The coronavirus rate of infection in the UK is back below 1, figures released today reveal, confirming the epidemic is finally shrinking, a month into England’s third lockdown.
Boris Johnson is set to publish the government’s roadmap for lifting the lockdown restrictions in England on February 22, as data confirmed a decrease in positive coronavirus tests.
‘Overall trend is down’
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – for the week ending January 30 –showed the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus decreased in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but remained level in Wales. The UK’s R rate, also called the reproduction or R number is estimated to be between 0.7 and 1.
Professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, Steven Riley said it is “good news that the overall trend is down but it’s not clearly down in some of the regions.”
Riley, who is also a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) said there remains important differences between the numbers of cases and infections, adding “We think infections are the most reliable indicator of future hospitalisations and deaths.”
The number of people being treated in hospital for coronavirus (up to February 3) was 30,508, a reduction of 1,185 from the previous day.
Vaccines speed ahead but 111,264 people have died
The latest daily figure for deaths of people within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 is 1,014, taking the total recorded to 111,264 – one of the worst tolls in the world.
The total of first vaccine doses is nearing 11 million with the latest daily figure – 480,560 – taking the total to 10,971,047. The total of number people who have received a second dose in 505,993.
“One in five adults in the UK has now received a first dose of the vaccine,” the prime minister today tweeted, adding that “every jab gets us closer to defeating the virus” and encouraging everyone offered the vaccine to take it.
The prime minister will lay out a “precise timeline” for vaccinations on February 22 – when he publishes the “roadmap” to exit lockdown – and today health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed government plans for all over-50s in the UK to “get the offer of a vaccine by May”.
“Lots of things have got to go right to hit that goal, especially supply, which is the rate-limiting factor, but I’m sure, working with the NHS and everybody else who is making this happen, that if we keep going at the pace we can, then we can make sure all the over-50s get the offer of a vaccine by May,” the health secretary said.
May’s ’Super Thursday’ local elections will go ahead as planned
The Cabinet Office said the successful rollout of vaccines means the English and Welsh local government elections can go ahead on May 6 as planned.
Voters will however, have to wear masks and bring their own pen or pencil with polling stations subject to strict coronavirus safety rules, reports the Daily Mail, quoting Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith, who said: ‘We are publishing a detailed plan to deliver May’s elections in a safe and secure way.”
Extra funding will be provided to councils “and practical changes to electoral lasws to help both voters and candidates” will be made, said Smith.
Rules on proxy voting will be changed to allow anyone forced to isolate the opportunity to request a proxy ballot up to 5pm on voting day.
May 6 is set to be GB’s ‘Super Thursday’ with a “bumper set of elections” being held, including those postponed in 2020, such as the London mayoral and assembly elections.
Truss announces trade deal with Albania
Elsewhere, trade secretary Liz Truss today announced the UK has signed a trade deal with Albania, and said: “The agreement secures vital certainty for business and supports British jobs.”
Truss said the UK has now agreed deals with 64 countries “covering” £897 billion of trade.