- UKHSA data shows 143,382 positive Covid tests were logged over the weekend, down by a third in a week
- Covid deaths fell by three per cent week-on-week, while daily virus admissions increased by four per cent
- Drop in cases coincides with plummeting testing rates, which fell to lowest level in a year over the weekend
- The ONS estimated 4.1million people in England, or one in 13, were infected in the week to March 26
- It comes as the NHS expanded its Covid symptom list to include body aches, a runny nose and diarrhoea
- And Downing Street today insisted free Covid tests will not be coming back after being scrapped on Friday
Britain’s daily Covid cases plunged by a third over the weekend as testing dropped to the lowest level in a year in the first official figures since England ditched its free swabbing regime.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) statistics show another 143,382 positive Covid tests were logged on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, compared to the 215,001 recorded over the same three-day spell last week.
Meanwhile, Covid deaths today fell by three per cent week-on-week, while daily hospital admissions increased by four per cent. Both measures tend to lag two to three weeks behind the trend in cases.
Today’s drop in daily confirmed cases coincides with plummeting testing rates, sparked by No10’s decision to axe free tests forever.
The Government’s daily case numbers are solely based on people swabbing themselves and registering the results with the system. Separate Covid-tracking estimates, which show infections have hit pandemic highs and are yet to slow down, are based on tens of thousands of random tests.
Downing Street today insisted the universal free testing programme will not be coming back in England, claiming the £2billion-a-month lateral flow spending was ‘simply unsustainable’. Only health and care workers, the elderly and the vulnerable are still eligible for free swabs.
Scotland will end its offer next month while Wales is to stop handing out the swabs this summer.
Meanwhile, it was revealed today that the NHS quietly expanded its symptom-list to include body aches, a runny nose and diarrhoea.
Since the start of the pandemic, officials have only accepted three symptoms: a high temperature, a cough and a loss or change to taste or smell, despite other countries and health bodies including up to 14.
UK Health Security Agency data shows another 143,382 positive Covid tests were logged over the weekend, down by a third in a week. But the drop in cases comes as the number of tests taken in the UK plummeted to its lowest level in a year (shown in graph)
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated more than 4.1million people had the virus on any given day over the week to March 26, equivalent to one in 13 being infected. The figure is the highest ever recorded in England, topping the previous peak of 3.7m at the height of the Omicron wave in January. It is also 18 per cent higher than last week
The UKHSA figures show 143,382 positive tests were logged over the last 72 hours, down by 33.3 per cent on the 215,001 reported last Monday. An average of 65,133 infections have been reported on average over the last seven days.
But the drop in cases comes as the number of tests taken in the UK plummeted to its lowest level in a year.
Just 428,278 swabs were logged on Saturday and 497,415 on Sunday, down 22.5 per cent and 21.4 per cent week-on-week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman today insisted the virus tests would not be coming back. They said: ‘I think we need to look at where we are in the course of this pandemic.
‘We know there is relatively high prevalence of Covid at the moment but because of vaccines, because of therapeutics and other approaches, we are not seeing it have the knock-on impact when it comes to requiring the most intensive hospital treatment.
‘At the same time, the provision of free tests was costing taxpayers £2billion a month and that is simply unsustainable.’
Meanwhile, daily data today showed a further 210 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were recorded. Latest estimates from the ONS suggest a third of these fatalities is not primarily due to the virus.
And 2,480 infected patients were admitted to hospitals across the UK on Tuesday, up 4.2 per cent in a week. NHS England data suggests around half of these patients were not admitted because they were unwell from Covid.
Meanwhile, 91.9 per cent of Britons aged 12 and over have now had at least one vaccine dose, while 86 per cent are double-jabbed and 67.6 per cent are boosted.
WHAT IS THE FULL LIST OF COVID SYMPTOMS?
According to the NHS updated list, symptoms of Covid in adults can include:
- a high temperature or shivering (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
- shortness of breath
- feeling tired or exhausted
- an aching body
- a headache
- a sore throat
- a blocked or runny nose
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick or being sick
The vaccination scheme opened to five to 11-year-olds in England today. This age group was already eligible for jabs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The youngsters are offered two jabs, 12 weeks apart, of a low-dose jab.
