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The slowing of Covid cases is continuing in the U.S., with cases now down five percent nationwide over the past two weeks, and it is starting to appear that mid-January was the peak of the Omicron variant’s surge. The U.S. is now averaging 723,820 cases per day. Individual states are starting to see case shrink as well, with zero states now recording an increase of cases of more than 100 percent over the past two weeks.

Health experts have speculated that Omicron would peak soon. The rapid transmission of the variant caused cases to skyrocket, but also made sure it quickly ran out of people to infect. Data from abroad, and specifically the UK and South Africa, showed that the variant peaks quickly, then falls quickly, once it take hold.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. was recording 766,939 cases per day. Last weeks totals are skewed by the Martin Luther King Jr day holiday, and lagged reporting of cases throughout the week caused lower case number early in the week. 

Despite the slowing of cases, deaths remain on the rise. The U.S. is averaging 2,122 new daily Covid deaths, up 30 percent over the past two weeks. Deaths often lag behind case by around two weeks. It appears that cases peaked at 806,364 per day on January 15, meaning it is likely deaths peak in the coming days as well.

Dropping cases nationwide is also being reflected in state-by-state Covid figures. According to official data, not a single state in the U.S. has had its new daily cases double over the past two weeks. Only two weeks ago, every single state in the country had experienced cases jumping by more than 100 percent.

States that were hit the earliest by the Omicron variant are seeing the sharpest decline as well. New York and New Jersey – the neighboring states that quickly suffered massive surges last month – are both recording two-week daily case declines of nearly 70 percent as the virus appears to subside.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a bizarre move on Tuesday despite rising cases, halting the use of monoclonal antibody treatments developed by major pharmaceutical companies like Regeneron and Eli Lilly. 

The agency notes the apparent lack of effectiveness these drugs have against the Omicron variant as the reason for the decision.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier this month that Omicron was not causing many deaths in the U.S., and instead the lingering cases of the Delta variant were causing the most harm to Americans.

In the time since, the Omicron variant has almost totally overtaken Delta – accounting for more than 99 percent of active cases in the U.S. per CDC data. Deaths in the U.S. have continued to rise despite the 

Monoclonal antibody drugs are highly effective against the Delta variant, and the main downside of using them is their expense and the high number of medical resources needed to distribute them.  

Now, recently approved antiviral pills like Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir will likely take over as the main treatments for people after they have been infected with Covid. 

The Covid vaccines are also effective at preventing infection all together – especially if a person is boosted as well – and vaccinated people generally have much more mild symptoms after infection.

Official CDC data reports that 75 percent of Americans have received at least one shot of a Covid vaccine, 63 percent are fully vaccinated. Just over 25 percent of Americans have received a Covid booster shot.

In the UK, daily Covid cases have begun to steady after massive falls in recent weeks. The nation was one of the hardest struck by the Omicron variant last month, with cases surging as high as 180,000 per day on average. Cases quickly plummeted after peaking in early January.

South Africa, the first nation to suffer a massive surge of cases late last year after discovering the new variant in late November, has seen a rapid decline in cases over recent weeks as well. Cases peaked at over 23,437 new cases per day in mid-December, and are down to 3,110 as on Monday. 

While U.S. appears to be beyond its peak of Covid cases, its trend downwards may not be as rapid nationwide as it is in some of its peer nations. America is a much larger country than others, and its not very densely populated. There are also long distances between individual population centers. 

This means that while cases will rapidly decline in individual areas, like they did in the UK and South Africa, the nationwide trends will not be as dramatic.

Omicron’s surge has a clear westward trajectory, and has also seemed to move beyond the Mississippi river and into the Great Frontier. 

Numbers may not appear to be dropping as dramatically in the U.S. as it did in other countries, but that is more the case of a clear east-west divide rather than the variant acting differently in America than it did elsewhere.

Only one state east of the Mississippi river is recording more than an 85 percent increase in cases over the past two weeks, Kentucky. 

Every other state in the eastern portion of the nation is either reporting declining cases or smaller increases.

Twenty states are currently recording either a decline in cases over the past two weeks, or a flat zero increase. Only three are west of the Mississippi river, with Louisiana – down 28 percent – being along the river itself.

From Maine to Florida, nearly every state along the east coast is recording a decline in cases. New York and New Jersey are recording 68 percent and 69 percent decline respectively – a similar to drop to what England experienced after reaching its peak.

Other states along the coast like Pennsylvania (45 percent), Massachusetts (44 percent) and Florida (43 percent) are also reporting massive case declines over the past two weeks.

Even states out west that are experiencing rising cases are seeing the rate of daily infection increases at a lower level.

States like Montana and Wyoming that were experiencing near 200 percent increases in cases last week have seen two-week case growth fall to around 65 percent each. North Dakota – also recording near 200 percent jumps last week – is the leader in national case increases at 96 percent. 

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The U.S. is seeing even more signs that the Omicron-fueled Covid surge is starting to recede. Cases are now down over the past two weeks in 17 states. While cases were doubling in almost every state only two weeks ago, the number of states that have seen daily infections double over the past 14 days is now all the way down to eight.

Omicron cresting and falling in January was expected by many experts after reviewing trends from the UK, South Africa, and other country that were struck by the variant before it caused its first surges in the U.S.

States that were hit early by the variant are now showing sharp drops in cases as the variant begins to burnout stateside as well. New York, for example, was the first state to deal with Omicron in a large capacity when New York City emerged as a hotspot for the variant in December. 

Cases in the Empire State have now dropped by 66 percent over the past 14 days – though – with 131 of every 100,000 residents recording an infection daily.

Neighboring New Jersey is experiencing the largest case decline in America. The Garden state has experienced a 67 percent case decrease over the past two weeks, down to 118 of every 100,000 residents testing positive every day. 

Both states were largely impacted by New York City at the start of the Omicron surge. Like London across the pond, the dense city erupted with cases once the variant arrived, but then the surge quickly tapered off as the variant burned out.

The states are now even among those with the lowest infection rates in America, showing how quickly their fortunes changed. 

New Jersey is averaging 118 cases per 100,000 residents every day – the third lowest in the U.S. – with New York coming in fifth with 131 of every 100,000 residents recording an infection every day.

Maryland was an early hotspot as well, though cases in the state are now declining by a large margin as well. 

Daily infections have dropped 62 percent over the past two weeks, and the 85 daily infections per every 100,000 residents is the second lowest rate in America.

All across the east coast, cases are either declining, or growing at a much slower rate than last week. From Maine (recording a nine percent decrease over the past two weeks) to Florida (36 percent), the Omicron variant is starting to recede. 

