Britain announced another 55,761 coronavirus cases today and 1,280 deaths, both lower than this time last week, amid signs that the rate of infection is starting to come down.
The positive test count is down 18 per cent from the 68,053 confirmed last Friday, while the deaths have dropped 3.4 per cent from 1,325. Fatalities are expected to keep rising in the coming days and weeks but one of the country’s top statisticians, Sir David Spiegelhalter, has predicted they could peak in the next seven to 10 days.
And another 316,694 people were vaccinated across the UK yesterday, taking the total to have had their first dose of a jab to 3,234,946.
SAGE confirmed today that the R rate in England has dropped this week to between 1.1 and 1.3 but remains higher than the dreaded figure of one, meaning the country’s outbreak is still growing.
Only London, which has been in lockdown since December 19, is showing signs that cases might be starting to come down, with the R potentially as low as 0.9. SAGE said all other regions are still waiting for the effects of the national lockdown to hit.
The R rate dictates how many people each infected person passes the virus on to and it must remain lower than one for infections to come down.
It adds to growing evidence that Britain’s second major outbreak is on the way back down as an app monitoring the spread of coronavirus in the UK said cases fell by 23 per cent last week.
The ZOE Covid-19 Symptom Study app estimates there were 54,000 daily infections in the seven days to January 10, below the almost 70,000 the week before. Its estimates are based on weekly reports from a million users, who tell the app whether they are suffering from symptoms of the virus.
And Sir David Spiegelhalter, a professor at the University of Cambridge, said he thinks the daily death count will hit a ceiling in seven to 10 days – likely at a higher level than in the first peak – and then start to fall.
The figures are the latest glimmer of hope that the UK’s second wave may be finally running out of steam, after a Cambridge University study last night the virus’ reproduction rate has plunged to as low as 0.6 in London and the South East – meaning the outbreak is now shrinking.
Public Health England also revealed weekly Covid cases have fallen in every age group except the over-80s and that infections dropped in dozens of boroughs.
The figures differ from those announced by the Department of Health, which only account for confirmed cases, which officials say could be just 40 per cent of the total because they don’t catch asymptomatic carries. Yesterday the department announced another 48,000 cases – down 7.5 per cent in a week.
But hospital admissions and deaths across Britain have yet to drop, despite Government data showing that both measures have slowed in London and other parts of the country. It can take infected patients several weeks to fall severely ill, meaning there is a lag between cases and deaths.
Boris Johnson was urged to double his target for 14million vaccinations by mid-February today, to take advantage of the space created by restrictions. The UK is expected to have capacity for 3.8million jabs next week – meaning the existing goal of covering the four most vulnerable groups by February 15 should be met.
SAGE today published its weekly estimates of the R rate across the country and said the rate of spread appears to be coming down in regions that have been in lockdown since they were put in Tier 4 in December – London, the East and the South East
Above is the case rates by age groups in the UK. The highest levels are in the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups, data from the ZOE Covid-19 study shows
This map reveals estimates of prevalence of the virus across the UK. It is above 1,000 cases per 100,000 residents in almost every region, they say
In London, cases are above 2,000 per 100,000 residents in most boroughs. But rates are lower around Richmond and Hammersmith and Fulham
A further 48,682 cases were reported today, bringing the country’s overall pandemic total to 3,292,014 – up 1,157 on yesterday but crucially down 3,936 from last Thursday’s data
Deaths in the past 24 hours rose by 1,248 – a 7.4 per cent climb from last week’s 1,162 – bringing the UK’s grim fatality toll to 86,015
BRITAIN FACES EVEN MORE SUPER-COVID STRAINS IN FUTURE
Britain could face even more super-infectious coronavirus variants because surging infections across the globe fuel the chances of the pathogen mutating to beat the immune system and vaccines, scientists say.
More than 90million Covid-19 cases have been recorded worldwide since the pandemic began, with numbers surging 33.8 per cent in the last two months alone.
And the spiralling cases will only trigger more mutations because it gives the virus more opportunity to evolve, infectious disease experts fear. Mutations could render vaccines useless, experts fear. Number 10’s top scientists believe the current crop of jabs will still work against any of the recently-spotted variants – but may be slightly less effective.
Britain has already been hit by two highly-infectious variants, including one that first emerged in Kent and another that was brought in from South Africa. Fears are also growing about a new Brazilian variant, which has yet to be spotted in the UK.
Dr Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, warned labs across the world were recording more variants of the virus because of the spiralling numbers of infections. He told DailyMail.com: ‘The uptick in mutations (we are seeing) is expected because there is more circulation of the virus and more chances for a mutation to occur.’
