Covid deaths tumble again for sixth week in a row despite Omicron

Covid deaths tumble AGAIN for sixth week in a row despite rapid spread of Omicron: England and Wales see just 501 fatalities from virus in 20% weekly drop

  • England and Wales saw their lowest weekly death toll since August 20 when 497 died because of Covid
  • Office for National Statistics (ONS) data distinguishes between deaths caused by the virus and incidentals
  • Cambridge University epidemiologist Dr Raghib Ali described the drop off in fatalities as ‘good news’ 

Covid deaths have fallen for the sixth week in a row in England and Wales, according to official figures that show how Omicron has yet to trigger any uptick in fatalities. 

Office for National Statistics data today revealed the number of people dying with the virus dipped by 20 per cent in the seven days up to Christmas Eve, from 755 to 591. 

But just 501 of the victims were killed by the coronavirus — the smallest weekly toll since August, according to the surveillance report.   

Dr Raghib Ali, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, said the fall in deaths was ‘good news’, arguing the ONS data offers a more accurate picture of the Omicron wave than the Government’s dashboard data.

Government data showed deaths within 28 days of a positive date increased 486 per cent to 334 today — but the figures are skewed because of a backlog of fatalities logged into the system over the festive period. 

And Dr Ali said the proportion of incidental admissions and deaths recorded in the Government’s figures is likely to increase due to Omicron’s prevalence.

Separate data from the ONS show England saw a record 3.3million people — one in 15 — infected with the virus on any given day in the week up to New Year’s Eve.

Experts fear record case numbers across the UK could cause unsustainable pressure on the NHS once they have had time to manifest as severe disease — despite a host of studies showing the super-mutant strain causes less intensive care admissions.

Office for National Statistics data today revealed the number of people dying with the virus dipped by 20 per cent in the seven days up to Christmas Eve, from 755 to 591

Covid deaths fell for the sixth week in a row in England and Wales last week, official data showed today. Graph shows: The overall number of people dying increased in the week up to Christmas Eve but Covid deaths (dark blue bars) fell over the seven days

One of the Government’s leading Covid modellers today appeared to back Boris Johnson’s plan to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave as he claimed that imposing more restrictions now would have little effect.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) which feeds into SAGE, said ‘we’re starting to see things turn around’.

He claimed that if measures had been imposed before Christmas they may have reduced the number of infections but admitted restrictions would be ‘much less effective’ now the outbreak may be peaking. However, he refused to rule out needing more curbs if the wave starts to grow again. 

Dr Tildesley pointed to Omicron hotspot London, where infections and hospital admissions appear to be flatlining already, as reason to be optimistic about how the epidemic will play out in the rest of the country.

There were 347 admissions in the capital on New Year’s Day, the latest day with data, down 7 per cent compared to the previous week. It is the second day in a row admissions have fallen week-on-week.

It comes after the Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference last night that England had a ‘chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country’ because it is milder than older strains.

While daily infections are running at record levels — 218,000 people tested positive yesterday — the number of Covid patients in hospital is still a fraction of previous peaks.

There are 15,000 Covid inpatients now compared to nearly 40,000 last January and about a third of current patients are not primarily sick with the virus. Fewer sufferers are also requiring ventilation.

The ONS data shows overall there were 591 deaths with Covid mentioned on the certificate recorded in the week ending December 24 in England and Wales.

This was down 22 per cent on the 755 recorded the previous week, and the overall lowest level seen since August 20 (570). 

ONS’s data only includes deaths up to December 24 so may not fully reflect the impact of Omicron cases — which took off in the UK in mid-December.

Dr Ali said: ‘Good news from ONS showing weekly Covid deaths to 24 December falling to their lowest level since August and 40 per cent below recent peak in November — reflecting the impact of boosters on deaths, mainly from Delta.’ 

Writing on social media, he said the number of ‘incidental’ deaths recorded in the Government’s dashboard data is likely to increase in the coming weeks because of Omicron, even if real fatalities remain low.

Dr Ali continued: ‘ONS provides the most reliable Covid death data based on death certificates whereas the Government dashboard shows any deaths within 28 days of a positive test. 

