UK records seven Covid deaths - down 75% in a week - while cases drop seven per cent to 1,907 as UK shows no sign of post-lockdown surge
UK coronavirus deaths have dropped by more than three quarters in a week after seven fatalities were revealed today.
The number of Covid cases fell slightly to 1,907 from last Saturday's 2,061 as the further easing of lockdown rules looks set to go ahead on May 17.
Today's seven deaths mark a drop on the 15 recorded last Saturday, demonstrating a continued steady decline in fatalities.
It comes after Office for National Statistics data suggested the total number of infections is lower than at any point since early September and infections have been falling constantly for five weeks.
Experts said the data 'should be celebrated' and were the first proof that, despite the reopening of outdoor hospitality and allowing the rule of six earlier this month, there was still 'no evidence of an increased transmission risk'.
Meanwhile, Government data up to April 30 shows that 49,287,257 jabs have been given in the UK so far - 34,346,273 of which are first doses.
A further 129,657 people received their first dose, while 405,456 more Britons had their second.
Evidence that Covid has been stamped out in Britain is now overwhelming as the vaccine rollout speeds ahead and official figures show 22million people - one in three - live in areas where not a single person has died with the virus this month.
The country's hugely-successful vaccine drive - coupled with social distancing rules - has meant just one in 1,000 people in England now have Covid, and the R rate is still below 1.
The drop in figures means the government will likely approve the next stage of England's lockdown easing on May 17.
From that date, limits on outdoor meetings are set to be lifted while the rule of six - or two households rule - will apply indoors.
And international travel looks set to resume as well, but with mandatory Covid tests and quarantine likely remaining in place for most holiday destinations, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Ministers could also relax social distancing between friends and family on May 17 - meaning loved ones kept apart for months may finally be allowed to hug.
Government guidance states the advice 'on social distancing between friends and family' will be updated on May 17.
And a source told The Times: 'The data is looking very good. The scientists say we're on track for the next stage unless something changes dramatically.'
But as the country looks set to open up, several cases of the South African and Brazilian variants were detected across parts of east London.
Surge testing will be deployed in targeted areas within the E1 postcode from Sunday.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that NHS test and Trace was working with Tower Hamlets Council to provide additional testing and genomic sequencing.
It follows the identification of 'several' confirmed cases of the variant B.1.351, first seen in South Africa, and the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil.
The department said all the confirmed cases were self-isolating and there were no links between the new cases and the cluster of cases recently identified in the south London area.
Everyone aged 11 and over who lives, works or is educated in these postcodes is being encouraged to take a test when invited, whether they are showing symptoms or not, the DHSC said.
And today, a former chief scientific adviser to the Government warned that a potential for coronavirus cases to 'reignite' remains as many adults are still unvaccinated.
Professor Sir Mark Walport - a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday that the country was on cusp of being able to loosen more restrictions.
But he warned that, with around 35 per cent of adults not yet vaccinated, there was the potential for the 'spark to reignite' and cases to rise again.
Prof Walport added: 'We are on the cusp of being able to move to the next step of relaxation, it's absolutely right that vaccines have been spectacularly successful but not everybody is protected.
'We've got 35 per cent of adults who are not vaccinated and 60 per cent who have only had one dose and the truth is the virus has not gone away.
'The mistake that has been made repeatedly really is relaxing just slightly too early. What we need to do is get the numbers right down, it's important that we don't act as an incubator for variant cases that might be able to resist immunity.'
He said there are still around 4,600 new cases a day across the UK, adding: 'There's the potential for that spark to reignite, it seems increasingly unlikely, but we need to get the numbers down.'
His warning comes after a club night pilot event in Liverpool - which saw around 3,000 clubbers return to the dancefloor at The First Dance, hosted by club night Circus, without social distancing or face coverings on Friday - was hailed as a 'huge moment' in the journey to normality.
But while Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden also said that social distancing was being eased at the Snooker World Championships on Sunday and Monday, he stressed that any wider loosening of restrictions will be led by the data.
He added: 'This weekend is another huge moment in our journey back to normality.
