Covid cases jumped by 70 per cent in a week today, reaching 5,765 as a health chief insisted vaccines do ‘break the chain’.
It is the third day in a row cases have exceeded 5,000. But last weekend was a bank holiday, which may have reduced the number of cases and deaths being recorded, boosting week-on-week growth rates.
Thirteen more Covid deaths were also reported today — rising 85.7 per cent on last Saturday’s figure — though numbers are still so low fluctuations are expected week-on-week.
But Britain’s vaccine roll-out continued at pace, with 174,535 first doses dished out across the UK yesterday, taking the country’s total to 40.1million.
Some 360,691 second doses were also given out, meaning nearly 27.2million people are fully vaccinated in the country (51.6 per cent).
Covid jabs do ‘break the chain’ between catching coronavirus and becoming seriously ill, an NHS boss said today — giving hope that lockdown restrictions could still be lifted on ‘Freedom Day’ this month despite the uptick in cases.
Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said the number of people in hospital with the Indian ‘Delta’ variant was not increasing ‘very significantly’.
And many of those in hospital in Bolton – which has the highest number of cases of the Indian variant in England – were younger than in previous waves of the pandemic therefore less at risk of serious complications, he added.
It was today announced that all over-12s in areas of Berkshire will be subject to surge Covid testing in a bid to tackle a community outbreak of the Indian strain.
Director of public health for Berkshire West, Meradin Peachey, said the surge in cases is mainly among young people, with ‘virtually nobody over 60 or anyone who has been vaccinated’ affected.
And in London today, pictures showed long lines of over-18s queuing to get their first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at Belmont Health Centre in Harrow.
A similar drive took place at the Hunter Street Health Centre in Camden where huge crowds of young people gathered for the sought-after jab.
It follows a one-off event at Twickenham Stadium last weekend which saw officials attempt to shift 15,000 Pfizer doses to anyone aged over 18 – with huge queues snaking along the tarmac for miles.
Mr Hopson’s assessment echoes that of Matt Hancock who yesterday cautioned that the link between Covid cases and deaths has been ‘broken but not completely severed’ by vaccines – as the number of positive tests spiked again to 6,238 and 11 more deaths were recorded.
The Health Secretary was speaking at a meeting of G7 health ministers in Oxford on Friday when he said: ‘We always expected cases to rise as the as the country was opened up, the critical thing is the impact on the number of people who end up in hospital for any given number of cases. That link has been broken by the vaccine, but it hasn’t been completely severed yet.’
Today, pictures showed long lines of over-18s queuing to get their first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at Belmont Health Centre in Harrow
A similar drive took place at the Hunter Street Health Centre in Camden where huge crowds of young people gathered for the sought-after jab
At the Hunter Street Health Centre in Camden, huge groups rushed to get the vaccine on Saturday
The long queues in Harrow (pictured) follow a one-off event at Twickenham Stadium last weekend which saw officials attempt to shift 15,000 Pfizer doses to anyone aged over 18 – with huge queues snaking along the tarmac for miles
People queuing to go into Belmont Health Centre in Harrow which is offering a first dose of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to anyone aged over 18 on Saturday and Sunday
Queues snaked along the pavement in Harrow today where huge groups of over-18s queued to get their vaccines
Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said the number of people in hospital with the Indian ‘Delta’ variant was not increasing ‘very significantly’
Public Health England data show that just 0.07 per cent of confirmed Indian variant cases were admitted to hospital despite having had two doses of a vaccine, compared to 0.95 per cent of unvaccinated people. Significantly more unvaccinated people also went to A&E or died after catching the virus. Having had a single dose of a jab offered middling protection but experts say that now the Indian strain is dominant it is crucial that people get both jabs
Figures published on Thursday night showed that just seven out of 9,427 people to have been infected with the new strain by the end of May were admitted to hospital – even though they had had two doses of a vaccine (0.07 per cent).
By comparison, 90 unvaccinated people were admitted in the same time (0.95 per cent) and PHE warned in a report that the risk of admission to hospital with the new strain may be 2.6 times higher than it was for the Kent variant, meaning that people who haven’t had a jab are now at a higher risk than they were with previous strains.
The Government is scrambling to get jabs to as many people as possible. Last night it was reported that ministers plan to cut wait times between Covid-19 vaccination doses for over 40s from twelve weeks to eight weeks as ministers battle to save ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21.
