Britain’s Covid-19 infections have fallen by 20 per cent in a week as health chiefs continue to urge the elderly and the vulnerable to receive their booster jabs amid an impending winter wave.
Department of Health bosses reported a further 30,305 cases today, a drop from the 38,009 reported last Sunday.
The number of people dying with the virus also fell by 16 per cent, with 62 deaths reported today compared to 74 on October 31.
It comes as 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.
This week the chief executive of NHS Providers warned that health trusts in England are already at peak winter levels for bed occupancy.
And health secretary Sajid Javid urged the elderly and vulnerable to get their booster jabs as part of a ‘national mission’ to help avoid a return to coronavirus restrictions over Christmas.
He said: ‘Almost 10 million people in the UK have received their Covid-19 booster and third jabs, a phenomenal achievement in under two months.
‘As we approach this milestone, I want to thank those who have come forward and urge everybody across the nation to get vaccinated, get protected and get boosted.
‘We know immunity begins to wane after six months, especially for the elderly and the vulnerable, and booster vaccines will top-up their protection to keep people safe over the winter.
‘I strongly urge everybody who is eligible for a Covid-19 booster or flu vaccine to take up the offer as soon as you can.
‘For those not yet eligible, please help your parents, grandparents or vulnerable loved ones get their jabs, it could save their life.
‘And if you haven’t yet had your first and second vaccines, it is not too late, the NHS will always be there to welcome you with open arms. This truly is a national mission.
‘If we all come together and play our part, we can get through this challenging winter, avoid a return to restrictions and enjoy Christmas.’
The health secretary’s comments came as chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said the NHS is expecting to see a combination of higher levels of Covid and higher levels of flu this winter while dealing with the backlog of care for patients.
In a pre-recorded interview to be broadcast on Times Radio, he said: ‘The accident and emergency pathway is very, very busy. So, at a point when our staff are really exhausted, it is very worrying.
‘The bit that’s particularly worrying is … if you look at acute hospitals, where effectively you look at bed occupancy, which is a very good measure of how busy a hospital is, we’re seeing bed occupancy levels, it’s sort of 94, 95, 96 per cent.’
He added: ‘At this point, before we’re into peak winter. We’ve not seen that before. That’s unprecedented. So, there’s a real sense that the NHS is going to be under real pressure.’
From Monday the double vaccinated will be able to book their third dose a month earlier than before.
It comes as a second significant development, a new antiviral pill was also found to slash the risk of vulnerable people being hospitalised or dying from coronavirus.
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 called for people to come forward for their third doses, stating that younger relatives should urge eligible parents and grandparents to take up the offer
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.
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.’