Covid UK: UK records another 54,990 coronavirus cases and 454 deaths

More than 50,000 new coronavirus cases have been recorded for the sixth day in a row and another 454 deaths today as health officials warn that people as young as 30 ‘will die from Covid’.

Official figures show there had been a further 54,990 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, up 80 per cent from last week’s case figure of 30,501, while the number of deaths had increased by 43 per cent. 

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate show there have now been 91,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK. The figures do not represent results from the whole UK due to data on deaths not being reported by Scotland on Sunday. 

NHS hospitals in the West Country are now bracing for an overspill of critically-ill patients from London under emergency plans, with trusts in the capital and the south-east preparing to transfer patients to the south-west.

Patients in the east of England will be moved to the Midlands while the massive Nightingale field hospital at the London Excel Centre is also expected to reopen within a fortnight amid warnings the health service could collapse in the event that ‘very, very tired’ staff are unable to cope with a deluge of cases.

Dr Alison Pittard, the dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, today claimed that people as young as 30 are suffering from coronavirus in ICU wards and claimed that ‘younger people will die from Covid’. 

The surge in cases and deaths could lead to a third national lockdown as Sir Keir Starmer today demanded a new blanket squeeze to control the virus while Boris Johnson admitted tougher measures are ‘probable’.  

The Labour leader has dramatically called for draconian countermeasures to come into force within 24 hours, condemning the PM for ‘hinting’ at action while dragging his heels. 

‘The virus is clearly out of control,’ Sir Keir told Sky News. ‘It is no use the PM hinting that more restrictions are coming. I say bring in those restrictions now.’ He added that it was ‘inevitable’ more schools will have to close: ‘The longer you delay the decisions the worse it is.’ 

The PM today refused to rule out a third national lockdown, telling the BBC he is ‘reconciled’ to imposing further massive restrictions on public life in a bid to stamp out the virus.

Mr Johnson’s effort to reopen schools was shattered by councils and unions who claim schools are too unsafe for children and staff, while scientists insist ‘mutant’ Covid spreads more rapidly among younger people.  

SAGE adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport today even hinted that the virus could not be controlled unless ‘tighter social distancing measures’ were brought into force, and predicted Tier 5 curbs.  

In another welter of coronavirus developments today: 

  • Boris Johnson told parents to send children to schools in Tier 4 areas tomorrow, but hinted he would close schools if cases rise in those areas;  
  • Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman said children’s learning cannot be ‘furloughed’;
  • Headteachers called for this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams to be scrapped; 
  • Experts leading the UK vaccination programme defended the decision to extend the gap between the two doses, insisting it is ‘the way we save lives’;
  • Health bosses last night insisted urgent cancer operations in London will not be scrapped to ease the strain on hospitals inundated with Covid patients; 
  • Labour’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens is being treated in hospital for coronavirus, her aides announced last night;  
  • Another 57,725 had positive test results and recorded 445 deaths yesterday; 
  • A London children’s hospital consultant blasted ‘irresponsible’ nurse who gave a BBC interview claiming her hospital has a ‘whole ward of children’ with Covid;
  • Young non-voting women are most likely to turn down a Covid vaccine if it were available tomorrow, the Find Out Now poll has found; 
  • The PM faces losing most of the ‘Red Wall’ seats that delivered his historic election victory a year ago and his own seat, according to a massive poll.

Official figures show there had been a further 54,990 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, up 80 per cent from last week’s case figure of 30,501, while the number of deaths had increased by 43 per cent from last Sunday to 454

Ambulances lined up outside the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, one of the areas where hospitals have become stretched due to the faster spreading new strain of Covid-19

Ambulances lined up outside the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, one of the areas where hospitals have become stretched due to the faster spreading new strain of Covid-19

Ambulances lined up outside the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Kent, one of the areas where hospitals have become stretched due to the faster spreading new strain of Covid-19

Health officials today warned that people as young as 30 'will die from Covid' as NHS hospitals in the West Country brace for an overspill of critically-ill patients from London (Above, a patient at the Royal London Hospital yesterday)

Health officials today warned that people as young as 30 'will die from Covid' as NHS hospitals in the West Country brace for an overspill of critically-ill patients from London (Above, a patient at the Royal London Hospital yesterday)

Health officials today warned that people as young as 30 ‘will die from Covid’ as NHS hospitals in the West Country brace for an overspill of critically-ill patients from London (Above, a patient at the Royal London Hospital yesterday)

