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Britain posts 42,302 Covid cases as positive tests rise by nearly a third in a week

Britain’s surge in Covid cases has continued at full steam today, as positive tests rose by nearly a third in a week to 43,302.

Department of Health bosses posted yet another six-month high today, with infections at their highest level since January 15, when 55,761 were recorded. The highest daily figure on record was 68,053 on January 8.

And the number of people who died with the virus also increased by 48.5 per cent in a week today to 49, up from 33 last Wednesday. 

In light of the rapidly growing infection levels, experts today warned members of the public to continue wearing face masks indoors and open windows when restrictions are eased on ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said: ‘Cases are rising rapidly. We knew as we opened up cases would increase, but thankfully due to the vaccine, deaths and hospital admissions are not rising as fast as cases. 

‘If you have not had the vaccine, book your first and second dose as soon as you can.

‘Restrictions are currently still in place, it is important to follow them, and when they lift on Monday there are still steps we can all take to protect ourselves and loved ones such as wearing a mask in enclosed spaces, opening a window if you’re meeting in close contact indoors, and getting tested and staying at home if you have symptoms. 

‘The pandemic is not over, and we must all remain vigilant.’

Her warning came as the rules around face masks descended into chaos, as London Mayor Sadiq Khan ordered coverings to remain compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis from Monday — even though they won’t be required by law.

Commuters in the capital were pictured maskless today, despite coverings still being mandatory, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps played down tensions this morning saying he had ‘expected’ operators to put in place ‘conditions of carriage’ to ensure that passengers were safe on public transport.

Despite the gloomy case numbers, it was revealed the country has steamed through its Covid vaccination goal five days early, with two-thirds of adults now having had both doses.

Government data shows 35.2million over-18s (66.7 per cent) are fully-vaccinated. And around 46million (87.4 per cent) have had their first jab. 

Boris Johnson heralded the milestone — which ministers wanted to hit by Monday — as ‘extraordinary’ and heaped praise on ordinary Britons for putting their faith in the vaccines.

Meanwhile, summer holiday plans for thousands of Britons were left on the brink of tatters today after it emerged the Balearic islands are set to be upgraded to the ‘amber list’ just a fortnight after they were approved for quarantine-free travel.

NHS England figures show another 124,905 second doses have been dished out, bringing the total number of Brits jabbed to 35.1million, or 66.6 per cent. Health chiefs will publish updated figures later today that will also include inoculations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) heralded the milestone as 'extraordinary' and said it was thanks to millions of Britons turning up for vaccines that restrictions could be 'cautiously' lifted on July 19

Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured arriving at Downing Street today) said it was a 'huge achievement'

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) heralded the milestone as ‘extraordinary’ and said it was thanks to millions of Britons turning up for vaccines that restrictions could be ‘cautiously’ lifted on July 19. Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured arriving at Downing Street today) said it was a ‘huge achievement’

Has Freedom Day come early? Pictures reveal how passengers and shoppers are ALREADY abandoning their facemasks 

Mask rules descended further into chaos today as London Mayor Sadiq Khan ordered face masks to remain compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis – even though they are not required on trains from ‘Freedom Day’.

Mr Khan has broken ranks by announcing the move in the capital despite the government binning all legal restrictions across England from Monday.

Pictures from across the capital today showed passengers and shoppers shunning masks on public transport and in stores as the public has received mixed messages over what is required in which space. 

However, Transport Secretary Grant Schapps played down the tensions this morning saying he had ‘expected’ operators to put in place ‘conditions of carriage’ to ensure that passengers were safe on public transport.

The increasingly confused situation means that passengers on trains in and out of London terminals will not need to wear masks during their journeys, but must while travelling around the city. 

Unions have warned that the ‘botched’ approach to setting the rules will leave railway workers facing the threat of violence from angry customers. 

Mr Khan told BBC Breakfast that around 400 enforcement officers would be deployed to check people are still wearing masks in the capital.

‘It’s not perfect. [It] would have been better if national rules applied across the country to avoid any confusion,’ he said.

‘The government for their own reasons have decided not to do that.’

Asked about the lack of restrictions on services from outside the city, Mr Khan said: ‘A number of services that come into London are not my responsibility. ‘If you are in London, you need to follow the rules.

On another day of coronavirus chaos:

  • It was revealed a fifth of Britons are planning to delete the NHS app before ‘Freedom Day’ amid fears the software could spark a ‘pingdemic’;
  • A Government adviser warned halving the gap between vaccines to just four weeks could actually cause infections to rise; 
  • One of the scientists behind the Oxford University vaccine claimed vaccines and masks are the best way to protect ourselves after ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday;
  • Ministers were accused of using nightclubs as a proxy weapon to drive up youth coronavirus jab rates amid a furious row over Covid passports;
  • It was revealed a major flaw in the system means anyone can get an NHS Covid Pass to attend crowded venues without having a jab or taking a test;
  • Wales confirmed it will follow Scotland and keep mask-wearing laws in place after almost all other rules are scrapped.

