Britain's daily Covid deaths plunge by another third to 63, while cases creep up by 1.5% to 6,397 amid school testing blitz

  • Department of Health data showed 63 deaths were recorded today, down by a third on the 95 from last week
  • Some 56 of 149 local authorities saw an uptick in their Covid infections last week, says Public Health England
  • But when this is broken down by age it shows case rates were only rising among school children
  • They fell fastest, however, among the over-70s and plunged to their lowest rate in this group since August Britain's daily Covid death toll fell by a third week-on-week today, as official data showed cases were only rising because of a testing blitz in schools. 

    Department of Health data showed a further 63 deaths from the virus were recorded, down 33 per cent on the 95 announced at the same time last week.

    And health chiefs also revealed a slight uptick in cases after 6,397 were registered, up by 1.5 per cent compared to the 6,303 from last Thursday. The number of swabs done daily has doubled - to around 1.1million - which experts say is leading to more cases being detected.

    It came as separate data from Public Health England showed Covid outbreaks grew in a third of England's local authorities last week — but the rise was only driven by a huge testing blitz of schoolchildren because of classrooms being reopened. 

    Fifty-six of 149 council areas saw an uptick in cases over the week to March 21, according to the latest surveillance report from Public Health England.

    But when the figures were broken down by age, they showed infections only spiked week-on-week among five to nine-year-olds, by more than half, and 10 to 19-year-olds, by a quarter.

    Cases dropped in all other age groups, and are now at their lowest levels since August in the over-70s — who are most at risk from the virus. Everyone in the group has been offered at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.

    Under Boris Johnson's ultra-cautious lockdown-easing plan, schools were reopened to all pupils on March 8. But children and teachers have been asked to swab themselves for the virus twice a week, prompting an inevitable uptick in cases.

    Experts say this doubling in the number of tests done daily - to around 1.1million every 24 hours - is behind the rise in infection rates, adding that had these tests not been carried out many of these infections would have gone unreported.

    Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE's medical director, warned cases appeared to have 'plateaued' in most parts of the country, and were rising in younger age groups. She added: 'We must not drop our guard now after so much effort by so many. We need only look to Europe to see how easy it is for things to take a turn for the worse.'

    Sir Jeremy Farrar, a top SAGE adviser, warned today it appeared 'transmission was just starting to tick up' across England because schools had reopened. But the Wellcome Trust chief said the biggest threat was from abroad, amid a spiralling third wave in Europe and the mounting spread of dangerous variants — including the South African strain — that make vaccines less effective.

    It comes as Matt Hancock admitted today he cannot rule out trying to renew controversial Covid laws again in the autumn despite a successful vaccine roll-out.

    Furious Tory backbenchers demanded 'draconian' measures are removed 'at the earliest possible opportunity'. MPs will vote this afternoon on plans to extend emergency powers to the end of September, even though the lockdown officially ends in June.

  • The European Union descended into civil war with Austria slamming states for hoarding supplies after Brussels steps away from 'stupid' export ban;
  • Boris Johnson is set to unveil new 'take the next step' slogan to replace 'stay at home' order;
  • Britain could be hit by an 'exit wave' of Covid cases as lockdown ends but there won't be a huge surge in deaths or cases, Sage advisers said;
  • Most Britons think Brexit WAS the right thing to do after EU vaccine shambles, poll reveals;
  • The Prime Minister admits vaccine passports 'have a role to play' but not until 'everybody' is offered one;
  • More than 150 mass vaccination centres could close next month as shortages force under-50s to wait;
  • MPs to go on three-week Easter recess from tonight despite Government preparing a flurry of crucial Covid lockdown moves;
  • Israel has now given Covid vaccine doses to more than half its population in world-beating roll-out. 
  • Public Health England data showed infection rates were ticking upwards in central England, in parts of London and across the East and South East.

    But they continued to fall across the rest of the nation, and dipped fastest in Devon, the Lake district, and in large parts of Manchester and Liverpool.

    The largest spike in infection rates was recorded in Dudley, outside Birmingham, where they rose by 65 per cent (to 85.5 cases per 100,000 residents). Dr Lisa McNally, the public health director for neighbouring Sandwell, has said the rise may be linked to the return of schools and more tests being carried out.