Labour leader Keir Starmer has dramatically called for blanket measures to come into force within 24 hours, condemning the PM for 'hinting' at action while dragging his heels

Labour leader Keir Starmer has dramatically called for blanket measures to come into force within 24 hours, condemning the PM for 'hinting' at action while dragging his heels

The surge in cases and deaths could lead to a third national lockdown as Sir Keir Starmer today demanded a new blanket squeeze to control the virus while Boris Johnson admitted tougher measures are 'probable'

The surge in cases and deaths could lead to a third national lockdown as Sir Keir Starmer today demanded a new blanket squeeze to control the virus while Boris Johnson admitted tougher measures are 'probable'

The surge in cases and deaths could lead to a third national lockdown as Sir Keir Starmer today demanded a new blanket squeeze to control the virus while Boris Johnson admitted tougher measures are ‘probable’ 

Two thirds of England's population is now in Tier 4, with the remainder living in Tier 3 lockdowns. Only the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, is in the looser Tier 2

Two thirds of England's population is now in Tier 4, with the remainder living in Tier 3 lockdowns. Only the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, is in the looser Tier 2

Two thirds of England’s population is now in Tier 4, with the remainder living in Tier 3 lockdowns. Only the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall, is in the looser Tier 2

Britain records more than 50,000 coronavirus cases for the FIFTH day in a row – but deaths dip to 445 – as doctors warn crisis will get much worse and situation in packed London hospitals is ‘MILD compared to what’s coming next week’ 

Britain has recorded more than 50,000 Covid-19 cases for the fifth day in a row but hospital deaths from the virus have dipped to fewer than 500.

Another 57,725 had positive test results in the last 24 hours, meaning 2,599,789 have had the disease in the UK since the pandemic began.

The country also saw an additional 445 deaths, taking the total official count to 74,570 – but 90,000 people in total have died with Covid-19 written on their death certificate.

And experts are warning jam-packed hospitals that the current number of coronavirus cases is ‘mild’ compared to what is coming next week – as the new more-contagious Covid strain continues to wreak havoc on the UK. 

President of the Royal College of Physicians Professor Andrew Goddard also noted healthcare workers in Britain are ‘really worried’ about the battle against the virus over the next few months.  

Today’s grim figures come as the first batches of the newly-approved coronavirus vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca arrive at UK hospitals ahead of the jab’s rollout tomorrow.

Some 530,000 doses of the jab will be available from Monday – with vulnerable people taking priority – as Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the inoculation drive is ‘accelerating’.

One of the first hospitals to take delivery of a batch on Saturday morning was the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, which is part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

But Sir John Bell, a Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and member of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), said insufficient investment in the capacity to make vaccines has left Britain unprepared. 

He also said the country lacks medical supply firms to build essential components to make the jab, forcing Oxford scientists to import parts from abroad.  

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Although ICU capacity has been increased, three intensive care units were full every day last week: the Walton Centre in north-west England, and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells and Portsmouth University hospitals in the south-east. 

Fourteen intensive care units were at least 95 per cent full throughout Christmas week, five of them in London, according to the Times.

Doctors who spoke on condition of anonymity told the newspaper how consultants were choosing who to admit to intensive care by assessing which patient ‘has the best chance of surviving’. 

One GP working in a west London hospital claimed: ‘We could be like Lombardy [northern Italy] by next week. There is a high likelihood we’re going to see a disaster.’ 

Dr Megan Smith, a consultant anaesthetist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said medics faced ‘horrifying’ decisions with patients ‘in competition’ for ventilators.

She told ITN: ‘It’s not a position any of us ever want to be in, and we’re used to making difficult decisions as doctors, but deciding the outcome of, effectively a competition for a ventilator, is just not what anyone signed up for. 

‘In terms of the emotional trauma for those individuals, it’s horrifying. We shouldn’t be having to do it, but we are.’ 

Asked about the hospitals crisis in London and the surrounding areas, Dr Pittard said the trusts are ‘under immense pressure’.

‘It’s really difficult for staff because obviously we want to make sure everyone is cared for, but also need to look after the staff as well,’ she said. ‘So it’s really difficult for everyone working in NHS hospitals at the moment, particularly in my area of intensive care.’

