Britain today recorded another 492 Covid-19 victims in the highest daily death toll since May — but infections are no longer spiralling.
Department of Health figures show the number of laboratory-confirmed victims today is the most since 500 were announced on May 19. More than 1,000 infected Brits were succumbing to the disease each day during the peak of the first wave in the spring.
But infections have risen just 1.9 per cent in a week, with government officials today declaring another 25,177 new positive tests. Government advisers say the true number of daily cases occurring during the worst parts of March and April was around 100,000 — but Number 10’s lacklustre testing system meant millions went undetected.
Some top scientists believe the flare-up of Covid-19, which kicked off when schools and universities reopened in September, has already died down. One expert yesterday argued cases were ‘flatlining’.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, today sparked hope by claiming data from his team’s symptom-tracking study shows the country has ‘passed the peak of the second wave’.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, Public Health England’s medical director, said: ‘Sadly we know that the trend in deaths will continue to rise over the next few weeks. As the new measures come into place it will take some time for the impact to be seen.
‘We have all made sacrifices and they have helped to save many lives. Let’s stick with it to keep our loved ones safe. The fewer people you see, the more you’ll help stop the spread.’
It comes as MPs tonight signed off the brutal national lockdown despite Boris Johnson suffering a major Tory revolt – with Theresa May accusing the government of mangling figures to force the policy through. The extreme measures were approved by a margin of 516 to 38 in the Commons, and will now come into force at midnight.
Revellers packed out pubs this afternoon as they get the last rounds in before England nosedives into a second lockdown. Britons today also stocked up on clothes and homeware, getting ready for their last night out and squeezing in a final gym session for what is the ‘last hurrah’ for millions.
King’s College London’s Professor Tim Spector shared projections that suggest new daily cases are now falling after peaking in October
MPS APPROVE NATIONAL LOCKDOWN BY 516 VOTES TO 38
MPs tonight signed off the brutal national lockdown despite Boris Johnson suffering a major Tory revolt – with Theresa May accusing the government of mangling figures to force the policy through.
The extreme measures were approved by a margin of 516 to 38 in the Commons, and will now come into force at midnight.
However, Mr Johnson has been left reeling after a stormy three-hour debate that saw a slew of senior Conservatives condemn the move – and many either vote against it or abstain.
Labour’s backing for the lockdown meant the PM was assured the squeeze would be rubber-stamped. But government whips had limited success in cutting the scale of the mutiny.
Some 32 of those who voted against were Tory MPs, with a further two rebels acting as tellers – meaning 34 in total. Julian Lewis, who was stripped of the whip earlier this year, and DUP MPs were also opposed.
Former PM Mrs May delivered a damning assessment of Mr Johnson’s handling of the situation, saying a controversial claim that deaths could hit 4,000 a day by next month was ‘wrong before it was even used’.
She said Mr Johnson – who scuttled out of the Commons as she started speaking – must open up to more scrutiny, warning that the extraordinary national restrictions coming into force at midnight will ‘shatter livelihoods’. In the end, Mrs May abstained rather than vote against the government.
On another chaotic day of wrestling over how to respond to the coronavirus crisis:
- The NHS is being thrust back into its highest alert level, in anticipation of a wave of coronavirus hospital admissions in the coming weeks;
- New shielding guidance says the most vulnerable group of people should stay at home except for exercise and medical appointments;
- John Lewis has announced it is to cut 1,500 head office jobs in an effort to bolster the business in the devastating pandemic;
- Supermarkets reminded Britons that couples and families should not shop together in a bid to aid social distancing measures ahead of England’s new winter lockdown;
- Nicola Sturgeon threatened to criminalise Scots who travel far from home as she warned of a toughening up of Scottish Covid laws;
- There is only a ‘small chance’ that Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine will be ready by Christmas, one of the top scientists behind the experimental jab warned;
- Boris Johnson apologised to business leaders for the introduction of new Government ‘diktats’ during the second coronavirus lockdown today and vowed not to extend the enforced closure of UK plc.
There is a time lag between a spike in Covid-19 cases and then hospitalisations and deaths due to the fact it can take several days for someone to get seriously unwell with the disease, and even weeks for death.
