Britain today saw Covid cases fall again, dropping by a quarter from last week to 4,802 positive tests in a day while deaths also dropped by 42 per cent to 101.
Two other weekly studies, by the Office for National Statistics and the Covid Symptom Study, showed cases are still coming down significantly, and the country had its best ever performance in the vaccination drive on Thursday when it administered a massive 660,276 jabs including 528,260 people getting their first.
But SAGE has warned that a resurgence of Covid in Europe could soon lead to a rise in infections in Britain, saying the country is at a ‘more fragile point’ than it was a few weeks ago.
Cases are on the rise again in countries including France, Germany and Belgium and one of No10’s top scientific advisers has warned that spikes on the continent tend to lead to a spike in Britain two to three weeks later without any obvious link to travel.
What ties the two together isn’t clear, they said, but ministers and officials in the UK must watch closely in the coming weeks to make sure infections don’t take off again.
SAGE today upgraded its estimate of the R rate – how fast the virus is spreading – in Britain, pushing it closer to one to a possible 0.9, meaning the outbreak is not shrinking as quickly as it was in February and late January.
But SAGE cautioned the R rate is based on data too old to take into account the effects of reopening schools and experts say the rate is no longer a key measure of the country’s outbreak because case increases don’t have the same effect on hospital admissions or deaths – which will be the key warning signs in future – thanks to huge vaccination efforts.
It is a promising sign that cases are still continuing to come down despite a huge increase in the number of people getting tested for Covid that came with schools reopening – there are now an average of 1.5million tests per day, up from 843,000 per weekday at the end of February.
And positive data show that cases are continuing to come down in the UK, with the Office for National Statistics estimating the total number of people carrying the virus in England is down 20 per cent in a week, to 160,200. This is the equivalent of one in 340 people. For comparison, as many as one in 50 people were infected during the peak of the crisis in January.
The ONS report said cases were still clearly coming down in in the West Midlands, East of England, South West and London, but the decline may have stopped in other areas.
And the Covid Symptom Study, run by ZOE and King’s College London, estimated there are now around 3,200 people becoming ill every day across the country — down nearly a quarter from the 4,200 per day last week.
But the speed at which the outbreak is shrinking has slowed, with the previous week seeing cases fall by a third. Experts behind the symptom-tracking app blamed the levelling off on schools reopening. Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist leading the study, said the levelling off was expected and insisted there was ‘no reason to worry’.
It is a promising sign that cases are still continuing to come down despite a huge increase in the number of people getting tested for Covid that came with schools reopening – there are now an average of 1.5million tests per day, up from 843,000 per weekday at the end of February
The number of people believed to be infected with coronavirus in England continues to tumble and is now at just 160,200, according to the Office for National Statistics. This equates to just three in every 1,000 people
The Covid Symptom Study, run by ZOE and King’s College London , estimated there are now around 4,470 people becoming ill every day — down nearly a fifth from the 5,494 figure last week
WHAT IS THE R RATE IN MY ENGLISH REGION?
East of England
North East & Yorkshire
R rate (% change)
0.6 to 0.9 (-6% to -3%)
0.7 to 0.9 (-6% to -2%)
0.6 to 0.9 (-7% to -4%)
0.6 to 0.9 (-7% to -3%)
0.6 to 0.9 (-7% to -3%)
0.7 to 0.9 (-6% to -2%)
0.7 to 0.9 (-6% to -2%)
0.7 to 0.9 (-6% to -3%)
0.6 to 0.9 (-8% to -3%)
These figures were calculated by top experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) using reams of data including the latest hospitalisations, deaths, and cases identified up to March 15.
SAGE estimated Britain’s overall R rate was between 0.6 and 0.9 – meaning every ten people with the virus infect six to nine others. But this was up slightly on last week, when the rate was between 0.6 and 0.8.
It was crucial for the R value to stay below one, which means that not everyone who has the virus is passing it on, ensuring the second wave continues to shrink.
The R rate was below one in every region of England.
But every area was also estimated to have a value that could be as high as 0.9, above the levels last week and suggesting the outbreak’s rate of decline had slowed.
The rate was lowest – between 0.6 and 0.9 – in the East of England, London, the Midlands and the South West.
And rate was highest – between 0.7 and 0.9 – in the North East and Yorkshire, the North West and the South East.
Professor Spector said scientists had expected the decline in infections would slow, and warned that it could begin to accelerate again in the future.
He said: ‘After steady falls at the beginning of the week, we’ve seen cases levelling off in recent days, especially in Scotland, Wales and the North-East of England.
‘This is to be expected after reopening schools across the country and is no reason to worry.
‘We’re keeping a close eye on cases in school-aged children and so far there’s nothing alarming about the data. I believe we’ll see case numbers holding steady for a little while before cases drop again.’
