Covid cases plummet 25 per cent week-on-week down to 30,693

Britain’s Covid crisis continued to shrink today, official data showed as amid hopes a triple boost of falling infections, faster booster jabs and a ‘wonder pill’ will aid the UK’s fight against the virus this winter.

Department of Health bosses posted a further 30,693 new infections over the last 24 hours, up 25 per cent on the 41,278 recorded last Saturday.

It was the 14th day in a row cases fell week-on-week, barring Monday — a blip that was down to Wales not publishing any infection numbers the previous week.

The number of people dying with the virus also fell 6.6 per cent to 155, down from 166 last Saturday. 

And hospitalisations fell to 1,055 on Tuesday, the latest date data is available for. They were down 3.2 per cent on the previous week.

The figures come after hopes in Britain’s fight against the virus were booster by faster booster jabs, a new treatment that can half the risk of serious infection, as well as plunging infection rates.

From Monday the double vaccinated will be able to book their third dose a month earlier than before.

In a second significant development, a new antiviral pill has been found to slash the risk of vulnerable people being hospitalised or dying from coronavirus.

And official figures yesterday showed that the infection rate and the R-rate have both fallen. Cases have dropped by a third in a fortnight – from 49,298 to 34,029.

Britain is no longer ‘Europe’s Covid capital’: Belgium, Austria and Ireland’s outbreaks overtake UK 

Britain’s Covid outbreak is no longer the worst in Western Europe, according to official data that shows infections are beginning to soar across the continent.

Cases spiked in the UK when schools went back in September, which led to the country being branded Europe’s coronavirus capital by advocates of the Government’s ‘Plan B’ strategy.

Many scientists, including No10’s own, argued that the UK was only recording higher case, hospital and death rates because it is testing far more than other EU nations.

But latest statistics show Austria, Belgium and Ireland have all overtaken Britain in Western Europe’s infections league table. This is despite all three countries having a mix of tougher restrictions, including face masks, work from home guidance and vaccine passports.

And Germany today reported its highest ever daily infection toll, prompting the country’s health minister to warn the fourth wave has hit the country with ‘full force’. The World Health Organization warned Europe is ‘back at the epicentre’ of the pandemic.

Britain led the way with Covid vaccinations at the start of the year and was months ahead of the rest of the EU, which many scientists believe led to immunity waning quicker here and left the country vulnerable to another uptick in cases.  

In other coronavirus developments: 

  • A hospital boss warned patients may be despatched up to 88 miles away for treatment in a stark message to staff over a bed crisis at its hospital;
  • The FTSE regained more ground on the back of positivity surrounding the breakthrough with Pfizer’s Covid pill;
  • It was announced Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine inventors, is set to deliver this year’s prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture;
  • A headteachers’ union said Ofsted should defer school and college inspections on request because of the ongoing disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic;
  • A mother who gave birth to ‘miracle’ baby while on life support last year with Covid urged pregnant women to get vaccinated;
  • Official data showed Britain’s Covid outbreak is no longer the worst in Western Europe with infections beginning to soar across the continent.

One expert said the latest figures suggested that coronavirus infections may now have peaked across England.

Ministers have faced fierce criticism over booster jabs, with the sluggish pace of the rollout blamed for high case numbers.

So far third doses could only be booked when they become due – six months after a second jab. That resulted in people waiting weeks for a convenient appointment, at a time when their immunity was waning.

But next week bookings can be made a month in advance online or by calling 119.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Mail last night: ‘Ahead of the peak winter season these are three really important developments that give us hope. The best thing anyone can do, to keep the virus at bay, is get their jab if they haven’t already or their booster as soon as they are eligible.’

He added: ‘Covid-19 vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your family ahead of a challenging winter and this change to the booking system will make it as easy as possible for people to book their booster jabs.

From Monday the double vaccinated will be able to book their third dose a month earlier than before

From Monday the double vaccinated will be able to book their third dose a month earlier than before

Pfizer pill slashes risk of getting seriously ill 

By Victoria Allen, Science Correspondent for the Daily Mail 

A new antiviral pill slashes the risk of vulnerable people being hospitalised with or dying from Covid-19 by almost 90 per cent.

Britain has already ordered a quarter of a million doses of the drug, called Paxlovid.

This week it was first in the world to approve a similar antiviral, molnupiravir, which can be taken at home by high-risk people. The UK has secured 480,000 doses.

Trials of Paxlovid, involving an initial 1,219 participants, were stopped early because it worked so well.

