Boris Johnson is pushing for schools to be reopened by March 8 after Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told him that the current wave of the coronavirus outbreak peaked last week, according to reports.
The Prime Minister has ordered preparations for the return of schools to be ramped up and is also expected to introduce a slew of new measures to help children catch up with their work.
The fresh optimism comes amid the continuing success of Britain’s vaccine drive, with plans for over-65s to be invited to book appointments for jabs from next week.
Around three million people aged between 65 and 69 will start to be sent letters, meaning that some areas may be able to offer vaccines to those below the age of 70 before February 15.
The news suggests that the UK is well on track to meet an even surpass its target of offering jabs to all over-70s by mid-February.
In another boost, Chris Whitty told the PM that the virus has passed its peak and has been on the decline for a week, according to the Telegraph.
New data shows the virus has fallen to pre-New Year levels in every region of England and on Monday the UK recorded the fewest daily coronavirus deaths since December, with officials posting just 406 more victims as the second wave continues to decline.
Department of Health figures also show cases are continuing to fall, hitting a seven-week low of 18,607 positive tests.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks to Christopher Nicholls who suffered from Covid at the same time as Johnson, as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Batley, Yorkshire on Monday
For comparison, 22,195 infections and 592 deaths were recorded last Monday, meaning cases have fallen by 16.2 per cent week-on-week and deaths by 31.4 per cent.
Government data also revealed another 322,000 Covid vaccines were dished out on Sunday, meaning 9.3million Britons have now received their first dose. No10 promised to vaccinate 13.9million of the most vulnerable by mid-February, in order to begin easing lockdown restrictions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said those who had received a first dose of the life-saving drug included more than half of the over-70s, plus nine in 10 of the over-80s.
One senior Government source said: ‘The Prime Minister is really determined to get children’s education back on track and to make sure that those who have fallen behind don’t stay behind.
‘We are going to make sure we give them the help to do that.’
Discussing vaccines, another source said: ‘We are cautiously optimistic about the target now, and looking ahead to the next age groups. The priority is to ensure that everyone over 70 is offered the vaccine by the deadline, but we are now expecting to be able to start sending letters out to those in their 60s from next week’.
Boris Johnson on Monday insisted lockdown is working and vaccines are effective against coronavirus variants — as he held out hopes summer holidays can happen this year.
The Prime Minister struck a positive tone as he visited a vaccination site in Yorkshire, saying there was evidence of a ‘flattening and maybe even a falling off of infection rates and hospitalisations’.
After a leaked Cabinet Office report hailed the ‘stabilising’ situation, he also stressed that the Government believes all the jabs being used in the UK are effective against all variants. And after mixed messages from ministers he said he was ‘optimistic’ that Britons will be able to go on summer breaks.
But Mr Johnson dodged committing to any timetable, amid fears that the South African version of the disease is transmitting in the community.
The PM told reporters on his visit to the vaccination hub in Batley: ‘We are starting to see some signs of a flattening and maybe even a falling off of infection rates and hospitalisations.
‘But don’t forget that they are still at a very high level by comparison with most points in the last 12 months, a really very high level.
‘So the risk is if you take your foot off the throat of the beast, as it were, and you allow things to get out of control again then you could, alas, see the disease spreading again fast before we have got enough vaccines into people’s arms. That’s the risk.’
10 year old Oscar Mumby and 8 year old Harriet Mumby are assisted with their online schoolwork by their mother Jo Mumby as homeschooling continues. One senior Government source said: ‘The Prime Minister is really determined to get children’s education back on track and to make sure that those who have fallen behind don’t stay behind’
Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty told Boris Johnson that the current wave of the coronavirus had peaked last week
It comes as door-to-door coronavirus testing was launched across eight parts of England where it is feared the South African variant causing panic around the world is spreading in the community.
In a desperate attempt to keep track of the mutated virus that experts fear could hamper the current crop of vaccines, health officials will join forces with local police and firefighters to visit homes in Woking in Surrey, Walsall in the West Midlands, as well as parts of London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Lancashire, to offer residents a swab.
Mr Hancock said tonight people in those areas must take ‘extra special precautions’ amid the threat of an outbreak of the new, highly-infectious variant. He added: ‘The stay at home message is there for everyone but in particular in those areas it’s absolutely vital that people minimise all social contact and get a test when the opportunity arises.
More than 80,000 over-16s will be targeted as part of the huge surveillance scheme and residents will be asked to take a test regardless of whether or not they have symptoms. Mr Hancock said it was ‘imperative’ that people in these areas stay at home and get a test when it is offered to them.
As well as knocking on doors and asking residents to take tests there and then, extra mobile swabbing units will be deployed to all eight postcodes and home testing kits will be available to order online for residents to do themselves.
Public Health England has already spotted 105 cases of the ‘B.1.351’ South African variant since December 22, including at least 11 people — scattered across the eight areas receiving extra testing — who were struck down with the virus but had no history of international travel.
Mr Hancock said ‘enhanced contact tracing’ had been carried out to isolate the 11 patients’ close contacts. There is currently no evidence that the variant causes more severe illness and early studies suggest the current crop of jabs are good enough to protect against it.
Experts fear there could be hundreds more cases already in the UK because PHE only analyses one in 10 random positive samples and the strain cannot be spotted in standard PCR tests. All of the swabs confirmed to have Covid will be sent to labs for further testing.
Health officials are anxious not to let another Covid variant run rampant, after Britain struggled to get a grip on the Kent strain which sparked a devastating second wave that plunged England into its third lockdown at the start of January.
Like the Kent variant, the South African version carries the N501Y mutation which makes it far more transmissible than the original Covid strain. And it has additional mutations on its spike protein which scientists fear will make it difficult for the immune system to recognise, even in vaccinated people. But early tests have shown the current crop of vaccines still work against the variant but may be slightly less effective.
Ministers have already banned travel from South Africa and surrounding countries in response to the threat. In response to the ever-growing threat of dangerous new variants, the Government last week ordered mandatory hotel-quarantines for arrivals from 30 ‘red list’ countries — including Portugal and South Africa.
The PCR test — considered the gold standard method worldwide — looks for three genes present on the original virus that came out of China, the S gene, N gene and ORF1ab. Health officials are able to spot the Kent strain with regular PCR because that variant is missing the S gene.
But the South African version is much harder to track because it shares all three genes with the original strain so PCR results cannot differentiate between the two, meaning researchers need to manually sequence each sample in a laboratory.
PHE sources claimed today they were ‘not expecting a surge in cases’ because the strain is no more transmissible than the dominant Kent one currently plaguing the country, so it has no ‘evolutionary edge’ over it. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said this morning he was ‘confident’ that all the vaccines the UK has ordered will ‘provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants’.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk