Britain’s health authorities have added to the list of Covid-19 symptoms as new cases reached record levels in the country, with latest official figures showing 1 in every 13 people infected, amounting to nearly 4.9 million people.

The original signs of infection recognised were fever, new continuous cough, and loss of smell or taste. The presence of symptoms enables those infected to access tests, financial allowances and medical treatment.

The nine new symptoms added to the list by the UK Health Security Agency are: shortness of breath, feeling tired or exhausted, aching body, headache, sore throat, blocked or runny nose, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and feeling sick or being sick.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 4.9 million people in the UK were estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week ending 26 March, up from 4.3 million in the previous week.

Over 120 flights were cancelled across the UK on Monday as British Airways and easyJet blamed staff absences due to Covid for the cancellations. Thousands of travellers were stranded at airports in the UK and Europe as Easter school holidays began.

An easyJet spokesperson said: “As a result of the current high rates of Covid infections across Europe, like all businesses easyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness”.

However, the number of patients needing hospitalisation remains low, mainly due to the success of the vaccination programme.

Britain is among several countries that have dropped most of the Covid-19 restrictions imposed during the previous two years, including testing for international travel.

Until recently, lateral flow test kits were available free, but they have now been restricted to certain categories of health workers and patients; others pay for them.

The prime minister’s official spokesman on Monday defended dropping the free tests on the ground that spending on them was “simply unsustainable”.

He said: “I think we need to look at where we are in the course of this pandemic. We know there is relatively high prevalence of Covid at the moment but because of vaccines, because of therapeutics and other approaches, we are not seeing it have the knock-on impact when it comes to requiring the most intensive hospital treatment."

“At the same time, the provision of free tests was costing taxpayers £2 billion a month and that is simply unsustainable. I think anyone, even pre-Covid, would recognise if they have symptoms of an infectious disease, something like flu, they should stay home and not infect their loved ones or colleagues, and it is that sort of good judgement that we expect to see going forward," he added.

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