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Is UK's Omicron wave already flattening off? Daily Covid cases drop just 4% in a week


There were signs the UK’s wave of Omicron infections was starting to level off today as the country reported just a 4 per cent fall in daily cases — but hospital admissions fell for the sixth day in a row.

Government dashboard data shows another 95,787 positive tests were logged in the last 24 hours, down only slightly on the 99,652 recorded last Friday.

It marks the 16th day in a row that cases have fallen week-on-week but the downward curve has slowed in the past two days, dropping by just 1.6 per cent yesterday. 

Covid cases are still rising in primary school children despite falling in every other age group, which is contributing to the slowdown. 

The Office for National Statistics today estimated that one in 13 children aged two to 11 in England had Covid last week. The largely unvaccinated age group returned to classrooms and nurseries earlier this month after the Christmas break.

Meanwhile, latest hospital data shows there were 1,974 Covid hospital admissions across the UK on January 17, marking a 18.5 per cent fall on the previous week. 

There were also 288 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for the virus registered today, up by just under 7 per cent compared to a week ago. 

A growing number of experts have called on the Government to stop publishing daily Covid figures because they they claim they are ‘misleading’ and fuelling an ‘unhealthy addiction’ to the stats.

Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan today declared London’s emergency Covid status over as the capital’s case numbers continue to plummet and hospitalisations trend down. 

Mr Khan had declared a ‘major incident’ last month when London rapidly became the country’s Omicron hotspot and saw an unprecedented one in 10 Londoners infected on some weeks.

The graph shows the proportion of people in England testing positive for Covid per age group. Infection rates were trending down in all age groups in the week to January 15, according to ONS estimates, apart from among two to 11-year-olds, with one in 13 (eight per cent) thought to be infected

The graph shows the proportion of people in England testing positive for Covid per age group. Infection rates were trending down in all age groups in the week to January 15, according to ONS estimates, apart from among two to 11-year-olds, with one in 13 (eight per cent) thought to be infected

Covid was still fourth biggest killer in England in December 

Covid fell to become the fourth biggest killer in England and Wales last month despite an unprecedented wave of infections from the Omicron variant, official data shows. 

The Office for National Statistics’ monthly report found there were 2,856 Covid deaths registered in England and Wales last month, down 18.1 per cent from the 3,487 the previous month, when it was the third leading cause of death.

But the share of people dying primarily because of the virus dropped slightly from 85 per cent to 84 per cent over the month. The proportion of deaths primarily caused by the virus is thought to have dropped even further this month, with a quarter of last week’s fatalities coincidentally Covid.

Critics have called for daily publications of Covid statistics to be made more clear or ditched altogether to avoid them skewing the seriousness of the pandemic now, with the Omicron wave known to be much miler. 

Last month dementia, heart disease and chronic lung disease were all bigger killers than the virus, which only made up 5.4 per cent of all deaths in England.  

Even though Covid deaths fell last month as Omicron pushed infections to record levels, there are signs in the daily statistics that they have started to rise this month. 

There is a lag between people catching and falling seriously ill with Covid of up to a month, which means any uptick in infections normally doesn’t translate into mortality until weeks later.

In other coronavirus developments today:

  • British health chiefs revealed they are now officially keeping tabs on a ‘stealth’ version of Omicron amid fears it may have spread to more than 1,000 people;
  • Scientists warned China‘s Covid vaccine may offer virtually zero protection against Omicron;
  • Figures showed Covid infections are rising among primary school children in England, in what could be a sign of the back-to-school effect;
  • Official data showed Covid fell to become the fourth biggest killer in England and Wales last month despite an unprecedented wave of infections. 

Meanwhile, England’s R rate fell to between 0.8 and 1.1, the UK Health Security Agency said today, adding that cases are likely shrinking as Prime Minister Boris Johnson reopens the economy.

An R number between 0.8 and 1.1 means that for every 10 people infected, they will on average infect between 8 and 11 other people. Last week the range was 1.1 to 1.5.

The daily growth of infections was estimated at between minus 6 per cent to plus 1 per cent, a big fall of the previous weeks range of 1 per cent to 5 per cent. The UKHSA said the figures represented the situation in England 2-3 weeks ago.

Johnson on Wednesday announced the end of Covid measures, including mandatory face masks in England, as he looks to live with the virus after a peak in cases caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Mr Khan said he is standing down the major incident status in the capital today but warned the city will remain on high alert.

The mayor’s office said the decision comes following the gradual improvement in the number of cases in the capital, the pressures on critical services delivery reducing to manageable levels and a significant improvement in staff absences.

Mr Khan said: ‘Our NHS and emergency services have gone above and beyond during an extremely testing period for our city.

‘Everyone who wore a mask, took a lateral flow test or followed the advice to work from home where possible, has played their part in reducing the pressure they faced and enabled us to stand down the ‘major incident’ in London today.

‘But the virus and the Omicron variant is still with us and daily infection rates are still too high.

‘That’s why we must all remain vigilant and continue to do the things that have allowed our city to reopen safely.

