The UK has announced another 55 deaths from Covid-19 today in its early count.
Another 44 people were confirmed to have died in NHS England hospitals, along with six in Wales, three in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland.
A full update will be published by the Department of Health later today.
The early count comes as the average number of daily deaths is rising in the UK after swooping to a low of just seven per day a month ago, with there now a daily average of 40.
But in a shred of hopeful news, data now suggests that the surging numbers of cases which have rattled the nation in recent weeks appear to be slowing down.
Estimates from King’s College London’s Covid Symptom Study suggest that the rise in daily new cases is only 23 per cent higher than last week after it more than doubled in the week before.
And the Government-funded REACT-1 study, carried out by Imperial College London, said there were signs that the R rate has fallen to around 1.1 now, from 1.7 in September, and that cases are now rising less steeply than they were a few weeks ago.
Researchers on King’s College London’s Covid Symptom Study now predict that 19,777 people are catching Covid-19 each day in the UK. This suggests testing is picking up around 35 per cent of the true number of cases
NHS England said the patients who had died in its hospitals were aged between 60 and 99 and succumbed to the virus between September 18 and September 30.
Hospitals in the North West accounted for the single largest number – 15 – along with eight in the North East, six apiece in London and the Midlands, five in the South East, four in the East and none in the South West.
Today’s announcement comes as data is beginning to suggest that the sharp rise in cases seen over recent weeks is starting to slow down.
In a now-rare TV briefing yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his top advisers Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty warned that data is ‘going in the wrong direction’.
The PM dismissed pressure from many Tories to change strategy and focus on protecting jobs, saying he would not ‘throw in the sponge’.
Critics have argued that recent social distancing measures, including local lockdowns and national restrictions such as 10pm curfews on pubs, are ineffective but are laying waste to businesses and infringing civil liberties.
RECORD NUMBER OF PEOPLE WAITING 3+ DAYS FOR TEST RESULTS
More people than ever are having to wait three days or more to find out if they have coronavirus after an in-person test in England.
Official NHS Test & Trace data showed today that members of the public taking swab tests at drive-through test sites or pop-up local and mobile centres face growing waits.
Of the 155,000 people who used local test sites between September 17 and 23, 5.3 per cent of them had to wait more than 72 hours to find out their result. This was up from just 1.8 per cent a week earlier.
The same statistics show that 5.3 per cent of people attending regional drive-through test sites (4,845 out of 91,185) waited 72 hours or more for their result after the test. This was up from 1.7 per cent a week earlier.
The three-day limit is the cut-off for when officials stop measuring how long a result has taken – each test is put into a 24 hours; 24-48 hours; or 72+ hours category.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised earlier this year that all tests would have their results returned within 24 hours but the target has slipped out of reach.
At mobile testing units, which are set up in areas with concerning infection rates, 6.5 per cent of people (7,852 out of 120,064) waited for three days or longer.
However, the proportion of people waiting over three days has shrunk for satellite tests – which are mostly done in care homes – and for home kits.
For satellite test centres the 72-hour wait fell from 72.2 per cent to 41.6 per cent in the middle of September.
And for home test kits it dropped from 55.2 per cent to 19.8 per cent.
The proportion of people getting their results within 24 hours after an ‘in-person test’ rose, too, from 28.2 per cent to 38.1 per cent.
Statistics show that the number of people testing positive for the disease hit a new high in the penultimate week of September, with 31,373 confirmed cases up 61 per cent from 19,488 people a week earlier.
There has been increasing anxiety – including in Cabinet – about following the ultra-cautious approach from Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick. One senior minister told MailOnline that the government was now ‘talking more widely to people with different views’.
While the rate of infection appears to be falling, a stud commissioned by the Department of Health, found that of the volunteers tested between September 18-26, one in 200 people had coronavirus.
It also revealed the virus to be spreading more among young people, while simultaneously laying bare the North-South divide, pointing to the North West as the epicentre of the UK’s outbreak.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT-1 programme at Imperial from the School of Public Health, said: ‘While our latest findings show some early evidence that the growth of new cases may have slowed, suggesting efforts to control the infection are working, the prevalence of infection is the highest that we have recorded to date.
‘This reinforces the need for protective measures to limit the spread of the disease and the public’s adherence to these, which will be vital to minimise further significant illness and loss of life from Covid-19.’
The latest Imperial College study found 55 people per 10,000 tested positive, which is an increase on 13 people per 10,000 from the previous study between August 24 and September 7.
Extrapolating, the data suggests 411,000 people in England have the virus, meaning over one in 200 people were infected at any one time.
Findings also show that the prevalence of infection was the highest among those aged 18-24 – with one in 100 people infected – while cases increased seven-fold in those aged over 65 from 0.04 per cent to 0.29 per cent compared to the last report.
The North West of England, which has seen areas such as Burnley and Liverpool placed under local restrictions, had the highest levels of infection while the number of infections in London increased five-fold from 0.10 per cent to 0.49 per cent.
Professor Steven Riley, one of the scientists running the study said: ‘It’s not a flattening of the curve – that is not what we’re reporting.
