The UK recorded 16,170 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, as an additional 648 people were confirmed to have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, official data showed.
Figures on Tuesday showed 13,430 new coronavirus infections and 603 deaths, indicating a substantial increase in new cases and deaths across the country.
The latest data brings the total number of deaths in the UK to 59,699 and the total number of cases to 1,659,256, the government said.
Separate figures released by the Office for National Statistics, which take into account deaths for which the virus was mentioned on a death certificate, suggest that there have now been 75,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
That number has also increased dramatically, and in just two days, after the government announced on Monday that the deaths for which Covid was mentioned on certificates were 73,000.
The news comes on the same day that England officially moved from its second nationwide lockdown to a new tiered system, which has seen shops, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen on Christmas Eve.
Images captured across the country showed tens of thousands of people walking through busy busy streets to embark on their delayed gift shopping. On Oxford Street, London, thousands of people could be seen nearby – many not wearing masks, as is their right in an outdoor space.
Of the 78 who voted against the new tier system, 55 were Conservative colleagues of the Prime Minister.
Sixteen other Tories abstained from voting after many expressed concern about the more difficult stages of the Commons debate that led to the vote. The 55 Conservative rebels included two MPs who acted as scrutineers.
The new lockdown restrictions, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. GMT today, have seen 99% of England enter – or stay within – the two most stringent levels of lockdown restrictions. This equates to around 55 million people in the country placed at level 2 or 3.
The 1 percent of people with Level 1 freedoms are residents of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight, where cases have remained low for months.
Meanwhile, the UK announced today that after approval from its independent medicines agency, it will become the first country to approve a vaccine against the coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, which has been shown in studies to be 95% effective, will be made available from next week for priority groups with the NHS on hold.
The newly appointed minister responsible for overseeing the deployment of a vaccine, Nadhim Zahawi, said it was “a major step forward in the fight against Covid-19”.