Cases reached their level since the peak of the second wave in January today, but their rate of growth appears to be slowing compared to previous weeks.

Growth in the seven-day case average stands at 27.4 per cent, whereas cases were rising by more than 40 per cent on average this time last week.

Ministers had aimed to get two doses to at least two in three adults by July 19, when most remaining restrictions in England are set to be eased. Everyone over the age of 18 has been offered the chance to get vaccinated.  

No10’s top advisers are mulling over halving the gap between shots to four weeks amid mounting concern the country may have finally hit ‘maximum uptake’.

The space between doses has already been reduced to eight weeks, and scientists fear any further reduction could result in people getting substandard immunity from the jabs compared to those who waited for longer.

The Prime Minister said: ‘Thank you again to everyone coming forward, and to those helping others to get jabbed. You are the reason we are able to cautiously ease restrictions next week, and return closer towards normal life.

‘Barely eight months since the first vaccine was given, this is another extraordinary achievement.

‘Now let’s finish the job. If you’re over 18, book both your jabs today.’ 

Newly-appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid heralded reaching the target early as a ‘huge achievement’ for the vaccine roll-out. 

Mr Javid said: ‘The vaccination programme is building a strong wall of protection around our population, saving tens of thousands of lives, preventing millions of infections and allowing us to cautiously progress through the roadmap.

‘Everyone has a part to play in overcoming this virus so please come forward for your jab if you haven’t already — it is the best way to protect you, your loved ones and your community.’ 

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) — which advises No10 on the roll-out — claimed today there would be no ‘gain’ from cutting the gap.

He said data shows a four-week interval causes a much lower immune response, meaning people who get the jabs after a shorter time-frame get less protection against the virus.

Other JCVI advisers have also called for No10 not to change tack in its fight against the third wave, echoing Professor Harnden’s concerns.

Professor Harnden told Times Radio: ‘We’ve looked at this data very carefully over the last few days and it is quite clear, from the AstraZeneca vaccine, there is absolutely no doubt the longer interval gives you much better protection.

‘But we concentrated on the Pfizer vaccine because of course that’s one that’s being given to younger people at the moment. 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has ordered face masks to remain compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis - even though they are not required on trains from 'Freedom Day'. Pictured: People not wearing masks on the Jubilee line this afternoon

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has ordered face masks to remain compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis – even though they are not required on trains from ‘Freedom Day’. Pictured: People not wearing masks on the Jubilee line this afternoon

To mask or not to mask: Some people not wearing face masks or coverings on Jubilee line trains in London this afternoon

To mask or not to mask: Some people not wearing face masks or coverings on Jubilee line trains in London this afternoon

People not wearing face masks in a Tesco supermarket, South London, ahead of the relaxation of the rules on Monday

People not wearing face masks in a Tesco supermarket, South London, ahead of the relaxation of the rules on Monday

Summer holidays in tatters for thousands: Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca to be moved to the dreaded ‘amber list’ 

Summer holiday plans for thousands of Britons were left on the brink of tatters today after it emerged the Balearic islands are set to be upgraded to the ‘amber list’ just a fortnight after they were approved for quarantine-free travel.

MailOnline understands tourist hotspots Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca are all on the chopping block amid surging infection numbers across the archipelago, but there are reports that Croatia could be downgraded to the green list when the announcement is formally confirmed by the Government later today.

One unvaccinated couple told MailOnline they would have to cancel their trip to Ibiza to reunite with their grandchildren for the first time since the pandemic began, if the self-isolation rules for returning travellers are re-imposed on the Balearics. 

Another family who are due to fly to Menorca on Friday revealed that they were now stuck in limbo with travel agents and airlines refusing to offer refunds.

Others who flew out from Gatwick Airport this morning told MailOnline they were already considering cutting their holidays short to bypass the 10-day home quarantine.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps showed no sympathy for the thousands of Britons who could be affected by the sudden change to the travel list, telling them that uncertainty was a ‘fact of life’. 

A decision on whether to upgrades the Balearics — which also include Mallorca — to ‘amber’ amid rising infection numbers is expected tonight.

‘And it’s quite clear from antibody T cells studies that you get much lower response, and poorer quality memory response, with the shorter interval — that’s a four-week interval compared to an eight- to 12-week interval.

‘And the actual real data vaccine effectiveness studies show that there is a lower vaccine efficacy against symptomatic disease with shorter intervals compared to longer intervals.’

