'Playing with fire': Warning as new COVID wave takes hold in UK

·3-min read
People, some wearing face masks to protect against Coronavirus, wait in line despite the bad weather at a walk-in Covid vaccination centre as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals rates of Covid-19 infection rocketed to record breaking highs of 4.9 million people last week on 30th March, 2022 in Manchester, United Kingdom. With universal free testing in England coming to an end as of April, the public will now need to turn to high street retailers if they want to purchase a Coronavirus testing kit. (photo by Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty Images)
The UK is experiencing a new wave of coronavirus. (Getty)

A leading health expert has warned the world is "playing with fire” as a new coronavirus wave takes hold in the UK.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, has urged governments to increase surveillance and ensure sequencing is taking place so experts can use the data to protect people.

She warned that "the world was dismantling systems needed to end the global emergency and fight the next one".

Her message was aimed at countries such as the UK which have decreased testing and removed restrictions after they moved into the “living with COVID” phase.

The UK is currently experiencing a resurgence of the virus, with COVID cases up in all four nations. The increase is being by the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

Read more: Do I have Covid or hay fever? The confusion that’s contributing to surge in cases

COVID-19 Self-Test.
The UK has stopped testing widely for COVID. (Getty)

“We’re really playing with fire here. We know that there’s large amounts of circulation around the world," Dr Kerkhove said during a virtual press briefing.

“We know that there are differences by country of what variant is circulating where.”

Dr Kerkhove also warned that “we are not yet living with COVID-19 responsibly, not even close.”

She said people were still dying unnecessarily, millions were infected each week, billions were not fully vaccinated and lives and livelihoods were suffering.

What about the UK?

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in England and Wales is continuing to show signs of a rise, though levels remain well below the peaks reached in previous waves of the virus.

Some 5,726 patients in England had the virus on 20 June, up 24% on the previous week, government figures show.

In Wales, 295 patients were recorded on June 17, the latest date available, up 20%.

Hospital numbers in both nations had previously been on a steady downwards trend since early April, following the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave of infections.

Read more: Omicron variant 'less likely to cause long Covid'

WHO Technical lead head COVID-19 Maria Van Kerkhove attends a news conference organized by Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland July 3, 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via REUTERS
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove has urged governments to increase surveillance. (Reuters)

The virus is estimated to be most prevalent in Scotland, where 176,900 people were likely to have tested positive in the week ending 10 June, or one in 30, up from 124,100, or one in 40, according to ONS figures.

Northern Ireland has seen COVID-19 infections jump to an estimated 42,900 people, or one in 45, up from 27,700, or one in 65.

Kit Yates, a mathematical biologist at the University of Bath and a member of Independent Sage, told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus that the UK was "undoubtedly" in a new wave.

He warned on Tuesday: “There’s no reason to believe that this won’t be the pattern that we live with. Still [despite warm weather] we’re seeing rises in cases and rises in hospitalisations. This is the foreseeable future for covid unless we do something differently”

“Most people are 6 months out [or more] from their booster now and their own immunity is waning, so we need to look at boosting people’s immunity in the autumn.

"What is going to stop this happening over and over again?

"By removing measures (e.g testing, mask-wearing, self-isolation etc) to reduce COVID and failing to implement others (ventillation etc) we are failing people - often the most vulnerable people - in our society."