BRITAIN is almost free of flu with a 90 per cent drop in cases boosting hopes the NHS will escape a winter crisis.
It comes as Covid infections rates are also falling amid signs the peak of the second wave may be over.
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The figures suggest hospitals will avoid being overwhelmed by a feared double blow from Covid and flu over winter.
Britain became the world’s first country to approve a Covid vaccine on Wednesday when the MHRA said it had given the Pfizer/BioNTech jab the green light.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab — which is cheaper and easier to store — could be available in less than a week if it passes through the appraisal process as rapidly as Pfizer’s.
Regulator the MHRA began its final assessment of the Oxford jab a week after Pfizer’s.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease specialist at the University of East Anglia, told The Daily Mail: “I am now far more optimistic than I was even a couple of months ago.
“It was all looking very bleak until the back end of October – but it is now looking like this winter is going to be a lot easier than it could have been.”
He added: “‘If the vaccine rollout is doing well and we don’t see a tsunami of new cases after Christmas, I think from mid-January they could start to relax the restrictions quite quickly.”
Public Health England figures show that there were 1.2 GP consultations for suspected flu per 100,000 people last week.
Last year, when flu cases were mild, the number was almost ten times higher, at 10.6 per 100,000.
Current figures suggest there were only around 600 cases of flu across the UK last week.
The drop in flu cases comes after nine months of social distancing, improved hygiene and mask wearing.
NHS Test and Trace statistics showed positive Covid cases had slumped by more than a quarter in the last week, down from 152,719 to 110,620 in the week to November 25.
Cases are now at the lowest level since the week ending October 14, with intensive care admissions for Covid also sinking , down by 17 per cent.
If the vaccine rollout is doing well and we don’t see a tsunami of new cases after Christmas, I think from mid-January they could start to relax the restrictions quite quickly.
Professor Paul Hunter, infectious disease specialist at the University of East Anglia
And hospital bed occupancy is down to 87 per cent from 95 per cent at the same time last year.
They will be distributed across the UK, with 50 hospitals in England on standby to receive them.
Overall deaths now stands at 60,113 while 14,879 new infections were recorded today – down from 17,555 cases reported this time last week.
Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, who heads up a Covid monitoring project, said: “It’s a much more optimistic picture then was painted for us a few weeks ago.
“There is not this huge pressure on the NHS that we were told to expect.
“We should not be complacent – but it is all very good news.”
Boris Johnson and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam on Wednesday urged Brits not to abandon the Tiers restrictions and social distancing just because the vaccine had been approved.
Prof Van-Tam warned it would leave the vaccine trying to work in a “head wind” if people stopped following the guidance and sparked a “tidal wave” of infections.
A second month-long national lockdown ended on Wednesday and saw 99% of Brits plunged into the harshest Tier 2 and 3 measures which ban people from socialising indoors with loved one.