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Freedom Day will cause ‘mad’ spike in Covid cases, scientists fear

Britain’s daily Covid cases rose by just 16 per cent today, as an expert hailed the small rise as a ‘remarkably good’ sign that the outbreak may already be starting to slow. 

The Department of Health’s usual update showed there were 39,950 infections across the UK in the past 24 hours, up on the 34,471 recorded last Monday.

There were also another with another 19 Covid deaths registered today, which was more than triple the six victims reported a week ago but still 16 times lower than at the same point in previous waves. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that gloomy warnings of 200,000-plus daily cases and tens of thousands more deaths at the peak this autumn seemed ‘a bit over the top’. He suggested infections could actually start to drop on Thursday, if England’s Covid crisis plays out in the same way Scotland’s did following the surge of cases during Euro 2020. 

Nationally, there are currently 45,000 new infections every day across Britain, on average, and the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) expects this to reach at least 100,000 in August or September. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson — whose frightening modelling of the first wave spooked ministers into the initial shutdown — has warned that daily cases could rise to 200,000 this autumn, which would dwarf the 68,000 at the height of the second wave in January. 

Experts said it was ‘murderous’ to go through with Freedom Day in England today despite surging infections. 

SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward, from University College London, claimed that ‘tens of thousands’ more people could die from Covid in the coming months if people are not cautious with their new freedoms. 

The epidemiologist told Sky News: ‘We are heading into the biggest wave of Covid infection we have ever seen and, even though the vaccine will substantially reduce the number of deaths and hospitalisations, it’s still likely that we will see somewhere in the low tens of thousands of deaths even if we are cautious.

‘And that could move into the mid and high tens of thousands of deaths if we just went back to normal activity.’

Professor Gabriel Scally, a public health expert at the University of Bristol and member of Independent SAGE, told MailOnline that reopening England today even though the metrics are trending in the wrong direction was ‘madness’.

He said: ‘You don’t need a crystal ball to guess what’s going to happen here, we’ve seen over the past few weeks what direction we’re heading in as a country.

‘The UK has had the highest number of cases in the world on some days and for weeks has had more infections than the rest of Western Europe put together… I was in a briefing the other day and someone described it [Freedom Day] as being murderous. 

‘All it [Freedom Day] will do is accelerate the epidemic further, I think it’s madness, it’s an extraordinary decision to do it now.’ 

There are concerns that there could be major disruptions as a result of millions of people isolating due to the ‘pingdemic’ caused by the NHS Covid app, now that lockdown curbs have been lifted and cases are still soaring.

Experts estimate around 1.7million people are currently self-isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the app or contacted by Test and Trace, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. This number could rise to 5million by the end of this month, according to analysis by MailOnline.

Meanwhile, just 100,000 people in England are living in areas where there were virtually no new Covid cases last week, according to MailOnline analysis which lays bare how the Indian variant has engulfed every corner of the country.  

Infections are currently running at about 45,000 a day (yellow line shows cases increasing since May) but deaths are still flat at about 40 a day (pink line shows fatalities in the third wave). For comparison, the last time cases hit this level when the second wave began to spiral out of control (orange line) there were more than 600 daily deaths

Infections are currently running at about 45,000 a day (yellow line shows cases increasing since May) but deaths are still flat at about 40 a day (pink line shows fatalities in the third wave). For comparison, the last time cases hit this level when the second wave began to spiral out of control (orange line) there were more than 600 daily deaths

MAY 4

JULY 13

HOW CASE RATES HAVE CHANGED IN THE UK FROM MAY 4 (LEFT) TO JULY 13 (RIGHT): Britain has quickly become an epicentre of the pandemic since May after the Indian variant was seeded in the country. Yellow areas show places which have an infection rate between 0 and 9 per 100,000; green shows rates between 10 and 49; blue is 50 to 99; dark blue represents 200 to 399; purple equates to a rate of between 400 and 799; black shows the worst-hit regions with rates above 800 per 100,000

More than 1,000 people partied at the Astoria Nightclub in Portsmouth, which opened its doors at one minute past midnight for the first time since last year

More than 1,000 people partied at the Astoria Nightclub in Portsmouth, which opened its doors at one minute past midnight for the first time since last year

Revellers get back on the dancefloor at Powerhouse nightclub in Newcastle at the stroke of midnight, wasting no time to enjoy their first taste of clubbing since last March

Sun-seekers enjoyed the heatwave on Bournemouth beach today as all legal lockdown restrictions were lifted in England

Sun-seekers enjoyed the heatwave on Bournemouth beach today as all legal lockdown restrictions were lifted in England

Large numbers of Tube passengers were pictured with faces uncovered this morning, despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan's decision to continue enforcing their use across the capital's transport network

Large numbers of Tube passengers were pictured with faces uncovered this morning, despite London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to continue enforcing their use across the capital’s transport network

Iceland and Greene King SHUT shops and pubs as food supplies struggle with 1.7m in quarantine 

Freedom Day was branded ‘disaster day’ by stricken businesses today as self-isolating Boris Johnson faces fresh demands to dump farcical test and trace rules to stop the country becoming the ‘United Pingdom’.

