More than 45,000 people succumbed to the virus over the holiday period, according to a national influenza monitoring unit. Hospitals, ambulance services and doctors were struggling to cope, and the numbers falling ill showed no sign of abating.
Douglas Fleming, of the influenza monitoring unit at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "There are a lot of people across the country who have flu, but the overall level at the moment has not reached exceptional levels for this time of year. It is unlikely it will become an epidemic."
On 27 December the level of infection was recorded as about 80 cases per 100,000 people a week. The last bad flu outbreak, in 1995, recorded 230 cases per 100,000 a week, and a serious epidemic in the Sixties saw 1,180.
Doctors said that the strain, called H3N2 Sydney flu after the city where it was discovered, would cause the normal aches and pains associated with the virus and advised sufferers to take to their beds.
The pressure group London Health Emergency warned yesterday that the capital's health services would struggle to cope this week as the bug moved south from the Midlands. Geoff Martin, the group's campaigns director, said: "Our ambulance and casualty services are set to bear the brunt and whole areas of London could well end up on red alert as the week progresses."Reuse content