Covid cases jumped by more than 36 per cent in a week today, reaching 4,330 as Boris Johnson insisted he still sees ‘nothing in the data’ to stop June 21’s ‘Freedom Day’ going ahead.
It is the second day in less than a week they have reached more than 4,000 and, before that, the last time was April 1.
Twelve more Covid deaths were also reported today — rising a third on last Wednesday’s figure — after yesterday’s recording of zero bolstered calls for No10 to stick with its roadmap.
But Britain’s vaccine roll-out continued at pace, with 108,607 first doses dished out across the UK yesterday, taking the country’s total to 39.6million — more than 75 per cent of the adult population.
Some 338,565 second doses were also given out, meaning nearly 26.1million people are fully vaccinated in the country (49.5 per cent).
The figures come as official statistics showed Covid made up just one in 150 deaths across England and Wales last week.
And MailOnline analysis today showed the number of people in hospital with Covid is 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.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to a school Mr Johnson 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.
The Prime Minister 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.’
One of the top scientific advisers to No10, Oxford medicine professor Sir John Bell, today said he was optimistic that the roadmap would be able to go ahead and urged ministers not to run scared from rising cases in the face of the new variant and lifting lockdown rules but to watch data on hospital admissions and deaths instead.
Covid cases jumped by more than 36 per cent in a week today, the eighth day in a row they have been above 3,000 and the second day in less than a week they have reached more than 4,000
Twelve more lives were also lost to the virus today — rising a third on last Wednesday’s figure — after yesterday’s recording of zero bolstered calls for No10 to stick with its roadmap
Britain’s vaccine roll-out continued at pace, with 108,607 first doses dished out across the UK, taking the country’s total to 39.6million — more than 75 per cent of the adult population
Hospital admissions, bed occupancy and mechanical ventilators have all risen in the North West — where the Indian variant is most prevalent — but have fallen or remained stable in most of the rest of the country over the last fortnight
But the number of patients in hospital are still significantly lower across the country than during the near-overwhelming of the NHS experienced during the height of the winter peak in January
Covid Symptom Study data shows that in May, all the under-40 age groups saw infection rates rise to around 140 positive cases per 100,000 people. Meanwhile the figure for people in their 50s was around 30 in 100,000 and it was lower than 20 for over-60s, who are by far the most vaccinated age group. Professor Spector said: ‘Vaccines work’
Office for National Statistics figures today revealed 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.
It comes after one of the Government’s top scientific advisers 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.
The Oxford University medical expert, who has advised the Government on Covid tests and vaccines, suggested the country must take a leap of faith and put trust in its world-beating vaccination rollout.
Becoming the highest profile Government adviser to advocate for June 21 to go ahead, 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.’
Pressure has been mounting on Mr Johnson to push back England’s June 21 lockdown easings to buy time to roll out jabs to millions more people to further curb the transmission of the Indian variant.
But Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has already delayed unlocking north of the border, admitting she was worried about the rapid spread of the virus.
The Prime Minister’s comments today came after Downing Street said there was still nothing in the data to suggest the final stages of unlocking could not go ahead.
A No10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that we haven’t seen anything in the data but we will continue to look at the data, we will continue to look at the latest scientific evidence as we move through June towards June 21.’
The next stage of the roadmap set for June 21 will spell an end to face masks and social distancing restrictions. Whitehall sources say a decision whether to continue with the easing will be taken on June 14.
Covid was mentioned on 107 death certificates in the week to May 21, but was only listed as the underlying cause on 66. There were 9,860 deaths overall in this period, meaning Covid was behind the equivalent of one in 150 fatalities
For comparison, flu and pneumonia (blue line) were behind 287 fatalities. This was more than four times above the 66 deaths where Covid was listed as the underlying cause (red line)
Professor Sir John Bell urged ministers to focus on hospitalisations and deaths instead of being panicked by the past week’s rise in Covid cases, which was always expected to happen when lockdown rules were lifted. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured today) is expected to speak today on feelings ahead of June 21’s planned final roadmap step
People have become less convinced that all social distancing will end on June 21 as planned – 58 per cent of Brits thought it would when they were asked on May 23, compared to 73 per cent on May 2
Indian variant cases in England’s 12 hotspots are shown (red) compared to the Kent variant (orange). The new strain has gone on to become dominant in all 12 of the above areas – and more than 100 in total – since cropping up for the first time in April. It is believed to be a fifth more infectious than the Kent variant which is propelling its spread
Speaking to reporters on a visit to a school today, Boris Johnson said there was still ‘ambiguity’ over how much protection vaccines were giving people
ONS figures showed deaths caused by Covid fell to their lowest levels since before the first lockdown last year in the week ending May 21, and were lower than in early September before the second wave spiralled out of control and 69 people died of the virus.
Every region in England went at least one day without registering a single death from the virus over this period, data showed. The North East, East Midlands, West Midlands and South West had at least three days where they registered no Covid fatalities.
In total the ONS said 107 people had Covid mentioned on their death certificates last week but only 66 died directly from the virus, meaning nearly 40 per cent primarily succumbed to other conditions.
