The UK has recorded 744 daily deaths following a positive coronavirus test, the highest number since April 29.
It brings the UK total to 69,051.
The last time the daily death toll rose above 700 was May 5 when 700 were recorded.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 85,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
The government said that, as of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 39, 237 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, the highest figure reported on a single day throughout the whole pandemic.
It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 2,149,551.
Earlier on Wednesday it emerged that the R (reproduction) rate for Covid-19 had risen to 1.1-1.3, up on last week’s value which was 1.1-1.2.
R measures the number of people, on average, that each sick person will infect. If R is greater than 1, the epidemic is generally seen to be growing; if R is less than 1 the epidemic is shrinking.
The figure is highest in the East of England and in London, with an R value of 1.2 to 1.5, which means every 10 people infected will infect between 12 and 15 further people.
In response to the worrying news about the Covid mutation, heavily referenced by the PM when cutting Covid rule relaxations on Saturday, health secretary Matt Hancock used a press conference on Wednesday to set out tougher restrictions for millions more people from Boxing Day.
Hancock also warned that a new variant of the virus, first identified in South Africa, had been found in the UK. Any traveller who has arrived into the UK from South Africa during the past two weeks has been ordered to self-isolate immediately.
Meanwhile, up to 10,000 lorries remain trapped in Kent following the closure of the border between the UK and France on Sunday night. French president Emmanuel Macron reopened the crossing on Tuesday night, but everyone passing through must be able to prove they do not have the virus with a valid PCR test.
Tensions have flared at the Port of Dover and Manston Airport, where more than a thousand lorries are being held, over the delay, with the government admitting that it could take days for the backlog to clear – meaning thousands of workers could miss Christmas with their families across Europe.