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UK’s daily Covid cases fall 10% in a week to 96,871 despite warnings shrinking outbreak had relapsed

 

Daily coronavirus cases have fallen by a tenth in a week, despite warnings that the outbreak bounced back due to students returning to classrooms. 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) bosses today logged 96,871 positive tests, down 9.8 per cent on last Thursday.

Daily deaths remain flat, rising just 2.4 per cent on last week to 338, while hospitalisations fell 13 per cent to 1,651 on Sunday, with pressure on the NHS having eased for almost a fortnight.

The decline comes despite a Covid surveillance study showing cases jumped 10 per cent in the week to January 26, with rising cases among school pupils blamed for the incline. Kings College London researchers found cases have hit pandemic highs in children, mirroring trends seen in the official numbers.

Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist and lead scientist for the Kings College study, said the bounce back came ‘sooner than many expected’.

But he insisted it was ‘not surprising’ because the start of the school term has been the instigator of resurgences throughout the pandemic, with the highly-infectious virus then crossing over into their parents, school staff and the rest of the wider community. 

Professor Spector said cases will ‘continue to stay high until spring’ due to Omicron’s high reinfection rate and the emergence of subvariant BA.2, which experts argue could become dominant within a month because it appears to be even more infectious than its ancestral strain.

But promising data from Government scientists suggests the strain, which makes up at least one in 125 new cases in England, is not more vaccine-resistant than Omicron. A booster dose gives 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection caused by BA.2, compared to 63 per cent protection against its ancestor.

Shoppers and commuters snubbed calls to continue wearing masks today after a raft of Covid curbs in England including compulsory face coverings and ‘vaccine passports’ were scrapped. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Transport for London are still insisting customers ‘do the right thing’ and cover their faces.

King College London scientists, who run the  estimate 160,000 people were falling ill with Covid every day in the week ending January 26, compared to 145,000 in its previous report. They said cases are now rising in every region. King College London scientists, who run the  estimate 160,000 people were falling ill with Covid every day in the week ending January 26, compared to 145,000 in its previous report. They said cases are now rising in every region.

King College London scientists, who run the ZOE Covid surveillance study, estimate 160,000 people were falling ill with Covid every day in the week ending January 26, compared to 145,000 in its previous report

The latest ZOE study report states the uptick in cases among under-18s since was triggered by pupils returning to the classroom at the start of the month and has now accelerated to the highest level ever recorded by the study. One in 11 children aged under nine have the virus (8.8 per cent), while one in 21 people aged 30 to 39 are infected (4.6 per cent). Meanwhile, 4.4 per cent of 10 to 19-year-olds have symptomatic Covid, compared to 3 per cent of adults in their 20s and 40s The latest ZOE study report states the uptick in cases among under-18s since was triggered by pupils returning to the classroom at the start of the month and has now accelerated to the highest level ever recorded by the study. One in 11 children aged under nine have the virus (8.8 per cent), while one in 21 people aged 30 to 39 are infected (4.6 per cent). Meanwhile, 4.4 per cent of 10 to 19-year-olds have symptomatic Covid, compared to 3 per cent of adults in their 20s and 40s

The latest ZOE study report states the uptick in cases among under-18s since was triggered by pupils returning to the classroom at the start of the month and has now accelerated to the highest level ever recorded by the study. One in 11 children aged under nine have the virus (8.8 per cent), while one in 21 people aged 30 to 39 are infected (4.6 per cent). Meanwhile, 4.4 per cent of 10 to 19-year-olds have symptomatic Covid, compared to 3 per cent of adults in their 20s and 40s

The BA.2 variant was only present in a few local authorities here The BA.2 variant was only present in a few local authorities here But by the following week it was more widespread But by the following week it was more widespread

Analysis by the Sanger Institute — one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres — shows the number of BA.2 lineages detected over the week to January 8 (left) and January 15 (right) broken down by local authority

Data from the Sanger Institute — one of the largest Covid surveillance centres in the UK — shows BA.2 has now outpaced Delta. The Omicron variant now makes up 0.8 per cent of cases, compared to Delta's 0.5 per cent Data from the Sanger Institute — one of the largest Covid surveillance centres in the UK — shows BA.2 has now outpaced Delta. The Omicron variant now makes up 0.8 per cent of cases, compared to Delta's 0.5 per cent

Data from the Sanger Institute — one of the largest Covid surveillance centres in the UK — shows BA.2 has now outpaced Delta. The Omicron variant now makes up 0.8 per cent of cases, compared to Delta’s 0.5 per cent

UKHSA data shows the percentage change in infection rates across England for the week ending January 16 (left) and week ending January 23 (right). Cases fell in all regions of the country last week, but are now rising in the south of the country (yellow and orange local authorities) 

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What do we know about BA.2? Should we be concerned?

