The UK has recorded 17,555 new coronavirus cases overnight, as the weekly number of infections dropped by more than a quarter.
The total number of cases recorded over the past seven days is 41,755 fewer than the previous week – a decrease of 25.6 per cent.
It takes Britain’s total Covid-19 infection count since the start of the pandemic to 1,574,562.
Meanwhile, a further 498 deaths were also confirmed over the past 24 hours, with the country’s weekly death toll up by almost 14.5 per cent on the previous seven days.
A total of 3,258 fatalities have been recorded over the past week – 411 more than the previous seven days.
The UK’s official Covid death toll now stands at 57,031.
However, separate data published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been more than 72,000 deaths registered in the UK where the virus was mentioned on the death certificate.
The recent drop in infections across the country suggests lockdown measures are beginning to show their impact.
England’s nationwide shutdown is due to end on December 2, when the country will re-enter localised tiered restrictions.
More than 55 million people across the country will continue to face tough curbs, with a ban on households mixing indoors and restrictions on hospitality to remain in force across most areas.
Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been placed in the lowest Tier 1 set of restrictions, with people in all other parts of England set to face more serious limits to their freedom.
Some 23.3 million people – 41.5 per centof the population of England – will face the most stringent restrictions, while 32 million people – 57.3 per cent of the population – will be in the second tier.
Just over 1 per centof the population – 714,000 people – will be placed in Tier 1.
Liverpool, which had been in Tier 3 before the lockdown, will move to Tier 2 in recognition of efforts to curb the spread of the disease.
Announcing the allocations, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday: “These are not easy decisions, but they have been made according to the best clinical advice”.
He told MPs: “Thanks to the shared sacrifice of everyone in recent weeks, in following the national restrictions, we have been able to start to bring the virus back under control and slow its growth, easing some of the pressure on the NHS.
“We will do this by returning to a regional tiered approach, saving the toughest measures for the parts of the country where prevalence remains too high.”
MPs will vote on the new system on December 1, the day before the tiers come into force, and Boris Johnson faces a revolt on the Tory benches over the measures some in the party have deemed “truly appalling”.
Mr Hancock told MPs: “I understand the impact that these measures will have but they are necessary given the scale of the threat that we face.”
The tier allocations will be reviewed on December 16, with weekly revisions thereafter.
The Government has promised to publish an impact assessment of the measures before MPs vote on them following protests from Tory MPs that economic harm and the knock-on health impacts of restrictions are not being properly considered.
Former minister Steve Baker, leader of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics, said: “The authoritarianism at work today is truly appalling.
“But is it necessary and proportionate to the threat from this disease?”
In other developments:
– A total of 152,660 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to November 18, according to the latest Test and Trace figures – down nine per cent on the previous week’s total of 168,250 and the first week-on-week fall since August.
– Just 60.3 per cent of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached through the system in the week ending November 18.
– Infections across England are levelling off but there are still wide regional variations, according to the ONS, which found around one in 85 people were infected with coronavirus in the week November 15 to 21.
– Guidance in Scotland urges people to have no more than eight people aged over 12 in any Christmas “bubble” they form with family and friends during the UK-wide relaxation of rules between December 23 and 27.