An estimated one in eight people in England had contracted COVID-19 by December last year, up from one in 14 in October, new figures show.
Antibody data on infection in private households suggests that one in 10 in Wales had also been infected by December, alongside one in 13 in Northern Ireland and one in 11 in Scotland.
The figures come from a survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in partnership with the University of Oxford, University of Manchester, Public Health England and Wellcome Trust.
They are based on the proportion of the population who are likely to have tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19, based on blood test results from a sample of people aged 16 and over.
The ONS found “substantial variation” between regions in England, with 17 per cent of people in private households in Yorkshire and the Humber estimated to have tested positive for antibodies in December, compared with five per cent in the southwest of the country.
The study came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed he is self-isolating after receiving an alert through the UK’s leading contract tracing app.
Hancock, who has previously had coronavirus, said self-isolating is important because it is “how we break the chains of transmission”.
Meanwhile, some family doctors continue to express their frustration about the rollout of vaccines across the UK.
With more than half of the over-80s and half of elderly care home residents having received the jab, ministers have now given the go-ahead to begin vaccinating the next priority groups – the over-70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
On Monday night, Mr Hancock acknowledged that some parts of the country had made better progress than others in vaccinating those in the top priority group, but said more supplies of the vaccine are being pumped to areas that have fallen behind.
Nevertheless, some GPs have taken to social media saying they are “crying out for more vaccines” and that elderly patients want to be vaccinated in local surgeries.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, Dr David Holwell said it is “disappointing” that the number of vaccines being given in his area has fallen because of a lack of supplies.
“We were doing an average of about 2,000 vaccines a week, then last week we got 300 and this week we will get 800, so it’s disappointing,” he said.
The number of people in the UK receiving their first dose of a vaccine has now passed four million and the government remains on track to vaccinate around 15 million high-priority people across the UK by February 15.