New cases are also falling in Vermont (one percent), Massachusetts (21 percent), Rhode Island (18 percent), Connecticut (39 percent), Virginia (two percent) and Georgia (12 percent). 

Cases in South Carolina are still on an upward trajectory, but the once hard-struck state is seeing things start to level off.  The Palmetto state was recording a case increases of over 500 percent last week. 

That figure has steadily declined, though, all the way down to 54 percent over the past two weeks.

North Carolina has proved to be outlier along the coast, with cases up 83 percent over the past two weeks. 

Only two states east of the Mississippi rivers have recorded an increase of cases of more than 60 percent over the past two months, North Carolina and Wisconsin (127 percent). 

A wide gap has opened between western and eastern states in the U.S. Eight states are recording case growth of more than 100 percent over the past two weeks, including the squarely Midwest Wisconsin and seven other states west of the Mississippi: Minnesota (114 percent), Oklahoma (196 percent), New Mexico (134 percent), Wyoming (141 percent), Montana (114 percent) and Idaho (174 percent).

Wisconsin is also the nationwide leader in Covid infection rate, with 365 of every 100,000 residents testing positive daily. Rhode Island, the longtime leader in this category, is second with 337 of every 100,000 residents testing positive daily.

Only five other states have recorded more than 300 cases per 100,000 residents, with four being out west, Utah (337), Alaska (325), Hawaii (322) and Oklahoma (306). 

Along with Rhode Island, South Carolina is among the leaders as well (312), as some eastern states linger a top the list slowly being overtaken by the fast risers out west.

Ohio is the new leader in Covid mortality rate. The state, where cases are down ten percent, is recording 1.3 deaths per every 100,000 residents every day. 

Ten states are recording more than one death per 100,000 residents every day, including Alaska (1.29), New York (1.17), Connecticut (1.15), Tennessee (1.14), Michigan (1.13), Indiana (1.11), Maryland (1.08), New Jersey (1.08), Illinois (1.03), Pennsylvania (1.03).

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The Omicron variant is finally showing signs of receding in the U.S as new daily deaths, the most important metric in the pandemic that often lags behind cases, have steadied over the past week – despite the White House’s grim projection that between 60,000 and 300,000 Americans could die from the virus by March. 

Cases in the U.S. are starting to decline, another sign the peak has been reached. The nation only recorded 1.06 million new cases on Tuesday despite having three days worth of backlogged cases from the holiday weekend. For comparison, the country logged 1.36 million cases on Monday, January 10, despite having only two days worth of backlog to report on that day.

This time last week, the nation was recording 751,313 cases per day, compared to 727,771 as if Tuesday morning – a three percent week-over-week decrease. Over the past two weeks – generally the standard in calculating Covid case change – cases have increased by 28 percent, from an average of 565,042 cases on January 4.

It appears that the U.S. is finally in the midst of the peak that experts and officials have predicted for weeks. As what was seen in the UK, South Africa, and other countries, the Omicron surge quickly ran out of steam and now seems to be faltering. Deaths often lag behind new cases, and it is likely that figure will begin to decrease over time as well.

Despite the peak seemingly being here now, some officials are still releasing grim predictions about the future. During a briefing on Tuesday, White House officials cited projections that have between 58,000 to 305,000 Americans succumbing to the virus between now and mid-March. In order to reach the top of that projection, the U.S. would have to average around 5,000 deaths per day over the next two months – a figure that would shatter records of around 3,200 deaths per day this time last year.

The projection seems bizarre and disconnected from the current state of the pandemic in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data last week estimating the Omicron variant is 91 percent less deadly than the Delta strain the dominated the latter half of 2021. Data revealed by the agency last week also shows that 99.5 percent of sequenced Covid cases in the U.S. are of the Omicron variant – with Delta making up around 0.3 percent of cases.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, even blamed recent increases in Covid deaths suffered by the U.S. on the barely-prevalent Delta variant last week. If the variant is responsible for a large portion of deaths in the country – and its prevalence is shrinking – then hitting the top end of the projection would require a major shift in the nature of the pandemic in the coming weeks.

Covid cases are now dropping in seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia over the past two weeks. No U.S. state is recording a two-week increase of cases of more than 300 percent either, with cases only doubling during that period in 21 states. Just last week, cases were increasing everywhere in the nation with only few states not recording a 100 percent change in cases over two weeks.

The U.S. often trails behind the UK by a few weeks, and the country has now recorded day-to-day hospitalizations decreases for 13 days in a row. Cases are also down 22 percent over the past two weeks, with the country logging 94,432 new cases Tuesday.

Britain’s situation is so rosy at the moment that there are rumors Prime Minister Boris Johnson could drop all Covid restrictions as early as March.

South Africa, the first country to experience a surge caused by the variant, has also seen cases rapidly decline in recent weeks after peaking in late December. The country is averaging 4,300 cases per day, a far fall from the 23,000 daily case average reached last month.

Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured), former director of the FDA, said Tuesday that he does not expect Covid to make another major shift beyond Omicron, and the endemic stage of the virus could be around the corner

Dr Scott Gottlieb (pictured), former director of the FDA, said Tuesday that he does not expect Covid to make another major shift beyond Omicron, and the endemic stage of the virus could be around the corner

Some experts are hopeful that this recent decline in cases is going to spell the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the virus could reach an endemic phase at some point this year. 

’I think the base case is that this signals the end of the pandemic phase of this virus,’ Scott Gottlieb, former chief of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and current board member at Pfizer, told CNBC’s the Squawk Box on Tuesday. 

He said that the nature of the virus has continued to ‘drift’, with the virus slowly evolving over time and appearing as different variants. Gottlieb said that unless the virus makes a dramatic shift – like it did going from Delta to Omicron – it should be able to be controlled.

The Omicron strain is the mutated version of Covid discovered yet, with more than 50 mutations, including dozens on the spike protein. Its mutations have allowed for it to rapidly transmit around the world and evade protection provided by the existing vaccines.

Omicron also seems to be the most mild strain yet, with the death toll from the variant still remaining lower than it was for the Delta variant despite causing four times as many daily cases at its peak.

The rampant spread of Omicron in the U.S., and around the world, has largely wiped out Delta and muted the danger of the virus overall, since the more-mild variant has managed to overtake all of its more dangerous predecessors. 

Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warns that Omicron becoming the final variant of the pandemic is not a guarantee. Earlier this week he warned that a variant of the virus that can evade the natural immunity provided by previous infection could potentially emerge in the future, dampening hopes of entering the endemic virus stage.