What is BA.2?

This is an off-shoot of the Omicron lineage.

It carries all the mutations of its parent, but also has a change that makes it harder to detect using PCR tests. 

It has been spotted in 40 countries , including Denmark, the Philippines, India, Sweden and Singapore.

And the share of new cases caused by the variant has risen to one in 20. 

Is it really harder to track?  

Britain’s explosion of Omicron was fairly easy to track because of one of the variant’s specific quirks – a deletion of its spike ‘S’ gene.

It meant the strain could be detected on widely-used PCR tests without the need for lengthy laboratory analysis, known as genome sequencing.

The deletion allowed Omicron samples to stand out from other strains circulating at the time, including Delta, simply because they did not cause the same PCR ‘S-gene target failure’ effect.

But this does not appear to be the case with BA.2.

PCR tests will still spot if someone with BA.2 has Covid. 

Is it more dangerous?

Early analysis suggests this sub-variant is slightly more transmissible than Omicron.

It is already the dominant strain in parts of India and the Philippines, scientists say, with cases now rising in the UK, Germany and Denmark.

But there is no evidence to suggest it is more likely to cause serious disease.

There were fears it may be able to slip past vaccine immunity more easily than Omicron, which would explain its evolutionary edge.

But an analysis by the UK Health Security Agency found two and three doses of vaccines work just as well against both strains.

A booster was found to give 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection from BA.2, compared to 63 per cent with the original Omicron.

Should I be concerned?

Dr Tom Peacock, one of the first scientists to warn the world about Omicron, says there is no reason to be overly concerned.

The Imperial College London expert said he thinks the variant will not have a ‘substantial impact’ on the current wave.

Professor Francois Ballous, a geneticist at Imperial College London, says people not obsessed with Covid should treat it as the same disease as Omicron.

The strain has been designated as a variant under investigation by the UK Health Security Agency.

How many cases are there?

A total of 426 BA.2 cases were identified by the UKHSA by January 21, the earliest of which was dated to December 6. 

Most of the cases have been spotted in London (146), followed by the South East (97).

But the true toll of BA.2 cases will be much higher, with just a small fraction of positive tests sequenced.

UKHSA figures show deaths increased by 2.4 per cent week-on-week, but delays between someone dying from the virus and their death being officially registered makes interpreting the figure difficult.

Separate data — fatalities within 28 days of a positive test logged by the date of the death — shows deaths during the Omicron wave peaked around 225 per day on January 14. 

Other measures show nearly a quarter of all Covid deaths are patients who died with the virus rather than from it.  

And half Covid patients in hospital, which have been falling for more than a fortnight, are incidental admissions.

NHS England statistics released today show 52 per cent of infected patients are not primarily being treated for the virus for the first time in the pandemic. 

This share has been rising since the emergence of the super-mild Omicron variant in late November, when just a quarter of inpatients were not mainly ill with the disease.

The majority are mainly receiving care for a range of other conditions, such as a broken leg or heart disease.

And the number of patients in intensive care has fallen throughout the Omicron wave, with the fewest number of mechanical ventilation beds occupied for six months. 

But data from the King’s/ZOE study suggest the wave has not completely subsided, with cases rising 10 per cent in a week.

The figures are based on reports from tens of thousands of users of a symptom-tracking app, that allows researchers to estimate the prevalence of Covid. 

It shows around one in 30 Britons across the UK had symptomatic Covid in the week to January 26, with prevalence slightly higher in England (one in 29) and Northern Ireland (one in 27) than Scotland (one in 41) and Wales (one in 38).  

The coronavirus was said to have been most prevalent in the North East. 

When the figures were broken down by age, the team found one in 11 children aged under nine had the virus (8.8 per cent).

Meanwhile, 4.4 per cent of 10 to 19-year-olds had been struck down with symptomatic Covid, the researchers estimated.

This was compared to 3 per cent of adults in their 20s and 40s. 

Rates are much lower among older Britons, with 1.2 per cent of 50 to 59-year-olds infected, plunging to 0.4 per cent of those in their 80s.      

The team estimated one in 14 (seven per cent) new daily symptomatic Covid cases are reinfections, in line with Government statistics. 

