On Thursday night, a senior Government source said “no firm conclusions” on vaccine efficacy had been passed to ministers, adding that data was “still being gathered”.

Covid infection rates are now halving every two weeks, and on current trends daily cases will fall to 1,000 by mid-April. Infection levels have fallen by more than two thirds since January, according to the React study led by Imperial College London.

On Thursday, Baroness Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, announced job cuts for its call handlers as a result of declining levels of infection. In an email, she wrote:  “As a result of the decreasing levels of prevalence, NHS Test and Trace are reducing the size of the contact tracing workforce.

“As prevalence levels decrease, the profile of the tracing workforce will change from volume contact tracing towards supporting enhanced contact tracing and outbreaks.”

The new figures show the number of outbreaks in care homes fell from 320 to 181 during the week ending Feb 11.  It follows the rollout of vaccinations to all eligible care homes for the elderly by the end of last month.  

The statistics show that, for people aged 80 and over, the rate of Covid cases fell from 208 per 100,000 to 129.6, a drop of 38 per cent. Levels for those in their 70s fell by 35.6 per cent, with a reduction of 31.2 per cent for those in their 60s. 

Meanwhile, two international studies suggested that one dose of the Pfizer vaccine offers protection of at least 85 per cent. Scientists in Israel said the findings endorsed the UK approach of administering jabs up to 12 weeks apart. An analysis of documents submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration suggests efficacy rates of 92.6 per cent at first dose. 

Despite the promising vaccine news, it is understood that Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor is preparing to extend the furlough scheme until the summer and offer businesses another six-month suspension of rates. 

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