More than eight million people in England live in areas where coronavirus may have disappeared, official figures revealed today.
Department of Health data showed 1,065 out of 6,792 districts — 15 per cent — recorded 'fewer than three cases' in the week to February 24, and may even have had none at all. Numbers are suppressed when they fall this low because health chiefs fear infected residents could be identified and shamed.
The vast majority of Cornwall and Devon recorded fewer than three Covid cases. But areas with tiny, or non-existent, outbreaks were scattered across the country, including in parts of London.
MPs today called on the Government to justify the national approach to easing lockdown, saying it was unfair to keep residents in Devon 'cooped up over Easter' because of bigger outbreaks elsewhere in the country. Boris Johnson has pledged all curbs will be lifted no earlier than June 21.
It comes as separate data today underscored the success of England's mammoth vaccination drive, as fascinating charts showed how 90 per cent of over-85s - who are most at risk of dying from the virus - now have Covid antibodies, suggesting they have a level of immunity against the disease.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the monumental rise from just 22 per cent of elderly Britons having the disease-fighting proteins at the start of 2021, before the rollout began to rapidly pick up the pace.
More statistics from the ONS today also showed England and Wales had firmly turned the tide on the second wave, after 4,079 Covid fatalities were recorded in the third week of February - a 28 per cent drop in seven days.
And MailOnline analysis showed eight of the ten areas with the highest number of Covid cases in England have prisons, as experts warned officers are struggling to enforce social distancing inside them.
The above map shows England broken down into districts defined as Middle-layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs) by statisticians. The dark green areas are where there are fewer than three cases, and possibly none at all
Separate data from the Office for National statistics showed Covid deaths fell 28 per cent in the week to February 19 compared to the previous week after 4,079 were recorded, as the second wave continues to drop
But deaths from all-causes remained above the five-year average in all regions of England, highlighting the immense toll of the outbreak on routine healthcare services
EIGHT OUT OF TEN COVID HOTSPOTS IN ENGLAND ARE IN AREAS WITH PRISONS
Eight out of England's 10 coronavirus hotspots are home to prisons, MailOnline can reveal.
Public Health England data show that the highest infection rate in the country in the third week of February – in the area surrounding a jail in Leeds – was twice as high as the worst outbreak in a non-prison area.
Prisons in Leeds, Hull, Peterborough, Manchester, Birmingham, Dorset, Rutland and Hatfield have all recorded outbreaks that sent local rates rocketing.
Professor Seena Fazel, an Oxford University psychiatrist who works closely with inmates, said crowded and poorly ventilated environments make the virus hard to control, and prisons are 'porous' with staff and inmates regularly travelling in and out.
He added that the institutions should not be considered cut off from the surrounding area because they are linked to local communities' health, with staff often living nearby and some inmates eligible for day release or travelling to meet court dates.
Reading University microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke drew a comparison to care homes, saying both have confined people who are at risk of staff bringing the virus in to areas where social distancing is near impossible.
Ministry of Justice figures show that 837 people in 65 prisons were diagnosed with coronavirus in England in the week ending February 22.
The rate of infection was equal to 1.1 per cent of all inmates in the country, compared to a 0.11 per cent infection rate in the general population – meaning cases were around 10 times more common than among the public.
In another day of coronavirus developments:
The data — for our revelation on prisons and on the huge disparity of coronavirus cases across the nation — was recorded by Middle-layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs).
These are roughly the same as postcode areas, although some have amalgamated several of them. Each MSOA is home to around 8,000 people, on average.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) population estimates suggest there were 8.05million people living in the 1,065 districts with fewer than three cases during the week ending February 24.
When the areas where broken down by infection rates it showed the vast majority — 4,219 or 62 per cent — had a rate between 50 and 200 cases per 100,000 residents in that seven-day spell.
For comparison, 12 per cent of MSOAs — or 808 — had between 20 and 50 cases per 100,000 residents, while a tenth of districts — or 699 — had an infection rate above 200.
While a large number of areas with tiny outbreaks are in Cornwall and Devon, many are scattered across the country — mostly focused in rural areas.
Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, South Hampshire and Wiltshire all are home to MSOAs where there were no cases of the virus.
Even Kent — which was hit hard by the more infectious variant during the darkest days of January — had several areas that recorded next to no cases.
In London, neighbourhoods in Bexley, Bromley, Kensington and Chelsea and Lewisham recorded fewer than three cases.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw today called for restrictions across Devon to be eased faster amid plummeting infection rates.
'Devon’s figures are down to 31 per 100,000 – lower than in Europe’s best performing countries like Finland and Denmark,' he told MailOnline. 'By the end of this month, all our vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated.
'The Government must justify keeping my constituents cooped up over Easter and beyond, unable to see their loved ones, and our local businesses closed, because rates in Middlesbrough remain higher.'