Professor Spector said: ‘The bounce back in case numbers just as we lift restrictions has come sooner than many expected. 

‘But it’s not surprising given that, throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen the end of school holidays repeatedly usher in a rapid rise in cases among children, which then cross over into parents and school staff. 

‘Another emerging factor is that a new subtype of Omicron is taking over called BA.2, which is likely more infectious.’

The variant made up one in 20 new cases last week and is doubling every few days, suggesting it will be dominant in a month, he said.

But data from the UKHSA today suggested  

And ZOE data shows seven per cent of new symptomatic cases are reinfections, suggesting a previous Delta infection does not offer much protection against Omicron, Professor Spector added. 

He said: ‘Taking all these factors into consideration, I expect that cases will continue to stay high until spring.

‘However, the good news is that most vaccinated infections are mild, with symptoms lasting on average for a shorter time overall than Delta and with less severe cases.

‘It’s clear that Covid and its new variants will continue to have an impact on our day-to-day lives for some time. 

Analysis of real-world data by the UKHSA has allayed concerns that Omicron variant BA.2 could more easily slip past vaccine immunity than Omicron. The scientists found two and three doses of vaccines work just as well against both strains. A booster was found to give 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection from BA.2 (yellow bar), compared to 63 per cent with the original Omicron (red bar) Analysis of real-world data by the UKHSA has allayed concerns that Omicron variant BA.2 could more easily slip past vaccine immunity than Omicron. The scientists found two and three doses of vaccines work just as well against both strains. A booster was found to give 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection from BA.2 (yellow bar), compared to 63 per cent with the original Omicron (red bar)

Analysis of real-world data by the UKHSA has allayed concerns that Omicron variant BA.2 could more easily slip past vaccine immunity than Omicron. The scientists found two and three doses of vaccines work just as well against both strains. A booster was found to give 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection from BA.2 (yellow bar), compared to 63 per cent with the original Omicron (red bar) 

Data from the ZOE study, which is run by Kings College London scientists, show the prevalence of symptomatic Covid in the week to January 26 was highest in the North East, where one in 21 people are suffering from Covid symptoms, followed by the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber (one in 25) and London (one in 26). Symptomatic infection rates were lower in the West Midlands (one in 28), East Midlands (one in 33) South East and East of England (one in 34) as well as the South West (one in 39) Data from the ZOE study, which is run by Kings College London scientists, show the prevalence of symptomatic Covid in the week to January 26 was highest in the North East, where one in 21 people are suffering from Covid symptoms, followed by the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber (one in 25) and London (one in 26). Symptomatic infection rates were lower in the West Midlands (one in 28), East Midlands (one in 33) South East and East of England (one in 34) as well as the South West (one in 39)

Data from the ZOE study, which is run by Kings College London scientists, show the prevalence of symptomatic Covid in the week to January 26 was highest in the North East, where one in 21 people are suffering from Covid symptoms, followed by the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber (one in 25) and London (one in 26). Symptomatic infection rates were lower in the West Midlands (one in 28), East Midlands (one in 33) South East and East of England (one in 34) as well as the South West (one in 39)

The ZOE study recorded another 55,000 symptomatic Covid cases among double and triple-jabbed Britons every day in the week to January 26, up by two per cent on the 53,703 new daily cases reported last week The ZOE study recorded another 55,000 symptomatic Covid cases among double and triple-jabbed Britons every day in the week to January 26, up by two per cent on the 53,703 new daily cases reported last week

The ZOE study recorded another 55,000 symptomatic Covid cases among double and triple-jabbed Britons every day in the week to January 26, up by two per cent on the 53,703 new daily cases reported last week

The Office for National Statistics analysts estimate 2.6million people in the country were infected on any day during the week ending January 22, compared to 2.9million one week earlier. Both figures equate to one in 20 people in England carrying the virus The Office for National Statistics analysts estimate 2.6million people in the country were infected on any day during the week ending January 22, compared to 2.9million one week earlier. Both figures equate to one in 20 people in England carrying the virus

The Office for National Statistics analysts estimate 2.6million people in the country were infected on any day during the week ending January 22, compared to 2.9million one week earlier. Both figures equate to one in 20 people in England carrying the virus

