Newly-reported coronavirus cases in the UK rose by a record high for the second time this week.
A total of 55,892 new infections were reported on Thursday, the highest yet, surpassing Tuesday’s 53,000.
The government has also recorded 964 more deaths. It takes the number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive test to 73,512.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said: “We know the overwhelming majority of deaths reported today are people who sadly passed away in just the last few days.
“Every life lost to this disease is a sadness. It is imperative we all take action now to protect our families and our friends.
“We have all had to make huge sacrifices this year, but please ensure that you keep your distance from others, wash your hands and wear a mask. A night in at new year will mean you are significantly reducing your social contacts and can help stop the spread of the virus.”
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It comes after successive rises of more than 50,000 newly-reported cases a day, though there could be some lag in numbers over the festive period.
Tuesday brought the previous highest number of new cases in one day, with more than 53,000 recorded, while Wednesday’s 981 deaths is the most reported over 24 hours since April.
Earlier, embattled education secretary Gavin Williamson said he believes the government can avoid another lockdown, despite calls for much tougher restrictions to avert a “catastrophe”.
“This is a robust approach, so I’m confident that we won’t be moving into a national lockdown situation because the tiering structure is the right place to be,” he said.
However, he has faced heavy criticism for his bid to bring back more than 85% of primary schools despite continuous high rises in new infections.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London – where some schools in one borough could return while the neighbouring local authority’s primary schools stay shut – said it would be “very confusing for parents that some primaries will be open but others just down the road won’t”.
With the Oxford vaccine’s approval bolstering the UK’s supply of doses, one senior Conservative MP has called for teachers to be prioritised for a jab.
Robert Halfon, the chair of the education select committee, told BBC Breakfast: “What I also want to see is teachers, especially now that we’ve got the Oxford vaccine, that teachers and support staff are made an absolute priority for vaccinations because if we can make sure that they’re vaccinated and they’re safe, it’s less likely that schools will have to close.”
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