Britain’s daily coronavirus infections today rose 40 per cent in a week after 3,383 cases were recorded amid a growing outbreak of the Indian variant, but only one death was registered.
Daily cases have been steadily climbing for the past fortnight, a trend which is being driven by the super-infectious strain. The average number of daily infections now sits at 3,345 after rising 28 per cent in the last week.
But the fact that hospital admissions and deaths have not yet followed suit will give ministers confidence the jabs are highly effective at preventing severe disease
The latest Department of Health figures show some three in four adults have now received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine or 39.3million people, after another 120,243 first doses were dished out yesterday. And as many as 25.5million people, or almost half of all adults, got two doses after 204,282 second jabs were administered.
Small rises in the number of infections and the wide spread of the Indian variant have led to concerns the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown could be delayed beyond June 21.
Environment Minister George Eustice said today that ministers couldn’t ‘rule anything out’ and that a decision would be made in a fortnight’s time when more is known about the effect of the Indian strain — which is making up up to three-quarters of all new infections — on hospital admissions.
The commented marked a significant shift in tone from No10, which was bullishly claiming just days ago there was no reason to deviate from its lockdown-ending plans.
SAGE advisers Professor Ravi Gupta, from Cambridge, and Professor Susan Michie, at University College London, said Britain’s outbreak is ‘on a knife-edge’ and social distancing rules may need to be extended by ‘a few weeks’.
Blackburn today became England’s new Covid hotspot after infections there surged 70 per cent in a week driven by the Indian variant, as it overtakes Bolton and Bedford to become the worst-hit place in the country. Cases were last week on the rise in almost all the places where the Indian variant has been found in significant numbers.
People enjoy the hot weather on Bournemouth beach this afternoon as they flock to the Dorset coast on bank holiday Monday
Sunbathers and holidaymakers flock to the beach at the seaside resort of Weymouth in Dorset this afternoon
Environment Secretary George Eustice (left) today warned he could not rule anything out when asked whether the June 21 ‘freedom day’ could be delayed, and Professor Adam Finn (right), a member of the panel which advises No10 on its Covid vaccine rollout urged ministers to be ‘cautious’ and said the impact of May’s lockdown easings would not be clear for another two to three weeks
In other Covid news:
- Thousands crowded onto parks and beaches across the country to make the most of newfound freedoms as the temperature hit 76.3F (24.6C);
- OECD forecast showed Britain’s economy is set to bounce back faster than previously thought thanks to fast jabs roll-out and lockdown easings;
- BBC staff refused to wear ‘social distancing proximity sensor’ to ensure they stay two metres away from each other in the office;
- France blocked UK nationals from travelling to the country without a valid reason as President Emmanuel Macron battles Indian variant outbreak;
- One million Britons are concerned about losing their homes after the eviction ban ends tomorrow;
- NHS extended Covid vaccine offer to ALL adults who arrive at Twickenham stadium today.
THOUSANDS CRAM PARKS AND BEACHES FOR BANK HOLIDAY
Britons today basked in the hottest day of 2021 so far as bank holiday Monday brought highs of 77F (25C) and two million drivers hit the roads – while scientists warned ‘freedom day’ June 21 is on a ‘knife edge’.
With three weeks to go until all Covid-19 restrictions are due to end, Downing Street sources said the plan was ’50/50′ amid calls by Sage advisers for it to be delayed ‘by a few weeks’ amid rising cases of the Indian variant.
Millions of Britons have enjoyed a hot weekend at beaches and parks, which are now looking mostly back to how they were pre-pandemic, but discussions continue within the Government over whether it can hit the target date.
While people have been able to see their friends indoors, visit the cinema or theatre and hold outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people since May 17, there are still restrictions on event capacities and nightclubs remain closed.
People are now flocking to parks and beaches as they make the most of the turnaround in conditions – with the spell of summer sunshine now expected to last more than two weeks, following the fourth wettest May on record.
