Britain’s daily Covid cases fell again today and hospital admissions now appear to be slowing down as Sir Patrick Vallance said the latest wave of infections had peaked.
Another 87,188 infections were confirmed in the last 24 hours, according to Government dashboard data, marking a 15 per cent fall on the figure last Wednesday.
Daily cases have fallen week-on-week since Friday after rocketing at the start of March, which was attributed to the release of restrictions on Freedom Day and the rise of a more infectious version of Omicron.
Sir Patrick, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, told MPs earlier today that ‘infections are beginning to turn so we may be quite close to, or at, the peak and it may start coming down shortly’.
In another promising sign, the recent uptick in Covid hospital admissions appears to be slowing. A further 2,075 people were admitted with the virus on March 26, the latest date, up just 3 per cent on the previous week.
Daily admissions are now running at about half the level of the second peak in January 2021, but the milder Omicron strains, better NHS testing and wider immunity means around half of Covid patients are not primarily being treated for the virus now.
Covid deaths have crept up only marginally in the last month despite sky-high case rates, with another 213 registered today — up nearly 10 per cent in a week. On average there are 153 Covid fatalities per day.
Speaking to MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Sir Patrick said admissions and deaths could continue to increase for some weeks because of the lag between infection and severe illness.
He also revealed that officials are drawing up a lockdown handbook for future pandemics, suggesting that harsh restrictions could play a part in outbreaks to come.
Sir Patrick, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, told MPs earlier today that ‘infections are beginning to turn so we may be quite close to, or at, the peak and it may start coming down shortly’
Sir Patrick said: ‘I do think it is now going to be incredibly important to look internationally and nationally to try to dissect which components of restrictions are the ones that were the most important.
‘The world should learn from this so there is an advice handbook for the future and also to take into account the different characteristics of viruses.’
Earlier, a member of No10’s Covid nudge unit hinted Britons are not changing their behaviours now despite rising cases and hospital rates because they are less scared.
Professor Ann John, who co-chairs SAGE’s behavioural subgroup, told MPs people are mixing more than when infections were at similar levels as Omicron surged in December.
She admitted the Spi-B group advised Government on how to use fear to change how people behave earlier in the pandemic but said the tactic of fearmongering was ditched soon after.
Meanwhile Sir Patrick warned that a reduction in testing will lead to a ‘decrease in precautionary behaviours’ which could drive up transmission of the virus.
Free universal testing is due to end on Friday in England, with only NHS workers, care home staff and vulnerable patients will be eligible for Government-funded lateral flows from April 1.
More than 300,000 people in England have signed a petition to keep them free for everyone beyond that date, calling the decision ‘learning to die with Covid’ rather than ‘learning to live with Covid’.
School staff, immunosuppressed people and parents are among the signees.
It came as a former top Government scientific adviser warned that ministers have taken ‘no action’ to prepare for the next pandemic.
Oxford University’s Sir John Bell, who served as Boris Johnson’s testing tsar, praised the effort of scientists over the last two years but was highly critical of his old employers.
He said the Government’s pandemic preparedness and public health capacity ‘was poor’ and as a result the first six months of Britain’s Covid response was ‘pretty bad’.
Professor Sir John claimed that despite spending ‘two years in the trenches’ trying to get the systems up to speed, ‘no action’ has been taken to ‘make things better next time’ there is an outbreak of a novel virus.
The lack of preparedness meant that the UK was stung by exorbitant fees for protective gear, did not have sufficient testing capabilities during the first wave and delayed implementing Covid restrictions in March 2020.
Addressing a medical conference today, Sir John said ministers still do not know how well restrictions such as lockdowns and mask-wearing worked.
The Canadian scientist also said getting politicians to understand the science underpinning the crisis was ‘a problem’ and slammed the NHS for its poor contribution to testing.
It comes after ministers announced on Tuesday that free lateral flow tests will be scrapped for everyone except NHS workers, care home staff and vulnerable patients from Friday in England.
The general public will be told there is no need to take a test even if they are symptomatic, though they will be advised to isolate until they feel better.
Rapid Covid tests are being massively scaled back on April 1 as part of the final phase of the Government’s ‘living with Covid’ strategy.
Asymptomatic tests will only be free for frontline NHS, social care and hospice staff during ‘periods of high prevalence’.
Lateral flows will also be funded for patients with Covid-like symptoms in hospital or who are eligible for antivirals because they have an underlying health conditions.
People in ‘high risk settings’ will also be eligible for free tests if they are symptomatic, including prison officers or staff in homeless shelters.
But routine tests for care home and hospice residents will no longer continue and will only be provided in the event of an outbreak or a resident being admitted.
And visitors to hospitals and social care settings will ‘no longer be required to take a test’ upon arrival.