Covid UK: 5,089 new cases in 8% week-on-week rise as deaths fall 1.5%

Britain today recorded an eight per cent week-on-week rise in Covid cases — even though they are still at levels seen in September before the second wave spiralled out of control.

Department of Health bosses posted another 5,089 positive tests and 64 coronavirus victims. Deaths have fallen by just 1.5 per cent on last Monday’s count. 

Cases began to creep upwards last week following a massive spike in Covid tests being carried out because of schools finally being allowed to reopen in England. But the test positivity rate — one of the best ways of tracking the size of the outbreak — has continued to fall.

Surveillance studies analysing the size of Britain’s second wave also say it is still shrinking amid mounting pressure on Boris Johnson from Tory MPs to speed up his cautious lockdown-easing plans. 

And with deaths and hospitalisations continuing to fall and the vaccine roll-out expected to drastically pick up pace in the coming days, No10 will inevitably face even louder calls to ease restrictions sooner. 

Separate statistics today showed that more than 100million coronavirus swabs have now been processed by NHS Test and Trace, and that almost 24.5million Britons have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine. 

It comes as Boris Johnson today mounted a staunch defence of the AstraZeneca vaccine, insisting that the jabs were ‘both safe and effective’ after France, Italy and Germany became the latest EU states to pause its use over unproven blood clot fears.

The EU now looks set to embrace Russia’s Sputnik V Covid jab even as its leaders shun British-made AstraZeneca vaccines. That is despite European regulators, the World Health Organization and the firm itself insisting the two-dose jab is safe. 

Britain's Covid cases have risen eight per cent compared to the same time last week after 5,089 were recorded. It is thought this is linked to mass swabbing in schools, which is picking up more cases. The test positivity rate - a more reliable measure - is still falling in all regions

Britain's Covid cases have risen eight per cent compared to the same time last week after 5,089 were recorded. It is thought this is linked to mass swabbing in schools, which is picking up more cases. The test positivity rate - a more reliable measure - is still falling in all regions

Britain’s Covid cases have risen eight per cent compared to the same time last week after 5,089 were recorded. It is thought this is linked to mass swabbing in schools, which is picking up more cases. The test positivity rate – a more reliable measure – is still falling in all regions

There were also 64 Covid deaths recorded today, which is down 1.5 per cent on the same time last week

There were also 64 Covid deaths recorded today, which is down 1.5 per cent on the same time last week

There were also 64 Covid deaths recorded today, which is down 1.5 per cent on the same time last week

Covid tests have risen recently amid the return of schools, where pupils are being asked to test themselves for the virus twice a week. Although cases have gone up the positivity rate - a more reliable measure of the outbreak - is still falling

Covid tests have risen recently amid the return of schools, where pupils are being asked to test themselves for the virus twice a week. Although cases have gone up the positivity rate - a more reliable measure of the outbreak - is still falling

Covid tests have risen recently amid the return of schools, where pupils are being asked to test themselves for the virus twice a week. Although cases have gone up the positivity rate – a more reliable measure of the outbreak – is still falling

Europe is presiding over one of the world's slowest jabs roll-outs which has left people vulnerable to infection, while the UK has masterminded one of the world's fastest, with Covid cases and deaths now falling sharply

Europe is presiding over one of the world's slowest jabs roll-outs which has left people vulnerable to infection, while the UK has masterminded one of the world's fastest, with Covid cases and deaths now falling sharply

Europe is presiding over one of the world’s slowest jabs roll-outs which has left people vulnerable to infection, while the UK has masterminded one of the world’s fastest, with Covid cases and deaths now falling sharply

Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended their use of AstraZeneca's  Covid vaccine over blood clot fears despite health bodies saying there is no link and cases trending upwards - threatening more lockdowns

Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended their use of AstraZeneca's  Covid vaccine over blood clot fears despite health bodies saying there is no link and cases trending upwards - threatening more lockdowns

Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended their use of AstraZeneca’s  Covid vaccine over blood clot fears despite health bodies saying there is no link and cases trending upwards – threatening more lockdowns

BORIS INSISTS OXFORD’S VACCINE IS SAFE AS EU TURNS ITS BACK EN MASSE

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon today mounted a staunch defence of the AstraZeneca vaccine after France, Italy and Germany became the latest EU states to pause its use.

The PM insisted the jabs are ‘both safe and effective’ while the First Minister urged Britons to keep coming forward, pointing to ‘significant and growing evidence of the benefits’ in terms of saving lives, preventing symptoms and curbing transmission.

