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A total of 173,875 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to December 16, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.
This is up 58% on the previous week and is the highest weekly total since Test and Trace began in May.
The stark figures have emerged as millions more Brits are set to be placed under Tier 4 restrictions, following the discovery of a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus.
The UK yesterday recorded 744 coronavirus deaths, the highest figure since April 29.
There were also 39,237m confirmed cases of coronavirus in 24 hours, the highest since the pandemic began.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday confirmed that a raft of new areas in England will face Tier 4 restrictions from Boxing Day.
Lockdown measures will be introduced in more of the east and south east of England after Christmas.
The Government made the decision after the discovery of a new strain of the coronavirus, thought to be 70% more infectious.
The variant first emerged in September 2020 and circulated until mid-November – eventually causing higher infection rates in Kent, London, and Essex.
However, it has since been detected across the country.
French firefighters scrambled to Kent with 10,000 Covid tests for stranded lorry drivers
Hancock told the nation: "We simply cannot have the kind of Christmas that we all yearn for."
He also said a second new coronavirus variant from South Africa has been identified in the UK.
Two cases have been linked to contacts of travellers who came from the country in the last two weeks.
It is believed to be “more transmissible” than the strain identified in September and has “mutated further”, Hancock said.
Anyone who has travelled from South Africa over the past two weeks or has been in close contact with someone who's been in the country must now quarantine for 14 days.
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