An estimated 1.1 million people in private households in England had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2, according to new figures which scientists have described as “frighteningly high”.
This is the equivalent of around 2.06% of the population, or one in 50 people, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
It came as the number of daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK topped 60,000 for the first time.
The Government said there had been a further 60,916 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday.
The ONS figures represent a rise from 800,900 people, or one in 70, who were estimated to have Covid-19 in the period December 17 to 23.
The figures do not include people staying in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, described the latest figures as “frighteningly high”, adding that for comparison, ONS data from June showed that infection numbers were around one in 4,000.
He said: “If we also highlight the huge numbers of confirmed daily cases, the fact that there’s more people in hospital now with Covid-19 than at any state of the pandemic, and that almost any graph you look at is on a steep upward trajectory, then the UK is clearly not in a good place right now.”
He added that although the UK passing 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in the “relatively near future” is “inevitable”, the rollout of the vaccines allows for some optimism.
But virologist Professor Lawrence Young warned the Government needs to focus on rolling out second coronavirus jabs, not just the first, to curb the “alarming rise in infections” which is being “fuelled by the new coronavirus variant”.
Prof Young, at Warwick Medical School, said the Prime Minister “did not discuss the need for the second dose of the vaccine” to be rolled out during his press conference on Tuesday, or whether testing capacity would be increased during the lockdown.
Meanwhile, New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) scientist Professor Robert Dingwall cautioned that cases topping 60,000 for the first time on Tuesday is partly due to the rise in demand for tests over Christmas.
Prof Dingwall, a leading medical sociologist who advises the Government, said: “This is obviously disappointing, although it will still be reflecting pre-existing Christmas infections and something of a bulge in demand for tests.
“The data continue to be quite unstable from the holiday period and it may take another few days before we have a clear picture.”
In London, an estimated one in 30 people in private households had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2, the ONS said.
The figure for south-east England, eastern England and north-west England is estimated to be one in 45; for the East Midlands it is one in 50; for north-east England – one in 60; and for the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber – one in 65.
For south-west England the estimate is one in 135.
The figures are from the latest update of the ONS Covid-19 infection survey.