She also admitted that the NHS would have to postpone ‘some of the more non-urgent stuff’, adding: ‘obviously that is one of the ways the NHS managed in the first wave, was to reduce the normal activity so that we could focus on Covid patients.

‘One of the things that we have done now during the second wave is to continue normal activity alongside other Covid-related activity. And we want to continue that at all costs… but of course some of the more non-urgent stuff will need to be postponed’. 

Dr Pittard also revealed that NHS hospitals are seeing greater numbers of younger people being admitted for treatment than during the first wave of the epidemic last spring. 

‘The age group is a lot lower than it was during the first wave, and I think that’s probably because more people are getting Covid and it is affecting younger people, perhaps younger people are realising how serious it is and they need to seek input as well,’ she told the Andrew Marr Show. 

‘It does affect younger people, so just because you’re not in the older age bracket doesn’t mean you’re immune.’  

She went on: ‘One of the downsides is that because we have been through it all before staff are very, very tired and that is the thing that concerns me. 

‘We can’t just create staff overnight. We can get more drugs. We can get more beds and equipment but we can’t just get more staff, so that is the real concern this time around.’

Having dealt with the first wave of the virus, staff are now better prepared in terms of how they manage patients when they come into hospital and how their treatment in intensive care, she said.

‘It is almost like we know what is coming our way so we know how to deal with it.’   

It comes as hospitals across the UK are told to prepare to face the same Covid pressures as the NHS in London and south-east England.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the virus’s highly infectious new variant was spreading nationwide. 

He said the current case numbers at more than 50,000 per day for the past five days, were ‘mild’ compared with where he expected them to be next week and warned that doctors are ‘really worried’ about the coming months. 

‘There’s no doubt that Christmas is going to have a big impact, the new variant is also going to have a big impact, we know that is more infectious, more transmissible, so I think the large numbers that we’re seeing in the South East, in London, in South Wales, is now going to be reflected over the next month, two months even, over the rest of the country,’ he told BBC Breakfast yesterday.

Prof Goddard added: ‘All hospitals that haven’t had the big pressures that they’ve had in the South East, and London and South Wales, should expect that it’s going to come their way.

‘This new variant is definitely more infectious and is spreading across the whole of the country. It seems very likely that we are going to see more and more cases, wherever people work in the UK, and we need to be prepared for that.’ 

The UK recorded a record 57,725 Covid-19 cases yesterday, the most since the pandemic began and the fifth day daily infections surpassed 50,000.

The country also saw an additional 445 deaths, taking the total official count to 74,570 – but 90,000 people in total have died with Covid-19 written on their death certificate.

London is now the epicentre of the UK’s outbreak and its hospitals are being stretched with the flood of patients. The weekly rate of cases is double the national average at 858 per 100,000 people. Now the capital’s weekly rate of cases is 858 per 100,000 people – double the UK average.

One doctor at a busy London hospital laid bare the pressure frontline medics are up against. Dr Katie Sanderson told the Sunday Mirror: ‘Things are incredibly difficult now. Hospitals are doing everything they can – with all hands on deck, even flying patients out to other parts.’ 

She added that ‘nurses are stretched ever thinner’ and that staff are ‘scared’ because of ‘woefully inadequate’ PPE. 

London Ambulance staff stretcher a patient from the ambulance into The Royal London Hospital in east London, on Saturday

London Ambulance staff stretcher a patient from the ambulance into The Royal London Hospital in east London, on Saturday

London Ambulance staff stretcher a patient from the ambulance into The Royal London Hospital in east London, on Saturday

London is now the epicentre of the outbreak and its hospitals are being stretched with the flood of patients. The weekly rate of cases is double the national average at 858 per 100,000

London is now the epicentre of the outbreak and its hospitals are being stretched with the flood of patients. The weekly rate of cases is double the national average at 858 per 100,000

London is now the epicentre of the outbreak and its hospitals are being stretched with the flood of patients. The weekly rate of cases is double the national average at 858 per 100,000

Cases in Liverpool have almost trebled in the past two weeks to 350 per 100,000, despite the city successfully leading on the national pilot for community testing which led to it being the first city to be taken out of Tier 3 and into Tier 2, according to official figures

Cases in Liverpool have almost trebled in the past two weeks to 350 per 100,000, despite the city successfully leading on the national pilot for community testing which led to it being the first city to be taken out of Tier 3 and into Tier 2, according to official figures

