Britain’s daily Covid cases surged 70 per cent in a week today and deaths and hospitalisations ticked upwards, but there are still ten times fewer patients in the NHS now than at the same time during the second wave.
Health chiefs posted another 27,125 infections spotted in the last 24 hours, up on 15,810 last Friday. Another 27 deaths were recorded, up by half on the 18 from last week.
And latest hospitalisations rose by 35 per cent to 304 by June 28. But this was far lower than the last time the country was recording more than 20,000 infections a day in late January as the second wave died down, when there were more than 2,600 daily admissions.
An Office for National Statistics report published today estimated that there were 211,100 new positive tests in the week up to June 26, a 72 per cent rise on the previous week.
It means weekly infections are at their highest number since late February, when the second wave was dying down, but low Covid inpatient numbers highlight the success of the vaccines.
For comparison, there were an average 12,000 patients in hospitals in England with the disease then compared to 1,300 now.
The ONS study – based on random swabs of about 100,000 people across the country – also found cases among the elderly were still flat, but rising in younger age groups who have not been double vaccinated.
It comes as SAGE revealed England’s R rate had dropped for the first time in months. They estimated the reproduction R rate — the average number of people each Covid patient infects — dropped slightly to between 1.1 and 1.3 this week, down from a range of 1.2 and 1.4, where it had been stagnant for several weeks.
It means that for every 10 people infected with Covid, they will pass it on to between 11 and 13 others. The R rate measurement is a couple of weeks out of date and the drop may reflect the slowing down in the epidemic seen last month.
Commenting on the figures, Oxford University’s Professor James Naismith said it was thanks to vaccines that surging cases were not fuelling a spike in deaths, adding the UK’s ‘point of maximum danger has probably passed’.
The infectious disease expert, and director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said: ‘The Prime Minister’s decision to delay unlocking for a month has been validated; more people have been vaccinated and Delta (Indian variant) has been slowed.’
The disparity between rising infection numbers and flatlining deaths and hospitalisations bolstered Boris Johnson‘s comment yesterday that the inoculation drive has ‘broken the link’.
The Prime Minister is doubling down on his new Freedom Day date on July 19 amid a growing sense of optimism from No10 that vaccines have beaten the virus.
It comes after at top scientist said yesterday Covid is now just a ‘bad cold’ among people who have got the vaccine.
Office for National Statistics surveillance estimated there were 211,100 Covid cases in England last week, the highest number since late February when there were 248,100. It means weekly infections are at their highest number since late February, when the second wave was dying down, but low Covid inpatient numbers highlight the success of the vaccines
No10’s top scientists said the R number had fallen slightly to between 1.1 and 1.3 across England (top left). Last week they estimated it was between 1.2 and 1.4. The R rate is a lagging indicator and often several weeks behind the situation on the ground because it relies on data up to six weeks old
This graph shows the number of Covid patients in England’s hospitals is still flat despite infections rising to their highest levels since late February. On February 27 there were 248,100 cases in the country, according to the ONS, but only 11,410 hospitalisations. On June 26 there were 211,100 cases, but hospitalisations were a tenth of the level at 1,332
For every 10 people infected with Covid, they will pass it on to between 11 and 13 others. The R rate measurement is a couple of weeks out of date and the drop may reflect the slowing down in the epidemic seen last month
Professor James Naismith (left), a structural biologist at Oxford University, said it was thanks to vaccines that surging cases were not fuelling a rise in deaths. Boris Johnson is doubling-down on ending remaining Covid restrictions on July 19
The Office for National Statistics study asked more than 100,000 Britons to take a PCR test and post it to a laboratory, to find out whether they had the virus.
It is considered to be the gold-standard for Covid surveillance by ministers because the tests are carried out randomly, meaning it can reach those who are less likely to get swabbed for the virus and pick up asymptomatic cases — which trigger no warning signs — thought to represent about a third of cases.
But the study does not provide figures on hospitalisations, which show whether the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed as it tackles through a record-breaking backlog of patients.
Britons could be barred from holidays in EU because they were given Indian-made jabs
Up to five million British holidaymakers could potentially be banned from Europe because they were given Indian-made versions of the AstraZeneca Covid jab.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) does not recognise a version of the vaccine produced by Covishield at the Serum Institute of India (SII), even though it is just as effective as AstraZeneca doses made elsewhere.
Holidaymakers given this vaccine could therefore be refused entry at EU border crossings when batch numbers are checked on digital Covid passports.
The EU Digital Covid Certificate allows those who are fully vaccinated to move through Europe without having to quarantine or undergo further testing.
But it only recognises vaccines currently approved by the EMA: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made in Europe.
Britons will be able to determine whether they had the SII jab by looking at their batch number, which appears on vaccination record cards.
Those who were given the Covishield jab will have the numbers 4120Z001, 4120Z002 or 4120Z003.
UK Government experts said there is nothing to suggest the AZ doses made at the Serum Institute are any less effective than UK batches.
Professor Adam Finn, who advises No10 on Covid vaccines, said the EU issue was simply an ‘administrative hurdle’.
