UK Covid cases today grew by 19,114 – a third smaller than last week’s rise.
Another 1,014 deaths were also confirmed, down almost a fifth on the figure recorded last Friday.
A worker receives a completed Covid home test kit from a resident in LondonCredit: Reuters
A total of 3,911,573 have now tested positive for the bug since the start of the pandemic while 111,264 have died.
Today’s rise in infections is almost 10,000 fewer (34 per cent) than last Friday’s jump when another 29,079 cases were confirmed.
The jump in deaths today is also 18.5 per cent smaller than it was last Friday, when 1,245 fatalities were recorded.
It comes as…
In England, a further 537 Covid fatalities were confirmed – including a 15-year-old with underlying health conditions.
It means 74,786 have now died from the bug in English hospitals.
The patients, who died between December 17 and February 4, were aged between 15 and 100 and all except 21 had underlying health problems.
A further 45 fatalities were recorded in Wales today, along with 399 new Covid cases.
Scotland reported 61 more deaths and 895 more infections.
Another 16 fatalities with the bug were recorded in Northern Ireland.
It comes as England’s coronavirus R rate fell below 1 for the first time since July, official government data revealed today.
The official figure – which represents the number of people an infected person will pass Covid onto – is now between 0.7 and 0.9, Sage has said.
It’s slightly lower than it was last week at 0.7 to 1.0, but is the first time it’s fallen below the crucial value since July 3, last year.
For the UK as a whole, it’s slightly higher at 0.7 to 1.0, but that’s also a drop om last week when it was estimated to be between 0.7 and 1.1.
It may even be as low as 0.6 in the capital, according to the latest report based on data up to February 1.
The news is a further boost to national morale after ministers boasted today that all over 50s – and half of the UK population – will have been jabbed by the end of April.
Thirty-two million jabs for the over 50s and the vulnerable had been promised by the “Spring” – but the Cabinet Office confirmed today that means “by May”.
Yesterday, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Britain will be able to massively ease restrictions once all over-50s have been offered the jab “by late spring”.
But Downing Street had repeatedly refused to say when they believed Spring to end and Summer start.
Mark Harper — chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown sceptics, with 70 Tory MPs — said: “Back-of-the-envelope calculations I did based on two million doses a week mean you could get the top nine priority groups, first doses, and the top four groups, second doses, all done by the end of May.”
He added: “So it seems to me by the time you get to the end of May, no later than that, you should be in a position to get rid of restrictions completely.
“But obviously it does depend on the rollout of the vaccine.”
More than ten million people have received their first dose of the jab so far while 501,957 have received their second.
And researchers have quashed fears that the Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine can’t beat the mutant Kent Covid strain, revealing it can indeed work against it.
Scientists behind the jab say it has a similar efficacy against the variant as with the original strain.
Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: “Data from our trials of the ChAdOx1 vaccine in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus.
“But also protects against the novel variant, B.1.1.7, which caused the surge in disease from the end of 2020 across the UK.”
It comes after it was revealed 140 Brits died shortly after having their Covid jab – although the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency insisted the vaccines are “safe” and didn’t play a role in the 143 deaths.
Officials say the majority of reported fatalities were in elderly people or people with underlying illness.
Investigators said there is no suggestion the jab played a role in the deaths.