COVID case records “will be broken a lot over the next few weeks” after the UK saw the highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic, England’s chief medical officer has warned.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Professor Chris Whitty suggested there were “two epidemics on top of one another” following the spread of the Omicron variant.
He said the spread of the existing Delta variant was “roughly flat” but there was a “very rapidly growing Omicron epidemic on top of it”.
On Wednesday, the UK recorded its highest number of daily COVID cases since the start of the coronavirus crisis, with 78,610 fresh infections.
“I’m afraid we have to be realistic that records will be broken a lot over the next few weeks as the rates continue to go up,” Prof Whitty said.
He added: “It looks as if Delta, which we’ve had with us for a while, is still flat and the growth is Omicron.
“So what we’ve got is two epidemics on top of one other. An existing Delta epidemic, roughly flat, and a very rapidly growing Omicron epidemic on top of it.”
The 78,610 COVID cases recorded on Wednesday was over 10,000 more than the previous daily record of 68,053 infections, which was reported on 8 January this year.
A further 4,671 cases of the Omicron variant were also confirmed on Wednesday, almost doubling the total in the country and bringing it to 10,017.
Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, earlier told MPs that the Omicron variant is “probably the most significant threat we’ve had since the start of the pandemic”.
She also warned of a “staggering” number of cases in the next few days compared with what has gone before.
But Dr Harries said the “real potential risk” was whether “cases turn into severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths” and added it was “too early” to be clear on that.
On Wednesday, a further 165 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were reported. This time last week, 161 deaths were recorded.
In the latest 24-hour period where figures are available, another 774 COVID patients were admitted to hospitals in the UK – with the total now 7,673, including 896 on ventilators.
This is slightly up from the same time the previous week when 738 patients were admitted.