The number of Hertfordshire residents hospitalised with COVID-19 increased by almost half in the last week of December, according to NHS data.

By December 29, 426 people were in beds with the virus across four NHS trusts in the county – a 49 per cent increase on December 22, when the number was 286.

On December 1, there had been just 125 coronavirus patients in Herts hospitals, meaning severe cases more than tripled throughout the month – and data suggests the problem will worsen.

The figures

On December 29, the West Hertfordshire trust, which runs Watford General Hospital, had 270 beds occupied by Covid-19 patients - more than half of the hospital's 521-bed capacity.

This was a 53 per cent increase on the week before and more than 240pc higher than on December 1.

The trust has now issued a warning to the public, stating: “Do not enter our hospital sites other than in the exceptional circumstances outlined in our strict visitor restrictions.”

A further 112 coronavirus patients were filling beds at the East and North Hertfordshire trust, which runs the 720-bed Lister Hospital.

This was a 40 per cent increase on the week before and almost triple the figure on December 1.

The Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust was treating 18 COVID-19 in-patients, compared to seven on December 1.

The Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust had 26 patients – twice previous week’s figure. On December 1, it had not had any.

What next?

Hospitalisation figures are typically three or four weeks behind infections, as the virus takes time to incubate and progress to severe illness.

Throughout December, Hertfordshire’s infection rate has consistently worsened – meaning pressure on hospitals is likely to worsen in the coming weeks.

On December 1, the county had 128.4 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents.

Two weeks later, on December 15, it had risen by more than 140 per cent to 310 cases per 100,000.

Another two weeks later, on December 29, it had again risen by just over 140 per cent, to 752 cases per 100,000.

Some areas are rising even faster. The infection rate in St Albans, whilst lower than the overall Herts rate, is growing more quickly. On December 15, it had 247.9 cases per 100,000. By December 29, it had risen 170 per cent to 668.9.

Stevenage’s is rising even more rapidly, shooting up more than 200 per cent from 225.4 cases on December 15 to 680.7 on December 29.