Britain on Tuesday registered another 1,610 fatalities from coronavirus, a record high over 24 hours since the pandemic arrived in 2020, although the number of new cases fell.
The UK’s total Covid-19 death tally now stands at 91,470, with a further 33,355 new cases also reported over the last day, taking the total number of infections to nearly 3.5 million.
But the number of new cases over the last week was down around 22%, as a stringent lockdown announced earlier this month starts to have an effect.
Britain is currently gripped by its third and deadliest wave of the virus, blamed on a new strain believed to be highly infectious.
An estimated 12% of people in England had been infected with Covid-19 by December last year, up from 9% in November, according to official antibody data released Tuesday.
One in 10 people in Wales, one in 13 in Northern Ireland and one in 11 in Scotland were also estimated to have caught the virus, according analysis of random blood test results published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Health chiefs have been warning intensive care units risk being overwhelmed by the surge in cases.
Overall mortality for the week ending Jan 8 was 45% higher than the five-year average, according to the ONS, although it cautioned that the data could be skewed by uneven reporting over the holiday period.
London, which has been hit particularly hard by the latest wave, recorded an 85% increase in deaths, compared to the historic average for the same week.
Cambridge University’s Medical Research Council said last week it believed that 30% of the capital’s population had been infected.
‘Signs of optimism’
Health Minister Matt Hancock, who caught the virus last year, on Tuesday tweeted that he was self-isolating until Sunday after being told by the health service that he may have come into contact with an infected person.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh Tuesday that the country would remain under almost a full lockdown – with schools and non-essential shops closed – until at least the middle of February.
The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in Scotland has increased by more than 90% since the start of the year to 260, compared to a normal ICU capacity of around 170.
Britain is in the middle of a massive vaccination drive, racing to inoculate as many people as possible before the new strain spreads any further.
More than four million people have now received a jab, including more than half of over-80-year-olds.
The government hopes to vaccinate around 15 million high-priority people across the country by Feb 15, and the entire adult population by the autumn.