England's Covid cases fell 10% last week, surveillance study reveals

England’s Covid cases fell by 10% last week, mass surveillance study reveals as interactive map lays bare worst-hit areas and fears grow that country’s outbreak is growing again with Europe in crisis

  • Office for National Statistics weekly surveillance estimated there were 824,900 Covid cases last week
  • This was down 10 per cent from 925,400 in the previous seven-day spell, but there are hints cases are rising
  • Several Covid studies have suggested cases are starting to rise in younger age groups after schools returned

England’s Covid cases dipped 10 per cent last week, official figures suggested today — amid mounting fears the outbreak is growing in younger age groups.

Office for National Statistics weekly surveillance estimated there were 824,900 Covid cases over the week to November 13, equivalent to one in 65 people. This was down slightly from 925,400 previously.

And No10’s top scientists said the country’s R rate could still be below one (0.8 to 1.0), in a sign the country’s outbreak is still shrinking. But in London and the South East they warned it may now be above this level. 

But the upbeat assessment comes after a slew of reports yesterday warned infections are now rising in children after they returned to the classroom from half-term. 

Experts said, however, that despite the increase they remained ‘optimistic’ that Christmas could go ahead without any restrictions. SAGE scientists say cases will likely trend downwards in school children because so many now have immunity from vaccination or previous infection.

It comes amid a spiralling Covid crisis on the continent, with Austria today becoming the first country to impose another lockdown. It also made vaccines against the virus compulsory for all citizens by February. 

Fears of another Christmas lockdown were sparked this week when Boris Johnson admitted that the drastic action was not completely off the cards at a Downing Street press conference. But the Prime Minister also said there was still nothing to suggest England needed to ramp up its Covid restrictions. 

Sweden now has the lowest Covid infection rate in western Europe — after double-vaccinated nationals were told they don’t have to test for the virus even if they get symptoms. 

Office for National Statistics weekly surveillance estimated there were 824,900 Covid cases in England over the week to November 13, equivalent to one in 65 people. This was down slightly from 925,400 previously

Austria is among the European nations worst-affected by the new wave of Covid, with infections soaring rapidly even as cases rise across most nations on the continent. Generally, those with the lowest vaccination rates are being hit hardest

Covid deaths are still far below rates seen during the first and second waves of the pandemic, thought to be in-part due to protection conferred by vaccines, though have started to climb rapidly in recent days

ONS surveillance relies on random swabbing of more than 100,000 Britons every week to estimate the prevalence of the virus across the country.

It is seen as the gold-standard for tracking the outbreak by ministers because it is not affected by asymptomatic infections when there are no symptoms — thought to make up a third of cases.

Figures suggested Wales had the highest infection rate in the UK last week, with one in 55 people likely infected with the virus. It was followed by England and Northern Ireland, at one in 65, and Scotland, at one in 95.

Austria today made Covid vaccines compulsory for all residents and imposed a full nationwide lockdown.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said that all 8.9million residents will need to have received both doses of the Covid vaccine or face ‘penalties’ by February 1. It is assumed under-12s are exempt from the requirement, as they are not currently being offered jabs in the country.

Lockdown measures in the country will see everyone barred from leaving their homes from Monday, with all non-essential shops closed along with most workplaces and schools.

Previously only unvaccinated residents had been barred from leaving their homes, or attending the workplace or schools.

Some 63.9 per cent of Austrians are vaccinated against the virus, one of the lowest uptakes of the jabs in western Europe. 

When cases were broken down by age groups figures showed only 11 to 16-year-olds saw a drop in cases last week. Infections flatlined in all other groups.

No10’s top scientists estimated the R rate was still between 0.8 and 1.0 as it flatlined from last week.

But they said in London and the South East it could now be above this crucial level at 0.9 to 1.1 and 0.8 to 1.1 respectively.

In the East of England, the Midlands, the North East and Yorkshire, North West and South West they said it was likely between 0.8 and 1.0.

The R rate is a lagging indicator measuring how many infected people are passing the virus on. An R rate below one suggests for every ten people who catch the virus, they are passing it on to fewer than ten others meaning the outbreak is shrinking.

It comes after two surveillance reports yesterday suggested Covid cases are now rising in younger age groups.

King’s College London scientists also estimated infections dipped 10 per cent overall last week, but they said cases appeared to be trending upwards among under-18s. There was still a drop in cases for over-75s, while they flatlined in all other age groups.

And UK Health Security Agency weekly surveillance estimated cases rose sharply in over-18s last week. They said cases also rose slightly among under-70s, but dipped in older age groups.

Britain’s daily Covid cases also appear to be trending upwards, with rises in younger age groups and 50 to 65-year-olds appearing to drive the increase. Children returned to school from half-term on November 1. 

Professor Tim Spector, the eminent scientist who leads the King’s College study, said he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ Christmas will be business as usual this year. 

He said: ‘In terms of what it means for Christmas, I’m cautiously optimistic for the remainder of the year. It’s becoming clear that children and the school holidays play a key role in the waves of infection. 

‘I think it’s safe to say that we can expect to see another rise in the new year after the holidays.’

But he still called on all Britons to get fully vaccinated against the virus, as well as ensuring they have their booster doses. And he urged everyone to start using face masks in crowded spaces such as public transport.

