Covid cases in England hit their lowest levels since SEPTEMBER


England’s coronavirus infection rate is now back to where it was in mid-September, according to Public Health England and Test and Trace data.

The number of positive tests recorded last week was lower than at any point since the start of the second wave and cases came down in all age groups and regions over recent weeks.

And the picture is positive over almost the entire country, with case counts coming down in 134 out of 149 local authorities – although there were 15 areas that recorded growing outbreaks in the week up to February 21.

Chief medical officers in all four nations of the UK today agreed to downgrade the Covid threat level in Britain from Level 5 – ‘a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed’ – to Level 4, which says a ‘Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially’.

NHS Test and Trace’s data showed just 84,310 people tested positive nationwide in the week to last Wednesday, a drop of almost half from 149,000 two weeks earlier.

More recent Public Health England figures show that nine out of 10 areas had shrinking outbreaks up to Sunday, February 21, but some saw significant growth, with cases almost doubling in Rutland.

September 20 was the last time that cases were lower in every region and every age group than they are now.

However, the total number of people carrying the virus is thought to be considerably higher now than it was then – 481,000 at the last estimate, compared to 104,000 in mid-September – and there are far more people currently in hospital with Covid-19, at 14,100 on February 22 compared to 1,174 on September 20.

Professor Paul Elliott, an Imperial College London epidemiologist carrying out the REACT mass swab-testing study for the government, explained last week: ‘The actual prevalence is still very high. We’re only back where we were in September and, clearly, we want to be back where we were in August.’

Anti-lockdown Tory MPs, spurred on by reams of positive data in recent days and weeks, are keen to press Boris Johnson to move faster with his plans to remove social distancing rules, but the Prime Minister today said there was ‘no wiggle room’. Mr Johnson said: ‘We’re sticking to our plan.’

Public Health England data show that nine out of 10 areas had shrinking outbreaks up to Sunday, February 21, but some saw significant growth, with cases almost doubling in Rutland from the previous week (ending February 14)

Public Health England data show that September 20 (week 38) was the last time that cases were lower in every region and every age group than they are now

Public Health England data show that September 20 (week 38) was the last time that cases were lower in every region and every age group than they are now

Just 84,310 people tested positive for the coronavirus across the country during the week ending February 17, NHS Test and Trace data revealed today. This is down 44 per cent in a fortnight and is the lowest number since the week to September 30

Just 84,310 people tested positive for the coronavirus across the country during the week ending February 17, NHS Test and Trace data revealed today. This is down 44 per cent in a fortnight and is the lowest number since the week to September 30

The UK's chief medical officers today downgraded the Covid alert level from 5 to 4 as data continue to show the epidemic is shrinking

The UK’s chief medical officers today downgraded the Covid alert level from 5 to 4 as data continue to show the epidemic is shrinking

The chief medical officers – Chris Whitty, Frank Atherton (Wales), Gregor Smith (Scotland) and Michael McBride (Northern Ireland) – said today: ‘ Thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

‘We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. 

‘In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.’

Test and Trace data show today that 2.6million people got tested for coronavirus in the most recent week, down from 3million the week before and 3.1million in the first week of February. 

The number of positive results has plummeted during the lockdown from a peak of 390,366 coronavirus cases recorded in the first week of January, before the national rules came into force.

A total 84,310 last week marks a 78 per cent drop from that peak, with case numbers coming down both in the community and in hospitals.

COVID PATIENT NUMBERS FALL IN 98% OF NHS HOSPITALS

Covid-19 inpatient numbers have fallen in all but a handful of England’s hospitals in the past two weeks, official figures revealed.

NHS data showed 135 out of 137 major trusts – 98 per cent – saw a drop in the numbers over the two weeks to February 16.

The Christie in London recorded the biggest rise, after its Covid patients went up from 10 on average to 15.

The second-biggest jump was in the Harrogate and District NHS Trust, Yorkshire, where they increased from 53 to 56 a week.