Cases in Liverpool have almost trebled in the past two weeks to 350 per 100,000, despite the city successfully leading on the national pilot for community testing which led to it being the first city to be taken out of Tier 3 and into Tier 2, according to official figures

Medics transport a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance to the Royal London Hospital on Friday

Medics transport a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance to the Royal London Hospital on Friday

Medics transport a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance to the Royal London Hospital on Friday

In a New Year interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Boris Johnson urged parents to send children back to primary schools - but refused to rule out a full shutdown to control the mutant coronavirus strain

In a New Year interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Boris Johnson urged parents to send children back to primary schools - but refused to rule out a full shutdown to control the mutant coronavirus strain

In a New Year interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Boris Johnson urged parents to send children back to primary schools – but refused to rule out a full shutdown to control the mutant coronavirus strain

Government scientists today hinted a third national lockdown including mass school closures may be required to suppress Covid as he insisted ‘keeping people apart’ stops the virus from spreading. 

Professor Sir Mark Walport claimed the ‘mutant’ Covid was transmitting rapidly among children, with those aged between 12 and 16 seven times more likely to ‘infect’ a household.

Speaking on the BBC‘s Andrew Marr Show as Liverpool’s leaders called for a blanket shutdown, he said it would be ‘very, very difficult’ to keep the disease under control ‘without tighter social distancing measures’. 

‘Children’s lives can’t just be put on hold’: Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman warns pupils’ education cannot be ‘furloughed’ as left-wing councils and teaching unions demand schools are closed for WEEKS amid mutant Covid crisis 

The head of England’s schools watchdog today warned that education cannot be ‘furloughed’ as Left-wing councils joined the revolt against Government plans to keep schools open.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said school closures should be kept to the ‘absolute minimum’, revealing that the first lockdown disrupted children’s learning and wider development.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, she said Ofsted had found some younger children had ‘forgotten how to hold a pencil or use a knife and fork, and had regressed in basic language numbers’.

In older children, Ms Spielman said the schools watchdog had noted ‘increases in eating disorders and self-harm, and anti-social behaviour at some schools’ during the coronavirus crisis. 

Most primaries in England are expected to open their doors tomorrow, while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis later this month with plans to test every student weekly.

But yesterday the UK’s largest teaching union advised members it was not safe to return to the classroom and demanded a move to online teaching. 

Headteachers are now urging the Government to scrap this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams amid outrage over Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s plans to keep schools open. 

Ms Spielman rubbished calls for remote education, arguing that it would maximise the disparities in the circumstances of the home lives of children. 

She added that schools ‘have become society’s collective eyes and ears, keeping a caring watch over those who need it most’ as she warned ‘risks of abuse, neglect or exploitation increase’ when schools stay closed. 

The Ofsted boss wrote: ‘There is a real consensus that schools should be the last places to close and the first to re-open, and having argued for this since last spring, I welcome it. Because it is increasingly clear that children’s lives can’t just be put on hold while we wait for vaccination programmes to take effect, and for waves of infection to subside.  

‘We cannot furlough young people’s learning or their wider development. The longer the pandemic continues, the more true this is.’   

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Sir Mark also suggested the UK has struggled to keep cases down because it is a ‘western liberal democracy’, hinting that draconian countermeasures adopted in unfree countries like Vietnam had suppressed the virus.

Asked if Tier 4 restrictions were enough, the former Chief Scientific Adviser today said: ‘It’s the Tier 4 restrictions, it’s obeying them.

‘It is thinking about breaking essentially every possible route of transmission we possibly can. Those are the things that are absolutely necessary and it is pretty clear we’re going to need more.’

Talking about ‘mutant’ Covid, he said: ‘We now have a much more transmissible variant and I’m afraid this is the natural evolution of viruses.

‘The ones that can transmit most effectively have an advantage over other variants and so it is clear this variant is transmitting more readily. It’s transmitting more readily in younger age groups as well. 

‘It’s good to note it doesn’t appear to cause worse disease or that it is going to be more resistant to the effects of the vaccine, but it is going to be very, very difficult to keep it under control without tighter social distancing measures.’

Sir Mark continued: ‘The thing that actually stops the virus, and we know that it can do, is keeping people apart. The virus can only get from one person to another through proximity, and so it really is about doing everything we possibly can to keep ourselves as safe as possible.’   