‘Wearing a face covering remains one of the single most important and easiest things we can all do to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and that’s why I’m renewing my calls for the Government to rethink their plans and keep legislation in place to make them mandatory on public transport.

The graph shows the proportion of people in England testing positive for Covid per age group. Infection rates were trending down in all age groups in the week to January 15, according to ONS estimates, apart from among two to 11-year-olds, with one in 13 (eight per cent) thought to be infected

The graph shows the proportion of people in England testing positive for Covid per age group. Infection rates were trending down in all age groups in the week to January 15, according to ONS estimates, apart from among two to 11-year-olds, with one in 13 (eight per cent) thought to be infected

Covid fell to become the fourth biggest killer in England last month as Omicron engulfed the country, official data shows

Last month dementia, heart disease and chronic lung disease were all bigger killers than the virus, which only made up 5.4 per cent of all deaths in England

Last month dementia, heart disease and chronic lung disease were all bigger killers than the virus, which only made up 5.4 per cent of all deaths in England

The share of people dying primarily because of the virus dropped slightly from 85 per cent to 84 per cent over the month — a symptom of the extremely infectious but mild variant

The share of people dying primarily because of the virus dropped slightly from 85 per cent to 84 per cent over the month — a symptom of the extremely infectious but mild variant

China’s flagship Covid vaccine may offer virtually zero protection against Omicron 

China’s Covid vaccine may offer virtually zero protection against Omicron, scientists have warned. 

Two doses of the CoronaVac jab was found to trigger ‘undetectable’ antibody levels in lab studies by Yale University.

A Pfizer booster increased antibody levels among those double-vaccinated with the Chinese-made jab – but only to levels comparable among people given two Pfizer or Moderna injections, the team said.  

The finding suggests the billions of people given the jab have no protection against infection. 

CoronaVac, manufactured by the Chinese pharma giant Sinovac, is authorised in 50 countries around the world. 

Professor Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale and senior study author, warned ‘an additional booster shot — and possibly two’ may be needed in these countries. 

‘They still have a huge role to play in keeping our city open and our friends, family and communities protected.

‘Covid-19 continues to pose a significant threat and our hospitals remain under pressure.

‘That’s why it’s crucial that Londoners test regularly and report their results, come forward for vaccinations, and continue to wear a face covering when travelling on TfL services, where it remains a condition of carriage.’ 

Meanwhile, The UK Health Security Agency today marked the ‘stealth’ Omicron BA.2 strain as a ‘variant under investigation’. 

The category is reserved for variants that are spreading in the UK and are likely more transmissible and better able to evade vaccines than other strains. 

It falls just one step below a ‘variant of concern’, a title listed for mutant lineages like Omicron, Delta and Alpha. But UKHSA bosses could still decide to place BA.2 in the highest category if the strain poses a greater threat.

Some 78 cases have been confirmed in the UK so far, but only a fraction of infections are checked for variants. It means the true toll could be ten times higher.

It carries many of the same mutations as Omicron, as well as other quirks that mean it can’t be detected almost immediately on PCR tests unlike the original Omicron. It is for this reason some have nicknamed it a ‘stealth’ variant. 

Variant-tracking scientists said preliminary data suggests BA.2 could be even more transmissible than Omicron, although there is no reason to say it would cause more severe disease.

Dr Tom Peacock, one of the first virologists to raise the alarm over Omicron, poured cold water over concerns about BA.2, insisting it was unlikely to have a ‘substantial impact’ on the current wave. 

But he warned it could still replace BA.1 — the original version of Omicron — over the coming months.

Around 8,000 cases have been detected globally, with the strain dominant in parts of India and the Philippines. BA.2 infections are also rising in Denmark and Germany.

Pictured above are all the countries where BA.2 has been spotted. Cases are growing in Denmark, Germany and the UK, and it is already dominant in parts of India and the Philippines

Pictured above are all the countries where BA.2 has been spotted. Cases are growing in Denmark, Germany and the UK, and it is already dominant in parts of India and the Philippines

Pictured above are the areas with the most BA.2 cases over the week to January 1

And these are the areas with BA.2 cases over the week to January 8

The above figures — from the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centre — show the locations where BA.2 has been detected in the UK

Researchers at Yale University, who studied blood samples from 100 people double-jabbed with Sinovac, did not produce any antibody response to Sinovac (red bar). Blood samples taken from the same group 28 days after a Pfizer booster jab (orange bar), showed antibody levels jumped compared to those who received two Sinovac jabs alone. However, this response was the same as that seen in people only doubled-jabbed with Pfizer or Moderna (blue bar), the researchers said. The test used to measure the antibody levels (shown on vertical axis) does not equate to how many antibodies each jab triggered

Researchers at Yale University, who studied blood samples from 100 people double-jabbed with Sinovac, did not produce any antibody response to Sinovac (red bar). Blood samples taken from the same group 28 days after a Pfizer booster jab (orange bar), showed antibody levels jumped compared to those who received two Sinovac jabs alone. However, this response was the same as that seen in people only doubled-jabbed with Pfizer or Moderna (blue bar), the researchers said. The test used to measure the antibody levels (shown on vertical axis) does not equate to how many antibodies each jab triggered

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