BRITAIN has seen its highest ever daily rise in coronavirus cases with 55,892 infections reported in the past 24 hours.
A further 964 deaths were recorded, bringing the total number of fatalities to 73,512.
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The rise in cases means a total of 2,488,780 Brits have now been infected with the bug.
Today's rise in deaths is only slightly smaller than yesterday’s figure of 981 – the highest daily toll since April – amid fears that the high toll may not be a lag in reporting, as was thought yesterday.
It comes as:
- A SAGE doctor today warned that a national lockdown is likely by the end of January
- London's Nightingale hospitals could be 'reactivated' after pictures showed the facilities empty
- Tier 4 lockdowns could last until April or even longer, Boris Johnson warned
- A doctor warned that members of the public flouting Covid rules have 'blood in their hands' amid a crisis in hospitals
- A string of illegal New Year's Eve raves are secretly planned across London, which is in Tier 4
It comes as English hospitals reported another 529 deaths in the past 24 hours.
Wales, meanwhile, recorded a further 65 deaths, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 3,494.
Scottish health authorities also confirmed 68 further people had died, while another 11 patients passed away in Northern Ireland.
Figures showed that 106 of today's hospital deaths were in London as the crisis in English hospitals deepens.
There were 98 deaths in the Midlands, 88 in the South West and one patient in England under 40.
Addressing today's rise in cases, Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at 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.
“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 to stop the spread of the virus.”
Today's figures come as large swathes of the country were plunged into Tier 4 last night as a new, highly contagious variant continues to spread.
SAGE advisers have warned that a third national lockdown could be needed to curb transmission – though the government has for now ruled out imposing a stricter 'Tier 5' on infection hotspots.
Doctor Mike Tildesley told BBC Radio 4: "Cases are rising in a really concerning way, so I suspect that unfortunately we will see a ramping-up even further of restrictions, probably more of the country being in Tier 4 or ultimately probably a national lockdown before we get to the end of January."
Freshly revealed documents from last week recommended that a fresh push must happen or cases would continue to spiral out of control.
Experts warned that they had a high level of confidence that extending Tier 4, making changes to schools, and putting more travel restrictions in place – both within the UK and abroad – would be required to get a grip on the virus.
Hospitals are facing unprecedented demand in infection hotspots, as health experts begged Brits to stay at home on New Year's Eve.
Professor Hugh Montgomery today said he was "angry" with Brits not wearing masks, and that members of the public flouting Covid rules had "blood on their hands".
The doctor, who is also professor of intensive care medicine at University College London, added: "I'm watching whole families getting wiped out here. It has to stop."
According to The Times, a note circulated among senior staff following a meeting of the North East and Central London Adult Critical Care Network warned that demand was outstripping resources in many hospitals.
The network, which covers 17 hospitals in London and Essex, reportedly said it was “beyond full” and “needs help” to cope with a shortage of nurses and rapidly depleting oxygen supplies.
Nightingale hospitals across England, which were previously empty, are now being "readied" for use if needed as Covid patient numbers rise.
The NHS in London has been asked to make sure the Excel centre site is "reactivated and ready to admit patients" as hospitals in the capital struggle.
The surge in infections comes as three quarters of England was plunged into harsh Tier 4 restrictions last night to prevent the spread of the new variant getting out of control.
The British Medical Association (BMA) today welcomed the government’s decision, warning that the NHS will "struggle to get patients in urgent need of care, the care they need" if the trajectory of rising infections continues.
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