Covid cases have now peaked in every region of England, official data now shows in more proof that the worst of the Omicron outbreak is over.
Daily infections have dropped nationwide week-on-week for the last seven days, and yesterday dipped below six figures – to slightly less than 98,000 – for the first time in more than a fortnight.
Infections were only rising in the North East, but latest Government figures show they are now mirroring the rest of the country. Fascinating maps show how the virus is seemingly fizzling out naturally, with cases having fallen week-on-week in roughly 87 per cent of areas.
The North East had become an Omicron hotspot in recent weeks after the outbreak migrated north, and it is home to seven of the 10 local authorities with the biggest outbreaks. One in 40 people (2.6 per cent) living in the region tested positive in the most recent week, the highest of any point in the pandemic.
Hospitalisations – which are a lagging indicator – have continued to rise with almost 400 daily Covid admissions in the region last week, similar to levels seen during the devastating second wave.
But admissions to critical care beds have barely risen since England’s Covid outbreak began to spiral, which gave No10 the confidence it could ‘ride out’ the current wave. And a host of experts believe Omicron infections are now peaking in the country.
Yet record numbers of people are still infected, according to the most reliable surveillance survey. Analysts at the Office for National Statistics today published an interactive map revealing the worst-hit parts of the country, which showed up to one in eight people were carrying the virus last week in parts of Lancashire.
England is now preparing to ease the restrictions that were brought in to fight Omicron. The Health Secretary told MPs yesterday that vaccine passports could be scrapped by the end of this month, and ministers are considering ditching work from home guidance. Both are set to be reviewed on January 26.
Self-isolation will be cut to five days on Monday for vaccinated people who test positive, with Sajid Javid saying the move will make the UK the ‘freest in Europe’.
UK Health Security Agency figures showed Covid cases were falling in 87 per cent of England’s areas last week, or 129 out of 149 local authorities. For comparison, in the previous seven-day spell (left) cases were only falling in 15 council areas
A record 3.7million people were infected with Covid on any day last week in England — but cases were slowing nationally, the country’s gold-standard Office for National Statistics’ surveillance study has found
Areas in the North West, North East and Yorkshire were hit hardest by the new variant last week as it began to burn itself out in London and the south
The percentage of people who were carrying Covid in the UK home nations in the week to January 6
NORTH EAST: Pictured above is the Covid infection rate in the North East, showing its cases have started to peak
NORTH EAST: The above shows the number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid every day. In the region it is now at about the same level as it was last winter
NORTH EAST: The above shows the number of Covid patients in hospital beds in the region. There are early signs this may be plateauing at a lower level than the previous winter
NORTH EAST: And above is the number of patients with Covid on mechanical ventilator beds. This has not risen in a sign Omicron is milder than its predecessors
Record 4.3MILLION Brits had Covid last week, ONS surveillance shows
A record 4.3million Britons were thought to have been carrying Covid last week.
Latest Office for National Statistics surveillance shows that areas in the North West, North East and Yorkshire were hit hardest by the new variant as it began to burn itself out in London and the south.
More than 10 per cent of people tested positive in the seven days to January 6 in the worst-affected places, including Bury, the Wirral, West Lancashire, Burnley, Rochdale and Solihull.
An interactive map was published as part of the weekly report, which found infections hit new highs in all four home nations.
One in 15 people were estimated to have been infectious on any given day last week in England, while the rate was one in 20 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Even though infections continued to grow in the most recent week, the 14 per cent rise is the smallest increase since Omicron became dominant at the start of December.
The slowing down in infections is in line with a growing body of evidence showing the Omicron wave is subsiding.
More up-to-date Government dashboard data shows that cases are now falling in every country in the UK and every region of England. Daily admissions also appear to have plateaued across Britain.
Middlesbrough leads the way with around 3,100 infections per 100,000 people, with Hartlepool (2,900) and Stockton-on-Tees (2,800) rounding out the top three.
UK Health Security Agency scientists calculate the infection rate across England’s regions using the number of positive swabs recorded over the previous seven days.
