The UK’s coronavirus infection rate has plunged below almost every country in the EU, with the latest official figures showing cases have fallen by nearly 30% in a week.
The success of the vaccine rollout, along with the latest national lockdown measures, have helped Britain – one of the worst hit back in January – into the best position among the bloc’s major nations.
Over the past week, the UK has recorded an average of 73 cases per million people each day – lower than all 27 EU nations besides Denmark and Portugal, where strict lockdowns were imposed.
In France, the weekly infection rate is around eight times higher than in the UK and intensive care units are overwhelmed.
As the country heads towards a third national lockdown this weekend, President Emmanuel Macron pointed the finger at the so-called ‘British variant’ for driving cases up.
He announced that schools will be closed for three weeks, as will non-essential shops, and imposed a 7pm curfew and one-month domestic travel ban, among other measures.
In a televised address to the nation Wednesday night, Mr Macron said they are necessary as ‘the epidemic is accelerating’.
Health officials in Paris had warned they would have no choice but to start turning patients away due to a lack of available beds after the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care surged past 5,000.
Germany recorded 23,681 cases on March 30, meaning the infection rate there is nearly three times higher than the UK’s.
Hungary is the worst affected EU nation with a daily rate of 882 cases per million. It is 571 in France, while in the Netherlands it is 449 and in Italy it is 334.
The UK recorded another 43 deaths and 4,052 infections on Wednesday. The average number of daily deaths is now 50 – down from a peak of 1,284 on January 19 and 56% lower than last Wednesday.
The contrasting fortunes of the UK and mainland Europe has largely been attributed to the success of Britain’s vaccine rollout.
The jab drive has seen nearly six in 10 adults receiving at least their first dose. Across the EU, just 11% of the population has been inoculated.
Meanwhile, the head of the NHS has urged anyone who is eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine to book one immediately and for people to turn up for second doses when called.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘We’re well on track to meet our April 15 goal of offering NHS Covid vaccination to everyone aged 50 and over, as well as other high risk groups.
‘In just the past two weeks, we’ve now jabbed nearly 85% of people aged 50-54, and over three million of the highest risk people have also now had their top-up second dose.’
However, Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, warned ‘we’re not out of the woods yet’.
She said tens of thousands of people are still being infected each week and there are still as many people in hospital now as there were at the start of the second wave.
Dr Doyle warned: ‘As restrictions lift and the weather improves, we cannot drop our guard. We’re not out of the woods quite yet.
‘Until all of us are protected, it remains essential to follow the steps we know stop the virus from spreading.
‘Kill it by washing your hands, block it by wearing your mask, and maintain a safe social distance in the open air.
‘Case numbers are still high in certain places and looking forward they are certainly not predictable. So your actions are still saving lives.’
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