Britain has confirmed almost 3,000 new cases of coronavirus for the second day in a row, suggesting yesterday’s ‘concerning’ high was not a one-off.
A further 2,948 Covid-19 cases have been found in the past 24 hours after 2,988 were reported on Sunday, according to the Department of Health.
The surge in positive tests over the weekend has pushed the UK’s national infection rate to 21.3 per 100,000 for the past week. Once infections rise above 20 in 100,000 in other countries, the British Government begins seriously considering enforcing a quarantine period for holidaymakers returning from abroad.
It comes as Britain is today bringing in new rules dictating that people returning, from Wednesday, from seven islands in Greece – Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos (Zante) – will have to self-isolate for two weeks.
The surge in the past two days has also pushed the daily average to higher than 2,000 for the past week – to 2,032 – for the first time since May.
Officials today reported three more Covid-19 deaths, taking the total to 41,554. These are thought to all be in England, considering health agencies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each reported zero deaths themselves.
The North and Midlands are seeing considerable hikes in cases, with Bolton, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester seeing infection rates reaching levels seen in April – the peak of the crisis – May and June.
A group of council leaders in the North East have pleaded with people to stop having house parties because is it the ‘most dangerous’ thing to do amid the pandemic, while saying ‘selfish and reckless’ individuals were going out and meeting others before their test result had even returned.
Today the Health Secretary reassured the coronavirus ‘is not out of control’ in Britain amid scientists’ warnings the Government has lost its grip on spread of the disease.
But even though case numbers are high, the percentage of people testing positive for the disease is still dramatically lower than it was at the peak of the crisis. For this reason, experts say figures should not be compared to the height of the outbreak because so many more tests are being done now in comparison.
When the disease was out of control in March and April, rationed testing meant that at times more than 40 per cent of test results were positive, but this has since plummeted to just 2.3 per cent in the community and 0.5 per cent in hospitals.
Still, Mr Hancock pleaded with young people specifically, who make up the majority of new cases, to adhere to social distancing to avoid spreading the coronavirus to more at-risk groups. He warned: ‘Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.’
Downing Street warned the ‘concerning’ number of cases would generally be expected to lead to a rise across the population as a whole.
The evidence may already be emerging in Scotland; First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there is a ‘warning’ in the rise in Covid-19 hospital admissions – a possible indication cases are spreading to vulnerable people.
It comes as swathes of Britons headed back to work today with traffic and public transport returning to pre-Covid levels.
In other coronavirus developments;
Today’s cases pushed the country’s infection rate above the quarantine threshold after it was 13.9 per 100,000 people in the previous week, ending August 31, Sky News reported.
NHS England was the only agency to have reported deaths today – four in hospitals, all on September 5. But these may not be included in the Government’s tally due to differences in cut-off points.
The Department of Health’s three reported deaths cover all settings – not just hospitals – and are only within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test result.
The 2,948 Covid-19 announced this afternoon come after a three-month record high of 2,988 yesterday.
The last time the UK’s caseload was this high was May 23 – 15 weeks ago – when 2,959 people tested positive.
Cases have doubled in one week, from 1,406 last Monday, and are three times higher than a month ago, when 871 people were diagnosed on August 7.
The seven-day rate of new cases of Covid-19 in the UK has risen above 20 cases per 100,000 people – the level at which the Government considers imposing quarantine conditions on people travelling to the UK.
In the seven days to September 7 the rate stood at 21.3 cases per 100,000. This is up from 13.9 per 100,000 for the seven days to August 31.
Scientists have previously said cases have risen over August as a result of increased testing in hotspots. The more testing is done, the more cases are found.
But the data suggests more people are actually catching the coronavirus, and it’s not just due to more testing.
The number of people who receive a ‘positive’ result after getting tested has gone up by 50 per cent in six weeks – from 1.4 per cent in mid-July to 2.3 per cent now – proving the prevalence is on an upward trend.
However, even though case numbers are high, the percentage of people testing positive for the disease is still dramatically lower than it was at the peak of the crisis.
Public Health England data shows that more than four in 10 people swabbed for the disease in March and April, when tests were rationed, got a positive result. This has since plummeted to just 2.3 per cent in the community and 0.5 per cent in hospitals.
