England and Wales recorded their second-highest weekly COVID-19 death toll since the beginning of the pandemic in late January, official figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed on Tuesday that 8,433 deaths registered in the week ending January 29 mentioned "novel coronavirus (COVID-19)".
"This is the second-highest weekly number recorded during the pandemic," it noted.
Furthermore, 45.7 per cent of the 18,448 deaths registered that week involved COVID-19 — the highest proportion of deaths involving the virus observed since the outbreak began.
Overall, the number of deaths registered across the UK as a whole — which also includes Scotland and Northern Ireland — in the week ending January 29 was 20,478, which was 6,052 higher than the five-year average.
The UK has so far recorded 112,798 COVID-19 deaths — the fifth-highest tally in the world and the largest in Europe.
January 2021 was particularly deadly with more than 1,000 new fatalities recorded on 20 consecutive days.
This is partly blamed on the emergence of a variant of the virus in late December which was found to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible. Other variants, also more transmissible, have since been discovered in South Africa and Brazil.
The fast spread of the UK variant pushed the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose a third national lockdown. Non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants were closed once more, as were a large number of schools in particularly-stricken areas. It is expected to last until at least February 22.
Health Minister Matt Hancock stressed from a Downing Street briefing on Monday evening that although they are falling, the number of deaths and people in hospital remain "too high".
A further 333 COVID-19 deaths were recorded on Monday, as well as 14,104 new cases.
He added that the country "is turning a corner in our battle against coronavirus", urging people to respect lockdown rules and to get vaccinated when contacted by the health service.
More than 12.2 million people have received a first dose in the UK, which started its vaccination campaign in early December. More than half a million have received a second dose.