Covid plunged by a fifth in England last week: ONS survey finds infections dropped for first time since Omicron took off but 2.9million (one in 20) were still carrying virus
- Around 2.9m people infected on any given day in week to January 15, a ‘welcome decrease’ from 3.7million
- ONS survey regarded most reliable indicator of outbreak because it uses random sampling of 100k people
- Promising stats came as Boris Johnson announced all Plan B restrictions will be scrapped by end of the month
Covid cases plummeted by a fifth in England last week in more confirmation that Omicron is on its way out, the country’s gold-standard infection study shows.
The Office for National Statistics’ weekly report found around 2.9million people were infected on any given day in the week to January 15, a ‘welcome decrease’ from the record 3.7m the previous week.
It marks the first week that the ONS has recorded a fall in infections since Omicron first took off in late November and the downward trend now matches the Government’s daily stats.
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.
The promising figures come as Boris Johnson revealed the legal requirement to self-isolate after catching Covid will be scrapped from March 24 and that it could be brought forward.
He is also scrapping all Plan B measures from January 26, which means Covid passports and working from home will be axed and face masks no longer mandated in any setting — although Brits will be encouraged to wear them in crowded places.
There are also plans in place to scrap free Covid lateral flow tests from July under No10’s ‘exit strategy’, according to documents sent between the UK’s health agencies.
Despite the fall in infections last week, Covid was still more prevalent than at any point in the pandemic before the extremely-infectious Omicron variant emerged, with one in 20 carrying the virus.
The promising figures come as Boris Johnson revealed the legal requirement to self-isolate after catching Covid will be scrapped from March 24 and that it could be brought forward. Pictured: Mr Johnson leaving Downing Street today ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions
Free lateral flow Covid tests to be scrapped by JULY under No10’s ‘Operation Rampdown’
Free Covid lateral flow tests will be scrapped from July under the Government’s virus ‘exit strategy’, according to documents sent between the UK’s health agencies.
Ministers have urged Britons to take the swabs regularly in an attempt to quell the spread of Omicron — but only key workers will be able to access free tests if No10’s mooted plan to ‘ramp down the Universal Testing Offer’ gets signed off.
Instead, officials say an online ordering system will be ready by the end of June to direct Britons to purchase the tests, which are said to cost the Government £30 per pack of seven.
No10 has previously said it would ‘at a later stage’ stop offering everyone the tests, which are free to order from the Government website or pick up at pharmacies. No10 has spent billions of pounds on securing the kits as part of its mass-testing strategy.
Amid record high cases at the start of the year, more than 8million lateral flows were registered over the space of one week. However, only a fraction of tests used are officially logged.
But Covid infections have been in freefall for the past fortnight, with 94,432 cases reported yesterday, a fall of 20 per cent on last week. The natural fizzling out of the Omicron wave has piled pressure on Boris Johnson to unveil his pandemic ‘exit strategy’ to prepare the country for living with Covid like flu.
Even NHS consultants have now claimed the end is ‘now in sight’ with hospitalisations falling. Dr Richard Cree, an intensive care consultant at Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital, said: ‘I am confident that the worst will soon be behind us.’
The number of people testing positive dropped in all age groups in the most recent week, except in schoolchildren in Years 2 to 6 who are not routinely vaccinated.
Sarah Crofts, head of analytical outputs for the Covid Infection Survey, said: ‘Our latest figures show a welcome decrease in infections across most parts of the UK and among all age groups apart from younger children.
‘We will continue to closely monitor the data to see if this week’s decrease carries forward.’
The ONS said Covid infections fell in all regions of England except the North East and South West, where the trends were uncertain.
In North East England, around one in 10 people were likely to test positive in the week to January 15 – the highest estimate for any region. The South West had the lowest rate, at around one in 25.
Elsewhere in the UK, one in 25 people in Wales were estimated to have had coronavirus last week, where the outbreak was found to have shrunk. The rate was also one in 20 in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The national fall brings the ONS’ findings in line with a raft of other official data which all point to a rapidly shrinking fourth wave.
There were 94,432 new positive tests logged across the UK yesterday, which marked a 22 per cent fall compared to last Tuesday. Cases have fallen week-on-week on every day since January 6.
The ONS’ survey is considered more reliable because it includes people who do not come forward for official testing.
It came as Mr Johnson said the legal requirement on people with coronavirus to self-isolate will be allowed to lapse when the regulations expire on March 24, and that date could be brought forward.
Plan B measures aimed at tackling the spread of Covid are also to be dropped across England from January 26.
The PM told MPs in the House of Commons more than 90 per cent of over-60s across the UK had now had booster vaccines to protect them, and scientists believed the Omicron wave had peaked.
He said the Government had taken a ‘different path’ to much of Europe and the ‘data are showing that, time and again, this Government got the toughest decisions right’.
People will no longer be told to work from home and, from Thursday next week when Plan B measures lapse, mandatory Covid certification will end, Mr Johnson said.
The Government will also no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere from next Thursday and they will be scrapped in classrooms from tomorrow.
The announcement is the latest move as part of ‘Operation Red Meat’ – a policy blitz cooked up by Number 10 in a bid to win back the support of Tory MPs and voters following the Partygate row.