More than HALF of people in England now have Covid antibodies thanks to huge vaccination drive

Almost 55 per cent of people in England now have Covid antibodies, suggesting at least half of the population now has some immunity against the disease.

A major Office for National Statistics (ONS) testing survey today revealed 54.7 per cent of people in England had the virus-fighting proteins in the week ending March 14, up from 50.8 per cent the week prior.  

The figure is likely to be even higher now because millions more have been vaccinated since the blood tests were conducted a fortnight ago, and it takes about two weeks for immunity to kick in.

It highlights the success of the country’s mammoth vaccine roll-out, which has seen 30.5million Brits given their first dose and 3.7m fully vaccinated.

Boris Johnson is now facing demands to lift lockdown faster, with Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths having fallen to their lowest level for six months. People in England have to wait at least another seven weeks before pubs, restaurants and hotels can fully reopen and allow customers inside. Foreign holidays are also banned until at least May 17.

One Tory MP told MailOnline the PM must bring forward the arbitrary dates in order to ‘maintain public confidence that we are getting our freedom as soon as possible’. Steve Baker, of the Covid Recovery Group, called on No10 to ask SAGE to see whether the relaxation of restrictions could be safely brought forward. 

A Government scientific adviser today also revealed that he sympathised with Brits desperate for life to return to normal. Professor Peter Openshaw, an immunologist at Imperial College London who sits on the NERVTAG panel, said the data on immunity was ‘real positive’. 

Lockdown-weary Britons headed to beaches and parks today to sizzle on hottest day of the year and enjoy their newfound freedoms. Across the south, temperatures are expected to reach 24C (75F) today and Wednesday, as warm as the Spanish holiday isle of Majorca. 

The ONS report — based on random blood tests of around 30,000 adults — revealed the amount of people with detectable antibody levels across the rest of Britain on March 14 stood at 50.5 per cent in Wales, 49.3 per cent in Northern Ireland and 42.6 per cent in Scotland.   

As well as through jabs, antibodies are made in response to previous infection. Their presence in blood generally means someone has some at least some protection against the disease and won’t fall ill. But they are not the only part of the immune system.

But the report showed the number of elderly Brits with antibodies has started to decrease for the first time since the vaccination programme was launched. It found levels fell slightly among people in their 80s and late 70s in the most recent week.

But the agency insisted that this does not mean these people are no longer immune. It believes these were simply people who were coming to the end of the three-month gap between doses, with antibody levels known to fade over time — especially in older people who have weaker immune systems.

Hundreds of people flock to Barry Island beach in South Wales today as the temperatures soar in parts of Britain

Hundreds of people flock to Barry Island beach in South Wales today as the temperatures soar in parts of Britain

It comes as lockdown-weary Britons head to beaches and parks to sizzle on hottest day of the year and enjoy their newfound freedoms (pictured in Hyde Park)

It comes as lockdown-weary Britons head to beaches and parks to sizzle on hottest day of the year and enjoy their newfound freedoms (pictured in Hyde Park)

Across the south, temperatures are expected to reach 24C (75F) today and Wednesday, as warm as the Spanish holiday isle of Majorca

Across the south, temperatures are expected to reach 24C (75F) today and Wednesday, as warm as the Spanish holiday isle of Majorca

In other coronavirus developments:

  • Scientists in Norway and Germany believe the tiny number of people who suffered blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine suffered an autoimmune reaction, which saw their body attack its own blood platelets. They say the condition could be easily diagnosed and treated;
  • More than 150,000 Covid deaths have been recorded in Britain since the pandemic began, separate ONS figures revealed today – but weekly fatalities in England and Wales dropped below 1,000 for first time in six months;
  • A new interactive map sheds new light today on how companies across the UK have been affected by the coronavirus
  • Public concern about coronavirus has fallen sharply in the past month in a sign that the nation’s mood towards the disease is changing as the vaccination drive continues, according to a new survey conducted by Ipsos MORI; 
  • The SNP’s deputy first minister John Swinney has apologised for breaking lockdown rules after he was pictured on the campaign trail with four other party activists;
  • Men who contract Covid-19 treble their risk of developing erectile dysfunction, according to new research from doctors at the University of Rome;
  • Britain could enjoy its hottest March day for more than 50 years today – as temperatures rocket in time for the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Britain is giving the vaccines out 12 weeks apart, as opposed to the three-week window trialled in studies of the jabs, because they were found to be so successful after one injection. 

