The UK today announced 39,036 more cases of coronavirus and 574 deaths as the country heads towards the majority of the population being in Tier Three or Four lockdown from Boxing Day.
Infections announced today are up by 37 per cent on the 28,507 confirmed last Friday and deaths have risen by 17 per cent on last week’s 489 as the second wave surges on in spite of November’s lockdown.
A raft of statistics show that explosions of cases in London, the South East and the East of England are tugging England towards its highest ever infection rates driven by the new super-infectious variant of the virus that was discovered in Kent and revealed by ministers last week.
It comes as separate data from Public Health England showed the vast majority of local authorities in England saw infections rise in the last week, with the biggest jumps in Tier 1 and 2 areas.
Some 85 per cent of local authorities in England saw Covid-19 cases rise in the week before Christmas, with the biggest surges in Tier One and Tier Two areas.
Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report revealed four fifths – or 126 out of 149 – councils saw an uptick in infections, with seven even seeing their Covid-19 infection rates double.
The biggest jumps were all in Tier One areas – by 320 per cent in the Isle of Wight, 116 per cent in Cornwall and 114 per cent in Herefordshire.
Covid-19 cases also more than doubled in Tier Two York and Southampton and in harshest measure Tier Four Southend-on-Sea and the London borough of Islington.
The resurgence of the virus across the country may be a warning sign that Tier Three restrictions – with shops and gyms allowed to stay open – are not enough to curb the spread of the mutant Kent strain, according to officials.
Early analysis by Public Health England officials at Porton Down has revealed the variant may be 56 per cent more infectious, but there is no evidence to suggest it is more deadly to humans.
Advisers to SAGE have, however, warned that without an acceleration of the Covid-19 vaccine roll out the variant may trigger more deaths next year than in 2020 because it will be caught by more people. This means that, even if its death rate is at the same level as its predecessors, a higher spread inevitably leads to more deaths.
Their mathematical modelling predicted deaths would only stay below the 70,000 recorded in 2020 if as many as two million people were vaccinated daily by January 4.
NHS England revealed today that 500,000 people have so far received the Covid-19 vaccine, with hundreds of vaccination centres now open as officials seek to turbo-charge the roll out.
The Oxford coronavirus vaccine is expected to get the green light from regulators before the new year, in a move which would bolster the UK’s arsenal against the virus as four million doses are already on stand by to be administered to Britons.
Covid-19 cases across the UK have surged in recent weeks, amid the take off of a mutant Kent strain of coronavirus that is 56 per cent more infectious, according to scientists. Pictured: Infections in the UK as of December 18
COVID-19 INFECTION RATE SURGES OVER TWO WEEKS TO DECEMBER 20
Yorkshire and the Humber
Across London’s 32 boroughs the Covid-19 infection rate has tripled in two weeks, surging from 200.3 to 602.2 per 100,000 residents – after the mutant Kent strain became established in the region.
Infections jumped by almost 190 per cent in the East of England and 127 per cent in the South East over the two weeks before Christmas, where the variant has also become established.
Thurrock, in Essex, became England’s coronavirus hotspot in the week before Christmas, according to the report, when infections surged by 73 per cent to 1198.8 per 100,000.
The London borough of Havering had the second highest rate, after it surged by 50 per cent in a week to 1111.2 per 100,000, and London borough of Redbridge had the third highest after a 60 per cent spike to 991.4 per 100,000.
In the fifth where Covid-19 cases fell, none were in the South of England.
The sharpest dip was recorded in Rutland, by 32.7 per cent to 92.7 per 100,000, Wigan outside Manchester, by 17.5 per cent to 144.5 per 100,000, and Redcar and Cleveland by 15.9 per cent at 119.6 per 100,000.
Covid-19 infections surged across all age groups, the report revealed, including by 42 per cent in the over 60s – who are most at risk of being hospitalised and death if they catch the virus. In the last seven days the rate in this age group jumped up from 133.6 to 189.4 per 100,000.
Torbay, in Devon, had the lowest infection rate in the country at 94 per 100,000 – although this was a rise of 94 per cent compared to the previous week.
It was followed by Cornwall – which was in Tier One – at 74.3 per 100,000, and Dorset, at 83.6 per 100,000.
