A new autumn wave of coronavirus has seen the number of patients in hospital with the virus hit the highest level since August, the latest NHS data suggests.
Figures show 7,024 people were in hospital with coronavirus in England as of 8am on 28 September.
This is up 37% from 5,142 the previous week – and is the highest number seen since 19 August.
With universal free testing wound down at the beginning of this year, health officials rely mainly on hospital data and the weekly ONS infection survey to understand how COVID is spreading.
The latest NHS figures, which are published every Thursday, show an upward trend in hospital admissions across all regions, with the South West at the same level as it was amid the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 subvariant wave in July.
The most recent ONS data also shows an increase in positive cases outside hospital and care home settings in England, with 766,500 people infected in the week to 14 September.
That is around one in 70 – up from one in 75 the week before.
According to the ZOE Health Study, which asks people to log their symptoms on a smartphone app, that number is higher – with an average of one in 32 people suffering symptomatic COVID across the UK this week.
Impact of hospitalisations could be higher
Its founder, Professor Tim Spector said: “It’s clear we’re now seeing an autumn wave of COVID-19, combined with increases in hospital admissions.
“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.”
Everyone over 65 and those in vulnerable groups are currently eligible for a ‘bivalent’ booster vaccine, which protects against the original Wuhan strain and the Omicron variant.
Eventually this will be rolled out to everyone over 50.
NHS officials have warned of a “twindemic” of flu and COVID infections this winter.
During its winter period earlier this year, Australia suffered a surge in H3N2 variant flu infections – the same one that caused around 20,000 deaths and 40,000 hospital admissions during the 2017/2018 flu season in the UK.
Flu circulated far less widely during the height of the coronavirus pandemic as people’s immune systems were heightened and vulnerable groups did not mix.