It comes as the NHS quietly expanded its official Covid symptom-list to include body aches, a runny nose and diarrhoea. Nine new official symptoms also include a loss of appetite, feeling or being sick and a headache.
No10’s spokesperson said ministers expect the public to use their ‘good judgment’ on whether to go out if they have symptoms.
He said: ‘I think anyone, even pre-Covid, would recognise if they have symptoms of an infectious disease, something like flu, they should stay home and not infect their loved ones or colleagues, and it is that sort of good judgment that we expect to see going forward.’
The NHS notes on its website that the symptoms are ‘very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu’.
People experiencing these symptoms should ‘try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people’, as well as taking ‘extra care’ to avoid contact with anyone at higher risk from the virus.
Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist of the Zoe Covid symptom tracker app, wrote on Twitter that the change comes after two years of urging health chiefs to expand the list.
He said: ‘NHS official main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) have finally changed after two years of lobbying and Zoe app user input – hurrah!
‘Pity they have the order wrong – but it’s a start and could help reduce infections.’
It is understood that the Government’s chief medical officer would have needed to sign off on the expanded list of symptoms.
In March, Professor Spector was highly critical of the Government for not recognising a broader list of virus symptoms.
He said at the time: ‘The Government’s refusal to recognise the wide array of symptoms and to drop isolation advice and testing is likely driving the incredible number of cases we see today.
‘Many people are no longer isolating when they have symptoms, either because they feel they don’t have to anymore or because they or their employers still don’t recognise symptoms like runny nose or sore throat as Covid.’
The World Health Organization lists 13 symptoms of the virus, including four not listed by the NHS: a rash or discolouration of the fingers or toes, red or irritated eyes, loss of speech or mobility and chest pain.
Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention symptom list is the same as the NHS website, although it does not include a loss of appetite.
And the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control lists 12 symptoms, while Germany acknowledges 14.
Professor Spector told MailOnline adding more symptoms to the NHS list ‘is definitely a step in the right direction and it could help reduce infections as we go forward’.
Since the start of the pandemic, the NHS has only listed three Covid symptoms: a high temperature, a cough and a loss or change to taste or smell. But it has now quietly expanded its list of all the tell-tale signs of the virus to also include a loss of appetite, feeling or being sick and a headache. Shortness of breath, feeling tired, an aching body, a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose and diarrhoea were also added to the list
The health service on Friday expanded its list of the tell-tale signs of the virus to also include a loss of appetite, feeling or being sick and a headache. Since the start of the pandemic, health chiefs have pointed to a high temperature, a cough and a loss or change to taste or smell as the only three symptoms of the virus
‘However, whilst this is good news, I’d like to see the order of the symptoms changed, as the NHS list puts far too much emphasis on symptoms like fever, and anosmia, which we know are much less common since the Omicron variant emerged,’ he said.
Professor Spector added: ‘According to the ZOE COVID Study, the top five symptoms being reported by contributors with a positive Covid test are; runny nose (83 per cent), fatigue (71 per cent), sore throat (69 per cent), headache (69 per cent) and sneezing (68 per cent).’
‘It seems this decision has been made in light of the changes to testing.
‘We were always told that the barrier to expanding the list was that adding more symptoms could overwhelm the testing capacity, so it makes sense that since free testing has now stopped, the list has been updated.’
The move for the UK to recognise more symptoms comes as Covid tests are now only available for certain groups.
Most people will now have to purchase the swabs from high street stores, where they are available for about £2 each.
England has ended its offer of free swabs under its plans to ‘live with’ the virus and following pressure from the Treasury over the bill — which ministers claimed cost £2billion in January at the height of the Omicron wave.
Scotland will end its offer next month, while Wales is to stop handing out the swabs this summer.
Experts argued the timing of the end of free testing ‘couldn’t really be worse’, and that the country would now have to rely on the public ‘doing the right thing’ and getting tested when unwell.
But ministers have insisted it is the ‘right’ moment to scrap the mass-testing regime, which cost No10 up to £2bn-a-month. Only the most vulnerable and health care workers are still able to get free swabs.