Britain today recorded six coronavirus deaths as the daily number of victims remained in single digits for the third time in a month, official figures showed.
Health chiefs also posted another 2,064 Covid cases, down by almost a third from the previous week.
And more than 33.7million Britons have now received their first dose of the vaccine, after a further 79,695 of these shots were dished out on Saturday. And 12.9million have got both jabs, with another 260,801 administered.
Cases and deaths data tend to be lowest on Mondays, because they are after the weekend when fewer people were available to process Covid swabs and fatalities paperwork.
England eased lockdown restrictions two weeks ago to allow pubs and restaurants to reopen for outdoor service, and shops and gyms to pull up the shutters.
Experts say it takes up to two weeks for someone who has been infected with the virus to start suffering symptoms, get a positive test and have their case reported on the dashboard.
But the continued drop will likely add more fuel to calls for Boris Johnson to speed up his ultra-cautious roadmap for relaxing restrictions, which currently will not see people able to dine indoors or go abroad until May 17.
It comes as scientists urged younger Britons to get their Covid vaccines when they are offered to ensure the UK never has to declare another lockdown, amid reports the drive could start offering the jabs to over-30s in weeks.
The Prime Minister also ruled out an inquiry into the pandemic ‘for months’, telling bereaved families the Government is too busy dealing with the outbreak to divert resources to the probe.
And the European Union announced it was suing AstraZeneca for an alleged breach in the terms of its contract, which it claims left the bloc trailing behind the US and UK in its rollout.
Britain’s Covid cases fell by almost a third compared today compared to last Monday after 2,064 were recorded. England eased restrictions two weeks ago to allow pubs and restaurants to again serve customers outdoors
Covid deaths remained in single digits for the third day this month after another six were recorded. Although this was up on the same time last week, it was far below the darkest days of January when there were almost 1,000 fatalities a day
Everyone over the age of 44 in England can now get a coronavirus vaccine by booking online or by phone (Pictured: A woman gets her jab in Reading)
MICHAEL GOVE FAILS TO DENY BORIS JOHNSON SAID HE WOULD RATHER SEE ‘BODIES PILING UP’ THAN LOCKDOWN
Michael Gove today stopped short of categorically denying claims Boris Johnson said he would rather see ‘bodies piling up’ than lock the country down again.
The Cabinet Office minister appeared to leave himself some wriggle room despite the PM flatly rejecting the allegation that he made the remark in a fit of pique after agreeing the second round of brutal coronavirus restrictions last Autumn.
The claims emerged in the Daily Mail amid an increasingly damaging battle with Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide – although the identity of the source was not disclosed.
ITV’s Robert Peston said two other ‘ear-witnesses’ – who say they did not brief the original story – had confirmed to him that Mr Johnson made the remark. The BBC also said its sources had backed up the allegation.
A number of aides apparently overhead the PM ‘in a rage’ shouting the words in his study – which had the doors open at the time.
After being dragged to the Commons to answer questions from MPs this afternoon, Mr Gove was pressed repeatedly on the issue and stressed that Mr Johnson had signed off the second and later a third lockdown.
‘This is a Prime Minister who was in hospital himself in intensive care. The idea that he would say any such thing I find incredible,’ Mr Gove said.
‘I was in that room, I never heard language of that kind.’
Pushed again by Labour MP Wes Streeting to be ‘absolutely categorical that he’s never heard the Prime Minister say those words’, Mr Gove said: ‘I made the point that I’d been in a meeting in the Cabinet room with the Prime Minister, I wouldn’t ordinarily go into discussions that take place in Cabinet committees for reasons that he would well understand.
‘But I never heard the Prime Minister say any such thing. We were all wrestling with an incredibly difficult decision, the decision to lock down necessarily imposes costs in other ways as we’re all aware.’
Asked on a visit to Wales this afternoon whether he had made the comment, Mr Johnson said: ‘No.’
A clearly frustrated PM quickly tried to change the subject: ‘The important thing that people want us to get on to do as a government is make sure that the lockdowns work, and they have.
‘And I really pay tribute to the people of this country that have really pulled together and, working with the vaccination programme, we’ve got the disease under control.’
In another day of coronavirus news:
- Britain and the US send aid to India as the country battles against a second wave of the pandemic that has left hospitals swamped with patients;
- European Union chiefs say they will sue AstraZeneca for an alleged ‘breach of contract’ over jabs rollout;
- Pfizer says its anti-Covid pill may be ready to hit the shelves this year with trials set to end in May;
- As Israel announces it is investigating the Belgium-made jab after 62 cases of heart inflammation were reported out of five million doses dished out;
- And in the UK: Roofer, 50, is rushed to hospital with life-threatening blood clots two weeks after AstraZeneca Covid vaccination;
- Birmingham scientists suggest the virus can spread through the bloodstream from infected gums.
Department of Health data shows today’s deaths were up by half compared to the same time last week when four were recorded, but they remained in single digits.
As many as 205 out of 380 local authorities in the UK – more than half – also had an infection rate below 20 cases per 100,000 people on April 21, the latest date available.
Three councils – the Shetland Islands and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in Scotland and Maldon in Essex – had no cases of the virus over the past seven days.
