Britain today recorded a slight uptick in both coronavirus cases and deaths — despite scientists hailing separate data that suggested the second wave may be over.
Department of Health bosses posted 5,379 infections, which is up 1.6 per cent from last Tuesday. But cases have yet to take off amid a huge testing boost and warnings they would shoot up when schools reopened in England on March 8.
Another 112 victims were also added to the official toll, a week on-week rise of 1.8 per cent. But day-to-day figures fluctuate — and the overall trend is still heading downward thanks to tough lockdown restrictions and the UK’s successful vaccine roll-out, which has now seen 28.3million Britons jabbed.
The figures come after separate data today showed England and Wales suffered no excess deaths for the first time since August last week – which experts hailed as a possible sign the second wave was over.
Office of National Statistics (ONS) data revealed there were 10,987 fatalities from all causes in the week ending March 12 — 4.4 per cent down on the five-year average (11,498). Deaths were below expected levels in all regions except the East Midlands.
Professor Neil Ferguson — the Government adviser whose grim modelling spooked ministers into the first lockdown a year ago today — said the data showed ‘the second devastating wave of the pandemic is behind us’.
It comes after Britain stood for a minute’s silence today to remember those who had their lives ‘tragically cut short’ by Covid, and ahead of a Downing Street statement from Boris Johnson tonight on the anniversary of the country’s first lockdown.
There were fewer deaths from all causes including heart disease, dementia and Covid last week than the number expected based on the five-year average (blue line). This is the first time they have dropped below this level since August, and experts said it suggested the second wave is at an end
MORE THAN 200,000 PUPILS ARE SELF-ISOLATING AT HOME, FIGURES REVEAL
More than nine in 10 pupils attended schools in England last week – but a growing number of children were self-isolating at home due to possible contact with Covid-19 cases, Government figures show.
Attendance in state schools last week was the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic, the Department for Education (DfE) analysis shows.
But the data suggests that 169,000 pupils were out of class and self-isolating on Thursday last week due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus.
The DfE estimates that approximately 2 per cent of all state school pupils on roll – up to 201,000 children – did not attend school for Covid-19 related reasons on March 18, up from 1 per cent on March 11.
This includes 127,000 pupils who have been self-isolating due to a potential contact with a Covid-19 case from inside the educational setting, and a further 42,000 pupils were self-isolating due to a possible contact outside of school.
Meanwhile, 21,000 pupils were absent because they suspected they had Covid-19, 7,000 were off after testing positive for Covid-19, and 4,000 were absent as their school was closed due to Covid-19 reasons.
Secondary schools in England were given flexibility to stagger the return of their pupils between March 8 and 12 as these students are being asked to take voluntary Covid-19 tests on site as part of their return.
Overall, attendance in state schools was 91 per cent on March 18, up from 89 per cent on March 11 – when some secondary schools were still phasing in the return of pupils due to the logistics of mass testing.
Statisticians use the five-year average to estimate how many people would be expected to die in any given week, with anything above average considered as ‘excess deaths’.
They had suggested deaths could dip below this level by Easter because the coronavirus outbreak was shrinking so quickly thanks to lockdown restrictions and the smooth vaccine roll-out. Experts also said deaths were front-loaded because so many elderly and vulnerable people fell victim to the disease last spring.
Covid deaths have also dropped by a third in the same time-frame, the figures showed, after 1,501 were registered last week compared to the 2,105 from the seven-day spell before.
And deaths among care home residents linked to the virus have halved in a fortnight, after 300 were recorded last week compared to the 636 two weeks before.
The weekly figures are different to the Department of Health’s, which publishes a daily Covid death toll. The ONS figures lag behind by about two weeks because they go through every death certificate to spot every suspected or confirmed coronavirus death.
ONS data showed there were 10,987 deaths from all causes in the week to March 12, which was below the five-year average of 11,498.
This marked the first time deaths had dipped below this level since the week ending September 4 when 7,739 deaths were recorded, which was 1,443 fewer than the 9,182 expected at the time of year.
Across England, all regions registered fewer deaths than expected except the East Midlands, which had 12 more fatalities than the 987 predicted.
The South West had the biggest dip from the five-year average (8.4 per cent), followed by Yorkshire and the Humber (7.2 per cent) and the South East (7 per cent).
Professor Ferguson, a top epidemiologist and No10 adviser at Imperial College London, said the figures were an encouraging sign that the UK had now passed the worst of the second wave.
‘But calling epidemics “waves” can be misleading, in implying a phenomenon which has reached a natural end,’ he said today. ‘That is not the case here.
‘The rapid decline in deaths we’ve thankfully seen is entirely because of the lockdown and the rapid roll-out of vaccines.
‘So, while I’m optimistic that this we will be able to return to something more like normal in the next few months, we need to remain vigilant and cautious in the pace with which social distancing is relaxed – particularly given the threat still posed by new variants of the virus.’
Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, said it was ‘excellent’ to see deaths had fallen below the five-year average.
He said: ‘This fall in the total number of deaths is almost entirely because deaths involving Covid have fallen very considerably.’
‘Some of this will be from the continuing effects of lockdown… but a considerable proportion of the fall in deaths involving Covid-19 must be because of vaccinations.’
The ONS figures also showed deaths linked to the virus had dipped below 250 in every region last week.
The lowest levels were in the North East (66), followed by the South West (91) and Yorkshire and the Humber (139).
There were also 1,957 deaths that involved flu and pneumonia in the week to March 12, but only 299 had this recorded as the underlying cause of death.
For comparison, 1,197 Covid deaths had the virus marked as the underlying cause.
Deaths from all causes dipped below the five-year average last week for the first time since August amid plummeting Covid infections and surging vaccination rates
This graph also shows deaths dropping below the five-year average. There were 511 fewer fatalities than expected, marking a 4.4 per cent dip from the average
ONS data also showed that deaths in care home residents from the virus had halved in two weeks, after 300 were recorded last year compared to 636 two weeks ago
Deaths from all causes also dipped below the five-year average in every region except the East Midlands, in another sign the second wave has come to an end
The number of deaths involving Covid is continuing to decrease. Experts say this is linked to both high vaccination rates and plummeting infection rates across the country, which are bringing the second wave to a swift end
There were also 1,957 deaths that involved flu and pneumonia in the week to March 12, but only 299 had this recorded as the underlying cause of death. For comparison, 1,197 Covid deaths had the virus marked as the underlying cause.
More Covid deaths have been recorded among those in older age groups, who studies show are at higher risk from the virus
Data also shows over 75 per cent of deaths involving the virus have occurred in hospitals
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