THE UK’s coronavirus death toll hit 44,650 today after 48 more fatalities in the smallest Friday rise since lockdown began.
Covid-19 victims in the past 24 hours were all in England with no new deaths in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
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Another 512 positive cases were confirmed today, bringing the total number of Covid infections in the UK to 288,133.
Today’s rise in deaths is lower than it was yesterday, when 85 new fatalities were logged.
It is also the lowest rise recorded on a Friday since March 20, just before the lockdown began.
Until today, the smallest jump recorded on a Friday during lockdown was last week (July 3), when 137 fatalities were confirmed.
The figure is almost three times smaller today.
It comes as…
In England, another 22 people who tested positive for the bug have died, bringing the total number of deaths in English hospitals to 29,013.
Patients were aged between 52 and 99 and all had underlying health conditions.
No new deaths were recorded in Scotland or Wales overnight, meaning the tragic tallies there remain at 2,490 and 1,540 respectively.
The toll in Northern Ireland also remains the same (554) after no new deaths were recorded today.
It comes as the coronavirus R rate rose again in England – hitting the crucial value of 1, new figures show.
Regional statistics released today by the Government show it has crept up to between 0.8 and 1 in England after rising in the South.
It comes almost a week after pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers were allowed to reopen.
Gyms, nail salons and spas are also set to reopen this month, injecting a new lease of life into the beauty industry.
But as restrictions ease, the R-rate has risen above 1 in the South West, where it is between 0.7 to 1.1, as well as the South East where it is now 0.7 to 1.0.
East Anglia and the North West have also seen similar increases in their R value ranges – from 0.7 to 0.9 last week to 0.7 to 1.0 today.
However, the value is down slightly in the Midlands – despite a local outbreak in Leicester and subsequent lockdown – from 0.8 to 1.0 last week to between 0.7 and 0.9, this week.
Experts say the reality is the true R rate probably lies somewhere between the upper and lower estimates – and the epidemic is continuing to shrink.
Prof Oliver Johnson, of the University of Bristol, said: “The fact that R is still estimated to be below 1 across the UK implies that the epidemic is continuing to shrink overall.
“This is consistent with the numbers observed through positive tests and deaths, which both continue to decline.
“There is uncertainty on these estimates because R cannot be directly measured and inferring its value becomes hard when the number of cases is low.
“For this reason it is not possible to rule out the possibility that the epidemic is growing in some regions, though values in the middle of the ranges given are most likely.”
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has warned the bug is “accelerating and getting worse” as cases have doubled in six weeks.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said: “In most of the world the virus is not under control. It is getting worse.
“More than 11.8 million cases of Covid-19 have now been reported to WHO. More than 544,000 lives have been lost.
“And the pandemic is still accelerating. The total number of cases has doubled in the last six weeks.”