He also claimed that locking down earlier would have reduced cases and deaths, telling the Andrew Marr Show: ‘It’s absolutely clear we can see other countries, Vietnam for example, which has managed to keep its cases down. 

‘But we can see that western liberal democracies much harder. The UK is not alone in this, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any better.’

He also urged people who have had a coronavirus vaccine not to ‘go out and party’ as he admitted ‘there are lots of things we don’t know about the vaccines’.      

Sir Mark’s interview comes as the PM signalled that anti-Covid measures were likely to get tougher. 

Asked whether he could guarantee schools will open on January 18, Mr Johnson told Marr: ‘Well, obviously, we’re going to continue to assess the impact of the Tier 4 measures, the Tier 3 measures.’

On whether GCSE and A-Level exams should be cancelled, the PM said: ‘We’ve got to be realistic, we’ve got to be realistic about the pace of which this new variant has spread… we’ve got to be realistic about the impact that it’s having on our NHS… and we’ve got to be humble in the face of this virus.’

Mr Johnson indicated tougher restrictions may be introduced, saying: ‘It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country. I’m fully, fully reconciled to that.’

He added: ‘There are obviously a range of tougher measures that that we would have to consider… I’m not going to speculate now about what they would be, but I’m sure that all our viewers and our listeners will understand what the sort of things… clearly school closures, which we had to do in March is one of those things.’  

Mr Johnson said: ‘What we are doing now is using the tiering system, which is a very tough system… and, alas, probably about to get tougher to keep things under control. But, we will review it.’

He added: ‘And we have the prospect of vaccines coming down the track in their tens of millions. And that, I think, is something that should keep people going in what I predicted, back on your show in in October, will be a very bumpy period right now. It is bumpy and it’s going to be bumpy.’

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s council leaders today called for a third national lockdown to contain the new ‘mutant’ strain of Covid and prevent a ‘catastrophe’.

The city’s acting mayor, Wendy Simon, and the Labour-run city council’s cabinet say the speed of the rise in coronavirus cases have reached ‘alarming levels’ and urgent action is now required to save lives and the NHS. 

The new ‘mutant’ strain of Covid is thought to have a higher rate of transmission and is most prevalent in London and the South East, where health bosses say hospitals have become stretched.

Headteachers call for GCSE and A-Level exams to be scrapped this summer amid school closure chaos 

Head teachers are calling on the Government to scrap this summer’s GCSE and A-level exams amid outrage over Gavin Williamson’s plans to keep schools open.

Most primaries in England are expected to re-open their doors tomorrow, while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis later this month with plans to test every student weekly.

Yesterday, however, the UK’s largest teaching union advised members it was not safe to return to the classroom – with several left-wing councils demanding their primary schools move to online teaching only.

And in another blow to the Education Secretary ‘s plans, UK head teachers are now calling for this year’s exams to be scrapped to prioritise ‘wider public health, pupil and staff safety’.

They also claim it would be unfair to force students to sit exams when those whose schools were open earlier would have more contact time than those with later start dates. 

The WorthLess? campaign group – a collection of 2,000 head teachers in 80 local authorities – said: ‘Wider public health, pupil and staff safety should be prioritised ahead of examinations.

‘Public safety should not be risked or driven by an inflexible pursuit of GCSE and A-levels.’

Head teacher of Tanbridge House School in Horsham – and one of the WorthLess? leaders – told The Times : ‘There is great scepticism that exams can now go ahead fairly.’

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It is believed the strain is spreading from south to north, leading to increasing pressure on the NHS.

Cases in Liverpool have almost trebled in the past two weeks to 350 per 100,000, despite the city leading on the pilot for community testing which led to it being the first city to be moved from Tier 3 down to Tier 2.

The call for a new lockdown was made in a statement from Cllr Wendy Simon and Cabinet Member for Public Health Cllr Paul Brant.

The current mayor of the city, Joe Anderson, is on police bail on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.

The statement said: ‘It is clear that the country is now at a crossroads with Covid-19. The stark reality is that today this virulent new strain of the virus is very much on the rise and we need to act now to prevent a crisis that will unleash even more pain and anguish.’

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the Government would ‘not hesitate to take actions necessary to protect local communities’.

England is edging closer towards a blanket shutdown after government efforts to reopen schools were thrown into disarray by Left-wing councils and teaching unions. 

