Omi-gone? Cases are now falling in a THIRD of England’s boroughs as London’s infections drop to lowest level in a month… and even Chris Whitty is ‘giving off optimistic signals’ that worst of pandemic is over
- EXCLUSIVE: UK Health Security Agency data shows 95 of 315 councils saw Covid infections drop last week
- And in London — which was first to be struck by the variant — cases are now at their lowest level in a month
- Top scientists say they need a few more days of data to be confident schools haven’t sparked an uptick
Millions of people are living in areas where Covid cases appear to be falling, MailOnline can reveal as evidence continues to mount that the worst of the pandemic may be over.
Yesterday England logged a 29 per cent fall in positive tests compared to the week before, marking the biggest dip of its kind since late September. Infections are dropping in every region except the North East and London yesterday posted just 12,309 cases — its fewest in a month.
More precise data show outbreaks were already shrinking in 95 of the country’s 315 councils, with five of the ten areas recording the sharpest dips located in the capital.
Experts are now hopeful that the UK’s outbreak will follow a similar trajectory to South Africa’s, which was the first country to fall victim to the extremely-transmissible variant. Its cases have almost completely fizzled out over the past month.
Even Professor Chris Whitty is now giving ‘optimistic signals’ to ministers, Whitehall insiders claim. England’s chief medical officer has been cautious over easing restrictions throughout the pandemic.
But he still wants a ‘few more days of patience’ to be confident that the return of schools hasn’t sparked any uptick and that the outbreak is still ‘going in the right direction’, The Times reports.
No10 is under mounting pressure to announce a blueprint for learning to live with Covid, with scientists predicting that Britain will be one of the first countries in the world to tame the pandemic. Ministers are already pushing for the final Plan B restrictions to be lifted now there is such a big disconnect between infections and deaths.
Deaths have barely risen in England’s most recent wave, and are currently tracking at about half the level of a bad flu year, analysis suggests. The number of critically ill patients in hospital is still flat, despite Omicron first starting to spiral out of control a month ago.
The above maps show the Covid infection rate changes in England over the weeks ending December 30 and January 6, the latest two available. They indicate that the rate of growth is slowing down across the country
UK Health Security Agency data showed London recorded 12,000 cases yesterday, the least in a month. It was comparable to the total cases on December 13
The above figures show Covid infection rates across all regions except the North East fell on January 5. It could suggest the worst of the wave is over
UKHSA bosses publish daily Covid statistics on a raft of measures across Britain, from testing to hospitalisations and deaths.
Its headline figures — such as cases — are based on data that have been newly logged into the system. England yesterday posted 104,833 positive tests, comprising of people who were found to have SARS-CoV-2 over the pst week. This was down 29.5 per cent on the previous figure (148,725).
Daily cases data is easily skewed by testing, making it hard to distinguish whether falls are genuine or not and making it especially difficult over the festive period when fewer people came forward to get swabbed.
Britain will be able to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave without hospitals becoming overwhelmed, an intensive care doctor has said.
Dr Richard Cree, who works at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, had previously feared a major surge in admissions.
But writing in his blog yesterday, Dr Cree said: ‘Across the country, the number of people being admitted to hospital following infection remains high.
‘However, the number of people being admitted hasn’t risen as high as I feared it might and it may even be starting to plateau.
‘I will admit that I thought things might be worse by now but I’m all too happy to be proved wrong.
‘It’s looking increasingly likely that we may be able to “ride out” this Omicron wave after all.’
He also said there was ‘no doubt’ that Omicron is far less severe than its predecessors.
Hospitalisations in England have plateaued over recent days and in London — which was first to be hit by the variant — they are now falling.
Covid cases are also on a downward trajectory, prompting optimism in No10 that some restrictions could soon be lifted.
Some ministers are pushing for work from home guidance to be the first to go, fearing it will do the most damage to the economy.
But the number of PCR tests carried out in the week ending January 4 was 3.5million, similar to the levels seen before Christmas. No PCR swabbing data has been released since then for England, so it is impossible to tell whether or not the plunge was swayed by testing levels.
But London’s positivity rate — which some experts say is a more accurate way of tracking outbreaks when testing levels vary — has already started to fall.
London also saw just 12,309 cases logged yesterday, its fewest since December 13. It has sparked hopes that the rest of the country will follow suit given that the capital was the first to be rocked by Omicron.
Under the same headline measurements cases are already falling day-on-day in all of England’s nine regions. The North East is the only one to see its infection rate plateau, although this may drop soon.
Lagged data — which accounts for the date positive tests were actually taken, not recorded into the system — shows the same trend. More tests were carried out in the week ending January 6 compared to the week before.
Those figures, which only cover the week to January 6, show five of the ten areas with the fastest falling infection rates were in London.
Lewisham registered the biggest weekly drop (down 23.9 per cent, to 1464.4 cases per 100,000 people), followed by Rochford in Essex (down 21.7 per cent, to 1,673), and Bromley (down 20.3 per cent, to 1,557.3).
On the other end of the scale, no local authority saw its Covid infections double over the latest week. By contrast, over the previous seven-day spell, 46 areas saw their cases rise by over 100 per cent.
Middlesbrough again registered the biggest rise in infections (up 96 per cent, to 3,233.9), while Sunderland saw the second biggest rise (up 93.5 per cent, to 2,716.6) and neighbouring Hartlepool the third biggest (up 89.6 per cent, to 2,936).
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said that most of the country appeared to be ‘past its peak’ of infections, although he cautioned it was still ‘early days’.
He told MailOnline: ‘Altogether, I think we are all past the peak of infections, although some regions are later than others.’
Asked whether the return of schools could trigger an uptick in infections, he said that was ‘possible’ and it would take another week or so before it becomes clear in the data.
‘I would not be surprised if we start to see cases increasing in children in the next week or two,’ he said. ‘Once it is in a school it is going to spread pretty rapidly whatever you do — regardless of masks, ventilation and opening windows.’
Professor David Heymann, a leading public health expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, yesterday said the UK is set to become one of the first country’s to exit the pandemic thanks to its high immunity levels from vaccinations.
He told an event at Chatham House that infections would likely soon settle down and start spreading in a similar way to flu and other endemic illnesses. He also pointed out that it was no longer triggering serious illness or death in large numbers, unlike in March 2020 when the virus first arrived.
Yesterday it emerged that No10’s Plan B curbs could start to be lifted this month, with some ministers pushing for the work from home guidance to go first.
Michael Gove, who has consistently argued for the toughest curbs, warned that there were ‘difficult weeks ahead’ for the NHS as the virus surges outside London. But he said there would be ‘better times ahead’ once the current surge in cases has passed.
‘There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live – viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread,’ he said.
‘So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions and, I think for all of us, the sooner the better. But we have got to keep the NHS safe.’
The Prime Minister has also asked the UKHSA to look again at whether the self-isolation period could be relaxed from seven days to five to ease crippling staff shortages in the economy and public services.
Today Health Secretary Sajid Javid signalled his support for the move, saying it would help to ease pressure on hospitals struggling against staff shortages.
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