An average of 3,447 influenza patients were on wards in England last week, down from 5,262 in the seven days to January 8, NHS data showed.
It was the second week in a row that beds occupied by flu victims had fallen, after admissions hit the highest level in 10 years during the week before Christmas.
The admission rate for over 85s fell from 45.2 per 100,000 population last week to 24.7 this week.
For children under five it also decreased from 14.3 to 5.7 per 100,000.
But Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, warned the flu season could drag on for longer than usual this year.
She said: “The pandemic has disrupted the usual seasonal timings of many infections, so we could see flu activity outside the usual winter period – another reason to take up the vaccines now.”
The drop in pressure comes as 96 per cent of adult general and acute hospital beds are occupied.
More than 14,000 beds were taken up last week by patients who were medically fit for discharge but stuck in hospital waiting for social or community care to be arranged.
NHS England’s national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “The NHS remains under significant pressure.
“There are near record highs of people in hospital who are medically fit to leave and a high number of beds occupied in hospitals across England.
“The NHS has done extensive preparation for this winter – rolling out extra beds and nationwide 24/7 control centres to track and
High bed occupancy has a knock-on effect for patients being admitted from A&E, some of whom are waiting days for a place on a ward.
However, there were signs that ambulance handover times were improving as delays fell to the lowest level seen this winter.
Some 23 per cent of ambulance patients waited at least 30 minutes last week to be handed to A&E teams, down from 36 per cent the previous week and a record of 44 per cent in the week to January 1.
Nine per cent of patients waited more than an hour in an ambulance, also the lowest so far this winter and down from 19 per cent week-on-week.
The total number of hours lost to ambulance handover delays also fell by over three fifths in a week, from 36,000 to 14,000.
A report published by the House of Lords Public Services Committee yesterday warned emergency health services were “gridlocked and overwhelmed, unable to provide safe care”.
It said patients who struggled to reach their GP or access other support were adding to pressure on A&E departments. And a lack of capacity in social care and overcrowded hospitals means ambulances are getting stuck in queues, unable to respond to 999 calls.
The report called for an “emergency response” from the Government and for a COBRA Committee to address the crisis. It added: “We need decision makers to work together to address this emergency, providing the system with the necessary resources.
“This means cross-government attention and accountability from the Prime Minister down.”
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine welcomed the report and called for urgent action to grow the NHS workforce, investment in social care and the expansion
of hospital capacity.
Dr Adrian Boyle, RCEM president, said: “It is time for the government to face this dire crisis, to finally acknowledge its depth, and to take the necessary meaningful action to tackle it.”
Meanwhile, Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, warned that further strikes by nurses and ambulance workers would add to strain
on the NHS.
She added: “With ambulance workers and nurses set to coordinate a day of strikes next month, this winter continues to look bleak. The war of attrition between the government and trade unions has gone on for too long and must be resolved.”