The UK has recorded 55,892 coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours – the highest figure on record.
Tuesday’s figure of 53,135 cases was the previous highest since the pandemic began.
The number of deaths reported today is 964.
Public Health England’s medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle made a passionate plea in response to the latest figures and ahead of New Year’s Eve, urging everyone not to go out.
She said that the rise in cases had been particularly acute among adults in their 20s and 30s.
Dr Doyle said: “We know the overwhelming majority of deaths reported today are people who sadly passed away in just the last few days.
“Every life lost to this disease is a sadness. It is imperative we all take action now to protect our families and our friends.
“We have all had to make huge sacrifices this year, but please ensure that you keep your distance from others, wash your hands and wear a mask.
“A night in at New Year will mean you are significantly reducing your social contacts and can help stop the spread of the virus.”
The 981 deaths reported on Wednesday was the highest number reported on a single day since 24 April.
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It brings the total number of UK cases so far to 2,488,780 and the total number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test to 73,512.
Earlier, it was revealed the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in England a week has increased by 33%.
A total of 232,169 people tested positive at least once in the week to 23 December, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.
It came as people were being warned not to add “fuel to the fire” as coronavirus cases rise across England and hospitals were being put under strain due to high numbers of COVID-19 patients.
Rates of infection are continuing to rise across the country, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England.
In Northern Ireland, another 11 people have died with COVID-19, the Department of Health said, with another 1,929 testing positive.
Nightingale hospitals across England are being “readied” for use if needed as COVID-19 patient numbers rise.
All secondary school students will see a delayed return to the classroom and some primary schools will not open.
The NHS in London has been asked to make sure the Excel centre site is “reactivated and ready to admit patients” as hospitals in the capital struggle.
Other Nightingale hospital sites across England include Manchester, Bristol, Sunderland, Harrogate, Exeter and Birmingham.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the military was standing by to staff the hospitals if demand for NHS critical care beds exceeds supply.
The reopening of secondary schools and many primary schools in England has been delayed and universities are being asked to reduce the number of students returning to campus from the beginning of next month.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has said the government is “working as hard and as fast” as it can to get supplies of the newly-approved vaccine from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca to people, with the rollout due on Monday.
A further 20 million people were put under tighter restrictions on Thursday after the government announced an extension of Tier 4 rules in England in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The only part of England not in Tier 3 or the highest level of restrictions Tier 4 is the Isles of Scilly in Tier 1.