'Although this may seem like life getting back to normal these are science-led events, gathering valuable research as we leave no stone unturned to help us get back to the things we love this summer.
'We are making good progress but we have been clear that decisions on reopening will be led by the data. Our events research programme is playing its part in building up a crucial evidence base.'
The Government also said that care home residents will be able to spend time with loved ones in 'low risk' visits without having to self-isolate on their return, after being threatened with legal action.
From Tuesday, residents leaving their home for a walk or to visit a loved one's garden will no longer have to isolate for two weeks on their return.
But those leaving for medical appointments and for overnight visits will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days, it is understood.
The DHSC is expected to review the self-isolation requirement for more visits when it reaches the next stage of the Government's road map on May 17.
The latest data shows that 95 per cent of elderly residents have received one vaccine dose and 71 per cent have received two.
The DHSC said updated guidance will be published in due course.
But John's Campaign co-founder Julia Jones said the rule change did not go far enough, while Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory, who is representing the campaign, said legal proceedings were due to be issued next week.
Elsewhere, the Department for Transport has missed a deadline set by MPs for grading countries under the new traffic light system for international travel.
Many people are eager to discover what countries are on the green list to avoid the need to self-isolate, as the ban on overseas leisure travel is expected to be lifted for people in England from May 17 as part of the next easing of coronavirus restrictions.
The Commons' Transport Select Committee issued a report last week which stated that the green, amber and red lists of destinations must be published by Saturday 'at the latest', but the Government said the lists will be made public in 'early May'.
COVID-19 OUTCOMES IN ENGLAND 'WERE WORSE FOR SOUTH ASIANS DURING SECOND WAVE'
South Asian communities in England experienced greater levels of Covid-19 infection, severe disease and death during the second wave when compared to other minority ethnic groups, according to scientists.
Researchers said that while disparities for hospital admissions and death improved for most minority ethnic groups between the first (February to September 2020) and the second wave (September to December 2020) of the pandemic, it widened for those from South Asian backgrounds.
The findings, published in the journal Lancet, are based on 17 million adults in England and is thought to be the largest study to date.
Dr Rohini Mathur, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, said: 'Despite the improvements seen in most minority ethnic groups in the second wave compared to the first, it's concerning to see that the disparity widened among South Asian groups.
'This highlights an urgent need to find effective prevention measures that fit with the needs of the UK's ethnically diverse population.'
The scientists said health factors - such as body weight, blood pressure and underlying health conditions - as well has household size could be some of the key factors for disparity in Covid-19 mortality for South Asian groups.
Based on their findings, the researchers are calling for more intensive strategies tailored to improve outcomes in South Asian communities in addition to reducing structural disadvantage and inequality and improving quality of and access to healthcare across all minority ethnic groups.
Dr Mathur said: 'While multigenerational living may increase risk of exposure and transmission (from children or working age adults to older or vulnerable family members), such households and extended communities also offer valuable informal care networks and facilitate engagement with health and community services.
'In light of emerging evidence that minority ethnic groups are less likely to take up the Covid-19 vaccine, co-designing culturally competent and non-stigmatising engagement strategies with these communities is increasingly important.'
The Covid-19 pandemic is thought to have had a disproportionate impact on minority ethnic communities in the UK when compared with white groups - with living in deprived areas, working in front-line jobs, and having poorer access to healthcare putting them at higher risk of severe disease and mortality.
For their study, the researchers analysed partially anonymised electronic health data from 17,288,532 adults in the OpenSAFELY database.
Ethnicity was self-reported by participants and grouped into five main categories - white, South Asian, black, other, and mixed.
Data showed that during the first wave, nearly all minority ethnic groups had higher relative risk for testing positive, being admitted to hospital and intensive care units (ICU), and death, compared to white groups.
ICU admissions were more than doubled for all minority ethnic groups compared with white groups, the researchers said, with black people more than three times more likely to be admitted to ICU after accounting for other factors.
The researchers found these risks lessened during the second wave for all minority ethnic communities, with the exception of South Asian groups.