he UK recorded 69,811 daily Covid-19 cases on Friday – the lowest number since March 9.
The tally is nearly 8,000 fewer than Thursday’s figure and 5,000 down on last Friday’s in a possible sign that the recent surge in infections has peaked.
Meanwhile another 191 Covid deaths have been recorded, brining the UK’s official pandemic death toll to 165,570.
Like the recent rise in cases, the recent steady increase in the number of patients in hospital with the virus could also now be levelling off.
According to the latest update, there were 19,575 patients in hospital with the virus, an increase of just 23 on the previous day. The number has increased by just 384 since March 28.
Covid infection levels have hit a record high in the UK, as free Covid-19 testing for millions in England comes to an end.
Some 4.9 million people in the UK are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week ending March 26, up from 4.3 million in the previous week, the Office for National Statistics said.
The ONS data shows one in 13 people in England are estimated to have had Covid during that week, up from one in 16 the week before, and in Wales the figure is one in 14 people, up from one in 16 the week before. Both are record highs.
From Friday, people in England need to turn to the high street for tests if they want them.
Kara Steel, senior statistician for the ONS Covid-19 infection survey, said: “Infection levels remain high, with the highest levels recorded in our survey seen in England and Wales and notable increases among older age groups.
“The rapid rise continues to be fuelled by the growth of the Omicron BA.2 variant across the UK.”
Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London, who runs the Zoe Covid tracking app, said the timing of the end of free testing “couldn’t really be worse”.
He said England was now in a situation of “having to rely on the public to actually do the right thing and get these tests themselves when they get sick”.
He told Times Radio that “if we’re not having free testing, let’s have a clear policy on how you would know that you’re infected, and therefore you can self-isolate.
“To do that, the Government needs to admit that the symptoms of Covid have changed in the last two years, and that 80% of people now present with cold-like symptoms.
“And there should be a public health campaign to say at the moment, when your chances of having Covid are greater than a cold…test if you can afford it – (and) even if you can’t – assume you’ve got Covid.”
Separate figures from the UK Health Security Agency show the number of reinfections is continuing to grow, with an estimated 8,717 people in England having had the virus three times, and 74 having had four episodes of infection.
On Thursday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people must “learn to live with Covid” as campaigners criticised the end of free testing.
He added: “We are one of the most open and free countries in the world now, and that’s because of decisions that we’ve taken as a country… and it is right also as we learn to live with Covid that we withdraw free testing – universally… if it’s not needed any more, but we focus those resources on the people that need it most. And that’s what we’re doing.”