He added: ‘Then we got the modellers to look at this and, actually, the number of infections will rise if we reduce the dose. We just don’t think there’s any good short, or longer term gain by shortening the interval.’

Scientists say spacing out doses leads to a better priming of the immune system to fight off the virus.

Originally, both AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s vaccines were approved to be dished out in three-week intervals because that was the gap tested in the research trials.

But No10’s scientists pushed the regimen back to 12 weeks to get wider protection in winter, when the second wave started to take off.

They said the decision would allow more people to get some immunity against the disease in the shortest period of time possible.

Two weeks ago, the JCVI recommended cutting the gap to eight weeks for everyone, in a bid to protect more people.

Health chiefs already fear the UK may be close to maximum vaccine uptake, with young people having been eligible for appointments for almost a month.

The roll-out has ground to fewer than 100,000 first doses a day, with the UK’s drive currently centered on ensuring millions get fully inoculated.

Young people — the last group to be inoculated — are less likely to get the jab than others because they see themselves as not at threat from the virus.

Ministers are hoping, however, that a double-jab requirement for holidays and to avoid self-isolation will bolster uptake.

Professor Harnden said uptake of jabs among younger age groups may increase if vaccines are more accessible and are backed by role models.

He added that the JCVI is ‘concerned’ about the uptake of first doses among younger age groups.

Asked whether the England team could be part of an advertising campaign, he said: ‘I think it’d be a brilliant idea — the England team have captured the whole country’s attention over the last four weeks.

‘And many of them, the young role models — I think it would be wonderful if they were able to contribute in some sort of way to encouraging young, particularly young men to be vaccinated.’

The JCVI has been asked to issue urgent advice on whether the pros and cons of slashing the gap between doses, the Sunday Times claimed. An announcement is expected within days.

Experts fear leaving young people only partially protected for longer amid a second wave could drive up rates of ‘long Covid’.

Public Health England evidence shows jabs cut the risk of infection by between 55 and 70 per cent after one dose, but that this rises to 65 to 90 per cent after two.

Mask chaos as Grant Shapps BACKS London Mayor Sadiq Khan keeping them compulsory on the Tube and buses even though they are NOT required on trains from ‘Freedom Day’ – amid fears staff face violence from ‘confused’ passengers

By JAMES TAPSFIELD, POLITICAL EDITOR FOR MAILONLINE 

Mask rules descended further into chaos today as Grant Shapps backed London Mayor Sadiq Khan keeping them compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis – even though they are not required on trains from ‘Freedom Day’.

Mr Khan has broken ranks by announcing the move in the capital despite the government binning all legal restrictions across England from Monday.  

However, the Transport Secretary played down the tensions this morning saying he had ‘expected’ operators to put in place ‘conditions of carriage’ to ensure that passengers were safe on public transport.

The increasingly confused situation means that passengers on trains in and out of London terminals will not need to wear masks during their journeys, but must while travelling around the city. 

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and local leaders in other parts of the country are also considering whether to impose their own rules. The Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street lamented that he does not have powers to take the step, but stressed he ‘expects’ people to cover up.  

Unions have warned that the ‘botched’ approach to setting the rules will leave railway workers facing the threat of violence from angry customers. 

Mr Khan told BBC Breakfast that around 400 enforcement officers would be deployed to check people are still wearing masks in the capital.

‘It’s not perfect. [It] would have been better if national rules applied across the country to avoid any confusion,’ he said.

‘The government for their own reasons have decided not to do that.’

Asked about the lack of restrictions on services from outside the city, Mr Khan said: ‘A number of services that come into London are not my responsibility. ‘If you are in London, you need to follow the rules.’

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that masks will stay compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis in the capital - even though they are not required on trains elsewhere from 'Freedom Day'

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that masks will stay compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis in the capital – even though they are not required on trains elsewhere from ‘Freedom Day’

The coronavirus restrictions which will be removed from July 19

The coronavirus restrictions which will be removed from July 19 

Mr Rees-Mogg said that fully-vaccinated people have already done their 'societal bit' and should have the 'individual decision' as to whether to wear a mask (pictured June 16)

Jacob Rees-Mogg will not be wearing a face covering at Parliament when the requirement is lifted (pictured July 12)

Mask on, mask off: Jacob Rees-Mogg (pictured left wearing a mask) says he will not be wearing a face covering at Parliament when the requirement is lifted (pictured right on July 12)

MPs who fail to wear masks at Parliament ‘to be named and shamed’ 

A union representing civil servants said it plans to ‘name and shame’ MPs who refuse to wear face coverings in Parliament once legal requirements are dropped next week.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said he would be writing to MPs warning them that his union was willing to ‘call out’ those ditching their masks, even after coronavirus-related restrictions have been lifted on July 19.