Over-25s will be offered their first doses of the vaccine from next week, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Mr Hopson told BBC Breakfast today: ‘The people who came in this time round were actually a lot younger and were a lot less at risk of very serious complication, less at risk of death, and what that means is that they were less demand on critical care.
‘What we think we can start to say now, based on that experience, is that it does look as though the vaccines have broken the chain between catching Covid-19 and potentially being very, very seriously ill and potentially dying.’
Mr Hopson said in the most recent phase of the pandemic the number of people in hospital in Bolton with Covid-19 peaked at 50, compared to 170 in November and 150 in January and February.
‘Infection rates have been increasing in a number of different places,’ Mr Hopson said.
‘We know that the hospitalisations are increasing, the rates of people coming into hospital in those areas are rising. But they are not rising very significantly.’
But speaking on BBC Radio 4, Mr Hopson still urged caution. He said: ‘There is still risk here. We can’t just go into June 21 and say “hey there’s not a problem here”. There are some very important risks to manage.’
Of the 12,431 Indian variant cases so far confirmed in the UK, 10,797 are in England, 1,511 in Scotland, 97 in Wales and 26 in Northern Ireland.
In England, the cases are spread across the country, and the most affected areas include Bolton in Greater Manchester (2,149 cases), Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire (724), Bedford (608), Leicester (349), Manchester (278) and Birmingham (223).
The government is planning to cut wait times between Covid-19 vaccination doses for over 40s from twelve weeks to eight weeks as ministers battle to save ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21. Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson receives his second dose of the coronavirus vaccine in London
As the Government launches another major vaccine push, officials are reportedly drawing up secret plans to delay the end of the country’s restrictions by two weeks until July after the UK’s daily coronavirus infections rose again – with the number of people in the country with Covid-19 rising by 75 percent.
Today it was announced that surge testing is to be rolled out in areas of Berkshire in an attempt to tackle the spread of the Indian variant.
Everyone aged 12 and above in specific postcode areas of Reading and Wokingham will be offered PCR testing over the next two weeks from Monday after the strain was found to be spreading in the community.
Ms Peachey, director of public health for Berkshire West, said cases are mainly among young people, with ‘virtually nobody over 60 or anyone who has been vaccinated’.
She told BBC Breakfast: ‘What’s happened in the last couple of weeks, especially in the last week, we’ve noticed that a lot of cases now coming through we can’t link to any travellers, which means we now have community transmission.’
She said a ‘big concern’ is that continued spread could lead to more mutations.
She added: ‘If the variant spreads and becomes even more, it may mutate again and the big concern is that vaccines won’t work and that’s my big concern.
‘We really want to get people tested and isolated if they’ve got the virus, stop the spread so that we can make sure the vaccination programme works.’
The extra testing and genomic sequencing is being offered in the RG1 3, RG1 5, RG1 6 and RG1 7 postcodes in Reading and in the Bulmershe and Whitegates, Evendons, Norreys, and Wescott areas of Wokingham, the Department of Health said.
Everyone aged 12 and over who lives or works in these areas is strongly encouraged to take a PCR test, whether or not they have Covid symptoms.
It comes after the Department of Health announced the launch of additional testing and genomic sequencing in Bradford, Canterbury and Maidstone after cases of the Delta variant were identified.
Epidemiologist Dr Adam Kucharski today said it could be ‘hard to justify’ easing further restrictions this month as the UK faced a different battle in the face of the dominance of the Indian variant.
Asked whether the June 21 target for unlocking made him ‘nervous’, the Government adviser told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we have to accept the equation has changed here – we are not facing the virus that we were facing two months ago.
‘If we were facing the B.117 (Kent) variant as the dominant one, the fact it (the vaccines) is working very well, case numbers are coming down nicely, we could have some more confidence that there could be reopening without seeing those surges.
‘But we’re not. Everyone is tired of this pandemic, they want this transition back to normality and that will happen, the effectiveness of two doses of the vaccine will eventually get us there.
‘But if say in two weeks we’re in a situation where hospitalisations have been rising, where local health systems are coming under pressure, I think it will be quite difficult to justify adding more transmission to that kind of situation.’
Dr Kucharski described the current graph of infections as ‘U-shaped’, with the vaccines having worked to quell infections from the Kent variant, but the Indian variant is now causing a fresh rise in cases.
He disagreed with Mr Hopson’s assessment about vaccines quelling hospitalisation figures, instead saying the transmissibility of the Indian variant could see a ‘big number’ of people admitted to hospital with coronavirus.
Dr Kucharski – who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) Government advisory panel – said there were a ‘number of concerning signs’ following early evidence that first dose vaccines are not as effective against the so-called Delta variant.
