All parts of the country saw a steep jump in infections in the seven days to December 31, with one in 20 people estimated to have the virus in Scotland and Wales, along with one in 25 in Northern Ireland.
In total an estimated 3.7 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week to New Year’s Eve up from 2.3 million in the week to December 23 and the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
All estimates are for people in private households and do not include hospitals, care homes and other settings.
The figures reflect the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus on the spread of the virus in the UK over the festive period.
Infections compatible with Omicron “continued to increase rapidly” in all four nations in the week between Christmas and New Year, the ONS said, with Omicron “now the most common variant” right across the country.
But while London had the highest estimate for any area of the UK, there were “early signs” in the last few days of the year that infections were no longer increasing in the capital – although “it is currently too early to suggest if this is a continuing change in trend”, the ONS added.
#COVID19 infections compatible with the Omicron variant continued to rapidly increase across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Omicron is now the most common variant across the UK. pic.twitter.com/xlpMWzLMko
— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) January 5, 2022
The number of Covid-19 infections in the UK, which is estimated every week by the ONS, is not the same as the number of new cases of coronavirus which are reported every day by the Government.
The number of infections provides a snapshot of the prevalence of Covid-19 within the entire community population of the UK, and estimates the percentage of people who are likely to test positive for the virus at any one point – regardless of when they caught the virus, how long they have had it, and whether they have symptoms.
It is based on a sample of swab tests collected from households across the UK.
By contrast, the number of cases of Covid-19 reported each day by the Government includes only those people who have newly tested positive for the virus, and is therefore affected by how many people are coming forward for tests, or who are taking a test because they know they have coronavirus symptoms.
Covid-19 infections have continued to increase across all age groups in England – and were highest among those from school year 12 to age 24, the ONS found.
The trend in the percentage testing positive was “uncertain” for those in London of secondary school age and 25 to 49-year-olds, which could indicate infections are no longer rising among these ages.
But for 50 to 69-year-olds across England the percentage testing positive has nearly doubled week-on-week from 2.1% to 4.0%, while for people aged 70 and over it has more than doubled from 0.9% to 2.2%.
The estimate of one in 10 people in London testing positive for Covid-19 is up from one in 15 the previous week.
A steeper jump is estimated for north-west England (up from one in 30 to one in 15), Yorkshire and Humber (one in 35 to one in 15) and north-east England (one in 45 to one in 20).
South-west England had the lowest estimate for the week to December 31, one in 30, up from one in 40 in the previous week.