This was a softening in his tone from last month when he joined a chorus of experts calling on ministers to switch to Plan B — bringing back hated face masks, social distancing and work from home guidance. 

Fears of another Christmas lockdown were sparked this week when Boris Johnson admitted that the drastic action was not completely off the cards at a Downing Street press conference. But the Prime Minister also said there was still nothing to suggest England needed to ramp up its Covid restrictions. 

He told a Downing Street press conference: ‘Clearly we cannot rule anything out and the most important thing people can do to prevent further NPIs from being taken is to — non-pharmaceutical interventions that is, further restrictions — get the boosters.’ 

Countries where vaccines are already mandatory

Austria is the first Western nation to mandate vaccines, but it far from the first.

A handful of tinpot dictatorships, smaller nations, and at least one large democracy has already issued vaccine mandates. They are:

Indonesia: President Joko Widodo made jabs mandatory in February this year, with anyone who refuses facing a £250 fine – roughly two months’ salary – and being disqualified from receiving state benefits

Tajikistan: From July this year, all adults over the age of 18 were required to get vaccinated by order of the country’s Covid task-force. It did not specify a penalty for those who refuse

Turkmenistan: Though dictator Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has refused to acknowledge having a single case in the country, he never-the-less made vaccination mandatory for all over-18s starting in July. Punishments for refusal were not specified 

Micronesia: A small South Pacific island nation, it mandated in July that its adult population had to be inoculated against Covid

New Caledonia: A French dependency also located in the South Pacific, it ordered its entire adult population to get vaccinated starting in September 

It comes after Austria today made Covid vaccines compulsory for all residents and imposed a full nationwide lockdown.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said that all 8.9million residents will need to have received both doses of the Covid vaccine or face ‘penalties’ by February 1. It is assumed under-12s are exempt from the requirement, as they are not currently being offered jabs in the country.

Lockdown measures in the country will see everyone barred from leaving their homes from Monday, with all non-essential shops closed along with most workplaces and schools.

Previously only unvaccinated residents had been barred from leaving their homes, or attending the workplace or schools.

Some 66 per cent of Austrians are vaccinated against the virus. This is just below the 67 per cent average for the EU, and the UK where 68 per cent are double-jabbed. 

It is not the first country to make vaccines compulsory. Indonesia required all adults to get jabbed back in February, followed by dictatorships Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in July. Dozens of other countries, including many western nations, require specific groups — such as healthcare workers — to be fully inoculated. 

Speaking today, Schallenberg said: ‘For a long time there was consensus in this country that we do not want vaccinations to be compulsory.

‘For a long time, maybe too long, it was assumed that it would be possible to achieve a high vaccination rate even without an obligation. Now we have to face reality.

‘Whipped up by radical anti-vaxxers, by fake news, too many among us didn’t get vaccinated. The results are overcrowded intensive care units and enormous suffering,’ he added, accusing the un-jabbed of launching an ‘attack on the health system.’ 

Ireland, which imposed a night-time curfew on hospitality businesses this week, has today placed its hospitals on a ‘war footing’ with routine operations cancelled to make room for Covid patients amid a warning from the country’s top doctor that intensive care medics face ‘unthinkable’ choices over who to give care to.

And Germany’s incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz said almost 30 million vaccines need to be administered before the end of the year to ward off the worst effects of the winter wave, which would require the country to more-than double the number of shots it currently gives each day.

He spoke a day after Germany put forward new rules that would restrict the movements of unvaccinated people in states where hospital admissions are high. 

The new three-tier system would require people to show evidence of a vaccination or previous infection to enter public buildings or businesses in states where hospitalisation rates go above 3 in 100,000 people, based on a seven-day average. At present, that will affect 9 of Germany’s 16 states.

King’s College London scientists estimated 65,059 people were falling ill with the virus on any given day in the week to November 13, down from 72,546 previously. This was a dip of 10% and down for the third week in a row 

The UK Health Security Agency’s weekly surveillance report warned Covid cases are starting to rise in younger age groups and their parents (pictured above)

It comes as the NHS app is being updated to show proof of booster jabs in a move which could save Christmas travel plans for the elderly and vulnerable.

It will appear on the travel section of the Covid pass, allowing Britons to visit parts of Europe which now require evidence of a third dose.

While the new feature will initially be limited to travel, it could also make it easier for the UK Government to make the third jab compulsory in domestic circumstances. 

Boris Johnson warned on Monday that the concept of full vaccination would need to be adjusted – with a third jab becoming part of it.

Almost 14million Britons have had the booster but the goal is to administer 40million to people over the age of 40. Younger adults may also be offered the jabs in the near future.

A small but growing number of countries, including Switzerland, Croatia and Israel, are now requesting proof of boosters for arrivals vaccinated many months ago.

France has indicated that proof of a third jab will be required for over-65s to access most venues from December 15.

Austria had required proof of a booster but announced today it is going into a full nationwide lockdown from Monday. The move, which comes just days after the Government imposed a lockdown only for the unvaccinated, makes Austria the first Western European to retreat back into a draconian shutdown since the summer.

A fresh wave of Delta is rolling across the continent and putting pressure on hospitals once again, which has forced most in the EU to bring back some form of curbs.

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