‘There is now a gap between the two — 552 on ONS, 660 on dashboard — whereas [in the] previous week it was 755 ONS, 663 dashboard.

‘This gap is likely to be bigger with Omicron as there is a much higher prevalence of infection in the community and therefore a higher percentage of deaths where the positive Covid test was “incidental” — did not contribute — to the cause of death than previous waves. 

‘This is similar to the issue with hospitalisations and we are seeing this now for deaths in hospital too. This means daily dashboard figures are — and will not be — as a reliable guide to true picture in coming weeks.’

It comes after official data today showed cases in are now only going up in over-60s in London.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) statistics showing that infections in the city began to fall before Christmas sparked hopes that the worst was over.

But rates are only tumbling in under-60s currently, according to the same dataset which doesn’t yet reflect New Year’s Eve celebrations. Cases in over-60s, who are more vulnerable to the virus, have yet to slow down since the extremely-infectious variant took off.

Sir Chris Whitty last night said it was too early to say London’s crisis had peaked because hospital pressures were likely to worsen over the coming weeks because of the trajectory. 

However, other experts expect the trend in over-60s to follow that of younger adults and begin falling in the next week or so, mirroring the trend in South Africa — the first country in the world to fall victim to the variant, where infections now appear to be in freefall.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show Covid cases in Omicron hotspot London are now only going up in people aged 60 and above. Graph shows: The case rate per 100,000 in people aged 60 and above (yellow line) and under-60 (red line). Cases have started to drop in under-60s, though the rate still remains above the more vulnerable older age groups

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show confirmed infections have fallen week-on-week on seven of the eight days leading up to December 30 – the latest date regional data is available for – in people aged 59 or below. Graph shows: The week-on-week rate of growth in average cases in under-60s (red line) and people aged 60 and above (yellow line). Cases are falling in under-60s and the rate of growth is slowing in over-60s

Asymptomatic people in England won’t need a confirmatory PCR 

Follow-up PCRs for asymptomatic Covid sufferers who test positive on lateral flow have been scrapped in a bid to ration tests.

Previous guidance to confirm positive rapid tests with more accurate lab results will be removed indefinitely from January 11.

The temporary change has been announced amid sky-high case numbers and unprecedented demand for testing.   

Under the change, people who receive a positive result on a lateral flow device (LFD) will be required to self-isolate immediately for seven days, without PCR confirmation.

The UK Health Security Agency said the ‘vast majority’ of people with a positive LFD result can be confident they have the virus because case rates are so high. It estimates the number ‘false positives’ are as low as one in 3,000.

However, with just under 1.5million LFD tests being conducted across the UK every day, this could still lead to thousands of people who don’t have Covid needlessly having to isolate.

Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that infection numbers are ‘bumpy’ over the festive period because of reporting delays and fewer testes being carried out.

He said: ‘Nonetheless, the rate is the under-60s does look to have peaked and be falling convincingly.

‘This pattern of a short sharp peak is what you would expect from Omicron’s increased transmissibility [and] it also tallies with South African experience.’

Growth rates already suggest that the infection rate in older people is slowing down. 

Professor Livermore added: ‘I would expect a similar peak and drop off, within a week or thereabouts, among the over 60s.’

Separate ONS data today showed a shocking one in 10 Londoners were estimated to have Covid on New Year’s Eve but the statisticians said there were ‘early signs’ that infections had peaked in the capital, which has been hit hardest by Omicron. 

The ONS’ weekly infection survey is regarded as the most reliable indicator of the UK’s outbreak because it uses random sampling of around 100,000 people, rather than relying on people coming forward to be tested.  

The report, used by ministers to guide Covid policy, is normally published on Friday — but its release was moved while infections run at unprecedented levels.

Today’s findings show that around one in 20 people had the virus by New Year’s Eve in Wales and Scotland, both up from one in 40. 

In Northern Ireland, prevalence has increased from one in 40 to one in 25. 

In total, an estimated 3.7million people in all four UK nations had Covid in the most recent week. 

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