It may explain why cases have appeared to have flattened in the past few days following a surge in September and early October, while deaths soar to record levels since the spring.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 22,398 – only 1.9 per cent higher than last Wednesday. For the past two days it has dropped, suggesting the spread of the virus is slowing ahead of the second national lockdown.
Britain yesterday recorded its lowest number of daily coronavirus cases in a fortnight, leaving scientists questioning whether the second national lockdown had been ordered too early.
COUNTDOWN TO LOCKDOWN
Pictured, drinkers in Borough Market today
Revellers have packed out pubs this afternoon as they get the last rounds in before England nosedives into a second lockdown.
Britons today are stocking up clothes and homeware, getting ready for their last night out and squeezing in a final gym session for what is the ‘last hurrah’ for millions of Brits who, from midnight, will find their freedoms curtailed as they are told to remain indoors under draconian measures for the next four weeks.
The shutters will come down on pubs, restaurants and non-essential stores by the end of the day, signalling the start of yet more swingeing restrictions.
Punters have been savouring their last pint before bars close at 10pm – as many landlords warn this could be last orders for their pubs which may not reopen with the hospitality industry at breaking point.
Hordes of shoppers have been seen queuing outside retail stores including Primark and Ikea up and down the high streets, while eager revellers are already getting the rounds in at Wetherspoons.
And gym bunnies are hitting the treadmills and weights rack for one last session before they are forced back into home workouts for the next month.
People have flocked to shopping centres to buy Christmas presents ahead of the second lockdown, the boss of a major mall operator has said.
Some top scientists believe the current flare-up of Covid-19, which kicked off when schools and universities reopened in September, has already died down.
Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan claimed infections, hospital admissions and ‘in effect’ deaths were already flatlining before Saturday’s announcement.
Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, today sparked hope by claiming data from his team’s symptom-tracking study shows the country has ‘passed the peak of the second wave’.
It came after he revealed yesterday that a ‘plateauing and slight fall in new cases in England, Wales and Scotland’ meant the R rate was now 1.
R, which stands for reproduction number, represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect. When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially, but if it goes below 1, it means the outbreak is shrinking.
But Professor Spector has said it’s not time to relax, and argued the plateau would not be seen for at least a week in hospitals because of the lag it takes between patients catching the disease and getting severely ill. He warned it could take a month before deaths start to drop.
Deaths – of which today there were 492 across all settings including care homes and hospitals – are continuing to rise. Yesterday the UK recorded another 136 coronavirus deaths — a rise of 33.3 per cent on the 102 lab-confirmed fatalities posted last week.
An average of 295 people are dying per day, which is 58.7 per cent higher than last Wednesday. At the height of the pandemic, more than 1,000 people were dying per day.
Data from the Office for National statistics yesterday revealed Covid-19 fatalities, as recorded on a death certificate, had risen for the seventh week in a row after dropping below 100 for a brief period in the summer.
To curb a surge of Covid-19 hospital admissions ministers were told would overwhelm the NHS, from Thursday, pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops will again be forced to close their doors.
MPs have backed the new four-week coronavirus lockdown for England in the Commons today with a Government majority of 478, after Boris Johnson warned of an ‘existential threat’ to the NHS without action to curb the spread of the disease.
The PM even warned the sick ‘would be turned away’ for non-Covid illnesses, if the NHS became overwhelmed.
Opening the debate, Mr Johnson said that without action now, the chances of the NHS being in ‘extraordinary trouble’ by December were ‘very, very high’.
ONLY A ‘SMALL CHANCE’ OF A CORONAVIRUS VACCINE BY CHRISTMAS
Oxford University’s Professor Andrew Pollard (left) and Kate Bingham, the UK’s vaccine tsar, have warned a vaccine will most likely not be ready this year
There is only a ‘small chance’ that Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine will be ready by Christmas, one of the top scientists behind the experimental jab warned today.
Professor Andrew Pollard said he was optimistic data showing his team’s vaccine works and is safe will be available by the end of the year.
