Covid cases in England tripled in a month in December and a staggering 311,372 people tested positive for the virus in the last week of 2020.
NHS Test & Trace figures published today showed the infection rate was three times higher than the weekly total at the end of November, when 97,340 people tested positive.
The number of people testing positive in the week after Christmas surged by 24 per cent from the week before.
And this was despite the number of people being tested dropping by almost a third. The proportion of people testing positive rose from 9 to 17 per cent – one in six. There were 1.8million people tested in the week up to December 30, down 740,000 from 2.6m the week before and 2m the week before that.
Tests surged to sky-high levels in the run-up to Christmas as people in many parts of England were allowed to visit family for a day, peaking at a record 509,000 swab tests in a single day on December 23.
Cases were significantly lower in that week, however – at 251,674 – before surging to more than 300,000 among people who took their tests between Christmas Eve and December 30.
The total number of positives in the final week of the year was the highest of any week since Test & Trace started in May.
Public testing was not done during the first wave and many people with the virus don’t get tested, so it’s impossible to know whether it is the most infections there have ever been in a week.
It comes after Britain yesterday breached 1,000 daily coronavirus deaths for the first time since April and declared another record-high number of cases with 62,322 more positive tests.
Department of Health data showed the grim figure of 1,041 laboratory-confirmed deaths — only the 10th time the UK has topped the grisly milestone — was the UK’s highest daily count since April 21.
Statistics also showed it was the third day in a row that Britain had posted a record-high number of cases.
The total number of positives in the final week of 2020 (311,372) was the highest of any week since Test & Trace started in May and three times as many as in the last week of November
Positive tests results soared to a quarter more than the week before even though 740,000 fewer people got tested, meaning the proportion of positives rose from 9 to 17 per cent
A huge spike in the number of people getting tested for coronavirus means that only around a third now get turned around within their time targets.
This means people getting their results within 24-hours if they get tested at a drive-in or local test site, or 48 hours for smaller testing operations and postal swabs.
Although test turnaround time improved on the week before at the end of December, there were still only 32 per cent of results returned within 24 hours from the biggest test sites.
Local test centres, the walk-in centres that make up the bulk of public testing and accounted for 420,000 out of the 1.8m in that week, saw 33 per cent of results given within 24 hours. This was up from just 12 per cent the week earlier.
The Test & Trace statistics come after mass testing, which studies random members of the population rather than only people with symptoms, shows England’s outbreak exploded in December.
In a impromptu release on Tuesday, the Office for National Statistics revealed there are an estimated 1.1million people infected with the virus in England.
This was almost double its estimate of 645,800 people on December 18.
The staggering rise has been driven, officials say, by the new super-infectious variant of the virus that emerged in Kent, London and the South-East.
The equivalent of 2.06 per cent of the population, or one in 50 people – had coronavirus between December 27 and January 2, according to the ONS.
And this rose to one in 30 people in London – more than 290,000 people and around three per cent of the population.
Dr Michael Head, a global health expert at the University of Southampton, described the figures as ‘frighteningly high’.
Professor Chris Whitty and the chief medical officers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland warned that the figures will lead to a huge increase in coronavirus hospitalisations in the coming weeks that threatens to overwhelm the NHS.
Accordingly, they upgraded the coronavirus threat level to five – the maximum – and a national lockdown will now last into mid-February or March.
Professor Whitty said earlier this week: ‘If we also highlight the huge numbers of confirmed daily cases, the fact that there’s more people in hospital now with Covid-19 than at any state of the pandemic, and that almost any graph you look at is on a steep upward trajectory, then the UK is clearly not in a good place right now.’
He added that although the UK passing 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in the ‘relatively near future’ is ‘inevitable’, the roll-out of the vaccines allows for some optimism.
‘There is an optimistic future, with the roll-out of the vaccine programme,’ he said.
‘The issue is that before we get to the point when we can all relax a little bit, there will be some grim times ahead.’
London has the highest rate of infection with its one in 30, while the rate in the South East, East and North West is more like one in 45.
For the East Midlands it is one in 50, the ONS said, for North East England one in 60, for West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber one in 65, and in the South West it is one in 135.
NHS COULD USE CARE HOME BEDS IF WARDS GET TOO FULL BECAUSE OF COVID OUTBREAK
Chris Hopson, chief of healthcare union NHS Providers, warned that some hospitals are almost full already and looking for beds elsewhere for their patients.
‘They know there is some spare capacity in the care and nursing sector,’ he said. ‘They’re in the middle of conversations with care and nursing home colleagues to see if they can access that capacity.
‘It’s literally leaving no stone unturned to maximise every single piece of capacity that we’ve got, in those areas under pressure.’
If care homes are turned into overflow wards for hospitals it is likely only non-Covid patients would be sent to them, following uproar over a Government policy in the first wave which saw people recovering from coronavirus sent into care homes where they were feared to have triggered killer outbreaks.
Shocking figures last night revealed the number of Covid patients in British hospitals surged past 30,000 on January 4 — the most recent data. This was up 27 per cent in a week and towers above the worst figure of 21,700 seen in April 2020.
And hospitalisations are only expected to surge further after health chiefs announced more than 50,000 new infections for the ninth day in a row yesterday.
It comes as an intensive care professor in London warned the situation in hospitals is ‘definitely worse than the first wave’ as the capital grapples with mounting cases.
And the capital’s medical director Vin Diwakar said that they could be overwhelmed within less than two weeks even in a ‘best’ case scenario. Even if coronavirus patients grew at the lowest likely rate and capacity is increased — including opening the Nightingale — the NHS would still be short 2,000 general, acute and ICU beds by January 19, it was reported.