The UK today reported zero Covid deaths for the first time in 10 months and one of the top virus-tracking scientists in the country declared ‘vaccines work’ as SAGE experts and Tory MPs butt heads over whether June 21’s ‘Freedom Day’ should be delayed in the face of the Indian variant.
Department of Health figures saw the daily death toll tumble to a stop over the Spring Bank Holiday with six deaths reported on Sunday, one on Monday and none at all today, June 1.
It doesn’t mean nobody died of Covid yesterday but that any deaths that did happen haven’t yet been registered, likely because it was a bank holiday and paperwork takes longer.
There hasn’t been a single day since March 7, 2020, on which nobody died with the virus, but seeing the daily fatality count drop to none is a milestone that Britain hasn’t seen since the virus all but disappeared last summer.
Another 3,165 cases were announced, marking the seventh day in a row that there have been more than 3,000 and stirring fears that the now-dominant Indian strain will trigger a third wave and throw the lockdown-easing off track.
Professor Tim Spector, a King’s College London epidemiologist who has been tracking the virus for more than a year, today said: ‘Virtually all cases are aged under 50 or unvaccinated – so vaccines work.’
Speaking about the tumbling death toll, Open University statistician Professor Kevin McConway added: ‘When you think that only two months ago we were averaging over 30 a day, and a month before that at the start of March it was over 200 a day, you can see we’ve come a really long way. A lot of that huge fall must be because of vaccines protecting against serious illness and death.’
SAGE members have called for the June 21 ‘Freedom Day’ to be put back by weeks or even a month to buy more time to get vaccines out to people but Tory MPs seized on the new data today and accused them of ‘moving the goalposts’.
Iain Duncan Smith told MailOnline: ‘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.’
Former Cabinet member John Redwood added: ‘I think they will go for it on June 21. I think the data will be perfectly reasonable. The worries about cases is not really the relevant thing. The worry is about serious cases, hospital admissions and deaths – those figures all look under very good control as you would expect because of the success of the vaccines. I would be very surprised if they changed course.’
But Nicola Sturgeon heaped pressure on Boris Johnson to delay or water down his roadmap by putting the brakes on Scotland’s unlocking today. She is not going ahead with dropping all of Scotland down to level one restrictions from Monday, as was planned, and today decided not to lift lockdown restrictions for many parts of the country.
NHS figures show that Covid hospital admissions have crept up up across England but nearly half of all trusts are still completely empty, with only one hotspot – Bolton – seeing more than one in 20 of its beds taken up by people with the virus.
The UK today reported zero Covid deaths for the first time since July 30 last year
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]
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
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
Data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in London, which analyses the spread of different variants, shows that in the later weeks of May the number of positive tests that were caused by the Indian variant (light blue line) overtook those caused by the Kent variant (purple line), which had been dominant since last winter
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
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 today
People are pictured enjoying the sunshine in Margate, Kent, today on the warmest day of the year so far with temperatures stretching towards 77F (25C) across the country
Today’s zero death milestone is, according to the Department of Health’s new definition of Covid deaths, the first time since March 2020 that it has been hit.
It happened on July 30 but this was edited after that date when Public Health England stopped counting anyone who died more than 28 days after their positive test.
MailOnline’s analysis of the latest NHS England data shows more than half of hospital trusts saw the average number of Covid patients in beds rise in the week ending May 23.
But the numbers are still extremely low, with just one trust having more than four per cent of its beds – one in 20 – occupied by people with the virus.
For comparison, 27 trusts out of the total 131 had more than 40 per cent of their beds taken up at the peak of the second wave in late January.
Indian variant hotspot Bolton — which has now seen cases slow down and Blackburn with Darwen overtake it as the worst affected area in the country — had five per cent of its capacity taken up by Covid patients, on average, in the week ending May 23, after an outbreak of the mutant strain put 25 more people in hospital.
And the number of inpatients in Bolton is reported to have dropped since the most recent official data, with the Health Service Journal reporting there were 43 by this morning, down from 49 last Thursday.
Of the 93 trusts where Covid hospitalisations increased in the most recent week, just 18 recorded double-digit inpatient numbers.
Just three of the eight Indian variant hotspots identified by the Government recorded double-digit numbers during the week — Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley. Blackburn and Burnley both come under the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which had an average of 10 Covid patients taking beds during the week.
Experts said the promising data indicated that vaccines are keeping people out of hospitals even if they are infected with the Indian variant, which is spreading rapidly in pockets of the country.
Scientists were today split on whether the June 21 ‘freedom day’ total removal of lockdown restrictions can go ahead because of rising cases caused by the variant.
Professor Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there are still many people who are vulnerable to Covid as he warned ‘the idea that somehow the job is done is wrong’.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist at Nottingham Trent University, said the virus was now spreading predominantly in younger people for whom the disease causes mild illness. He warned the economy and non-Covid healthcare would continue to suffer if the unlocking does not go ahead.
Public Health England estimates the vaccine drive has prevented around 39,700 hospitalisations in those aged 65 and over in England.
It said approximately 4,900 admissions in those aged 65 to 74, 15,600 in those aged 75 to 84 and 19,200 in those aged 85 and above may have been prevented by the vaccine.
MailOnline’s analysis of 131 NHS trusts — the total in England after discounting specialist hospitals — shows the largest increase in beds being used for Covid patients for trusts where numbers were in double figures was the Hillingdon Hospitals Foundation Trust in North West London.
HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS CREEP UP IN SCOTLAND
Coronavirus hospital admissions have started to creep up in Scotland, according to official data.
Covid occupancy rates in mid-May plunged to the lowest levels since before the second wave spiralled out of control in September, with just 63 infected patients needing care on average.
But the figure now stands at around 91, having risen by around a third in the space of a week.
For comparison, more than 2,000 Covid patients in Scotland were being treated by doctors during the darkest days of the second wave in January.
Patients are scattered between just five of the 14 NHS boards, however.
Close to fifty patients are currently being treated by medics at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, which has been hit hard by the Indian variant and was kept back from following the rest of the country into the next step of lockdown-easing because of a spike in cases.
Patient numbers remain in single figures in NHS Grampian, NHS Lothian and NHS Lanarkshire. There are currently 11 coronavirus patients being treated at NHS Ayrshire & Arran.
The other nine health boards have fewer than five patients.
WHY ARE ADMISSIONS GOING UP IF SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN VACCINATED?
Admissions were bound to creep up when restrictions were eased because the virus would spread easier, experts warned. The extra-transmissibility of the Indian variant has meant outbreaks are growing quicker than expected in some hotspots.
Vaccines have severed the link between getting infected and becoming severely ill, meaning hospitals should not be overwhelmed by any future resurgence of the disease.
But no jab is perfect. Therefore, the link has not been completely broken and admissions will still rise if infections are able to spiral.
However, ministers have been given hope by early signs that the patients being admitted tend to be younger and unvaccinated, offering proof that the jabs – deployed to the oldest residents first – can keep any third wave under control.
Scientists calling for a delay of lockdown-easing measures say ministers should wait for more people to have had both doses so that the country has more immunity against the disease. Two jabs offer more protection than just a single one. Fewer than half of Britain’s adult population are fully vaccinated.
The figures only include numbers for how many general and acute beds are being used by Covid patients and do not take into account mechanical ventilation beds in intensive care. This means the overall number being used is likely to be slightly higher for most trusts.
Hillingdon saw patient numbers nearly double from six to 11 during the week, although only 3.8 per cent of its total beds were in use for those who had been infected.
The trust was followed by the Croydon Health Services Trust in the south of London, which saw a similar rise of 85.5 per cent from eight to 15 beds, and East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which saw beds double from five to 10.
East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust includes hospitals in Burnley and Blackburn with Darwen — two of the eight hostpots for the Indian variant officially recognised by the Government.
Bolton NHS Trust had the next largest rise in beds being used by Covid patients (76 per cent), with the highest number of beds in use by them (25) and largest proportion of beds being used by them (4.97 per cent).
However those data only go up to May 23 and the Health Service Journal reported the number at the Royal Bolton Hospital had risen to 49 by last Thursday but has since started to fall again, to 43 this morning.
The number of patients in hospital with the virus in the Greater Manchester town had doubled in a week towards the end of May but then levelled off and started to come down as the surge in cases faded out. The surge had been smaller and slower than in the major waves of April or November last year.
Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline the low hospitalisation numbers suggest the vaccines are working.
He said: ‘What is telling is that so few beds are now occupied by Covid patients and that all the evidence points to vaccines being active versus the Indian variant.
’72 per cent of the adult population have had at least one dose of vaccine and 43 per cent have had both doses.
‘Vaccinated proportions are higher for the more vulnerable, older population previously at risk of hospitalisation.
‘There has been no massive surge in Bolton — total hospitalised remains small relative to capacity.
‘We are moving into late spring, when winter respiratory viruses diminish anyhow.
‘I can see no reason to fear any major spike in the near future. Any hazard will come in the autumn, if there is circulation of variants that partly escape the vaccines.
‘It would be prudent to prepare to deploy adapted forms of vaccines, if necessary. This should be easiest with the mRNA types — Pfizer and Moderna.’
But Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University urged caution into reading too much into weekly changes in hospitalisations for the week ending May 23.
He told this website most people occupying beds by that date would likely have been infected before May 16, when only a few cases of the variant had been spotted across the UK and England had not gone through its most recent stage of lockdown easing.
Professor McConway said: ‘Only a few thousand cases of that variant had been identified across the whole country by 16 May, and fewer than that at times before 16 May when most of the people in hospital with Covid-19 would have been infected.
‘What’s more, the evidence so far is that most of the people infected with this variant, as with all previous variants, do not end up in hospital.
‘So the people in hospital with Covid-19 on May 23 would mostly not have been infected with this variant, and the current concern is with possible rises in hospitalisations since then, and in particular with possible rises that haven’t even occurred yet but might — or might not — arise in the near future.
‘A second point about the date is that people in hospital on May 23 would have been infected before the third stage of the roadmap from lockdown in England on May 17, so if there were going to be any increases in hospitalisation because of that relaxation of restrictions, they couldn’t possibly show up in these data — again it’s just too early.
‘The numbers for individual trusts are mostly so low that you’d expect a fair amount of variation from one week to another, just by chance.’
MAY 15 LEFT, MAY 22 RIGHT: A heat map by the Sanger Institute shows that the Indian variant has become dominant in more areas over the past month, with it now accounting for more than half of cases – the purple and black shades – in considerably more places