Brits are being urged to not mix with vulnerable older relatives over Christmas if they feel unwell in a bid to keep people out of hospital.
The NHS has seen a sharp increase in cases of the flu and hospitalisations as medical chiefs warn the public to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Following a series of strikes, the health service is bracing for its ‘darkest’ festive period as it faces a flu surge and a bed-blocking crisis.
According to data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), flu rates are highest in children aged five to 14 years old.
Christmas: Flu rates have overtaken Covid cases in recent days PA Graphics
But hospital admission and intensive care rates have also risen compared to last week with the main increase seen in adults over the age of 85.
Dr Mary Ramsay, director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: "We are seeing a rise in cases and hospital admissions for both flu and Covid-19 as people continue to mix indoors this winter.
"Both Covid-19 and flu can cause severe illness or even death for those most vulnerable in our communities, and so it is also important to avoid contact with other people if you are unwell in order to help stop infections spreading over the Christmas and new year period."
Ambulance handover delays at A&E are currently worst on record and enquires to the 111 NHS helpline have reached an all-time high.
Eight in ten ambulances were delayed or didn’t arrive during industrial action by ambulance workers earlier this week and thousands of operations and appointments were hit by nurses strikes.
NHS bosses have warned that the service is expected to oversee an “unsafe” number of patients on wards alongside a “skeleton” of staff.
Saffron Cordery, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders are expecting this Christmas to be one of their darkest to date.”
Hospital wards across England now have 2,515 infected patients, including 186 in intensive care.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at UKHSA, said: “Hospitalisations have increased dramatically in those aged 75 and over in the past week, with admissions among children under 5 remaining high. ICU admissions have also increased this week.
“NHS services are already under pressure so it’s more important than ever to get protected with the flu vaccine and help keep yourself out of hospital.”
A&E: NHS staff are expected to be under great pressure over the festive period Liam McBurney
Experts have also warned members of the public of flu-like “super cold” which millions up and down the country can seem to shift.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “As well as the impact of industrial action, it is clear that the NHS is facing enormous pressure ahead of Christmas with the number of flu cases in hospital and in intensive care rising week-on-week.
“This is on top of significant increases in staff sickness rates and near-record demand for services like 111.
“With more industrial action scheduled for next week, there will be disruption but we urge the public to continue to use services wisely.”