The UK has recorded its highest daily increase in Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic – with 41,385 positive tests.
A further 357 deaths were recorded within 28 days of a positive test, amid warnings that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed as infections surge across the country.
The figures compare to yesterday’s increase of 30,501 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 318 virus-related deaths.
However the true number is likely higher – as Scotland is not releasing death data between 25 and 28 December, while Northern Ireland is not providing data on cases or deaths over this period.
Hospitals ‘incredibly busy’
It comes as hospitals in the South face a rise in pressure as the number of coronavirus patients receiving treatment heads towards the April peak.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “We know that the rate of Covid-19 admissions is rising and some trusts are reporting up to three times the number of Covid patients than at the peak of the first wave.
“This means hospitals and also ambulance services in Tier 4 areas and beyond are incredibly busy, compounded by increasing staff absences due to illness and the need to self-isolate.”
She added: “Nightingale hospitals were created as an insurance policy. It is possible that they will be used in the near future.
“However, they will need additional staff, which is a resource currently in short supply.”
A further 318 people who tested positive have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths in hospitals to 48,860, NHS England said on Monday.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director for Public Health England, said: “This very high level of infection is of growing concern at a time when hospitals are at their most vulnerable, with new admissions rising in many regions.”
The concerning latest set of figures comes after a scientist advising the government warned that the UK is unlikely to achieve herd immunity through a Covid-19 vaccination programme before the summer.
Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), described the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as a “game changer” if it is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the coming days.
But he told BBC Breakfast: “To get the wider community herd immunity from vaccination rather than through natural infection will take probably 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the population to be vaccinated, and that, I’m afraid, is going to take us right into the summer I expect.”