Deaths from coronavirus have fallen by 41% in the course of a week, while hospital admissions have seen their fastest ever fall, the Health Secretary has said.
Matt Hancock told a Downing Street briefing UK deaths are continuing to drop as the vaccination programme is rolled out across the country.
He said the “number of deaths from Covid are declining steeply” and the decline was accelerating, with the number of deaths each day now halving every 11 days, compared to every 19 days last month.
Data shows the seven-day rolling average for UK deaths within 28 days of a positive test, by date of death, fell from 424 on February 17 to 248 on February 24.
This is down 41% and represents the biggest week-on-week drop since the second wave peak of the pandemic.
Mr Hancock said there are still 12,136 people in UK hospitals with Covid-19, which is “too high”, but the seven-day average for the number of new admissions to hospital is 900, which “is the lowest since October”.
Figures show the seven-day rolling average for UK Covid-19 hospital admissions dropped from 1,265 on February 19 to 900 on February 26.
This is down 29%, the biggest week-on-week fall since the second wave peak.
Mr Hancock said all the data showed “we’re heading in the right direction” and the vaccination programme “is protecting the NHS, saving lives right across the country”.
He added: “Not only that, there are fewer people dying from all causes in care homes than is normal for this time of year.”
More than one million people in the UK have received both doses of Covid-19 vaccine, while almost 21.4 million people have had one dose.
It comes as the mystery sixth case of the Brazilian P1 variant of coronavirus has been tracked down and identified.
Mr Hancock said the “dogged determination” of testing and tracing teams had found the person, who had been staying at home.
He said: “The best evidence is that this person stayed at home and there is no evidence of onward transmission but as a precaution we are putting more testing in in Croydon where they live to minimise the possibility of spread.”
Officials had been hunting for the unknown individual after cases of the variant of concern were detected in the UK.
Six cases of the P1 variant, first identified in the Brazilian city of Manaus, have been found – three in Scotland and three in England.
On the issue of vaccinating NHS staff, Mr Hancock did not rule out mandatory jabs but said that was not the current plan.
He said he would like to continue to encourage people to have the vaccine “because that is the best way to ensure we get as high coverage as we can without having to bring in mandatory vaccination”.
He added: “We are not going to bring in mandatory vaccination across the board, and at this stage we are not proposing to bring in mandatory vaccination for NHS staff.”
But he said a review was ongoing into the “moral, ethical and practical” considerations around the issue.
Earlier, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of people with Covid-19 in homes across England continues to fall – although the picture is uncertain in some regions.
The ONS estimates that around one in 220 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between February 21 and 27 – the equivalent of 248,100 people.
The figure is down from around one in 145, or 373,700 people, for the period February 13 to 19, and is the lowest figure since the week to October 1 when it was one in 240.
However, the number of people infected in England is still high when compared to last summer. In the week to August 25, around one in 2,000 people had coronavirus.
The ONS said the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the latest figures had decreased in all regions except for north-east England, the East Midlands and eastern England, where it said the trend was uncertain.
North-east England had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to February 27 – around one in 150 people.
The West Midlands had the next highest estimate at one in 160, while the figure was one in 185 for the East Midlands; one in 190 for north-west England; one in 195 for London; one in 225 for Yorkshire and the Humber; one in 260 for eastern England; one in 340 for south-east England, and one in 365 for south-west England.
In Wales, the latest estimate was one in 285, down from 205, and in Northern Ireland, it was one in 325, down from one in 195.
The estimate for Scotland for the week to February 27 was around one in 335 people, down from one in 225.
The latest data is based on swab tests from 684,875 people in the UK, regardless of whether they had symptoms, and does not include hospitals and care homes.
It comes as Government scientific advisers said the latest reproduction number (the R) estimate for England remains unchanged at between 0.7 and 0.9.
Meanwhile, R is between 0.7 and 0.9 for the whole of the UK, compared with 0.6 and 0.9 last week.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) said: “Although the epidemic continues to decrease nationally, there may be more variation in transmission locally, with some indications that the rate of decline in infections could be slowing in some areas.”
Meanwhile, Public Health England said a further 236 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday.
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