And in the Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Trust, Nottinghamshire, the number plateaued at 79 patients.

But they went down in all other trusts, official figures revealed.

The sharpest fall was in the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic hospital, in Shropshire, where they dropped by 97 per cent from six to less than one.

It was followed by Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, where they dropped 85 per cent from five to less than one on average.

And Yeovil District Hospital NHS Trust, where they fell by 70 per cent from 41 to 11 on average.

Separate data from the Department of Health showed hospitalisations with the disease have been plummeting since January 10 after the third national lockdown was declared.

It takes roughly two weeks for someone infected with the virus to develop symptoms serious enough to be rushed to hospital, meaning there is a lag between the fall in infections and the fall in hospitalisations.

During the darkest days of January hospitals warned they could be overwhelmed by an influx of patients and thousands of routine procedures for other conditions – including cancer and cataract operations – were cancelled or rescheduled. 

Virus cases in hospital peaked a week later than in the general population, with a high of 52,911 in the week ending January 13, after Pillar 2 cases – those detected at public testing sites – were highest a week earlier at 343,322. 

A PHE report today showed that cases have dropped in all but 15 local authorities in England in the most recent week.

The biggest declines in positive tests per 100,000 people were seen in the Isle of Wight, Bath, Gloucestershire and the London boroughs of Lewisham and Bromley, which all saw their infection numbers fall by between 37 and 57 per cent.

But the 15 places where infection rates increased on the previous week were Rutland, Swindon, Herefordshire, Hartlepool, Bradford, Bury, Sheffield, North East Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Kirklees, Leeds, Rochdale, Southampton, East Riding of Yorkshire and Wakefield.

They saw positive test rates rise by anywhere between 0.3 per cent (Wakefield) and 87 per cent (Rutland).

Rutland, close to Leicestershire in the East Midlands, now has an infection rate of 243 positive tests per 100,000 people. 

This makes it the fourth worst affected place in the country, behind Peterborough, Sandwell and Leicester.

As the number of people infected with the virus comes down, the Test & Trace service appears to be improving, with 96 per cent of people receiving their test results by the end of the next day 

The ‘next day’ results are defined as within 48 hours, however, and the service is still unable to meet Boris Johnson’s ambitious target from the summer. 

He told the House of Commons on June 3 he would get ‘all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that’.

Some 86.8 per cent of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending February 17 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called ‘in-person’ test – received their result within 24 hours.

This is up slightly from 85.4 per cent in the previous week, and is the highest figure since the week to July 8. 

The Department of Health now also records data for rapid tests, known as lateral flow devices, and it found a total of 1,756,402 lateral flow tests were conducted in England in the week to February 17, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.

This is down from a record 2,401,651 rapid tests in the previous week, which officials said coincided with school half-term holidays.

The quick swab tests are now widely used in schools across the country, with teachers using them regularly to detect asymptomatic Covid cases, and they are also used for mass community testing in many areas.   

Health minister Lord Bethell said: ‘Week after week these results continue to have an enormous impact. Thanks to NHS Test and Trace’s continued outstanding performance, we are helping to halt the spread of the virus. 

‘Around one in three people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic which means every positive rapid test helps us break a chain of transmission we wouldn’t have otherwise identified. To identify these hidden cases NHS Test and Trace is conducting over 1.7million rapid tests per week, and, since January, this has included all school staff.’

Test and Trace chief Dido Harding added: ‘This has been another strong reporting week for NHS Test and Trace as the service continues to evolve in order to reach high proportion of cases and contacts quickly and conveniently.

‘Since the service was launched, 70million PCR tests in the UK have been conducted – more than one for every person living in the UK, which just demonstrates the current scale of NHS Test and Trace. 

‘More than 95 per cent of in-person tests now return results the next day, compared to less than 50 per cent in the week ending 23 December, ensuring we are contacting as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, with the service continuing to improve.’ 

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