The UK has recorded another 981 coronavirus deaths – the highest rise since April, during the first wave of COVID-19.
Wednesday’s death toll is more than double the 414 reported on Tuesday, and the highest daily rise of deaths within 28 days of a positive test since 28 April. The figures could include a lag in recording over the festive period.
Huge swathes of England are to be put into tougher restrictions, health secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday afternoon, as the government tries to tamp down on the growing numbers of infections.
Watch: Matt Hancock announces millions more people face toughest lockdown
Experts and Hancock have laid blame for the surge on the new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus identified in the UK.
About 75% of England’s population will now be in Tier 4, the harshest level of restrictions, including many places in the North East, North West and South West alongside London and several parts of the South East and East.
Everywhere else is now in Tier 3, except for the Isles of Scilly, which is in Tier 1, the lightest restrictions.
Hancock told MPs: “We must act to suppress the virus now. We have to take some difficult decisions.”
However, Hancock has suggested there is light at the end of the tunnel, despite surging case figures.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID vaccine was approved for use on Wednesday, and the government has ordered 100 million doses of it.
These can be given up to 12 weeks apart, and add to the Pfizer-BioNTech jab already in use.
“Now that we have two vaccines being delivered we can accelerate – how fast we can accelerate will be determined by how fast the manufacturers can produce,” Hancock told Times Radio.
“But what I can tell you is that I now have a very high degree of confidence that by the spring enough of those who are vulnerable will be protected to allow us to get out of this pandemic situation.
“We can see the route out and the route out is guided by this vaccine and that’s why this is such good news for everyone.”
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