Derry city, in Northern Ireland, had the highest Covid infection rate in the UK at 109.1 per 100,000. It was followed by Selby, in North Yorkshire, at 80, and Clackmannanshire, also in Scotland, at 69.8.
It comes after doctors today called for young people to make sure they get their Covid jab when they are called by the NHS even if they are at low risk of dying.
Cambridge University epidemiologist Dr Raghib Ali told MailOnline younger people might not see as big a personal benefit to vaccination as older generations.
But widespread vaccination across all adult age groups is vital to bringing an end to the constant restrictions that have ruled people’s lives for the past year.
The NHS vaccination programme opened up to people in their late 40s today, with everyone over 44 now eligible for a jab which they can book online or by phone, and it is expected to widen even further to people in their 30s next week.
Experts are concerned that younger people will have lower jab uptake than elderly groups because they don’t face a high risk of death from Covid, and they may be more likely to have seen anti-vaxx theories online or be worried about side effects.
Dr Ali said: ‘We are going to face an issue, particularly in young people who perceive the threat of Covid to be less.
‘I’d say to these people, if you want to avoid another lockdown then vaccination is the best way to do it. Young people suffer from lockdowns most, with their mental and economic health. Vaccination is the only way to do it.’
The Government will launch a new primetime TV advert tonight to urge people of all ages to get vaccinated, showing it in the ad-break on ITV’s Emmerdale at 7.15pm.
Another 641,000 vaccine doses were given out yesterday – 498,000 of them were second doses – and Britain has now given 33.67million adults at least one dose of a vaccine, with 12.6million fully protected with both.
‘There’s a degree of altruism versus personal benefit as you go down the age groups, particularly as you get below 30,’ Dr Ali said.
He added: ‘The surveys I’ve seen suggest uptake is going to be about 85 per cent, which isn’t as high as the current rate but no-one thought we’d get 95 per cent uptake before.’
Dr Ali suggests a tricky element of young people getting vaccinated is that for many of them it is selfless and intended to protect other people rather than themselves.
NHS data show that only 644 out of the 86,868 people in England to have died of Covid so far have been under the age of 40 – just 0.7 per cent.
ISRAEL INVESTIGATES PFIZER RECIPIENTS AFTER REPORTS OF HEART INFLAMMATION
Israel is investigating a small number of cases of heart inflammation among people who have been vaccinated with the Pfizer coronavirus jab.
Health officials said 62 out of 5million people given the American-made vaccine developed myocarditis, the medical name for swelling in the heart.
Pfizer said it has not seen a higher rate of the condition than would normally be expected in the population, but experts are investigating in order to be sure.
Early analysis of the country’s rollout suggests the condition is occurring more frequently in men under 30 and in people given both doses.
The condition often has no symptoms and heals on its own, but in some people it can cause more serious problems including heart failure or weakening of the heart.
Viral infection is a known cause of the condition and chemicals released by the immune system when it is fighting a virus can trigger the swelling.
Israel’s pandemic response coordinator, Dr Nachman Ash, said two of the 62 patients in the records had died while the rest made full recoveries.
Statistics suggest around 3million people per year are diagnosed with cardiomyopathy worldwide, but many more are thought to have it but never know.
Most people admitted to hospital with the disease are in middle age now that vaccines are protecting large proportions of elderly people.
But although younger adults have a low risk of death, the virus spreads fastest among them and in higher numbers, meaning they keep outbreaks going and fuel new ones.
Public Health England data last week showed that people in their 30s had the highest infection rate among adults at 34 positive cases per 100,000 people.
This was followed by 20 to 29-year-olds, with 32 per 100,000. Teenagers had the highest positive test rate (42) but they are not yet able to get vaccines so younger adults must get jabs to reduce the impact of those outbreaks.
Mr Johnson has also ruled out a Covid public enquiry ‘for months’ telling bereaved families they are too busy dealing with the outbreak to launch an immediate probe into the handling of the crisis.
In a letter to lawyers representing families who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, the Government appeared to rule out starting an official probe for months.
It said ‘an inquiry now is not appropriate’ because ‘the very people who would need to give evidence to an inquiry are working round the clock’.
It said that ‘it is not anticipated that the Government’s workload will ease in the coming months’.
The comments come amid growing calls for an immediate statutory inquiry into the Government’s handling of the crisis.
Boris Johnson has previously committed to holding a probe but he is yet to set out a timetable for doing so.
The letter, seen by The Guardian, was sent to lawyers representing the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group. The letter, sent on April 1, relates to potential legal action to force an inquiry to begin.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of the group, said the Government’s stance was ‘an insult to the bereaved [and] prevents the government from protecting future lives to the best of their ability’.
It comes just days after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, piled the pressure on Mr Johnson to launch an inquiry as he said the time for an independent probe ‘must be coming close’.
Mr Welby said during a visit to the National Covid Memorial Wall in central London that a probe should focus on ‘lessons to be learned’ and must be ‘very independent’ and ‘very wide-ranging’.
A Government spokesman told The Guardian that an inquiry will be held ‘at the appropriate time’ but officials are currently ‘rightly focused on protecting public health and saving lives’.
Mr Johnson said in March this year that the Government will launch a public inquiry into the crisis ‘as soon as it is right to do so’.
He said the probe will take place ‘as soon as it would not be an irresponsible diversion of the energies of the key officials involved’.