Covid infections at their highest last week since August 2020, new government figures suggest
An estimated 2.3 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 23, up from 1.4 million in the week to December 1, which was the highest number since autumn 2020, the Office for National Statistics said.
Latest data showed in England, 2,024,700 people were estimated to have Covid and in Wales 76,500, in Northern Ireland 47,500, while in Scotland figures reached 135,400.
According to the ONS, Covid infections across England increased in all age groups but were the highest among those aged two to six and adults aged 25 to 34 years.
Omicron specific infections continued to increase rapidly across England, while the proportion of Delta cases decreased.
It comes as the number of NHS hospital staff in England absent due to Covid-19 has nearly doubled since the start of the month, new figures released on Friday showed.
Some 24,632 staff at NHS hospital trusts were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on Boxing Day, up 1 per cent up from 18,829 a week earlier and nearly double the 12,508 at the start of the month.
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “Today’s figures confirm the worst: hospital and ambulance services are stretched to breaking point under the weight of devastating Covid staff absences, just as the government was warned.”
Rising NHS staff absence figures have led to political calls for an emergency government Cobra meeting to be convened by the prime minister.
On Friday morning, Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the threshold for the NHS being overwhelmed hadn’t yet been reached, but warned “it looks like that will be reached quite quickly”.
On Thursday the UK Health Security Agency reported daily Covid infections were nearly at 190,000 – yet another new record.
The Independent revealed on Thursday hospital chiefs have been told to prepare for Covid-19 admissions to continue to rise for another 10 days, as Omicron infections appeared to be spreading across wards.
Meanwhile, hospitals up and down the country have been forced to stop visiting again as Omicron infections reached a new high and staff absence driven by Covid surges.
One trust, which has suspended visits from Friday, warned some Omicron cases “appear to have no symptoms” and visits have subsequently led to infections.