‘I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response of the prior variant,’ Fauci said at a Davos Agenda virtual event this week.

While Omicron now seems to be receding, and showing itself as less of a danger, the federal government seems to just now be responding to this new threat. On Tuesday, the White House launched a website for Americans to order free at-home Covid tests. Tests will not arrive for days, though, and many who live in apartments or shared housing arrangements have reported issues accessing the tests. Only four tests are available per household as well, meaning some families will not receive enough to go around.

The White House has also announced plans to distribute 400 million N95 masks to U.S. pharmacies around the country by the end of the week. Early data shows N95 and KN95 masks – often considered to be the most protective of masks – are required to prevent the spread of the highly mutated strain.

Last week, President Joe Biden deployed 1,000 troops to hospitals in six states to assist with surges in hospitalizations. According to official data from the Department of Health and Human Services, 80 percent of U.S. hospital beds are currently occupied. Official data lists 156,894 Americans in the hospital with Covid every day, though the figure is misleading. Many people who are arriving to the hospital to be treated for other conditions are testing positive while present, and being added to the tally as a result.

Across the pond, Prime Minister Johnson is set to drop many Covid restrictions in the UK. Next week, work from home orders, Covid passports and mask mandates in some entertainment venues and test requirements for travel back to the nation for citizens will all be dropped. Attendance limits on many indoor events will be lifted as well.

Many are hopeful that some contact tracing initiatives will finally be dropped come March as well, as the nation prepares for life after Covid.

On Tuesday, the nation recorded 94,432 new cases, a 22 percent week-over-week drop. The UK has not recorded a week-over-week increase in cases since January 6. Hospital admissions have dropped for the 13th consecutive day as well.

The nation emerged as an early hotspot for the Omicron variant when it was discovered late last year. Its capital city, London, was one of the worst struck cities in the world. Early projections thought millions of Britons would be infected with the virus weekly and some feared the National Health System would be overwhelmed.

Omicron receding so quickly in the UK despite the situation looking so dire at first is a positive sign going forward for the U.S., and the rest of the world. 

Deaths, which lag behind the other two metrics, are continuing an upward trend, though. The country logged 438 on Tuesday, the highest single day mark since February. With cases and hospitalizations both falling, though, deaths are almost surely likely to follow.

South Africa is proving to be another beacon of hope for Covid struck nations. The nation was the first to detect the variant when dozens of breakthrough infections were found in late November. Omicron quickly spread around the country, spiking cases and hospitalizations.



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The mane attraction: Majestic white lion with immaculate head of hair is a hit at South African wildlife sanctuary

  • A white lion with an impressive mane of hair is proving a hit at a wildlife sanctuary in Harrismith, South Africa
  • Simon Needham snapped a series of photos of the striking animal at the Glen Garriff Lion Conservation
  • The lion’s white appearance is caused by a condition known as leucism – causing a partial loss of pigmentation

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A stunning white-haired lion sporting an immaculate mane of hair has proven to be a leading attraction at a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa.

The well-coiffured lion was photographed by director and photographer Simon Needham, 55, at the Glen Garriff Lion Conservation in Harrismith, South Africa.

The stunning photos captured the male white lion in all his glory as he wandered around the conservation.

This stunning white lion showed off its impressive mane as it wandered around the Glen Garriff Lion Conservation

This stunning white lion showed off its impressive mane as it wandered around the Glen Garriff Lion Conservation

As if knowing that it had a camera pointed in its direction, the white-haired lion seemed to lie down and pose

As if knowing that it had a camera pointed in its direction, the white-haired lion seemed to lie down and pose

One image shows the lion lying down with its impressive mane on the ground, while another catches the animal mid-roar. 

Speaking about the stunning white lion, Simon said: ‘I captured these images to help promote @GGConseervation on social media,’ he says. ‘When I capture images that I know will help support the charity I am shooting for is always a great feeling.

‘Bringing attention to a worthy cause is difficult but strong visual images can really draw people in.

‘All endangered species of animals need our help if we are to expect them to be around for our children and grandchildren.

The lion's unusual white appearance is caused by a condition known as leucism - which causes a partial loss of pigmentation in animals

The lion’s unusual white appearance is caused by a condition known as leucism – which causes a partial loss of pigmentation in animals

The lions razor sharp teeth could be seen in all their glory in this photo, which was taken as the animal began to roar

The lions razor sharp teeth could be seen in all their glory in this photo, which was taken as the animal began to roar

‘It is only with continued support that we can hope to save these species from extinction.’

Although appearing to be albino, white lions are in fact the product of a rare colour mutation known as leucism.

This condition causes a partial loss of pigmentation in animals, resulting in the distinctive white appearance.

Leucism is commonly caused by a recessive gene, known as a colour inhibitor.  

The first lion was introduced to the Glen Garriff Lion Conservation in 2002 and now, the organisation has more than 70 lions under its care.

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We’re ahead by a neck! Pulse-pounding moment giraffe chases tourists’ safari vehicle through South Africa reserve

  •  Young male giraffe runs after a vehicle with tourist enthusiasts in South Africa
  •  The giraffe was abandoned as a youngster, but released back in the wild
  •  The youngster was simply investigating, and did not behave aggressively  










This is the breathtaking moment a juvenile giraffe runs after a vehicle full of safari enthusiasts in South Africa.  

The young male giraffe lives in the wild on the Game Reserve in Northern Kwazulu Natal. 

The moment has been captured by wildlife photographer and safari guide Matt Yardley. He and his team made their getaway in the best interest of the guests – and the giraffe.

The youngster was simply investigating, and did not behave aggressively

The giraffe was abandoned as a youngster, but released back in the wild

Young male giraffe runs after a truck with tourist enthusiasts in South Africa

Matt, 35, from Salt Rock, South Africa, said: “The giraffe was abandoned as a youngster, but released back in the wild, so he still has a lot of wild in him.

“But there is also a certain tameness about him as well.”

Although the size and speed of the giraffe at first might look frightening, the youngster was simply investigating, and did not behave aggressively in any manner.

Matt added: “He was curious about the vehicle and trying to suss it out and that resulted in the chase.

The giraffe manages to get very close to the vehicle

The tourist on the rear seat leaned forward for a better look...and for safety!

The giraffe manages to get very close to the vehicle

“He associated the vehicle with his upbringing, but at the same time he’s a wild giraffe, so there was a confusion which I thought was quite interesting.

“My thoughts while filming were the safety not only for my guests but also the giraffe. I was making sure that the driver was driving at a good speed so to keep the giraffe at a safe distance and we didn’t drive too fast and hurt ourselves.

