More than 20 prisoners have died in a fortnight after contracting coronavirus, figures suggest.

Provisional data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show the deaths of 24 inmates for the two-week period to March 1 were Covid-related.

During this time, 1,478 prisoners tested positive in around half the jails in England and Wales. As of Monday, 63 prisons had at least one prisoner who was testing positive.

The reported deaths include all those where an inmate tested positive within 28 days of their death or where there was a clinical assessment that Covid-19 was a contributory factor, regardless of the cause of death – which must later be officially determined by a coroner.

More than 20 prisoners have died in a fortnight after contracting coronavirus, figures suggest

More than 20 prisoners have died in a fortnight after contracting coronavirus, figures suggest

The Office for National Statistics estimated that 248,000 people across England are infected with the coronavirus, down from 370,000 in its estimate last Friday

The Office for National Statistics estimated that 248,000 people across England are infected with the coronavirus, down from 370,000 in its estimate last Friday

UK will have to ‘live with a substantial degree of death’ in post-lockdown era, SAGE adviser says 

The UK will still have to live with ‘substantial’ levels of Covid deaths after lockdowns come to an end because the virus won’t go away, one of the Government’s scientific advisers said today.

Professor Andrew Hayward, an infectious disease expert based at University College London and a member of SAGE, said he believes ‘we’ve been through the worst of this’.

But he said vaccines won’t totally get rid of the virus and the country would still have to live with ‘a degree of mortality that will be substantial’.

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SAGE has predicted that a third wave of the virus is inevitable and tens of thousands more people will die because millions will be left unprotected by vaccines, which aren’t 100 per cent effective and won’t be taken by everyone.

Almost 125,000 people in Britain have been killed by Covid so far in the pandemic, but deaths are now down to a four-month low at 255 per day from a peak of more than 1,200 per day at the end of January.

This drop means that the number of ‘excess’ deaths – those above what is considered normal for the time of year – may already be back to zero, meaning deaths from all causes are now at average levels, one doctor has claimed.

Campaigners have previously called for more of the prison population, currently standing at 78,037 people, to be released on temporary licence over fears for the safety of inmates as outbreaks occur behind bars.

But the MoJ says it has taken action to try to keep staff and prisoners safe which has significantly limited the spread of the virus.

It comes as Britain’s Covid infection figures have dropped to 5,947 and deaths have fallen by a third, official figures revealed.

In the latest sign Britain is bringing Covid under control, infection figures show a 30 per cent drop week-on-week compared to last Friday, when more than 8,500 cases were recorded.

The figures are also down from Thursday, when 6,543 Covid cases were recorded. There have been more than 4million cases since recorded in the UK since the pandemic began.

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Department of Health officials revealed there had been 236 more Covid fatalities – down by a third week-on-week, with the Health Secretary tonight boasting the decline was becoming ‘faster and faster’.

Bolstering hopes that the darkest days of the pandemic are over, Mr Hancock claimed the figures offered proof that the once ‘unbreakable’ link between cases inevitably turning into deaths was ‘now breaking’.

He told tonight’s Downing Street press conference: ‘The vaccine is protecting the NHS, saving lives right across the country. The country’s plan is working.’ Two-fifths of adults have now been jabbed and 1million have had both doses.

His comments come after an array of official data revealed Covid cases are falling rapidly, fuelling calls for No10 to relax lockdown measures sooner. Under current plans heavily criticised by anti-lockdown Tory MPs, England will still have some restrictions until at least June 21.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed England’s outbreak shrank by a third in the week to February 26, with 248,000 people infected – the equivalent of one in every 220 people.

And a symptom-tracking study revealed the number of people getting infected each day has started to drop again after levelling off in February. Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist behind the research, revealed he hoped lockdown could be eased ‘earlier’.

Even No10’s normally-cautious advisers are optimistic about Britain’s prospects, with SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward admitting that he believed the country had already ‘been through the worst’ of the pandemic.

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However, the Government’s advisory panel claimed the R rate has crept up for the first time since January. 

Modellers predicted the rate was between 0.7 and 0.9 but remained below one, meaning the outbreak is still shrinking. Last week it was estimated to be as low as 0.6. 

But one SAGE epidemiologist insisted the era of caring about the R rate was ‘coming to an end’ because the figure is no longer at the heart of No10’s Covid strategy. 

Professor John Edmunds, from the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said a rise in cases ‘may be tolerated as long as it doesn’t put undue pressure on hospital services’.

Almost 21.4million vulnerable Britons have already been vaccinated, with the mammoth NHS operation continuing to run smoothly. 

Any hiccups in the inoculation drive – which will save countless lives – could threaten lockdown-easing plans.

It comes after the Health Secretary also announced the mystery person in Britain infected with the Brazil variant of coronavirus had been found, following a nationwide hunt lasting five days. 

The infected person who didn’t fill in key contact-tracing forms was a man from Croydon, who handed himself in.

Department of Health bosses have yet to confirm exactly how many new cases have been spotted or coronavirus vaccines dished out because of a ‘delay’ in getting the data. 

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