The PM is marking the grand unlocking alone at Chequers, where he will host a ‘virtual’ press conference at 5pm after performing a comical U-turn from initially saying he and Rishi Sunak would dodge quarantine. He has tested negative for coronavirus so far and is not displaying symptoms, according to No10.

But the lifting of almost all legal restrictions has been overshadowed by fears about spiking cases bringing the economy grinding to a halt, as more and more people are doomed to house arrest.

Experts estimate around 1.7million people are still self-isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace.

Firms including Iceland and Greene King have warned of serious problems, with some companies having to reduce hours or shut sites completely because up to a quarter of staff are off – as scientists warn the situation could spiral as the UK faces up to 200,000 cases a day.

The Road Haulage Association has warned of impending chaos in supply chains, with chief executive Rod Mackenzie telling the FT: ‘Far from freedom day being freedom day, it’s going to be disaster day.’

In a key concession today, frontline NHS workers will be let off the rules to prevent hospitals having to cancel operations because of staff shortages. No10 has also indicated that they are looking at get-outs for other key workers such as in the food industry.

But ministers have ignored calls from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and others by saying the double-jabbed will not be exempted before August 16 – as well as making clear the sensitivity of the app will not be reduced.

Department of Health data shows only 11 out of 6,791 neighbourhoods (0.2 per cent) had three or fewer new infections in the week ending July 13, compared to more than 1,000 in March before the Delta strain took off. 

The Government suppresses numbers when they drop below three to conceal the identities of infected residents who could be singled out. Nearly 150 areas have ‘extraordinarily’ high rates of above 1,000 per 100,000. 

The UK posted 54,000 cases on Saturday and 47,000 on Sunday, giving it the highest number of cases of anywhere in the world over the weekend, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Separate data shows around one in six areas in England are now reporting their highest rate of new Covid cases since comparable records began last summer, when mass testing was first introduced.

But some experts have said they expect infections to start falling next week through a combination of natural and vaccine-acquired immunity. 

Professor Hunter said there were already signs that the epidemic had slowed down, following a ‘Euro 2020 surge’ blamed on groups getting together to watch England.  

He told MailOnline: ‘If you look at Scotland, its cases are still going down and they started to drop 12 days after the national team were knocked out of the Euros. 

‘We’re not yet 12 days out from the final (when England played Italy at Wembley on July 11) but I’m expecting a reduction in cases when we get there — between Thursday and Sunday.’

Professor Hunter expected to see cases rise from now until then but said he was surprised that infections only rose by 16 per cent today, adding that it was ‘remarkably good’ and signalled the outbreak could slow even quicker. 

But he caveated: ‘It’s obviously only one day’s data.’ 

Day-to-day counts can fluctuate heavily following the weekend. And the effect of Freedom Day won’t be seen in the figures for several days.

…but the Covid death rate is still 16 TIMES lower than it was during the first and second waves

Britain’s Covid death rate is now 16 times lower than it was during both the first and second waves because of vaccines, analysis shows. 

Infections are currently running at about 45,000 a day across Britain, with 40 deaths being registered every 24 hours on average.

But the last time cases hit this level — when the second wave began to spiral out of control in late December — there were as many as 640 daily fatalities.  

One of the Oxford University researchers who helped design AstraZeneca’s jab today credited the vaccines for keeping the death rate so low. Sir Andrew Pollard warned deaths would inevitably rise over the coming weeks in line with cases but insisted that they won’t reach levels seen during the darkest days of January’s peak.

Experts have warned today’s Freedom Day will only cause infections to spiral further, although the hot weather and school holidays should help stem the spread of the virus. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, a key member of SAGE, yesterday warned that infections may hit 200,000 a day in the coming weeks.  

He admitted he would consider the final loosening of restrictions a success if cases stayed below half this level, and daily hospitalisations peak at around 1,000. But the Imperial College London epidemiologist said No10’s top experts were clueless as to just how bad the crisis could become. 

