UK coronavirus deaths rose by 501 today as infections dropped by more than 10,000 compared to last Thursday.
Another 22,915 Covid infections were confirmed, down from the 33,470 recorded this time last week.
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Last Thursday's rise was the highest daily rise ever recorded in the UK and was considerably greater than any other jump the country as seen during the pandemic.
Today's rise in infections is more in keeping with other recent figures – which have all been below 30,000.
The increase in deaths today is smaller than the daily figure recorded last Thursday (563), although it remains bigger than the Thursday's before that (378).
It comes as…
- Lockdown rules could be relaxed for Christmas – but Brits may pay for it with 25-day January shutdown
- NHS Test and Trace still failing to reach Covid contacts – missing 123,000 in a week
- Family Christmas ‘could be tragic’ for granny – just as we’re on the cusp of protecting the elderly, warns expert
- Oxford University’s Covid vaccine ‘triggers antibodies in the elderly’ and UK has already ordered 100MILLION doses
In England, 346 more deaths were confirmed today, bringing the total number of Covid deaths in English hospitals to 37,470.
The patients, who died between October 19 and November 18, were aged between 35 and 102 – and all except nine had underlying health conditions.
Wales announced a further 23 fatalities today, meaning 2,307 have now died from the bug in Wales.
Another 50 deaths were confirmed in Scotland, raising the grim tally there to 3,427.
In Northern Ireland, the death toll stands at 901 after 12 fatalities were confirmed in the last 24 hours.
Meanwhile NHS Test and Trace is still failing to reach the contacts of people who tested positive for coronavirus.
New figures from the contact tracing system show that more than 123,000 contacts were missed in the week ending November 11.
The data, released by the Department of Health and Social Care, show that 60.5 per cent of close contacts in England were reached.
But it means around four in 10 contacts of those who tested positive for Covid-19 continue to be missed by contact tracers.
It comes as the Government said it was keen to relax lockdown restrictions to allow up to four households to meet over the festive period.
Families could form social "bubbles" with up to four households for five days of "freedom" over the festive period.
But health experts have criticised the five-day reprieve starting on Christmas eve.
Officials at Public Health England warned every day of easing would demand "five days of tighter restrictions," paving the way for 25 days of lockdown in the New Year.
Meanwhile, Professor Gabriel Scally told Good Morning Britain: "There is no point in having a very merry Christmas and then burying friends and relations in January and February."
He said Christmas would be a "dangerous time" and would allow the "virus to spread".
Prof Scally, who is a member of Independent Sage – a rival group to the Government's own advisers – added: "We need to think very seriously about Christmas and how we're going to spend it.
"It’s too dangerous a time and opportunity for the virus to spread."
He highlighted that people could face 25 days of lockdown in January to make up for the "jollity" over the festive period.
But he said the lockdown would pale into insignificance compared with the number of people who could get Covid and spread it over Christmas.
His comments were echoed by Sage expert, Prof Andrew Hayward from University College London, who said mixing at Christmas could "fuel the Covid fire".
Prof Hayward warned that at the exact moment we are on the "cusp of protecting the elderly", we risk undoing all the good work by focusing "too much" on Christmas.
Ministers are due to announce a new system of regional restrictions next week for the period after December 2.
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