The EU now looks set to embrace Russia’s Sputnik V Covid jab even as its leaders shun British-made AstraZeneca vaccines, with multiple countries halting its use over fears it could cause blood clots.

That is despite European regulators, the World Health Organization and the firm itself insisting the two-dose jab is safe.

France, Italy and Germany today became the latest countries to bring in a pause this afternoon — following the lead of Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Bulgaria.

Berlin’s Health Ministry said the move was a ‘precaution’, while French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s medicines agency revealed they would wait for the European Medicines Agency’s final decision on the safety of the vaccine tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Italy — which has already suspended use of a particular batch of AZ jabs — will begin a new lockdown today, Paris is facing tighter measures as cases overwhelm hospitals, and German ICU doctors say an ‘immediate’ return to lockdown is necessary. 

Tory MPs said the chaotic situation underlined the failure of the EU to protect its citizens, and suggested political leaders were attacking the AstraZeneca vaccine as a smokescreen while the UK’s roll-out forges ahead. Former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson accused the bloc of running a scare-mongering campaign against the vaccine, saying the EU launched a ‘fake news’ drive after it had bungling its orders for the jab.

On a visit in Coventry, Mr Johnson said the UK had ‘one of the toughest and most experienced regulators in the world’.

‘They see no reason at all to discontinue the vaccination programme… they believe that they are effective, highly effective in driving down not just hospitalisations but also serious disease and mortality. We continue to be very confident about the programme.’  

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In another day of Covid developments:

  • The EU turned its back on AstraZeneca’s jab over unproven blood clot fears; 
  • Boris Johnson has defended the vaccine as ‘safe and effective’ – amid growing anger over ‘Brexit revenge’ 
  • Separate data shows two doses of Pfizer or Oxford vaccine give same protection against Covid as catching and recovering from the disease;
  • The Prime Minister has reportedly told close aids he ‘accepts he made a mistake in delaying first Covid lockdown last spring’;
  • Experts have estimated the delay doubled the death toll during the first wave of the pandemic; 
  • Studies show Covid is the deadliest disease to hit Britain since the Spanish flu arrived in 1918.

Department of Health figures showed 36 local authorities in Britain had an infection rate below 20 cases per 100,000 residents.

They were mostly based in the South West of England, but North Norfolk and a few areas in Wales and Scotland also had next to no cases.

The lowest infection rate in England was in Torridge, Devon, (2.9 per 100,000), followed by South Hams, Devon (4.6 per 100,000) and West Devon (5.4 per 100,000).

On the other hand, the highest infection rate was in the Derbyshire Dales (167.3 per 100,000), followed by Redditch (160.7 per 100,000), Hull (157.8 per 100,000) and Corby (153.7 per 100,000). 

Nicola Sturgeon also defended AstraZeneca’s vaccine today, urging Britons to keep coming forward. She pointed to ‘significant and growing evidence of the benefits’ in terms of saving lives, preventing symptoms and curbing transmission. 

France, Italy and Germany today became the latest countries to bring in a pause this afternoon — following the lead of Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Bulgaria.

Berlin’s Health Ministry said the move was a ‘precaution’, while French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s medicines agency revealed they would wait for the European Medicines Agency’s final decision on the safety of the vaccine tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Italy — which has already suspended use of a particular batch of AZ jabs — will begin a new lockdown today, Paris is facing tighter measures as cases overwhelm hospitals, and German ICU doctors say an ‘immediate’ return to lockdown is necessary.

Covid cases are also rising sharply in countries such as Sweden, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and non-EU member Serbia as experts warn that a third wave has begun.

Tory MPs said the chaotic situation underlined the failure of the EU to protect its citizens, and suggested political leaders were attacking the AstraZeneca vaccine as a smokescreen while the UK’s roll-out forges ahead. Former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson accused the bloc of running a scare-mongering campaign against the vaccine, saying the EU launched a ‘fake news’ drive after it had bungling its orders for the jab.

On a visit in Coventry, Mr Johnson said the UK had ‘one of the toughest and most experienced regulators in the world’.

‘They see no reason at all to discontinue the vaccination programme… they believe that they are effective, highly effective in driving down not just hospitalisations but also serious disease and mortality. We continue to be very confident about the programme.’

And at her daily briefing this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said the MRHA watchdog had confirmed ‘there is no current evidence of an increase in blood clots being caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine’.