Covid-19 infections surged across all age groups, the report revealed, including by 42 per cent in the over 60s – who are most at risk of being hospitalised and death if they catch the virus.
In the seven days to December 20 the rate in this group surged from 133.6 to 189.4 per 100,000.
In the over 80s – who are also at high risk from the virus – the infection rate rose by 10 per cent from 234.6 to 258.1 per 100,000 in the last week before Christmas.
The outbreak appears to be being driven by those aged between 30 and 39, who have the highest rate of infection at 434.6 per 100,000.
The London School of Hygiene study claimed that only doing 2million vaccinations per week from January while the entire country is in a Tier 4 lockdown for a month would be enough to stop the coronavirus death toll doubling in the next six months. In a scenario with a Tier 4 lockdown in January, including the closure of schools, and the current rate of vaccination, they estimated that around 85,000 people would die by July. If the rate of vaccination increased 10-fold this could be reduced to 35,000
Hospital admissions will also surge to levels higher than seen throughout the entire of this year within the first six months of 2021, the terrifying predictions showed. In a scenario with a Tier 4 lockdown in January, including the closure of schools, and the current rate of vaccination, they estimated that 335,000 people would need hospital treatment for Covid-19 by the end of June. If the rate of vaccination increased 10-fold this could be reduced to 147,000
The number of people with coronavirus in England last week spiked to pre-second lockdown levels with almost 646,000 people carrying the illness
The positivity rate of tests taken in the community – pillar two – was also highest in London, by 16.1 per cent, suggesting that the capital’s outbreak may be far larger than has previously been suggested.
Public Health England’s medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle warned the figures meant this would ‘not be a normal Christmas for any of us’.
‘If you are seeing loved ones, try to keep your distance, wash your hands thoroughly and more often and ventilate as much as possible,’ she said. ‘By continuing to reduce your contacts you can help to slow the spread.’
It comes after SAGE advisers warned yesterday that Britain needed to speed up the roll out of the vaccination to a staggering two million jabs per week and have a Tier Four lockdown throughout January in order to prevent the new fast-spreading strain of coronavirus doubling the death toll next year.
In terrifying predictions published last night, researchers who advise the Government said they think the new variant, discovered in Kent and revealed by ministers last week, is 56 per cent more infectious than its predecessor and 83,000 more could die if people don’t get vaccinated faster than they are now.
Ministers will have to rush out two million doses of vaccines every week – six times the current rate of approximately 350,000 per week – if they want to avoid disaster in the new year. Boris Johnson today said almost 800,000 people have been vaccinated in Britain since December 8, with NHS data showing at least 522,000 in England.
A full Tier Four lockdown with schools closed across the whole country throughout January, along with the astonishing rate of immunisation, could be the only way to stop the next six months’ death toll being higher than the entire of 2020’s. And even the best case scenario could still see another 35,700 people die of Covid-19.
They said that although there’s no proof the variant is more deadly, the fact that it spreads faster means it will trigger significantly more cases and deaths will inevitably increase.
One of the leading authors on the paper, Professor Nick Davies, a mathematician at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: ‘Without effective control policies, rapid surges are predicted and the burden in the first six months of 2021 may be greater than what was seen in 2020.’
As many as 83,300 people could die within the next six months if the Government holds a Tier Four lockdown in January but continues vaccinating at the current speed, the experts from the London School of Hygiene (LSHTM) warned. This would be more than the 70,000 people who have died of Covid in total throughout all of 2020.
The death tally could be slashed by 45,000 to just 35,700, however, if the rate of immunisation rockets to two million doses per week.
Regulators are expected to approve Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s vaccine early next week. There are more than four million doses of this ready to go in the UK and it could rapidly scale up the immunisation programme, which has so far vaccinated just over half a million people since it started on December 8.
People living in some regions where the new strain of the virus hasn’t yet taken hold could be spared from the effects of the faster-spreading virus if vaccines are rapid and lockdowns strict, the researchers said, but there don’t appear to be any measures strong enough to stop it causing more hospital admissions and deaths in the South of England.
It comes as Office for National Statistics estimates published today suggest the number of people carrying the coronavirus is now back to pre-lockdown levels, with around 646,000 people infected last week, up from 567,000 the week before. This is being driven by London, the East and South East, with cases falling in the North and Midlands.