The number of lives lost to Covid-19 in the UK has risen by more than 1,000 for the first time since last April, with a record number of infections in the last 24 hours.
In total 1,041 people died, the highest daily death increase since April 22, with 62,322 new cases confirmed in the last day.
In the past seven days 4,798 people have died from the virus – a 32% increase compared to the week before.
It means 77,346 people have now died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic.
The tragic figure was confirmed as health service chiefs warned we are at the “most serious” stage in the pandemic so far.
An estimated one in 50 people had the virus on January 2, with experts warning hospital admissions and fatalities will continue to soar.
On Monday Boris Johnson said he had no choice but to put England back in lockdown as a result of rising cases.
Today he warned that the drastic measure could remain in place until March, having initially said he hoped it could end in the middle of next month.
A week ago the Department of Health confirmed 981 deaths, while a month ago, on December 6, that figure was 231.
Dr Susan Hopkins, deputy director of the national infections service at Public Health England (PHE), voiced a bleak outlook as frontline medics battle a surge in cases.
She told BBC Breakfast: “This position is the most serious we’ve been in so far this pandemic.
“We are now seeing a number of patients in hospitals 40% higher than the cases at the peak in March/April.
“And we know that the cases in the community are still rising. And that means that we expect to see further admissions to hospital, and we expect to see further deaths.”
Yesterday the Department of Health confirmed that 60,916 people had tested positive in 24 hours, bringing the number of cases in the past seven days to 391,615.
Dr Hopkins said the “maximum impact” of mixing over Christmas was seen on December 29 and 30 – with more than 70,000 cases reported on the 29th and 60,000 on the 30th in England alone.
“We hope that everyone is now staying at home, reducing their contacts, and that we can start to see rapid declines in new infections.”
She said it could take 12 to 14 days for infections to come down after the introduction of lockdown restrictions.
Latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that more than a million people had Covid-19 on January 2.
This means one in every 50 were infected, with the figure rising to one in 30 in London.
The South East, North West, and East of England also saw huge surges as frontline medics warn hospitals are being overwhelmed.