In another glimmer of hope, Britain’s Covid death rate is now 16 times lower than it was during both the first and second waves because of vaccines. 

Infections are currently running at about 45,000 a day across Britain, with 40 deaths being registered every 24 hours on average.

But the last time cases hit this level — when the second wave began to spiral out of control in late December — there were as many as 640 daily fatalities.  

One of the Oxford University researchers who helped design AstraZeneca’s jab today credited the vaccines for keeping the death rate so low. 

Sir Andrew Pollard warned deaths would inevitably rise over the coming weeks in line with cases but insisted that they won’t reach levels seen during the darkest days of January’s peak.

Experts have warned today’s Freedom Day will only cause infections to spiral further, although the hot weather and school holidays should help stem the spread of the virus. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, a key member of SAGE, yesterday warned that infections may hit 200,000 a day in the coming weeks.  

He admitted he would consider the final loosening of restrictions a success if cases stayed below half this level, and daily hospitalisations peak at around 1,000. 

But the Imperial College London epidemiologist said No10’s top experts were clueless as to just how bad the crisis could become. 

Department of Health data shows hospitalisations are currently more than four times below the level they hit when Covid was rife during December. 

There are 614 admissions a day on average across Britain, compared to 2,800 on December 28 when cases also stood at almost 50,000. 

Deaths and hospitalisations lag several weeks behind cases, which are the first warning sign that the UK could run into trouble. 

But evidence shows the current surge is not leading the NHS to face as serious pressure as it did during the first and second waves because of vaccines. 

Many of the hospital admissions are in younger or vaccinated people which means their illness is often more mild – and their hospital stay shorter – than in previous waves.

SAGE does not expect hospital capacity to reach the 36,000 peak seen in January, and probably no more than half that, even in a worst-case scenario. 

However, Professor Ferguson admitted that even large levels of daily admissions could cause ‘major disruption’ to the NHS, forcing hospital bosses to cancel thousands of vital operations. 

Office for National Statistics data shows deaths are running five per cent below the five-year average, with Covid behind around just one per cent of all fatalities. 

SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward, from University College London, claimed that if the public abuse their new freedoms then 'tens of thousands' more people could die in the coming months

Professor Gabriel Scally, a public health expert at the University of Bristol, told MailOnline that opening England today was 'madness'

SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward (left), from University College London, claimed that if the public abuse their new freedoms then ‘tens of thousands’ more people could die in the coming months. Professor Gabriel Scally, a public health expert at the University of Bristol, told MailOnline that opening England today was ‘madness’

Flash point in the aisles as Asda and Sainsbury’s shoppers claim they’ve had ‘abuse’ for wearing facemasks while others refuse to wear the 

Asda and Sainsbury’s shoppers today claimed to have received ‘abuse’ for continuing to use face masks as others refused to wear them – but 85% of Tube, train and bus passengers kept theirs on.

Face coverings are no longer required by law, although official national guidance is to continue wearing them in crowded public places.

There was a mixed picture across the country today, with pictures from the Tube showing carriages of commuters defying London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s order to carry on wearing masks on public transport in the capital.

However, Transport for London put the overall compliance rate at 85%.

Meanwhile, Twitter users claimed to have received abuse in supermarkets for wearing face coverings, with one writing: ‘This morning already had two #nomaskers in @sainsburys petrol station in my face, I’m immunosuppressed and in the car was my daughter who has Down syndrome and has had heart surgery.’

A second added: ‘Already had abuse in Asda this morning for wearing a mask for fucks sake what’s so difficult about respecting people’s boundaries.’

It came as anti-maskers took to Twitter to declare a boycott of shops still enforcing the requirement, which includes all major supermarkets and hardware store B&Q. 

For comparison, at the height of the second wave the virus was linked to more than 40 per cent of all deaths. 

Sir Andrew, the director of the Oxford vaccine group, said death rates from Covid will remain low because of the jabs.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The effectiveness of vaccines against severe disease and hospitalisation and death remains extremely high against the variants which are around here in the UK.

‘I think with that information, we can be very confident that the rates will remain low — but they are going to rise, and we know that.

‘The modelling predicts that there will be an increase in cases as we have been hearing over the last few days.

‘Of course we’re seeing it, that there are more people getting infected, and that will unfortunately translate into an increase in hospitalisations and deaths.

‘But it will be far lower than we have experienced in previous waves.’

More than 45.2million Britons — or 87.9 per cent of adults — have got one dose, while 35.9million — or 68.3 per cent — have received both jabs.