That means around one in 50 people test positive in testing centres, while just one in 200 hospital patients who get swabbed actually have the disease.
As more and more people get tested, the proportion of the tests that come back positive has stayed level, showing the current strategy is successfully finding more and more people who actually have the disease.
But only a small proportion of those tested for Covid-19 actually turn out to have it. The positivity rate has been hovering at around 3 per cent since June, which has given ministers confidence the outbreak is not spiralling out of control.
If there was a huge number of undetected cases, like in March and April, there would be a higher proportion of positive results because most people who get tested are those most likely to have it.
For this reason, 3,000 cases in a day now, when everyone who thinks they might be ill can get tested, is not as big a sign of danger as 3,000 cases per day in April, when only severely ill people were tested and the real size of the epidemic was a mystery.
A daily 3,000 cases is less of a concern now compared to the height of the pandemic, when it was clear diagnosed cases were only the tip of the iceberg.
The current case rate – the number of people per 100,000 who test positive for Covid-19 – has risen since June and July as lockdown rules have loosened but is still only a fraction of what it was during the worst days of Britain’s crisis.
Bolton, a town in Greater Manchester, has the highest number of cases in England, with 333 new diagnoses recorded in the seven days to September 3. Mr Hancock said a large number of cases had been traced back to a pub which had now been shut.
It’s the equivalent of 115.8 cases per 100,000 people – up sharply from 36.5 in the previous week and the highest rate of new cases Bolton has recorded to date.
Those aged between 18 and 49 account for more than 90 per cent of the cases, the local authority said, as tougher measures were introduced on Saturday with ‘immediate effect’.
Bolton Council said the new restrictions aim to prevent a local lockdown. It’s infection rate is not far off that of Leicester’s when it became the first and only place in England to go into a local lockdown in June, with 143 cases per 100,000.
Rossendale, a Lancashire borough, is also seeing infection rates equivalent to May.
It has the second highest rate in England, with some 52 new cases recorded in the seven days to September 3 – the equivalent of 72.7 per 100,000 people, up from 19.6 in the previous week.
Leeds (41.6 cases per 100,000) and South Tyneside (68) are both seeing infection rates level with mid-May, while Manchester (50.1) and Birmingham (49.3) are at late-April figures.
Leader of Leeds City Council said she was concerned about ‘a bit of a complacency coming in’ as the city was added to the Government’s ‘areas of concern’ watchlist on Friday.
Judith Blake said there had been a rise in house parties, with seven £10,000 fines issued to illegal rave organisers last weekend. And she said the council was urging young people to ‘recognise their own responsibility’ in helping to reduce the spread of the virus.
In Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, infections have more than tripled in the space of one week, Birmingham Live reported.
Council leaders in the North East today raised concerns about the rising number of positive coronavirus cases in young adults, highlighting incidents where ‘reckless’ people have gone out after having a test, and before they have received results, and then infected others.
The joint statement came from the council leaders in Newcastle, Sunderland, County Durham, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside, as well as the North of Tyne elected mayor.
The statement said: ‘Average cases per day across our local authority areas have doubled in little more than a week and are averaging around 80 per day in the most recent figures – we expect that to go higher in coming days.
‘Don’t assume, if you are a contact, that a negative test means you are OK – it doesn’t, you could be incubating the virus. If you are asked to self-isolate, it is really important that you do so whatever your test status at the time.
‘We have seen cases where individuals with symptoms have had a test, then gone out and infected others before getting their results – reckless and selfish behaviour.’
The statement said a ‘significant minority’ continued to think it was acceptable to have house parties – despite household transmission being the ‘biggest danger’.
‘By not following the guidance, advice and legislation you are at greater risk of spreading the virus to your own family, which as we have seen can lead to tragic consequences,’ the statement added.
The leaders said their local authorities have been working hard to protect their communities, but called on individuals to also make the effort, and for businesses to make sure their premises are Covid-secure.
‘Failure to do so will leave us with no alternative than to shut those premises down,’ the statement warned.
The escalating Covid-19 cases in the UK follows the same trends in France and Spain, and the releasing of several lockdown restrictions.
Speaking on LBC radio this morning, Mr Hancock said: ‘This rise in case we have seen in the last few days is concerning, and it’s concerning because we have seen a rise in cases in France, Spain and some other countries in Europe.
