More than 53,000 new COVID infections in a single day
It’s a new record for the second successive day
Boris Johnson will face further calls to increase coronavirus restrictions
PM has already been warned tougher measures are needed to avoid ‘catastrophe’
‘Extreme concern’ over ‘unprecedented levels’ of virus in UK
The number of coronavirus cases has soared by more than 50,000 in a single day, official figures show – a record high for the UK for the second day in a row.
The government announced there had been a further 53,135 cases on Tuesday, well up from the previous record of 41,385 on Monday.
The stark new figures come as Boris Johnson faces increasing pressure to expand the toughest coronavirus restrictions in the face of increasing strain on hospitals in England, where the number of patients has surpassed the first wave peak in April.
The prime minister is also facing growing calls to delay the return of schools to prevent children spreading the virus.
Watch: Coronavirus in numbers on Tuesday
One expert adviser to the government said national restrictions are needed to prevent a “catastrophe” in the coming weeks.
Johnson is believed to be meeting ministers on Tuesday night to decide on more stringent restrictions, which could be announced as early as Wednesday.
Dr Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser for Public Health England, said the “unprecedented levels” of COVID-19 infection across the UK was of “extreme concern”.
Responding to Tuesday’s figures, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth criticised the PM’s silence on the rising infections as he tweeted: “Awful. And yet still nothing from Boris Johnson.”
The government also said there had been a further 414 deaths, up from 357 on Monday.
Data shows there were a further 2,322 COVID hospitalisations on 21 December, the latest date for which figures are available.
Five of the seven NHS regions in England are currently reporting a record number of COVID hospital patients: the East, London, Midlands, South East and South West.
The other two regions, the North East and North West, remain below peak levels that were set in mid-November.
In London, 5,371 hospital patients were confirmed as having COVID as of 8am on Tuesday, according to NHS England. During the first wave, the number of patients in London peaked at 5,201 on 9 April.
Prof Andrew Hayward, of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), had earlier warned national restrictions are needed to prevent a “catastrophe” and tackle the new variant of the virus, which is the main reason for the increase in cases.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we’re going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February.
“A 50% increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won’t work now, and so Tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that.
“I think we’re really looking at a situation where we’re moving into near-lockdown, but we’ve got to learn the lessons from the first lockdown.”
Despite this warning, Downing Street later said schools will reopen “as planned” following the Christmas holidays.
There are concerns the reopening of schools will contribute to even higher case numbers, though education committee chair Robert Halfon said there is “no evidence” the new COVID variant has a greater impact on children.
Tory MP Halfon called for Boris Johnson’s top COVID advisers, Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, to issue a statement on the matter.
Watch: What is long COVID?