Coronavirus cases in England are now at the highest levels since May and government scientists are ‘no longer confident’ the crucial R rate is below the dreaded level of one.
Government statisticians today admitted there is ‘now enough evidence’ to prove Covid-19 infections are on the up, calculating that 4,200 people are now catching the virus each day in England alone.
The estimate by the Office for National Statistics, which tracks the size of the outbreak by swabbing thousands of people, has doubled since the end of June and is 68 per cent up on the 2,500 figure given a fortnight ago.
One in 1,500 people currently have the coronavirus – 0.07 per cent of the population. But experts believe the rate is twice as high in London and still rising. The figure does not include care homes and hospitals.
It comes as health chiefs today announced 120 more coronavirus deaths and 880 more cases, in the highest daily toll since June 28.
Boris Johnson today admitted ministers ‘can’t ignore this evidence’ as he announced he was ‘squeezing the brake pedal’ on easing the coronavirus lockdown.
The rattled Prime Minister warned coronavirus cases have started to ‘creep up’ and as a result the Government has no choice but to delay the further reopening of the economy. Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty added ‘we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do’.
Top scientists insist Britain must learn to live with the virus and control flare-ups through measures No 10 already has in its locker. Businesses fear another blanket lockdown – which the PM admitted he doesn’t want to adopt in the future – would cause even more catastrophic damage to an economy already in tatters.
Number 10’s scientific advisers today also upped the R rate in the UK, saying they now believe it stands between 0.8 and 0.9. It had been as low as 0.7 since May.
SAGE also revealed the growth rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – may have jumped to above one in the South West, home to the stay-cation hotspots of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. And they said it was likely to be equally high in the North West. Matt Hancock last night announced tough new lockdown measures in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.
The government is tracking the ‘R number’ – how many people someone with Covid-19 is likely to spread the virus to – across the country to see the impact of easing lockdown restrictions.
If the R rate is below one, the spread slowly decreases. But above one, there is the potential for cases to spiral out of control – as was seen in March. Anything above one could lead to restrictions being reimposed.
SAGE said today that it does not have confidence that R is currently below one in England based on modelling that uses Covid-19 testing data.
Their predictions suggest the R rate is between 0.8 and 1.1 in the North West – some parts of which were given new, harder coronavirus restrictions last night after a surge in cases.
Some 4.5million people living in Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire were ordered to avoid mixing with any other households indoors or in a garden as the Government tries to slow the spread of the deadly disease following a spike in cases.
The R rate also appears to be above one in the South West, and the Health Secretary this morning said action would need to be taken in the region if the situation worsens.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, Matt Hancock said: ‘In the South West and South East, the number of cases is lower but we don’t shy away from taking that action where it is necessary.’
It comes as separate data released today revealed the coronavirus outbreak in England is growing, with an additional 1,000 people catching the disease every day compared to last week.
The ONS data, which goes up to July 26, is considered to be some of the most accurate available.
It estimates how many people have the coronavirus infection in the community, and not hospitals and care homes.
The figures are far higher than those reported by the Department of Health every day, which only reports Covid-19 cases confirmed with a lab-read test. Thousands of patients never develop any symptoms.
ONS collect data from swab tests sent regularly to people’s homes to test whether they are infected with the virus at the time. The people are chosen to be representative of the UK population.
The organisation follows trends over a six-week period. This week’s update was based on the results of 116,026 swab tests collected over six weeks. During these weeks, 59 individuals from 58 households tested positive.
Only very small numbers of people test positive in any given period, which creates a wide range of possible estimates for the ONS to choose from about how many people in the community have the virus.
During the most recent week (July 20 to July 26), ONS estimates that around 4,200 people became newly infected with Covid-19 per day. It could be as low as 2,200 or as high as 8,100 based on their calculations.
The possible range in this week’s estimate is between 23,700 to 53,200 – up from the 18,500 to 39,900 reported last week, and the 15,000 and 34,000 a fortnight ago. This does not include patients in hospitals or care home residents, who cannot be tested at home.
‘There is now evidence to suggest a slight increase in the number of people in England testing positive on a nose and throat swab in recent weeks,’ the report today said.
It follows a low point of cases in June, when 0.06 per cent of the population were infected in the week ending June 18, a drastic drop from the 0.25 per cent measured in mid-May.
The statement came after several weeks of saying the evidence was not strong enough to confirm the outbreak was growing.
Fears the coronavirus crisis is growing have been bubbling for several days based on Covid-19 test results, leaving ministers concerned about a second wave.
