All but four areas in England saw coronavirus infection rates fall during the first week of February, official figures revealed today in yet more evidence the second wave is firmly in retreat.
Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report found 144 out of 149 local authorities (97 per cent) recorded a drop in the weekly rate of coronavirus cases and one area remained unchanged in the seven days to February 7.
Rutland in the East Midlands saw the largest increase with infection rates doubling to 463 per 100,000 people, while Calderdale in West Yorkshire reported a 17 per cent rise to 192.
Rutland’s spiralling rate — which has made it the UK’s current hotspot — is thought to be being partly fuelled by an outbreak of the disease among prisoners at HMP Stocken, believed to have accounted for around half of all cases in its county area.
Middlesbrough recorded a slight uptick of 5 per cent, taking its rate to 373 per 100,000 and there was a 3 per cent increase in Bolton, where the rate rose to 283.
East Sussex saw the biggest drop in infection rates, followed by the London borough of Haringey, the Isle of Wight and Thurrock in Essex.
The weekly surveillance report confirmed that Covid cases are continuing to fall in every English region for the third week running and among every age group.
The West Midlands has the highest rate at 237.6 per 100,000 people, down from 326.8 in the previous week. The South West has the lowest rate at 120.3, falling from 176.5.
Infections are highest among 30 to 39-year-olds, the figures show, at 265.3 cases per 100,000 people. For people aged 80 and over, who are most at risk of dying from the virus, the rate fell from 294.6 to 200.5.
Meanwhile, today’s Test and Trace report showed 149,000 people referred to the scheme were diagnosed with the disease in the week up to February 3 — down 24 per cent on the previous week. It is the lowest weekly number since England came out of its second national lockdown and before the second wave spiralled out of control.
The data comes amid warnings from No10’s top scientific advisers that infections must plummet to fewer than 10,000 cases before Boris Johnson should start easing brutal lockdown curbs, or the country risks allowing new mutant variants to spawn.
The number of people who tested positive for coronavirus through the NHS Test and Trace programme fell by a quarter last week (graph pictured). Today’s report showed 149,000 people referred to the scheme were diagnosed with the disease in the week up to February 3, down 24 per cent on the previous week
Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report showed Covid cases are continuing to fall in every English region
But Tory MP Marcus Fysh told MailOnline that SAGE’s demands were ‘highly unrealistic’ and warned ministers must stick to the hospitalisation and deaths criteria ‘in order to preserve the confidence that people have in the process’.
He added: ‘It is essential they stick to what they have set out. Lockdowns are incredibly damaging to people’s lives and livelihoods.’
The Prime Minister has promised to get children back in classrooms by March 8 as part of his ‘route map’ out of lockdown, which he plans to reveal on Monday, February 22. But sources suggested today the announcement could be pushed back later in that week, which would throw the March 8 date into jeopardy.
The Education Secretary has said schools and colleges will get at least two weeks’ notice before pupils return to the classroom in order to give pupils, parents and teachers time to prepare.
It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock raised the prospect of an ‘easier’ exit from lockdown because Brits are flocking to get Covid jabs in ‘incredible numbers’. He said uptake of the vaccine had been ‘far, far higher’ than expected, with over 90 per cent of all those in the top priority groups coming forward to get their first dose.
Meanwhile, Department of Health officials revealed another 415,000 vaccines were administered on Tuesday, with more than 13million Brits having now received their first dose.
Covid cases continue to fall in England
The number of people who tested positive for Covid through NHS Test and Trace in England fell by a quarter last week, official figures revealed today.
Around 149,000 people referred to the scheme were diagnosed with the disease in the week up to February 3 —down 24 per cent on the previous week. It is the lowest number since the week ending December 8, shortly after England came out of its second national lockdown and before the second wave spiralled out of control.
The figures are yet more evidence that Britain’s second wave is firmly in retreat. Hospital and death rates are also dropping by about 25 per cent week-on-week.
The Test and Trace report also revealed more than 80 per cent of close contacts of infected patients were reached and asked to self-isolate — a threshold set by SAGE which is key to the programme be successful at thwarting outbreaks.
The scheme managed to hunt down 87 per cent of Covid patients, about 130,000, and 94 per cent of their close contacts, or 265,000. But there were still almost 20,000 people who tested positive and could not be traced, plus everyone they’d come into contact with during their illness.
The figures also highlight the Test and Trace programme is still failing to turn around Covid tests within 24 hours, despite Boris Johnson promising last June that everyone who took a PCR swab would get a result inside a day. But figures show the average turnaround time for a home testing kit is 35 hours. In-person swabs are faring much better, with 97 per cent of results sent out in a day.
With all the key statistics now pointing towards a quickly shrinking epidemic, and with the vaccine rollout steaming ahead, pressure is mounting on the Government to start dropping the most brutal lockdown curbs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to lay out a ‘route map’ out of the national shutdown on February 22, with schools expected to be the first to go back sometime after March 8.
If the country follows the Israeli roadmap for defeating coronavirus then it suggests Britain will only begin
Britain will only begin to emerge from lockdown at the end of May, if it follows the Israeli roadmap for defeating coronavirus.
Israel has started implementing a three-stage plan to exit draconian Covid restrictions – similar to the blueprint Boris Johnson is set to lay out on February 22.
Israeli officials hope to let non-essential shops, gyms and libraries reopen within a fortnight.
But ministers will only give the move the green light on February 23 if 90 per cent of over-50s have been vaccinated and at least a third of the country have had their booster dose. Infection rates must also continue to plummet.
Under the same lockdown-easing plan, pubs, cafes and restaurants won’t be allowed to welcome customers again until March 9 — by which time 95 per cent of over-50s must have been jabbed. Four million Israelis — roughly 45 per cent of the country — will also need to have had their top-up jab.
Were Number 10 to follow Israel’s model, non-essential shops wouldn’t reopen until late May because of how long it would take to vaccinate the 17million Britons aged 50-70 who are next on the NHS priority list. Pubs, restaurants and hotels would have to wait until early June.
Schools could start from roughly the middle of May, as per the Israeli system which requires 70 per cent of over-50s to be fully vaccinated before kids go back to class. But the Prime Minister has pledged to reopen schools from March 8.
These dates for the UK are borne out in modelling by the University of Warwick which was passed to Sage a few weeks ago.
It argued that the best way for Britain to prevent another surge in Covid deaths was to keep the national lockdown going until the end of May and then recommence the social distancing rules in September until the end of 2021.
Scientists believe coronavirus will now be an endemic disease that countries have to grapple with every winter.
The Bristol variant is the third variant of concern found in Britain, alongside the now-dominant Kent variant and the South African one. A fourth – one of two strains from Brazil – is also listed by PHE but it has not yet been found in the UK.
The E484K mutation appears to give the SARS-CoV-2 virus the ability to partially evade natural and vaccine-triggered immunity.
This mutation initially appears randomly – and it appears to do so fairly often – but sometimes becomes a permanent feature of a variant because it gives it an advantage in that it can reinfect people who would be protected against other versions of the virus.
The fact that the variant cases have been discovered during lockdown, said PHE’s Dr Susan Hopkins, was a cause for immediate action because it presented an opportunity to control them while people are not mixing much.
While none of the variants of concern look to be spreading fast out of the areas where they were first discovered, this could change when rules are eased.