Gavin Williamson confirmed on Friday that all London primary schools will remain shut to most pupils next week – rather than just those in certain boroughs as set out earlier in the week – but teaching unions say all schools should close for the next two weeks.

Last night, the Department for Education said remote learning was ‘a last resort’ and classrooms should reopen ‘wherever possible’ with appropriate safety measures to help mitigate the risk of transmission.

‘As we’ve said, we will move to remote education as a last resort, with involvement of public health officials, in areas where infection and pressures on the NHS are highest,’ the spokesperson said.

Hundreds of new vaccination sites are due to be up and running this week as the NHS ramps up its immunisation programme with the newly approved Oxford University and AstraZeneca jab. 

Some 530,000 doses of the vaccine will be available for rollout across the UK from Monday and more than a million patients have already had their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which was the first to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. 

But Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said children’s education cannot be ‘furloughed’ for months while vaccinations are rolled out and time absent from the classroom should be kept to an ‘absolute minimum’, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield told the newspaper that schools should be the last to close and first to open, when safe to do so, adding: ‘I hope, for children and parents’ sake, that is measured in days not weeks and I would be particularly keen for primaries to stay open if at all possible.’ 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the vaccine roll-out was ‘our great hope’, adding: ‘I want the Government to throw everything it can at this, harnessing the extraordinary talents of our NHS so we can be vaccinating at least two million Brits a week by the end of the month.’  

But, writing in the Sunday Mirror, he criticised ‘a chaotic last minute U-turn on schools’, adding: ‘Confusion reigns among parents, teachers and pupils over who will be back in school tomorrow and who won’t.’

General secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), Mary Bousted, said schools should stay closed for two weeks to ‘break the chain’ of transmission and prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed.’

The union, which represents the majority of teachers, has advised its members it is not safe to return to classrooms on Monday.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said the union had started preliminary steps in legal proceedings against the Department for Education, asking it to share its scientific data about safety and transmission rates.

Unions have also called for the reopening of schools in Wales next week to be delayed with Laura Doel, director of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru, saying ‘the latest data shows that in large parts of Wales, control of infection has been lost’.

From January 4, all London primary schools will be required to provide remote learning for two weeks to all children except vulnerable children and those of key workers, who will be allowed to attend.

Mr Williamson said the January 1 decision to expand closures to the nine remaining London boroughs and the City of London was a ‘last resort’.

Under the Government’s initial plan, secondary schools and colleges were set to be closed to most pupils for the first two weeks of January, while primary schools within 50 local authorities in the south of England, including 23 London boroughs, were also told to keep their doors shut until January 18.

Green Party-led Brighton and Hove City Council has advised primary schools in the Tier 4 area not to return in person, except for vulnerable children and those of key workers, until January 18 despite the Government’s plan for most schools to open in person. 

Linda Bauld, a professor in public health at the University of Edinburgh, said transmission among primary school pupils was ‘still very limited’ while secondary school pupils, particularly older teenagers, can pass on the virus in the same way as adults.

But health professionals have warned of growing pressure on services with Prof Goddard telling the BBC current case figures are ‘fairly mild’ compared to what is expected in a week’s time.

Mutated super-infectious coronavirus strain was spreading quickly among children DURING November lockdown and only closing schools can keep it contained, new Imperial report warns

Pictured: A graph in the Imperial College London report showing the prevalence of the new strain of coronavirus (shown in orange) in different age groups

Pictured: A graph in the Imperial College London report showing the prevalence of the new strain of coronavirus (shown in orange) in different age groups

Pictured: A graph in the Imperial College London report showing the prevalence of the new strain of coronavirus (shown in orange) in different age groups 

The mutated super-infectious coronavirus strain was spreading quickly among children during the November lockdown and only closing schools can keep it contained, a new report from Imperial College London has warned.

The study confirmed that the new mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 – known as B117 or ‘Variant of Concern’ (VOC) – is indeed more infectious than previous variants, just as scientists feared, and that the November lockdown did little to suppress it. 

The variant was most prevalent among the 10-19 age group, the data shows, with more coronavirus cases in the age group being found to be the new strain than of the original.

In order the tackle the spread of the VOC in Britain, ‘Social distancing measures will need to be more stringent than they would have otherwise,’ the report said.

‘A particular concern is whether it will be possible to maintain control over transmission while allowing schools to reopen in January 2021.’

