Covid cases fell in every age group in England last week and all regions except London, official surveillance revealed today despite fears the super-strain Omicron may already be spreading in the community.
The UK Health Security Agency’s weekly surveillance report showed the sharpest declines were among the over-70s (down 29 per cent) and over-80s (22 per cent) where most people have received their boosters.
But infections dipped across the board including for under-40s who are yet to be offered a top-up dose, but have had much higher infection rates than older age groups.
Across England infections fell in every region except London, where they rose by two per cent, and in 116 of 149 local authorities or 78 per cent.
The number of lateral flow and PCR tests carried out tumbled 15 per cent, with 4.2million completed in the last seven days compared to 5million the week before.
Despite concerns over Omicron none of the 16 local authorities that have detected the mutant strain recorded a sudden spike in infections. In South Africa, where the strain has taken hold, cases are surging more than sixfold week-on-week.
UKHSA sources said there was still nothing to suggest that the variant was spreading in the community. Omicron was first detected in the UK in a sample taken on November 20, and there have been 32 cases to date.
It came after a separate report from King’s College London scientists suggested cases rose five per cent last week compared to the previous seven-day spell. They also said cases were falling among over-55s.
But their estimates relied on 42,596 swabs for Covid to track the outbreak over the week to November 27, whereas the UKHSA data is based on results from the national testing drive.
No10 unveiled its new scheme to vaccinate all over-18s by the end of January on Tuesday, with the UK today buying 114million more doses in an effort to stop the spread of the new supermutant Omicron variant.
And ministers moved to poise the UK to start administering vaccines to primary school children.
The above graph shows the infection rate by age group. It reveals that Covid cases have fallen in all age groups over the week to November 28, despite only some receiving the booster jab. Testing fell over this period, but experts have also suggested that immunity from past infection and jabs may now be high enough in younger age groups to keep cases low until the spring
The above shows that Covid infection rate fell in every region except London last week. In the capital they rose by two per cent compared to the previous seven-day spell
The ZOE symptom-tracking study estimated that 80,483 people fell ill on any given day in the week ending November 27, based on test results from around 650,000 volunteers
The above maps show percentage change in Covid cases across England in the week to November 21 (left), and November 28 (right). They reveal Covid cases in the country are not surging in any areas where Omicron has been detected
LEWISHAM: The above graph shows Covid cases in the borough by specimen date. Some two Omicron cases have been detected in the borough, and officials are still working to establish whether they are linked to foreign travel
WANDSWORTH: Cases in Wandsworth have been rising since early November, but there have been no sudden spikes. One case of Omicron has been detected in the borough, but it has been linked to travel to South Africa
SUTTON: The above graph shows Covid cases in Sutton over the last three months. One case of Omicron has been detected in the borough, but it is not clear whether this is linked to travel abroad
The UKHSA report is published every week and based on official data from the national testing programme.
Professor Steven Riley, its data director, said: ‘As we observe the Omicron variant emerging, the Delta variant continues to circulate at high levels across all age ranges, and is still causing substantial infection and hospitalisation in older people.
‘Getting vaccinated, or a booster if you are eligible, is an essential step to prevent the spread of Covid in our communities.’
It found infection rates fell fastest among 70 to 79-year-olds (66.8 cases per 100,000), followed by the over-80s (51.8), and 60 to 69-year-olds (202.1) where they were down 18 per cent.
These age groups are currently being offered booster vaccines, and NHS England figures show 77 per cent have already got their third dose (10million out of 13million people).
Ministers are ‘standing ready’ to vaccinate five to 11-year-olds against Covid
The UK is poised to start administering Covid vaccines to primary school children amid fears of the looming Omicron wave.
George Freeman, a business minister, told Sky News today: ‘We’re looking at the science on that and the balance of the rollout.
‘(Sir) Patrick Vallance, our chief scientist, and (Professor) Chris Whitty are advising on that and it is their advice that guides us.’
He said the priority was vaccinating older adults who will be most vulnerable to Omicron if the mutant virus becomes widespread in the UK.
Mr Freeman added: ‘The data at the moment suggests that young children are much less vulnerable but, as and when that data changes, we are guided by the science and we stand ready, which is partly why we have procured the vaccines – to make sure we can deliver what our citizens and patients need.’
People aged 50 to 59 saw their infections dip by 10 per cent last week (down to 353 per 100,000), and they also fell by six per cent among 40 to 49-year-olds (545.6).