    Rutland had the second-highest rise, where they jumped by 55 per cent (42.6 per 100,000). The county has faced Covid outbreaks before driven by the local prison - HMP Stocken - but rates remained low in the community.

    Northumberland had the third-highest spike in infections, after they jumped by 54 per cent (74.7 per 100,000). Covid outbreaks have already been reported at two local schools in the county.

    On the other hand, the Isle of Wight saw the biggest fall in cases last week after they tumbled by half to 9 per 100,000. The Department of Health's dashboard shows there were only 18 cases on the island by March 19.

    It was followed by Middlesbrough (61.7 per 100,000), North Somerset (24.6 per 100,000), Croydon (21.1 per 100,000), and North East Lincolnshire (89.6 per 100,000), where cases dipped by 43 per cent in each respectively.

    When the data was broken down by age group, it showed infections were rising fastest among school children while continuing to fall in all other age groups.

    In five to nine-year-olds it ticked upwards by 60 per cent (63.5 per 100,000), and in 10 to 19-year-olds it ticked upwards second fastest by 26 per cent (100.7 per 100,000).

    The Covid infection rate fell fastest among over-70s, however, where it dipped by 22 per cent (13.3 per 100,000), and 60 to 69-year-olds, where it also dipped by 22 per cent (25.3 per 100,000).

    Figures show over-60s have already been offered their first dose of the Covid vaccine, with Britain's successful roll-out now aiming to inoculate everyone over-50 by mid April. 

    Studies show the jabs protect people from being hospitalised or dying if they catch the disease, and there have also been suggestions that they are less likely to become infected.


    The EU descended into bitter squabbling over vaccines today as it held a crunch summit - after Emmanuel Macron delivered an humiliating mea culpa over bungling.

    Austria accused other member states of taking more than their fair share of jabs, warning that failure to resolve their grievances risked 'damage to the EU like we haven't seen in a long time'.

    The bruising intervention by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz came as leaders held a 'virtual' gathering amid panicky threats from the commission to ban vaccine exports, with new rules targeted at Britain.

    France and Germany are backing tough action as they face massive pressure over dire rollouts, but Ireland and many other member states are alarmed at the idea of undermining legal contracts.

    Former commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker waded into the spat this morning, branding the idea of a 'vaccine war' stupid and raising fears it will cause 'major reputational damage' to the bloc.

    The EU and UK issued a joint statement pledging to work together last night, after Boris Johnson warned that businesses could flee the bloc's borders if it imposed 'arbitrary' blockades.

    And Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivered another blunt rebuke today, insisting that the UK's contract with AstraZeneca was fundamentally better than the EU's.

    'I believe that free trading nations follow the law of contracts,' he told the FT. 'They have a ''best efforts'' contract and we have an exclusivity deal.'

    On a visit to a nursery today, Boris Johnson said he was 'on the side of openness' in trade in vaccines.

    He said: 'One thing I am firmly libertarian about is free trade and I don't want to see blockades of vaccines or of medicines, I don't think that's the way forward either for us or for any of our friends.'

    Britons want Covid IDs in place for entering gyms, pubs and cinemas

    More Britons think vaccine passports should be brought in for people using gyms than those visiting hospitals or GP surgeries, a poll has found.

    Fifty-six per cent of respondents want the certificates to be in place for those wanting to work out while only 43 per cent say they should be enforced at medical centres, the YouGov survey tweeted today said.

    Over half - nearly six in ten - said they would support the plans and more than a quarter - 28 per cent - said they would strongly back the idea.

    But 34 per cent of the country said they were against the plans to use the system as the country edges closer to freedom on June 21.

    The YouGov poll found a plan to bring in vaccine passports during the rollout was backed by voters - 64 per cent of Tory supporters, 60 per cent of Lib Dems and 55 per cent of Labour fans.

    But those against the system are mainly among the younger generation who are less likely to have had their Covid jab yet.

    In the 18 to 24-year-old category, the survey found 45 per cent were in favour, while 42 per cent were against. But this changed when asked if they would support it after everyone was jabbed, with the figures shifting to 60/27.

    The wider public reacted similarly, with support swelling to seven in ten - just 20 per cent against - a vaccination scheme when everyone has been offered.

