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Covid cases fell in every local authority in England last week, official data shows —...

Covid cases fell in every local authority in England last week, official data shows — as experts finally agreed that infections are definitely declining. 
Latest UK Health Security Agency figures showed outbreaks receded in all 149 council areas for the week ending February 6. This has only happened twice before, once during the week to July 25 — when Delta was fizzling out — and again in January this year — after the huge Omicron peak.
The biggest falls in the most recent week were in Bradford and Sandwell (both down 41.9 per cent) and Blackburn with Darwen (down 40 per cent). 
But the outbreaks were declining slower in the Isle of Wight (down 1.7 per cent), Bath (down 2.9 per cent) and West Berkshire (down 7.9 per cent).
The agency’s weekly report — based entirely on official testing numbers — chimed with a symptom-tracking study that today suggested Britain’s Covid outbreak had peaked following a blip which left experts believing cases were ticking upwards. 
King College London researchers say 200,000 people were falling ill with the virus every day in the week ending February 7, flatlining at just 4.5 per cent higher than last week’s estimates. 
Professor Tim Spector, lead author on the study, warned the figure is still ‘far too high’ but insisted it is ‘reassuring to see signs of rates slowing’. 
Meanwhile, a new official report today estimated that booster Covid jabs have prevented 105,000 Covid hospitalisations since mid-December after the Omicron variant took off. The bulk of these (87,300) were among the over-65s, who are most at risk from the virus.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid credited the top-up jabs with helping ‘us to turn the tide’ on the virus as England now shifts to ‘learning to live with Covid’. He thanked the ‘hard work’ of the NHS, and Britons for getting their booster.  

The above maps show the change in Covid cases compared to the previous seven day spell over the weeks to January 30 (left), and the weeks to February 6 (right) 

King College London scientists estimate there were 203,973 new daily symptomatic cases in the week ending February 7, up 4.5 per cent on the 195,068 recorded last week

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggest 2.8million people in England had the virus daily in the week up to February 5, up 7.3 per cent on the 2.6million estimated the week before

The King’s College estimates differ from the Government’s daily statistics, which have been recording falls for weeks and are now at levels similar to before Christmas.  
Analysts at the Office for National Statistics behind the country’s gold-standard testing project also detected an uptick in infections over the past fortnight. The team admit the trend is ‘uncertain’, however, leaving the current situation mired in confusion. 
The falling statistics come after Boris Johnson yesterday declared he intends to ditch all remaining Covid requirements in England this month — with calls mounting for the country to follow Sweden’s lead by ditching free mass asymptomatic testing as well.
The embattled Prime Minister dramatically declared the final domestic restrictions — including compulsory self-isolation for the infected — will be axed provided the ‘encouraging’ trends in the data continue.
Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline mass testing ‘has cost a fortune and has delivered very little’ and should be stopped for the asymptomatic.

Daily toll of Covid victims will NOT be scrapped despite axing of legal restrictions, sources say 

Daily Covid statistics could continue to be published for months, despite the ending of legal restrictions.
Government sources last night said there were ‘no plans’ to end the release of daily figures on case numbers, hospitalisations and Covid-related deaths, despite controversy over the picture they paint. 
Tory MPs last night stepped up calls for the figures to be scrapped. 
Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it was ‘time to call time on project fear’.
He said the figures, which are also broadcast each day on BBC news bulletins, had fuelled public anxiety about the virus out of proportion to the threat that it posed.
Fellow Conservative Bob Seely told the Daily Mail: ‘I have never understood why we publish the figures in isolation unless the aim was simply to scare people.
‘We do not publish figures for the deaths from flu or pneumonia on a daily basis and we should not do so for Covid. It was simply intended to scare people and it should stop immediately.’
But a Government source said that the daily figures could continue for many months to come.
‘Obviously they will not continue for ever, but there are no plans to stop publication at this stage,’ the source said. ‘We know we may face Covid again in the autumn and it seems sensible to keep this in place.’

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The UKHSA weekly surveillance report also found cases had dipped in every age group in the most recent week, falling fastest among 5 to 9-year-olds (down 48 per cent) and 0 to 4-year-olds (down 41.1 per cent).
The lowest Covid infection rates were recorded among 70 to 79-year-olds (314.7 cases per 100,000 people), 0 to 4-year-olds (329) and over-80s (331.6).
The number of swabs carried out for the virus did fall in the latest week (down 33 per cent for PCRs, and 23 per cent for lateral flows).
But the test positivity rate — the proportion of swabs that detected the virus — also dipped, suggesting the drop was real. 
For comparison, ZOE’s figures, which are published every Thursday, are based on data from 50,000 swab tests from hundreds of thousands of users in the fortnight ending February 7. 
The ZOE study has been criticised previously for being biased, with app users choosing to report cases rather than based on random samples of the population.
Critics also believe the way it works — based on people reporting symptoms of the virus — makes it hard to definitively differentiate between Covid and other viruses that trigger tell-tale symptoms. 
Its estimates have significantly diverged from the Government’s own case figures and other major surveillance studies on numerous occasions throughout the pandemic.  
Professor Spector said: ‘Although the true rate of new cases — unlike the Government dashboard — is currently far too high, it is somewhat reassuring to see signs of rates slowing down.
‘And it looks like we’ve now passed the second big peak of the year, with hospitalisations, ICU cases and deaths also continuing to fall. 
‘Cases need to decline more among older and more vulnerable age groups before we can start to relax, and it’s still too early to tell the effects of Long Covid as a result of an Omicron infection or the effect of the super infectious BA.2 variant that continues to increase nationally. 
‘Despite the Government’s hasty decision to end all restrictions this month, and the message this sends, this does not mean the pandemic is over and we should all try to be good citizens by continuing to self-isolate when ill and protect ourselves and others from what can be a really nasty infection.’
ZOE’s data has previously been criticised for getting the state of the pandemic wrong, saying the ‘Omicron wave has finally peaked’ in January 13 before today’s report claimed it has hit its second peak of the year.
It also said cases had ‘peaked for 2021’ in November before the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at the University of Reading, said the study is useful for monitoring people’s symptoms ‘but on its own it cannot accurately monitor the number of infections in the population’. 
He said the app is reliant on people choosing to put in their details and is therefore not necessarily an accurate sample of the UK population, despite the large sample size. 
The ONS weekly infection survey is considered the most reliable indicator of infections in Britain because it uses tens of thousands of random swabs to estimate prevalence, rather than relying on people coming forward for testing.
Yesterday, it estimated England’s Covid outbreak actually grew in size by 7 per cent last week. 
Analysts claimed around one in 19 people, or 2.8million, were infected on any given day in the week ending February 5 but admitted the trend was ‘uncertain’. 