The strategy has helped get wider swathes of the population vaccinated quickly.

Why you should NOT be worried about declining antibodies 

The ONS report found that antibody levels had waned in elderly Brits in the most recent week.

The number of people in their late 70s and 80s who tested positive for the proteins has been falling since mid-February.

But experts have repeatedly said that declining antibody levels do not mean less immunity.

They claim current tests are too insensitive to pick up on the small levels of antibodies that the body keeps in reserve for future infection once the initial illness or vaccine reaction dies down. 

When someone becomes infected with Covid or starts to gain immunity from vaccination, their antibody levels spike in the blood.

But their volume drops sharply once the acute illness ends, or after the vaccines takes ahold in the body.

At this point the body does not view Covid as an immediate threat so its production of antibodies slows down.

But the immune system stores the memory of how to fight the virus and maintains its ability to mass-make the antibodies at the drop of the hat, if the body is faced with the same pathogen in the future. 

Dr Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University, previously told the New York Times: ‘Even if their antibodies wane below the limits of detection of our instruments, it doesn’t mean their ‘memory’ is gone.

‘Whatever your level is today, if you get infected, your antibody titers are going to go way up.

‘The virus will never even have a chance the second time around.’ 

However, Covid antibodies are thought to start properly fading after about a year for most people and even quicker for elderly or vulnerable patients.

This is why officials are preparing to give ‘booster’ doses of vaccines in the future.

A small number of people may not produce any antibodies to the coronavirus at all.

But even in that unlikely event, patients should still have cellular immunity, which includes T cells – a type of white blood cell – that learn to identify and destroy the virus. 

Studies have suggested that virtually everyone infected with Covid seems to develop T-cell responses.

The ONS figures are for people in private households and do not include settings such as hospitals and care homes. Regional estimates range from 60 per cent for North West England to 50 per cent in the South East.

Meanwhile, the PM is facing increasing pressure to do away with Covid curbs quicker now that all the key metrics are firmly in retreat. 

Figures yesterday revealed that four NHS regions — covering 29 million people across the whole of southern England — recorded no deaths at all on Sunday. Just 23 deaths were posted across the entire country.

The average daily death toll of 63 is down by a quarter in the last week and has fallen by 95 per cent since the peak in January. 

It now stands at the same level as late June last year — shortly before the ban on indoor socialising was lifted following the first national lockdown.

Yet Britons have to wait at least another seven weeks before pubs, restaurants and hotels can fully reopen and allow customers inside. Foreign holidays are also banned until at least May 17.

Tory MP Steve Baker, from the Covid Recovery Group, told MailOnline: ‘Once again the data shows the Government is succeeding beyond all of our expectations.

‘The Prime Minister should now have the models updated to see whether he can bring forward his ‘no earlier than’ dates. That is the only way to really maintain public confidence that we are getting our freedom as soon as possible.’

Marcus Fysh, the Conservative MP for Yeovil, said that while he was ‘broadly happy with the direction of travel’, the Government will need to ‘reconsider’ its dates if positive data continues to mount. 

Former cabinet minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it was ‘mad’ to keep crippling restrictions in place a day longer than necessary.

‘It is obvious that the vaccine is working,’ he said. ‘People could reasonably ask what the point of having the vaccine is if we have to keep everything locked down for so long.

‘But the scientists are locked into their view and my fear is that they will see even this cautious road map as too fast.

‘We cannot afford to go any slower, and in my view we should be going faster. We are in danger of throwing away all the economic benefit of rolling out the vaccine so fast by keeping everything locked down for far longer than necessary.’