A top UK temperature of 77.2F (25.1C) was recorded this afternoon at Kinlochewe in the Highlands – beating the previous 2021 high on March 30 when West London hit 76.1F (24.5C). Today, the capital made it to 76.7F (24.8C).
Conditions will improve further this week with highs of 81F (27C) by Wednesday, making Britain hotter than Rome which will only reach 77F (25C) – and it follows two days of glorious weather already over the three-day weekend.
This afternoon, the beaches of Lyme Regis, Bournemouth, Brighton, Weymouth and Camber Sands looked particularly busy. It comes after highs of 75.2F (24C) were observed yesterday and 73.2F (22.9C) on Saturday.
Professor Gupta sits on the Government’s NERVTAG virus advisory group which recently said two Covid vaccine doses would be needed for strong protection against the Indian variant of Covid.
He said the UK was ‘not too far from reaching the sort of levels of vaccination that would help us contain the virus.’
But he warned: ‘I think that people are not saying we should abandon the June 21 date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way…
‘If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing.
‘Yes, we will learn to live with it but this date that was set did not take into account the fact we would have a new variant on the horizon, with properties that allow it to evade antibodies to some extent and a virus which is more transmissible.’
He added: ‘It will probably take longer than earlier waves to emerge because of the fact that we do have quite high levels of vaccination in the population, so there may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern.’
Professor Michie also urged Britons to start taking extra precautions because of rising infections.
She said: ‘Everybody’s behaviour could potentially make the difference. So the key thing at the moment is for people to do their socialising outdoors, and if people are inside, make sure windows and doors are open.’
Government restrictions currently permit Britons to invite up to six family, friends or relatives into their homes, or one other household. They make no mention of whether windows and doors should be left open.
Mr Eustice told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The Prime Minister has said all along that he is going to take this one step at a time and will only make the judgement on the next step, on June 21, about a week before that.
‘The rates are going up again slightly but from a low base and probably to be expected, given there are a significant number of younger people who are now out and mixing but haven’t had the vaccine – I suppose that is to be expected. But the right thing to do in a couple of weeks’ time is to assess that data before deciding what we can do.’
But Mr Duncan Smith told MailOnline that the Government appeared to be bowing to pressure from its scientists once again.
‘We listen to scientists far too much at the moment. They seem at times to be bullying the Government,’ he told MailOnline.
‘It’s like the 21st of June that we are heading for and look at them all up over the weekend saying “don’t do it, don’t do it, we must stay locked down”.
‘My worry is that all of this is leading to us having an inability in future to deal with any virus – we are going to be screaming at each other to lock down.’
MAY 18 LEFT, MAY 25 RIGHT – DARKER COLOUR INDICATES HIGHER POSITIVE TEST RATE: Department of Health figures show that infection rates are rising in the North West around Manchester, where the Indian variant is being found most often. Bolton, Blackburn, Manchester, Wigan and Kirklees are all among the past of England with the highest rates of positive tests
A heat map made by the Sanger Institute in London, which analyses different variants of coronavirus, shows that the North West around Manchester had the most cases caused by the Indian variant in the two weeks up to May 22, as well as Bedfordshire
Cases in Blackburn with Darwen, in Lancashire, have clearly been rising towards the end of May and the weekly average is now at the highest level of anywhere in the country
There were signs of a downturn in positive test results in Bedford, which has been one of the country’s Indian variant hotspots
Cases have clearly dropped off in Bolton after peaking in mid-May, showing that efforts at mass vaccination and surge testing appear to have helped to keep the Indian variant under control even without lockdown
Separate figures today showed Bolton and Bedford appeared to have got the Indian variant under control and stemmed the tide of rising cases — but hotspot Blackburn with Darwen now has the worst case rate in the UK.
Department of Health data show that Blackburn, which has the second highest rate of Indian variant cases, now has the most infections per person of any local authority in the country after a 70 per cent spike in a week.
