The UK has reported yet another record daily total of new coronavirus cases.
There were 189,846 new infections and 203 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test recorded in the 24 hours to Friday. That compares with 122,186 new cases and 137 deaths this time last week.
The latest update comes as hospital admissions in England rose to their highest level since January. Data from NHS England show there were 2,370 Covid-19 hospital admissions in England on December 29, up 90% week-on-week and the highest number since January 29.
But it is still well below the second wave peak of 4,134 admissions on January 12, despite more record case numbers being reported.
Separate data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed an estimated 2.3 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 23 – a huge rise on the 1.4 million the week before and the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020.
Meanwhile, separate NHS England data showed 24,632 staff at NHS hospital trusts were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on Boxing Day, up 31% from 18,829 a week earlier and nearly double the 12,508 at the start of the month.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS is facing a ‘perfect storm’ of rising Covid hospital admissions and illness alongside increasing numbers of frontline workers being off sick.
He said: ‘The NHS is putting in plans to step up once again for patients with the new Nightingale surge hubs, extra support from community services and virtual wards, but there is no doubt the whole system is running hot.
‘While the Government seems determined not to increase restrictions in England, it is vital we all behave in ways that will not exacerbate an already dangerous situation.’
The scale of rising staff absences has led to political calls for an emergency Government Cobra meeting to be convened ‘without delay’ by the Prime Minister to ‘thrash out a comprehensive rescue plan’.
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said the health service was being ‘stretched to breaking point’, adding: ‘Our NHS is in desperate need of support. The Government must give this crisis the attention it deserves.’
Across the UK, there were 1,915 Covid-19 hospital admissions on Monday (December 27) – up 62% week-on-week and the highest number since February 8, according to Government figures.
There were 11,918 people in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 on Wednesday (December 29), up 44% week-on-week and the highest number since March 2.
In England, there were 12,395 people in hospital with Covid-19 as of 8am on New Year’s Eve, according to figures from NHS England.
This is up 68% from a week earlier and is the highest number since February 25.
NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said the health service is setting up the Nightingale surge hubs at hospitals across the country and recruiting thousands of nurses and reservists.
He added: ‘We don’t yet know the full scale of rising Omicron cases and how this will affect people needing NHS treatment but, having hit a 10-month high for the number of patients in hospital with Covid while wrestling with sharply increasing staff absences, we are doing everything possible to free up beds and get people home to their loved ones – and in the last week hundreds more beds were freed up each day compared to the week before.
‘The NHS is on a war footing, and, while staff remain braced for the worst, with Covid absence for NHS staff almost doubling in the past fortnight, keeping as many colleagues as possible at work on the front line and minimising absence, will be essential in the next few weeks.’
Prof Powis also urged people to get vaccinated, with 397,554 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine reported in the UK on Thursday.
More than 33.9 million booster and third doses have now been delivered in the UK, with around 64% of all adults having now received a booster or third dose.
The ONS figures, published on Friday, also showed that around one in 25 people in private households 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.
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.
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.
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