The UK is the first country in Europe to pass the grim milestone, reports Sam Holder
Covid-19 has taken a "terrible toll" on the country, the prime minister has said as the UK passed the grim milestone of 150,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.
As the country recorded an additional 313 deaths in the 24 hours to 9am on Saturday bringing the toll to 150,057 fatalities, one of the government's scientific advisors said the situation was an "absolute tragedy" made worse because “many of them were avoidable if we had acted earlier in the first and second waves”.
The number is roughly the population of Oxford.
The UK is the first country in Europe to pass 150,000 reported deaths, and seventh in the world after the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been more than 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
The milestone puts the UK's Covid response into perspective, says Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen
The latest data from the government showed that in the same 24-hour period, another 146,390 positive Covid cases were recorded, suggesting that cases may no longer be accelerating at the rate they were over the festive period, when more than 200,000 cases were recorded in one day.
Saturday is the fourth day in a row in which Covid cases have fallen, however, rates are still exceptionally high and translate to 1,913.8 people per 100,000 having coronavirus.
However, these figures are for the UK as a whole and while case numbers appear to be slowing in London which was the first part of the country to see a surge in cases of the new, more transmissible Omicron variant, cases in the north of England are now soaring.
Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “It is absolutely tragic and to think that’s been repeated so many times is awful.
“I think we could have done better. I think some of the deaths are even more tragic for the fact that many of them were avoidable if we had acted earlier in the first and second wave.”
The new deaths were announced as the NHS continues to face significant strain from the Omicron variant and record high cases, though death rates are not as nearly as sharp as earlier in the pandemic because of vaccines and the new strain being believed to be milder.
In a tweeted statement, Boris Johnson said: “Coronavirus has taken a terrible toll on our country and today the number of deaths recorded has reached 150,000.
“Each and every one of those is a profound loss to the families, friends and communities affected and my thoughts and condolences are with them.
“Our way out of this pandemic is for everyone to get their booster or their first or second dose if they haven’t yet.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the death toll represented a “dark milestone for our country”.
“Our thoughts are with all those who have lost someone, and we thank everyone supporting the vaccination effort,” he said.
“We must ensure the public inquiry provides answers and that lessons are learned.”
Jo Goodman, a co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said the official figure of 150,000 coronavirus deaths being recorded was “yet another indictment of the government’s handling of the pandemic”.
“We didn’t need to be here and bereaved families and the rest of the country need answers as to how we have suffered one of the highest global death tolls,” she said.
“This is ever more urgent as deaths from the Omicron variant continue to surge, with little apparently being done to address this. The public inquiry cannot begin its work soon enough.”
Earlier in the day, one expert said the rising numbers of cases across northern England, driven by the Omicron variant, are "concerning".
Figures showed that three of the five UK areas with the biggest week-on-week rises in Covid case rates are Middlesbrough (748.8 to 2,651.4), Copeland (1,731.3 to 3,525.8) and Redcar & Cleveland (846.8 to 2,564.3).
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) highlighted these regions, along with the Midlands, as areas of concern.
He said cases in London are "slowing down", but scientists need two weeks to see if this continues.
Dr Tildesley told Times Radio on Saturday: "Most other parts of the country are about two to three weeks behind where London is in their epidemic profile.
"Particularly concerning is the North East and the North West - if you look at hospital admissions in those two regions they are going up, also the Midlands, where I live, that's also a little bit concerning, so it is a worry.
"On the slightly more positive side, so it doesn't sound all doom and gloom, what we are seeing from hospital admissions is that stays in hospital do appear to be on average shorter, which is good news, symptoms appear to be a little bit milder, so this is what we are seeing consistently with the Omicron variant."
Northamptonshire Local Resilience Forum, which is made up of NHS organisations, local authorities, Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and Northamptonshire Police, issued the alert due to "rising demand on services and staffing levels".
However, Dr Tildesley added that Omicron is possibly the "first ray of light" in ensuring Covid-19 becomes endemic and easier to live with, similar to the common cold.
He said: "The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version. It's very similar to the common cold that we've lived with for many years.
"We're not quite there yet, but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term. It is, of course, much more transmissible than Delta was, which is concerning, but much less severe.
"Hopefully, as we move more towards the spring and we see the back of Omicron, we can get more inter-relationship of living with Covid as an endemic disease and protecting the vulnerable.
"Any variant that does emerge which is less severe, ultimately, in the longer term, is where we want to be."
On Friday, Health Editor Emily Morgan visited New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton where the number of patients with Covid has increased almost four-fold in a week
It comes as as the armed forces have stepped in to fill a staffing crisis in the NHS caused by the rapid spread of the variant.
NHS England data shows 39,142 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on January 2, up 59% on the previous week (24,632) and more than three times the number at the start of December (12,508).
According to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), staff absences across the entire NHS, including mental health trusts and other areas, for any reason including Covid-19, may be as high as 120,000 out of an entire workforce of more than 1.3 million - an absence rate of almost one in 10.
To help fill the gap, there were around 1,800 military personnel committed to assist with 15 different events, as of Friday, 740 of who are helping with the booster rollout.
In Scotland, 121 personnel are supporting the Scottish government.
In total, there are around 9,300 armed forces available on standby.
As well as a staffing crisis, hospitals are also facing the highest number of admissions from coronavirus since last February.
A total of 18,454 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 6, government figures show.
This is up 40% week on week and is the highest number since February 18, 2021.
During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 39,254 on January 18, 2021.
However, the effectiveness of Covid vaccines means that these high numbers of cases and hospitalisations are not translating into such high numbers of deaths as they were at the beginning of last year.
Meanwhile, figures from the UK Health Security Agency show that the vaccine booster is 90% effective against admission to hospital from the Omicron variant for the over-65s after three months.
However, protection for those with two doses dropped to about 70% after three months and to 50% after six months.
Taking this data into account, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has advised the government against giving a second booster dose, or fourth jab, to care home residents and those aged over 80.
However, when asked on Times Radio if jabs would be needed every year, Professor Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at University of Bristol and a member of the JCVI said: "I think that's quite a likely possibility.
"And I think you know, what we've got at the moment, vaccines are great in terms of their ability to prevent serious disease with the current variants.
"But as we've seen that protection doesn't last all that long, and it doesn't cross-protect against new variants as they arrive. So we need to go on improving the vaccines available.
"And we need to go on adjusting what we're doing all the time in the face of what comes up next, if you like, so it's very much an open question as to what we will do.
"But I think use of vaccines against coronavirus is just going to be with us in the future. Yes, for sure."
Listen to Coronavirus: What You Need To Know - the Covid-19 podcast from ITV News
How do the latest figures break down across the UK?
The majority of the new cases and deaths recorded in the past 24 hours took place in England. Another 282 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test and 130,330 positive cases were recorded.
In the 24 hours to 9am on Saturday, 26 Covid-related deaths were recorded in Scotland and another 12,602 cases.
In Northern Ireland, another five Covid deaths were reported and 3,458 cases recorded.
Wales does not publish Covid-19 statistics on a Saturday.