UK coronavirus cases today grew by 19,609 while deaths rose by 529.
It is the second Wednesday in a row the number of new infections has fallen on the previous week, as hopes for easing restrictions over Christmas grow.
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Last Wednesday, 22,950 new Covid cases were recorded in the UK along with 595 deaths.
The Wednesday before that (November 4), 25,177 people tested positive for the bug while 492 died.
It means today's infection rate is a 15% drop on last week and a 22% drop on the week before.
In total, the UK has now recorded 1,430,341 positive test results and 53,274 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
It comes as…
- UK faces 10 days of lockdown to pay for five days of Christmas, health boss warns
- Christmas back on as Sage experts model package of measures to relax lockdown
- Pfizer Covid vaccine is now 95% effective and could get sign off ‘within days’ for mid-December roll out
- The Covid hotspots that could go into highest tier when lockdown ends
In England, another 282 coronavirus deaths were confirmed today, bringing the total number of fatalities in English hospitals to 37,124.
The patients, who died between September 10 and November 17 were aged between 38 and 101 years old.
All except 12 of them had underlying health conditions.
In Wales, 41 more deaths were announced today along with 640 new cases.
It means 2,284 have now died from the bug in Wales while 68,449 have tested positive.
Scotland reported 54 new fatalities today and 1,264 more infections.
The grim figures raise Scotland's death toll to 3,377, along with 84,523 positive test results since the start of the pandemic.
Another 11 deaths were confirmed in Northern Ireland bringing the overall Covid death toll there to 889.
Figures from November 17 show another 518 positive tests in Northern Ireland.
It comes as hopes for Christmas grow, with the nation bracing itself for the government to reveal its lockdown plans for the festive season.
The Sun today revealed plans include allowing families to enjoy a five-day free pass to celebrate together.
With Christmas Eve falling on a Thursday and a planned Bank Holiday for Monday December 28, ministers are zeroing in on that five-day weekend for a short lifting of a ban on gathering in homes.
Earlier today, Public Health England boss Dr Susan Hopkins told a Downing Street briefing we would need "two days of tighter measures" for every day we ease lockdown after December 2 – but in a clarification, PHE said this afternoon the Sage advice is five days, not two.
It means Brits could have to suffer 25 days of tighter restrictions to pay for five days with family over Christmas.
Dr Susan Hopkins said Christmas "is possible" but warned harder measures could be needed before and after Christmas to make up for the five days of festive freedom.
The PHE boss said: "We are keen to have Christmas as close to normal as possible, but that will require every effort now and in early December to get cases as low as possible to reduce transmission."
She added: "So, coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.
"Hopefully the Government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing, but we will wait and see what that is.
"Then, I think, once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again."
It brings a fresh glimmer of hope for those fearing Christmas alone, with No10 confirming last night: “We are looking at ways to ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year.”
Meanwhile, Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has met the safety criteria needed for emergency authorisation.
Company bosses plan to submit the vaccine to regulators in the US for emergency use approval "within days" before sharing with others around the world.
Pfizer chairman, Dr Albert Bourla, said today: "The study results mark an important step in this historic eight-month journey to bring forward a vaccine capable of helping to end this devastating pandemic.
"We continue to move at the speed of science to compile all the data collected thus far and share with regulators around the world."
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