UK

UK records 9,834 more Covid cases – down 10% on last week

Covid-19 deaths and infection rates have dropped to levels not seen since before Christmas – raising hopes of an end to the nation’s winter lockdown starting next week.

Another 9,834 coronavirus cases were reported in the last 24 hours, a fall of 10 per cent on last week and the first time the figure has been below 10,000 since late September.

There were 215 new daily deaths – the lowest since 144 were recorded on December 13 – which brought Britain’s total fatalities up to 120,580. 

Last Sunday Britain recorded 10,972 Covid cases and 258 deaths. Both figures have fallen this week, by 10 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. Figures released this afternoon show Wales has recorded 336 new cases and 16 new deaths. Scotland saw 827 new cases today and five deaths.

The continuing falls in infections and deaths will give an extra boost in confident to Boris Johnson as he prepares to announce a roadmap out of restrictive measures tomorrow. 

With the continued success of the vaccination programme rollout – 17,582,121 people having now received their first jab – it is hoped rules around schools and outdoor socialising will be partially relaxed in the next few weeks.

Earlier today Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed a third of all people over 16 had now been given at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. It is now being offered to everyone over 65, and younger people in at-risk groups.

Mr Hancock also confirmed that every adult in the country will be offered at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by the end of July.

The Government previously said it hoped to reach all those aged 18 and over by the start of September, but Mr Johnson aims to greatly accelerate the successful campaign.

In other developments in the pandemic today: 

  • Matt Hancock announced all over 50s will have received at least their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by April 15, rather than May, as previously suggested;
  • Nine parts of England, including Gloucestershire, Bristol and West Yorkshire, are on course to complete their rollout of the first jab among over 50s by March 7;
  • Labour leader Keir Starmer has backed Boris Johnson’s plan for schools to reopen on March 8, while rejecting union calls for a phased return to the classroom;
  • Ministers are holding a top-level meeting today to finalise Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap before it is announced tomorrow;
  • A leading scientist has called on the Government to allow outdoor sports to return for children and a small number of adults.

Mr Johnson and senior ministers met this afternoon to finalise his roadmap for getting the nation out of lockdown before it will be unveiled to the public tomorrow.

Senior Cabinet figures joined the Prime Minister on a call to hammer out the last details of the plan that will shape the next few months in England.

The Prime Minister, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chancellor Rishi Sunak will meet to sign off the final details, with the wider Cabinet rubber-stamping the plan tomorrow morning. 

Covid-19 infection rates have continued to drop with 9,834 more coronavirus cases announced - a fall of 10 per cent on last week - while the 215 new daily deaths brought Britain's total up to 120,580

Covid-19 infection rates have continued to drop with 9,834 more coronavirus cases announced – a fall of 10 per cent on last week – while the 215 new daily deaths brought Britain’s total up to 120,580

Falling infections will spark hope that the end of lockdown is nearing as Boris Johnson prepares to announce a roadmap out of restrictive measures tomorrow

Falling infections will spark hope that the end of lockdown is nearing as Boris Johnson prepares to announce a roadmap out of restrictive measures tomorrow

Families took to London's parks in force today as many took advantage of nicer weather despite continuing lockdown restrictions. Pictured: Hampstead Heath earlier today

Families took to London’s parks in force today as many took advantage of nicer weather despite continuing lockdown restrictions. Pictured: Hampstead Heath earlier today 

Social distancing measure appeared to go out the window for some, with the country beginning to tire after two months of full lockdown. Pictured: A group play tug of war on Hampstead Heath

The Prime Minister will then present the roadmap to the Commons before addressing the nation in a televised press conference in the afternoon.

The long-awaited move will provide some certainty for a county that has been wilting since the new year under its third lockdown in a year. It is expected that children will return to school on March 8, just two weeks’ time, with further measures in the following weeks and months.

Hundreds of families were out today enjoying the first good weather of the year amid the positive news, with social distancing rules going out the window in some London parks as some people chose to stretch their legs after almost two months in full lockdown.

Hampstead Heath in north London and Hyde Park were busy with people even queueing for ice cream as temperatures hit 14C following a frosty week.

There has been much debate between MPs wanting to ease lockdown restrictions as soon as possible, accepting Covid will still be present, and those who are wanting to try to eradicate the virus before relaxing measures.

Speaking to Times Radio Matt Hancock said coronavirus restrictions will be eased with ‘weeks between the steps’, suggesting that after schools reopen there may be few other changes before April. 

Mr Hancock also said social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings is likely to remain for a while.

Asked earlier bout the speed of the lockdown lifting, he told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: ‘It is right to be cautious, it is incredibly important. There are still almost 20,000 people in the hospital with Covid right now. Almost 20,000.

‘The vaccination programme whilst clearly going very well, will take time to be able to reach all people who have significant vulnerability, especially because we also need to get the second jab to everybody.

‘So we have got time that needs to be taken to get this right, the PM will set out the roadmap tomorrow and he will set out the full details, taking into account that we need to take a cautious but irreversible approach, that’s the goal.’ 

