Deaths in the UK have fallen below the five-year average for the first time since the summer.
Experts say it means the winter wave of Covid deaths has ended and lockdown and the vaccine rollout have saved lives.
In the week up to 12 March, 14% of all deaths involved Covid, compared with 44% at the 22 January peak, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show.
In January, Covid deaths drove overall mortality in the UK 40% higher than the average seen between 2015 and 2019.
There have been more than 145,000 deaths involving Covid in the UK since the first lockdown, a year ago.
During the first wave of the virus, tens of thousands of Covid deaths meant many more people were dying overall than during the same months in previous years.
The first lockdown brought cases down – but it took longer for this to translate to a fall in deaths.
Following this lockdown, and in the warmer weather from late June until the beginning of August, deaths dipped back below the five-year average.
But after the first week of August, they again began to rise above levels expected for the time of year.
And they remained above expected levels every week since – with the exception of the week ending 4 September, which was skewed by delays in reporting because of the August Bank Holiday – until the second week in March, which saw them fall 5% below the average.
This time we have a tool we did not have previously, though, in the form of vaccines.
Prof Neil Ferguson, director of the Medical Research Council Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, at Imperial College London, said: “The new ONS data on deaths is encouraging in suggesting the second devastating wave of the pandemic is behind us.
“But calling epidemics ‘waves’ can be misleading in implying a phenomenon which has reached a natural end – that is not the case here.
“The rapid decline in deaths we have thankfully seen is entirely because of the lockdown and the rapid rollout of vaccines.
“So while I’m optimistic that this we will be able to return to something more like normal in the next few months, we need to remain vigilant and cautious in the pace with which social distancing is relaxed – particularly given the threat still posed by new variants of the virus.”
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