NHS England data shows the percentage of Covid patients in hospitals in England's seven regions who are not primarily being treated for the virus (left), while the graphs (right) show how this rate has changed over time.  The North East had the highest proportion of patients (57.4 per cent) who are mainly being treated for other ailments NHS England data shows the percentage of Covid patients in hospitals in England's seven regions who are not primarily being treated for the virus (left), while the graphs (right) show how this rate has changed over time.  The North East had the highest proportion of patients (57.4 per cent) who are mainly being treated for other ailments

NHS England data shows the percentage of Covid patients in hospitals in England’s seven regions who are not primarily being treated for the virus (left), while the graphs (right) show how this rate has changed over time.  The North East had the highest proportion of patients (57.4 per cent) who are mainly being treated for other ailments

NHS England data shows the majority of Covid patients in English hospitals are not primarily being treated for the virus for the first time in the pandemic. The share of primary Covid patients has plummeted since the emergence of the super-mild Omicron variant in late November, when three-quarters of inpatients were mainly ill with the disease NHS England data shows the majority of Covid patients in English hospitals are not primarily being treated for the virus for the first time in the pandemic. The share of primary Covid patients has plummeted since the emergence of the super-mild Omicron variant in late November, when three-quarters of inpatients were mainly ill with the disease

NHS England data shows the majority of Covid patients in English hospitals are not primarily being treated for the virus for the first time in the pandemic. The share of primary Covid patients has plummeted since the emergence of the super-mild Omicron variant in late November, when three-quarters of inpatients were mainly ill with the disease

NHS England data shows there were 13,023 Covid patients in hospital on Tuesday (January 25), of which only 6,256 were primarily there for the virus, or 48 per cent NHS England data shows there were 13,023 Covid patients in hospital on Tuesday (January 25), of which only 6,256 were primarily there for the virus, or 48 per cent

NHS England data shows there were 13,023 Covid patients in hospital on Tuesday (January 25), of which only 6,256 were primarily there for the virus, or 48 per cent

Vaccines work just as well against ‘even more infectious’ strain of Omicron

A subvariant of Omicron that is growing quickly in Britain is not more vaccine-resistant than its ancestor strain, reassuring real-world data shows.

UK health officials said booster jabs may even offer slightly better protection against  BA.2, which is believed to be more infectious than Omicron.

The subvariant makes up at least one in 125 new cases in England and it is outcompeting the original Omicron in some corners of Europe. 

There were fears it may be able to slip past vaccine immunity more easily than Omicron, which would explain its evolutionary edge.

But an analysis by the UK Health Security Agency found two and three doses of vaccines work just as well against both strains.

A booster was found to give 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection from BA.2, compared to 63 per cent with the original Omicron.

Waning immunity from two doses only offers 13 per cent protection against the new subvariant, slightly more than the 9 per cent for its parent variant. 

Immunity against severe disease is expected to be even higher but it takes several weeks for enough people to fall ill with a new strain to accrue the data.

‘It’s crucial that we’re responsible with our new freedoms and help to keep case numbers down and prevent the virus reaching the more vulnerable groups.’

Official Government data based on positive test results show Covid infections remained largely stable in the UK in the week to January 23, but shows a rise among youngsters and their parents.

One in 40 five to nine-year-olds tested positive in the week to January 21, while one in 50 pupils aged 10 to 14 had an infection confirmed.

Cases are also rising in 30 to 39-year-olds and 40 to 49-year-olds, while they are flat or dropping in all other age groups, the UKHSA data shows.

The official figures show hospitalisations dropped last week, while deaths stayed flat. 

It comes after data from the ONS yesterday showed England’s Covid outbreak shrunk again last week despite infections continuing to rise in children.

Government analysts estimate 2.6million people in the country were infected on any day during the week ending January 22, compared to 2.9million one week earlier. 

Both figures equate to one in 20 people in England carrying the virus.

It marked the second week in a row that the ONS projected a fall in prevalence, illustrating how the Omicron wave fizzled off after causing infections to spiral to pandemic highs.

The ONS survey is regarded as the most reliable indicator of the UK’s outbreak because it uses random sampling of around 100,000 people, rather than relying on people coming forward to be tested.

Official daily numbers show cases have plateaued at around 90,000 per day, following a fortnight of infections being in freefall. 

This was before the effects of lifting Plan B restrictions in England had even been felt. 

Latest hospital data shows 1,399 Britons were admitted with Covid on January 22, which was 20 per cent lower than the previous week and the 11th day in a row admissions have fallen week-on-week.

There were also 346 more Covid deaths registered in the UK yesterday — down by around 4 per cent in a week and more than a fifth on yesterday’s 439. 

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