Yesterday, health chiefs reported a further 846 people across the UK had tested positive for the life-threatening virus, which was up from the 763 recorded on Wednesday.
The figures, which bring the government total number of UK coronavirus cases to 302,301, revealed that daily infections have risen by 12 per cent in a week with the rolling average hitting a four-week high.
ONS reported today ‘there is not enough evidence to say with confidence whether Covid-19 infection rates differ by region in England, nor whether infection rates have increased in different regions over the past six weeks’.
It added there is some limited evidence that rates in London may have increased in recent weeks. But again the team is not certain because the numbers are so small, the degree of uncertainty is high.
Some 0.13 per cent of people in London are thought to currently infected, up from the 0.09 per cent reported last week.
NHS England today posted nine deaths in hospitals across the country and Wales reported four in all settings. No fatalities were recorded in Scotland or Northern Ireland.
For comparison, 38 deaths were officially recorded yesterday and 123 lab-confirmed fatalities were registered last Friday.
Department of Health chiefs yesterday announced that another 846 people tested positive for the virus, most recorded in a day since June 28 (901).
It took the rolling seven-day average to 737. In comparison, the rate was 726 the day before and has been on the up for a fortnight amid fears of a resurgence.
Government statistics show the official size of the UK’s outbreak now stands at 302,301. But the actual size of the outbreak is estimated to be in the millions, based on antibody testing data.
The deaths data does not represent how many Covid-19 patients died within the last 24 hours — it is only how many fatalities have been reported and registered with the authorities.
And the figure does not always match updates provided by the home nations. Department of Health officials work off a different time cut-off, meaning daily updates from Scotland and Northern Ireland are out of sync.
The count announced by NHS England every afternoon, which only takes into account deaths in hospitals, does not match up with the DH figures because they work off a different recording system.
For instance, some deaths announced by NHS England bosses will have already been counted by the Department of Health, which records fatalities ‘as soon as they are available’.
Around 64 people are succumbing to the illness each day, on average. But the fatality curve is no longer flattening as quickly as it was, with the rate having barely changed in the past 10 days.
It can take infected patients several weeks to die, meaning any spike in deaths won’t be immediately apparent in government figures.
It comes as the PM today announced he is ‘squeezing the brake pedal’ on easing the coronavirus lockdown and announced the compulsory wearing of face masks is being extended.
Mr Johnson used a Downing Street press conference this afternoon to warn that coronavirus cases have started to ‘creep up’ and as a result the Government has no choice but to delay the further reopening of the economy.
He said that the scheduled August 1 return of casinos, bowling alleys and so-called close contact services like beauticians has now been pushed back to August 15 ‘at the earliest’.
The mandatory wearing of face coverings will be extended to include galleries and places of worship while there will also now be a ‘greater police presence’ to ensure people wear masks and comply with social distancing.
Meanwhile, England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned as he stood alongside the PM that the UK has potentially reached a limit for how much of society can be safely opened up.
Prof Whitty said ‘we have probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do’ and that ‘if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things’.
The comments are likely to spook financial markets and prompt doubts over whether schools will be able to return as planned in September.
He said: ‘We have to be realistic about this. The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong.’
Coronavirus cases are soaring in Shropshire, Swindon and North Yorkshire, according to official data used by the government to track outbreaks.
Official statistics reveal infections nearly tripled in Shropshire in the week ending July 28, rising by 280 per cent after 19 people caught the virus. Overall the Covid-19 case rate is still just 5.9 people per 100,000 population but the sharp seven-day rise will have officials keeping a close eye on the West Midlands county.
Sixty-five more people were infected over the same time period in Swindon, causing its infection rate to soar by 225 per cent in the space of a week to 29.3. The Wiltshire town’s rate is now higher than all but three boroughs of Greater Manchester, which was last night hit by tough new restrictions to control the spread of the virus.
North Yorkshire also recorded a 200 per cent rise in cases between July 22 and July 28, following 18 new infections in seven days. But the case rate for the region, home to 615,000 people, is still tiny (2.9).
It comes as an official surveillance report revealed six areas of England on the government coronavirus ‘watch-list’ have yet to have any new measures imposed to tackle outbreaks.
Public Health England chiefs named 26 hotspots, including the locked-down Leicester and its surrounding Oadby and Wigston district. They also admitted they were monitoring outbreaks in Luton, which has already seen further restrictions imposed.
Salford was not named in the list but all of the other 17 boroughs affected by Matt Hancock’s last-minute decision to shut down Greater Manchester as well as parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire were.