He added: ‘I think it is particularly this increase in transmission that is potentially going to cause us considerable problems.
‘We are getting estimates now firming up that we are looking at something potentially 40 to 60 per cent more transmissible than the B.117, the Kent variant that was dominant.
‘And that means that infections are going to really come at us quite fast and we are seeing that in the cases now, and we saw that in the ONS data yesterday.’
Dr Kurcharski said the current picture meant that it was ‘hard to be confident’ that a ‘big number’ of people will not end up in hospital due to the spread of the Indian variant and the number of adults still unvaccinated in the UK.
Officials are also reportedly drawing up secret plans to delay the end of the country’s coronavirus restrictions by two weeks until July after the UK’s daily coronavirus infections rose again, with the number of people in the country with Covid-19 rising by 75 per cent
On Friday, ministers said they were doing ‘everything we possible can’ to speed up the process of inoculating the public, ahead of a crucial decision over whether ease restrictions on June 21.
The acceleration of second doses for over-50s has already been announced by the government, but the change is now expected to be announced for those over-40 when the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) formally recommends the measure.
Speaking to The Telegraph, a government source said ministers ‘want to double-dose as soon as possible’, and hope that the acceleration with keep ‘freedom day’ as June 21.
However, the possibility of a two week delay to the lifting of restrictions is also being discussed, according to the newspaper, with a quicker vaccination programme potentially allowing over-40s to receive their second doses by July 5 — two weeks after June 21 — amid concerns over the Indian ‘Delta’ variant.
It comes as school leaders called for schoolchildren to be vaccinated before the start of the school holidays after UK regulators approved jabs for teenagers.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) yesterday approved the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Hamid Patel, chief executive of the Star Academies trust based in Blackburn — the area of the country with the most cases of the Indian variant — said schoolchildren should be vaccinated as a matter of priority.
Dr Rosalind Eggo, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) Government advisory panel, said with ‘very early evidence’ showing that the current vaccines on offer ‘don’t work quite as well against the Delta variant’, it was important to increase the rate of second jabs.
‘Getting those second doses up, pushing that number up as high as possible is really important,’ she told BBC’s Newsnight.
In a move already being lambasted by night-time economy chiefs, the i said it would likely see the Government backtrack on encouraging a return to the workplace, continue with the guidance to work from home if possible, and is also likely to continue with the policy of mask wearing and social distancing on public transport.
The newspaper also said social distancing in bars and restaurants is likely to remain, along with limits on audiences in theatres and cinemas.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed he is considering keeping social-distancing restrictions in place for the rest of 2021, calling the two-metre measure ‘one of the strongest defences that we have’ against the virus.
But Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said keeping social distancing in place would threaten the viability of the sector.
‘Sorry but leaving social distancing in place in pubs, restaurants, hotels and attractions means that June 21 is not freedom date at all,’ she tweeted.
‘It means that those businesses continue to operate at a loss and threatens the long term viability of businesses, jobs and the recovery.’
Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said he was ‘up for a fight’ over the possible shift.
‘Hospitality is the fifth biggest industry in the UK – June 21 is make or break for many,’ he said on social media.
No 10 sources said suggestions of a delay to the road map was ‘speculation’, with the Prime Minister telling broadcasters this week there was still ‘nothing in the data at the moment that means we cannot go ahead with Step 4’.
The Health Secretary said the Government ‘always expected cases to rise’ as lockdown was eased, and that ministers were being ‘tough’ on international travel rules to preserve the route out of lockdown in the UK by preventing new variants from taking hold.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was warned not to ‘more the goalposts’ over Freedom Day after some MPs became concerned that the government’s criteria for lifting measures have changed.
Some Tory ministers see the constant bombardment with data about increasing coronavirus cases in some areas of the country as a way of softening the bad news for the public, and say that while cases are rising, hospitalisations and Covid deaths are staying low.
Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The important data the Government needs to concentrate on is whether the vaccines are effective, and all the evidence shows that they are. The Government’s four tests for unlocking on June 21 make no mention of case numbers, and if we’re going to start panicking every time there is a new variant it doesn’t bode well for the autumn.’