“Our driver handled the situation extremely well.

“All’s is well that ends well, the animal was safe and no one was hurt. It was a great experience and a good laugh afterwards so it’s just one of those feel-good moments.”

The footage was filmed in early 2021.

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South Africa’s Omicron wave has completely collapsed and the country has reached the ‘turning point in the pandemic’, a doctor on the frontline in Johannesburg claimed today amid growing hopes that Britain’s outbreak will also be short-lived.

Professor Shabir Madhi, a vaccine expert at the University of the Witwatersrand, said the variant was ‘very much subsiding’ and had already ‘pretty much subsided’ in Gauteng — the first province to fall victim to the extremely-infectious variant.

He estimated up to 50 per cent of the country’s 58.8million people caught Omicron since it first emerged, despite just 500,000 infections being recorded since the strain was first spotted on November 23.

While Covid infections soared to an ‘unprecedented’ level, Professor Madhi said there was a ‘complete uncoupling’ of hospitalisation and deaths. Figures show hospitalisations barely reached a third of rates seen in previous peaks, while fatalities stayed 10 times lower.

Professor Madhi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we are in a good place in South Africa and I think we’ve reached the turning point in this pandemic.’

It comes after another 8,078 cases were recorded in South Africa yesterday, a rise of 12 per cent in a week, after tumbling for 17 days in a row. Officially, daily cases peaked at nearly 27,000 on December 15.

Hospital admissions also rose 8 per cent with 309 reported, however they have also been trending downwards for the past fortnight. Deaths — the biggest lagging indicator — rose to 139, the highest since the Omicron wave took off. But they are still a far cry from the 600 per day at the peak of the Delta wave.

The shrinking wave comes despite only a quarter of South Africans being double-jabbed. There is growing hope that Britain’s variant-fuelled outbreak will follow a similar trajectory, where more than 70 per cent have had two jabs and half have had three.

In London — the UK’s Omicron epicentre — infections and hospitalisations appear to be flatlining already. 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.

While daily infections nationally are running at record levels — 218,000 Britons 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.

Covid cases rose 12 per cent in South Africa yesterday but have been tumbling for 17 days in a row after appearing to peak at 26,976 on December 15

Covid cases rose 12 per cent in South Africa yesterday but have been tumbling for 17 days in a row after appearing to peak at 26,976 on December 15

Professor Madhi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Across the country the wave is very much subsiding. 

‘Certainly, what was initially the epicentre Gauteng, the wave has pretty much subsided and what we’ve experienced is an unprecedented number of cases compared to what was experienced in the past. 

UK daily Covid cases hit record 218,000

Britain’s daily Covid cases hit a new record high of 218,000 yesterday, according to official figures released just moments before Boris Johnson held a 5pm Downing Street press conference.

The new infection number represents a 58 per cent rise compared to last week but includes several days of backlogged cases in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Hospitalisations also continued to rise yesterday with England recording 1,819 on January 1, the latest date with data, marking a 42 per cent rise on the previous week.  

But the statistics do not differentiate between patients that were admitted primarily for Covid and those who were admitted for a different illness and tested positive after admission. So-called ‘incidental’ admissions now make up about a third of all Covid inpatients, and fewer patients primarily sick with Covid are needing to be hooked up to ventilators. 

Despite the rising figures, the Prime Minister did not announce any further curbs at a press conference last night and instead encouraged more people to come forward for their booster jabs.

Ministers have taken confidence from the fact that hospital admissions already appear to be falling in Omicron hotspot London, which is two weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its outbreak. There were 347 admissions in the capital on New Year’s Day, down 7 per cent. 

‘But we’ve also seen a complete uncoupling of the hospitalisation and death rates. 

‘So the hospitalisation rate this time round is about one third relative to what was experienced during the course of the delta variant wave and the death rate is around about 10 per cent of what was experienced during the course of the Delta variant wave. 

‘So we’ve seen a complete uncoupling of infections and severe disease.’

But he said Omicron infections only plateaued and fell after up to half of the population became infected.

Professor Madhi said: ‘This time around it‘s probably been a greater proportion of the population that has been infected. 

‘South Africa does about one fourteenth of UK testing. So when we report about 25,000 cases per day you could probably multiply that by about 14. 

‘My estimate is it is about 40 to 50 per cent of people in South Africa possibly have been infected during the course of this particular wave.’

High levels of immunity among the population from previous Covid infections prevented further cases and drove down transmission, he said. 

But Professor Madhi warned South Africa’s experience with Omicron may not be replicated in the UK and other countries that do not have high levels of natural immunity. 

Around three-quarters of South Africans are thought to have been infected before Omicron emerged, but just 25 per cent have had a least one Covid jab.

Experts estimate less than half of people in the UK have had Covid, while 90 per cent of over-12s have had at least one jab.

He said: ‘The big question is whether immunity primarily through vaccination plays the same role against protecting against severe disease as does natural infection-derived immunity. And I believe it does.’

Professor Madhi said it is ‘certainly unpredictable as to what the next variant will look like’ but T-cell protection from infection and vaccination protects against severe disease and is ‘relatively well-preserved’. 

‘So I think we are in a good place in South Africa and I think we’ve reached the turning point in this pandemic,’ he added. 

It comes after Britain’s daily Covid cases hit a new record high of 218,000 yesterday.

The new infection number represents a 58 per cent rise compared to last week but includes several days of backlogged cases in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Data from South Africa's National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows the number of daily confirmed Covid cases since the pandemic began (blue bars) and the cumulative cases (orange line). Some 3.4million cases have been detected across South Africa since the pandemic began, more than half a million of which have been recorded since Omicron was first detected

Data from South Africa’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows the number of daily confirmed Covid cases since the pandemic began (blue bars) and the cumulative cases (orange line). Some 3.4million cases have been detected across South Africa since the pandemic began, more than half a million of which have been recorded since Omicron was first detected 

The NICD graph shows the number of infections recorded per province since March 2020. Gauteng (grey line), the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak, recorded the biggest spike in cases in the most recent Omicron wave

The NICD graph shows the number of infections recorded per province since March 2020. Gauteng (grey line), the epicentre of the Omicron outbreak, recorded the biggest spike in cases in the most recent Omicron wave

NICD data displays the number of positive Covid tests recorded per age group, showing that 20 to 39-year-olds (green line) and those aged 40 to 59 (light blue line), fuelled the most recent outbreak

NICD data displays the number of positive Covid tests recorded per age group, showing that 20 to 39-year-olds (green line) and those aged 40 to 59 (light blue line), fuelled the most recent outbreak

Business chiefs beg Boris to cut Covid isolation to five days 

Business chiefs today begged Boris Johnson to cut self-isolation as around 1.3million people languish under house arrest and rail services and bin collections grind to a halt.

