The UK has reported the highest number of new Covid-19 cases in three months as the number of infections reached levels last seen when lockdown restrictions were in place during the summer.
Government data up to Monday shows there have been a further 49,156 lab-confirmed infections in the UK. This is the highest number of daily reported cases since July 17.
Another 45 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 138,629.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics on Friday showed coronavirus infection levels in England are getting close to the peak seen at the height of the second wave and are mostly being driven by rates among schoolchildren.
Britain lifted the last remaining social distancing restrictions to contain the virus on July 19 when pubs and restaurants were allowed to operate at full capacity and nightclubs reopened their doors.
However, with over two thirds of the adult population fully vaccinated, this has so far dramatically reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death.
Downing Street said an increase in coronavirus cases had been expected over the winter and the government would keep a “close watch” on the situation.
Epidemiologist and government adviser Professor Andrew Hayward said the situation was “concerning” and there was “huge potential for the NHS to come under a lot of pressure”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We obviously keep very close watch on the latest statistics.
“We always knew the coming months would be challenging.
“What we are seeing is case rates, hospitalisations and deaths still broadly in line with the modelling as set out a few months back now.
“The vaccination programme will continue to be our first line of defence, along with new treatments, testing and public health advice.
“But we will obviously keep a close watch on cases.
“But it is thanks to our vaccination programme that we are able to substantially break the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths.”
The spokesman said the success of the vaccines meant “we are able to be one of the most open economies in Europe, which is benefiting the public and indeed businesses as well”.
Prof Hayward, a member of the Sage scientific advisory panel, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “I think it’s concerning that we’ve got very high rates of infection and higher rates of hospitalisation and mortality than many of our European counterparts.”
He said waning immunity is “probably part of” the reason infections are currently high, adding there is “some evidence” protection against infection is beginning to wear off and “probably some evidence” protection against severe disease is waning to a lesser extent.
Prof Hayward added: “We shouldn’t be complacent because there is still huge potential for the NHS to come under a lot of pressure and for there to be a lot of unnecessary deaths.
“So we need to get the vaccination rates up and we need to be prepared potentially to think about other measures if things do get out of control.”