Britain yesterday recorded more than 5,000 coronavirus cases for the first time in more than two months while 18 more people died from the virus as the reproductive rate – R rate – soars above 1 in all but three parts of the UK.
The Department of Health revealed there were 5,274 positive tests in the past 24 hours, the highest number since March 26, when the country was under much stricter lockdown rules. It marks a 49 per cent rise on the figure recorded last Thursday.
Yesterday’s deaths are 80 per cent higher than last week, when there were 10, and may be higher than normal because of a reporting delay over the bank holiday weekend.
England’s r-rate has now soared to 1.1 – with every region in the country now hitting the dreaded one mark. The R rate — which measures how many people each person with the virus infects — must stay at one or lower for an outbreak to stop growing or to shrink.
However, there were zero Covid deaths on Monday, the first time since the pandemic began, which was seized upon by the Government and Health Secretary Matt Hancock as proof the jabs had put the worst of the crisis behind us.
The rising numbers are the result of the highly-infectious Indian variant which has become dominant in Britain and accounts for more than three in four new cases.
But, in a positive sign, the Government revealed that half of all adults in the UK are now fully vaccinated against coronavirus. Two doses of the jabs prevent the vast majority of people getting ill or dying with Covid, even against the new strain.
A total of 26,422,303 second doses have now been delivered since the vaccination rollout began almost six months ago. This is the equivalent of 50.2 per cent of all people aged 18 and over. Roughly 75.5 per cent of UK adults have received a first dose of vaccine.
Meanwhile, tracking by the King’s College London app shows Covid is advancing in all but three parts of the country for which estimates are available – Wales, the East of England and Yorkshire and the Humber.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Professor Tim Spector, who leads the study, said: ‘The UK picture is changing quickly now. Cases are rising, but not nationwide, it’s very much a regional issue.
‘The North West of England and Scotland are the two regions with the highest prevalence, with rates higher than in some parts of Europe. However, the data highlights that the increase is happening in the younger age groups, suggesting the start of an epidemic in the young.’
Public Health England’s weekly Covid report found cases are on the up in every region of England and every age group with the biggest spike seen in people in their 20s.
The weekly figures mark an inevitable rise in infections that scientists and ministers knew would happen once lockdown rules were ended, but come alongside fears that the Indian variant is close to triggering a third wave.
Ministers remain tight-lipped about whether social distancing will be allowed to end on June 21 as planned, but Matt Hancock said there was a ‘good sign’ that vaccinated people were making up only a minority of hospital admissions.
The Health Secretary said the government is keeping a close eye on daily case levels but stressed what ‘really matters’ is how many people end up in hospital and die from the disease and how well the jabs keep numbers down.
This week’s Public Health England report showed infection rates are highest among teenagers (dark blue) in most regions, although it is less clear in the South West. Cases are rising in most age groups in most regions now that lockdown rules have ended
Positive tests have started increasing in England after months of near-continuous decline during the post-Christmas lockdown, statistics show
Public Health England figures show that in the last week of May more areas of the country were seeing increases in coronavirus cases. A total of 112 areas saw a rise in their infection rates while only 37 had declining rates of positive tests
Matt Hancock hailed ‘good signs’ over Covid vaccines as he insisted ministers will focus on deaths and serious illness rather than infections when deciding if the June 21 unlocking can go ahead
The number of Britons getting ill with Covid has increased by 80 per cent in a week, according to the ZOE and King’s College London study. It estimated there were 4,608 new symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK last week, up from 2,550 the week before
PORTUGAL CUT FROM UK TRAVEL GREEN LIST
Holidaymakers faced a hammer blow today as Portugal was removed from the UK’s green list amid fears over the spread of the Nepal variant.
In a brutal overhaul, MailOnline understands that the only major holiday destination in the lowest bracket is being axed – with sources suggesting the new strain identified in the country was a significant factor in the decision.
No countries are being added to the ‘green list’, dashing hopes that places such as Malta, Jamaica and Grenada could be added to the roster.
And more countries are being put on the ‘red list’ that means returning travellers must go into quarantine hotels. They are thought to be Egypt, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Bahrain, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago and Afghanistan.
It comes amid alarm that a coronavirus variant linked to Nepal could pose a fresh threat to the escape from lockdown.
At least 20 cases of the strain, which combines mutations from the Indian and South African versions, have been spotted in the UK. And a case has been identified in Portugal – which does far less genomic screening than Britain.