UK on track to win race to vaccinate over-50s with both jabs by June 21
The race to double jab millions of over-50s by June 21 is likely to be won as it emerges the NHS drive should be on target to get second doses to the most vulnerable in time for ‘Freedom Day’.
Around five million people aged over 50 are currently waiting for their second dose, with the NHS needing to vaccinate 225,000 of them every day to meet the target.
But second jabs were handed out at a rate of 400,000 a day most days last week, meaning it would take something catastrophic to knock the drive off course.
Ministers hope that by hitting the target, they won’t have to extend restrictions beyond the ‘unlockdown date’.
Analysis by the Times now suggests that the aim should be met by June 20 if NHS England continues to give second doses to 1.5million over-50s each week.
The Lancashire town had 365 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to May 25, when a total of 546 people tested positive. It surpassed former hotspot Bolton, which had a rate of 362 and falling, with 1,041 cases.
Positive tests also appear to have turned a corner in Bedford, where there are signs they have declined in recent days after peaking in the third week of May.
The UK’s fate will hang on data that comes out over the next fortnight showing how much of an impact the new variant is really having and how easy it is to control.
Bolton’s relegation from the worst-hit area in England should also raise hopes that surge testing and vaccinations helped to keep even the super-infectious Indian variant under control without a lockdown, although it remains to be seen whether cases will keep coming down.
At the start of May the council opened more swab-testing sites and offered them to everyone without symptoms in at-risk areas, as well as going door-to-door.
Officials also became more liberal with vaccines, dishing them out to adults of all ages, and stepping up campaigns to have more unvaccinated adults come forward for jabs.
The town gave out thousands of vaccine doses per day throughout the month and the number of people getting tested each day spiked from fewer than 7,000 at the start of the month to more than 20,000 a day within weeks in a population of 200,000 people.
As a result the daily average infection rate – of which 91 per cent of cases are the Indian variant – has fallen from a peak of 453 per 100,000 people to 362 and it appears to still be coming down.
The town’s Covid vaccine rollout chief, Dr Helen Wall, said on BBC Breakfast: ‘I’m pleased to report that things are starting to slow down in terms of the rise here in Covid cases, but we really can’t rest on that. It’s only been a few days of the rates slowing down so we really are keen to keep pushing forwards and get the rates down further.’
Blackburn with Darwen has now taken its place as the worst-hit part of the country, with a spike there being driven by the Indian variant which accounts for at least 95 per cent of all cases.
The director of public health at the council said young people were driving up infections. Dominic Harrison said in a tweet: ‘[Blackburn with Darwen] rates for 15-19s is raised because of 17-18yo rate of over 1,050/100,000. I think young adults are struggling most at the moment – we need 12-18 vaccination prioritised in high transmission areas as soon as judged safe/effective.’
|Area name||Indian variant cases May 8-11||% of cases B1617.2||Infection rate May 18
(cases per 100,000 people)
|Infection rate May 25
(cases per 100,000 people)
|% change in a week|
|Blackburn with Darwen||497||95%||215||365||UP 70%|
|Central Bedfordshire||101||93%||35||43||UP 23%|
Blackburn had the second highest number of Indian variant cases found by the Sanger Institute, a London-based lab analysing different variants, in the fortnight up to May 22 – 497 cases, compared to 1,517 in Bolton and 426 in Bedford.
Other parts of the country with the most cases of the B1617.2 variant in those two weeks were Leicester (216), Manchester (178), Birmingham (151), Wigan (150) and Central Bedfordshire (101).
The Indian variant makes up most cases in all those areas except Manchester (48 per cent) – nationally it accounts for between half and three quarters – and all of them have seen the total numbers of cases rise in the most recent week, between May 19 and May 25.
Cases have been increasing in hotspot areas even despite the numbers of tests staying level, official figures suggest, meaning surge testing is likely not behind the rise and there is a genuine increase.