UK COVID-19 cases hit record high, health staff absence double before Christmas

COVID-19 infections across the UK hit record high levels in all parts of the country just before Christmas, with an estimated 2.3 million cases, new figures show.

According to data published by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday, the new record registered in the week up to December 23 marked a substantial increase compared to the 1.4 million cases for the previous week. It was the highest number since comparable figures began in fall 2020, the ONS data showed.

According to the ONS figures, one in every 15 people in London was infected with the coronavirus, the highest proportion than anywhere else in England. COVID rates have risen to two million people, or 1 in 25, in England only.

Infections “compatible with Omicron… continued to increase rapidly” in all four nations of the UK, the ONS said, with Omicron “now the most common variant in England and Scotland.”

The development comes as the UK National Health System (NHS) is facing a “perfect storm” of rising COVID-19 hospital admissions with a serious increase in the absence of staff, according to the NHS Confederation.

Official data showed that the number of COVID-19 patients in England’s hospitals had raised to 11,452 on Thursday only, the highest record since February 26.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said, “There is no doubt the whole system is running hot.”

“While the government seems determined not to increase restrictions in England, it is vital we all behave in ways that will not exacerbate an already dangerous situation,” Taylor added.

Confirming the critical health situation in the UK, NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said, “The NHS is on a war footing, and, while staff remain braced for the worst, with COVID absence for NHS staff almost doubling in the past fortnight, keeping as many colleagues as possible at work on the front line and minimizing absence will be essential in the next few weeks.”

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