What are the UK priority groups for vaccinations? 

1. Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults

2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers

3. All those 75 years of age and over

4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)

5. All those 65 years of age and over

6. Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group 

7. All those 60 years of age and over

8. All those 55 years of age and over

9. All those 50 years of age and over

10. Rest of the population

Mr Hancock’s comments came as surge testing was carried out in Brentwood, Essex, where a single case of the South African mutant Covid strain was found.

Surge testing comprises of increased testing (including door-to-door testing in some areas) and enhanced contact tracing in specific locations. 

Surge testing has now been deployed in the CM13 postcode in Brentwood after the South African coronavirus strain was found.

Essex is one of 14 regions in England that could themselves ahead of schedule when vaccinating the over 50s. 

Nine areas across the UK will have vaccinated all of their over 50s by March 8 – almost a month ahead of schedule, according to new figures.  

Vaccine roll-outs in the West of England appear to be leading the way, with Gloucestershire, Bristol, Devon, North Somerset and Cornwall all on course to have delivered their first jab to over 50s by the end of the first week in March.

Suffolk, Staffordshire, Leicestershire and West Yorkshire are also set to reach the same target.

Analysis from the Telegraph has identified the trusts that are set to be dishing out doses by early March.

Cambridgeshire, West Birmingham, Derbyshire and Essex is expected to have their first round of doses for over 50s completed by March 21, while East London’s health care partnership may reach the target by the first week of April. 

NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said today: ‘The NHS COVID vaccination campaign continues full steam ahead – letters inviting everyone aged 65 to 69 went out a week ago, and already over two thirds of them have had their first COVID vaccination.  

‘Across England overall nearly a third of adults have now had their first jab, and early signs suggest this is contributing to the welcome fall in coronavirus hospitalisation that we’re now seeing.’

The Prime Minister will temper news of the turbo-charged vaccination programme with a ‘cautious and phased’ route out of lockdown tomorrow.

All pupils will return to school on March 8 – a planned backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer this morning – and care home residents in England will each be allowed one regular visitor.

By Easter, at the start of April, two households will be allowed to meet up outside. That will be followed shortly afterwards by the reopening of non-essential shops and pubs and restaurants for outdoor service only. 

Estimates based on Covid-19 jabs delivered so far suggest roll-outs in the West could have given the jab to all local over 50s by March 7 - a month ahead of schedule

Estimates based on Covid-19 jabs delivered so far suggest roll-outs in the West could have given the jab to all local over 50s by March 7 – a month ahead of schedule

UK records 9,834 more Covid cases - down 10% on last week

The hospitality industry is expected to reopen fully in May. 

However, former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group, this morning repeated his call for all restrictions be lifted by the end of April, once the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated under the new timetable. 

Mr Johnson  is due to announce the three-point plan that will see schools draft in private tutors and pay teachers to extend their working day in order to make up some of the hours lost in the classroom, The Sunday Times reports. 

An additional ‘Covid premium’ will be awarded to schools for every disadvantaged pupil they have at their institution. 

The plan for summer school, which was drawn up by the newly appointed education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins, will see pupils enjoy sports and physical education in the morning before sitting down at the desk – due to fears that a lack of activity could affect students’ mental health and academic success, the publication reports.

A source told The Sunday Times: ‘This is not just education support but also social support. We are acutely aware that pupils’ mental health has been impacted by not seeing friends or playing sport.’

More details of the catch-up scheme are set to be announced by the Prime Minister tomorrow. 

It came as it was revealed Matt Hancthiock has ‘stopped talking’ to Tony Blair amid accusations that the former Prime Minister pinched Government anti-Covid ideas to pass them off as his own, it was claimed last night.

The Health Secretary is said to be livid after two key proposals allegedly mentioned in private conversations later emerged as Mr Blair’s own suggestions. Pictured: Blair getting his vaccine

The Health Secretary is said to be livid after two key proposals allegedly mentioned in private conversations later emerged as Mr Blair’s own suggestions. Pictured: Blair getting his vaccine

The Health Secretary is said to be livid after two key proposals allegedly mentioned in private conversations – an initial priority one-jab vaccine policy and mass testing – later emerged as Mr Blair’s own suggestions.

A well-placed Government source told The Mail on Sunday that Mr Hancock had now broken off contact with the 67-year-old ex-premier – who yesterday posted a picture of himself receiving his Covid jab on Twitter – over the breaches.

The source said: ‘Matt was briefing Blair as a courtesy to a previous Prime Minister. But he cottoned on that Blair was milking these conversations.

‘And that’s when Hancock said, ‘I’m not going to talk to you any more.’ ‘

Tory MPs have also privately complained at the way ‘Tony Blair appears to be going round still pretending he is PM’.

Mr Hancock side-stepped the issue today, telling Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘I talk to all of the former Prime Ministers, as you would imagine, because these are very difficult circumstances we’re in. I talk to all of them and try to get advice from wherever I can.’

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