The rate of spread of Covid could be slowing, figures suggest, with a drop of nearly 10,000 new one-day infections.
Another 99,652 people have been found to be infected with Covid-19 in the UK in 24 hours, according to government statistics.
That was down compared with the 109,133 new infections recorded in the previous 24 hours but it brings the total number of infections to 15,066,395 – nearly one in four of the UK population.
And another 270 people have died within 28 days of a positive test, according to government statistics – a fall compared with the 335 deaths reported on Thursday.
Over the past week, there have been 1,869 deaths linked to coronavirus in the UK – a rise of two-thirds on the previous seven days.
However, new analysis suggests tens of thousands of new cases are not being included in the official daily figures.
An average of 114,600 new cases were recorded each day in the week to 23 December, according to the government’s Covid-19 dashboard.
But the true figure might have been more than three times that number, according to estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It means more than one-and-a-half million new cases of coronavirus could have been missed from the official figures in the week before Christmas.
High levels of underreporting will still be affecting the government’s daily figures, meaning the current volume of cases in the UK is unclear.
The ONS has published the data as part of its weekly infection survey, which estimates both the overall prevalence of the virus across the country and the number of new cases.
Samples from more than 150,000 people in private households show there were an estimated 357,600 new cases of Covid-19 each day in the week to 23 December, more than three times the 114,600 recorded on the government’s dashboard.
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said the ONS survey was a more reliable source of information than the government’s dashboard because it was not affected by changes in the numbers and types of people being tested routinely or in availability of tests.
He said: “A large proportion of new infections is not picked up by the routine testing that provides the dashboard numbers. Also, the ONS estimates can take into account reinfections. The dashboard case figures do not currently count anyone as a case if they have previously been counted as a case, so reinfections are excluded.
“That’s a potential problem with Omicron because there is evidence that it is considerably more likely to infect previously-infected people than was the case for previous variants.”