Published: 12:25, 19 June 2022
| Updated: 12:31, 19 June 2022
Covid cases across Kent have risen by more than 75% in a week as scientists fear a "summer surge" of the virus.
Figures show that in the week up to June 12 there were 1,869 positive tests in the county - up from 1,063.
The spikes will likely cause havoc for many people's holiday plans, and will have a knock-on effect on the county's busy hospitals, which have seen a 35% rise in Covid patients.
While numbers still remain well below those seen at the peak of the pandemic, one virologist believes another wave could have a drastic impact on the NHS, which is already under immense strain.
Hospital bosses are battling with staff absences, the logistical effort of keeping Covid patients isolated, and tackling a treatment backlog caused by the pandemic.
Dr Stephen Griffin, from the School of Medicine at Leeds University, said: "From an NHS perspective, and I'm hoping it won't, it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.
"I think our NHS workers are already under the cosh and struggling with the volume of catch-up and Covid cases as was.
"We will see, unfortunately, people that are infected through a breakthrough infection, and a proportion of those people will be hospitalised and [become] very seriously unwell, I'm afraid.
"We shouldn't be over-relying on our vaccines, because as good as they are, they're not perfect."
The spikes are likely to have been caused by the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, which were recently classified as "variants of concern" by the UK Health Security Agency.
Omicron BA.1 is the original variant that saw infections surge across the UK in December and early January.
It was followed by a second wave driven by sub-variant BA.2 in March.
While BA.2 remains dominant in the UK, the emergence of BA.4 and BA.5 in May is effectively another wave.
New research released by Peking University on Friday found that the new variants have higher transmissibility than the original strain, and may be better at evading immunity from vaccines or a prior infection.
The authors said they were concerned that even variant vaccines – such as Moderna’s new omicron jab – may not protect against the more transmissible strains.
The number of patients with Covid in Kent's hospitals rose from 60 to 81 in the latest week.
Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, believes recent spikes may have been exacerbated by the bank holiday Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
This is because people were off work and the average home is more densely populated than the average workplace.
" I would expect that there would be waves of people being unwell, sort of mass sickness," he added, describing a worst-case scenario.
"And there may be an increase in people ending up in hospital."
Dr Clarke believes the spring booster vaccine programme for the over-75s and clinically vulnerable will help to fight against the spread and others "will have some residual immunity".
"It’s like trying to fill up a bucket that’s got a leak, it’s going to constantly need to be topped up, probably," he said.
"Covid will keep coming back. Influenza keeps coming back year on year, colds keep coming back. It’s just with us, and it’s with us forever."