UK Covid cases fall to lowest since Christmas with 22,195 infections and 592 deaths

NEW cases of coronavirus have plunged today – raising hopes the UK may finally be past the peak.

A further 22,195 people have tested positive for Covid overnight in the lowest new total since December 15. Meanwhile, 592 further deaths have been recorded.

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It comes as Boris Johnson confirms some lockdown rules could be lifted in just three weeks.

The PM said he is "looking at the potential of relaxing some measures" ahead of a review of restrictions on February 15.

Week-on-week, cases have dropped 25 per cent – and the number of positive tests recorded today are 40 per cent lower than this time last Monday.

However, deaths in the past seven days have increased by almost ten per cent on the previous week.

In England, 609 more deaths were reported. The casualties were aged between 30 and 101, and 14 – aged 41 to 96 – had no known underlying health conditions.

Most fatalities – 132 – where recorded in the south-east, with 128 in the east and 123 in London, which has been at the epicentre of surging case numbers.

A further 98 deaths were reported in the Midlands, 54 in the north-west, 47 in the north-east and Yorkshire and 27 in the south-west.

In Scotland, 752 positive tests and four deaths were recorded, while 872 new cases and 23 more deaths were reported to health chiefs.

It comes as:

  • Boris Johnson warns all UK arrivals face paying for hotel quarantines
  • MPs have demanded the PM reopen schools
  • Another 33 vaccination hubs opened today
  • An interactive map reveals the 42 places where rates are rising
  • Lee Rigby killer Michael Adebowale is fighting for his life after contracting Covid
  • The South African Covid mutation could be more deadly – and the Kent variation is up to 30 per cent more likely to kill

The PM was today unable to confirm if pupils will return to class before Easter – although he told reporters: "There's nothing I want to do more than reopen schools."

He said the Government is "looking at the data as it comes in, looking at the rates of infection" when asked about the easing of restrictions.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is widely expected to confirm this week that there will be no return to school after the February half-term break, as ministers had hoped.

Mr Johnson said the UK was on track to give the 13million most vulnerable Brits a vaccine by February 15 – and said: "Before then, we'll be looking at the potential of relaxing some measures."

So far, 6,573,570 people have received at least one jab.

However, just yesterday, Matt Hancock suggested any relaxation was a "long, long way" off.

And Mr Hancock will this evening hold a press conference – amid reports tougher measures will be slapped on returning travellers.

The Health Secretary will appear from Downing Street following fears the South African and Brazilian variants could have a level of immunity against the vaccine.

Experts behind the Moderna vaccine – which is due to arrive in the UK in the spring – say the jab is effective against all emerging mutations of the virus detected to date.

These include the super-infectious mutant Kent variant, which officials last week confirmed may be more deadly.

Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, said: "As we seek to defeat the Covid-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves.

"We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine should be protective against these newly-detected variants."

The UK Government has purchased 17million doses of the Moderna vaccine – enough to vaccinate 8.5m people.

Elsewhere, there are signs lockdown is beginning to work – with Covid cases at the lowest level since before the start of 2021 in most regions.

In London, the rolling seven-day rate as of January 20 stood at 557.8 cases per 100,000 people – down from 770.6 a week earlier, and the lowest since the seven days to December 16.

Eastern England is currently recording a seven-day rate of 437.9, down from 561.4 and the lowest since December 17.

South-east and south-west England are also at the lowest level since before New Year's Day.

The picture is more mixed across the Midlands and northern England – and while rates are down, they're not as low as they were at the end of 2020.

The worst-affected area of England remains Knowsley in Merseyside, with Slough in Berkshire in second place and Sandwell in the West Midlands in third.

Wolverhampton in the West Mids and London borough Hounslow make up the rest of the bleak top five.

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