Meanwhile, Labour has renewed demands for the ‘amber list’ to be scrapped to prevent mutant strains from being imported.
And in another setback for travellers the EU has again delayed a decision on whether the UK will be added to its ‘white list’ of safe countries from which leisure travel is welcome.
He also appealed for the public to be patient, warning it is still ‘too early’ to say whether the planned ‘freedom day’ can go ahead.
One of the scientists most closely tracking the UK’s outbreak, Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London and the Covid Symptom Study, changed his tuned after an optimistic start to the week, saying lockdown should only be ‘softened’ rather than ended. On Tuesday he had said ‘vaccines work’ and appeared to back lifting restrictions.
Professor Spector’s study estimated there had been an 80 per cent spike in the number of people developing Covid symptoms each day, from 2,550 on May 22 to 4,608 last week. He warned of ‘the start of an epidemic in the young’.
The PHE report showed that, in the last week of May, the positive test rate shot up by 63 per cent in the North West of England and by 65 per cent in people aged 20 to 29. It also rose 74 per cent in the South East but remained at lower levels than most other regions.
Younger adults and teenagers saw the worst increases in cases while the rise in older generations was slower, offering promise that the vaccines are protecting the most at-risk from getting infected with the virus.
Mr Hancock’s comments came ahead of a G7 health ministers’ meeting in Oxford, where they are expected to discuss the threat from variants after it emerged there is another one first seen in Nepal that is already in England.
Yesterday’s PHE report showed infection rates had risen in 112 areas of England in the week ending June 1 and come down in only 37, showing the country’s outbreak as a whole is growing.
This aligns with figures from NHS Test & Trace and the Covid Symptom Study, which both noticed a spike in the numbers of people catching the virus in their most recent reports.
Growing numbers suggest the virus is not contained only to hotspots, but some areas and groups are worse affected than others.
By far the highest infection rate is in the North West of England – home to Indian ‘Delta’ variant hotspots Bolton and Blackburn – where there were 87 positive tests for every 100,000 people last week, up 63 per cent in a week.
Second ranked is Yorkshire & The Humber, with a rate of 39 per 100,000, followed by London (31), East Midlands (24), North East (24), West Midlands (23), South East (23), East Anglia (21) and the South West (9).
The biggest week-on-week rises were in the South East (74 per cent), the North West (63 per cent), the West Midlands (44 per cent) and London (34 per cent).
Between age groups, the 65 per cent spike to 52 cases per 100,000 among 20-somethings was the worst increase. The highest rate was in 10 to 19-year-olds, at 72 per 100,000.
While young age groups saw big week-on-week surges in the positive test rate, ranging from 29 to 65 per cent for people between 10 and 50, growth was much slower in older groups, with only a 14 per cent rise in over-80s and 19 per cent among people in their 70s.
Rates were significantly lower among the elderly groups, too – just five cases per 100,000, 10 times lower than in people in their 20s.
Mr Hancock said: ‘It’s too early to say what the decision will be about step four of the road map, which is scheduled to be no earlier than June 21.
‘Of course I look at those data every day, we publish them every day, the case numbers matter but what really matters is how that translates into the number of people going to hospital, the number of people sadly dying.
|Date/age||0 to 4||5 to 9||10 to 19||20 to 29||30 to 39||40 to 49||50 to 59||60 to 69||70 to 79||80+|
|1st dose vaccine uptake||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||58%||84%||94%||97%||99%||95%|
|May 25 (cases per 100,000)||10.9||26.7||55.1||31.6||33.0||25.5||15.6||9.0||4.2||4.4|
|June 1 (cases per 100,000)||11.9||34.5||72.3||52.0||45.8||33.4||19.3||11.1||5.0||5.0|
Graph shows Covid Symptom Study estimates of infection rate by age. Professor Spector described surging cases in people aged between 20 and 39 as the ‘start of an epidemic in the young’. The study found that teenagers through to under-30s, who are largely unvaccinated, were recording rates of about 140 cases per 100,000 people compared to fewer than 20 per 100,000 in the over-60s and 30 per 100,000 in the over-50s
Covid cases were significantly higher in the North West — home to six of the top twelve hotspots for the Indian variant — and Scotland. Graph shows: The estimated number of cases in each region of the UK across May
Pfizer vaccine ‘works less well against Indian variant’: Vaccine produces fewer antibodies against Covid Delta than other strains increasing likelihood an autumn booster will be needed, study finds
People who have had the Pfizer vaccine have lower antibody levels targeting the Indian coronavirus variant than those against previously circulating strains in the UK, new data has found.
