Britain’s daily coronavirus hospital death toll has continued to fall as 368 fatalities were recorded today – bringing the UK’s hospital total to 49,839.
In England 315 people died from coronavirus, while Wales recorded 24 deaths, Scotland 22 and Northern Ireland reported seven.
The number of deaths announced on recent Saturday’s were 370 on November 28, 391 on November 21, 370 on November 14 and 366 on November 7.
Yesterday, health chiefs recorded 504 victims as a raft of promising statistics confirmed the second wave is in full retreat after November’s lockdown.
The Government’s official toll in all settings, including care homes, is now more than 60,500 deaths within 28 days of positive test – the highest total in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
But Department of Health figures yesterday showed the day’s death count – which NHS England said included a 15-year-old with no known underlying conditions – was only slightly lower than the 521 announced the Friday the week before. But the curve has been consistently falling for more than a fortnight.
Officials also announced another 16,298 cases, marginally up on last week’s 16,022.
In yet more evidence that the worst of Britain’s resurgence of Covid is over, SAGE revealed the R rate has fallen for the fourth week in a row and could now be as low as 0.8. No10’s scientific advisory panel claimed outbreaks were shrinking in every part of the country.
And Office for National Statistics data showed the number of daily coronavirus infections in England plummeted by almost half last month, from 47,700 per day to 25,700 in the week ending November 28, in more proof that the disease has began to fade away. The report estimated that a total of 521,300 people were carrying the virus in England on November 28, down from 665,000 just two weeks earlier.
Separate infection estimates produced by the Covid Symptom Study say there are just 15,845 people developing symptoms of coronavirus each day in England, down from a peak of 44,000 at the end of October. Although the numbers are different to those made by the ONS, they illustrate the same downward trend.
Professor Tim Spector, the King’s College epidemiologist running that study, which is based on data from a public mobile app, said the signs were ‘encouraging’, adding: ‘We’re now [at] less than half the peak of the second wave we saw in October.’
And separate Public Health England figures revealed every local authority in the North saw their Covid-19 infection rate fall last week, adding to mounting questions over whether millions of people have been unnecessarily forced to live under the harshest Tier Three curbs.
The promising figures come as the UK gets set to become the first country in the world to start vaccinating people against Covid-19 next week, after drug regulators gave the green light for a jab developed by pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and BioNTech.
The first doses were delivered on British soil Thursday via a convoy of unmarked lorries from Belgium and NHS Providers chief Dr Chris Hopson says the country is planning to start vaccinating on Tuesday, December 8, with care home residents and staff and elderly hospital patients at the front of the queue.
HOW IS THE OUTBREAK DIFFERENT ACROSS THE COUNTRY?
Regional differences across England show that some parts of the country are being hit far harder than others during the second wave of coronavirus.
The R rate is produced by SAGE; daily infections by the Covid Symptom Study; and percentage of people infected by the ONS.
Not all are collected in the same way or using the exact same time frame, but illustrate an approximately consistent picture that cases are highest but declining fastest in the North, while lower but shrinking more slowly in the South.
% of people carrying coronavirus
0.9 – 1.0
0.8 – 1.1
0.8 – 0.9
0.7 – 0.9
0.7 – 0.9
0.9 – 1.1
0.7 – 1.0
1.1 – 1.2%
1.6 – 1.7%
SAGE’s estimate of the R rate is based on different types of data including new infections, numbers of people going into hospital and the numbers of people dying.
When the number is published it is usually accurate for around two to three weeks beforehand because of how long it takes for changes in infection rates to show up in data. Last week, the estimate was 0.9 to 1.1, and the week before it was 1.0 to 1.1.
It has now fallen for four weeks in a row and the fact that it could be as low as 0.8 suggests the virus is spreading slower than at any time since August.
SAGE said: ‘Most of the impact of the national restrictions introduced in England on 5th November are now observable in the data… While R has decreased from the levels estimated in previous weeks, estimates may continue to decline further next week as the full effect of national restrictions are reflected in the data.’
The ONS’s mass testing programme, which took results from 217,411 swabs in the two weeks until November 28, found that 0.96 per cent of people were testing positive.
This is equal to around one in every 105 people and is the first time the positivity rate has been below one per cent since early October.
Cases are still highest in the North of England. In Yorkshire and the Humber, which was worst affected as the country emerged from lockdown, 1.7 per cent of people tested positive – one in 59.
North East, North West, East Midlands and West Midlands all also had rates higher than the England average, which was one per cent exactly.
The southern regions all had lower positive test rates, with the lowest in the East of England where it was 0.4 per cent.
ONS experts wrote in their report: ‘Over the most recent week, the percentage of people testing positive has decreased in all regions, except the North East; rates are highest in the North East, the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.’
The separate Covid Symptom Study, run by health-tech company ZOE and King’s College London researchers, predicts that the R rate is at 0.8 across the UK and that the most daily cases are appearing in London, with 3,379 per day in the two weeks up to last Sunday, November 29.
It creates estimates using the self-reported test results and symptoms from a million users of the Covid Symptom Tracker app. The team suggest there are about 40,000 people in the UK right now with symptomatic Covid-19.
King’s College epidemiologist and leader of the project, Professor Tim Spector, said today: ‘It’s encouraging to see rates are still falling across most of the UK, and we’re now below 21,000 cases, less than half the peak of the second wave we saw in October.
‘However, while we are also seeing steady falls in admissions now, it’s important that we aren’t complacent.
‘Even though the UK will start the vaccine roll out next week, many of us won’t be getting one for a few months, so keeping the numbers low and under control is really important for the NHS.’