But he poured cold water on the idea it could be rolled out to the most vulnerable groups by then because of the time it takes time for regulators to scrutinise the trials and their findings.
Earlier today NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens said the health service was ready and on standby to deliver a mass Covid vaccination programme by Christmas. He claimed GP surgeries, pharmacies and testing centres — including at the mothballed Nightingale hospitals — were preparing to ‘fire the starting gun’.
But Kate Bingham, the UK’s vaccine tsar, claimed it was ‘more realistic’ to expect the first Brits to get their hands on a jab by early next year.
The Government announced over summer a deal had been struck with AstraZeneca — the pharmaceutical firm which owns the rights to Oxford’s vaccine — to dish out 30million doses by September if it was proven to be effective.
But Ms Bingham — chair of the Vaccine Taskforce — said problems with ramping up manufacturing capacity meant the UK fell well short of this target. She predicted only 4million doses will be available before 2021.
Both Professor Pollard and Ms Bingham warned the first wave of vaccines would not be good enough to allow society to immediately return to normal, scuppering Boris Johnson’s promise that ‘life will return to normal next summer’.
‘Let me be clear that this existential threat to our NHS comes not from focusing too much on coronavirus, as is sometimes asserted, but from not focusing enough,’ he said.
‘We simply cannot reach the point where our National Health Service is no longer there for everyone.’
With Labour supporting the new lockdown restrictions – which were also expected to be approved by the House of Lords later on Wednesday – the Government’s majority was never in doubt.
However Mr Johnson faced an angry backlash from some Tory MPs – led by former prime minister Theresa May – alarmed at the economic impact of the controls as well as the curtailment of civil liberties.
Mrs May said pointedly that Parliament would make better decisions if it was ‘fully and properly informed’ about the facts.
‘For many people it looks as if the figures are chosen to support the policy rather than the policy being based on the figures,’ she said.
Sir Graham Brady, influential chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, questioned whether the Government had any right to take some of the measures it wanted.
‘The thing that troubles me most is that the Government is reaching too far in to the private and family lives of our constituents. I think there is an, unintended perhaps, arrogance in assuming the Government has the right to do so,’ he said
It came after Mr Johnson faced the wrath of Conservative MPs in the wake of his Downing Street briefing on Saturday night, enraged by the ‘evil’ new rules that will cripple the economy. They have been branded ‘unimaginable’ and compared to the actions of a ‘totalitarian regime’.
In the Commons today, the Prime Minister sought to reassure MPs that the measures – which are due to expire on December 2 – should enable shops and businesses to reopen in time for the run-up to Christmas, after speculation they could be extended if the crisis is not controlled.
The PM acknowledged however that opening the country back up would depend on getting the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – back down below 1.
He has this week insisted cases were now surging so high there was ‘no alternative’ to the month-long blanket restrictions across England, and warned that otherwise the death toll could be double that in the previous peak.
The government’s scientific advisers urged Mr Johnson to act quickly to avoid second wave of coronavirus that has a lower daily death toll but which lasts for a longer period of time – making it more deadly overall.
It comes as NHS in England will tonight be thrust into its highest alert level – level 4 – from midnight amid a continuing rise in coronavirus patients needing hospital care.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, claimed the move to level four was in response to the ‘serious situation ahead’. He warned non-Covid treatment would be disrupted again if the outbreak ‘takes off’.
A move to level four means health bosses believe there is a real threat that an expected influx of Covid-19 patients could start to force the closure of other vital services across the nation.
A move to level four means health bosses believe there is a real threat that the influx of Covid-19 patients could start to disrupt other vital services on a national scale
TIER 3 SYSTEM IS WORKING, DATA SHOWS AHEAD OF NATIONWIDE LOCKDOWN
The average number of people getting diagnosed with coronavirus each day has clearly declined in Liverpool since the Tier Three restrictions began there on October 14. The same is true of numerous local authorities across the North of the country
England’s three-tier lockdown strategy is bringing down coronavirus cases in badly affected areas, according to official data that raises questions about whether the national intervention is really needed.
On the eve of the country’s second national shutdown, on which MPs will vote later today, government statistics show that tough measures already in place appear to be working and thwarting the spread of the disease, calling into question the need for the new rules.
