Britain’s Covid-19 infections have increased by almost 15 per cent in the space of a week while the number of deaths have decreased by 23 per cent, the latest figures show.
Department of Health data has revealed a further 137,583 Covid cases in its daily update which marks an increase of 17,660 on the figures given for Boxing Day.
Meanwhile, the data shows there was a total of 73 deaths recorded today, a drop of 22 when compared to the 95 deaths recorded for Boxing Day last week.
This is the twelfth day in a row that cases have been above the 100,000 mark as the country moves out of the festive season.
The Government advised that the data provided could be incomplete due to inconsistency in reporting over the holiday period. Hospitalisation data is also not updated on Sundays.
It comes as official figures revealed nearly one in 10 NHS workers were off sick over New Year’s Eve as coronavirus continued to hit the health service.
Meanwhile, secondary school pupils will be told to wear face masks from the moment they arrive until they leave when they return to classrooms this week.
In an effort to protect the education of millions of youngsters amid a sharp rise in cases of the Omicron variant, Ministers have requested that pupils cover their faces all day – including while they are being taught. They are already asked to wear masks in communal areas.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi last night said he and Boris Johnson saw schools as their ‘No 1 priority’, adding that they wanted to ‘do everything in our power to minimise disruption’.
- Ministers have rejected calls to reduce the isolation period for coronavirus sufferers from seven to five days;
- Bosses warned NHS trusts could start cancelling operations next week if Covid hospitalisations escalate;
- Black people are more than three times more likely than average to have been hospitalised with Omicron;
- Secondary school pupils will be told to wear face masks from the moment they arrive until they leave;
- A pregnant woman has become the first person in the world to be infected with Covid and the flu in Israel.
Data showed nearly one in 10 NHS workers were off sick over NYE as Covid continued to hit the health service (file image)
More than 110,000 of the NHS’s 983,000 staff in England missed the turn of the year due to illness, their own dashboard shows.
Almost 50,000 of these employees were self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.
Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the figures for New Years Eve showed a five percentage point rise, with December 2019 only having 4.69 per cent of staff off ill in total.
The figure was also higher than those off over Boxing Day, when fewer than 25,000 were out of work due to the virus.
Meanwhile patients faced 40-hour waits at A&E, delayed operations and long waits for ambulances as the health service creaked.
One NHS boss warned operations could start being cancelled from next week if hospitalisations surge and said the country will need to bring in more restrictions.
The chief executive of NHS Providers said ‘the next few days are crucial’ and the health service was under ‘arguably more pressure’ than this time last year.
It comes as the Omicron variant continues to wreak havoc across the country as infections continue to rise, forcing people to lock themselves away for a week.
England’s Covid cases breached 160,000 for the second time in as many days yesterday as ministers continued to avoid enforcing new restrictions.
The 110,000 figure for NHS staff off over New Year’s Eve was for all the health service’s workers. The NHS dashboard showed by December 31 86,716 were off with illness at acute trusts – a leap of 27 per cent.
Of these, 49,921 were away for coronavirus-related reasons, which was up 62 per cent in just five days. These were 19,143 nurses and midwives and 2,120 doctors.
This was a huge leap on Boxing Day, when just one in 40 NHS hospital staff were unavailable to work because of Covid.
NHS England’s medical director Professor Stephen Powis last week talked of the NHS being on a ‘war footing’, a phrase since frequently repeated by broadcasters.
But while figures show the number off with Covid did double in the run-up to Christmas, the virus has prevented only hit a small fraction of hospital staff.
On December 1, 12,508 staff at English hospitals were absent due to Covid-19 ‘either through sickness or self- isolation’, according to data from NHS England.
By Boxing Day that had almost doubled to 24,632.
But with 983,000 working in NHS hospitals in England, according to official workforce statistics for 2021, it means only 2.5 per cent of the workforce – or one in 40 – were off due to Covid towards the end of the month.
Meanwhile, non-Covid sickness absences actually fell over the same period, from 47,628 on December 1 to 43,450 on Boxing Day.
As a result, overall sickness-related absences among NHS hospital staff only rose by 13 per cent in December – from 60,136 on the first of the month to 68,082 on December 26.
Consequently, around 93 per cent of hospital staff were still fit and healthy from a work point of view at Christmas. However, the picture is varied between England’s 138 NHS hospital trusts.
Five reported overall sickness or self-isolation absences exceeding ten per cent on Boxing Day – Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (12.2 per cent), Nottingham University Hospitals (12 per cent), Wirral University Teaching Hospitals (10.9 per cent), Warrington and Halton Hospitals (10.8 per cent) and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (10.1 per cent).
All had higher than average Covid-related absences.
Taking Covid-related absences alone, three had rates of over five per cent on Boxing Day – Homerton University Hospital in London (7.1 per cent), Royal United Hospitals Bath (6.9 per cent) and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (6.7 per cent).
Teachers and pupils will have to wear masks when they return to class next week under new guidance issued by government
But nine reported Covid-related absences of less than one per cent of their workforce on December 26.
Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the figures for New Years Eve showed a five percentage point rise, with December 2019 only having 4.69 per cent of staff off in total.
Meanwhile, the Government is being urged to make sure enough Covid-19 tests are available for schoolchildren and staff.
Currently, the Department for Education recommends children and fully vaccinated adults who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus perform lateral flow tests twice a week.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid last week said ministers expect a need to ‘constrain’ supply for a fortnight amid surging demand.
General concerns over supply issues have prompted calls from the Labour Party and a headteachers’ union for the Government to make sure the tests are available for schools.
The Government faced widespread criticism over the shortage of lateral flow testing kits over the festive period.
As ministers urged families and friends to test before socialising at Christmas and New Year’s events, people were unable to get their hands on kits because they were unavailable.
Pharmacists urged the Government to increase its supply as they said they were forced to send people away empty handed while the Government website frequently said home delivery was unavailable.
Ministers fear there will be a massive increase in Omicron cases when children return to the classroom next week
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘The difficulties the public have had in accessing lateral flow tests over the past few weeks has made many people nervous that they will not be available when needed for school staff and pupils.
‘If lateral flow tests are to be critical to enabling pupils and staff to return to school quickly then there must be a ready supply available for schools as they go back in January and throughout the term.’
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘I think there are two things, though, that the Government can and should be doing. The first is on testing. Pupils should be testing twice a week.
‘There’s lots of evidence to suggest that hasn’t been happening properly.
‘So the message for Government is get the tests in place, make sure pupils are able to test twice a week.
‘And my message to parents and pupils is ‘do take the tests’ because the big challenge this month is going to be keeping pupils learning, avoiding mass absences, and of course making sure that staff are well enough to attend school as well.’
According to Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), there are currently no concerns over the supply of lateral flow tests to schools.
He said: ‘With regards to the availability of lateral flow test kits, schools and colleges are able to order them through an online ordering system, and were advised to place orders before the Christmas holidays if more kits were needed for the start of term.
‘These orders are due to be delivered in the week commencing January 3, and we have not been notified by the Government of any issues affecting supply.’
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.