More socialising, new Omicron strain and waning immunity driving rise in Covid cases, says health official

A lateral flow Covid-19 test. Photo:

A combination of more social contacts, a new strain of Omicron and waning immunity has caused the recent surge in Covid cases.

That is according to Dr Victoria Turner, public health consultant at North Yorkshire County Council, who described the current case numbers as “very high” and said the true figure is likely to be even greater because fewer people are getting tested.

North Yorkshire’s current weekly infection rate stands at 916 cases per 100,000 people – up from 303 at the start of March.

A breakdown of the numbers shows Selby has the highest rate at 1,015, followed by Harrogate at 997 and Ryedale at 950.

Dr Turner told a meeting of the North Yorkshire Outbreak Management Advisory Board on Friday that while there were some early signs that the rates were “flattening off” – three main factors were still driving cases up.

She said: “There has been a general behaviour change amongst the population. People are out and about more, and having more social contacts.

“There is also potentially a little bit of an effect of waning vaccines which are still holding strong in terms of preventing serious illness, but there is potentially some waning for those who had their booster doses first in terms of acquiring infection.”

Dr Turner also said the latest wave was being driven by the new strain of Omicron officially known as BA.2  – separating it from BA.1 which took hold in the UK in December.

The new strain is now responsible for almost nine in 10 cases in England.

Dr Turner added: “Although case rates are still increasing, the rate of increase is slowing down somewhat and we can just start to see a flattening off.

“We hope that means we will soon be approaching something of a plateau and then a decrease.”

The rise in cases has been followed by a rise in hospitalisations, with 364 Covid patients receiving treatment across North Yorkshire’s main hospitals as of last Thursday.

This included 152 patients in York, 71 in Scarborough and 30 in Harrogate.

Although hospitalisations are increasing, it doesn’t mean all those people have been admitted because of the Covid as many were taken in for different reasons before testing positive.

But Sue Peckitt, chief nurse at the NHS North Yorkshire Clinical Commissioning Group, told Friday’s meeting that the number of Covid patients was still causing “significant pressure” because of the need for special measures to stop the virus being passed onto vulnerable patients and staff.

She said the York and Scarborough hospitals were “particularly badly affected” by this problem.

Meanwhile, Ms Peckitt also set out the details of the spring booster programme which started last week with eligible groups including over-75s, care home residents and over-12s with conditions that suppress the immune system.

Eligible patients will be able to book their booster on the national booking service or by calling 119 once they have been contacted by the NHS.

Figures show almost 90% of people in North Yorkshire have had a first dose and 86% their second, while 73% have had a booster.

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