There are twice as many COVID hospital patients in two regions of England as there were at the peak of the first wave in April.
According to the government’s official coronavirus figures, there are currently 4,303 people in hospital with the virus in the east of England — up from 1,621 during the April 2020 peak.
In the South East, there are currently 5,487 COVID patients in hospitals, compared to an April peak of 2,347.
The South West is on the verge of becoming the third region where numbers are double the height of the first wave, with 2,129 COVID patients currently in hospital compared to 1,080 at the peak in April.
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The figures come amid suggestions that infection levels are plateauing in some parts of England as lockdown begins to have an effect, with the rate of growth slowing across the country as a whole.
Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson said he thought the current wave of the epidemic may be coming under control in some regions.
His suggestion was echoed by a study by researchers from the University of Cambridge, who said the number of COVID infections across England is falling as a whole and the ‘R rate’ of the virus — the number of people an infected person gives the virus to on average — could be as low as 0.6 in some parts of England.
An R value below one means the overall size of the outbreak is decreasing.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit COVID-19 Working Group estimates the current daily number of new infections occurring across England is 60,200 and said the R rate had fallen below one in regions including the East of England, London, the South East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
However, despite the levelling off of infection rates, top scientists have warned that the coronavirus death toll will continue to rise for several weeks.
Earlier in the week, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said “we’re in a period of high death numbers” which will not “reduce quickly”.
His comments came after government data showed there were 1,564 deaths recorded within 28 days of a positive test on Wednesday, the highest figure reported in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic.
The government has urged people not to put extra strain on the NHS amid concerns hospitals are struggling to deal with the influx of patients due to COVID.
Last week Mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” in the capital due to rising coronavirus cases threatening to overwhelm hospitals.
City Hall said growing infection rates are “putting immense pressure on an already stretched NHS”, with the number of people on mechanical ventilators up by 42% - from 640 to 908 - in the week up to January 6.
Earlier this week Health Secretary Matt Hancock pleaded with people to follow coronavirus restrictions, saying the NHS was under “significant pressure” after the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals in England rose to a record high of more than 32,000.
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