Britain’s daily Covid cases fell for the 13th day in a row today, while hospitalisations and deaths also continued to trend downwards as the Omicron wave subsides.
Government dashboard data shows another 41,648 infections were officially recorded over the last 24 hours, down 28 per cent on last Monday. Cases have fallen week-on-week on every day since February 1.
The UK is now recording about 55,500 Covid cases every day, on average, which is about the same level as in mid-December when Omicron was just starting to take off.
There were also a further 35 deaths recorded today, marking a 22 per cent fall in a week. But virus deaths are usually artificially lower on Mondays due to NHS recording lags.
The seven-day average number of deaths now sits at 178 — almost four times lower than this time last year, before vaccines were widely available.
Latest hospital data also shows there were 1,413 admissions on February 8, down 17 per cent on a week beforehand.
The tumbling statistics come as ministers use the Parliamentary recess to draft their strategy to learn to ‘live with Covid’ like flu, which is due to be unveiled on February 21.
Boris Johnson has signalled his intentions to make England the freest country in the world by lifting even the most fundamental Covid restrictions including compulsory self-isolation for those who test positive.
The Prime Minister has said the move can be taken as long as data continues to head in the right direction, and there are no rebounds in the daily numbers.
Last week a SAGE subcommittee told the Government to consider the ‘unintended consequences’ before lifting all remaining Covid restrictions, and scrapping free lateral flow tests.
The experts claimed abandoning the swabs — which have already cost the taxpayer billions will lead to Covid becoming ‘hidden’ and mask any future outbreaks. Ditching the policy could create ‘ambiguity’ about the seriousness of the pandemic, they added, and make the public less likely to take personal precautions.
They argue that scrapping the compulsory isolation period without improving sick pay may force poorer people to go to work even if they are ill and risk spreading the virus to vulnerable.
The warnings were raised at a meeting of the Spi-B behavioural expert committee that feeds into SAGE last Thursday, a day after the Prime Minister revealed he intended to drop all remaining curbs in England within weeks.
Used and out-of-date Covid face masks could be turned into NHS hospital CURTAINS and bedsheets
Ministers are looking at turning used and out-of-date Covid face masks into NHS hospital curtains and bed sheets after ordering billions more than were needed during the pandemic.
More than 36.4billion items of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been ordered by the UK Government since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
But ministers were condemned after it emerged earlier this month that £2.2billion worth of masks, visors and aprons are set to expire before they can be used.
Junior health minister Edward Argar revealed today that officials are ‘exploring’ recycling the gear to avoid huge amounts of waste.
He also said ministers were looking at how to dispose of plastic lateral flow testing kits, and changing the packs to include more biodegradable materials.
PPE contracts were handed out via a ‘high priority lane’ at the height of the pandemic in 2020 which saw companies handed huge Government contracts without having to go through the normal procurement route.
It led to accusations of ‘cash for cronies’ after it emerged that friends and associates were the beneficiaries of the scheme.
Two New Zealand social media consultants who worked on Boris Johnson’s election campaign and former Health Secretary’s Matt Hancock’s neighbour were among those awarded contracts.
About a quarter fewer Covid tests are now being carried out than last week, which may be behind the drop in cases.
But the positivity rate — the proportion of swabs that pick up the virus — is also pointing downwards in England, suggesting it is a real-terms drop rather than one caused by the virus.
A total of 19,000 booster doses were dished out yesterday, the latest data showed, alongside 13,623 second doses and 7,494 first jabs.
The vaccine roll out has slowed in recent weeks as many people are already inoculated, and concern over the virus continues to subside.
Some 52.5million Britons — or 91.3 per cent of over-12s — have already got one dose of the Covid vaccine.
A total of 48.7million — or 84.8 per cent — have got two doses, while 37.7million — or 65.7 per cent — have also had their boosters.
It comes as an announcement on vaccinating five to 11-year-olds was delayed for the second time in a week amid an impasse between Britain’s vaccine chiefs and No10.
It was initially due last Friday, but was pushed back to today, and then delayed again over the weekend — this time until February 21.
It is unclear what exactly is causing the hold up, but in the past ministers have expressed frustration at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVIs) caution over jabbing children.
The group initially dragged its heels on recommending jabs to 12 to 15-year-olds in September, citing a lack of safety data and concerns about side-effects.
In the end ministers had to circumvent the JCVI, and relied on Professor Chris Whitty to approve the jabs on the basis they would prevent further disruption to schooling.
It is unclear whether the toned down language of the JCVI’s recommendation for five to 11-year-olds is behind the impasse.
There is also a suggestion that the Government wants to announce the roll out as part of its plan to ‘live with’ Covid like the flu — which is set to be unveiled when Parliament returns from recess on February 21.
A Government source told MailOnline the spate of scandals within No10 over the past week as well as the imminent war on the Ukrainian border may have led to the JCVI announcement ‘slipping down the pecking order’.
