COVID deaths in UK hit single figures for first time since before second wave

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 Pedestrian Zone and Covid-19 Temporary Restrictions signs in Frith Street, Soho, Central London.
Restaurants, pubs and bars in England have reopened for outdoor service only, and several streets in Soho have been closed to traffic at certain times of the day to allow for street seating. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Pedestrian Zone and COVID-19 Temporary Restrictions signs in Frith Street, Soho. (SOPA Images)

Daily coronavirus deaths in the UK have hit single figures for the first time since before the second wave.

Government data released on Monday afternoon shows that in the last 24 hours, four people were confirmed to have died within 28 days of testing positive.

This is the first time daily reported deaths have been in single figures since 9 September, before the second wave hit.

Read: When is the next easing of lockdown restrictions – and what will it involve?

It comes a week after the government lifted another round of restrictions in England and many non-essential businesses were able to reopen.

Here we take a look at the second wave and where the UK is now:

How the death toll rose and fell

After plummeting in the summer last year, cases and deaths began to rise again at the beginning of September.

The government plunged England into a national lockdown for a month in November when cases reached more than 300 per day.

But it was after restrictions were eased at the start of December that cases began to really skyrocket.

The surge was mainly caused by a new, more contagious variant of the virus that emerged in Kent and began to spread ahead of Christmas.

This strain was found to be 70% more transmissible, and led to the return of tight lockdown restrictions.

Death numbers peaked at 1,360 on 19 January, and have since gradually fallen.

The decrease has been attributed to both lockdown and the success of the UK’s COVID vaccine programme, which has so far seen more than 30 million people receive a first jab.

Restrictions being eased

The government has said the different stages of lockdown lifting will only take place if four tests are met.

The first is that there is evidence that vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths.

Watch: Is the Indian COVID variant more infectious and should the UK be concerned?

The other tests are that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully, that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, and that our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new "variants of concern".

It comes after the prime minister set out his lockdown-easing plan for England on 22 February, revealing how restrictions would be lifted at different stages over the four months.

England has just passed stage two of the plan, with shops, gyms, hairdressers, zoos and libraries all allowed to reopen.

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Next is stage three, which is planned for 17 May, contingent on the latest data.

The stage will see two households or groups of up to six people allowed to mix indoors.

Limited crowds will also be permitted to attend sporting events.

Pubs and restaurants will open indoors, as will entertainment venues such as cinemas and theatres. Hotels will also reopen, as will sports stadiums subject to capacity limits.

'Variants of concern'

The fear remains that vaccines could prove less effective against mutated variants of the virus imported from other counties.

The current variants of concern are:

  1. B.1.1.7 with E484K - English variant - 43 known cases

  2. P.1 - Manaus, Brazil/Japanese variant - 40 known cases

  3. 501Y.V2 B.1.351 - South African variant - 600 known cases

  4. B.1.1.7 - English variant - 209,492 known cases

England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty recently told a webinar that restrictions may be reimposed if a variant of concern threatens to overwhelm the health system again.

He said: "Society will not tolerate more than a certain number of people being ill, even if they know it's going to go away come the spring, and the area where we're going to have to pull the alarm cord is if a variant of concern comes in that we can see is now back to a situation of unconstrained growth because the immunological response to it is just not there."

Watch: Young people who have had coronavirus will get £5,000 after being deliberately re-exposed to virus

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