Numbers of people testing positive in hotspot areas such as Liverpool, Merseyside, Manchester, Lancaster and Blackpool have levelled off or even started falling in the weeks since the areas entered local lockdowns.
Almost 10million people living in the North of England are now under Tier Three restrictions, which effectively ban socialising in person.
Government dashboard data shows that cases have dropped in multiple places subjected to local lockdowns.
Liverpool and Manchester and the areas around them have been the ones to face the toughest rules since the three-layer system was introduced.
In Liverpool, which was the first city to enter Tier Three, on October 14, the average number of people testing positive each day almost halved from 3,447 on October 7 to 1,828 on October 29.
Nearby Knowsley saw the same trend, with average daily cases dropping from 1,102 on October 9 to 637 per day by the 29th.
Other areas in Merseyside saw the same effect, with a shift in the outbreak’s trajectory from sharp increase to definite decline in the middle of October.
In nearby Manchester, which followed suit into Tier Three not long after, delayed by Government wrangling over financial compensation, cases also appear to have turned.
Cases plummeted at the start of the month from a high of 3,226 per day on October 3, to 2,363 on the 16th, but have since risen again but started to fall once more. The up-and-down figures suggest at least a stabilising of the outbreak there and the most recent numbers are trending downwards.
Sir Simon urged people without Covid-19 not to stop using the NHS. He said: ‘The facts are clear, we are once again facing a serious situation. This is not a situation anybody wanted to find themselves in, the worst pandemic in a century, but the fact is that the NHS is here.’
In a press conference from University College Hospital, Sir Simon said the health service has prepared ‘very carefully’ for the ‘next phase of coronavirus’.
He said that, for some patients, mortality in hospital and intensive care has ‘halved since Covid was first known to humanity’. But he added: ‘However well-prepared hospitals, the NHS, GP surgeries are, it is going to be a difficult period.’
He said: ‘We want to try and ensure that the health service is there for everybody, minimising the disruption to the full range of care that we provide, not just Covid but cancer services, routine operations and mental health services.
‘And the truth, unfortunately, is that, if coronavirus takes off again, that will disrupt services.’
Echoing the gloomy warnings of No10’s top scientific advisers, Sir Simon said there were already some hospitals with more Covid patients than during the first peak in April.
But Sir Simon’s comments come after leaked documents today revealed intensive care units are no busier than normal for this time of year for most trusts, pouring extra cold water on claims the NHS is close to being overrun.
Eighteen per cent of critical care beds available across the health service nationally, which is normal for the autumn.
Data from the NHS Secondary Uses Services, seen by The Telegraph, claims to show that even in the worst hit region, the North West, seven per cent of critical care beds are still free.
It raises questions have been asked about whether hospital data justifies the second lockdown, because it suggests neither hospitals nor intensive care units are actually busier than normal for this time of year.
Before announcing that NHS England would once again move to level four today, Sir Simon claimed the health service is currently treating the equivalent of 22 hospitals’ worth of Covid-19 patients. But around three quarters of these are in the North East, North West or the Midlands, which have been hit harder by the second wave.
And he repeated claims that the numbers of infected patients in hospital will surpass levels seen during the first wave by the end of November. Fewer than 500 Covid-19 patients were in England’s hospitals at the start of September, compared to 10,000 now.
The figure in April — during the darkest days of the first wave — stood at 17,000. At the height of the crisis, officials took the drastic decision to cancel operations and treatment for thousands of patients, including cancer victims, amid fears a swarm of coronavirus-infected patients would overwhelm hospitals across England.
But tens of thousands of beds were never used, including wards in private facilities commandeered by No10 and make-shift Nightingales purposely created to help ease the burden of Covid-19.
As a consequence, millions of people are feared to have missed out on cancer scans, consultations or treatments while hospitals ran reduced services. A&E attendances plummeted to fewer than half the usual numbers.
Sir Simon today admitted that the NHS never ran out of room during the first wave and claimed that the national lockdown will mean the health service continues to have space throughout the winter to keep up normal services and tackle backlog created from cancelling thousands of operations in the first wave.