‘If we’re hill-walking – if this epidemic is walking up and down a hill – between rounds four and five [August and September] it was a steep hill… We have climbed quite high up the steep hill and the preliminary evidence from round five is that the gradient of the hill has gone down. We don’t know that it’s flat.
‘On average, people have changed their behaviour such that the virus is transmitting slightly less… We are detecting a little bit of an optimistic sign.’
Further adding to the optimism is the latest estimate of daily cases from King’s College London, which is running a separate study that uses test and app data to predict how many people are catching the virus each day.
The Covid Symptom Study, run in conjunction with ZOE, a health-tech team that runs the Covid Symptom Tracker app, estimates there are now 19,777 people getting infected each day across the UK.
This is a rise from the 16,130 daily infections prediction last week but the increase is smaller than it was between the previous two estimates.
The rise from September 24 to October 1 was 23 per cent, while between September 17 and 24 it more than doubled from 7,536 (a 114 per cent increase).
Some 14,837 of these cases are thought to be happening in England, with the majority in the North East and Yorkshire and the North West (a total of approximately 8,800).
A further 2,294 people are thought to be getting sick each day in Scotland, along with 1,331 in Wales and 1,315 in Northern Ireland.
The estimates are based on the results of 8,377 swab tests. And they suggest that the reproduction rate of the virus, the R, has fallen, too – to 1.2 in England, 1.3 in Scotland and 1.4 in Wales.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist and leader of the study, said: ‘We are confident that this flattening in the data looks real and that this might be an early sign of infection rates slowing down.
‘This may be due to a number of factors including social distancing and the “rule of six”, but we can’t discount the role of less susceptible people and prior immunity in those exposed and the natural cycle of the virus.
‘We are seeing nearly 50 per cent of our cases are coming from the under 30s, which is more than in the spring, which may explain why the pressures on the NHS are less.
‘We still need to continue to work together to make sure this flattening off isn’t a small blip. As we head into winter we all need to be cautious and pay attention to the advice we are being given around local restrictions, social distancing and avoiding gathering in large groups.’
DATA CONFIRMS NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE IN ENGLAND
Data presented by Professor Whitty in a televised briefing yesterday showed a clear north-south divide in the coronavirus infections across England.
Cases are clearly surging faster and to higher levels across the North West and North East of the country, while the South West and South East look almost unaffected.
The scientific advisers admitted the top half of the country is clearly worse affected than the bottom, but insisted ‘it would be wrong’ to think the problem isn’t nationwide.
A heat map of infection rates across the country showed that almost all of the South West, South East, East Midlands and the East of England were shaded in the lightest possible colour, meaning the numbers of cases are below the average for England.
The average infection rate for the country as a whole was 35.7 cases per 100,000 as at Public Health England’s latest official update last Friday.
Colour-coding showed the problem is worst in the North West around Liverpool and Manchester and also in the far North East, towards Newcastle.
Much of those two regions and the West Midlands – and to a lesser extent London and Cornwall – were shown in a darker colour, indicating case rates are near or above average.
Professor Whitty said: ‘At this point in time there is a very heavy concentration in particular areas – in particular in the North West, the North East and parts of the Midlands…
‘There’s a general increase [in the rate of infection] across the whole of England and the same is also true in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland… but a very rapid increase in particular areas; again, particularly in the North East, North West and areas of the Midlands [but] not exclusively.’
Numbers of positive tests reported by the Department of Health reflect what was shown in the map, with the North West reporting significantly more cases than any other region.
In the week up to September 23 – the most recent data available – there were an average of 1,595 cases diagnosed each day in the crisis-hit region.
This was more than double the 663 daily average in Yorkshire and the Humber, three times as high as the 564 in the West Midlands and 551 in the North East.
It blows the more southern regions, except London (471 per day), out of the water.
In the East Midlands there were 274 cases per day over the same seven-day period, along with 227 in the South East, 185 in the East of England and just 150 in the South West.
This means that the looming threat of a national lockdown, which Mr Johnson today said he didn’t want to resort to but would if he had to, places millions of people at risk of being lumped under tight restrictions because of the actions of people hundreds of miles away.
MPs have already cautioned against ‘broad brush’ tactics that see people in less-affected areas unfairly punished.
But Sir Patrick Vallance insisted in today’s conference: ‘It would be wrong to take from this that this is a problem that’s only in certain areas.
‘It is worse in certain areas but there is evidence of spread everywhere, and we need to be mindful of that and everyone needs to take precautions across the country.’
The images presented at the briefing mirror what is shown in Public Health England’s data.
Of the 48 areas in the ‘intervention’ category on PHE’s watchlist, none are further south than the Midlands.
Birmingham and nearby Sandwell, as well as Leicester and Oadby and Wigston, are the furthest south areas to have any local lockdown measures in place.
Eight out of 10 areas with the lowest infection rates per 100,000 people are in the south of England – the Isle of Wight, Somerset, East Sussex, Dorset, Devon, Wokingham, Swindon and Torbay. Suffolk in the East and Herefordshire in the West Midlands complete the list.
And all 10 of the areas with the highest infection rates are in the north – Bolton, South Tyneside, Blackburn with Darwen, Knowsley, Halton, Liverpool, Bury, Newcastle, Manchester and Oldham.