The UK said there were a record 218,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as infections and hospital admissions continued to climb due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
There have now been 1,270,000 cases in Britain in the past seven days alone, a week-on-week increase of more than 50 per cent.
Earlier on Tuesday, France’s health minister warned the country was on track to declare close to 300,000 cases.
The UK Department of Health also reported 48 deaths, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 148,941. There were 157,758 new cases reported on Monday, which was a public holiday in the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped hospitals in the UK could “ride out” the massive wave of Omicron cases without further lockdown restrictions.
Mr Johnson said now is the time for the “utmost caution” but argued the booster roll-out has given substantial protection to the nation.
“So together with the Plan B measures that we introduced before Christmas we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again,” he told a Downing Street press conference.
“We can keep our schools and our businesses open and we can find a way to live with this virus.”
The prime minister acknowledged the weeks ahead are going to be “challenging” and said “some services will be disrupted by staff absences”, as he pledged to “fortify” the NHS to withstand the pressures and protect supply chains.
Under the measures, he said 100,000 “critical workers” will get lateral flow tests on every working day starting on Monday.
“As our NHS moves to a war footing, I will be recommending to cabinet tomorrow that we continue with Plan B,” he added.
“Because the public have responded and changed their behaviour, your behaviour, buying valuable time to get boosters in arms and help the NHS to cope with the Omicron wave.”
England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said there was a “very substantial increase” in cases over the past few weeks, which he expected to continue over the coming days.
However, he added “we are not seeing the same surge in mortality” from Omicron as with previous waves.
Tuesday’s Covid figures for the UK were announced after Northern Ireland declared 30,423 infections over the long weekend.
The number, which covers new cases detected from midnight on Thursday to midnight on Monday, was coupled with the announcement of 15 deaths of patients who had tested positive for the virus.
On Tuesday there were 112 coronavirus outbreaks at care homes in Northern Ireland, according to the latest update from the Department of Health.
The hospital occupancy rate was put at 105 per cent.
The UK’s surging Covid numbers were revealed as the US hit a global record by declaring 1,080,211 cases in a single day on Monday.
The figure, largely driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, was almost double the previous record of about 590,000, set four days before.
Leaders across Europe are grappling with a fourth wave of Covid-19 and increased restrictions have sparked mass protests, some of which have turned violent, in multiple nations.
The UK government has refused to rule out rationing Covid-19 tests as it recognised there were periods during recent days when tests had become unavailable online.
Asked whether ministers were preparing to ration tests, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We have one of the highest testing capacities in the world, certainly the highest in Europe.
“We would obviously need to keep under review, as prevalence is incredibly high, what the right approach might be and we continue to take advice on whether that is necessary.”
Pressed on whether ministers were ruling out rationing tests, the spokesman replied: “Without seeking to predict the course of the epidemic and this current wave that we’re in, at the moment those who need tests can get them and there may be times during the day when tests are unavailable, but the advice is for people to check back throughout the day so they will be able to secure a slot when one becomes available.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there was nothing in the data at this point that “suggests that we need to move away from Plan B”.
Plan B measures introduced last month include mandatory face masks in most public settings, a working-from-home order and certificates for nightclubs. Patrons have to show they have had two doses of a vaccine, have recovered from the virus, or have taken a recent negative test to gain entry to late-night venues.