Estimated 1.7m had Covid-19 in UK last week, official data indicates

Record 122,186 infections reported on Friday with London ‘epicentre’ of Omicron epidemic

New data has emerged showing that Covid-19 infection levels have reached a new record high after a senior health official said findings that the Omicron variant is milder offer a “glimmer of Christmas hope”.

An estimated 1.7 million people in the UK had Covid-19 in the week ending December 19th, the highest number since comparable figures began in autumn 2020, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The new interim data, published on Friday, also shows that around one in 35 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to December 19th – up from one in 45 in the seven days to December 16th.

This is the highest estimate for England since the ONS began estimating community infection levels for England in May 2020, and is equivalent to around 1.5 million people.


In London, this rises to around one in 20 people likely to test positive for Covid-19, the highest proportion for any region in England, the ONS said.

Northeast England had the lowest proportion, at around one in 55.

ONS chief Ian Diamond said there were "some indications" of people engaging in "safer behaviour" in response to the Omicron wave.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “At the moment I think it’s far too early to suggest that we will see anything other than a continued rise.”

Mr Diamond said the “sobering” figures showed “really big increases” in Covid-19 cases, with London “clearly the epicentre of the Omicron epidemic” with numbers going up “really steeply”.

He added: "There are increases right across England, with the slight exception of the southwest, increases in Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland has gone up just a little bit."

The ONS also said that Covid infections compatible with the Omicron variant had increased in all regions in England with “substantial regional variation”, with the highest rates in London and the lowest in the northeast.

In Wales, around one in 45 people is estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to December 19th, slightly below the record of one in 40 in October.

In Northern Ireland, the latest estimate is one in 40, equalling the record from mid-August, while for Scotland the latest estimate is one in 65, below September’s peak of one in 45.

The government confirmed that a further 122,186 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases had been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Friday, another new record for daily reported cases.

Meanwhile, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there had been 23,719 additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant reported across the UK.

The number of deaths in England of people with the Omicron variant has risen to 29, and hospital admissions in England for people with confirmed or suspected Omicron rose to 366.

She added: “There is a glimmer of Christmas hope in the findings that we published yesterday, but it definitely isn’t yet at the point where we could downgrade that serious threat.”

The latest figures come after UKHSA chief executive, Dr Jenny Harries, said data suggesting Omicron may be less likely to lead to serious illness than the Delta variant of coronavirus offers a “glimmer of Christmas hope”.

But she warned that it is too early to downgrade the threat from the new strain, which is still spreading rapidly across the UK.

Dr Harries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that more information is needed, particularly about the impact on elderly and more vulnerable patients.

The UKHSA estimates that someone with Omicron is between 31 per cent and 45 per cent less likely to attend an emergency department and 50-70 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital than an individual with the Delta variant.

The rapid spread of Omicron has seen it become the “dominant strain now right across the UK”, and Dr Harries said cases are still doubling across “most regions” of the country.

Dr Harries added: “What we have got now is a really fine balance between something that looks like a lower risk of hospitalisation – which is great news – but equally a highly transmissible variant and one that we know evades some of our immune defences, so it is a very balanced position.”

British prime minister Boris Johnson has not imposed any further restrictions for England over Christmas, but has indicated he will not hesitate to act afterwards – with Monday expected to be the first opportunity to consider if changes are needed. – PA