The UK has reported a further 194,747 Covid cases in the past 24 hour period as pressure grows on the NHS to cancel surgeries.
The number is down from the 218,724 cases reported on Tuesday, although that update included delayed bank holiday data from Wales and Northern Ireland.
Another 334 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test, the most recent figures show, and this number includes part of a backlog in data for hospital deaths in England from 1-4 January.
A total of 17,276 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid as of 4 January, the most recent government figures show. This is up 5 per cent week-on-week and is the highest number since 19 February 2021.
A further 222,824 Covid booster and third dose vaccinations have taken place in the UK, taking the total number administered to 34.5 million.
The figures came after Boris Johnson met his cabinet in the morning to agree on continuing with plan B restrictions for three more weeks to tackle the more contagious Omicron strain of the virus.
At a Downing Street press conference last night, he said he would recommend to ministers that England should “ride out” the fourth wave with current measures, which include mask wearing in some public places and working from home.
A majority of the cabinet was already in favour of not implementing stricter curbs.
Giving an account of the meeting, a Downing Street statement said the PM told his top team the “next few weeks would be very challenging, particularly for the NHS where the number of people going into hospital because of Omicron will increase”.
“The prime minister said the UK’s balanced approach, together with new evidence that Omicron is less severe than Delta, meant it was right to maintain the plan B measures, with a further review before the regulations expire on January 26,” the statement added.
“The prime minister said the government would continue to give the NHS all the support it needs to further manage the pressure it is under.
“Cabinet agreed this approach and put on record its thanks and appreciation for the incredible efforts of NHS staff who are once again rising to the challenge of the global pandemic.”
The Omicron-driven surge in coronavirus cases and the knock-on effect of staff absences is already causing major problems in parts of the health service.
A string of NHS trusts declared critical incidents and hospitals in Greater Manchester said they will pause some “non-urgent” surgery over the “rising impact” of Covid-19 and staffing shortages.
In other updates, Covid testing rules for people without symptoms are to be eased.
The UK Health Security Agency said that from 11 January, asymptomatic people in England who test positive will no longer require a confirmatory PCR test.