Britain’s roll-out has relied on the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, both of which are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death. 

The Prime Minister ordered the lifting of the remaining restrictions in England today, after warnings from ministers this could lead to cases spiralling to 100,000 a day.

But experts say the ‘real question now’ is whether they will surge to double this number and hit 200,000 a day.

It is thought the bout of warm weather — allowing people to socialise outdoors — and the school holidays will help keep surging infections at bay.

Cases have already started to fall in the country’s hotspot of South Tyneside, raising hopes that the end may be in sight for the worst-hit areas. 

Professor Ferguson told Andrew Marr yesterday: ‘Success would be keeping hospitalisations at around 1,000 and case numbers, maybe peaking a little over 100,000 a day and then slowly declining.’

But he said: ‘It is likely to be a slow decline because we will be seeing contract rates increase with this relaxation, and yet we’re still vaccinating people, people are getting immunity through being infected as well.

‘We have the relaxation on Monday, but significantly we also have school holidays. 

 

NHS Covid app sensitivity WON’T be changed despite ongoing ‘pingdemic’

The NHS Covid app won’t be tweaked despite an outcry for the software’s sensitivity to be dialled down amid fears it is causing a ‘pingdemic’.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the ‘right thing to do’ was to leave the app as it is and instead relax isolation rules for the fully vaccinated as planned next month.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman also claimed the app was working as expected and would not be watered down. 

The software was heavily criticised after some people were ‘pinged’ through their wall and told to isolate when a neighbour tested positive.

The Government has already announced that, from August 16, double-jabbed Britons will not need to quarantine when they are ‘pinged’, as long as they test negative for the virus.

But there is growing pressure for that date to be brought forward due to concerns the app will cause major disruptions over the next month now that lockdown curbs have been lifted and cases are still soaring.

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘We recognise that with high cases that also means a high number of people being required to isolate and that does present significant challenges to businesses.

‘We need to strike the right balance between protecting lives and livelihoods. That’s why we believe it is entirely right that people asked to do so do isolate because we know it prevents onward transmission and eases pressure on our NHS which is facing a significant challenge.’

He said the Government would ‘constantly review’ issues around critical workers and critical infrastructure.

Asked whether the app was working as expected and so would not be tweaked, the spokesman said: ‘That’s correct.’

Experts estimate around 1.7million people are currently self-isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. 

Unlike those people contacted by phone, it is not a legal requirement to self-isolate after being pinged by the app. But Downing Street today made it clear it expects people to do so. 

‘We’ve seen a lot of transmission among teenagers, and those contact rates will probably tick down.’ 

Meanwhile, Freedom Day was branded ‘disaster day’ by stricken businesses today as self-isolating Boris Johnson faces fresh demands to dump farcical test and trace rules to stop the country becoming the ‘United Pingdom’.

The PM is marking the grand unlocking alone at Chequers, where he will host a ‘virtual’ press conference at 5pm after performing a comical U-turn from initially saying he and Rishi Sunak would dodge quarantine. He has tested negative for coronavirus so far and is not displaying symptoms, according to No10.

But the lifting of almost all legal restrictions has been overshadowed by fears about spiking cases bringing the economy grinding to a halt, as more and more people are doomed to house arrest.

Experts estimate around 1.7million people are still self-isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace.

Firms including Iceland and Greene King have warned of serious problems, with some companies having to reduce hours or shut sites completely because up to a quarter of staff are off – as scientists warn the situation could spiral as the UK faces up to 200,000 cases a day.

The Road Haulage Association has warned of impending chaos in supply chains, with chief executive Rod Mackenzie telling the FT: ‘Far from freedom day being freedom day, it’s going to be disaster day.’

In a key concession today, frontline NHS workers will be let off the rules to prevent hospitals having to cancel operations because of staff shortages. No10 has also indicated that they are looking at get-outs for other key workers such as in the food industry.

But ministers have ignored calls from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and others by saying the double-jabbed will not be exempted before August 16 – as well as making clear the sensitivity of the app will not be reduced.

Iceland supermarket boss Richard Walker accused the Government of ‘squandering the advantages’ of its successful vaccination programme by forcing double-jabbed people to self-isolate, adding: ‘We’re behaving like it’s the dark days of March 2020’.

Humphrey Cobbold, the CEO of PureGym, which has more than 1.1million members in 287 sites, said: ‘We’ve been talking internally about living in the United Pingdom and it’s become a huge challenge for individuals and businesses’, adding his staff are ‘being pinged all the time’.

