More than 600,000 people will be forced to isolate with Covid across the UK on Christmas Day after a record 119,789 tested positive, the highest daily figure since the pandemic began.
The surge triggered by the Omicron variant means that 608,000 people who have had Covid confirmed since 18 December in England and 15 December in the rest of the UK will still be in their isolation period on 25 December, Guardian analysis shows.
If daily cases remain high or rise further, in the region of 750,000 people could be barred from leaving their homes to see relatives, take a Christmas Day walk or work in vital services such as the NHS.
New guidance for England issued on Wednesday cut the isolation period from 10 to seven days for those who get the all-clear from lateral flow tests. It remains at 10 days for the rest of the UK.
The record 119,789 cases for the 24 hours to 9am on Thursday represents a 139% rise on the 50,023 new cases recorded two weeks ago and a 53% week-on-week increase. Wednesday was the first time the UK recorded more than 100,000 Covid cases, with Omicron the most transmissible variant so far.
A further 147 people died of Covid-related causes, taking the overall number of people in the UK with Covid on their death certificate to 171,801, the seventh highest in the world. The number of daily deaths remains relatively stable.
Daily hospitalisations jumped to 1,004, up from 813 the previous day and a 4.4% rise this week compared with the previous seven days.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Thursday that the risk of being admitted to hospital was up to 70% less for people with Omicron compared with those infected with the Delta variant.
Concerns have been raised, however, about the impact of high case rates on staff numbers in sectors such as health, transport and retail.
NHS England’s national medical director, Stephen Powis, said the health service was “on a war footing and staff are taking the fight to Omicron”. The number of staff days lost to Covid across NHS England hit 124,855 last week, a 38% jump from 90,277 the week before.