The number of people dying from coronavirus in England and Wales has plunged to the lowest level since mid-March, before the peak of the pandemic struck.

A total of 78 people died from Covid-19 in the week ending September 4, according to the Office for National Statistics. The dip marks a 23 per cent drop from last week, where 101 deaths have been recorded.

On the week March 7 to 13 just five deaths were recorded that mentioned coronavirus on their death statistic. The following week, the number had surged to 103.

The 25-week low is a nose-dive from the peak of the pandemic, when 8,000-plus deaths were being registered every week.

The total number of deaths in England and Wales has also fallen below the five-year average for the first time in a month, dropping 15.7 per cent below the average expected.

The number of deaths in hospitals and care homes remained below the five-year average, but the number of deaths in private homes was still above the level.

Experts had predicted the deaths may fall below the average, as Covid-19 caused more people to die earlier than they would have.

Deaths from influenza accounted for twelve times the number caused by coronavirus, at 12.8 per cent. This is a slight rise from last week where 12.6 per cent of all deaths were caused by the disease. 

There have been 57,528 deaths in the UK where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate, including 52,420 in England and Wales, 4,231 in Scotland and 877 in Northern Ireland.

NO TESTS AVAILABLE ‘IN 10 OF ENGLAND’S COVID-19 HOTSPOTS’ 

No walk-in, drive-in or postal coronavirus tests are available for people with symptoms of the disease in England’s 10 outbreak hotspots, it was claimed yesterday.

Swabs are not available in Bolton, which is fighting the largest outbreak of the virus in the country with an infection rate of 122 cases for every 100,000 people.

The Government website where testing slots are booked also shows there are no tests available in Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester, according to LBC radio. 

When postcodes in each area are put into the testing system it allegedly comes up with the message: ‘This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later.’

The leader of the council in Bolton, which has Britain’s highest infection rate, said there were ‘major flaws’ with the online booking system and that it was out of the council’s control because the Government runs it. He said the issue was ‘unacceptable’. 

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There were a total of 8,996 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending September 4, which is 1,341 fewer deaths than the previous week and 1,403 deaths below the five-year average.

It is the first week that they have dropped below the average since August 13, with every region seeing fewer deaths than expected.

The South East registered the most deaths, at 1,208, followed by the North West, at 1,057, and the East of England, at 806. 

Similarly, the South East registered the most deaths from coronavirus during the week, at 17, followed by the North West, at 13, and Yorkshire and the Humber and East Midlands, which both saw 10 deaths.

The number of deaths from coronavirus in Wales increased to four deaths, from three last week, although their average number of deaths remained below the five-year average.

The overall number of deaths in Wales also dropped from 591 last week to 488. Only 0.8 per cent of these involved coronavirus. 

The ONS said that the drop may be explained by the August bank holiday weekend, contained during this week, meaning fewer officials on hand to register and process coronavirus deaths.

They wrote: ‘The week ending 4 September contained the late August bank holiday, which would have contributed to the decreased number of deaths registered and the decrease in deaths registered involving Covid-19.’

Up to 4 September 424,808 deaths were registered in the UK, which stands 52,872 above the five-year average.

Of those registered, as many as 52,376 mentioned coronavirus on the death certificate, accounting for 12.3 per cent of all deaths in England and Wales.

All figures are provisional and based on death registrations, which can result in a lag between the date the person dies and when it is recorded. 

In the week up to September 4 the UK registered below 2,000 new coronavirus cases a day, reaching a peak of 1,940 on September 4.

There are concerns that the recent wave of infections, which have stayed above 2,000 new cases a day for more than a week, could result in a spike in the death rate two to four weeks later.

But the infections are mostly concentrated in young people, according to the Government, which are at a much lower risk of dying from the infection than older generations.

Despite this, however, officials have expressed concern that they could pass the virus on to older generations, which could then lead to a rise in the death rate.

NEARLY 500,000 PATIENTS HAVE BEEN WAITING AT LEAST SIX WEEKS FOR KEY TESTS

Nearly half a million patients have been waiting six weeks or more for key diagnostic tests to detect cancer, heart attacks and other serious conditions.

The figures have increased 12-fold in just a year as hospitals struggle with a post-Covid backlog.

Charities fear the long waits will have a devastating impact on NHS patients, particularly those who have cancer which may become untreatable.

Separate data shows that the number of patients having cancer treatment is down by a quarter on the same time last year. The total has fallen by 6,647 to 21,599.

Yesterday the Mail revealed that hospital admissions had plummeted across seven serious illnesses.

There is a growing backlog of patients who were unable to receive treatment at the height of the pandemic and who are now at risk of serious complications.

This number is continuing to rise because social distancing and infection control measures mean hospitals can deal with only a limited number of patients.

The latest NHS data shows that 489,647 patients had been waiting more than six weeks for one of 15 key diagnostic tests in July, the last month for which there are figures.

A shocking 291,982 of them had been waiting at least 13 weeks.

By comparison, in July 2019, just 40,099 had been waiting six weeks or more and 5,675 for at least 13 weeks.