Selaine Saxby, the MP for North Devon, previously told MailOnline that the roadmap was going 'too slowly' for her area.
'I think our cases are low and we could have started local unlocking sooner,' she said. 'But I also think, for tourism, moving at a national pace is important.'
The now defunct Tier system — which twice failed to keep England out of lockdown — saw certain areas enjoy months of lighter curbs, with friends and families allowed to meet in restaurants, pubs and cafes.
No10 has, however, confirmed local lockdowns will come into force in England should case rates spike in areas as restrictions are eased. This would be to ensure that Boris Johnson's roadmap out of restrictions is not delayed.
The number of deaths linked to the virus also fell in all regions of England and Wales, but deaths from all causes remained above the five-year average, which is the number of people expected to die at this time of year
Deaths linked to the virus in care home residents also fell below 1,000 for the first time this year, after 969 were recorded
The North East had the lowest number of fatalities from the virus (165), followed by the South West (268) and Yorkshire and the Humber (320). But deaths from all causes remained above the five-year average in all regions
Eight areas with prisons were featured in the 10 areas worst hit by coronavirus in the week ending February 21, official data show. All of the named prisons had outbreaks reported in local news and saw their local area's infection rate skyrocket
COVID DEATHS FELL 28 PER CENT IN A WEEK, ONS FIGURES SHOW
Covid deaths have fallen by more than a quarter and dropped for the third week in a row, official figures revealed today.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded 4,079 fatalities linked to the virus in England and Wales over the seven days to February 19, marking a 28 per cent drop from the previous week. This was also less than half the number of victims recorded during the darkest weeks of January.
Every region in England recorded a dip in the number of people succumbing to the infection compared to the previous week, with the North East and South West registering the fewest fatalities.
And deaths linked to the virus in care home residents fell below 1,000 for the first time this year, with just 969 in the most recent seven days.
But, despite the promising statistics, deaths linked to Covid still accounted for almost a third of all fatalities and had not dipped below the levels at the start of January, when fatalities first spiralled out of control. And deaths from all causes remained above the five-year average by around 20 per cent.
ONS death figures lag behind the daily tallies, which began falling at the end of January. Statisticians analyse the death certificates to identify exactly how many Covid was to blame for. There is a delay of about three weeks between someone getting infected with the virus and succumbing to the disease, meaning it takes time for a dip in cases to show up in death figures.
It comes as an ONS report today revealed the stunning success of England's vaccine rollout as the vast majority of over-85s in England - who are most at risk from the virus - now have Covid antibodies.
Fascinating charts reveal how the proportion of elderly residents testing positive for the disease-fighting proteins — which signal they have a degree of immunity — has changed between the start of January and now.
The figures showed 22 per cent had Covid antibodies at the start of 2021, before the inoculation roll-out began to rapidly pick up pace. But the rate stood at nearly 91 per cent on February 11, according to the most up-to-date estimate.
Data also showed a dramatic rise in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland among the same age group — but the ONS warned its estimates in the devolved nations were not as certain because they involved smaller sample sizes.
The report — which also showed one in four people overall had Covid antibodies in England, one in six in Wales and Northern Ireland and one in eight in Scotland — looked at blood samples taken from 30,000 over-16s across the country.
Rates were highest in London, where the ONS estimated 29 per cent of people had antibodies compared to just 16 per cent in the South West of England, the lowest in the UK.
As well as through vaccination, antibodies are also made in the blood when someone catches and recovers from the virus. But the length of time antibodies remain at detectable levels in the blood is not fully known, given that studies have shown they can fade after a few months.
It comes after Government analysis showed a single dose of the Covid vaccines being rolled out in the UK cut hospital rates in the elderly by 80 per cent. Public Health England research also found the Pfizer and Oxford University jabs stop about 60 per cent of people from falling ill with Covid a month after their first dose.
More than 20million Britons have now received their first dose of Covid vaccines, and about 800,000 people have been given both injections.
ONS data also showed Covid deaths had fallen for the third week in a row, dropping 28 per cent after 4,079 fatalities linked to the virus were recorded in the week to February 17, the latest available.
Their figures lag behind the daily toll published by the Department of Health, because statisticians go through every death certificate to root out all those mentioning Covid.
The North East had the fewest fatalities from the virus (165), followed by the South West (268) and Yorkshire and the Humber (320). It failed to spread rapidly through these areas before lockdown restrictions were imposed at the start of the year, which may have led to a lower death toll.
The highest number of deaths due to the virus was in the South East (636), but this was 34 per cent below the number recorded the week before (974). The East of England had the second highest toll (566) and the North West had the third highest (563).
In the East and South East the more infectious variant took hold before the country was locked down in January, while cases have not fallen as fast in the North West as in other areas.