More than 1.5 million people in England had Covid last week, according to official figures, as the prevalence of the virus reached the highest level since the pandemic began.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 2.83 per cent of people in England tested positive in the week up to December 19, equivalent to 1.55 million people, or one in 35 individuals.
This is the highest level of infection since the ONS started its coronavirus infection survey in April 2020.
At the start of December, fewer than 900,000 people had Covid, with the level of infection in the community almost doubling in a month.
In the UK as a whole, there are more than 1.7 million people infected with the virus as of December 19, with 70,000 people in Wales, 44,900 people in Northern Ireland and 79,200 people in Scotland.
The ONS model also showed that Covid infections were surging throughout last week and were higher on Sunday than they were on Monday.
On December 13, 1.2 million people had Covid, but by December 19, that figure was more than two million, which equates to one person in 25 across England being infected.
There could be fewer admissions due to covid
London was the region most plagued by Covid last week, with one in 20 people testing positive in the capital.
However, much like the rest of the UK, this figure was steeply rising during the week. By December 19, one in 10 Londoners likely had the virus, figures showed, with the vast majority of them being omicron.
Esther Sutherland, the senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “These latest figures show a continued rise in infections across most of the UK, and among all age groups.
“The increase is most pronounced in London where the most recent data suggest 1 in 20 people had Covid-19 in the latest week. The figures also suggest the rapid spread of the omicron variant is a significant factor in recent trends.”
The image was mixed when looking at how common infection was in different age groups.
Just one in 170 over-70s would have tested positive last week, compared to one in 15 children aged between two and 11.
According to Sage documents published on Christmas Eve, age is still the most important factor in determining how many infections will result in hospitalisations.
There are fewer admissions per confirmed case
Data published earlier this week from Scotland, the UK Health Security Agency and Imperial College London indicated that omicron is intrinsically less severe than delta, with estimates ranging from a 15 per cent to an 80 per cent reduction in the risk of hospitalisation.
The true figure will be pivotal in determining how big the winter wave of hospital admissions is, according to Sage, adding that “the timing of the wave of hospitalisations will depend primarily on the timing of the wave of infections in older age groups”.
It said it is impossible to predict when omicron develops a foothold in the older, and therefore more vulnerable, population, but caution it is “expected soon”.
New data suggesting that 1.7 million people had Covid last week is “sobering,” according to the UK’s national statistician.
Sir Ian Diamond said that the ONS published the figures “because they are rising so quickly”, adding: “These are the highest percentages we have seen in England since we started doing this survey in April 2020.
“London is clearly the epicentre of the omicron epidemic. The numbers have been going up really steeply there… the South East is also going up at great pace but there are increases right across England, with the slight exception of the South West.”
Sir Ian added: “At the moment, it’s far too early to suggest that we’ll see anything other than a continued rise.”