He added: ‘Up to 25 per cent of our staff in some areas have been asked to self-isolate. Through flexibility we’ve been able to keep sites open so far but it’s been a really close call. I think there is a different way to react to the pings for the double vaccinated and using lateral flow tests that would keep the economy functioning’.

Greene King pub boss Nick MacKenzie said: ‘It’s a problem and it could get worse. It is disruptive to the business. We had to close 33 pubs in the past week because of a lack of staff and across the industry we think it is one in 5 who have been affected by this and therefore it is causing us a real issue on a daily basis. We are having to have shorten hours in certain circumstances.’

He added: ‘We need clarity from government on how the app works and we need to move to a test and release scheme where people can take a lateral flow test every day and get back to work and some sort of normality’.

Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had announced yesterday they would take part in a pilot scheme to avoid quarantine.

But amid widespread outrage from politicians, business leaders and the public they humiliatingly caved in within hours and revealed they would join the legions of people self-isolating – in the PM’s case Chequers until July 26, his country estate in Buckinghamshire.

They had faced accusations they were accessing a ‘VIP lane’ that was not available to workers who are having to isolate, bringing some businesses and public transport to the brink of collapse.

ONE IN SIX AREAS IN ENGLAND REPORTING RECORD CASE NUMBERS 

Around one in six areas in England are now reporting their highest rate of new Covid-19 cases since comparable records began last summer, when mass testing was first introduced in the UK, latest figures show.

The list includes almost all local authority areas in north-east England, close to a half in south-west England and nearly a third in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Data also shows that every local area in England is now recording coronavirus rates above the symbolic level of 100 cases per 100,000 people – the first time this has happened since early January, at the peak of the second wave.

The figures have been compiled by the PA news agency, and come on the day that most remaining Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in England are finally lifted.

Face masks are no longer compulsory in shops and on public transport, limits on social gatherings have been scrapped, and work from home guidance has ended.

Many businesses and transport operators are still asking people to wear face masks, however.

Some 50 of the 315 local authority areas in England (16%) are currently recording Covid-19 case rates that are higher than any point since mass testing began, PA analysis shows.

Eight of these are in north-east England: Redcar & Cleveland (1268.0 cases per 100,000 people – the highest anywhere in England); Middlesbrough (1,178.9); Hartlepool (1,061.3); Sunderland (1,036.7); Stockton-on-Tees (944.5); Darlington (863.3); County Durham (783.3); and Northumberland (674.6).

In neighbouring Yorkshire & the Humber, six areas currently have record rates: Doncaster (729.1), Wakefield (667.2), Leeds (599.4), Richmondshire (575.1), Hambleton (552.4) and East Riding of Yorkshire (517.9).

All rates are for the seven days to July 14, with case data for July 15-18 excluded as it is incomplete.

The figures reflect the impact of the third wave of coronavirus, which began in the UK at the end of May and is now causing a sharp rise in new cases across the country.

England’s overall rate of new cases currently stands at 425.3 per 100,000 people: the highest since January 19.

The third wave is also having a growing impact on hospitals.

The number of Covid-19 patients in some major hospital trusts in England has climbed back to around a third of the level seen at the peak of the second wave of the virus.

South Tyneside & Sunderland Foundation Trust reported 78 patients with Covid-19 on July 13 – the equivalent of 31% of its second-wave peak of 251.

The neighbouring Gateshead Health Foundation Trust reported 43 Covid-19 patients on the same day, or 30% of its second-wave peak of 141.

Levels are even higher in two of the largest trusts in north-west England.

Bolton Foundation Trust had 58 Covid-19 patients in hospital on July 13, 36% of its second-wave peak, while Manchester University Foundation Trust had 146 patients, 38% of its second-wave peak.

Eight local authority areas in north-west England are currently recording record-high case rates: Blackpool, Chorley, Copeland, Fylde, Rochdale, South Lakeland, Stockport and Wyre.

In south-west England there are 13 areas with rates at a record high: Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol, East Devon, Mendip, Mid Devon, North Devon, North Somerset, Plymouth, South Gloucestershire, South Hams, South Somerset, Torbay and Torridge.

There are 10 in the East Midlands: Bassetlaw, Broxtowe, Derbyshire Dales, Erewash, Gedling, High Peak, Newark & Sherwood, North East Derbyshire, North West Leicestershire and Rushcliffe.

And there are five in the West Midlands: Newcastle-under-Lyme, North Warwickshire, Solihull, Staffordshire Moorlands and Warwick. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk