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Brits with a cough or a cold should avoid celebrating Christmas with their grandparents in order to protect them from a surge in winter viruses, health officials have said. Officials have outlined their message clearly: if you feel unwell stay home.

Hospital admissions for flu are at their highest level for five years and there are fears that family gatherings could put elderly people at risk.

NHS chiefs say that Christmas could be their “darkest to date” as hospitals struggle under “enormous pressure” from rising flu, Covid and strep A infections.

A spokesman from the Department of Health blamed Covid lockdowns and the recent colder temperatures for the surge.

He said: “Covid restrictions kept flu at bay in previous seasons.

“But the ending of these and plunging temperatures in recent weeks have resulted in increased socialising indoors, which is why both viruses are on the rise.”

Health secretary Steve Barclay has urged those over 50 and healthcare workers to get their free flu jabs.

He said: “We can all draw on the spirit of Christmas and make sure our vulnerable relatives, friends and neighbours are getting their immunity topped up to prevent them from serious illness.”

Hospital bosses claim that the problem in dealing with the resurgence of viruses has been “aggravated” by strikes by nurses and paramedics.

The UK Health Security Agency has advised anyone with viral symptoms to stay at home this Christmas.

They have also been advised to wear a mask in enclosed space such as supermarkets or public transport.

They said: “It is important to avoid contact with other people if you are unwell to help stop infections spreading over the Christmas and new year period.”

According to NHS England, hospital admissions for flu were sixty times higher than last year with people over 65 and children under 5 considered most at risk.

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The latest figures published on December 18 show 2,300 patients hospitalised because of flu, compared to 27 on the same day last year.

In the past week admissions have jumped by more than two-thirds and are forecast to exceed the 2017-18 when 30,000 people died.

Meanwhile the number of COVID-19 admissions has doubled in a month to 8,646 the highest figure since October.

Since September there have been 960 cases of invasive strep A with 94 deaths with 39 of these in people 75 or over.

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