COVID cases hit record number in Christmas week as more than 300,000 test positive in England

The number of COVID-19 cases in England rose despite a 30% drop in the number of tests taken. (PA)
The number of COVID-19 cases in England rose despite a 30% drop in the number of tests taken. (PA)

More than 300,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 in England in the week between Christmas Eve and 30 December, the latest data shows.

Figures from NHS Test and Trace showed 311,372 tested positive for COVID-19 during the festive period between 24-30 December.

This is the highest number ever recorded by NHS Test and Trace and was a 24% increase from the previous week – despite a 29% fall in the number of tests taken.

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Just 33.0% of people who were tested for COVID-19 in England in the week ending 30 December at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called “in-person” test – received their result within 24 hours.

This is up from 16.9% in the previous week, but is below the recent peak of 64.9% in the week to 2 December.

Prime minister Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June 2020, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.

He told the House of Commons on 3 June that he would get “all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that”.

Of the 269,886 people transferred to the test and trace system in the week to 30 December, 84.9% were reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts.

Hospitals and the South East of England have struggled to cope with the surge of COVID-19 patients. (PA)
Hospitals and the south-east of England have struggled to cope with the surge of COVID-19 patients. (PA)

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This is down from 86.4% in the previous week and is the lowest percentage since the week to 28 October.

Some 13.9% of people transferred to NHS Test and Trace in the week to 30 December were not reached, while a further 1.3% did not provide any communication details.

Since the start of the new year cases numbers across the UK have continued to soar with more than 60,000 reported on Wednesday.

The rise in cases, which is in part being driven by the new more infectious variant of COVID-19 has put huge strain on hospitals across the nation.

As of 4 January, there were 30,451 people in UK hospitals with coronavirus, much higher than the 12 April peak of 21,684.

Rupert Pearse, professor of intensive care medicine and a consultant at the Royal London, said his own intensive care unit (ICU) staff were having to care for far more sick patients as he urged the public to heed the ‘stay at home’ lockdown message.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there would usually be one fully-trained ICU nurse to one patient but staff were becoming increasingly stretched.

“Right now we are diluting down to one (ICU) nurse to three (patients) and filling those gaps with untrained staff and in some instances doctors helping nurses deliver their care… and we’re even facing diluting that further to one in four,” he said.

“As intensive care doctors, we’re not sure how we can together deliver the quality of care that we need to.”

The sharp rise in cases led to England being put back into full lockdown on Monday.

England was the last of the four nations of the UK to be put back under full lockdown, although over three quarters of English people were already living under Tier 4 restrictions.

The alarming rise in hospital admissions is being followed by a sharp rise in deaths from COVID-19.

The UK reported 1,041 new deaths on Wednesday, the highest number since the peak of the first wave on April 12.

As the UK braces for a difficult few months, the rollout of the vaccine is picking up pace.

GPs in England have begun the mass rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine across the country.

The government has committed to offering a vaccine to more than 13 million people who are all either the most at risk of from COVID-19 or work in the health or care profession by mid-February.