Africa and the USA, while wastewater samples in Thailand, Switzerland and the US have also tested positive for the strain, suggesting Pirola is in local circulation within those countries.
Experts have warned that the true scale of Pirola’s spread is unclear, as the scaling back of variant tracking capabilities across the globe mean it is difficult to spot new outbreaks early.
However others have cautioned it is far too early to panic. No evidence yet shows Pirola is any more of a threat than the dozens of strains that have come before it.
Latest Government statistics show Covid cases in England have almost doubled in a month, with 875 cases logged in the country on August 11, up from just 449 one month earlier.
Its seven-day rolling average also jumped from 373 on July 8 to 879, as of August 8.
The most recent UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data also revealed 589 out of 6,500 neighbourhoods in England had detected at least three Covid cases in the week to August 12.
But the toll of affected neighbourhoods is still a fraction of levels seen at the height of the pandemic.
Trust bosses fear Britain’s uptick, which shows no signs of slowing yet, jeopardise NHS efforts to tackle the record backlogs that built-up during the pandemic.
Surging cases can trigger a rise in staff absences and pile pressure on hospitals because infected patients still need to be isolated.
NHS figures suggest only a fraction of these patients are primarily ill with Covid, however, in another sign of how vaccines have changed the course of the pandemic.
Hospital admissions have slowly risen in recent weeks — with a seven-day rolling average of 320 recorded on August 18, up on the 308 logged on August 11.
There has however yet to be any noticeable uptick in intensive care admissions — bolstering the argument that sky-high immunity rates from vaccines and repeated waves have drastically blunted the threat of the virus, rendering it into something that resembles the flu.