    The figures do not vary much when Britons were asked if they backed the controversial idea of vaccine passports for those coming to the UK - with 65 per cent in favour but 35 per cent saying it could be ignored if they isolate.

    The survey also broke down which activities people think should require some sort of Covid vaccination certificate once jabs have been offered to everyone. 

    Two thirds of those asked - 72 per cent - said those wanting to see people in care homes should be forced to carry proof of immunisation.

    But a surprise feature at the top of the list was gyms, which 56 per cent - more than half - said should only be open to people who are jabbed. The figure was the same for pubs and bars.

    Slightly fewer people think the same for restaurants - 53 per cent - while just 44 per cent think proof of a jab should be required for coffee shops and only 33 per cent for beer gardens.

    Meanwhile more than two in five asked in the YouGov poll believe a vaccine should be needed to be allowed to use public transport. 

    'An entirely precautionary approach is simply not feasible here. We know Covid will be with us for some time, perhaps indefinitely, and we cannot respond to that with indefinite restrictions any more than we would or do in response to the risk of other diseases.

    'So although I support much of what the Government has done and is doing in response to the pandemic, I cannot support the continuation of damaging restrictions any longer than I consider they are necessary, which I am afraid is less than the Government propose in these regulations.'

    'Draconian police powers under Schedule 21, which have a 100 per cent unlawful prosecution record, must be considered 'redundant' to say the very least.

    'I am seeking to table an amendment to the motion tomorrow asking ministers to suspend those powers.

    'I now hope the Government can support it.' 

    Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne warned that the renewal of emergency coronavirus powers could lead to 'total social control'.

    The New Forest West MP told the Commons: 'Now those of us who can spot the trajectory will have seen yesterday that after months of denial, now indeed it will be the case that you will have to provide your vaccination bona fides when you go to the pub.

    'And those people who are teetotal imagining that they might be spared that intrusion and inconvenience can dream on, because undoubtedly this will be extended to restaurants, theatres, sporting venues and so proceeding to total social control.

    'Did it ever occur to ministers that they might actually incentivise vaccinations? Carrot, not stick. Undoubtedly it didn't, because they can't kick the habit, they are wedded to the stick.

    'So let there be no wringing of hands by members of Parliament who vote for oppressive legislation and then wail with indignation when the police actually enforce it.

    'So when families are fined thousands of pounds for staying over together at Easter we will know that it was because this House willed it so. So those people, those honourable members wishing for these measures to pass tonight should reflect clearly on exactly what it is they wish for.'

    Government data up to March 23 shows 28,653,523 people have received a first vaccine dose, a rise of 325,650 on the previous day.

    A further 98 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the total by that measure to 126,382.

    As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 5,605 lab-confirmed cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,312,908.

    Sir Jeremy Farrar said he believes it is likely that the ban on international travel will need to continue.

    The Wellcome Trust director said: 'I think it will, until we can see progress in Europe with the epidemic coming down and vaccination rates going up in Europe.'

    Asked about further testing of people coming in, he said lateral flow tests 'don't pick up every case but they do pick up the cases that are more infectious, and that is a very, very important public health intervention'.

    On the issue of vaccine certificates and passports, he said he thinks they could cross the line 'of individual freedoms and public health', adding that 'public health works when there is trust and when people want to do things that are their interests, and in the interests of their community, their families and their society'. 

    Mr Hancock said this afternoon that the Government's goal 'is to be cautious yet irreversible'.

    He told the Commons: 'I must tell the House that whilst I am still by nature an optimist, there remain courses for caution.

    'Cases are rising in some areas and they are rising among those under 18. There are early signs of cases flattening among the working age population too.

    'I am delighted that uptake of the vaccine is now 95 per cent amongst over-60s and that protection against dying from the vaccine is around 85 per cent. Both of these figures, 95 per cent uptake and 85 per cent protection, both of these are higher than we could have hoped for.

    'But while we are confident that we have broken the link between the number of cases and the hospitalisations and deaths that previously inevitably followed, no vaccine is perfect and take-up isn't 100 per cent.

    'So that link while broken is not yet severed. New variants also remain a risk because we don't yet know with confidence the impact of the vaccine against the new variants.'

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