Parcel revenue at Royal Mail increased by 29.7% in the three months to December compared to the same period in 2019/20 with volumes rising by 15%, it said in a trading update.

However, staff absences in January peaked at 15,000 due to Omicron - twice the pre-Covid level – although it said the situation was now improving.

Domestic parcel revenue grew by 43.9% during the quarter and declined by 4.9% year on year and there was a similar picture with domestic parcel volumes: increasing by 33%, but falling by 7% year on year.

The group’s Amsterdam-based international parcels subsidiary, GLS, saw revenue growth of 7% in Euros, 35.2% in Sterling compared to Q3 2019/20, as well as an increase of 10.7% in Euros year on year (4.5% in Sterling).

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Keith Williams, Royal Mail chair, said: “We expected some decline in parcel volumes given most retail stores were open during the period, unlike last year.

“However, the trend towards customers wanting more parcels remains, and responding to that change efficiently is key.

“Our domestic parcels business in the UK has seen demand increase by around a third over two years, as has our GLS business across its markets.”

The group added that Omicron was spreading across Europe and putting pressure on the availability of drivers and in-house labour.