A quarter of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week before Christmas were Covid related, the highest weekly proportion since mid-May.
Of a total of 11,520 deaths registered across England and Wales in the week to 25 December, 2,912 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate or 25.3%.
This brings the total number of UK deaths involving Covid to 92,070, as of 4 January.
The figure is higher than the government’s official toll of 76,303 , which only includes those deaths that occurred within 28 days of a first positive test. The higher figure includes all deaths recorded by the three statistical agencies to date plus those reported on the government dashboard since each agency last reported.
The increase in the proportion of Covid-related deaths in the run-up to Christmas comes after the number of new cases of people in the UK testing positive for Covid-19 topped 60,000 for the first time on Tuesday.
There were record numbers of patients in hospital across most of England on Monday, with 26,626 being treated for Covid, 40% higher than the first-wave peak.
A separate ONS report on Tuesday estimated that as many as one in 50 people in England may have had the virus in the week to 2 January. The survey only looks at infections in private households, excluding those infected in hospitals, care homes or other settings.
The figures, from the latest update of the ONS Covid-19 infection survey, show the highest rate in London, where an estimated one in 30 people are thought to have had Covid-19 between 27 December and 2 January.
The combination of factors led to stark warnings from experts.
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, described the statistic of one in 50 people having Covid in England – equivalent to 1.1 million people or 2.06% of the population – as “frighteningly high”.
“For comparison, the ONS data shows that in June the numbers were around 1 in 4,000. If we also highlight the huge numbers of confirmed daily cases, the fact that there’s more people in hospital now with Covid-19 than at any state of the pandemic, and that almost any graph you look at is on a steep upward trajectory, then the UK is clearly not in a good place right now.”
Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, Imperial Wellcome Trust research fellow at Imperial College London, said the data was “very concerning”.
“This large increase will lead to a further increase in hospitalisations and sadly deaths from Covid-19 in coming weeks and add further pressures to the NHS that is already seeing record levels of Covid-19 patients in hospital.”
Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor and clinical virologist at theUniversity of Leicester, warned that the upward trend of cases and related hospitalisations and deaths “is likely to continue for another two to three weeks as the impact of social mixing during Christmas/New Year continues to be felt”.
All but one English NHS region, the north -est, treated more Covid patients on at least one day in the week to 4 November than the first-wave peak.
The east of England and the south-east – treated more than twice as many Covid patients on Monday than at the height of the first wave.
London exceeded its first-wave peak for the seventh day in a row treating a new high of 6,733 Covid patients on 4 January. This compares with a high of 5,201 on 9 April, meaning the region is now treating 29% more patients than on its worst day in April.
The Midlands and the south-west also experienced their highest-ever level of Covid patients on Monday at 4,499 and 1,401 respectively.