Coronavirus UK: Two thirds of NHS hospitals now treating MORE Covid patients ...

Two thirds of NHS hospitals currently have more Covid patients than they did on England's worst day in April last year when the pandemic first exploded, official figures show as the Government last night shifted back to a total national lockdown to 'protect the NHS'.

There were a record 26,000 infected patients taking up hospital beds across England on January 2, the most recent day data is available for, and doctors warn admissions are still accelerating as the second wave rages on.  

Boris Johnson last night announced the toughest lockdown since spring amid fears the resurgence of the virus, driven by a super-infectious new variant, is already worse than the first. 

London yesterday reported that 828 new coronavirus patients were admitted to hospital on January 2, which is the highest number for nine months and close to the one-day record of 883 in March 2020.

Some hospitals in hard-hit areas such as Kent and East Sussex are seeing up to three times as many coronavirus patients as they did on April 12, the point of the first wave at which patient numbers were highest.

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NHS staff from across the country say caring for surging numbers of people is becoming more and more difficult, with one London hospital last week declaring it was in 'disaster' mode. One doctor said medics in some badly hit areas are already having to decide how to ration ventilators for patients in intensive care and face 'horrifying' choices at work.

Chief of healthcare union NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said the spike in Covid inpatients since Christmas alone would be enough to fill 18 hospitals. And the Royal College of Surgeons's president, Professor Neil Mortensen, warned that patient numbers are now so high that cancer operations may have to be sidelined again. 

NHS England statistics show that, in the most recent data from December 29, 81 out of 127 major hospital trusts had more Covid patients than on April 12.

Many of the worst affected are in the South East and London, where the new fast-spreading variant of the virus has taken hold, with those regions now making up a majority of the daily positive tests being reported.

Hospitals in the North West, which endured the full force of the second wave earlier in the autumn, have now seen patient numbers drop to more manageable levels. The new strain of the virus is not yet spreading as widely in the North of the country. 

Graph shows the NHS hospital trusts that have the highest number of Covid-19 patients now compared to in April, with many hospitals seeing three or even four times as many people with the disease than they did at the height of the first wave

Graph shows the NHS hospital trusts that have the highest number of Covid-19 patients now compared to in April, with many hospitals seeing three or even four times as many people with the disease than they did at the height of the first wave

Chris Hopson said last night that there has been 'another steep rise in the number of Covid cases, and the number of patients being admitted to hospital is also rising at an alarming rate. 

'There are almost 9,000 more Covid patients in hospital beds – the equivalent of nearly 18 hospitals – than there was on Christmas Day, just 10 days ago. 

'We know that number is going to continue to rise over the next few weeks. The lockdown announcement will help, but only if everyone follows the rules.'

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NHS figures show that on the worst day in the first wave, April 12, there were 18,974 people with Covid-19 in England's hospitals.

On December 29 this was 21,787. It has since spiralled to 26,626 but hospital-by-hospital data is not yet available for the extra 5,000 patients.

December's data shows that London has the greatest number of Covid patients in hospital – in part because it has the biggest population – but there have been far sharper rises in the South East and the East of England.

In the East of the country, inpatient numbers are 74 per cent higher than they were in the spring, with 2,922 patients on December 29 compared to 1,679 on April 12.

There were 62 per cent more in the South East – 3,796 compared to 2,342.

In London, the

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