The number of patients with Covid in hospitals in England has dropped to below 10,000 for the first time since the start of the second lockdown in November, NHS figures reveal.
On Thursday night, health leaders hailed the drop as evidence that the the vaccine rollout is working. It comes as senior Conservatives called for lockdown to be lifted sooner sooner to help the economy.
The last time the total of inpatients with Covid was below 10,000 was on Nov 1, two days before the second national lockdown came into force.
Since then, the tally peaked at 34,336 on Jan 18, approaching double the number of inpatients at the worst of the first wave.
The number has fallen steadily since then, firstly as a result of measures imposed in the latest national lockdown – and now experts believe the data has begun to show the impact of the vaccination programme as well, emphasised by the fact that the death rate has fallen more sharply than the hospitalisation rate.
On Monday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, revealed that the number of over-80s being admitted to intensive care units each day has fallen to single figures.
Responding to the latest winter reporting data, from NHS England and NHS Improvement, Miriam Deakin, the director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: "We welcome the news that there are now fewer than 10,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital for the first time since early November.
"We are seeing signs that those who received an early vaccine are now less likely to become seriously ill from the virus, but we know that younger age groups continue to be affected in high numbers.
"The overall number of patients in critical care is still more than 30 per cent higher than at the same point last year.
"Inevitably, as the immediate pressures from Covid-19 recede, there is a growing focus on the challenges ahead,including the need to tackle backlogs in other areas of care."