Both versions of the AZ vaccine have been shown to be 94 per cent effective at stopping Covid deaths and up to 92 per cent at reducing hospitalisations, even from the Indian variant.
Across England, Covid infections were highest among 17 to 24-year-olds after their positivity rate — the proportion of tests carried out in this age group that detect the virus — rose to 1.73 per cent.
They were followed by 12 to 16-year-olds (0.83 per cent positivity rate), and those aged 2 to 11-years-old (0.7 per cent) and 25 to 34-years-old (0.65 per cent). The lowest Covid rates were among over-70s (0.1 per cent).
The North West — the first area to suffer an outbreak of the Indian variant — was still the country’s hotspot, with a positivity rate at 0.88 per cent, followed by the North East (0.66 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (0.43 per cent).
The South East had England’s lowest positivity rate (0.13 per cent), followed by the South West (0.19 per cent) and the West Midlands and East of England (0.22 per cent).
Professor Naismith heralded the success of the vaccines roll-out for stopping people from developing serious disease and being hospitalised or dying, but he said the surge in cases was ‘unsettling’.
‘Without vaccines, even these numbers and this trajectory would spell disaster.
‘The delta variant is still growing despite track and trace, despite testing, despite restriction and despite masking. The Government commitment to release restrictions on July 19, means the rate of growth of infections will accelerate.
‘It seems now unavoidable that delta will sweep through the unvaccinated (mainly young). Although young people are at much less risk, it’s not zero. A wave on the scale of what now seems likely will result in lives being blighted.’
He warned that Britons who catch the virus face the risk of suffering ‘long Covid’, where they struggle against debilitating symptoms including fatigue and muscle pains for weeks after their body has fought off Covid.
‘Although (if) we focus on the UK our point of maximum danger has probably passed, I remain very concerned about the harm for younger people,’ he said.
‘I would urge all those who are not fully vaccinated, to get doubly vaccinated as soon as they can, especially those who are in the most vulnerable groups.
‘For those who have had very weak immune responses to the vaccine; I would suggest they shield themselves if possible even more carefully than before. If you are interacting with the vulnerable, then your wearing of a mask will protect them to some level. Unless you are lucky or extremely careful we are all going to be exposed to delta.’
More than 44.8million Britons — 85.2 per cent of adults — have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine and 33million — or 62.7 per cent — have got both doses.
Britain has so far dished out more than 45million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and 29million Pfizer jabs.
PHE estimates based on real-world data released yesterday found two doses of the AstraZeneca jab were more than 92 per cent effective at blocking severe illness from the Indian variant among over-65s. For the Pfizer jab, it was 98 per cent.
Amid the successful roll-out, the Prime Minister is doubling-down on his July 19 Freedom Day as hospitalisations and deaths remain flat while cases rise.
Speaking while visiting a Nissan car factory in Sunderland yesterday, Mr Johnson said: ‘It looks ever clearer that we have broken, the vaccination programme, the speed of that vaccine rollout, has broken that link between infection and mortality and that is an amazing thing.
‘That gives us the scope we think on the 19th to go ahead, cautiously, irreversibly, to go ahead.’
Covid outbreaks in England and the three devolved nations are surging, random swabbing by the ONS has revealed.
Daily Covid hospitalisations are currently half of SAGE’s most optimistic forecasts fore June 22, which predicted there would be around 531 admissions a day by this time
J&J one shot vaccine is highly effective against Indian variant
Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot Covid vaccine is highly effective against the Indian variant — even after eight months.
The American drug giant said there was only a small drop in potency against the ‘Delta’ variant compared to earlier versions of the virus.
The findings – in line with how other vaccines have fared against the mutant strain – will reassure the 11million Americans who have been jabbed with J&J’s shot.
There had been concerns that the rapid rise of the Indian variant in the US – where it makes up half of cases – could derail the country’s hugely successful vaccine rollout.
But the fact Britain has managed to keep deaths and hospital rates low despite the variant surging there has given confidence that the crisis can be kept under control.
The majority of the world’s approved vaccines have now been shown to be highly effective at preventing serious illness from the strain.
J&J’s results were described in a press release and the New Jersey firm said two studies had been submitted to medical journals for publication.
Experts took blood samples from vaccinated people and exposed them to the Delta variant before testing the levels of antibodies that were produced.
Britain has ordered 20million doses of the vaccine and they are expected to arrive later this year.
Dr Mike Tildesley has admitted Britain was in a ‘better situation than we thought’ when the models were published
It comes after a SAGE scientist admitted the Covid modelling that spooked No10 into delaying ‘Freedom Day’ last month was wrong and underestimated the power of vaccines.
Dr Mike Tildesley was behind one of the more optimistic models which predicted there could be 72,000 deaths from the virus before next winter due to the rapidly rising Indian variant.
But the Warwick University expert has now confessed Britain is ‘in a much better situation than we thought’ when the models were published last month.
Asked whether the original terminus date on June 21 could have gone ahead safely, he said: ‘In hindsight, possibly.’
The Government and its scientists have come under criticism about the modes, some of which forecast up to 200,000 deaths in a worst-case scenario, because they used out of date data on the vaccines.
