One in 25 people in England and one in 15 in London had coronavirus in the week up to Thursday, December 23. It it the highest numbers since the pandemic began
Just under 2.3 million people have been infected with covid in the past week, figures from the Office of National Statistics have revealed.
The numbers, published today show that around one in 25 people in England had Covid-19 in the week to December 23, up from one in 45 in the week to December 16.
One in 25 is the equivalent of about two million people and is the highest number since the ONS began estimating infection levels for England in May 2020.
In London, around one in 15 people were likely to test positive for Covid-19 in the week to December 23, the highest proportion for any region in England.
The ONS said that in Wales around one in 40 people are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to December 23, equalling the previous record set in October.
In Northern Ireland the latest estimate is also one in 40, equalling the record set in mid-August, and for Scotland the latest estimate is one in 40 and the highest since records began.
Meanwhile, ministers have been warned they must be ready to apply restrictions “at pace” as the NHS puts itself on an emergency footing to deal with a possible surge in Covid-19 patients.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said trust leaders recognise that the UK Government’s threshold for introducing extra measures in England “hasn’t been crossed yet” but that additional capacity is being created in case hospital pressures increase.
Government data shows the number of coronavirus patients in UK hospitals jumped by 44% week on week to 11,898 on Wednesday, the highest number since March 2.
In Scotland and Wales, nightclubs are closed to New Year’s Eve partygoers, and restrictions have been placed on hospitality.
But in England, ministers have opted to forgo measures beyond the UK Government’s Plan B, which includes mandatory Covid passes for large events, increased mask-wearing in public places and work from home guidance.
Mr Hopson, chief executive of the group which represents health trusts in England, said even if extra restrictions are put in place to control the Omicron variant, it will take two weeks to reduce the hospital admission rate.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is the Government who sets the rules on restrictions, not the NHS, and we know that the Government has set a high threshold on introducing new restrictions.
“So, on that basis, trust leaders can see why the Government is arguing that, in the absence of a surge of seriously ill older patients coming into hospital, that threshold hasn’t yet been crossed.
“But we still don’t know if a surge will come, and indeed we are exactly talking about the preparations we are making for that surge right now.
“So, in terms of restrictions, I think we are in exactly the same place we’ve been for the past fortnight, which is the Government needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions at real speed should they be needed.”
The Nightingale hubs are being established at some hospitals to deal with a “super-surge” in Covid patients in a move that Mr Hopson said would require the NHS to “go into an emergency mode” amid staff shortages, partly due to high coronavirus infections.
He said recently retired health workers and volunteers would be asked to staff the hubs, which would be used for patients “who are effectively over the worst” and being readied for discharge.
It came as a leading scientist said it is likely that the NHS will be overwhelmed by the spread of Omicron.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast: “I think we haven’t quite reached the threshold that was set by Government in terms of the NHS being overwhelmed, but it looks like that will be reached quite quickly.
“What I’m very concerned about is our NHS staff, my dear colleagues who have worked so, so hard all through the repeated waves of this infection. How are they going to cope?”