Publishing its weekly update on the R rate, which measures up to approximately January 11, SAGE said: ‘There are some initial indications that areas that have had higher prevalence levels and been under tougher restrictions for a longer period of time (East of England, London, and South East) are experiencing a slight decline in the numbers of people infected.
‘Regions such as the North West and South West continue to see infections rise, which is likely to reflect the spread of the new variant in these areas.
‘These estimates are based on the latest data, available up to 11 January.
‘R is a lagging indicator and so these estimates cannot fully account for the impact of recent policy changes, such as national restrictions or the vaccine rollout, or other changes in transmission that have not yet been reflected in epidemiological data.
‘This includes any changes that might be due to the lockdown in England, announced on 5 January.’
On how the death count could change in the coming weeks, Professor Spiegelhalter told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: ‘They are likely to level off in a week – 10 days maybe – at a peak which is probably going to be bigger than the first wave peak of 1,000-a-day, but then should decline due the reductions in cases that we are seeing and, of course, the vaccine programme.’
Regional breakdowns show that the rate of spread is now lowest in London, where it’s between 0.9 and 1.2 – the capital is the only region where it may have been lower than one last week.
The R rate is highest in the North West and South West, where it is between 1.2 and 1.5, meaning every 10 infected people infect another 12 to 15 more.
It was also rising in those regions, but it fell in most other parts of the country, to 1.0 – 1.3 in the East, 1.1 – 1.3 in the North East and 1.0 – 1.2 in the South East.
It rose slightly in the Midlands from 1.1 – 1.4 to 1.2 – 1.4.
The ZOE app also estimated the R rate has dropped to 0.9 in England and Wales, showing the second wave is shrinking.
But in Scotland it was estimated to be at 1.0 – in a sign the second wave is yet to start declining in the region.
They estimated cases have plateaued in most age groups including the over-60s – who are most likely to be hospitalised if they catch the virus.
Overall the lowest infection rate per 100,000 people was in Herefordshire, Lincolnshire and Devon.
The highest, however, was in London, Essex, Thurrock and Southend and Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes.
Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London and who masterminded the app, said it was ‘great’ to see falling numbers of infections across most regions.
‘But numbers are still worryingly high and hospitals will stay under pressure for some time yet,’ he added.
‘With such high numbers and growing evidence new strains are highly transmissible, things can still take a turn for the worse. We need numbers to keep falling before we make any changes to current restrictions.’
It comes after modelling by Cambridge scientists – whose warnings of 4,000 deaths a day spooked No10 into imposing England’s second lockdown – bolstered claims that the original restrictions were working.
The team said cases began to drop on December 21 and that the ban on Christmas mixing in the worst-hit areas worked to cut the spread.
The experts – who believe deaths will peak ‘over the coming days’ – also put the UK’s R-number at now less than one, despite the latest official Government estimate issued last week claiming it was between one and 1.4.
The powerful Covid O Cabinet committee met yesterday to consider the state of play, including signing off a travel ban from South America due to fears over an emerging super-strain in Brazil. However, it did not ramp up the lockdown in England.
Ministers are instead focusing on improving compliance, with an ad campaign delivering alarming messages such as: ‘Don’t let a coffee cost lives.’
Professor Andrew Hayward, director of the University College London (UCL) Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said last week’s data on cases ‘probably relates to the lockdown measures’.
But he told Times Radio: ‘My concern is that what we’ve really got going on here is we’ve more or less split the population in two – those who can afford to stay at home and work and those who can’t.
‘I suspect what we’re really seeing is a very fast decline in those who are staying at home, and either a levelling off or potentially even a continuing increase in those who are continuing to work.’
The Cambridge team said R in London and the South East was as low as around 0.6. In a report last night the university’s Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit estimated it had fallen to 0.61 in London and 0.64 in the South East
The latest PHE surveillance update shows an improvement in the outbreak in the week up to January 10
But despite the optimism over the vaccine rollout there are still huge challenges, with new figures today showing the economy is on track for a double-dip recession. GDP was down 2.6 per cent during the looser national lockdown in November.
Tory MPs in London and mayor Sadiq Khan are also angry that the capital seems to be lagging behind in the vaccine drive.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said last night that he believes the mid-February target will be met and should be raised.
‘Everyone I’ve spoken to who understands what’s happening with vaccination seems to think they will meet this target,’ he told BBC Question Time.
‘So I think they will meet that target, but they need to go further and faster. Because if we were able to vaccinate just under 30 million people, we would reduce hospitalisations and deaths by 99 per cent, and we should be targeting that now.’