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Lockdown should be eased earlier as Covid cases and deaths plummet, leading expert says

LOCKDOWN should be eased earlier as Covid cases and deaths plummet, a leading expert has said.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the ZOE app study, said new coronavirus cases have dropped by 15 per cent in just a week.

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He said last week there were 9,545 daily new Covid infections on average – and that figure has now dropped to 8,111 cases a day.

It comes after cases appeared to be flattening last week amid fears over new variants hampering the Government's roadmap out of lockdown, including the reopening of schools next week.

But he said figures published from the app data today suggest things are back on track and heading in the right direction once again.

Prof Spector, a genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, said: “After reporting a flattening last week, possibly related to the cold snap, and with worries of new variants, we are pleased to see numbers falling again.

"It’s even more encouraging when we look at the bigger picture.

"Cases in hospital and deaths continue to fall, and vaccinations rise, putting us in a good position.


"However, we still need to keep numbers low and avoid further waves of infections.

"Our app shows people are still getting infected within two weeks after vaccination when they have zero protection.

"With schools opening, we still need to be sensible to keep the good news flowing as we slowly return to normal life and hopefully ease lockdown earlier.”

The new data also reveals Covid cases are down 88 per cent from a peak of 69,000 at the beginning of the year.

And in terms of prevalence, on average 1 in 483 people in the UK currently have symptomatic Covid, with daily new cases highest in the 20-40 year olds.

But for those over 60 and under 19, new Covid cases are the lowest, the data shows.

While the R rate – which represents the number of people an infected person will pass Covid onto – remains close to 1 across the country.

The latest figures, which rely on users self-reporting to the app, were based on data from 9,642 recent swab tests done between February 14 to 28.

Official figures are expected to be released later today from the Office for National Statistics infection survey, which swabs thousands of people every week to track the outbreak.

It does not give estimates of people in care homes, hospitals or prisons – only private homes.

EXTRA STRAIN

Meanwhile, scientists tracking the emergence of new coronavirus variants have identified another new mutation.

Public Health England (PHE) revealed on Thursday that 16 cases of the variant, referred to as VUI-202102/04, were identified through genomic horizon scanning on February 15.

The mutation, which is understood to have originated in the UK, was designated a "variant under investigation" (VUI) by PHE nine days later.

All people who have tested positive for the variant, and their contacts, have been traced and advised to isolate.

New Covid-19 variants regularly emerge and experts conduct frequent analysis to determine which are of concern or not.

The new findings mean scientists are now monitoring four VUIs and four "variants of concern" VOCs in the UK.

PHE said the latest identified variant, also known as B.1.1.318, contains the E484K mutation, found in two other VUIs in the UK, but it does not feature the N501Y mutation that is present in all VOCs.

It came as the Government announced additional testing and genomic sequencing for targeted areas of north-west London and north-east England where the South African VOC has been found.

The resources will be deployed in the North Wembley area of Brent in the capital and the TS19 postcode area in Stockton-on-Tees, in County Durham, to suppress the variant's potential spread, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

SURGE TESTING

While, on top of last week's announcement that surge testing would be deployed in Ealing and Redbridge in London to help control the same variant.

Surge testing began in south Gloucestershire on Monday where cases of the Manaus variant of coronavirus were discovered.

Six cases of this VOC, known as P1 and first detected the Brazilian city of Manaus, have been found in the UK – three in Scotland and three in England.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday that the search for a missing person infected with the variant had been narrowed down to 379 households in the south east of England.

 

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Hancock said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will oversee a fast-track approach to approving new coronavirus jabs, after studies suggested variants may make vaccines less effective.

A study this week suggested that between 25 per cent and 61 per cent of people in Manaus who had previously had Covid were susceptible to reinfection with the P1 variant.

Vaccine manufacturers including Pfizer and AstraZeneca are already working on new jabs to tackle variants in case they are needed.

Meanwhile, the Government said that a further 242 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 124,025.

Separate figures published by the UK's statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have been 145,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

As of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 6,573 lab-confirmed cases in the UK which brings the total to 4,201,358.

 

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