‘There is, however, significant and growing evidence of the benefits of vaccination reducing death, illness and we hope now reducing transmission as well,’ she said. 

‘For all these reasons and based on the advice and opinion of the MRHA, I’d continue to urge people to come forward for vaccination including with the AstraZeneca vaccine when you are invited to do so.’

Britain’s top scientists also leapt to the defence of the country’s staple Covid jab today, saying it was ‘reckless’ to stop using the vaccine and that the risk of catching the disease – which kills around one in 200 people and is more likely to cause blood clots – was much higher.

European factories are gearing up to produce Russia’s coronavirus vaccine as regulators move closer to approving it in the hopes of speeding up the continent’s shambolic roll-out. 

Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s Direct Investment Fund which bank-rolled the Sputnik V jab, said today it has reached agreements with Italy, Spain, France and Germany to begin making the jab.

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to a National Express depot in Coventry today) mounted a staunch defence of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the Netherlands and Ireland became the latest EU states to pause its use

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to a National Express depot in Coventry today) mounted a staunch defence of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the Netherlands and Ireland became the latest EU states to pause its use

Boris Johnson (pictured on a visit to a National Express depot in Coventry today) mounted a staunch defence of the AstraZeneca vaccine after the Netherlands and Ireland became the latest EU states to pause its use

Many EU countries are seeing cases rise again with vaccines still coming too slowly to protect large chunks of the population against sickness and death

Many EU countries are seeing cases rise again with vaccines still coming too slowly to protect large chunks of the population against sickness and death

Many EU countries are seeing cases rise again with vaccines still coming too slowly to protect large chunks of the population against sickness and death 

SCIENTISTS ANGER OVER SUSPENSION OF ASTRAZENECA JABS 

One of Britain’s leading statisticians today warned countries suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid jab could be doing ‘more harm than good’.

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘I think these pauses, I don’t think you can consider these as being cautious.

‘They actually could be doing more harm than good. If it means there is a delay in rolling out the vaccine to people who would otherwise have a vaccine, then that will cause harm.’

Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiologist at Reading University, said: ‘The numbers of people going down with blood clots after vaccination are about what you would expect from the general population and they don’t seem any different.

‘I do wonder whether there is more to this than is being admitted to at this stage – that would be the only justification for what they’re doing because they are putting people at risk from Covid.

‘Maybe the proportion of younger people getting those conditions is higher than you would normally expect. I would have thought, if that were the case, any sensible regulator would point it out.

‘If they said “we’ve got an unduly high number of blood clots in younger people”, that’s a different matter. I think they’re probably less likely to get blood clots than older people.

‘I would have expected to see any effects in the trial.’

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Dr Phil Bryan, a safety expert at the UK’s medicines regulator (MHRA), said that ‘people should still go and get their Covid-19 vaccine when asked to do so’.

‘We are closely reviewing reports but given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause,’ he said.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said there was ‘no demonstrable difference’ in the number of blood clots between the general population and AstraZeneca recipients.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘We have to remember that there are 3,000 blood clots a month on average in the general population and because we’re immunising so many people, we are bound to see blood clots at the same time as the vaccination, and that’s not because they are due to the vaccination.

‘One ought to also remember that Covid causes blood clots. So, the risks of not having the Covid vaccination far outweigh the risks from the vaccinations.’

It comes after research suggested two doses of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine offer the same protection against Covid as getting infected and recovering.

A study of 13,000 health workers in England revealed no-one who received both jabs suffered symptomatic illness in the fortnight after their booster dose.

That’s compared to the two per cent of Covid survivors who fell ill with the virus after recovering from an earlier infection. The sample size was too small to say for definite the vaccines gave more protection than previous illness.

Oxford University researchers who carried out the research said the findings applied to the more infectious, and possibly deadlier, Kent variant.

They also found a single dose of either vaccine reduced the number of people with symptomatic illness by 67 per cent after 14 days. This finding highlights that healthcare workers ‘should take up second vaccines as soon as these are available’, they said.

Dr Katie Jeffery, director of infection prevention and control at Oxford University Hospitals, who was involved in the study, said: ‘We are grateful to the thousands of staff who work at OUH’s hospitals who have taken part in the testing programme.

‘In this case it is significant that two doses of the vaccines offer similar levels of protection to natural immunity, and that we saw no symptomatic infections among those staff who had had two vaccine doses.

