Watch: COVID-19 - UK records another 16,170 coronavirus cases and 648 deaths
The UK recorded 16,170 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as it was confirmed that a further 648 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, according to official data.
Tuesday’s figures showed 13,430 new coronavirus infections and 603 deaths, pointing towards a substantial increase in both new cases and deaths across the nation.
This latest data brings the UK’s total fatalities up to 59,699 and the total number of cases to 1,659,256, the government said.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics, which consider deaths where the virus has been mentioned on a death certificate, suggest there have now been 75,000 fatalities involving Covid-19 in the UK.
This number has also jumped significantly, and in just two days, after the government announced on Monday that deaths where Covid was mentioned on certificates sat at 73,000.
The news comes on the same day that England officially moved from its second national lockdown into a new tiered system, which saw shops, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen for business in the busy run-up to Christmas.
Images captured from around the country showed tens of thousands of people heading to bustling high streets to get going on their delayed present-buying sprees. On Oxford Street, in London, thousands of people could be seen in close proximity — many not wearing masks, as is their right in an outdoor space.
Of the 78 who voted against the new tier system, 55 were Tory colleagues of the prime minister’s.
A further 16 Conservatives abstained from voting altogether after many expressed concerns about the tougher tiers in the Commons debate that led up to the vote. The 55 Tory rebels included two MPs who acted as tellers.
The new lockdown restrictions, which came into effect at 00:01 GMT today, have seen 99 per cent of England move into — or remain in — the two strictest tiers of lockdown restrictions. That amounts to roughly 55 million people in the country being placed in either tier 2 or tier 3.
The 1 per cent of people enjoying the freedoms of tier 1 are residents of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight, where cases have remained low for months.
Watch: How England's new three-tier COVID system will work
Meanwhile, the UK announced today that following approval from its independent medicines agency it would become the first nation to approve a coronavirus vaccine.
The newly-appointed minister for overseeing the rollout of a vaccine, Nadhim Zahawi, said it was a “major step forward in the fight against Covid-19”.