Analysis of the data by Imperial College London researchers found that the new strain may be nearly 50 percent more transmissible, based on samples taken from nearly 86,000 Britons. 

In the study posted online, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, Imperial College researchers determined that the ‘R’ number for the new B117 variant is between 0.4 and 0.7 points higher than other variants. 

The study compared samples of the mutated virus taken from nearly 2,000 people in the UK to another 84,000 taken from people with other variants 

The ‘R’ number of a virus describes the average number of additional cases that each infection leads to. 

In the UK, the latest R number stands between 1.1 and 1.3, government figures show. This means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 11 and 13 other people.  

Graphs from the new study show how, over  eight weeks, the new variant became increasingly common (dots higher on each chart) in the UK and became more transmissible (dots further the right on each chart show rising  R numbers, or transmission rates

Graphs from the new study show how, over  eight weeks, the new variant became increasingly common (dots higher on each chart) in the UK and became more transmissible (dots further the right on each chart show rising  R numbers, or transmission rates

Graphs from the new study show how, over  eight weeks, the new variant became increasingly common (dots higher on each chart) in the UK and became more transmissible (dots further the right on each chart show rising  R numbers, or transmission rates

In a series of graphs, the report outlined case trends in a subset of NHS England Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) areas – (a geographic subdivision of NHS Regions).

It is clear in the graphs that while the November lockdown worked to bring down the rates of the original strain of coronavirus, it did little to suppress the spread of the mutated strain in England. 

This is demonstrated by the graphs with three lines showing case numbers.

The thick line shows the total number of cases in the respective region found among the people included in the study. The green line shows the original strain of Covid-19 (S+), while the yellow line shows the new variant (VOC).

The thick line at the top of the graph showing the total number of cases in each area changes colour between green and yellow based on the number of tests showing instances of the VOC among those included in the study.

Kent and Medway

Kent and Medway

Mid and South Essex

Mid and South Essex

Pictured: Screen-grabs from the Imperial College report showing case trends involving the new strain of coronavirus, where the % S- rate indicates a case of the new variant. During the lockdown, Kent and Medway showed increasing numbers of the new Covid-19 strain. Mid and South Essex saw a similar rise in cases in the weeks before and after the lockdown ended. Both regions saw cases of the VOC overtake case numbers of the original strain

The dates of the second lockdown in November are indicated by the vertical red lines, between which the spread of Covid-19 and the VOC are demonstrated.

Areas in the South East of England – including London – show a rapid rise of the mutated strain of Covid-19, while the original strain kept at relatively low levels during the lockdown – showing the prevalence of the new strain in those areas.

These include Kent and Medway, Mid and South Essex; South West London Health and Care Partnership; and Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West.

In areas outside of the regions most effected by the VOC , total cases are shown to have dropped during the lockdown.

These include Birmingham and Solihull; Devon; Herefordshire and Worcestershire; Cheshire and Merseyside; and Humber, Coast and Vale.

South West London Health and Care Partnership

South West London Health and Care Partnership

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West

Cases of the VOC in South West London Health and Care Partnership also rose in the final weeks of lockdown, and have continued to do so since. The number of cases of the new strain over took those of the original. Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West also saw rising case numbers in the last week of lockdown, with numbers of the new strain rising

Birmingham and Solihull

Birmingham and Solihull

Devon

Devon

In both Bingmingam and Solihull and in Devon, case number of the first Covid-19 strain dropped during the lockdown, while cases of the VOC remained low into the last weeks of 2020

Herefordshire and Worcestershire

Herefordshire and Worcestershire

Cheshire and Merseyside

Cheshire and Merseyside

In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and Cheshire and Merseyside, total cases dropped during lockdown without the spike in new cases of the VOC

Humber, Coast and Vale

Humber, Coast and Vale

Ratio age share among S- cases / age share among S+ cases

Ratio age share among S- cases / age share among S+ cases

Humber, Coast and Vale also saw cases of the original strain of Covid-19 drop during lockdown and avoided the rise in new cases of the VOC. Right: A graph showing ratio age share among S- cases / age share among S+ cases

The new variant was first detected in the UK in September, the study states, but at the beginning of December, it exploded and has driven a surge in infections among Britons.

The spread of the new novel SARS-CoV-2 variant, or Variant of Concern 202012/01 (VOC), in England comes despite a tiered system being in place as part of efforts to bring the spread of the virus under control.

