IN ORDER to exit the third national coronavirus lockdown the UK needs to hit a range of targets to lift restrictions.
On Monday Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce his roadmap out of lockdown which will detail what needs to be done so that more sections of society can start to reopen.
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Earlier this week Mr Johnson said that he wants this lockdown to "be the last".
Kids are set to be back in the classroom next month and it is rumoured that more outdoor activities could be on the cards for Brits.
Infection rates are falling across the UK but still remain at high levels.
Today it was reported that cases have fallen in 96 per cent of areas in England, with just 13 places having witnessed an increase in cases over the last seven days.
It was also reported this week that the rule of six could return and shops could open in weeks if infection levels continue to fall.
Hopes are also growing that families could be reunited outside by Easter and Mr Johnson said falling Covid rates are paving the way for the nation to get back to normal.
'RANGE OF OPTIONS'
He hailed the vaccine rollout across the UK, which has meant that over 16.4 million Brits have received their first dose of a jab with nearly half a million having received their second.
Speaking at a press conference this week he promised to gradually remove restrictions in a “cautious but also irreversible” way – though admitted he can't offer "an absolute cast iron guarantee.”
Mr Johnson hailed the "unprecedented national achievement", but said that now was "no moment to relax" as the vaccine rollout moves on to the next five priority groups.
He said: “Science is now unquestionably in the ascendancy over the disease.”
The PM then added: “I don’t want people to think that I am not optimistic, there has been a big change.”
But what does the UK need to achieve in order for lockdown to be lifted?
Progress with vaccines
So far in the UK over 16.4 million Brits have received a first dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech jab or the Oxford/AstraZeneca offering with over half a million having received their second.
In England alone this equates to around 13.8 million jabs, data up to February 14 states.
By this date, an estimated 93.4 per cent of people aged 80 and over had received their first dose, along with 99.3 per cent of people aged 75-79 and 92.3 per cent of people aged 70-74.
Those who have been jabbed already include the most vulnerable in society as listed by the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation).
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) states that 24.5 per cent of the total population of England, and 31.2 per cent of people aged 18 and over have been jabbed.
Residents in care homes and their carers were first in line to be jabbed as well as the over 80s.
It was today revealed that over 40s could have their jabs by March if the vaccine drive continues.
Under government plans age brackets are expected to be wider than before, with 40 to 49-year-olds likely to have jabs after the 32million in the top nine groups have received their first.
Last week Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people over 75 who had not yet received their jab to contact the NHS to organise inoculation.
Some areas of the country have already starting jabbing their over 65s and after they have received a jab, all adults who have underlying health conditions will be invited to be vaccinated.
Experts from Edinburgh University previously warned that relaxing all measures at the end of April – once all those in the first phase of the vaccination programme covering over-50s have been offered a jab – could still lead to a huge surge in cases.
The R rate
The R rate is a measure of the severity of the Covid outbreak.
The crucial value represents the number of people an infected person passes the virus onto.
But it can be suppressed if everyone reduces their contacts – and is one of the key reasons the country has been forced to shutdown.
Scientists say the R rate must be below 1 in order for the outbreak to shrink because this means every Covid patient infects fewer than one other person.
Data published by Sage on Friday revealed that the R rate across the UK is below one for the first time since July.
The figure is currently between 0.7 and 0.9 and while there are some slight regional differences, every region is below 1.
The R rate is set to be updated later today.
It's clear that before lockdown is lifted, death rates will need to fall.
So far in the UK over 119,000 people have died from the virus after daily deaths peaked in January at over 1,000 a day.
While vaccines are being rolled out across the UK, it is not yet clear how effective the jabs have been at reducing deaths and hospitalisations.
More data will be needed to evaluate this which should be available in the coming weeks.
Mr Johnson said the plan to exit lockdown will rely partly on “deaths falling at the pace we would expect as more people are inoculated”.
But he did not clarify how quickly officials expect to see numbers dwindle.
All measures of Covid-19 deaths show the numbers heading in a downwards direction, though they remain well above the levels recorded when England came out of its second lockdown on December 2.
Since January 19, the daily death toll for England has been on a slow and broadly downwards curve, dropping back below 1,000 on January 29.
Figures published by the Government, based only on people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, show the daily death toll in England has fallen from a seven-day average of 903 on February 1 to 453 on February 14.
This is the lowest seven-day average since December 22.
In order for restrictions to be relaxed, pressure needs to be lifted from the NHS.
Last month there were around 37,000 people in hospital with Covid in the UK with 4,032 on ventilators.
Data from the government's coronavirus dashboard shows that this has dropped off significantly.
At present there are 20,156 patients in hospital with Covid-19 and 2,614 requiring support from a ventilator.
Each patient admitted to hospital with Covid is treated for around three weeks.
Mr Johnson previously said that if the lockdown was lifted too soon, the NHS could come under more pressure.
Government experts have not given a figure as to how many hospital admissions would be acceptable for the government to lift restrictions.
According to NHS England as of 8am on February 18 15,633 patients were in hospital with Covid – this is the figure for England only.
This is down 54 percent from a record 34,336 patients exactly one month earlier on January 18.
Despite the drop all regions continue to report patient numbers well above those seen in May 2020, when Boris Johnson announced the initial easing of the first lockdown.
Meanwhile the number of daily hospital admissions of patients with Covid-19 stood at 1,311 on February 16: down 68 per cent from a peak of 4,134 on January 12, but still above the 1,262 on the day England came out of its second lockdown on December 2.
Data from Public Health England (PHE) suggests that infection rates are falling across most of England with just a handful of areas witnessing a rise in infections.
Fewer cases of coronavirus mean fewer hospitalisations and fewer deaths.
NHS boss Sir Simon Stevens previously said that infection rates are "fundamentally the driver of deaths".
The impact of the third national lockdown can be seen most strikingly in the steep decline since Christmas of the number of new cases of Covid-19.
In the seven days to February 14, a total of 74,961 new cases were recorded in England – the equivalent of 133.2 per 100,000 people.
This is down from 680.8 cases per 100,000 people on January 4 and is also the lowest seven-day rate since October 4, when the figure stood at 124.8.
Prof Tim Spector, behind the Zoe Covid symptom tracker app, told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday infection rates had fallen by 80 per cent since New Year.
He said the data continues to look “quite good” and that the PM could even partially lift lockdown in some regions before March 8.
Prof Spector hinted that lockdown could be lifted "sooner rather than later" if infections rates continued to tumble.
He said: "Based on the ZOE data and our predictions we are soon to be in the same place we were in early June, with the advantage of having a large proportion of the population vaccinated which could mean good news in terms of lifting some restrictions sooner rather than later.
"By March 8 we should have less than 1 in 740 people with symptoms allowing us to get kids back into the classrooms and starting to allow people to exercise and meet, at least outdoors, where the risk of transmission is much lower.
"Until then it’s important to keep following the guidelines, even if you have had a vaccine, and keep reporting symptoms and getting tested even if your symptoms are not typical."
The government have not stated how low infection rates would need to be for lockdown to be lowered.
However in July last year there were days where under 50 cases a day were being reported.
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