The number of people hospitalized in England with covid-19 has dropped to pre-Christmas levels, suggesting the virus is becoming less prevalent among the population.
Health experts said the numbers were “encouraging and welcome” but stressed the importance of getting the last booster shot, as around a third of those over 50 have yet to get the shot.
A total of 7,743 patients had tested positive for covid-19 as of January 11, 17% less than the previous week, figures from England’s NHS show.
It is the lowest total since December 18 and is a sign that the current wave of infections may have peaked.
The number of patients had been on an upward trend since late November, before leveling off around Christmas.
If the downward trend continues, it means that hospitalizations will have peaked below 10,000: well below the numbers seen in previous waves.
The number exceeded 14,000 during the summer of 2022 and reached 17,000 last winter.
Dr Jamie López Bernal, Consultant Immunization Epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “These early signs that Covid-19 infection levels may be declining are encouraging and welcome, but we cannot be complacent. .
“Today’s data shows we are headed in the right direction, but covid-19 continues to circulate at high levels and hospital admissions remain high in the older age groups, so it is particularly important that all who are eligible continue to showing up to accept his back-up jab.”
The hospital admission rate for covid-19 stood at 9.1 per 100,000 people last week, down from 10.8 per 100,000 the previous week.
Admissions are highest among those over 85, with 117.3, and between 75 and 84, with 46.6.
Around a third of people over the age of 50 have yet to receive their last booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and uptake is currently estimated at 64.3%, according to UKHSA data.
The figure is even lower between 50 to 54 years (42.2%) and 55 to 59 years (51.8%).
Everyone aged 50 and over can book a booster appointment, as long as they received their last injection at least three months ago.
Doses are also available for frontline health and care workers, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.
The majority of current Covid-19 infections in the UK are the variant known as BQ.1, which is part of the Omicron family.
Two newer variants from Omicron, CH.1.1 and XBB.1.5, are very likely to replace BQ.1 as the next dominant variant in the UK, the UKHSA said, although neither have been classified as “of concern”.
The XBB.1.5 variant has been increasing in the United States in recent months, but remains very low in prevalence in the United Kingdom.
Dr Meera Chand, UKHSA Director of Clinical and Emerging Infections, said: “Through our genomic surveillance, we continue to see the evolution of variants in the Omicron family.
“UKHSA is constantly monitoring the situation and working to understand the public health implications.
“Vaccination remains our best defense against future waves of covid-19, so it remains as important as ever that people come in to take all the doses they are eligible for as soon as possible.”