Coronavirus cases in the UK have rocketed by around a million in a week, official data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows.
The number of COVID-19 infections soared to 4.26 million in the seven days to March 19, according to published figures – up 29.7% on the week before.
This is just short of the 4.3 million in the first week of 2022, which was the highest total since estimates began.
Over the week, cases of coronavirus rose to near-record levels in England, while they have reached an all-time high in both Scotland and Wales.
Northern Ireland is the only nation where infections are thought to have fallen, with levels declining for two weeks in a row.
Meanwhile, separate data showed the estimated range of England’s COVID-19 reproduction or R number held steady at between 1.1 and 1.4, the UK Health Security Agency said.
It means that for every 10 people with the virus, they will on average infect between 11 and 14 others.
Although the estimate was unchanged from the previous week, the daily growth of infections was put at +3% to +6% compared to a previously estimated range of +2% to +6%.
The sharp rise in cases across much of the UK is due to the Omicron BA.2 variant, a more transmissible form of Omicron, the ONS said.
The latest data will be seen as further evidence that COVID-19 is rapidly becoming more prevalent in the UK with the lifting of legal restrictions and comes as the number of people in hospital with the virus continues to increase.
In England, around one in 15 people in private households are estimated to have had COVID in the week to 19 March, or 3.5 million people – up from one in 20, or 2.7 million people, in the week to 12 March.
In Wales, the estimate is up from 125,400 people, or one in 25, to 192,900 people, or one in 16.
Scotland has seen infection levels rise for eight weeks in a row and they have now reached a new record high, with nearly half a million people (473,800) estimated to have had COVID-19 last week, or around one in 11.
This is up from 376,300 people, or one in 14, the previous week.
In Northern Ireland 108,700 people were likely to have had COVID-19 last week, or one in 17 people – down from 130,600 people, or one in 14.