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The UK has reported its lowest daily number of new coronavirus cases in the past month.
A total of 81,713 Covid cases were recorded within a 24-hour period up to 9am on Saturday– the lowest daily level since 15 December.
Another 287 people died within 28 days of a positive Covid test – bringing the total to 151,899 since the beginning of the pandemic, figures from the government show.
Separate data published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 176,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.
The number of deaths have fallen on each of the past four days, but the 1,843 deaths reported over the past seven days represents an increase of 45 per cent compared to the previous week.
Experts have said that the fall in reported new Covid cases looks promising, and that the spread of the Omicron variant is “stabilising”.
Coronavirus cases appear to be “plateauing” in parts of the UK including London, the south east, and the east of England – said Dr Susan Hopkins, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief medical adviser.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme cases were still relatively high, with one in 15 people in England infected and one in 20 elsewhere in the UK, but that there was a “slow down” in hospital admissions.
Prof Julian Hiscox, chairman in infection and global health at the University of Liverpool, told the BBC: “We’re almost there, it is now the beginning of the end, at least in the UK. I think life in 2022 will be almost back to before the pandemic.”
Dr Chris Smith, a consultant virologist and lecturer based at Cambridge University, added that current data gives him “great cause for optimism”.
He also told BBC Breakfast: “The number of people who are going into intensive care or are on mechanical ventilation beds is actually dropping. It has remained flat.
“Now that could be because Omicron hasn’t had a chance to bite yet and there will be an uptick later.
“On the other hand, it may be that we are following the trajectory of South Africa, which we seem to be so far, which is they saw a much fewer translation of hospital cases into intensive care beds cases. So let’s hope that carries on.
Prof Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh and chief social policy adviser to the Scottish government, has said Omicron cases appear to be “stabilising” and that new daily case numbers are down by more than 20 per cent.
She said on BBC Breakfast: “In fact, yesterday I think was the last day, the first day for a while we’ve had less than 100,000 cases so things seem to moving in the right direction.”
However, she added that the number of patients in hospitals was still “very high” and will need to wait for an accurate picture.
A total of 19,539 people are in hospital with Covid, latest figures show.
And as cases continue to fall, Wales and Scotland have begun loosening tighter restrictions imposed around Christmas.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the attendance limit on outdoor events will be lifted from Monday.
While the Covid pass scheme will stay in place north of the border, anyone who had their second dose more than four months ago must also have received a booster to be considered fully-vaccinated.
In Wales, the number of people allowed at outdoor events has risen from 50 to 500. From 21 January the limits will be lifted completely.
Nightclubs in Wales will reopen from 28 January, and groups in pubs and restaurants will no longer each be limited to six people.