At a Downing Street press conference last night, the Prime Minister said it was a ‘big day’ for millions who had been unable to see friends or play sport for many months,

But the PM warned that further steps had to be ‘cautious’ — and warned it was ‘inevitable’ there would be an ‘uptick’ in cases as restrictions are relaxed. He also raised fears that a third wave in Europe could spark another crisis here. 

Under the current roadmap, the next easing of restrictions happens on April 12, when non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms are allowed to reopen and pubs and restaurants can open outdoors. It is not until May 17, that pubs and restaurants can open to customers inside with social distancing restrictions. Hotels are also shut until then. 

SAGE scientist ‘sympathises’ with people who want to lift lockdown now 

Professor Peter Openshaw said he sympathised with the view that people should just be able to get on with life now the most vulnerable are protected.

‘We all want to get back to our lives as much as possible and I think the route to that is to get the vaccination rates as high as possible,’ he said.

‘There is no reason to hesitate to vaccinate as many people as possible. The last thing we want is vaccines sitting in warehouses and not being put into people’s arms… we need to get these vaccines out as fast as possible, and then move on with the new variant vaccines.’

He said new evidence coming from South Africa suggested ‘that those who have acquired immunity through exposure to the new variants are actually protected not only against the new variants, but also against the old variants.

‘So I think that’s a real positive ray of hope with the way in which the immune system is responding, is that we are learning ways that we can now train it much more broadly against the old and the new variants to give much broader protection.’

However, the PM last night raised renewed fears that a third wave of the virus in Europe could make its way to the UK.

He said said that despite rolling out the vaccine to more than 30million people ‘we don’t know how robust our defences are against another wave’. He added: ‘We have seen what is happening with our European friends. Historically, at least there has been a time lag and then we have had a wave ourselves.

‘That’s why I stress the importance of everybody maintaining the discipline people have shown for so long.’ Senior business figures last night urged the PM to move faster on easing a lockdown estimated to be costing the country more than £500 million a day in lost output.

Itsu founder Julian Metcalfe said: ‘All the Government can do is promise the country they’ll stick to the data and the facts, and the facts say there is a lot to celebrate with the vaccine and the numbers, which are absolutely plummeting.

‘Every week makes an enormous difference to us and everybody on the high street.’ Rob Pitcher, chief executive of Revolution Bars, which has 70 venues, said: ‘With the data being so positive there is a real need for the timetable to be re-examined. Everything should be brought forward so that we’re getting economy moving at the earliest, and safest, opportunity.’ Yesterday’s Covid data revealed that no coronavirus deaths were reported across the whole of southern England on Sunday, for the first time in over six months.

Four of the nine NHS England regions – London, the South East, South West, and East of England – recorded no deaths from the virus.

The milestone provides yet more clear evidence of the phenomenal success of the UK’s world-beating vaccination programme.

With all of the most vulnerable now immunised, the number of over-65s testing positive for Covid-19 has fallen below 200 a day.

And cases among over-80s are averaging just 78 a day, after topping 3,000 a day in early January.

In London alone, previously the centre of the epidemic, there had been more than 200 deaths a day in mid-January.

But on Sunday the capital recorded zero deaths, for only the second time this year.

Cases and hospitalisations have also plunged to their lowest levels since September, and doctors yesterday spoke of the ‘wonderful feeling’ as pressure on the NHS lifts.

There are just 4,560 Covid patients in hospital, down from 39,249 at the peak in mid-January.

It means hospital wards which were converted into intensive care beds can now go back to being used for routine care.

However Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, said caution was necessary as vaccines were not ‘100 per cent protective’.

He added: ‘If the rates were much higher then obviously the amount of hospitalisation would be higher, which reinforces the point that the thing that we need to do is try and keep rates down and be sensible, as we unlock.’ Professor Chris Whitty added that there was a ‘high likelihood’ cases would rise as lockdown restrictions were steadily lifted.

He said a ‘wall of vaccinations would help protect the UK’, but added: ‘It is not a complete wall, it is a kind of leaky wall. Therefore, there will always be some people who either have chosen not to be vaccinated, or where the vaccine has had much less effect.’

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