Coronavirus infections were falling in every age group except the over-80s last week and cases were dropping in all but three English regions, official data shows.
It strongly suggests the tiered system was already beginning to slow the crisis before ministers were spooked into a third national intervention because it can take a week before the effects of lockdown kick in.
Public Health England’s weekly surveillance found that infections were decreasing in all regions except the North West, South West and West Midlands in the week up to January 10, six days after the full lockdown was enforced.
London continues to have the highest rate of any region, at 864.9 per 100,000 people, down from 1,043.9 in the previous week. Yorkshire & the Humber still has the lowest case rate at 297.2, down from 309.9.
In another positive sign, the proportion of positive tests declined in the week up to January 10. According to PHE, test positivity was 13.3 per cent last week, down from 17.5 per cent. Test positivity is a crucial way to monitor the outbreak because it takes into account fluctuations in the number of swabs carried out each day.
But despite the positive trends in cases, the PHE surveillance report found hospitalisations, ICU admissions and mortality continued to increase. The three-week lag between someone catching Covid and falling seriously ill means these figures are likely to climb for another fortnight.
The findings will be welcome news for Boris Johnson, who is set to hold off tightening the rules despite soaring deaths and Nicola Sturgeon imposing extra curbs in Scotland.
As the death toll mounted, science chief Sir Patrick Vallance warned last night that the UK is in for a ‘pretty grim period’ as fatalities will not fall for ‘some weeks’ and the NHS is under serious pressure. But he also indicated that the case rate was more encouraging, with a series of week-on-week falls.
Lockdown rules may be needed until the AUTUMN, Professor Neil Ferguson warns
Britain’s lockdown rules may be needed until the autumn, scientists advising No10 warned today.
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson — whose grim modelling that 500,000 Britons could die unless action was taken spooked ministers into the first national shutdown last March — said the easing of curbs would be a ‘gradual process’.
Asked if there could be restrictions for many months to come, he said: ‘Yes, and we can’t predict all of these things in advance.
‘We couldn’t have predicted this new variant coming up, but the new variant without doubt will make the relaxation of restrictions more difficult because it is substantially more transmissible.’
Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and member of SAGE, added: ‘It will be a gradual process to the autumn.’
Dr Susan Hopkins, one of the top officials at Public Health England (PHE), also added that England was likely going to have a ‘difficult time at least until Easter’.
The comments come amid fears Boris Johnson could tighter the rules even further, after Nicola Sturgeon yesterday imposed more curbs in Scotland.
But hopes that England could escape tougher lockdown measures rose today after science chief Patrick Vallance suggested the current measures are ‘enough’ to control the mutant Covid strain.
Professor Lockdown also claimed coronavirus survivors patients could face looser self-isolation restrictions. He said it could ease pressures on the NHS — roughly 10 per cent of medics are currently off sick or self-isolating, according to estimates.
His comments come after Public Health England researchers found that prior Covid infection cut the chances of falling ill with the virus in the next five months by up to 94 per cent.
With the number of deaths set to continue to soar for at least another week, a new temporary mortuary that can hold up to 1,300 bodies has been built in London.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose early modelling of Covid-19 plunged the UK into its first lockdown in March, said today: ‘We’re going to be well over 1,000 deaths a day, even measured by the date people die rather than the date deaths are reported, before numbers start coming down.’
But he said the current wave of the epidemic may be coming under control in some regions.
The PHE report showed that Covid case rates were highest in people in their twenties, at 879.7 per 100,000, followed by people in their thirties (767.8).
In the over-80s, who are the most vulnerable age group to the infection, the rate is 577.1 per 100,000. For those in their 70s the rate is 302.5 and for 60 to 69-year-olds it is 452.6.
There was also a 38 per cent rise in the number outbreaks of Covid-19 in care homes, the figures show.
There were 977 suspected outbreaks in care homes reported to PHE in the seven days to January 10, where 739 had at least one linked case that tested positive for coronavirus. This is up from 749 suspected outbreaks the week before.
While the data does not show a full picture of where coronavirus transmission is happening, it does suggest an issue in care homes and in some hospitals. The NHS has told GPs to vaccinate care home residents by the end of next week.
The latest PHE data shows 243 suspected outbreaks in workplaces in the week to January 10 – up from 166 the week before – with 182 having at least one confirmed Covid-19 positive case. That’s despite government guidance to work from home where possible.
Meanwhile, 78 were in hospitals, down from 79 the week before, with 65 having at least one positive Covid-19 case.
A further 31 were in educational settings, such as schools, where 24 had at least one linked case, down from 33 the previous week. Some 18 incidents were from food outlets/restaurants, up slightly from 11 the week before.
It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said three million coronavirus vaccine doses have now been administered across the UK.
He tweeted that he was ‘delighted’ with the news, adding: ‘We’re accelerating the Covid vaccine rollout across the UK.’ Some large high street pharmacies, including Boots and Superdrug, have begun the process of administering vaccines.
Six stores across England were in the first group to administer the jabs from Thursday as the Government aims to hit its target of vaccinating around 15 million of those most at-risk by mid-February.
A regional breakdown of vaccination figures in England, up to January 10, showed a mixed performance.
A total of 447,329 doses were administered in the Midlands but London has delivered just 237,524 doses and the capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan said he was ‘hugely concerned’.
The NHS England figures indicate about half of people aged 80 and over in north east England and Yorkshire have received their first dose but just three-in-10 in eastern England and London.