The PM is facing mounting pressure to trim the quarantine period again from seven days to five after he gathered his Cabinet ministers to sign off on sticking to ‘Plan B’ restrictions.  

The PM has up to now batted away calls for a change on self-isolation, voicing concern it could make the problems worse.

Staff absences are threatening to cripple the country after infections hit another record daily high of 218,000 – meaning nearly 1.3million people have been positive in the past week.

Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland supermarket chain, warned that although it is coping so far the absentee chart is now ‘almost vertical’ – with levels more than double the peak of the ‘Pingdemic’ last year.

‘I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact,’ he told Sky News.

‘My call on government would be firstly to prioritise lateral flow tests for key workers including food retail front line shop workers, but also to revisit the onerous isolation rules.

‘Seven days is a long time for people who are triple jabbed when the symptoms are for the vast majority of people not more than a common cold or mild flu.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also suggested he would support the move as long as it is science-led.

‘If the science says it is possible for people to go back to work earlier, then of course NHS leaders will want that to be possible,’ Mr Taylor said.   

Hospitalisations also continued to rise yesterday with England recording 1,819 on January 1, the latest date with data, marking a 42 per cent rise on the previous week.  

But the statistics do not differentiate between patients that were admitted primarily for Covid and those who were admitted for a different illness and tested positive after admission. So-called ‘incidental’ admissions now make up about a third of all Covid inpatients, and fewer patients primarily sick with Covid are needing to be hooked up to ventilators. 

Despite the rising figures, the Prime Minister did not announce any further curbs at a press conference last night and instead encouraged more people to come forward for their booster jabs. 

Ministers have taken confidence from the fact that hospital admissions already appear to be falling in Omicron hotspot London, which is two weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its outbreak. There were 347 admissions in the capital on New Year’s Day, down 7 per cent.

But sustained high daily cases across the UK – which have exceeded 100,000 for nearly two weeks – has left 1.3million people isolating at home.

Business chiefs today begged Mr Johnson to cut the self-isolation period from seven days to five days as rail services and bin collections ground to a halt.

Testing rules are set to be loosened in an effort to reduce the pressure on the system, with people who are positive on lateral flows spared having to do a confirmatory PCR.

Meanwhile, travel regulations are also due to be overhauled, axing the requirement for tests before arriving in the UK.

However, the PM has up to now batted away calls for a change on self-isolation, voicing concern it could make the problems worse.

Staff absences are threatening to cripple the country after infections hit another record daily high of 218,000 – meaning nearly 1.3million people have been positive in the past week.

Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland supermarket chain, warned that although it is coping so far the absentee chart is now ‘almost vertical’ – with levels more than double the peak of the ‘Pingdemic’ last year.

‘I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact,’ he told Sky News.

‘My call on government would be firstly to prioritise lateral flow tests for key workers including food retail front line shop workers, but also to revisit the onerous isolation rules.

‘Seven days is a long time for people who are triple jabbed when the symptoms are for the vast majority of people not more than a common cold or mild flu.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, also suggested he would support the move as long as it is science-led.

‘If the science says it is possible for people to go back to work earlier, then of course NHS leaders will want that to be possible,’ Mr Taylor said.  

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None of England’s 25 boroughs with the highest Covid infection rates are in London, according to official data which adds to a growing body of evidence that the capital’s outbreak has already peaked. 

Experts say it suggests that the ultra-transmissible variant will soon begin to fizzle out in the other regions of the country, mirroring the trend witnessed in South Africa — the first country to fall victim to the strain, where cases are now in freefall. 

Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria is now England’s Omicron hotspot, with around 3.3 per cent of its 67,000 residents testing positive last week (a rate of 3,342 cases per 100,000 people). 

But the capital’s most infected borough, Havering, now sits at 39th in the national league table, with an infection rate of 2,212.9 — the equivalent of 2.1 per cent of people living there testing positive in the week ending January 2. 

Despite signs suggesting London’s outbreak is already slowing down, up to one in five people were thought to be infected with the virus on New Year’s Eve.

Some critical scientists have warned the dip may be down to fewer tests being carried out now, but even hospital admissions have begun falling in the capital, bolstering hopes that the decline is genuine.

Even the number of NHS staff off stick with the virus appears to have peaked after hitting highs of nearly 6,000 a day, sparking hopes that pressure will soon start to ease on strained hospitals.

The workforce crisis, partly fuelled by self-isolation rules, saw some health chiefs tell heart attack victims to make their own way to hospital and led to non-urgent operations being cancelled. The Army has already been deployed to help plug rota gaps in the capital, and it was today revealed that up to 150 troops will be sent to the North West Ambulance Trust to help ease pressures. 

Business minister Paul Scully today heralded ‘encouraging’ signs the capital’s outbreak was peaking but warned it was still necessary to be ‘on guard’ because of severe pressures on the NHS. Some data suggests the downward trend has already stalled.

A raft of separate data has suggested the worst is over in London, including the Office for National Statistics’ gold-standard weekly surveillance report. It showed prevalence peaked on Christmas Day but it dropped to around one in 11 people on New Year’s Eve.

But the major surveillance study, which sends out tens of thousands of random tests each week, also warned that rates could be as high as one in five in Tower Hamlets.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Covid cases dropped for the second week-on-week for the second day in a row today, after another 178,250 were recorded. In England, cases dropped by seven per cent to 149,405.

Graph shows: Covid infection rates across England's regions up to January 2, Department of Health data shows

The above graph shows Covid infection rates across England’s regions up to January 2, Department of Health data shows

The above are the 25 areas with the highest Covid infection rates in England. In London, Havering has the biggest outbreak but nationally it is the 38th highest Covid infection rate

The above are the 25 areas with the highest Covid infection rates in England. In London, Havering has the biggest outbreak but nationally it is the 38th highest Covid infection rate

There are early signs pressure is easing on the NHS with the number of staff absences due to Covid falling over the week to January 2

There are early signs pressure is easing on the NHS with the number of staff absences due to Covid falling over the week to January 2

December 26
January 2

The above maps show the percentage change in infection rates across London’s 32 boroughs over the week to December 26 (left) and the week to January 2 (right). They indicate that the outbreak is slowing in the city 

Official data from the Department of Health, which is based on confirmed Covid cases, only goes up to January 2, meaning that the impact of New Year’s Eve celebrations is not yet reflected in the data.