Most of Europe has already started vaccinating five to 11-year-olds against the virus, after opening up its drives in December amid the rampant spread of the Omicron variant.
Clinically vulnerable five to 11-year-olds were recommended two doses Pfizer jab in late December, although they were offered smaller doses than adults.
JCVI chiefs now appear to have signed off on inoculating healthy children of the same age, according to reports over the weekend.
They say it may help to protect against a ‘potential future wave’ of Covid infections. But the offer will be presented as ‘non-urgent’ because of the low risk Covid poses to the age group.
Britain’s vaccine watchdog has made up its mind to allow vaccination of 5 to 11-year-olds, reports say, but Downing Street is still reviewing the verdict (stock image)
Only 20 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds (shown in purple, bottom) have been double-vaccinated in England since the rollout was expanded to them in November. But they must wait 12 weeks between doses
Little over half of children in the age group have had one dose
Buckingham Palace STILL refuses to say if the Queen has Covid as triple-jabbed Camilla tests positive
Buckingham Palace again refused to say today whether the Queen has Covid amid mounting fears after Camilla joined Charles in testing positive for the virus.
Royal sources said Camilla, 74, has been triple vaccinated, adding that Clarence House will continue to follow government guidelines and review her engagements.
Camilla and Charles, 73, are both now self-isolating, but Buckingham Palace officials said they would ‘not be providing a running commentary’ on the Queen’s health.
Royal officials confirmed last week that the Queen had no symptoms, and told MailOnline today that they had ‘nothing to add’ to this after Camilla’s positive test.
Camilla has caught the virus for the first time but Charles contracted it for a second time. She carried out engagements last Thursday – the day Charles tested positive.
A Clarence House spokesman said: ‘The Duchess of Cornwall has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating. We continue to follow government guidelines.’
It comes as doctors continue to monitor the Queen’s health after Charles was diagnosed with Covid-19 less than 48 hours after seeing his mother last week.
Camilla described herself as ‘luckily’ negative the same day, saying of her testing regime during a visit to Buckinghamshire last Thursday: ‘I’ve taken it so many times’.
It is not clear whether Camilla also saw the Queen. Earlier this month the monarch, who is in her Platinum Jubilee year, endorsed Camilla to be one day known as Queen Consort, and called on the public to back her and Charles when he becomes king.
Concern for the Queen’s health mounted last week after the 95-year-old monarch was in direct contact with eldest son Charles two days before he tested positive.
Healthy children face a vanishingly low risk of severe illness from the virus, with only six healthy children dying of the virus in England’s first year of the pandemic.
And two doses of a jab offer as little as 10 per cent protection against catching the antibody-resistant Omicron variant, UK data suggests.
Amid preparations to scrap remaining Covid restrictions, the SNP called on the Prime Minister to ensure that free Covid tests were still available for the devolved nations.
Rumours have swirled in recent months that free testing could come to an end, with the announcement last week that self isolation rules could be scrapped later this month heightening fears.
SNP health spokesman, Martyn Day, said Mr Johnson must not impose changes to ‘appease Tory backbenchers’ and any decisions should be backed by medical advice.
‘The UK Government must confirm that it will continue to fund Covid-19 testing for devolved nations — after the confusion caused by Boris Johnson and his Tory ministers,’ he said.
‘Any changes to Covid testing must be guided by expert public health advice through the chief medical officers.
‘It would be typically reckless for the Westminster Government to simply impose changes in a bid to appease Tory backbenchers and save the Prime Minister’s skin.
‘Scotland’s more safe and cautious approach to the pandemic has seen better outcomes.
‘We must continue to be guided by the scientific evidence, and not by Downing Street’s concerns over the number of letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson from Tory MPs.’
The push comes as the Prime Minister and one of his ministers dodged questions on the issue.
During a visit to Scotland on Monday, Mr Johnson said: ‘On testing, which is important, we’ll make sure we continue to work with our colleagues in Scotland.’
When pushed, the Prime Minister added: ‘We’ll continue to work with our colleagues in Scotland but I believe the similarities in our approach vastly outweigh the differences.’
Scotland Office minister, Iain Stewart, told the BBC on Monday: ‘What we’ve said is that next week, if the figures and Covid continue the way they are, we’ll be setting out a comprehensive plan on what living with Covid in a normal sense looks like, but I am not sighted on what might be in that.’
He added that there continue to be ‘regular meetings several times a week’ between the UK Government and the devolved administrations on the Covid response.
Sage, the independent group of advisers who have been counselling the Government throughout the pandemic, cautioned against removing free testing.
The group said getting rid of free testing would make it harder for people to take precautions and ‘may also increase anxiety among those who have found testing reassuring after possible exposure, particularly those who are, or live with, someone who is clinically vulnerable’.
‘Some people may also take the removal of free and accessible testing as a signal that they should continue to attend workplaces/social gatherings while showing Covid-19 symptoms, as these become conflated with other symptoms of respiratory illness such as influenza,’ the group added.
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