Covid cases have now peaked in every region of England, official data now shows in more proof that the worst of the Omicron outbreak is over.
Daily infections have dropped nationwide week-on-week for the last seven days, and yesterday dipped below six figures – to slightly less than 98,000 – for the first time in more than a fortnight.
The North East was the only region where infections were still rising, but latest Government figures show they are now mirroring the rest of the country.
The region had become a hotspot for Omicron in recent weeks after the outbreak moved north, and it is home to seven of the 10 local authorities with the highest infection rates. One in 40 people (2.6 per cent) of people in the North East tested positive in the most recent week, the highest of any point in the pandemic.
Hospitalisations – which are a lagging indicator – have continued to rise with almost 400 daily Covid admissions in the region last week, similar to levels seen during the devastating second wave.
But admissions to critical care beds have barely risen since England’s Covid outbreak began to spiral, which gave No10 the confidence it could ‘ride out’ the current wave. And a host of experts believe Omicron infections are now peaking in the country.
A raft of promising statistics yesterday showed the Omicron wave is subsiding, with one showing infections are pointing downwards across all regions and in almost every age group.
With the worst of the outbreak seemingly, England is now preparing to ease restrictions that were brought in to fight Omicron.
The Health Secretary told MPs yesterday that vaccine passports could be scrapped before the end of this month, and ministers are also considering ditching work from home guidance. Both are set to be reviewed on January 26.
Self-isolation will be cut to five days on Monday for vaccinated people who test positive for the virus, with Sajid Javid saying the move will make the UK the ‘freest in Europe’.
UK Health Security Agency figures showed Covid cases were falling in 87 per cent of England’s areas last week, or 129 out of 149 local authorities. For comparison, in the previous seven-day spell (left) cases were only falling in 15 council areas
King’s College London scientists estimated 183,364 people were now catching the virus every day, down from the record high of 208,471 in the previous seven-day spell. The data is also from health data science company ZOE
NORTH EAST: Pictured above is the Covid infection rate in the North East, showing its cases have started to peak
NORTH EAST: The above shows the number of patients being admitted to hospital with Covid every day. In the region it is now at about the same level as it was last winter
NORTH EAST: The above shows the number of Covid patients in hospital beds in the region. There are early signs this may be plateauing at a lower level than the previous winter
NORTH EAST: And above is the number of patients with Covid on mechanical ventilator beds. This has not risen in a sign Omicron is milder than its predecessors
Middlesbrough leads the way with around 3,100 infections per 100,000 people, with Hartlepool (2,900) and Stockon-on-Tees (2,800) rounding out the top three.
UK Health Security Agency scientists calculate the infection rate across England’s regions using the number of positive swabs recorded over the previous seven days.
Its latest figures, up to January 8, show that cases are now falling in all region’s day-on-day, and in five of them — the East Midlands, East of England, London, North West and South East — they are falling week-on-week.
Wales to scrap all Covid curbs amid falling cases
The Welsh government will scrap all Covid curbs in two weeks under plans to reopen clubs, end the rule of six in pubs and lift the 50-person limited on outdoor events.
Mark Drakeford will lay out a plan for Wales to move from alert level two to alert level zero by the end of January if the public health situation continues to improve.
Restrictions on outdoor activities will be eased first before extending to other rules introduced on Boxing Day in a phased approach.
Under current measures, a limit of six people can meet in pubs, restaurants and cinemas, with outdoor events restricted to 50 people, and 30 indoors.
Rules also include mask-wearing in all public venues, the two-metre rule and the rule of six in hospitality settings. Nightclubs have been forced to shut.
The First Minister will hold a press conference at 12.15pm on Friday to announce the two-week roadmap following a review of the rules.
Speaking this morning, he said the move comes amid a rapid decline in the number of cases, adding: ‘We appear to have passed the peak of Omicron.’
Wales’ coronavirus case rate recently fell to 1,492.4 per 100,000 people over seven days – its lowest level since December 27.
The North East is still the country’s Covid hotspot, recording the most cases per 100,000 people, but they are now starting to point downwards.
The second-highest infection rate was in the North West (2,132.6), followed by Yorkshire and the Humber (1,977.5) and the West Midlands (1,785.6).
At the other end of the scale was the South West (1,270.2), the South East (1,374.1) and the East of England (1,460.7). London had the sixth highest infection rate (1,526.5).
In a sign the North East’s drop is genuine and not down to a change in testing its PCR positivity rate — the proportion of swabs that detect the virus — has also started to fall.
Infection statistics relate to the period before testing rules were changed so that Britons who test positive using a lateral flow no longer need to get a confirmatory PCR.
Hospitalisations across the region are yet to drop having reached 390 admissions a day, nearing last winter’s peak of 430.
But the number of Covid patients in hospital has flattened out in recent days at 3,000 which is around four-fifths of the previous peak, while the numbers on mechanical ventilator beds have barely risen.
At a meeting with Tory MPs yesterday, Mr Javid hailed the ‘encouraging signs’ but warned that hospitals remained under ‘significant pressure’, The Times reports.
Currently, people in England need to show proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow to enter large events and nightclubs.
A Whitehall source told the paper: ‘There was always a very high threshold for the policy and it looks increasingly likely in a couple of weeks that threshold won’t be met. The way cases are going it will be hard to justify renewing.’
The UK Government faced its biggest Tory revolt since the start of the pandemic over the introduction of Plan B measures last month, with more than 100 Conservatives voting against them.
The PM’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost dramatically resigned in protest over the rollout of the curbs. Yesterday he slammed the ‘Covid theatre’ of masks and passes, and called lockdown a ‘serious mistake’.
The Times reports that it is unlikely that Covid passes will be renewed if the Department of Health argues that it is no longer needed.
Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, yesterday pressed the Health Secretary to commit ‘to dropping domestic certification at the earliest possible opportunity’.
He replied: ‘I assure her and the House that as far as I am concerned we will not be keeping domestic certification in place a moment longer than absolutely necessary.’
Former cabinet minister Greg Clark called on Mr Javid to lift the curbs later this month, saying they ‘have an impact beyond Covid as we know’.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Javid cut the number of days people have to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid in England to five.
The Health Secretary told MPs that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed ‘that around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five’.
He added: ‘After reviewing all of the evidence, we’ve made the decision to reduce the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England. From Monday, people can test twice before they go — leaving isolation at the start of day six.
‘These two tests are critical to these balanced and proportionate plans, and I’d urge everyone to take advantage of the capacity we have built up in tests so we can restore the freedoms to this country while we’re keeping everyone safe.’