Some scientists also caution that the number of Covid swabs carried out in the capital is falling, which may skew the statistics. 

Its positivity rate — the proportion of tests that detect the virus — is still rising but there are early signs that it may be slowing down. Almost 35 per cent of PCR swabs return a positive result. 

Nearly 40% of NHS Covid ‘patients’ in England are NOT being treated for virus 

Nearly four in ten Covid patients in hospitals in England are not primarily being treated for the virus, according to official data that highlights the mildness of Omicron.

NHS figures released today show there were around 13,000 beds occupied by coronavirus sufferers on January 4, of which nearly 4,850 were not mainly sick with the disease.

It means nearly 40 per cent of patients included in the Government’s daily Covid statistics may have been admitted for something else, such as a broken leg.

The share of so-called ‘incidental’ cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London, where 45 per cent of ‘Covid patients’ were not primarily in hospital for the virus.

Experts say there is reason to believe that incidentals will continue to rise as the variant pushes England’s infection rates to record highs, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year’s Eve.

In South Africa — ground zero of the Omicron outbreak — up to 60 per cent of Covid patients were not admitted primarily for the virus at the height of the crisis there.

There are growing calls among experts and politicians for the Government to differentiate between people admitted ‘with’ and ‘from’ Covid to assess the real pressure of the virus on the NHS.

The rise in incidental admissions and lack of any real uptick in ICU cases has given Boris Johnson the confidence to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave without any further restrictions.

MailOnline analysis on Thursday revealed the Covid case fatality rate — the proportion of confirmed infections resulting in death — is now 21 times lower than during the devastating second wave.

A host of studies suggest Omicron causes less severe illness than its predecessors Delta and Alpha because it replicates faster in the upper airways rather than in the lungs where it can do more damage

 

Nationally, Barrow-in-Furness currently had the biggest outbreak in the most recent week, followed by neighbouring Copeland, at 3,321.5, and St Helens in Liverpool at 2,835.5. 

On the other end of the scale came the Isle of Wight at 891.1 cases per 100,000, with it confirming approximately four times fewer cases than Barrow-in-Furness. It was followed by West Devon (908.5) and Rother (957.4). 

But the raw infection rates have eclipsed those seen in previous waves, which nationally did not get above 500 cases per 100,000 before stringent curbs were imposed. 

In London the borough with the smallest outbreak — Camden — had an infection rate of 1,195.6 cases.

Of England’s 25 areas with the biggest outbreaks, 19 were in the North West, illustrating how the wave has shifted to a separate region of the country. 

Department of Health figures show the North West has the highest infection rate, at 2,332.4 cases per 100,000 people. London came fourth (1,775.4) after the North East (1,970.6) and Yorkshire and the Humber (1,869.8). 

In even more encouraging news the capital recorded 3,989 Covid patients on its wards on January 5, the latest available, which was down from 4,053 the day before.

The week before they were rising by about 15 per cent day-on-day, and this was also just over half the peak from last winter when 7,700 Covid patients were in London’s hospitals.

And the number of patients on mechanical ventilators has barely risen throughout the wave, the same statistics show. There are currently 224 patients on these in London’s hospitals. 

Senior NHS leaders say there are early signs pressure on hospitals in the capital may now be easing, although there are warnings about rising cases among over-60s.

Mr Scully told LBC: ‘I think [the situation in London] is looking encouraging, the trend at the moment, but clearly we need to be on our guard because there is still pressure on the NHS in London.

‘It is not just about the case numbers — there is a clear disconnect between case numbers and hospitalisations — but you’ve also then, because of the increased testing and the increased awareness by people, you’ve got bigger absences as well, and that’s obviously putting extra pressure on the NHS and other public services.’

Staff absences in hospitals in the capital due to Covid and other illnesses have dropped, figures from the NHS have revealed. 

The rise is being driven by spiralling absences in the North West, which saw the number of staff off work surge 85 per cent in a week up to January 2.

Nationally, there were 39,142 Covid absences in the NHS on January 2, more than three times the number at the start of December.

But the figures in London maxed out at around 5,800 on December 30, NHS England’s most up-to-date situation report showed. 

Two dozen trusts in England have declared ‘critical incidents’ indicating that they may be unable to deliver vital care in the coming weeks, with the Army now being deployed to plug the gaps. 

Mr Scully said the military personnel being deployed in the capital would be a ‘mixture of medics, porterage and these kinds of things’ to assist hospitals, but said he did not have details about where they would be helping out.

He added: ‘What we also have is a digital staff passport for the NHS, which allows staff to move between hospitals, so where the pressure is most acute, that’s where NHS staff will be put, but also the military staff as well.’

Around 150 military personnel are to also support North West Ambulance Service from next week.

Troops will begin training on January 11 in driving ambulances, manual handling, kit familiarisation and basic life support.

Official figures show that the number of Covid and non-Covid absences in the NHS grew through December

Official figures show that the number of Covid and non-Covid absences in the NHS grew through December

The share of so-called 'incidental' cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London , where 45 per cent of 'Covid patients' were not primarily in hospital for the virus

The share of so-called ‘incidental’ cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London , where 45 per cent of ‘Covid patients’ were not primarily in hospital for the virus

As many as one in FIVE people in London’s worst-hit boroughs may have had Covid on New Year’s Eve 

Up to one in five people in London’s worst-hit boroughs may have had Covid on New Year’s Eve, surveillance data showed today — although infections were slowing in the capital overall.

The Office for National Statistics’ weekly report estimated 3.3million people nationwide were infected on any given day during the final week of 2021, up 60 per cent on the previous spell. It means that one in 15 people were thought to have the virus on NYE, with the incidence even higher in London (one in 10).

And the numbers were higher still in parts of the capital hit hardest by the ultra-transmissible variant, with up to 18 per cent of people being infected in Tower Hamlets, according to the ONS’ upper estimates.

But despite the huge wave of cases caused by Omicron in London, early signs suggest infections are falling, with around 7.8 per cent of people thought to have the virus — down from 9.3 per cent the previous week.

Experts believe infections may have already peaked in the capital, which is weeks ahead of the rest of the country, in a positive sign for what may come nationally. Hospital admissions are already trending downwards across the city.

And in yet more proof the wave is receding in London, the city’s R rate dropped from between 1.2 and 1.6 on December 23 to 0.9 to 1.2 now according to the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) estimate today.

The rate — which means every 10 people infected in the city are giving the virus to nine to 12 others, on average— is a lagging indicator, meaning it could have been below one before Christmas.

