Covid infection levels have reached a new record high with 1.7 million people testing positive for the virus last week.
It is the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The new interim data, published on Friday, also shows that around one in 35 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to December 19 – up from one in 45 in the seven days to December 16.
Today we’ve published interim estimates of #COVID19 positivity between 13 and 19 December 2021.
The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 increased in all four UK nations, as did the number of infections compatible with the Omicron variant https://t.co/P9cnXB1xEu pic.twitter.com/THHSHGzyKu
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) December 24, 2021
This is the highest estimate for England since the ONS began estimating community infection levels for England in May 2020, and is equivalent to around 1.5 million people.
In London this rises to around one in 20 people likely to test positive for Covid-19, the highest proportion for any region in England, the ONS said.
North-east England had the lowest proportion, at around one in 55.
The ONS also said that Covid infections compatible with the Omicron variant have increased in all regions in England with “substantial regional variation”, with the highest rates in London and the lowest in the North East.
The latest figures come after UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said data suggesting Omicron may be less likely to lead to serious illness than the Delta variant of coronavirus offers a “glimmer of Christmas hope”.
But she warned that it is too early to downgrade the threat from the new strain, which is still spreading rapidly across the UK.
Dr Harries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that more information is needed, particularly about the impact on elderly and more vulnerable patients.
She added: “There is a glimmer of Christmas hope in the findings that we published yesterday, but it definitely isn’t yet at the point where we could downgrade that serious threat.”
The UKHSA estimates that someone with Omicron is between 31% and 45% less likely to attend A&E and 50% to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital than an individual with the Delta variant.
The rapid spread of Omicron has seen it become the “dominant strain now right across the UK”, and Dr Harries said cases are still doubling across “most regions” of the country.
Dr Harries added: “What we have got now is a really fine balance between something that looks like a lower risk of hospitalisation – which is great news – but equally a highly transmissible variant and one that we know evades some of our immune defences, so it is a very balanced position.”
The UKHSA data has fuelled speculation in Westminster that further restrictions can be avoided in England after Christmas.