Professor James Naismith, a biologist at research centre the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxford, said the data showed lockdown had saved ‘thousands of lives’.
‘Today’s ONS numbers bring reassurance that for the UK as a whole the prevalence of the virus has continued to decline (to around three per 1,000 people),’ he said.
‘A similar story is told by the national R numbers. The lockdown continues to be effective at reducing infection.
Germany warns of ‘exponential’ rise in Covid cases
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering delaying lockdown lifting amid a spike in cases.
Merkel and the state leaders are due to meet again on Monday to discuss extending a lockdown that has been in place since mid-December, as well as a reversal of plans to gradually re-open the economy.
Rising incidence figures meant Germany would have to make use of its ’emergency brake,’ a fail-safe under which restrictions will be reintroduced if an area registers more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days.
‘The situation is becoming very difficult,’ Merkel said.
‘We have exponential growth … So it is good we had agreed on an emergency brake and unfortunately we will have to make use of this emergency brake.’
‘Broken down, the ONS numbers by different parts of the UK tell slightly different stories. Of note is prevalence in Scotland may have increased but has certainly not decreased. Within England, East Midlands may also have shown a small uptick. The so called Kent variant is now dominant in UK.’
Today’s ONS report, based on random swab tests of 160,000 people in the week ending March 13, predicted that 0.29 per cent of people would test positive for coronavirus if the whole country were tested.
The rate of infection was lower in Wales (0.23 per cent) but higher in Scotland (0.37 per cent) and Northern Ireland (0.32 per cent).
In England’s regions the report said that cases were falling in most places but potentially flat or rising in others.
The ONS said: ‘The percentage of people testing positive has decreased in the West Midlands, East of England, South West and London in the week ending 13 March 2021.
‘The trend is uncertain for the rest of the regions, although, there may be early signs of an increase for the East Midlands. Caution should be taken in over-interpreting any small movements in the latest trend.’
Although there was concern some regions might be seeing cases increase, none of them had a rate of infection higher than 0.4 per cent – one in 250 people.
The positivity rate was 0.4 per cent in East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East; 0.3 per cent in the South East, North West and West Midlands; and 0.2 per cent in London, the South West and East of England.
The Covid Symptom Study estimates one in 823 people suffered from symptoms last week, with 3,226 people becoming ill per day in England, compared to 648 in Scotland, 172 in Northern Ireland and 424 in Wales.
Rates were lowest in the South West of England, with 252 registering symptoms per day, and the East of England, where just 297 became ill each day
Just one in 1,369 school-aged children developed Covid symptoms, the data suggested.
The figures are based on over a million app users reporting their symptoms and so cannot take into account people who get the virus but don’t have symptoms. It also doesn’t include people in hospitals or care homes.
Rates were lowest in the South West of England, with 252 people developing symptoms per day, and the East of England, where just 297 became ill each day.
They were highest in the Yorkshire and the Humber (602) and London (549), falling just 5.5 per cent from 581 in the previous week.
The ZOE study also looked at the risk of blood clots in its users and found no link to Covid vaccines, after the European Medicines Agency yesterday confirmed it has found no evidence linking the AstraZeneca jab to a rare clot in the brain.
Boris Johnson last night revealed he will get the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine today as he attempted to calm fears about the jab’s link to the rare type of blood clot.
The Prime Minister insisted it was ‘so important’ that people get their injection as soon as they are invited, adding that the British-made vaccine was ‘safe and effective’.
He said it was ‘reasonable’ for people to want reassurance on vaccines, but pointed to findings from drug regulators in Britain and Europe which today confirmed the benefits of the jabs ‘far outweigh any risks’.
Mr Johnson told last night’s Downing Street press conference: ‘It’s so important that we all get our jabs as soon as our turn comes – and as it happens, I’m getting mine tomorrow… The Oxford jab is safe, the Pfizer jab is safe, what isn’t safe is catching Covid.’
More than a dozen EU countries – including France, Germany, Spain and Italy – had suspended the use of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine after reports of some people suffering blood clots after being vaccinated.
The chief of Britain’s medical regulator, Dr June Raine, who joined the PM at the podium last night, said there was no evidence the vaccine is behind the cases.
After the EMA’s announcement a raft of European countries said they would soon resume vaccinations, including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria.
However, despite the report, both Sweden and Norway have decided to keep a ban on the jab in place for a few more days.
Public Health England data showed Covid cases shrunk in every region of England except Yorkshire last week. But the positivity rate – one of the best ways of tracking the size of the outbreak when swabbing increases – dropped in all regions
Their report also revealed that Covid infection rates were still falling among all age groups with a marked decrease among the over-80s, which have already received their first dose of the Covid vaccine
Covid cases have continued to tumble in England, with NHS Test and Trace seeing a 14 per cent fall in infections despite testing nearly doubling to 5.8million