Hospitals in England will be treating more coronavirus patients on Christmas Day than at any point in the pandemic, official data suggests, leading to fresh concern about the ability of the NHS to cope with the surge in cases over winter.
At the height of the first wave in mid-April, Covid patient numbers in England’s hospitals peaked at 18,974 but this is expected to be surpassed within days. The number increased by more than 1,000 in a day on Monday for the first time since the height of the pandemic, Guardian analysis shows, to a total of 17,709.
The same trajectory would take patient numbers past the all-time high of 18,974 by Christmas Day. Figures for Tuesday and Wednesday have not yet been released.
The data will add further urgency to calls for further restrictions to be imposed as soon as possible to combat the new hyper-infective variant of Covid-19, which has spread from London and south-east England to the rest of Britain.
The governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all announced tougher national measures in the past 48 hours. Boris Johnson was chairing a meeting of the Covid-O operations committee on Wednesday morning amid reports that more parts of England will be placed under tier 4 restrictions, banning mixing between households, as soon as Boxing Day.
The last time the number of coronavirus patients in English hospitals rose by more than 1,000 on one day was on 5 April, about a fortnight after the UK entered into the first lockdown. This came seven days before they reached a record high of 18,974.
Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London, said all of England should be placed in tier 4 immediately to avoid the whole country being “on fire”.
She told Times Radio on Wednesday: “Things are getting rapidly worse … We are in an incredibly dangerous situation … If we just wait and we let it spread to the north, where things are much more under control, then the whole country is on fire and I just feel like we have to stop it now and protect the north from the south.”
Pagel said waiting until Boxing Day, as suggested by the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, on Wednesday, was “too slow and it’s too reactive”.
She added: “We’re constantly behind the curve. I think we have to put the whole country in tier 4 today, especially in those tier 2 areas around tier 4 that are just going through the roof. Why are we letting people mix at Christmas? You are just asking for trouble … The worse it gets the harder it will be to open schools in January.”
Every region of England except London and the Midlands has exceeded its first wave peak of Covid-19 hospital patients. Three regions – the south-east, south-west and east of the country – have passed this peak in the past seven days owing to a sharp rise in the number of people needing hospital treatment for the disease.
Analysis shows that the number of Covid patients in eastern England is already 29% higher than it was at the height of the first wave, reaching 2,163 patients on Monday, compared with the previous high of 1,679.
South-east England, which has been badly hit by the new Covid variant, is dealing with 17% more patients than its busiest time in April – 2,749 on Monday, compared with 2,347 on 15 April.
The south-west on Monday became the latest region to pass its first wave peak, with 1,112 on Monday, compared with 1,080. North-west England, the north-east and the rest of Yorkshire all reached this landmark in November after their number of cases rose steeply in September and October.
The Midlands appears poised to pass this point imminently: its Covid patient numbers rose to 3,389 on Monday, compared with a high of 3,430 in April.
London, which was badly hit in the first wave, is still some way from reaching its highest number of Covid patients, recording 3,367 on Monday, compared with 5,201 at the peak in April – although numbers have risen by more than 1,000 in the past week.