What is the ‘mutant COVID strain’ and why are experts concerned?

Coronaviruses mutate regularly, acquiring about one new mutation in their genome every two weeks. 

Most mutations do not significantly change the way the virus acts.

This super strain, named B.1.1.7, was first identified in the UK in November.

It has since been found in France, Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Singapore, Australia and now the United States. 

The new COVID-19 variant has a mutation in the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike protein at position 501, where amino acid asparagine (N) has been replaced with tyrosine (Y). 

It is more infectious than previous strains and potentially more harmful to children. 

It is not, however, believed to be any more lethal.  

Public Health England researchers compared 1,769 people infected with the new variant, with 1,769 who had one of the earlier strains of the virus. 

Forty-two people in the group were admitted to hospital, of whom 16 had the new variant and 26 the wild type. 

Twelve of the variant cases and 10 of the ‘older’ virus cases died within four weeks of testing. 

Neither the hospitalization nor the mortality differences were statistically significant.

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The majority of England is under ‘Tier 4’, the strictest tier, yet is still seeing record numbers of daily Covid-19 infections despite the measures. 

Imperial College London researchers sequenced the genomes of 1,904 people infected with the new variant and compared how quickly the virus spread to a broader sample of other specimens taken from more than 48,000 people in England. 

As they expected, they found that the new virus did indeed have a ‘selective advantage over circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants in England,’ they wrote in the print posted online on Thursday. 

The variant was also disproportionately common among people in their 20s, and those living in South East and East England and London. 

The findings of the new study mean each person who catches this mutated virus will pass it on to up to 0.7 more people on average. 

So far, there isn’t evidence to suggest the new variant causes any more serious illness or is more fatal.  

Encouragingly, virologists and public health experts believe that vaccines made by companies like AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna will still be effective against the new variant of coronavirus. 

But the new variant heats up the race between the spread of the virus and vaccination campaigns in the UK, the US – where the new variant has now been found in Colorado, California and Florida – and at least 31 other countries where the more infectious form of coronavirus has been detected.

With more than 186,000 people newly infected in a single day on average in the US, the 48 percent higher transmissibility rate of 1.85 could drive new infections per day  beyond 275,000.  

It could spell disaster for hospitals in hotspots like California where some health care systems and regions are already out of ICU beds, in states of ‘internal disaster’ and rationing care.  

There are similar fears in the UK over the National Health Service (NHS) and its capacity to cope with the number of coronavirus patients that are expected as the new variant of the disease continues to spread.

Sharing data from a separate study done by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Deepti Gurdasani – a senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London in Epidemiology and statistical genetics –  warned that ‘B117 is either dominant, or very close to dominant in most regions’ in England.

Over the  course of  six weeks, the  researchers saw how the new coronavirus variant's transmission rate (R) became higher (orange) than those of other variants, especially in South East England, East England and London

Over the  course of  six weeks, the  researchers saw how the new coronavirus variant's transmission rate (R) became higher (orange) than those of other variants, especially in South East England, East England and London

Over the  course of  six weeks, the  researchers saw how the new coronavirus variant’s transmission rate (R) became higher (orange) than those of other variants, especially in South East England, East England and London 

By comparison, on average in the US, each infected person currently leads to 1.15 more infections, according to daily calculations from RT.live.  

By this measure of transmissibility the R number in the US ranges from about 0.86 in Alaska to 1.23 in Maine, which has emerged as a hotspot this week. 

Only 3.17 million Americans had been vaccinated as of Friday, according to a Bloomberg News tally. 

The CDC’s tally puts the number even lower. The agency’s site says its vaccination tracker will be updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but at the time of publication, the tool showed Wednesday’s numbers, with 2.79 million people  vaccinated. 

Bloomberg’s higher estimate means Operation Warp Speed has vaccinated just 16 percent of the 20 million Americans it promised to inoculate by the end of the year. 

At this pace, it would take nearly a decade to vaccinate all adult members of America’s population of 331 million people. 

And  many Americans remain on the fence about getting a vaccine even when one  is available. Some 60 percent of  nursing home workers in Ohio said they would refuse a shot. 

Sluggish, dysfunctional vaccine distribution and Americans’ distrust of of the shots could jointly offer the B117 variant just the opening it needs to spread like wildfire through the country infecting millions beyond the 20 million people who have  already had the infection in the US, and killing thousands. 

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