UK records 162,572 new infections on New Year’s Day as total exceeds 13 million

The UK has recorded a further 162,572 Covid cases on New Year’s Day as the health secretary said the UK must look to “live alongside” the virus in 2022.

However, with ongoing constraints on testing, the figure is likely to be an underestimate of the true scale of infections across the country.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in the week ending 23 December, an estimated one in 25 people in England had Covid, while one in 40 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were infected.

A further 154 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were also reported on Saturday.

While the three other nations have imposed limits on pubs, bars and restaurants to tackle the surge – driven by the more infectious Omicron variant – England continues to only have compulsory face covering rules.

Writing in the Daily Mail on Saturday, Sajid Javid said further restrictions must be an “absolute last resort”, with less people requiring intensive care after contracting the virus.

Swimmers take part in the New Year’s Day swim at Derby Pool, New Brighton, Wirral (Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

“Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them,” he said.

“Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns.

“So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.”

But he acknowledged that hospitals would see a large increase in patients over the next month because of the delay between people contracting the virus and being admitted to hospital.

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It comes as NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor, warned that an increasing number of hospitals may be forced to ban visitors as part of “difficult choices” made to stymie the spread of Omicron.

Services have already been limited at some UK hospitals, with Morriston Hospital in Swansea becoming the latest to introduce stricter measures. Its emergency department will now only treat patients with life-threatening illnesses or serious injuries.

It follows bans on visitors at Northampton General and Kettering General in Northamptonshire to “reduce the risk of Covid-19 being introduced”.

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