The UK has recorded a dramatic jump to more than 53,000 Covid-19 cases – its biggest ever daily case count, one day after it crossed 40,000 cases for the first time.
Cases have been on the rise as the fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus makes its presence felt. The UK recorded 53,135 new daily infections, as well as 414 deaths.
While the high numbers may be in part due to a lag in the data that was not reported in full over the Christmas period, Public Health England said the figures were “largely a reflection of a real increase”.
The daily increase in infections is a new record, and considerably higher than Monday’s 41,385 lab-confirmed cases – the previous record since the start of the pandemic, when testing was not as comprehensive.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in London is now higher than levels recorded at the peak of the first wave of the virus. A total of 5,371 hospital patients were confirmed as having Covid-19 as of 8am on 29 December, according to the latest figures from NHS England. During the first wave, the number of patients in London peaked at 5,201 on 9 April.
Some 2,322 new patients were admitted to hospital in the past 24 hours. The UK’s total official death toll now stands at 71,567.
Dr Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser at PHE, said: “We are continuing to see unprecedented levels of Covid-19 infection across the UK, which is of extreme concern particularly as our hospitals are at their most vulnerable.
“Whilst the number of cases reported today include some from over the festive period, these figures are largely a reflection of a real increase.”
The new UK variant, christened B117, was discovered during an investigation into why coronavirus cases in Kent continued to rise during the November lockdown. Scientists say they have high confidence that B117 has a transmission advantage – and a modelling study by London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine researchers has estimated it is about 56% more transmissible than previous variants.
“We’re just in massive, massive amounts of trouble – we’re not fighting the same pandemic we were fighting a few months ago – so you have to realise that things are different now,” Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London and a member of the Independent Sage group of experts told the Guardian on Monday.
The fresh data comes days after Christmas, when people in parts of England were allowed to mingle in a limited capacity for the day. A further 6 million people in east and south-east England entered tier 4 conditions, England’s strictest Covid level on Boxing Day. Lockdowns were also introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
More than 40% of the population in England are now living in tier 4, as pressure mounts for the whole country to be put in this category or a stricter “tier 5” regime, which could include school closures in January.
“We know cases are rising very rapidly in many parts of the country. Some of the numbers might be due to some delayed reporting over Christmas. But people were also getting fewer tests. Expect high numbers tomorrow and Thursday as test results from Sunday and Monday come through,” said Pagel.
“And any surge from people getting infected over the Christmas period won’t show up in the case numbers until this weekend.”