‘Sizeable’ drop in UK Covid-19 infections as Christmas wave recedes

Covid-19 infections have fallen sharply in all parts of the UK, in a fresh sign the current wave has peaked.

The number of patients in hospital with the virus is also continuing to drop.

Levels of flu and Covid-19 are now both on a downward trend, figures suggest, which could ease some of the pressure being faced this winter by the NHS.

A total of 1.8 million people in private households in the UK were likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week ending January 10, down 32% from 2.7 million at the start of the month, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

HEALTH Coronavirus
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Prevalence of Covid-19 is lowest in England, with about one in 40 people estimated to have the virus.

In Wales and Northern Ireland the estimate is one in 25, while for Scotland it is one in 30.

Michelle Bowen, ONS head of health surveillance, said there had been a “sizeable decrease in Covid-19 positivity” across the UK.

She added: “That is a positive sign, though we must remain cautious as overall rates remain high.

“Also, it is still too early to see fully the potential impact of the return of schools. We will continue to monitor the data closely.”

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The latest wave of Covid-19 looks to have peaked at 3.0 million infections in the UK in the week to December 28.

This is below the levels reached in previous outbreaks.

Infections climbed as high as 4.3 million last winter during the spread of the original Omicron variant, but this was topped a few months later during the wave caused by the Omicron BA.2/3 subvariants, when the number reached a record 4.9 million.

The majority of current Covid-19 infections in the UK are the variant known as BQ.1, which is part of the Omicron family.

The ONS infection survey is the most reliable measure of the prevalence of coronavirus and is based on a sample of swab tests from households across the country.

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It shows that infection levels are likely to be falling in all regions and age groups in England.

Prevalence is highest among people aged 70 and over, with 3.5% likely to test positive for the virus, or about one in 29.

South-west England has the highest percentage of the regions, at 3.1% or about one in 30 people.

Separate NHS data shows the number of people in hospital in England with Covid-19 has dropped 33% since the start of the year and currently stands at 6,299.

Figures had been on an upwards trend since late November, until peaking at 9,535 patients on December 29 – well below the level reached in previous waves of the virus.

Covid graphic
(PA Graphics)

The rate of Covid-19 hospital admissions in England is down week on week from 8.9 per 100,000 people to 6.7.

Patient numbers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are showing a similar drop.

Flu levels in hospitals are also on a downwards path, after a surge in cases in the run up to Christmas which health experts described as the worst flu season for a decade.

An average of 3,447 flu patients were in hospital beds in England each day last week, down 37% from the week to January 1.

Flu graphic
(PA Graphics)

The rate of flu admissions stood at 2.7 per 100,000 people last week, the lowest level since mid-November.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, said the latest figures were “good news” but that “winter isn’t over yet and we need to guard against further surges”.

She added: “Vaccination is our best defence against flu and Covid-19, so if your children are eligible for the flu vaccine, it’s still not too late to come forward.

“Hospital admissions for Covid-19 remain highest in the oldest age groups, so it’s vital that those eligible continue to come forward for their booster jab.”