CORONAVIRUS deaths have seen their second highest daily increase since May, after a further 648 fatalities were recorded in the past 24 hours.
But infections have dropped by 11 per cent in a week, with 16,170 cases reported today.
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The increase in cases brings the total to 1,659,256, while the total number of deaths stands at 59,699.
Today’s daily case load is down on last Wednesday's figure of 19,609 infections, in a sign that lockdown measures have slowed transmission of the bug.
Fatalities are above last Wednesday's figure of 529 but lower than the 696 deaths reported a fortnight ago.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths in English hospitals rose by 372, bringing the total reported fatalities to 41,310.
A 19-year-old boy with no known underlying health conditions was among the deaths, just a week after ten-year-old Fehzan Jamil, from Bradford, passed away after contracting the virus.
It comes as:
- The UK became the first country to give the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which is 95 per cent effective, the green light to be rolled out from next week.
- Vaccine chiefs confirmed who will be first in line for the Pfizer jab.
- Matt Hancock suggested that areas with low infection rates "will get lifted out of tougher Tiers" by December 16.
- Britain emerged out of a second national lockdown with non-essential retail opening in all areas. p
- Pubs and restaurants reopened Tier 1 and 2, but Wetherspoons customers were left furious at a 'pint limit' in Tier 2 areas.
Wales reported a further 1,480 cases of coronavirus, bringing the total to 82,489.
The country has been plunged back into restrictions just weeks after emerging from a 'fire-breaker' lockdown – with pubs facing a 6pm curfew and banned from selling alcohol from Friday.
Fatalities in Wales increased by 51, taking the death toll since the start of the pandemic to 2,641.
Scotland recorded 38 deaths and 951 positive cases in the past 24 hours, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed.
It brings the total number of deaths to 3,797 while infections stand at 95,811.
It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed a "new chapter in our fight against the virus" as British regulators today approved Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for use.
Both experts and politicians have hailed the "historic moment", just ten months after Sars-CoV-2 emerged earlier this year, but warned that the country "can't lower our guard yet".
A mass vaccination programme will begin next week, and care home residents and NHS staff will be the first in line for the jab.
Mr Hancock said we can expect 800,000 doses in the UK by next week, but refused to say how many are likely to reach our shores by the end of the year.
The doses will be shipped over from Belgium in the coming days, and will be here by the weekend, Pfizer bosses confirmed today.
In total the UK has ordered 40million doses, enough to give 20million Brits the required two doses, 21 days apart.
Speaking in the commons, the Health Secretary told MPs: "Even since the pandemic hit our shores almost a year ago we have known a vaccine would be critical to set us free.
"It's no longer a case of if there's going to be a vaccine, it's when.
"In our battle against the virus, help is on its way.
"Today is a triumph for all those who believe in science, a triumph for ingenuity, a triumph for humanity."
The UK today emerged from a second national lockdown, with a "beefed up" tier system in place until the Spring.
Huge queues were seen outside Primark as non-essential retail opened, while punters living in Tier 1 and 2 enjoyed draught pints served with 'substantial meals'.
Mr Hancock also offered hope to Brits living in hard-hit regions, suggesting that areas with low infection rates "will get lifted out of tougher Tiers" by December 16.
When asked if Tiers would be decided based on districts rather than counties, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4: "Of course we will look at the country according to the epidemiology, according to the human geographies of where people live and work."
It comes after a furious backlash from 55 Tory MPs despite Boris Johnson's Tiers plan receiving the backing of the Commons last night.
Many were furious over their areas being forced into Tiers which did not align with low or falling infection rates.
Huge swathes of Kent and Lancashire have low infection rates, but have been thrown into the toughest Tier 3 because of soaring coronavirus cases in nearby areas.
When pressed on whether the more localised approach will happen from the next review date, December 16, Mr Hancock said: "Yes. That is what we have done throughout these localised restrictions… But the thing is we want to keep this virus under control until a vaccine arrives."
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