‘Nobody wants to see a second wave here. It just reinforces the point that people must follow the social distancing rules, they are so important.’
Asked by presenter Nick Ferrari if the UK had ‘lost control’, as suggested by some experts, Mr Hancock said: ‘No, but the whole country needs to follow social distancing.’
Mr Hancock said the most important point to get across was that the uptick in cases in the past few days have been in younger people under 25 in ‘affluent areas’, ‘especially 17 to 21 year olds’.
He later said on BBC Radio 1: ‘The question is, how much are you willing to risk the lives of yourself and others by breaking the social distancing rules?
‘Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on. And you can pass it on before you have had any symptoms at all.’
The surge in cases has deepened anxieties about work, schools and universities returning to normality in a short time frame.
Number 10 has said universities must reopen despite a spike in coronavirus infections among young people, after pupils returned to primary and secondary schools last week.
Asked if plans to reopen higher education should go ahead, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: ‘Yes, they should.
‘What we’re doing is discussing with universities how to make sure that they are as safe as possible for students and staff and how to respond in the event of an outbreak in or near a university.’
It comes just days after the published minutes of a SAGE meeting last Thursday revealed scientists predict infection rates within universities will increase steadily throughout the autumn term.
They say there is a ‘critical risk’ that undergraduates will seed outbreaks across the country over Christmas when they return at the end of term, putting their vulnerable family members at risk.
Experts at Sage predict the ‘peak health impacts’ would occur between Christmas and New Year.
Meanwhile, commuters were seen spilling into London’s major train stations today as more people head back to their place of work following the end of the summer holidays and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The commuters, all wearing face coverings, as required by law, were queuing to get through the ticket gates at the busy railway station – a scene not often witnessed since the country was plunged into lockdown.
Traffic was also busy on the roads this morning, particularly on the M25 around London.
Nicola Sturgeon said today it is ‘dangerous’ to think ‘we no longer need to worry’ and to say the current restrictions are an ‘overreaction’, after many Scots bemoaned new restrictions which came into force a week ago across the Glasgow and Clyde area.
The surge in cases has not been clearly evident in hospitalisations or deaths in the UK so far, further evidence the coronavirus is mostly affecting the younger generations.
But Ms Sturgeon said there is a ‘warning’ in the rise in Covid-19 hospital admissions in Scotland, which had risen to 22 in the week ending August 31, up from 14 in each of the previous two weeks.
In the last three weeks, half of all hospital admissions have been in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board area, which is currently under stricter Covid-19 measures.
She said: ‘If transmission takes hold again, even if it starts in the younger, healthier, part of the population, which it appears to be doing, because younger people are interacting more, it won’t necessarily stay in that part of the population.
‘It will eventually seep into older and more vulnerable groups. To be blunt, some young people will go on to infect their older friends or relatives.
‘And it is at that point we could see again more deaths and serious illnesses happen.’
The First Minister said ‘we risk in the weeks ahead going back to a mounting toll of illness and death’ if action to combat coronavirus is to stop, and that the Scottish Government may need to ‘put the brakes’ on easing lockdown after a rise in Covid-19 cases.
The death toll in Scotland remains at 2,496 people, but a total of 146 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland in the last 24 hours.
Over the last week, an average of 152 cases have been reported each day, Ms Sturgeon said, up from 14 per day six weeks ago.
The proportion of people who get a positive test result back – called ‘positivity rate’ – has also risen from under one per cent two weeks ago to 2.4 per cent now.
It doesn’t bode well for Ms Sturgeon’s review of the lockdown measures in Scotland, the results of which are announced Thursday.
She said the country can only move from phase three to phase four of lockdown if the virus is no longer considered a significant threat.
Though she said no final decision has been made, she added it ‘may be that we have to put the brakes on some further changes, too’.
‘From all of the latest statistics it is clear that will not be the case,’ she said, adding she didn’t want to ‘scaremonger’, but that there was a ‘definite trend’ that has to be taken seriously.
Cases have also risen in Wales, by 133 today, a significant rise compared to the 28 cases reported a fortnight ago, on August 24.
Dr Giri Shankar, of Public Health Wales, said: ‘We are concerned about the significant rise in positive coronavirus cases in the Caerphilly area in recent days.