Its latest figures, up to January 8, show that cases are now falling in all region’s day-on-day, and in five of them — the East Midlands, East of England, London, North West and South East — they are falling week-on-week.
The North East (2,572.4) is still the country’s Covid hotspot, recording the most cases per 100,000 people, but they are now starting to point downwards.
The second-highest infection rate was in the North West (2,132.6), followed by Yorkshire and the Humber (1,977.5) and the West Midlands (1,785.6).
At the other end of the scale was the South West (1,270.2), the South East (1,374.1) and the East of England (1,460.7). London had the sixth highest infection rate (1,526.5).
In a sign the North East’s drop is genuine and not down to a change in testing its PCR positivity rate — the proportion of swabs that detect the virus — has also started to fall.
Infection statistics relate to the period before testing rules were changed so that Britons who test positive using a lateral flow no longer need to get a confirmatory PCR. But the figures were already dropping before then.
Fewer Covid tests were also carried out over the festive period, skewing official numbers slightly.
But swabbing rates have now picked up to levels seen before Christmas, giving some of the country’s leading experts confidence that the fall in cases is genuine.
Hospitalisations across the North East are yet to drop having reached 390 admissions a day, nearing last winter’s peak of 430.
But the number of Covid patients in hospital has flattened out in recent days at 3,000 which is around four-fifths of the previous peak, while the numbers on mechanical ventilator beds have barely risen.
The UK Health Security Agency’s weekly estimate of the R rate today was between 1.1 and 1.5, meaning it has fallen slightly. Last week health chiefs argued that it was at least 1.2.
But in London the reproduction rate could be as low as 0.7, the team concluded.
If the figure is below one, it means infections are shrinking. The R number reflects the average amount of people every infected patient passes the virus on to.
The R rate is, however, a lagging indicator and does not reflect the situation currently. Instead, it paints a clearer picture on how quickly the virus was spreading three weeks ago.
Ministers once put the R rate at the heart of their Covid battle plan. But it is now less crucial because experts care more about hospitalisation and death rates, given the country’s massively successful vaccination roll-out.
At a meeting with Tory MPs yesterday, Mr Javid hailed the ‘encouraging signs’ but warned that hospitals remained under ‘significant pressure’, The Times reports.
Currently, people in England need to show proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow to enter large events and nightclubs.
A Whitehall source told the paper: ‘There was always a very high threshold for the policy and it looks increasingly likely in a couple of weeks that threshold won’t be met. The way cases are going it will be hard to justify renewing.’
The UK Government faced its biggest Tory revolt since the start of the pandemic over the introduction of Plan B measures last month, with more than 100 Conservatives voting against them.
The PM’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost dramatically resigned in protest over the rollout of the curbs. Yesterday he slammed the ‘Covid theatre’ of masks and passes, and called lockdown a ‘serious mistake’.
The Times reports that it is unlikely that Covid passes will be renewed if the Department of Health argues that it is no longer needed.
Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, yesterday pressed the Health Secretary to commit ‘to dropping domestic certification at the earliest possible opportunity’.
He replied: ‘I assure her and the House that as far as I am concerned we will not be keeping domestic certification in place a moment longer than absolutely necessary.’
Former cabinet minister Greg Clark called on Mr Javid to lift the curbs later this month, saying they ‘have an impact beyond Covid as we know’.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Javid cut the number of days people have to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid in England to five.
The Health Secretary told MPs that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed ‘that around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five’.
He added: ‘After reviewing all of the evidence, we’ve made the decision to reduce the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England. From Monday, people can test twice before they go — leaving isolation at the start of day six.
‘These two tests are critical to these balanced and proportionate plans, and I’d urge everyone to take advantage of the capacity we have built up in tests so we can restore the freedoms to this country while we’re keeping everyone safe.’
It comes after the UK Health Security Agency’s weekly report yesterday revealed that Covid cases fell in 87 per cent of England’s areas last week, or 129 out of 149 local authorities.
For comparison, it was only dropping in 18 council areas in the previous seven-day spell.
Its figures — based on national testing data — also revealed cases dropped in all age groups except the under-20s, and across all regions except the North East.