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.

More up-to-date case data from the UKHSA shows positive tests fell for the first time week-on-week in over a month across the UK yesterday.

 

NWAS director of operations Ged Blezard said: ‘It is no secret that the ambulance service, along with the NHS as a whole, has been under extreme pressure for several months.

‘Now we are also experiencing high numbers of staff absences due to confirmed Covid cases and isolation, with around 25 per cent of the workforce currently affected.

‘We worked alongside the military last February and March, and it allows us to have more of our vehicles on the road, getting people the treatment they need sooner. This frees up emergency ambulances to attend to urgent, life-threatening cases.’

It comes as surveillance data showed up to one in five people in London’s worst-hit boroughs may have had Covid on New Year’s Eve — although infections were slowing in the capital overall.

The Office for National Statistics’ weekly report estimated 3.3million people nationwide were infected on any given day during the final week of 2021, up 60 per cent on the previous spell. It means that one in 15 people were thought to have the virus on NYE, with the incidence even higher in London (one in 10).

And the numbers were higher still in parts of the capital hit hardest by the ultra-transmissible variant, with up to 18 per cent of people being infected in Tower Hamlets, according to the ONS’ upper estimates. 

But despite the huge wave of cases caused by Omicron in London, early signs suggest infections are falling, with around 7.8 per cent of people thought to have the virus — down from 9.3 per cent the previous week.

Experts believe infections may have already peaked in the capital, which is weeks ahead of the rest of the country, in a positive sign for what may come nationally. Hospital admissions are already trending downwards across the city.

And in yet more proof the wave is receding in London, the city’s R rate dropped from between 1.2 and 1.6 on December 23 to 0.9 to 1.2 now according to the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) estimate today.

The rate — which means every 10 people infected in the city are giving the virus to nine to 12 others, on average— is a lagging indicator, meaning it could have been below one before Christmas.

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.

More up-to-date case data from the UKHSA shows positive tests fell for the first time week-on-week in over a month across the UK yesterday.

It comes as separate official data highlighting the mildness of Omicron revealed nearly four in ten Covid patients in hospitals in England are not primarily being treated for the virus. 

NHS figures released today show there were around 13,000 beds occupied by coronavirus sufferers on January 4, of which nearly 4,850 were not mainly sick with the disease. 

It means close to 40 per cent of patients included in the Government’s daily Covid statistics may have been admitted for something else, such as a broken leg.

The share of so-called ‘incidental’ cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London, where 45 per cent of ‘Covid patients’ were not primarily in hospital for the virus.

Experts say there is reason to believe that incidentals will continue to rise as the variant pushes England’s infection rates to record highs, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year’s Eve.

In South Africa — ground zero of the Omicron outbreak — up to 60 per cent of Covid patients were not admitted primarily for the virus at the height of the crisis there.

There are growing calls among experts and politicians for the Government to differentiate between people who’re admitted ‘with’ and ‘from’ Covid to assess the real pressure of the virus on the NHS.

The rise in incidental admissions and lack of any real uptick in ICU cases has given Boris Johnson the confidence to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave without any further restrictions.

A host of studies suggest Omicron causes less severe illness than its predecessors because it replicates faster in the upper airways rather than in the lungs where it can do more damage. MailOnline analysis revealed the Covid case fatality rate — the proportion of confirmed infections resulting in death — is now 21 times lower than during the devastating second wave. 

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Daily Covid cases in the UK have fallen for a week straight and hospital admissions are plateauing, official data revealed today as an NHS leader admitted the health service is past the worst of the Omicron outbreak. 

There were 129,587 new positive tests across the country in the last 24 hours, Government dashboard data shows, which marks a fall of a third compared to the figure last Wednesday. 

It is the seventh day in a row that infections have fallen week-on-week and the UK looks to be following the same trajectory as South Africa, which became the epicentre and where cases collapsed in little over a month. 

It came as MailOnline’s analysis of separate Government data revealed 12million people are now living in areas where Covid cases are already falling. Outbreaks were shrinking in 95 of England’s 315 local authorities by January 6, according to the UK Health Security Agency’s weekly report.   

Meanwhile, another 398 deaths were recorded today, up by about a fifth on last week. There are around five times fewer fatalities now than during the second wave last January.

But daily virus admissions appear to be flatlining, according to latest hospital data which shows there were 2,049 admissions on January 8, an increase of less than 1 per cent in a week.

Hospitalisations have fallen for 10 days in a row in former Omicron hotspot London, in a promising sign for the rest of the country.

The promising stats came as Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said it looked as though Omicron was peaking in terms of hospital pressure.

‘Unless things change unexpectedly, we are close to the national peak of Covid patients in hospital.

‘This is a significant moment but it’s crucial we recognise that this will not be uniform – some parts of UK are still seeing rising patient numbers alongside staff absence.’ 

Meanwhile Dr Richard Cree, an intensive care consultant at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, said: ‘The number of people being admitted hasn’t risen as high as I feared it might and it may even be starting to plateau.

‘I will admit that I thought things might be worse by now but I’m all too happy to be proved wrong. It’s looking increasingly likely that we may be able to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave after all.’ 

Even Sir Chris Whitty is now giving ministers ‘optimistic signals’ that the worst of Covid is over, Whitehall sources claim. Just last month, England’s chief medical officer publicly dismissed South African doctors’ claims that Omicron was mild and accused people of ‘overinterpreting’ data. He was accused of ‘snobbery’ by some experts. 

No10 is under mounting pressure to announce a blueprint for learning to live with Covid, with scientists predicting that Britain will be one of the first countries in the world to tame the pandemic. Ministers are already pushing for the final Plan B restrictions to be lifted now there is such a big disconnect between infections and deaths.   

A record 3.7million people were infected with Covid on any day last week in England — but cases were slowing nationally, the country's gold-standard Office for National Statistics' surveillance study has found

A record 3.7million people were infected with Covid on any day last week in England — but cases were slowing nationally, the country’s gold-standard Office for National Statistics’ surveillance study has found

December 30
January 6

The above maps show the Covid infection rate changes in England over the weeks ending December 30 and January 6, the latest two available. They indicate that the rate of growth is slowing down across the country

UK Health Security Agency data showed London recorded 12,000 cases yesterday, the least in a month. It was comparable to the total cases on December 13

UK Health Security Agency data showed London recorded 12,000 cases yesterday, the least in a month. It was comparable to the total cases on December 13

The above figures show Covid infection rates across all regions except the North East fell on January 5. It could suggest the worst of the wave is over

The above figures show Covid infection rates across all regions except the North East fell on January 5. It could suggest the worst of the wave is over

Meanwhile, a record 3.7million people were infected with Covid on any day last week in England — but cases were slowing nationally, the country’s gold-standard surveillance study has found.