Experts said the figures were ‘very positive’ and showed vaccines were playing ‘a major part’ in driving down fatalities.
The NHS Confederation union added the numbers were ‘reassuring’ but said there was still a ‘real concern’ rising cases could lead to more hospitalisations.
NHS figures show that Covid hospital admissions are rising in the North West of England where Indian variant hotspots are concentrated but remain low in the rest of the country where the strain is yet to take off.
MailOnline’s shows trusts in the region — home to hotspots Bolton and Blackburn — saw virus patient numbers creep up by 24 per cent in the last fortnight of May. There are now 177 inpatients in hospitals in the North West.
Patients requiring mechanical ventilation, a last-resort for those most ill with the disease, also more than doubled to 42 in the North West since the middle of May, when cases of the Indian variant first started spiralling.
But the numbers are all still significantly lower than the levels that pushed the region’s NHS to the brink during the peak of the second wave in January. There were nearly 5,500 beds taken up with Covid patients in the North West in mid-January, 30 times more than now.
Nationally, bed occupancy has remained relatively flat over the last week — rising slightly from 758 on June 23 to 763 yesterday — but has fallen from 818 in the middle of the month. Admissions in London have started to rise, with the western borough of Hounslow a hotspot for the Indian variant and vaccine rates in the capital the lowest in the country.
Pockets of the North West have been most affected by cases of the Indian variant, with Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen and Burnley all identified as hotspots by the Government. MailOnline yesterday revealed Manchester, Wigan and Trafford have also emerged as hubs for the mutant strain, with half of the top twelve areas for cases being in the North West.
Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, heralded the fall in Covid deaths as ‘very positive’ and said he hoped vaccines would prevent hospital admissions from spiking after cases like they did in earlier waves.
‘When you think back only as far as the start of April when there were over 300 registered deaths in a week with Covid as the underlying cause, let alone to late January when there were over 7,500 a week, this is huge progress,’ he said.
‘Vaccination will have played a major part in this reduction, though lockdowns and other interventions played an important part too.
‘People who, sadly, died in the latest week of those data would probably have been infected three or more weeks before, so well before the latest loosening of lockdown in England on 17 May – so it wouldn’t be possible to see any effect of that removal of restrictions on these numbers.’
He added that rising Covid cases would not translate into the same pressure on the NHS as previously because of the successful vaccines roll-out.
‘Earlier in the pandemic, any sustained increase in new cases or hospital admissions would lead inevitably to increases in deaths a few weeks later,’ he said.
‘That process won’t occur in the same way now, because of the effect of vaccination on reducing serious illness, though it’s not yet entirely clear what the new pattern might be, or how new variants might play a role.
Nationally hospital admissions for the virus remain flat but there has been a slight uptick in the North West and London in the last week
King’s College London’s Professor Tim Spector said yesterday the fact that outbreaks appear to be confined to local clusters in hotspots in the Covid Symptom Study, and that the Indian variant is not yet spreading rife across the country, was proof that vaccines are working
Sir John Bell said he didn’t think current data looked ‘intimidating’ and that ministers should ‘let them play out another couple of weeks’ before deciding on the next step of the roadmap.
He added: ‘I think the Government’s taken the wise approach to this before we make a decision on the next reduction of the lockdown but I am pretty encouraged by what I see.’
The intervention comes as Sir John and 11 other scientists publish a letter ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall this month calling on ministers to support the vaccine roll out in other countries.
The open letter warns without this action Britain risks importing dangerous variants from abroad as the virus remains out of control in other areas.
‘Leaders from the G7 countries must take decisive action now if we are to bring this pandemic under control,’ the scientists which also include Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar and the director of the Oxford vaccine group Professor Sue Clemens write.
‘Without a globally coordinated approach… we are merely putting out fires in one part of the world as another suffers.
‘The result is a pandemic that continues on – with millions more lives lost and a real threat that any progress made to date is completely undone by a new variant that renders vaccines ineffective.’
Public Health England is already monitoring 13 variants in the UK, and has designated five ‘of concern’ — meaning scientists fear they are spreading rapidly or could make vaccines less effective.
Surge testing has been sparked in hotspots including Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen to root out cases of the Indian variant.
And the tool was also deployed in areas including Bristol and parts of London and Gloucestershire when the South African variant was identified — which studies suggest could make vaccines slightly less effective.
The Indian variant — B.1.617.2 — has sparked concern in official circles amid rising case numbers and after scientists said it is at least 20 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant.
But studies suggest it is still susceptible to vaccine-sparked immunity, while data shows cases are mostly focused in younger age groups who are yet to be offered at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.
More than 39.4million Britons have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, nearly three quarters, and 25.7million have got both doses, or nearly 50 per cent.
Covid hospital admissions are slowly creeping up across England but nearly half of all trusts are still completely empty, official figures have revealed. Graph shows: Just one NHS trust in England had more than four per cent of its beds occupied by sufferers of the virus in the most recent week data is available for (week ending May 23) [Percentage on the right shows the change in patient numbers in a week]
Covid woes have been forgotten this week as the summer weather began in earnest and people enjoyed time outside after an unseasonably cold and wet spring. Pictured: A crowd at Warleigh Weir in Bath
People are pictured enjoying the sunshine in Margate, Kent, today on what could be the warmest day of the year so far with temperatures stretching towards 77F (25C) across the country
To boost these numbers even more, ministers are preparing to offer vaccines to all over-18s within weeks.
