Britain’s daily Covid death toll plunged 30 per cent in a week today to 70 as experts insisted the Covid outbreak was ‘well under control’ even though cases were up.
Data across the board suggest that cases have ‘levelled off’ since schools reopened, while positive test numbers rose by 30 per cent week-on-week to 6,187 compared to 4,802 recorded last Friday.
Scientists today sought to reassure Britons that the upticks were ‘inevitable’ once parts of society unlocked, saying the figures were ‘not yet evidence’ the ultra-cautious lockdown easing plans needed to be pushed back.
They added the successful vaccine drive – which today hit more than 29million first doses – had weakened the link between infections and hospitalisations and deaths because far fewer people will get seriously ill from now on.
It came as No10’s scientific advisers revealed England’s R rate may have risen as high as one, in another sign cases may now be plateauing.
SAGE scientists today upgraded their estimate of the R rate – how many people each infected person passes the virus on to – to between 0.8 and one, meaning the outbreak is no longer shrinking as quickly as it was. Advisers also claimed the measure – which is based on three weeks’ worth of data – didn’t ‘fully reflect’ schools reopening on March 8, hinting it will spike above the crucial level in April.
They added, however, that R was no longer a key measure because Downing Street has accepted it will rise as restrictions get relaxed. Ministers will only act if hospital admissions spiral out of control.
Separate Office for National Statistics data estimated 162,500 people in England had the virus on any given day last week, a rise of 1.5 per cent on the previous seven-day spell. Statisticians said the figures – based on swabs of more than 100,000 people – only suggested cases were ‘levelling off’ rather than rising.
The Covid Symptom Study app also indicated cases had plateaued, predicting 3,245 symptomatic infections each day last week – up 0.6 per cent on the week before. For comparison, around 70,000 people were developing tell-tale signs of Covid every day during the peak of the second wave in January.
Professor James Naismith, the head of Oxford University’s Rosalind Franklin Institute, said today the ONS data was ‘less reassuring than last week’ but that it was ‘not yet evidence we need to change course’.
Boris Johnson’s plan to reopen schools has seen all pupils testing themselves twice a week, more than doubling the number of tests done daily – to around 1.1million – and inevitably fuelling a rise in cases as many more are spotted that would have previously gone unreported.
It comes as European leaders today threatened to block vaccines bound for Britain with an export ban they claim could derail the rollout of second doses.
France escalated the row by suggesting the UK does not have sufficient supplies to give inoculated citizens their next injection – and that the programme is at the mercy of EU shipments. Paris’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also accused the UK of ‘blackmailing’ Brussels ahead of crunch talks this weekend.
Britain is warning the EU against pursuing the Commission-proposed vaccine export ban and ministers have refused to rule out a tit-for-tat retaliation if the bloc imposes an embargo on jabs leaving the Continent.
The Department of Health posted another 70 Covid deaths today, down a third on the 101 recorded time last Friday. Experts have said the successful vaccination drive should keep these low as more people are immune to the virus
Covid cases rose 28 per cent, however, after 6,187 were announced compared to 4,802 from a week ago. The uptick is not a cause for concern, experts say, and was to be expected after schools reopened
More than 324,942 first doses and 234,382 second doses were given out today in Britain’s vaccination drive