Latest data shows some 30 per cent of people in these groups have already got booster doses (4million out of 14.7million people).
UKHSA data also showed that among 30 to 39-year-old cases dipped by 4.5 per cent last week (to 439.4 per 100,00), in 20 to 29-year-olds by 8.5 per cent (263.5 per 100,000), in 10 to 19-year-olds by 8.7 per cent (758.3 per 100,000) and in 5 to 9-year-olds by eight per cent (873.8 per 100,000).
Across England’s regions, the infection rate in London ticked up from 325.9 to 331.3 per 100,000.
Only four areas where Omicron had been detected saw an uptick in infections.
These included Wandsworth (up eight per cent), where one case has been detected but was linked to foreign travel.
Cases also rose in Lewisham (up 8.9 per cent) and Sutton (7.6 per cent), where it is not clear if Omicron infections are linked to foreign travel.
A separate study from the Covid Symptom Study — also run by health data science company ZOE — said cases rose nearly five per cent last week. It estimated that 80,483 people fell ill on any given day in the week ending November 27, based on test results from around 650,000 volunteers.
Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist behind the study, warned the variant has ‘rudely awakened’ the UK to the pandemic and encouraged more volunteers to continue tracking their symptoms to help monitor the strain.
Meanwhile, ministers today moved to poise the UK to start administering vaccines to primary school children amid fears of a looming wave caused by the variant.
But the UK’s chief strategy for dealing with the strain remains vaccinating more vulnerable, older age groups, according to business minister George Freeman.
Professor Spector said: ‘Omicron has rudely awakened many countries, including the UK, from the slumber they had fallen into over Covid.
‘While we need more data to understand the risks this variant presents, I would advise the public not to panic, but remember that it’s important for everyone to be more cautious.
‘Getting your third vaccine, wearing face coverings, avoiding big indoor crowds, and staying home if you feel unwell with cold-like symptoms are some of the best ways to slow the spread.
‘The ZOE Covid Study is going to be one of the key tools in the fight against this new variant.
‘We need everyone logging their symptoms, test results and vaccines in the app to quickly understand this new variant and help the world keep it at bay.’
The figures show cases are highest in children aged under 18, who are seeing more than 32,000 symptomatic infections per day — although the numbers have fallen over the week.
Covid was most prevalent in the East Midlands, East of England and South East, where one in 57 people were infected per day during the week
The study estimated the R rate — the average number of people an infected person will pass the virus onto — is around 1.0 for the whole of the UK.
Figures show cases are highest in children aged under 18, who are seeing more than 32,000 symptomatic infections per day — although the numbers have fallen over the week.
In contrast, people aged 75 and over have the lowest level of illness, with less than 1,000 cases estimated in the age group each day.
Covid was most prevalent in the East Midlands, East of England and South East, where one in 57 people were infected per day during the week.
London and the North West had the lowest rates with one in 68 people falling ill with the virus during the week.
Figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) yesterday showed Britain’s Covid crisis appeared to pick up again, with cases and deaths increasing together for the first time in four days.
Britain recorded 48,374 new cases over the last 24 hours, up 10.8 per cent on last week’s total of 43,676.
It was the first time the amount of positive tests increased week-on-week since last Friday, despite eight new cases of the supermutant Omicron variant being detected in England yesterday, bringing the UK’s total to 22.
Likewise, the number of people dying with the virus increased 14.8 per cent to 171 today, up from 149 recorded last Wednesday.
But hospitalisations continued to fall, with 706 people admitted to hospital with coronavirus on Saturday, the latest date data is available for.
The Government data showed 393,000 adults received their third booster vaccine dose yesterday, taking the total number of people fully vaccinated against the virus to 18.6million.
Some 30,500 received their first dose, while 32,000 were given second jabs.
Pfizer boss Dr Albert Bourla today said Britons could need a Covid vaccine every year to maintain its ‘very high’ levels of protection.
Dr Bourla, who heads up the UK’s top vaccine supplier, suggested in an interview that top-up jabs could be needed for years to come.
He said Pfizer was already working on a tweaked jab to fight the Omicron variant, which may be better at evading vaccine-induced immunity than other variants.
It comes after the UK purchased another 114million doses of Covid vaccines that could be edited to fight variants.
The deal suggests ministers are preparing to boost the nation’s immunity for at least the next two winters.
Dr Bourla told the BBC: ‘Based on everything I have seen so far, I would say that annual vaccinations… are likely to be needed to maintain a very robust and very high level of protection.’