Six authorities on the list – Eden in Cumbria, Sandwell in the Midlands, Northampton, Peterborough, Rotherham and Wakefield – have yet to be hit by any tougher coronavirus-controlling policies.
Dudley in the West Midlands and Knowsley in Merseyside rounded out the top five areas in England where Covid-19 have risen quickest in the last week.
Infections jumped by 183 per cent in Dudley and 167 per cent in Knowsley. Both areas have a case rate of 5.3 per 100,000 people.
The spike in infection rates do not necessarily mean these areas are most likely to be hit with Leicester-style local lockdowns, because officials look at overall case rates.
When England is broken down by this metric, it shows Blackburn with Darwen is still being hit hardest by the virus.
Eighty-three people per 100,000 population are being infected in the local authority, but this has fallen by nine per cent week-on-week after restrictions were toughened up again earlier this month.
Only two people from the same family are allowed to visit another household indoors in the Lancashire authority and everyone must wear face masks in any enclosed public space. This differs from the national guidance, which says two households of any size can meet inside.
Meanwhile the figures show Oldham – one of the 10 areas in Greater Manchester to be slapped with more Covid-19 restrictions today – has the second-worst case rate in England.
Some 57.3 people are catching the disease a week, a rise of about 90 per cent compared to the previous seven days.
Residents in all of Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees are now banned from mixing with any other households indoors or in a garden to reduce Covid-19 infections.
But people can still visit pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and places of worship as long as it is with people they live with and they avoid interaction with others outside their bubble. The measures will be reviewed in a week’s time.
Leicester still has the third highest infection rate in the country despite being forced to retreat back into lockdown in June, with 55.7 people per capita getting infected a week.
Bradford, in West Yorkshire, (45.8 per 100,000) and Trafford, Greater Manchester, (39.3) round out the top five for worst infection rates.
It comes as the Prime Minister today announced he was ‘squeezing the brake pedal’ on easing lockdown at a Downing Street press conference.
Mr Johnson warned that Covid-19 cases have started to ‘creep up’ and as a result the Government has no choice but to delay planned further casings.
The PM had planned to reopen casinos, bowling alleys and allow crowds at live sporting events by August 1. But that has been pushed back to August 15 ‘at the earliest’ amid an uptick in infections across the country.
Mr Johnson also revealed that the mandatory wearing of face coverings will be extended to include galleries, cinemas and places of worship.
Me Johnson said: ‘With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.
‘On Saturday August 1 we had hoped to reopen in England a number of the higher risk settings that remained closed. Today I am afraid we are postponing those changes for at least a fortnight.
‘That means until August 15 at the earliest casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and the remaining close contact services must remain closed, indoor performances will not resume, pilots of larger crowds in sports venues and conference centres will not take place and wedding receptions of up to 30 people will not be permitted but ceremonies of course can continue to take place in line with Covid secure guidelines’.
He added: ‘I know that he steps we are taking will be a real blow to many people, to everyone whose wedding plans have been disrupted or cannot now celebrate Eid in the way that they would wish and I am really, really sorry about that but we simply cannot take the risk.’
Mr Johnson said the the new rules on face coverings will apply from August 8, with the police being tasked with increasing enforcement in order to ensure members of the public comply.
He said: ‘We will also extend the requirement to wear a face covering to other indoor settings where you are likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet such as museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship.
‘We now recommend face coverings are worn in these settings and this will become enforceable in law from August 8.’
The announcement came as it was revealed Covid-19 cases have risen to a seven-week high in England and the R rate could now be above the dreaded level of one in both the North West and South West amid growing fears of a second wave.
Government statisticians today admitted there is ‘now enough evidence’ to prove Covid-19 infections are on the up, estimating that 4,200 people are now catching the virus each day in England alone.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which tracks the size of the outbreak by swabbing thousands of people, said the number of new daily cases was just 1,700 a fortnight ago.
One in 1,500 people currently have the coronavirus – 0.07 per cent of the population. The figure does not include care homes and hospitals.
Boris Johnson today said they ‘can’t ignore this evidence’ as he announced he was ‘squeezing the brake pedal’ on easing the coronavirus lockdown.
Number 10’s scientific advisers today also upped the R rate in the UK, saying they now believe it stands between 0.8 and 0.9. It had been as low as 0.7 since May.
SAGE also revealed the growth rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – may have jumped to above one in the South West, home to the stay-cation hotspots of Devon, Cornwall and Dorset.