COVID-19: UK records 981 more coronavirus deaths in latest 24 hour period, with another 50,023 cases

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The UK recorded 981 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test on Wednesday - the highest number since 24 April.

The number of new coronavirus cases reported in the 24 hours to 9am on Wednesday was 50,023 - slightly down on Tuesday's 53,135 which was the most since the pandemic began.

The high fatality figure could be partly down to a delay in reporting deaths over Christmas.

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There have now been a total of 72,548 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK and 2,432,888 cases.

The news came shortly after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that an additional 20 million people in England will move into Tier 4 restrictions in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.

This will mean 44 million people will be in Tier 4 from Thursday (78% of England's population), 12 million people will be in Tier 3 (22% of the population), while no area will be in Tier 2.

Mr Hancock warned that the new highly-transmissible variant of COVID-19, first reported in the UK, was now spreading across England, adding that cases are "doubling fast".

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that, despite calls for pupils to stay at home, most primary schools will open as planned on 4 January.

Some primary schools in areas with the highest rates of coronavirus will not open on that date, he added, although it was not clear at that stage which areas this would include.

Exam year students will return on 11 January, with other secondary school students to follow on 18 January, to enable preparations for the testing of pupils and staff to take place.

But there was some good news earlier on Wednesday, with the UK's medicines regulator announcing it had approved a second vaccine for use.

The vaccine by Oxford University and AstraZeneca offers a "route out of this pandemic", Mr Hancock told Sky News.