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Daily falls in England’s Covid cases on longest run since February

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England has recorded its longest unbroken run of declining daily coronavirus caseloads since February, as Covid-19-related hospital admissions begin to fall in every region of the country, according to an FT analysis of official data.

The number of new daily cases reported in England has been lower than a week earlier for 18 successive days, the longest sequence of week-on-week declines since February when the tight lockdown restrictions contributed to a decline for 42 days in a row.

The reduced case rates have also begun to feed through into lower weekly hospital admissions, which fell by 12 per cent to 5,378 hospitalisations in the seven days to November 8.

On Wednesday, 31,541 new cases were reported across England, down around 8 per cent on the same day last week. But cases remain above the level of early August when they fell to below 20,000 a day — the lowest daily caseload recorded since most legal limits on social contact were lifted in late July.

Separate data from the Office for National Statistics, published on Wednesday, showed a rebound in antibody levels in the over-80s to 92 per cent — after falling by six percentage points to 88 per cent between June and October — reflecting the impact of the booster campaign.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the ONS antibody survey provided “one of the first signs that the booster campaign is indeed boosting antibody levels and so immunity.”

Eight in 10 double-jabbed people in England aged 80 and above, who had their second dose at least six months ago, have now received a booster shot, as have 69 per cent of those in the 70 to 79 age group. Case rates are falling fastest among those over-80s, down around 30 per cent week-on-week.

Prof Julian Hiscox, chair in infection and global health at the University of Liverpool, told the FT the downward trend in infections was “unique” because it was caused “almost entirely by the wall of immunity, rather than behavioural changes or restrictions”.

He added: “We could end up in a very nice window thanks to the timing of our booster programme, whereby our peak in population immunity coincides with the winter months when the health service is under most pressure.”

Chart showing that after months of waning immunity, antibody levels are now rising again in England’s elderly as the booster campaign picks up speed

But other scientists warned that an uninterrupted fall in cases was unlikely because of increased indoor mixing over the festive period, giving rise to more Covid transmission.

“It does look like it’s turned now, but [the descent] will be slower and more agonising, with plateaux and bumps up in cases and hospitalisations, and that’s all about behaviour,” said Prof Ewan Birney, deputy director-general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. “If everyone has big Christmas parties it could go up again.”

Rohini Mathur, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the epidemic in England was “in a period of transition” with increases in international travel and social mixing set against the rollout of vaccines to children and boosters to high-risk groups.

Chart showing that children drove the decline in English case rates over half-term, but it’s now the elderly leading the descent, a sign that boosters are working

“The recent reductions we’ve seen are still rather small in magnitude and don’t yet indicate any sort of longer term trend,” said Mathur.

Mathur added that despite the booster rollout the UK could still struggle to cross the herd immunity threshold, a level of protection that would bring the pandemic under control.

“I think our chances for achieving herd immunity will be more fully realised once we’ve achieved high vaccination rates in children and addressed issues around vaccine hesitancy and misinformation which are still keeping some key groups away [from getting a first dose],” she said.

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