Analysts at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated roughly one in 15 people would have tested positive on January 6, up by about 14 per cent on the previous seven days. 

That is the smallest increase since Omicron became dominant at the start of December and the ONS said it was ‘encouraging’ that infections are falling in the former epicentre London. 

Latest Government dashboard data shows the capital recorded just 12,309 new cases yesterday — the lowest in a month.  

The ONS’ weekly infection survey is regarded as being the most reliable indicator of the outbreak because it uses random sampling of 100,000 people, rather than relying on people coming forward for tests. Despite promising signs, it still showed as many as one in 10 were thought to have had Covid in the North West and Yorkshire. 

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

Before the emergence of Omicron, that figure rarely rose above 1million, but the ultra-transmissible variant has pushed the country’s infection rate to astronomical levels. 

The agency estimated there were 3.7million people infected on any given day last week, up from 3.3million during the previous spell. 

Britain can ‘ride out’ Omicron wave, says intensive care doctor 

Britain will be able to ‘ride out’ the Omicron wave without hospitals becoming overwhelmed, an intensive care doctor has said.

Dr Richard Cree, who works at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, had previously feared a major surge in admissions.

But writing in his blog yesterday, Dr Cree said: ‘Across the country, the number of people being admitted to hospital following infection remains high.

‘However, the number of people being admitted hasn’t risen as high as I feared it might and it may even be starting to plateau.

‘I will admit that I thought things might be worse by now but I’m all too happy to be proved wrong.

‘It’s looking increasingly likely that we may be able to “ride out” this Omicron wave after all.’

He also said there was ‘no doubt’ that Omicron is far less severe than its predecessors.

Hospitalisations in England have plateaued over recent days and in London — which was first to be hit by the variant — they are now falling.

Covid cases are also on a downward trajectory, prompting optimism in No10 that some restrictions could soon be lifted. 

Some ministers are pushing for work from home guidance to be the first to go, fearing it will do the most damage to the economy. 

The ONS measures the outbreak by looking at the number of active cases – known as prevalence – which always drops more slowly than incidence, how many people are catching the virus. 

It found infections definitely increased across all regions of England except London, but the trend was uncertain in eastern England.

In the capital, one in 15 people were estimated to have had Covid in the week to January 6, down from one in 10 the previous week. In the East, the figure was about one in 20. 

The highest regional rates are now estimated to be in the North West and Yorkshire/Humber, with one in 10 people testing positive. South West England has the lowest rate, at around one in 25. 

Elsewhere in the UK, nearly 170,000 people were thought to be carrying Covid in Wales last week, nearly 300,000 in Scotland, and 100,000 in Northern Ireland. All three figures were the equivalent of one in 20.

Meanwhile, looking at more recent daily data shows infections in England are slowing massively. England yesterday posted 104,833 positive tests, down 29.5 per cent on the previous figure (148,725).

Daily case data is easily skewed by testing, making it hard to distinguish whether falls are genuine. Trends were especially hard to establish over the festive period because fewer people came forward to get swabbed.

But the number of PCR tests carried out in the week ending January 4 was 3.5million, similar to the levels seen before Christmas. 

No PCR swabbing data has been released since then for England, so it is impossible to tell whether or not yesterday’s plunge was swayed by testing levels.

But London’s positivity rate — which experts argue is a more accurate way of tracking outbreaks when testing levels vary — has already started to fall.

London also saw just 12,309 cases logged yesterday, its fewest since December 13. It has sparked hopes that the rest of the country will follow suit, given that the capital was the first to be rocked by Omicron.

Covid cases are already falling in eight of England’s nine regions, the figures suggest. The North East is the only one to see its infection rate plateau, although this may drop soon. 

Lagged data — which accounts for the date all positive tests were actually taken, not recorded into the system — shows the same trend. 

More tests were carried out in the week ending January 6 compared to the week before, bolstering hopes that the worst really could be over for much of the country. 

Those figures, which only cover the week to January 6, show five of the ten areas with the fastest falling infection rates were in London. 

Lewisham registered the biggest weekly drop (down 23.9 per cent, to 1464.4 cases per 100,000 people), followed by Rochford in Essex (down 21.7 per cent, to 1,673), and Bromley (down 20.3 per cent, to 1,557.3).

On the other end of the scale, no local authority saw its Covid infections double over the latest week. By contrast, over the previous seven-day spell, 46 areas saw their cases rise by over 100 per cent.

Middlesbrough again registered the biggest rise in infections (up 96 per cent, to 3,233.9), while Sunderland saw the second biggest rise (up 93.5 per cent, to 2,716.6) and neighbouring Hartlepool the third biggest (up 89.6 per cent, to 2,936). 

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said that most of the country appeared to be ‘past its peak’ of infections, although he cautioned it was still ‘early days’.

He told MailOnline: ‘Altogether, I think we are all past the peak of infections, although some regions are later than others.’

Asked whether the return of schools could trigger an uptick in infections, he said that was ‘possible’ and it would take another week or so before it becomes clear in the data.

‘I would not be surprised if we start to see cases increasing in children in the next week or two,’ he said. ‘Once it is in a school it is going to spread pretty rapidly whatever you do — regardless of masks, ventilation and opening windows.’

Professor David Heymann, a leading public health expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, yesterday said the UK is set to become one of the first country’s to exit the pandemic thanks to its high immunity levels from vaccinations.

He told an event at Chatham House that infections would likely soon settle down and start spreading in a similar way to flu and other endemic illnesses. He also pointed out that it was no longer triggering serious illness or death in large numbers, unlike in March 2020 when the virus first arrived. 

Yesterday it emerged that No10’s Plan B curbs could start to be lifted this month, with some ministers pushing for the work from home guidance to go first.

Michael Gove, who has consistently argued for the toughest curbs, warned that there were ‘difficult weeks ahead’ for the NHS as the virus surges outside London. But he said there would be ‘better times ahead’ once the current surge in cases has passed.

‘There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live – viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread,’ he said.

‘So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions and, I think for all of us, the sooner the better. But we have got to keep the NHS safe.’

The Prime Minister has also asked the UKHSA to look again at whether the self-isolation period could be relaxed from seven days to five to ease crippling staff shortages in the economy and public services.

Today Health Secretary Sajid Javid signalled his support for the move, saying it would help to ease pressure on hospitals struggling against staff shortages. 

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