So far only adults aged 30 and over have been invited for their jabs and health leaders are focusing their efforts on giving older people their second dose.
But it is understood officials are planning to open up the eligibility to all age groups amid concerns the Indian strain – which has been renamed as the ‘Delta variant’ – is spreading very quickly among the young.
Meanwhile in a speech today Health Secretary Matt Hancock will praise the country’s ‘extraordinary vaccine heroes’ – including healthcare staff and volunteers.
SAGE experts and Tory MPs have been butting heads over whether June 21 should be delayed in the face of the Indian variant as health officials in the regions worst affected say it is mostly being transmitted by 17 to 18-year-olds, and potentially passed on to older, more vulnerable family members – bolstering the case for younger people to be vaccinated.
At a speech outside the Jenner Institute in Oxford, where the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was developed, Mr Hancock will pay particular tribute to the NHS, scientists and the armed forces for helping deliver 65million vaccines so far.
‘The biggest risk would have been the failure to find a vaccine at all. So we explicitly embraced risk early on,’ he will say. ‘So we backed lots of horses and invested at risk.
‘And instead of sitting back and waiting to see which vaccines came off, we were tenacious in helping them to get over the line, drawing on the abundant industry experience in our team. The team who worked on our vaccination programme was the single greatest asset that we had in this crisis.’
He will also credit the ‘phenomenal dedication’ of the British public to come forward with more than 90 per cent of over-50s having had at least one dose.
Yesterday the director of public health in Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire – which has the highest Covid infection rates on the country – urged the Government to start vaccinating teenagers.
Dominic Harrison warned of an ‘exceptionally high rate’ among 17 and 18-year-olds and urged ministers to license the jabs for teenagers to help protect the wider community.
‘We desperately need the UK Government, the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] to pass the Pfizer vaccine as safe and effective for that age group,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.
‘Now the USA, Canada, Singapore and the European Union have all in the last week said that’s Pfizer BioNTechvaccine is safe and effective for 12 years and above and I just hope the UK Government can get on with passing that, assuming that they agree that we could then get into rapid vaccination for that cohort, before the end of term.
‘Because that would help not just with protecting the whole population through an increased number of people vaccinated, but reducing transmission in that group.’
The decline of death numbers, combined with low hospital admissions, offer confidence that vaccines are protecting people from the coronavirus and hopefully working well enough to prevent a massive third wave.
Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist who runs the Covid Symptom Study, suggested that the jabs are protecting even against infections caused by the Indian variant, which scientists weren’t sure whether it would.
He said in a tweet: ‘The UK hotspots clearly tell the story. The Delta variant has taken a hold of these areas but numbers are around 4,000 per day and is not taking hold more widely.
‘Virtually all cases are aged under 50 or unvaccinated – so vaccines work.’
MAY 22: This map shows the local authorities where the Indian variant was the dominant strain — made up the majority of cases — by the number of infections with the mutant strain detected in their areas. It is for the two weeks to May 22. Areas coloured red had more than 50 cases, orange between 10 and 49 cases, and yellow had fewer than 10 cases
HOVER OVER YOUR AREA TO SEE HOW COMMON THE INDIAN VARIANT WAS BY MAY 22
A report produced by his Covid Symptom Study found there were an average of 4,608 new cases of Covid per day over the past two weeks and that around 58,665 people had it at any time.
The report showed that most places on England’s outbreak watchlist had seen infection rates about stable or improving in the past week, including Leicester, Peterborough, Hillingdon, Gateshead, Bolton, Bury, Lancashire, Manchester, Tameside, Birmingham, Kirklees and Leeds.
And it revealed that the majority of cases throughout May have been in the as-yet-unvaccinated under-40s, with the rate of infection highest among 20 to 29-year-olds, followed by 30 to 39-year-olds and then under-20s.
While they all saw around 140 cases per 100,000 people in the most recent data, the figure for people in their 50s was around 30 in 100,000 and it was lower than 20 for over-60s, who are by far the most vaccinated age group.
Tory MPs grabbed hold of the positive data to shoot down calls from SAGE advisers for the end of social distancing to be delayed.
Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘My worry is there seems to be a concerted push among scientists to stop June 21 taking place. They seem to have now moved the goalposts so we can’t open up until everybody has had two jabs. That was never part of the event.’
‘By and large everybody who is 50-plus has had two jabs now. It seems to me that everybody is trying to get in ‘I told you so’ before the event. If it all goes well no-one will remember the scientists who said don’t do it.
‘If it goes wrong they will be up crowing ‘we told you’. It is a win-win for them.’
He added: ‘There is a kind of panic taking place. Project Fear is coming to an end and it is as if the scientists now cannot bring themselves to understand exactly how life will be.
‘What’s happened now will almost certainly lead to us going back to lockdown again at some point and destroying our livelihoods, our health, for non-Covid reasons.’