A study by the Francis Crick Institute and the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre also suggests the levels of these antibodies are lower with increasing age and that levels decline over time.
Researchers say this provides additional evidence in support of plans to deliver a vaccine boost to vulnerable people in the autumn. But it could spark fears in some corners that the Pfizer jab is less effective in preventing serious illness from the more transmissible variant, known as Covid Delta.
Public Health England said the variant appears to be twice as likely to lead to hospital admissions as the Kent strain which sparked the second wave, and has become dominant in the UK.
Together with the emergence of a so-called Nepalese variant, the data could persuade ministers to pause the final easing of restrictions due to take place on June 21, which is being dubbed ‘Freedom Day’.
‘The vaccine breaks that link – the question is how much the link has yet been broken because the majority of people who ended up in hospital are not fully vaccinated.
‘That’s a good sign if you like because it means that the vaccine is clearly protecting people from ending up in hospital but it also demonstrates that we need to keep going with this vaccine programme.’
Boris Johnson insisted that he still sees ‘nothing in the data’ to stop June 21 going ahead, after official statistics showed Covid made up just one in 150 deaths across England and Wales last week.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to a school the PM struck an optimistic tone, but admitted infections are rising and that he needs to be ‘cautious’. He insisted people must ‘wait a little longer’ for the final decision.
As the UK recorded another 12 deaths yesterday – suggesting the zero tally on Tuesday could have been a blip – Mr Johnson said: ‘What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, against a new surge, and there I’m afraid the data is still ambiguous.
‘The best the scientists can say at the moment is we just need to give it a little bit longer.’
There have been rumours the government is planning to keep restrictions such as mask wearing and work-from-home guidance in place as a trade-off for dropping social distancing in shops and pubs.
Professor Tim Spector had last week thrown his weight behind England’s June 21 Freedom Day on Tuesday, tweeting that ‘vaccines are working’ against the Indian variant and that outbreaks were confined to hotspot regions.
But the eminent professor changed his tune this morning in the face of stark findings from his Covid symptom tracking study.
It estimated there were 4,608 new symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK last week, up from 2,550 the week before, a rise of 81 per cent.
Professor Spector described surging cases in people aged between 20 and 39 as the ‘start of an epidemic in the young’.
The study found that teenagers through to under-30s, who are largely unvaccinated, were recording rates of about 140 cases per 100,000 people compared to fewer than 20 per 100,000 in the over-60s and 30 per 100,000 in the over-50s.
There are fears that if the virus is allowed to spread wildly in younger people while there are still millions of unvaccinated older Brits, it will eventually infect them and push up hospitalisations and deaths.
Professor Spector said: ‘The data highlights that the increase is happening in the younger age groups, suggesting the start of an epidemic in the young. We can’t be too complacent, and we are monitoring things closely.
‘The ending of lockdown is on everyone’s minds and given the current situation, I believe we should continue to soften restrictions but not lift them all just yet.’
Office for National Statistics figures revealed yesterday that Covid was behind less than one per cent of deaths in the week to May 21, the latest available. Only 66 out of 9,840 fatalities listed the virus as the underlying cause.
MailOnline’s analysis of hospital admissions showed they are only rising in the North West, where Indian variant hotspots are concentrated, going up by 24 per cent over the last fortnight of May to 177 Covid patients on wards.
Boris Johnson (pictured holding a tea party with children in Downing Street yesterday) has insisted he still sees ‘nothing in the data’ to stop June 21 going ahead
One of the Government’s top scientific advisers has also warned the UK cannot keep ‘scampering down a rabbit hole’ every time a new Covid variant emerges.
Hitting back at members of SAGE calling for a longer lockdown, Sir John Bell said ministers must instead focus on hospitalisations and deaths, which have remained flat nationally but there are signs of admissions increasing.
Sir John told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we do need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths, which is really what we are trying to manage.
‘If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away — so I think we need to get a bit of balance into the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease we are trying to prevent.’
Covid cases have remained above 3,000 for eight consecutive days in Britain.
Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has already delayed unlocking north of the border, admitting she was worried about the rapid spread of the virus.