Britain today recorded 1.7 per cent fewer coronavirus cases than last week in another indication the UK's second wave of the virus is slowing, new figures show.
The Government announced 20,051 new lab-confirmed Covid cases in the UK today, down from the 20,412 infections confirmed last Tuesday.
The figure is also a fall from the 21,363 cases confirmed on Monday, with the total number of cases in the UK now at 1,410,732 since the start of the pandemic.
The Government also announced a further 598 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday - up 12.4 per cent from the same point last week, when 532 deaths were recorded.
Today's death toll is the highest recorded in Britain since May 12, when 614 deaths were confirmed. The latest death figure brings the UK total to 52,745.
However, separate data from the UK's statistic agencies show the figure to be more than 68,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
These include deaths where the virus has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days.
The latest data comes as fears were today raised that England could be headed for Christmas under a brutal four-Tier system - with the prospect of tougher limits on mixing indoors and alcohol sales.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick delivered a strong hint that the levels of local restrictions will be bolstered even if the national curbs are lifted as scheduled on December 2.
He suggested some extra measures taken in Nottinghamshire - such as a bar on alcohol sales after 9pm - could be 'embedded' in the arrangements.
Mr Jenrick added no decision had been taken on whether to tighten the lowest Tier One after health chiefs branded it ineffective. This could potentially mean families being prevented from gathering indoors over the festive season.
Pressed on the issue in the Commons this afternoon, Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to kill off the idea, saying it was 'too early to do the analysis'. 'We will remain vigilant,' he told MPs.
In a round of interviews, Mr Jenrick also signalled regions, rather than individual towns and cities, will be subject to the same Tiers to make them more 'consistent'.
He added there will not be any 'definitive' decision on the shape of the rules post-December 2 until the end of this month.
Mr Jenrick even refused to confirm that the blanket lockdown will end on that date, merely saying the 'hope and expectation' was that it would.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick today delivered a strong hint that the levels of local restrictions will be bolstered even if the national curbs are lifted as scheduled on December 2
However, Boris Johnson is under huge pressure from his own MPs to make the system looser than it was before.
There is a growing clamour for children aged under 12 to be exempted from the Rule of Six limit on people meeting up, as is already the case in other parts of the UK. Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee said 'common sense' changes were needed.
In the wake of the extraordinary Downing Street meltdown that saw Mr Johnson's maverick chief aide Dominic Cummings outsted, the premier has effectively been put on notice that his own time in power could end unless he starts heeding his restive backbenchers.
Ministers insist no final decisions have been made on the Tier system after December 2, but there have been hints at the kind of measures it could feature.
It also seems clear that in future the rules will be applied on a wider regional basis, rather than to specific towns and cities.
The Rule of Six looks set to continue, and the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants would still apply.
However, there is speculation that households could be restricted from meeting in homes after health chiefs said the base level was proving ineffective.
Tier 2 previously involved all the curbs in the first level, plus a ban on mixing with other households in any indoor setting - including pubs and restaurants.
Tier 3 is the highest set of restrictions currently available in the system
There is a ban on socialising indoors and in private gardens. Pubs and bars must shut unless they are able to operate as eateries.
There are restrictions on staying overnight in other parts of the country unless it is for essential work.
Ministers have been hinting at another bracket of restrictions above the existing highest level - as is already the case in Scotland.
There are suggestions it could 'embed' some of the bolt-ons to the Tier 3 restrictions already being deployed in some areas.
For example, Nottinghamshire has imposed a ban on alcohol sales after 9pm, while other areas have shut gyms and leisure centres.
Appearing on Times Radio, Mr Jenrick was asked if the Government might be forced to ban indoor meetings over Christmas if Covid-19 cases are still high.
He said: 'We don't know that yet. The hard yards that we've done in November were designed to enable most people in England to have a much more normal December so that we can go to the shops, we can use hospitality and, as far as possible, we can be together as families at Christmas.
'We can see from the data that the tiered approach in October and early November was having an impact, particularly in some parts of the country.
'It's too early to say the true impact of the new national measures because there's a lag time of two or three weeks, but hopefully by the end of November we'll be in a position to take that judgment.'
Mr Jenrick was asked on BBC Breakfast if there could be a tougher tier than Tier 3 in the new system.
He said: 'We haven't come to a decision on that,' adding: 'The Tier 3 that we had before was just considered a baseline.
'And then we did ask local areas whether they would be willing to go further and some did.
'My own area of Nottinghamshire, the local council chose to go over and above and limit the sale of alcohol for off-licences and so on after a certain time, so that people didn't go home and have parties or drink alcohol on the streets.'
'So there were some tweaks to the tiers that you're seeing in some parts of the country and it's that sort of thing that we now need to consider. Was that a sensible move? If so, should we embed that in the new tier structure?'
Mr Jenrick also suggested that the Government will switch to a regional approach, rather than putting individual towns and cities different Tiers.
'We will be looking at whether the measures that we had in the old tiers were effective,' he said.
'Remember, they varied quite a bit in different parts of the country, because in Tier 3 there was a baseline of measures, which the chief medical officer and others have always said was only the beginning, and we then asked local areas to consider whether they would be willing to go further than that, some did, some decided not to.
'So I think in the new tiers we'd like greater consistency and we'll have to look at the evidence to see which of those measures was actually the most impactful on the virus so that we take the most evidence-based approach that we can do.
'We haven't come to a conclusion on that yet, to be perfectly honest, but we will be within the next week or so.'
Dr Susan Hopkins, a Public Health England director who is advising the Government's coronavirus response, said officials should start to see if lockdown is working 'over the next week'.
Speaking alongside Matt Hancock at a No10 press conference on Monday, she said: 'The key issue for us is making sure that cases start to fall and we expect if the lockdown is working, and we are all doing the best we can to have reduced social contact with other people, that we will start to see cases decline over the next week.
'We expect it will be longer to see hospital admissions [fall], another week or so, but I think as long as we start to see cases decline then we can