The calculations were published on Monday, June 14, and it later emerged that Public Health England was sitting on real-world data showing they were much more effective than that from at least Friday, June 11.
Warwick scientists also predicted there would be 500 to 600 hospitalisations a day now because of the Indian variant. But the country is in fact seeing around 250.
Dr Tildesley, who is a member of the Government’s SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling), admitted in an interview with Unherd: ‘We’re in a position that the vaccine efficacy is a lot more effective, but this is the caveat here, the delay also enabled us to vaccinate a lot more people with a slightly higher level of restrictions in place.
‘These models are only as good as the data that goes in.
‘I work as an infectious disease modeller and I’ve always said that models should only form part of the decision-making process — you need health experts, economists, social scientists and a huge range of expertise.’
Imperial College London said there could be 203,824 deaths by next summer in a ‘worst case’ scenario, falling to 26,854 in a ‘best case’. Warwick’s said their estimate of 72,400 fatalities could fall to 17,100. And scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned there could be 33,200 deaths in an optimistic scenario.
Dr Tildesley said it now looked as though a ‘shallow’ third wave was more likely because of the successful roll-out, and called on ministers to stick to July 19 easings.
‘It is very much not going to be the situation we saw in October or January because of the fantastic progress with the vaccines,’ he said.
‘I’m cautiously optimistic given where we are. If you look at cases, they are going up in a really concerning way — however, we haven’t yet seen that translate into a significant rise in hospital admissions and deaths.
‘I am pretty hopeful that July 19 should proceed as planned and we won’t see a big rise in hospitalisations beyond that. We may see something of a rise. I think there will be a wave, but nothing like the same scale we saw in January.’
Freedom at last! Boris is set to lift almost ALL legal Covid restrictions on July 19 under new plan revealed next week… but warns a few ‘extra precautions’ may need to stay in place
Boris Johnson will lift almost all legal Covid restrictions from July 19 under a ‘freedom plan’ to be published next week.
The Prime Minister all but confirmed yesterday that he will give the green light for reopening mid-month as he underlined the success of the vaccine programme.
‘It looks ever clearer … the speed of that vaccine rollout has broken that link between infection and mortality and that’s an amazing thing,’ he said. ‘That gives us the scope, we think on the 19th to go ahead, cautiously, irreversibly.’
Mr Johnson added that Britain was now in the ‘final furlong’ of the lockdown. But, with cases still surging, he warned that some ‘extra precautions’ may need to remain in place after so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.
Last night it was claimed that health officials have drawn up contingency plans for the next five winters that could see restrictions rolled back at the drop of a hat.
These could include making face masks and social distancing mandatory, asking people to work from home and putting limits on indoor gatherings.
The blueprint would allow ministers to mix-and-match restrictions, depending on how bad the outbreak is.
Conservative MP Steve Baker welcomed the plan to lift restrictions from July 19 – but warned they must not be brought back in the coming months.
Boris Johnson warned this week that ‘extra precautions’ may be needed after Freedom Day, which is set to bring an end to mandatory facemasks and the rule of six. These measures could be brought back in the event of big future outbreaks that overwhelm the NHS, according to the Government’s precautionary plans for the next five winters. Other restrictions that could be returning later this year include advice to work from home and social distancing. Under the current Freedom Day plans, self-isolation and masks in medical settings are required, but it is unclear what the advice will be on face masks on public transport and vaccine passports
Boris Johnson yesterday hailed vaccines for ‘breaking the link’ between Covid infections (left) and deaths (right). Despite infections soaring to levels on par with the second wave, fatalities have remained almost completely flat
The power if the vaccines has also meant that hospital admissions are running at a tenth of level at the same time at the start of the second wave (left) and kept the NHS at manageable occupancy (right)
Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘Ministers are giving me every indication that I am going to be happy on July 19.
‘That is great – there is nothing I would like more than to see restrictions lifted this summer so that we can all make a fresh start this autumn.
‘The trouble is that I fear I won’t be happy in the autumn and winter when the health lobby pushes for further lockdowns in order to manage capacity in the NHS.
‘We cannot have our freedoms sacrificed – and I include the freedom to make a living – to manage numbers on waiting lists and in hospitals.’
A final decision on lifting restrictions will not be made until July 12, but government sources said the plan will be published next week to give business and individuals more time to adjust.
The PM has prioritised scrapping the one-metre rule, along with the rule of six on indoor socialising, which are seen as the biggest brakes on the economy.
Rules limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 30 will also go, and businesses such as nightclubs, which have been forced to close throughout the pandemic, will finally be allowed to reopen.
Ministers have also shelved plans to legally require people to use vaccine passports to control entry to mass events, although organisers will be permitted to set their own requirements for ticket-holders.
No10 declined to comment on what ‘extra precautions’ the PM is planning to retain, although they are certain to include the onerous rules about self-isolation for those who come into contact with an infected person.
But ministers are increasingly confident that he will end the legal requirement to wear face masks in shops, although they may still be required when visiting hospitals and care homesThe situation on public transport is still undecided, with the PM wanting to make masks voluntary, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan pressing for them to remain compulsory, and chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance warning they may have to return in the autumn.