For the second day in a row, the UK has recorded its highest daily increase in Covid-19 cases since the pandemic begun – with 53,135 positive tests.
A further 414 deaths were recorded within 28 days of a positive test, amid warnings that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed as infections surge across the country.
The figures compare to yesterday’s increase of 41,385 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 357 virus-related deaths. It is the first time the UK has recorded more than 50,000 new infections in a single day.
It comes amid growing pressure for the expansion of the toughest coronavirus restrictions in the face of increasing strain on hospitals in England – where the number of patients has surpassed the April peak of the first wave.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to announce any changes to tier areas in a statement to the Commons on Wednesday.
An expert adviser to the government said on Tuesday that new, national coronavirus restrictions are needed to prevent a “catastrophe” amid rising infections, and the head of an organisation representing health trusts said “as much of the country as possible” should go into the harshest Tier 4.
The debate over the reopening of schools after the Christmas break is also continuing, with scientists and school leaders suggesting a delay might be needed amid rising cases.
Ministers said they were “still planning for a staggered opening of schools” after Christmas but is keeping the approach under constant review,
Professor Andrew Hayward, of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said he thinks schools will have to return “maybe a little bit later” and reopening would mean “we’re going to have to have increased, strict restrictions in other areas of society to pay for that”.
Fellow Nervtag member Professor Neil Ferguson said there had been a “balancing act” since lockdown was initially eased to try to keep control of the virus while maintaining “some semblance of normal society” but that the new variant had made it more difficult.