Published: 17:21, 23 January 2021
| Updated: 17:24, 23 January 2021
The Covid-19 infection rate in Kent has fallen further and is now nearly in line with the average for England.
Latest figures published today reveal weekly cases fell by -27.1% in the seven days to January 18, as the third national lockdown continues.
It is another hopeful sign following news yesterday that the county is to get a mass vaccination centre at the former Debenhams store in Folkestone. The site, due to open on Tuesday, will operate from 8am until 8pm, seven days a week.
Rates are falling in all of Kent's 12 districts and boroughs, as well as in Medway, where public health statistics are recorded separately.
It leaves Kent with a rate of 457 cases per 100,000 people, -27.1% down on the week and against a pandemic high of 869 on January 4. The rate for England stands at 453.6 cases per 100,000 people.
The rate for Medway remains higher than the rest of Kent at 538.1, although this still represents a fall of 34.1%.
The biggest decrease was seen in Gravesham, where cases have dropped by 34.9% in a week, although its rate remains the highest in the county at 700.4.
Many of Kent's districts now have a rate lower than the national average. The exceptions are Ashford at 490.6, Dartford at 675.8, Folkestone and Hythe at 620.4, Maidstone at 500.5, Thanet at 499.6 plus Medway and Gravesham.
Canterbury has the lowest rate in the county at 352.1, a fall of 34.6%.
Despite the hopeful signs for the county and some other parts of the country, scientists have warned there can be no early easing of lockdown rules after evidence the mutant coronavirus variant which emerged in the south east of England may be more deadly than the original strain.
Boris Johnson has appealed to people to stay home and follow the rules after he revealed the new variant may be associated with “a higher degree of mortality”.
He said the government could have to bring in further restrictions on travel following a warning that other new variants found in South Africa and Brazil may be more resistant to the vaccines that have been developed.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association has reportedly written to chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty calling for the gap between doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be reduced to six weeks.
According to the BBC, the private letter said the current plans of people waiting up to 12 weeks for a second dose - which Health Secretary Matt Hancock said is supported by data from an Israeli study - are “difficult to justify”.
It said: “The absence of any international support for the UK’s approach is a cause of deep concern and risks undermining public and the profession’s trust in the vaccination programme.”
At a news briefing yesterday, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said early evidence suggested the new UK variant could increase mortality by almost a third in men in their 60s.
His warning followed a briefing by scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which concluded there was a “realistic possibility” that it was associated with an increased risk of death.
It was already known that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original - leading to a tightening of restrictions across the UK from late December onwards.
Mr Johnson said the case numbers remained “forbiddingly high” and that it would be a mistake to unlock in England if it were to lead to “another big rebound” in the disease.
But a sub-group of Sage said the reproduction number, the R, for coronavirus had fallen to below one across the UK, suggesting a retreating epidemic.
Almost 100,000 people across the UK have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Figures released yesterday show the government remains a long way off its target of vaccinating its four top priority groups by mid-February.
Just over 107,000 people have now been vaccinated against Covid-19 in Kent - roughly a quarter of the total number that must receive the jab for the goal to be met in 24 days.