Michelle Mitchell of Cancer Research UK said: ‘Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on cancer services and the lives of cancer patients. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment will not be even more impacted by any future waves of Covid-19.’

Alex Norris, a Labour health spokesman, said: ‘Patients waiting for these tests cannot afford for the Government to be as slow as they have been in other areas. Some of these tests will be used to diagnose cancer, and for those patients, we know that early diagnosis leads to better treatment and survival.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Hospitals have been working round the clock throughout the pandemic so that patients can continue to receive vital tests and treatment while staying safe between March and July.’

The backlog is also affecting routine surgery such as hip and knee operations and NHS figures last week showed that 2.1million patients had been waiting at least 18 weeks.

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It can take up to a week for coronavirus tests to be processed, meaning that the number of cases reported in the week up to September 4 actually reflect the situation in the UK a week earlier.

Paul Hunter, associate professor at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline last week he expects the death rate may also start going up ‘within the next two weeks’.

An increased rate of new infections may overwhelm the UK’s track and trace system, which would force authorities to re-impose some lockdown restrictions.

Increased demand for testing has already overwhelmed the UK’s testing system, with no tests being available in any of the ten coronavirus hotspots in England.

Those trying to book tests are greeted with a message on the website telling them that the service is ‘very busy’ and that more appointments will be posted ‘soon’.

The system works by allowing testing centres to upload appointments, which are then booked on a first-come-first-serve basis.

But in recent weeks there are mounting fears that those who do not need tests, and those without coronavirus symptoms, are booking them due to concerns over infection.

Matt Hancock said last week he had heard cases of whole schools trying to book tests, or those having one because they were concerned about travelling abroad, which had overwhelmed the system.

NHS trusts expressed concern this morning that their staff are unable to get tested when they display symptoms of the virus, meaning they sometimes spend weeks before they are allowed back in to work, which in turn leaves hospitals under-staffed as they try to manage a post-coronavirus backlog.

The UK could be forced to draft in science students to staff coronavirus testing labs which are buckling under the pressure of surging demand for swabs.

A nationwide testing fiasco has left doctors and nurses unable to work because they can’t get checked for the illness, preventing the NHS getting back to normal.

In another humiliating blow to the testing system, headteachers have warned that schools — which were closed for months because of the pandemic — will ‘grind to a halt’ if teachers can’t get tested quickly.

One in Preston said this morning that he already has two staff self-isolating at home and struggling to get tested, along with 10 children.

Health officials have blamed the crisis – which experts fear will rumble on for weeks – on a staffing shortage in laboratories. Desperate bosses have now admitted they may have to hire students to plug gaps in the rota in the face of sky-high demand.

Chief executive of NHS Trusts Chris Hopson told the Today programme this morning: ‘It’s clear there are capacity problems with the testing regime.

‘Trust leaders from Bristol, Leeds and London have all raised concerns about the lack of testing availability, leading to greater levels of staff absence.

‘NHS trusts are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests.’

But government sources say the actual cause of the crisis is a ‘secret in Whitehall’, while one leading scientist said labs appear to be fully staffed and working normally and that the Department of Health may be wrong about its maximum capacity.

Backlog in the system means government ministers are reportedly considering restricting coronavirus tests and refusing ‘frivolous’ requests from people who don’t need to be swabbed.

Patients have been told to travel hundreds of miles, even to different countries, for tests because there are none available nearby, and swabs have also had to be flown to Germany and Italy for analysis.

The blunder was unveiled by an investigation by the LBC radio station yesterday that found there were no test bookings available at any of the country’s ten coronavirus hotspots including Bolton, Salford, Bradford and Manchester.

But Priti Patel today denied that tests were unavailable in the country’s worst-hit areas. The Home Secretary told BBC Breakfast today that she has seen with her own eyes that swabs are available in towns hit by local lockdown rules.

Oxford University’s Sir John Bell, who has been advising Number 10 on testing, says the testing fiasco has likely been caused by a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19, triggering a surge in demand for tests.

Professor Alan McNally, who helped set up the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Lab, said a ‘perfect storm’ of events have crashed the testing system. He described the situation as ‘worrying’ because it has happened before the winter and admitted there were ‘clearly underlying issues which nobody wants to tell us about’. 

A man is pictured being turned away from a coronavirus testing centre in Bolton today, which has the highest infection rate in the country

A man is pictured being turned away from a coronavirus testing centre in Bolton today, which has the highest infection rate in the country

A man is pictured being turned away from a coronavirus testing centre in Bolton today, which has the highest infection rate in the country

Ms Patel said it was ‘wrong to say’ that there were no tests available after she was quizzed about the long delays in trying to book a test in Bolton where the infection rate is the highest in England.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning, she said: ‘Tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this.

‘Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place.

‘I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.

‘And on top of that home testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas.’

But the Home Secretary added: ‘Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas.

‘As a Government we work with Public Health England to surge where there is demand in local hotspot areas and we continue to do that.’

On access to testing, she said the majority of tests are available within a 10-mile radius.

‘It seems to me there’ll be extreme cases where people can’t get to test locations within that radius but that doesn’t mean that Public Health England are not working night and day to boost capacity,’ she added. 

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