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With Boris Johnson poised to announce next steps on coronavirus restrictions, we look at how the picture has changed across the UK since England’s third lockdown began on 5 January, based on key metrics that will be considered by ministers as they plan for the months ahead.
On all measures, Covid cases appear to have fallen significantly. The number of people testing positive peaked at 68,053, reported on 8 January. By 18 February it had fallen to 12,057, on a par with case numbers in early October.
Prevalence remains high: one in 200 people in the community in England had Covid between 4 and 13 February, the React-1 study suggests, while the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures put the figure at around one in 115 people in England, one in 125 in Wales, one in 105 in Northern Ireland and one in 180 in Scotland.
Infections are halving about every 15 days, according to React-1. If the trend in cases is similar, it could take more than six weeks for cases to fall below 1,000 a day – the target advocated by the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt for restrictions to be significantly lifted.
The R (reproduction) number stands at 0.6-0.9 for the UK, down from 0.7 to 0.9 last week, according to data published on Friday. The growth rate is estimated to be -6% to -3%, compared with -5% to -2% last week.
Admissions to hospital and the number of in-patients with Covid have declined. On 14 February, 1,531 people went into UK hospital beds, down from a peak of 4,574 on 12 January.
But the intense pressure on the NHS has not gone away: on 16 February there were 20,156 patients in hospital with Covid – about half the record high of 39,242 on 18 January, but only slightly lower than the first wave’s peak of 21,687 in April.
Deaths within 28 days of a positive test dropped from 1,358 on 19 January to 519 on 11 February, by date of death, similar to figures seen around mid-December.
Daily deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate, also by date of death, show signs of falling too, although there is a greater time lag in reporting. Ministers have resisted saying whether they consider there to be any “acceptable” level of deaths from coronavirus.
Nearly a quarter (24.6%) of the UK population have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine so far, making Britain one of the most inoculated countries in the world.
The programme met its target of offering a first dose to its top four priority groups by 15 February. By Wednesday this week a total of 16,423,082 people had received their first jab, and 573,724 havd received their second dose.
According to a Guardian analysis, at current rates the NHS could find itself four weeks ahead of schedule for offering jabs to the 32 million people in the first nine priority groups, reaching the target by Easter.
Importantly, the success of the vaccine programme is beginning to be felt, with jabs appearing to cut deaths among the over-80s. These have fallen by 62% since 24 January, the point at which a third of that age group had some level of immunity against coronavirus, Guardian analysis showed. But concerns are being raised that some high-risk groups have not been sufficiently prioritised.
Some new variants that have cropped up around the world contain mutations thought to increase how easily the virus spreads or to help it partially evade antibodies in the blood.
In the UK, the Kent variant (B117), the South African variant (501Y.V2), and the Bristol variant (which is similar to B117 but has a mutation also seen in the South African variant) have been the focus of concerns. The country is also keen to keep the UK free of a Brazilian variant known as P1.
Source: The Guardian
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