A WHO official has warned the world is “playing with fire” as a new coronavirus wave took hold in the UK.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on COVID-19, urged governments to increase surveillance and ensure sequencing was taking place so experts could use the data to protect people.
She previously 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.
COVID cases have risen in all four nations in the UK, with the increase likely to be driven by the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.
“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 has warned “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.
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.
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 we were in a new wave.
He said: “In the UK we’re undoubtedly now in a new wave. It’s the third wave we’ve experienced in the UK in the last six months.
“The last ONS infections survey…shows we’re seeing rises in cases across every region of England and every age group.”