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Cases remain highest in children aged under 18 (blue line) at around 80,000 per day, although they appear to now be falling in the age group. They are slowing in all age groups other than those aged 18 to 34 (orange line) and the most vulnerable over-75s (purple line), although the latter is still seeing the lowest daily numbers at under 7,500. Other lines: 35 to 54 (green), 55 to 74 (red)

Prevalence is highest in Northern Ireland, where one in 19 people are thought to have the virus, with 8,389 cases estimated a day in total. It was followed by London, where one in 20 were infected and there were 34,080 new daily cases. Wales had the lowest prevalence (one in 36), with just 6,737 total daily cases

The struggle to drag Britons ‘back to normal’ 

Unions are already digging their heels in after Boris Johnson revealed he intends to ditch all remaining Covid laws within a fortnight as a poll revealed that three in four workers ground down by almost two years of lockdowns and restrictions want to continue with self-isolation.
Unison, Britain’s largest union serving more than 1.3million members from swathes of the public sector, has accused the Prime Minister of going ‘too far, too soon’, insisting that the virus ‘hasn’t disappeared’ — despite a raft of data suggesting the worst is now over.
SAGE scientists have also warned of the ‘dangers’ of the PM’s plan to make England the first country in the world to scrap all Covid rules, after it emerged Mr Johnson had not discussed it with the committee which is now infamous for its gloomy predictions about the pandemic.
And business leaders desperate to get staff back into largely-empty offices costing them a fortune admit they are struggling to compel people to return because workers are now so used to working from home.
This has been compounded by a new YouGov poll of nearly 4,500 Britons that shows three-quarters of people believe the self-isolation requirement after a positive Covid test should remain in place. Half of people questioned admitted they want the legal requirement to stay in place forever.
Christina McAnea, general secretary of the public sector union UNISON, said: ‘Everybody wants to get back to normal, but Covid risks haven’t disappeared. ​
‘This is going too far, ​way too soon. Infections are still rife in schools​. Large numbers of pupils ​and staff are off​. 
‘Allowing ​a ​premature return could lead to a further jump in infections and disrupt learning for thousands more ​children and young people.’

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The ONS estimated that Wales has seen its infections fall in the most recent week, dropping 13 per cent to 121,200 people carrying the virus on any given day.
But infections increased in Scotland from 185,100 to 211,300 (14 per cent) and Northern Ireland from 136,300 to 145,600 (six per cent).  
In England, Covid was most prevalent in the South East, where one in 17 people were thought to have the virus during the week. 
Rates were lowest in the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and South West, all of which saw one in 20 infected on any given day. 
Secondary school students in England had the next highest infection rates after primary school children, with one in 11 pupils in year seven to 11 thought to have the virus on any given day.
Experts have also criticised the Government’s daily figures because they rely on people testing, which has dropped off since the start of January during the peak of the Omicron wave. 
Senior Whitehall sources briefed journalists last month that Boris Johnson plans to scrap the daily publication of all Covid statistics by April.
But sources last night told the Daily Mail there are ‘no plans to stop publication at this stage’, suggesting they will continue for months to come.
The source said: ‘We know we may face Covid again in the autumn and it seems sensible to keep this in place.’
No10 is also facing calls to end free-mas testing, after Sweden yesterday announced it would no longer offer swabs, effectively calling the pandemic over.
Professor Livermore told MailOnline: ‘Definitely, we should stop mass testing, particularly for the asymptomatic. The virus is endemic and is transforming into one more sort of common cold.
‘Mass testing has cost a fortune and has delivered very little. The budget for for track and trace was £37billion — or around 3 years’ worth of our recent National Insurance increase. And, as the Parliamentary Accounts Committee observed, it has delivered precious little for such a vast sum
‘I’d retain just three things. First, the ZOE app, which is inexpensive and has given useful rapid data on shifts in people experiencing respiratory symptoms. 
‘Second, I’d incorporate Covid surveillance into the respiratory infections surveillance scheme that the the Royal College of GPs has run for many years. Last some sequencing needs to be continued to look for new variants in relation to vaccine coverage.
‘All of this could be delivered for a fraction of the money now being spent.’
And writing in the Daily Telegraph, Professor Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford said: ‘Britain has got itself into a terrible mess on mass testing. 
‘A recent study led by Oxford academics, which found that up to a third of people found positive on a PCR test were not contagious, should give the Government cause to reconsider the wisdom of this approach.
‘Continuing with a mass testing, mass isolation strategy in response to a disease that has become endemic is merely piling up the misery. The Government must change course.’ 

 

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