Among those who took the drug – which is made by US firm Pfizer – within three days of getting Covid symptoms, less than 1 per cent were admitted to hospital and none died.

Those given a dummy pill did much worse, with 7 per cent hospitalised and seven deaths.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the results were ‘incredible’ and that the medical regulator would now assess the drug’s safety and effectiveness.

He said: ‘If approved, this could be another significant weapon in our armoury to fight the virus alongside our vaccines and other treatments, including molnupiravir, which the UK was the first country in the world to approve this week.’ Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, said: ‘Today’s news is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic.

‘These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorised by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalisations.’

Pfizer’s combination treatment contains a ‘protease inhibitor’, which blocks a key enzyme Covid needs to multiply in the body.

This is given with a low dose of an HIV drug called ritonavir, which keeps it in the body for longer to counteract the virus.

The pill works differently to molnupiravir, which was approved by the medical regulator on Thursday and is made by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and MSD – the UK arm of US pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Molnupiravir works by incorporating genetic errors into the virus so that it is less able to replicate. But both antiviral pills represent a landmark change in how the pandemic is tackled, as they could be taken at home without the need for infusions or injections.

When people were given Paxlovid within three days of symptoms appearing, 1 per cent were hospitalised in the following 28 days, and none died.

That compared to seven deaths among people given a dummy pill, among whom 6.7 per cent were hospitalised. The trials involved those who were unvaccinated, infected with the virus and were considered high-risk for hospitalisation due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The results have not yet been published in a journal or checked by other scientists.

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said the antivirals are ‘a vital element for the care of clinically vulnerable people who may be unable to either receive or respond to vaccines’.

‘This will accelerate the booster programme, ensure the NHS is able to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and importantly help more people maintain protection against Covid-19 as we know immunity will dip over time.

‘Please do not delay – come and get the jab to keep the virus at bay.’

Ministers had hoped to offer boosters to 32million people by Christmas but this is looking increasingly unlikely. Only nine million have been given so far.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, has written to Mr Javid calling for more community pharmacies and walk-in clinics to give boosters and children’s jabs. He warned action was needed to tackle the ‘pitifully low’ vaccination rate in youngsters. Just one in four 12 to 15-year-olds has been jabbed, despite a target to vaccinate them all by October half term.

Six million people in England who had a second dose at least six months ago and are eligible for a booster are yet to have it, with the gap continuing to widen, according to the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group.

Protection against symptomatic disease falls from 65 per cent three months after the second dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab to 45 per cent after six months. The figures for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are 90 per cent and 65 per cent.

Over the same timescales, protection against hospitalisation falls from 95 per cent to 75 per cent for Oxford/AstraZeneca and from 99 per cent to 90 per cent for Pfizer/BioNTech. A small change in effectiveness has major repercussions. A drop from 95 per cent to 90 per cent protection against hospitalisation would lead to a doubling of admissions in the vaccinated.

Early results from Pfizer show that a booster restores protection back up to 95.6 per cent against symptomatic infection.

Maggie Throup, the vaccines minister, said: ‘The Covid-19 booster programme is making great progress – thank you to the NHS and everybody who has come forward so far to secure vital protection ahead of the winter.

‘I encourage everybody eligible for a booster and flu vaccine to book your jab as soon as possible to keep yourself and your loved ones safe over the coming months.’

Clinical guidance was updated last week to enable Covid boosters to be given slightly earlier to those judged at highest risk. This allows care home residents who may have received their second doses at different times to be vaccinated in the same session, as long as it has been five months since their second dose.

It may also help with other vulnerable groups, such as housebound patients, so that they can have their flu and Covid vaccines at the same time. Covid boosters have been delivered or booked in at almost every older adult care home in England.

Over 9,700 care homes – almost nine in ten – have been visited since the rollout began in mid-September and a further 1,100 homes have visits scheduled for the coming weeks. More than four in five eligible residents have now had their top-up jab.

Some care homes cannot be visited currently because of norovirus or Covid outbreaks but dates have been agreed for future visits, NHS England said.

Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said: ‘Seven million people in England have already received their lifesaving booster vaccine, as the NHS moved at pace to get jabs in arms.

‘While this winter is undoubtedly going to be different, the most important thing you can do is come forward for both your Covid booster and flu jab as soon as possible – now with the added convenience of booking in advance – making it even easier to protect yourself and loves ones.’

The Government yesterday said a further 193 people had died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.

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