independent– Covid-19 cases have soared by their highest number since the start of the pandemic as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the UK.
The latest figures released by the government show 129,471 new cases in the 24 hours to 9am on Tuesday, which is a new daily record.
The government also said a further 18 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. It warned that the data was incomplete due to the holidays, and did not include figures for Scotland or Northern Ireland.
The Omicron variant is thought by scientists to be milder than previous incarnations of the virus, but it is not clear exactly to what extent – or how many of the record number of people being infected will end up in hospital or dying.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday that there would be no new social distancing or lockdown restrictions before the new year, after also declining to impose any measures ahead of Christmas.
Speaking on Tuesday after the new numbers were released, Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson, said the government should take the figures seriously.
“With Covid cases reaching record highs, it is clear that Omicron still poses a huge collective threat. High numbers of cases and people self-isolating will likely disrupt almost every sector, including our NHS, care workers and schools,” she said.
“The Conservatives must take this seriously. As well as continuing to roll out the booster programme, and do more to vaccinate the unvaccinated, it must put an air purifier in every classroom in England so our schools can open – and stay open – safely.
“The government must also step up support for businesses, who are already feeling the impact on their trade.”
Environment secretary George Eustice said that the government is keeping the level of Covid hospital admissions under “very close review”.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “This is a disease that’s not going away; the infection is not going away, although we’re not going to see [such] severe disease for much longer.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have to let people who are positive with Covid go about their normal lives, as they would do with any other cold. And so, at some point, we’ve got to relax this.
“If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later. Maybe not quite just yet.”
Meanwhile, virologist Dr Sarah Pitt has called for “a few measures” to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The microbiology lecturer said that the “seriously infectious virus” was “putting some people very seriously in hospital, and some people are dying”.