Summer Covid wave hits UK as expert warns of Euro 2024 fuelling rise in infections

England fans during Euro 2024  (Adam Davy/PA Wire)
England fans during Euro 2024 (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

A “growing” summer wave of Covid-19 has hit the UK as experts suggest the European football tournament is fueling a rise in infections.

Epidemiology expert Professor Mark Woolhouse said the UK will see fluctuations in Covid levels – and that this pattern will continue over the coming decades.

The latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency show that as of 19 June infections were up by 33 per cent on the previous week. Hospital admissions saw a slight increase.

Mass testing for Covid-19 ended in 2023, meaning routine surveillance will not show the extent of infections in the community.

According to the UKHSA, Covid hospital admissions increased by 24 per cent in the week leading up to Sunday 23 June, with a rate of 3.31 per 100,000 people compared with 2.67 per 100,000 in the previous week.

The reports of a summer wave come as a new group of Covid mutations of “variants” has emerged, collectively referred to as FLiRT.

UKHSA said the term FLiRT was inspired by the names of the mutations in the genetic code of the variants, which descend from JN.1, with variant BA.2.86 as a parent.

According to the public health authority, three strings of the FLiRT variant – KP.1.1, KP.2 and KP.3 – were responsible for 40 per cent of all Covid cases in the UK in April.

Immunity to Covid-19 is partially waning (PA Archive)
Immunity to Covid-19 is partially waning (PA Archive)

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said: “The surveillance of Covid cases in the UK is far less intensive than it once was, so it is difficult to track the rise and fall of waves of infection, or to assess the severity of different variants, or to know how effective the vaccines are against them.

“Even so, there is a widespread impression of a growing 2024 summer wave, much as we saw in 2021 when – coincidently perhaps – there was also a Euros football tournament, and evidence that this contributed significantly to the spread of infection.”

The Euro 2020 tournament was delayed until 2021, and saw England fans in packed pubs watching their team reach the final, losing to Italy. Wembley Stadium was the venue for the final and semi-finals.

Prof Woolhouse said waves of Covid continue to be driven by new variants and “partial waning immunity to infection”.

“For now, we have to expect this pattern to continue,” he said. “Over the coming decades, we will shift to a situation where most people are exposed to Covid – possibly several times – when they are young.

“This will not cause a significant public health problem – healthy young people were never much affected by Covid – but it will result in a build-up of immunity that will make them much less vulnerable when they are elderly and frail.”

He said that “to all intents and purposes” Covid-19 will become just another common cold, adding: “We’re not there yet though.”