Covid: UK records 218,724 new cases

Figure sets another new record but includes several days’ worth of backlogged data

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 04 January 2022 17:20
Vaccines minister says ‘Plan B is working’

The UK has reported a further 218,724 coronavirus cases, as the Omicron variant continues to drive an unprecedented surge of infection across the country.

While it is the highest number of cases ever reported in a single day in the UK, the figures announced on Tuesday also comprise a backlog including four days of data from Northern Ireland and two days of data from Wales, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

In the past seven days, more than 1.26 million people have tested positive for the virus, according to official data – a rise of more than 50 per cent on the previous week.

Deaths and hospital admissions have also risen by just over 50 per cent in the most recent recording periods, the UKHSA said, amid warnings from NHS chiefs that at least “half a dozen” hospitals have declared a critical incident while responding to the ongoing Covid wave, which has rendered staffing difficulties “almost impossible”.

There have been 909 deaths within 28 days of a positive test announced in the past seven days, 48 of them on Tuesday. Meanwhile, in the week to 27 December, 9,958 people went into hospital with coronavirus, leaving 14,126 patients in hospital with the virus on the final day of the year.

Just over 6.25 per cent of those patients – a total of 883 – required hospital beds with a mechanical ventilator – a metric which Downing Street described as “pleasing”, despite hospital admissions and occupancy “increasing significantly”.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “We're not seeing that same jump in beds requiring ventilation, which is pleasing, and almost certainly a function of both the nature of Omicron and our successful booster programme.”

The vaccinations and “evidence that Omicron may be milder” means “we are not seeing those huge waves in cases translate into those needing the most serious care that we saw perhaps in previous waves, but that still puts the NHS under significant pressure”, the spokesman added.

With ministers including the health secretary, Sajid Javid, insisting that plan B measures remain proportionate, Mr Johnson said on Tuesday the UK would stick with the current rules rather than bring in any major changes for England this week.

“As the NHS moves to a war footing I will be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow we continue with Plan B because the public have responded and changed their behaviour buying valuable time to get boosters in arms,” he said.

This is despite calls from the Royal College of Nursing for a more “cautious” approach to curbs in England. NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor also warned on Tuesday that decisions on further restrictions should be driven by data rather than “a kind of political virility symbolism”.

Mr Johnson will hold a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning, and ministers will update parliament on the government’s review of plan B measures later on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by PA

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