The number of UK daily Covid cases has fallen for a second day in a row.
The government said lab-confirmed coronavirus cases were 179,756 as of 9am on Thursday, and a further 231 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.
On Tuesday, 218,724 infections were reported – a record high – and fell to 194,747 on Wednesday.
Cases in the last seven days
It comes as Boris Johnson said hospitals will be offered increased support to deal with the “very difficult circumstances” they face, as he encouraged more people to take up the offer of a booster jab.
The prime minister said that “perhaps 30-40%” of the 17,000 patients in hospital with Covid “haven’t actually been vaccinated at all” as he urged the public to “behave sensibly” in the face of high daily Omicron cases.
Both Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak made visits to vaccination centres on Thursday as ministers made a fresh push for people to come forward for their third coronavirus vaccination dose.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Northamptonshire, the prime minister said: “What we’ve got to do is make sure that people understand the pressures that Omicron is causing.
“And the way to deal with it is for everybody to stick to Plan B, which we are, make sure that they behave sensibly, but also recognise the vital importance of vaccination.
“When you look at what’s happening to patients coming into hospital, a large number of them, perhaps 30-40% of them, haven’t actually been vaccinated at all.
“And that’s increasingly true of people who go into ICU, into intensive care – the large majority of them have not been vaccinated at all, and the overwhelming majority of them have not been boosted.”
The Conservative Party leader said that, as well as “increasing support massively” to struggling hospitals – including by helping trusts to source extra staff while dealing with high proportions of the workforce being in self-isolation – a key target was to “make sure that the people who are likely to get ill get vaccinated first”.
Hitting out at anti-vaxxers for posting “mumbo jumbo” on social media, Johnson added: “The saddest words in the English language are too late – when you’re in ICU, and you haven’t been vaccinated, sadly it’s too late to get vaccinated. So get boosted now.”
A total of 247,478 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported across the UK on Wednesday, new figures show, with around 65% of all adults in the UK having now received a booster or third dose.
However, fewer than half of all adults in some of the biggest cities in England are among those to receive a top-up jab.
Figures published by NHS England, accounting for vaccinations delivered up to January 2, estimate that in Liverpool, 49.1% of all people aged 18 and over have had a third jab, along with 46.9% in Birmingham, 45.7% in Manchester and 42.8% in Nottingham.
It is understood that 17 hospital trusts in England currently have critical incidents – an alert to signal that there are fears priority services cannot be safely delivered – as hospitals are confronted by a wave of Omicron admissions.