‘Data from studies such as this are important as they provide information which may feed into national policy.

‘It also highlights that healthcare workers and other groups at increased risk of infection should take up second vaccines as soon as these are available.’

Two doses of either the Pfizer or Oxford University vaccines offer the same protection against Covid than getting infected and recovering, research suggests

Two doses of either the Pfizer or Oxford University vaccines offer the same protection against Covid than getting infected and recovering, research suggests

Two doses of either the Pfizer or Oxford University vaccines offer the same protection against Covid than getting infected and recovering, research suggests

COVID IS DEADLIEST PANDEMIC TO HIT BRITAIN SINCE SPANISH FLU 85 YEARS AGO 

Official charts today laid bare the full devastating impact of the coronavirus crisis on the UK.

A new Office for National Statistics report assessing the damage done by the pandemic showed Covid-19 caused more deaths in 2020 than other infectious diseases caused in any year for over a century.

The last time an infectious disease had a similar toll on the nation was way back in 1918 during the so-called ‘Spanish flu’ influenza pandemic.

The ONS report also sets out the scale of the consequences for the economy, with public sector debt having reached levels last seen in the early 1960s as ministers borrowed billions of pounds to keep the UK afloat.

Coronavirus has also taken a sledgehammer to the jobs market, with many industries suffering a bigger fall in vacancies during 2020 than they did in the wake of the 2008 financial crash.

However, unlike the 2008 crisis and the resulting economic downturn, average house prices have actually increased throughout the pandemic.

The house price boom comes despite the UK economy suffering a 9.9 per cent dip in 2020 – the worst annual performance since the Great Frost devastated Europe in 1709.

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In other developments it emerged Britain’s Covid lockdown came late because the Government’s scientific advisers were using out-of-date data, close allies to Mr Johnson have claimed.

As the first anniversary of the March 23 shutdown approaches, senior sources have insisted Mr Johnson would act ‘harder, earlier and faster’ if he could go back in time, according to the Daily Telegraph.

But they have claimed the PM was let down by his expert SAGE advisers who badly misjudged how quickly the virus was spreading.

Mr Johnson was accused of costing lives and being too slow in his initial Covid response, which saw the country’s borders remain wide open despite huge transmission in Europe and a voluntary lockdown which left it up to individuals and employers to decide what precautions to take. About 40,000 people died from the disease in the first wave.

Close allies of Mr Johnson claim the PM was only alerted to the scale of the problem on March 14, when SAGE revealed hospitals were just three weeks away from being overwhelmed.

Until then, they said Mr Johnson had been making decisions based on out-of-date projections provided by Government departments.

This gave the PM just over a week to weigh up the implications of shutting down the entire country and economy before finally issuing the unprecedented stay at home order. Prominent SAGE advisers have claimed this delay doubled the death toll in the first wave.

Mr Johnson has promised to call an inquiry to look into the timing of decisions in the early days of the pandemic, to ensure ministers do not repeat previous mistakes.

A senior source told the Telegraph: ‘Ordinarily the impulse, when you’re taking decisions that have big financial implications, would be to take time, and even in the autumn it was still a case of trying to balance the economic and the health aspects of lockdown. By the winter there was a view that you had to choose.

‘[Mr Johnson] now takes decisions very quickly, and will say “if we’re going to do this, let’s do it properly and quickly”.’

The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised for his response during the early days of the pandemic.

The UK’s borders remained wide open throughout half-term, despite crises unfolding Europe, which allowed tens of thousands of cases to be imported from Spain and Italy.

On March 3, the PM boasted of shaking hands ‘with everybody’ at a hospital where there were confirmed Covid patients amid accusations he was not taking the threat of the disease seriously

Mr Johnson also scrapped community testing on March 12 to reserve limited swabbing capacity for the elderly and vulnerable.

And social distancing, avoiding pubs and working from home recommendations were not made compulsory until the March 23 announcement, which left it up to individuals and employers to decide what to do.

One SAGE scientist said the death toll from the first wave could have been halved if lockdown came sooner.

Professor Neil Ferguson – an epidemiologist at Imperial College London whose doomsday predictions played a key role in prompting the first shutdown – has said the decision to delay lockdown by a week doubled the death toll during the first wave. 

His prediction of 510,000 deaths in the first wave helped convince ministers to hit the panic button and pull the curtains over society. The top scientist was forced to resign as a Government adviser after breaking lockdown rules to meet his married lover. 

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