The number of people in hospital in England with Covid-19 has dropped to pre-Christmas levels, suggesting the virus is becoming less prevalent among the population.
Health experts said the figures were “encouraging and welcome”, but stressed the importance of getting the latest booster dose, with around a third of over-50s still not having received the jab.
A total of 7,743 patients had tested positive for Covid-19 as of January 11, down 17% from the previous week, NHS England figures show.
It is the lowest total since December 18, and is a sign the current wave of infections may have peaked.
Patient numbers had been on an upwards trend since late November, before levelling off over Christmas.
If the downwards trend continues, it means hospitalisations will have peaked below 10,000: well below the figures seen in previous waves.
The number topped 14,000 during summer 2022 and reached 17,000 last winter.
Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “These early signs that Covid-19 infection levels may be in decline are encouraging and welcome, but we cannot be complacent.
“Today’s data shows we’re heading in the right direction but Covid-19 is still circulating at high levels and hospital admissions remain high in the oldest age groups, so it is particularly important that everyone who is eligible continues to come forward to accept their booster jab.”
The rate of Covid-19 hospital admissions stood at 9.1 per 100,000 people last week, down from 10.8 per 100,000 the previous week.
Admissions are highest among the over-85s, at 117.3, and 75-84 year-olds, at 46.6.
Around a third of people aged 50 and over still haven’t received the latest booster dose of coronavirus vaccine, with take-up currently estimated to be 64.3%, according to UKHSA data.
The figure is even lower among 50 to 54 year-olds (42.2%) and 55 to 59 year-olds (51.8%).
All people aged 50 and over are able to book an appointment for the booster, providing they had their last jab at least three months ago.
Doses are also available for frontline health and care workers, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.
The majority of current Covid-19 infections in the UK are the variant known as BQ.1, which is part of the Omicron family.
Two newer Omicron variants, CH.1.1 and XBB.1.5, are most likely to take over from BQ.1 as the next dominant variant in the UK, the UKHSA said – though neither have been classed as being “of concern”.
The XBB.1.5 variant has been increasing in the United States in recent months, but remains at very low prevalence in the UK.
Dr Meera Chand, UKHSA director of clinical and emerging infections, said: “Through our genomic surveillance we continue to see evolution of variants in the Omicron family.
“UKHSA is constantly monitoring the situation and working to understand the implications for public health.
“Vaccination remains our best defence against future Covid-19 waves, so it is still as important as ever that people come take up all the doses for which they are eligible as soon as possible.”