The number of weekly registered coronavirus deaths in England and Wales has fallen by more than a quarter to the lowest level since the start of the year, figures show.
There were 4,079 deaths registered in the week ending February 19 where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
This is down 28.3% and the lowest number of weekly registered deaths since the week ending January 1.
The proportion of deaths that involved coronavirus has also fallen – from 37.1% to 29.5% in the latest period.
The figures show that deaths involving Covid-19 among people aged 80 and over have fallen more steeply in recent weeks than those among younger age groups.
Covid-19-registered deaths dropped by 56% for people 80 and over from the week ending January 29 to the week ending February 19, compared with falls of 50% for those aged 70 to 79 and 40% for people under 70.
People aged 80 and over were the second group on the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines, with doses being offered from early December.
Overall, there were 13,809 deaths from all causes registered in the week ending February 19, a 10% fall from the previous seven days.
There were 2,182 deaths above what would usually be expected for this week based on the average over the past five years.
All regions of England recorded a week-on-week fall in the number of Covid-19 deaths registered in the week to February 19, the ONS said.
South-east England saw the highest number of Covid-19 deaths registered – 636, down 35% from 974 in the previous week.
Eastern England saw the second highest number – 566, down 30% from 808.
Some 969 care home resident deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales were registered in the week to February 19, down more than a third (35%) on the previous week, the ONS said.
A total of 40,355 care home residents in England and Wales have now had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate since the pandemic began.
The figures cover deaths of care home residents in all settings, not just in care homes.
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said there are still considerably more deaths from all causes than would be expected at this time of year, which “shows that we’ve still got a long way to go”.
Hopes for getting numbers of deaths close to pre-pandemic levels “rest to a considerable extent on vaccination”, he added.
Noting that deaths involving coronavirus have fallen more steeply in the over-80s in recent weeks, he said: “The difference between age groups isn’t huge, and there’s no way to be certain from counts of deaths whether it’s definitely due to vaccination (and not, say, to people in the oldest age groups being particularly careful about social distancing and lockdown measures), but I certainly regard this as a positive sign that vaccines are probably starting to have a visible effect where it counts.”
Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said the continuing decline in deaths was “reassuring”, adding: “We must ensure this downward trend continues, and remain cautious, especially as schools are reopened next week and restrictions are eased over the coming months.
“We cannot afford to lose steam and would urge the Government to maintain its cautious approach, especially as some local authority areas report slight increases in cases, and as the more transmissible Brazilian variant found in the UK is a cause for concern.
“As we look ahead and await the Chancellor’s Budget announcement, the NHS will need significant investment to help it recover services, alongside managing the ongoing pressures of Covid-19, which will continue for some time to come.”