‘It is absolutely vital that everyone in the community abides by social distancing measures – that is, by self-isolating when asked to do so, keeping 2m away from others outside your household, and washing hands regularly.’
Dr Shankar appealed to everyone in the Caerphilly area to use the local testing unit at the leisure centre in the town if they had ‘even the mildest’ of Covid-19 symptoms or were feeling unwell ‘with no explanation’.
He urged parents not to withdraw children from schools unless asked to do so by the school or local authority.
‘We are now seeing a steady increase in cases in a number of communities across Wales and our investigations show that many of these have been transmitted due to a lack of social distancing,’ Dr Shankar added.
Scientists today said although it appears the Covid-19 outbreak in worsening in the UK, it is not possible to rely on data for new cases alone.
Eminent statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, told MailOnline today that neither experts nor politicians ‘can know with any certainty’ if the increasing Covid-19 case rates signal an escalation of the crisis.
He said: ‘It can’t just be increased testing [causing the rise in the figures] because test positivity is increasing, although not by very much and not as much as positive tests.
‘It seems to be a mixture of more testing – targeted in areas where outbreaks are suspected – and some increase in underlying infection risk.
‘But I must say the extent of it is very uncertain, there’s no right or wrong. The data alone is not going to tell you or give you a simple answer to this.
‘There’s a lot of uncertainty – because data cannot tell you exact pattern of what’s going on , we’re still only identifying just some of people being infected.’
The statistician has called for the Government to keep a record of every person who comes forward for a test, and the circumstances around the swab.
He said if more people are coming forward because they have symptoms then that would indicate that the virus is starting to grow exponentially again – because most people who catch the disease are asymptomatic, a rise in symptomatic patients would signal more people are contracting it.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, warned of undermining the spread of the virus by saying new cases were only as a result of more testing.
He told MailOnline: ‘It’s quite wrong to simply write off the increased number of coronavirus infections as a function of increased numbers of tests, that would be a false comparison.
‘As things stand, the important Test & Trace system seems to be focused on areas with high numbers of diagnoses, but if the virus spreads across the country, this will need to change and it remains to be seen how well it will cope with that.’
Scientists maintain that Britain is not yet entering a second wave and that it is unlikely to ever see another one like what happened in April and May.
But today one scientists said a second wave of coronavirus may hit the UK in spring 2021, rather than the winter.
Dr Ben Neuman, an associate professor at the University of Reading, said the cold months are likely to impose a ‘mini-quarantine’ because it keeps people indoors. People also wear ‘natural’ PPE in the form of scarves and gloves, driving down transmission rates.
Coronaviruses, unlike the influenza virus, are also not strictly seasonal – being more likely to peak in the spring than icy winter months.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock today gave hope that a Covid-19 vaccine may become available before next spring.
He said Oxford University’s coronavirus vaccine will most likely be rolled out in the ‘first few months’ of next year.
The jab was expected at the end of 2020 but its creators have tempered expectations and pushed it back to next year.
Mr Hancock said today he still had some optimism the most vulnerable people will get their hands on the vaccine in the coming months in a ‘best-case scenario’.
But he admitted the more likely outcome would be a 2021 roll out of the jab, known as AZD1222, which was created by Oxford and owned by UK drug giant AstraZeneca.
Speaking on LBC radio today, Mr Hancock said: ‘We have got 30million doses already contracted with AstraZeneca.
‘In fact they are starting to manufacture those doses already, ahead of approval, so that should approval come through – and it’s still not certain but it is looking up – should that approval come through then we are ready to roll out.
‘The best-case scenario is that happens this year. I think more likely is the early part of next year – in the first few months of next year is the most likely.
‘But we’ve also bought vaccine ahead of it getting approved from a whole different series of international vaccines as well.’
It has not yet been proven that Oxford’s vaccine works but early trials have heralded promising results, with tests showing the vaccine is safe to use in humans and appears to provoke an immune response. But data that proves it protects people is not expected until later this year.
More than 50,000 people worldwide are taking part in ‘phase 3’ studies to see whether the Oxford jab can actually prevent people getting infected with Covid-19.
In these tests the vaccine is being given to tens of thousands of people in real-world environments to see if it stops them from catching Covid-19 in the community.