The number of people testing positive for coronavirus has risen sharply in London, as the Prime Minister faces mounting pressure to U-turn on plans to lift restrictions over Christmas.
London is now tied with the East Midlands as having the highest proportion of positive Covid tests in the UK, after reporting a sharp spike in cases in the week to 12 December.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that around 1.4 per cent of the capital tested positive for coronavirus last week — equivalent to around 125,750 people in London’s 8.98m population.
Latest data from Public Health England showed that London’s infection rate now stands at 325.2 per 100,000 — the highest in the country.
The proportion of coronavirus surged across England, Wales and Scotland between 6 and 12 December, while numbers no longer appear to be decreasing in Northern Ireland.
One in 95 people in England tested positive in England last week, ONS data showed. The figure marks a significant increase from an estimate of one in 115 the week before.
That means around 567,300 across the country had the virus in the week to 12 December, as regions across England face tougher tier restrictions from midnight tonight.
Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, and the whole of Hertfordshire will join London in the highest level of restrictions from 0.01am on Saturday.
The move will see an extra 4.26m Britons enter Tier 3, meaning 68 per cent of the population will soon be living under the toughest level of restrictions.
It comes as the Prime Minister faces calls to U-turn on plans to ease restrictions between 23 and 27 December to allow people to form “Christmas bubbles”.
The four nations will split over the official guidance, with Boris Johnson remaining committed to the Christmas window, while Wales and Scotland will tighten a limit on gatherings.
In England, gatherings of up to three different households will be allowed to meet during the five-day Christmas period.
But in their first joint editorial for more than 100 years, The British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal on Tuesday urged the government to scrap plans to relax restrictions over Christmas.
“[The government] should reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period in order to bring the numbers down in the advance of a likely third wave,” the journals said.
They warned that hospitalisations will catapult over the Christmas period if ministers fail to scrap the decision, with the NHS likely to soon be overwhelmed.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the government “haven’t got it right”, and urged ministers to rethink the decision.
“If they don’t change the rules, my message is we’re under no obligation to do all that’s allowed, there’s no reason you have to kiss or hug an older relation,” he added.
Johnson today refused to rule out a third national lockdown for England after Christmas, warning that infection rates have increased “very much” over the last few weeks.
Both Wales and Northern Ireland will enter strict national lockdowns as a trade-off for eased restrictions on Christmas day.
Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford earlier this week announced the country will enter Tier 4 restrictions from 6pm on Christmas day, with stricter restrictions on household mixing, staying-at-home and travel to be enforced on 28 December.
Meanwhile Northern Ireland will enter a strict six-week lockdown on 26 December, as the country scrambles to curb a surge in cases.
Ministers will review the measures in four weeks’ time, with deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill warning the country’s health service “would be completely crushed in January if we didn’t intervene now, so while this is draconian, it’s about saving lives.”