Just under half of major hospitals in England currently have more COVID-19 patients than during the peak of the first wave.
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 in the last 24 hours within 28 days of a positive test is 964.
It brings the total number of UK cases so far to 2,488,780 and the total number of deaths to 73,512.
Public Health England’s medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle made a passionate plea in response to the latest figures urging everyone not to go out to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
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 number of patients being admitted to hospital is also rising sharply, with 2,433 reported being admitted on 22 December, the latest day for which figures are available, the highest number since 10 April.
Meanwhile, just under half of all major hospital trusts in England currently have more COVID-19 patients than during the peak of the first wave of the virus, according to the latest figures.
Out of 140 acute NHS trusts, 64 were recording a higher number of patients suffering symptoms as a result of coronavirus at 8am on December 30 than at any point between mid-March and the end of May.
Earlier, it was revealed the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in England a week has increased by 33%.https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/4822667/embed?auto=1
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.
The 981 deaths reported on Wednesday was the highest number reported on a single day since 24 April.
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.
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.