According to The Daily Telegraph , over-25s will be offered their first doses of the vaccine from next week as the government races against the clock to beat Covid-19 variants. On Friday, ministers said they were doing ‘everything we possible can’ to speed up the process of inoculating the public, ahead of a crucial decision over whether ease restrictions on June 21. Pictured: A man receives a coronavirus vaccine dose at Twickenham rugby stadium
The Health Secretary was speaking at a meeting of G7 health ministers in Oxford yesterday when the case count surged by 1,000 more than yesterday at the end of a week of mounting evidence that Covid is coming back in the UK (Pictured: Matt Hancock bumps elbows with Sam Foster, chief nursing officer at Oxford University Hospital)
Ministers have asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) whether to give the jab to teenagers — the current rollout is set to stop at age 18 except for children with serious health conditions.
The JCVI — which normally rules who should get a vaccine — is expected to tell No10 that jabbing children is a ‘political’ decision and will leave the ball in ministers’ court.
Teaching union and school leaders yesterday said starting vaccinating children soon could ensure they have had both jabs by the time they start the school year in September.
But vaccinating children against the virus is a controversial issue because youngsters only have a tiny risk of getting seriously ill and their immunity would likely only protect older adults.
More than 100 cross-party MPs and the World Health Organization have said the priority should be to get vaccine doses abroad to poorer countries where vulnerable people still haven’t been jabbed before giving them to low-risk children.
Mr Patel told the Guardian: ‘This is very welcome news. We now need to ensure that all teenagers have received at least the first jab before the summer holidays.
DECISION ON CHILDREN’S JABS COULD FALL TO BORIS JOHNSON
The decision on whether to vaccinate children could fall to Boris Johnson and his government ministers, instead of health chiefs and scientists, because it is ethically complicated.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to ‘come up with a menu of options’ for the Prime Minister but not to offer a definitive recommendation on jabs for those under the age of 18.
Children aren’t yet given vaccines because their risk of getting serious Covid is so tiny and their immunity would likely only protect older adults, making it a complex issue – vaccinating against measles, for example, directly protects the child so is more clear-cut.
Ministers will be forced to decide whether the tiny risk of side effects in children is worth the benefit of protecting more adults and stifling the virus.
JCVI deputy chair Professor Anthony Harnden said on BBC Breakfast in May: ‘We do know that the majority of children do not have huge risk of complications, whether we vaccinate for educational purposes, whether we vaccinate to protect others in the population, these are the ethical issues, there are a lot of issues to think about.
‘It’s a complicated position to decide on the immunisation of children, of course, then there’s the wider global ethical argument about the use of vaccine in children when there are other people in the world that are at risk of not being vaccinated.
‘So we need to think about all these issues, we probably will give the Government a range of options.’
‘Schools are best placed to accommodate vaccinations and the infrastructure is already in place for delivering inoculations.
‘We will get much higher take-up if we ask youngsters to receive the jab in term time rather than when they are enjoying their holidays. This will also enable all of us to have a safer, freer and more normal summer.’
He said ensuring children are vaccinated will stop the Indian variant spreading rapidly in young people in hotspots in the country.
And Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, also urged the JCVI to consider expanding the roll-out to teenagers.
He said offering them the vaccine would ‘protect the wider adult population who are at greater risk from Covid’.
Yesterday was the first time daily infections have risen above 6,000 since March 26, when the country was still under much stricter lockdown rules, and they are up 50 per cent compared to last week.
Government sources earlier in the week said it would give them cause for concern if daily cases were to rise above 5,000, because it would signal that the virus is growing exponentially.
England’s ‘Freedom Day’ appears to be hanging in the balance amid the rapid spread of the highly infectious Indian variant, which is doubling in prevalence every nine days and is now the dominant strain in the country.
An Office for National Statistics report yesterday showed weekly Covid case numbers spiked 75 per cent last week to 86,000, and SAGE estimates the R rate is definitely above one and could be as high as 1.2.
Daily Covid infections have been steadily rising since late May when there were about 2,500 a day on average and the daily seven-day average now sits at 4,147 – a rise of more than 60 per cent.
No10 this week insisted that there was still ‘nothing in the data’ that suggested the crucial unlocking this month will not go ahead, but scientists are pushing for a slight delay. Proof that jabs work will hopefully give light at the end of the tunnel and mean any extension of social distancing would only be temporary while vaccines are rolled out – earlier lockdowns had been open-ended.
Evidence that vaccines work is coming in droves now as Public Health England data showed vaccines protect well against even the new variant when people have had two doses, slashing the risk of catching the virus and being admitted to hospital by up to 93 per cent.
The Government is scrambling to get jabs to as many people as possible and Department of Health statistics show 39.9million adults have now received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, more than three in four, and 26.7million have received both doses, more than half.