These worrying heat maps reveal how and where the new, more infectious variant of Covid-19 has been spreading out of control in the UK.
They were released as one of the Government’s top scientific advisers warned on Wednesday that the “sobering” impact of household mixing during the Christmas is still to come as NHS hospitals in England currently treat a record number of virus patients.
A further 981 deaths on Wednesday was the highest daily total of the second wave.
Britain’s coronavirus infection rate has doubled over the last two weeks, and regional rates are highest in London and the South East, where the new variant is fuelling a winter surge in cases.
The average rolling seven-day infection rate for the UK on December 10 was 190 new cases per 100,000 people, but it had soared to 390 on Christmas Eve.
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The percentage of people testing positive for the new variant is increasing in every region in England, with the sharpest increases seen in London, the South East and the East.
Between December 18-24 the weekly case rate in England jumped to 402.6, a 32% increase on the previous week.
Some 14,915 patients have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the past week, an 18% increase on the week before.
Parts of Essex, Kent and London have the highest case rates in England, with Brentwood tops at 1258.1 in the seven days to Christmas Day.
The estimated number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the community in England has also continued to rise.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said that at the start of the autumn around one in 900 people in England were testing positive for the virus, but that the number had increased to one in 70 at the point just before Christmas.
He added that in areas including the east of England, the south of England and London, cases of the new coronavirus variant were increasing at a “really very substantial rate indeed”.
Speaking alongside the Prime Minister at a Downing Street briefing, Prof Van-Tam said there was “enormous concern” that the new variant “with its new transmissibility” was spreading from the south to other parts of the country.
Responding to the fact that 78% of England would be entering Tier 4 as of tomorrow, Prof Van-Tam said: “Unfortunately it is a pretty grim and depressing picture at the moment.”
He added that the NHS had yet to see the impact of mixing during the festive period.
“The situation in the UK is precarious in many parts already, the South East and London,” he said.
“It is almost certainly true that the NHS has not yet seen the impact of the infections that will have occurred during mixing on Christmas Day and that is also unfortunately rather sobering.”
Prof Van-Tam added that members of the public had “just got to play your part from bringing us back from this very dangerous situation”.
Boris Johnson said the the UK must redouble its efforts to fight coronavirus.
His comments came as an extra 20 million people in England were plunged into the toughest Tier 4 lockdown restrictions, and the Government U-turned on its back-to-school plans.
On the day a vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca was approved to tackle Covid-19, Mr Johnson said a new strain of the virus was “surging across the country” and immediate action was needed.
He told the Downing Street briefing that the Oxford vaccine and one from Pfizer were being rolled out, adding: “We are working as hard and as fast as we can to get the supplies to you.”
But he said: “We have to face the fact that we’ve got two big things happening at once in our fight against Covid – one’s working for us and one’s working against us.
“On the plus side, we have got two valid vaccines, and we’re racing to get them out – and on the bad side there is a new strain of the virus which is spreading much faster and surging across the country.”
Referring to new tier allocations announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Mr Johnson said: “At this critical moment, with the prospect of freedom within reach, we’ve got to redouble our efforts to contain the virus
“No-one regrets these measures more bitterly than I do, but we must take firm action now.”
It came as a further 981 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 72,548.
This is the highest daily figure reported since April 24, when 1,010 deaths were reported, but there is likely to be a lag in reporting deaths over the Christmas period.
Among the areas moving to Tier 4 are the Midlands, parts of the North East and North West and parts of the South West.
An additional 20 million people will move to the tightest restrictions, making a total of 44 million in Tier 4, or 78% of the population of England.
Some 12 million people will be in Tier 3, or 22% of the population, while no area will be in Tier 2.
Earlier, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said students in exam years will return to secondary schools a week later than planned, from January 11.
Other secondary and college students will go back full-time on January 18.
Primary schools in a “small number of areas” where Covid-19 infection rates are the highest will not reopen for face-to-face teaching to all pupils as planned next week.
The 50 areas include 23 London boroughs and parts of Essex, Kent, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and East Sussex.