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Analysis

We could be heading into a summer surge of COVID

This might be a short-lived blip in the numbers, perhaps contained to a degree by the sunshine. Or there could be another significant spike, as we have seen from the Omicron family before.

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It looks likely that we are heading into a summer surge of COVID.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics show the number of people with the disease has increased by 43% in a week.

And even that probably doesn't fully capture what is going on at the moment.

There is a lag in the ONS numbers - the people it found to be infected in the week up to 9 June actually picked up the virus a week or two earlier.

If you look at the hospital data on the COVID dashboard it shows a consistent rise in people coming into hospital with COVID since the start of June.

Most of those will be people testing positive as they come through the door to be treated for other medical conditions.

In other words, the rise in admissions is reflecting increasing COVID rates in the community.

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Scientists had predicted this would happen, pointing to the ongoing tug-of-war between the virus and our immunity.

The effect of the winter booster dose is waning

For a while now our immune systems have had the upper hand.

But the effect of the winter booster dose is waning. The UK Health Security Agency says protection against symptomatic Omicron disease is now negligible.

At the same time there are two even more infectious members of the Omicron family, BA.4 and BA.5.

They were behind a recent rise in cases in South Africa and they are now spreading here.

The Jubilee crowds may have given them an opportunity to spread. Even if most events were outside, many people will have travelled on public transport. And masks are rarely worn these days.

What happens next is hard to predict.

Short-lived blip or significant spike?

This might be a short-lived blip in the numbers, perhaps contained to a degree by the sunshine. Or there could be another significant spike, as we have seen from the Omicron family before.

That may not mean a steep rise in serious infections. Protection against hospitalisation still holds up well several months after the winter booster.

And around three-quarters of the most vulnerable over-75s have come forward for the spring dose of the vaccine.

But even a rise in less serious infections could have a significant impact on the economy.

Many businesses - not least airlines and the hospitality sector - are already struggling to find staff to meet customer demand.

The last thing they need is another surge in COVID increasing the number off sick.