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New COVID cases fell for the fifth day in a row on Sunday, a decline some experts have said could indicate that the UK has passed the peak of the third wave.
Government figures on Sunday night showed that daily positive tests had fallen to 29,173, down from 31,795 from 48,161 the week before.
It is the first time the figure has dipped below 30,000 since 6 July, and the first time cases have fallen for five consecutive days since early February.
Average daily cases have also fallen 15% week-on-week.
The news follows England's decision to remove remaining coronavirus restrictions on Monday 19 July, although it is too soon for the move's impact to be seen in the data due to the time lag between people becoming infected and getting tested.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, tweeted that the latest daily case figures are “one of the reasons why I think the removal of restrictions last Monday was the right thing to do”.
“What this means for the impact of last Monday is that another surge in infections is now looking unlikely but if we do see an increase it will be short-lived,” he said.
Boris Johnson's official spokesman said the fall in cases was “encouraging” but that “we should still expect to see a rise in case numbers" following the removal of restrictions.
“The prime minister thinks we’re not out of the woods yet,” the spokesman told reporters.
Government data also shows that, up to 24 July, some 46,563,452 first doses of the coronavirus vaccine had been administered in the UK, with 37,160,659 second doses.
Ministers and scientists have argued that the vaccine programme has helped to break the link between infection numbers and serious illness or death.
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Some restrictions remain in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including limits on indoor gatherings and wearing face coverings in certain areas.
Daily UK deaths have also increased by three to 28 compared with the previous Sunday.
Meanwhile, the number of people in hospital with coronavirus in England has risen to its highest level in four months.
Latest figures from NHS England show that 4,401 hospital beds were occupied by confirmed COVID cases on Friday, the highest level since 22 March.
It is a week-on-week rise of 30.7% from the 3,367 people in hospital on 16 July.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News' Trevor Phillips last week that the third wave is not expected to peak until "late August, maybe even early September".
He revealed the current government projection while encouraging people to keep the NHS COVID app installed on their phones with contact tracing enabled.
Businesses have been brought to their knees after a surge of people have been told to self-isolate by the app.
Meanwhile, case rates for English local authorities for the seven days to 21 July show infection levels were rising in the majority of areas last week.
Of the 315 local areas in England, 270 (86%) saw a week-on-week rise in rates, 43 (14%) saw a fall, and two remained unchanged.
Redcar & Cleveland continued to have the highest rate, with 1,785 new cases in the seven days to 21 July, the equivalent of 1,301.5 per 100,000 people – up from 1,268,7 in the seven days to 14 July.
Middlesbrough had the second-highest rate, up from 1,178.2 to 1,194.5, with 1,684 new cases.
Stockton-on-Tees had the third-highest rate, up from 944.5 to 1,081.3, with 2,134 new cases.
Elsewhere, there are reports that restrictions on travel from France will likely be dropped next week as the government's traffic light system is reviewed.
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