The Prime Minister has announced that from Monday, legal mandates in England to wear masks in some public settings will be scrapped, with the onus instead placed on personal responsibility.

House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has written to MPs explaining that they will be ‘encouraged’ to continue wearing the coverings until July 22, when Parliament breaks for its summer recess.

However, the elected politicians cannot be forced to continue using them while in the chamber or elsewhere.

Currently, MPs who are not exempt must have their face covering on when not speaking in a debate in the Commons, while it is also recommended that they are adorned when moving about the estate.

But, with all other staff on the Westminster estate to continue to be required to wear masks while moving around the premises after July 19, the FDA said it will be putting pressure on MPs to follow suit.

In his own round of interviews this morning, Mr Shapps said: ‘Whilst we are going from this being a legal requirement to guidelines, we do expect individual carriers to make sure they are putting in place whatever is appropriate for their network,’ he told Sky News.

‘The airlines have already said that you will need to carry on wearing masks on those. It is very much in line with what we expected – indeed wanted – to happen.’ 

He added on Times Radio: ‘If you think about it, it makes sense..

‘We’ve moved from the point in the crisis where everything is set in law to a point where we put in place a degree of a personal responsibility and also ask the carriers in this case – the transport carriers – to make clear the conditions of travel on their particular network.’

Masks will also remain compulsory in Scotland and Wales, but transport operators in the rest of the country have indicated they will not insist on passengers wearing them.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said staff risked becoming ‘punchbags’ for irate travellers.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘We now have the ludicrous position where a passenger travelling through London will have different rules on the tube and the main line services.

‘There will also be a change of policy on trains at the Welsh and Scottish borders which is a total nonsense, and will leave staff right at the sharp end and dangerously exposed when it comes to enforcement.

‘As a result of this chaotic approach we now have a situation where the London measures are not enforceable by law, which means RMT members will be thrown into a hostile and confrontational situation from next Monday at heightened risk of abuse and assault.’ 

Mr Street said: ‘We will have staff out and about at stations and on services relaying this message and handing out masks where needed.

‘Myself and Transport for the West Midlands believe that wearing face coverings on public transport – particularly busy services – has an important role to play in protecting staff and vulnerable passengers. 

‘We would ask all passengers to join in this collective effort.’ 

Mr Khan’s move came as ministers clashed with government scientists over the decision to ditch mask laws next week.

And in a letter to the Prime Minister, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, the British Medical Association, British Dental Association, Royal College of Nursing and the College of Optometrists called for mandatory use of face masks, social distancing and regular handwashing by the public to stay in place past July 19 in all healthcare settings.

What are the mask rules in different parts of Britain?  

ENGLAND

There is no legal requirement to wear masks in any setting in England from July 19.

However, the government is ‘expecting and recommending’ that people will wear coverings in crowded, confined places.

In London, mayor Sadiq Khan has also announced they will be a ‘condition of carriage’ on the Tube, buses and taxis.

SCOTLAND

Nicola Sturgeon has said that masks will remain compulsory on public transport and indoor settings from August 9, when other legal restrictions are due to be removed. 

WALES

After August 7, face masks will still be required in most indoor public places.

There are exceptions for hospitality businesses such as pubs and restaurants, as well as schools. 

‘While you state that you would expect the public to continue wearing face coverings in healthcare settings, we ask that this is translated into action,’ they told the Prime Minister.

‘As the rules change, this must be backed by clear Government communications for the public, so that health and care staff are not caught in the middle and placed at increased risk of abuse.’

And the NHS Providers organisation, which represents NHS trusts, called for ‘clear communication’ about infection control measures in the health service.

Meanwhile, Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg added to the mixed messages by saying he would not wear one in Parliament when the requirement is lifted. 

Mr Rees-Mogg said that people who have received both jabs of the vaccine have already done their ‘societal bit.’

‘This morning I wandered around the palace of Westminster wearing a mask, and met almost nobody. In those circumstances I will not be wearing a mask – what would be the point?,’ he said while speaking on the Conservative Home Podcast.

‘If you’ve had both vaccines, your risk of transmitting the disease is slight. So in a way you’ve done your societal bit by having the vaccine, as much as by wearing a mask, which is why I think it’s sensibly individual choice.’ 

His comments come amid mass confusion among businesses about whether or not to enforce their own voluntary mask-wearing policies when restrictions are lifted on July 19. 

Bosses last night demanded clarity on whether such policies would be legal.

Some chains have already suggested they may bring in mask-wearing requirements for customers beyond July 19 – with some fearing a ‘Freedom Day free-for-all’ when the Government lifts Covid restrictions on Monday. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk