A total of 84,276 people have now died in hospitals in England since the start of the pandemic, preliminary data shows.
The figures, released ahead of the official statistics this afternoon, show those who died were between 42 and 96, and all but six had known underlying health conditions.
It comes as Britain’s Covid infection figures yesterday dropped by 30 per cent week-on-week to 5,947 in the latest sign the UK is finally bringing the virus under control.
The figures, shared by Public Health England, were also down from Thursday, when 6,543 Covid cases were recorded. There have been more than 4million cases since recorded in the UK since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, Department of Health officials yesterday revealed there had been 236 more Covid fatalities – down by a third week-on-week, with the Health Secretary boasting the decline was becoming ‘faster and faster’.
Mr Hancock yesterday claimed the figures offered proof that the once ‘unbreakable’ link between cases inevitably turning into deaths was ‘now breaking’.
He told a Downing Street press conference: ‘The vaccine is protecting the NHS, saving lives right across the country. The country’s plan is working.’
Two-fifths of adults have now been jabbed and one million have had both doses.
His comments came after an array of official data revealed Covid cases are falling rapidly, fuelling calls for No10 to relax lockdown measures sooner.
Under current plans heavily criticised by anti-lockdown Tory MPs, England will have some lockdown restrictions in place until at least June 21.
Recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show England’s outbreak shrank by a third in the week to February 26, with 248,000 people infected – the equivalent of one in every 220 people.
Matt Hancock yesterday boasted about more evidence showing the vaccines are helping to drive down hospital admissions and deaths, with both measures dropping quicker than cases
And a symptom-tracking study revealed the number of people getting infected each day has started to drop again after levelling off in February.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist behind the research, revealed he hoped lockdown could be eased ‘earlier’.
Even Number 10’s normally-cautious advisers are optimistic about Britain’s prospects, with SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward admitting he believed the country had already ‘been through the worst’ of the pandemic.
However, the Government’s advisory panel yesterday claimed that the R rate has crept up for the first time since January.
Modellers predicted the rate was between 0.7 and 0.9 but remained below one, meaning the outbreak is still shrinking. Last week it was estimated to be as low as 0.6.
The Office for National Statistics estimated that 248,000 people across England are infected with the coronavirus, down from 370,000 in its estimate last Friday
The number of people developing Covid symptoms each day, as estimated by the Covid Symptom Study, plateaued in February but has started to drop again in March
Gavin Williamson hints school summer holidays could be shortened PERMANENTLY
Gavin Williamson today hinted that summer holidays could be shortened permanently as part of a move to a five-term year.
The Education Secretary said the government is looking at doing things in a ‘different way’ as it scrambles to help children catch up after the coronavirus lockdowns.
However, headteachers cautioned against a ‘knee jerk’ introduction of a five-term system, which could potentially mean children having just four weeks off in the summer rather than around six.
The suggestion of a much deeper overhaul comes days before pupils are finally due to return to classrooms in England on Monday.
There have been warnings that it could take a decade to heal the damage done to the prospects of youngsters – with the most vulnerable suffering the worst.
Asked in an interview with the i newspaper whether England’s current six-week summer holiday was too long, Mr Williamson said: ‘I think we should never be nervous about looking at new routes and different ways of doing things.’
But one SAGE epidemiologist has insisted the era of caring about the R rate was ‘coming to an end’ because the figure is no longer at the heart of No10’s Covid strategy.
Professor John Edmunds, from the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said a rise in cases ‘may be tolerated as long as it doesn’t put undue pressure on hospital services’.
Almost 21.4million vulnerable Britons have already been vaccinated, with the mammoth NHS operation continuing to run smoothly.
Any hiccups in the inoculation drive – which will save countless lives – could threaten lockdown-easing plans.
SAGE experts predicted the R rate remained below one in every region of England except Yorkshire and the Humber where it was predicted to be between 0.7 and 1, suggesting cases may no longer be falling there.
Other studies have also indicated the Covid outbreak may no longer be shrinking in the region.
But Department of Health data still shows infections are dropping there week-on-week.
The R rate was lowest in London, the East of England, the South East and the South West (0.6 to 0.8). In the North West and the Midlands it was between 0.7 and 0.9, they added.
Professor Spector said: ‘After reporting a flattening last week, possibly related to the cold snap, and with worries of new variants, we are pleased to see numbers falling again.
‘It’s even more encouraging when we look at the bigger picture. Cases in hospital and deaths continue to fall, and vaccinations rise, putting us in a good position.
‘However, we still need to keep numbers low and avoid further waves of infections.
‘Our app shows people are still getting infected within two weeks after vaccination when they have zero protection.
‘With schools opening, we still need to be sensible to keep the good news flowing as we slowly return to normal life and hopefully ease lockdown earlier.’
Public Health England data show that coronavirus positive test rates fell in all but two areas of the country in the week ending February 28 – Hull in Yorkshire and Wokingham in Berkshire (shown in yellow)