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Coronavirus: UK confirms Sunday death toll

Another 36 people have died of coronavirus in hospitals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, taking the total death toll to 43,550.

NHS England today confirmed another 18 fatalities in its hospitals, while two more people have died in Wales and one in Northern Ireland. 

Scotland has recorded no new deaths today, marking three days in a row and the eighth time this month.

One expert – Professor Devi Sridhar at Edinburgh University – said Scotland looks on track to be ‘Covid-free’ by the end of the summer as cases there continue to dwindle.

But one of the Government’s top scientific advisers warned this morning that England is ‘on a knife-edge’ as it eases lockdown, with the virus still a serious threat there. 

Today’s death toll is the joint lowest for a Sunday – which are notoriously low – since the day before lockdown started, March 22. It is on par with June 14, when there were also 36, and lower than the 43 recorded last Sunday, June 21. 

Another 901 people tested positive for the coronavirus yesterday, meaning Britain has now had 310,250 confirmed cases of the virus, although the true number is expected to be higher than five million. 

This comes as the global number of cases today surpassed the staggering milestone of 10million, as deaths come close to 500,000.

The NHS in England today confirmed that 18 more people died between June 1 and yesterday, June 27, with eight of those deaths happening on Friday.

The numbers of people dying in English hospitals continue to fall steadily: on Monday June 22, the last day for which data is reliable, 39 people died, compared to 52 a week earlier on the 15th, and 68 on the 8th a week before that.

England’s death toll is falling slower than other countries’ in the UK – around 85 per cent of Britain’s population of 66million people lives there.

A total of 1,544 people have died in English hospitals so far in June, compared to a total of 120 in all settings in Scotland.

Scotland, as a result, looks on course to eliminate the virus in the next couple of months, according to one scientist.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said getting as close as possible to not having the virus at all in Scotland was her priority. 

But the nation will have to cope with the coronavirus continuing to spread in England and Wales and the very real risk of travellers bringing it into the country.  

Professor Devi Sridhar, a public health expert at the University of Edinburgh, said the nation could be Covid-free by the end of summer.

Only eight people were diagnosed with Covid-19 in Scotland yesterday and the Edinburgh expert said the country was on track to be ‘Covid-free’ within months.

Professor Sridhar told the BBC: ‘At that point the risk to people’s daily lives becomes negligible. I think Scotland is on track to eliminate coronavirus by the end of the summer.’

Professor Sridhar advises the Scottish Government and has backed its decision not to lift lockdown and reopen pubs and shops, as Boris Johnson is doing in England.

She added: ‘I don’t think we’ll ever get to zero cases… but I think the closest we get is to say we keep pushing for zero and you keep dealing with these flare-ups.’

The presence of the virus in England, Wales and Northern Ireland means even if Scotland eliminates Covid-19 from its own population, other people will bring it back unless it closes its borders indefinitely. 

Coronavirus appears to be only just under control in England, with one of the Government’s leading scientific advisers, Sir Jeremy Farrar, admitting the country is in a ‘very precarious’ situation.

A surge in infections in Leicester has led the Government to consider imposing the first local lockdown on the city within days.

Home Secretary Priti Patel this morning admitted it was ‘correct’ that officials were considering putting stricter rules into force in Leicester than elsewhere in England. 

She said on The Andrew Marr Show: ‘We have seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks, in just the last three or four weeks in particular.

‘There will be support going into Leicester and in fact the Health Secretary was in touch with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the support on testing, resources that will go into the local authority as well.

‘With local flare-ups it is right we have a localised solution in terms of infection control’.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the London-based research charity the Wellcome Trust, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said he was ‘worried’ about the prospect of the virus returning.

He said he expects the number of people getting diagnosed with the virus to rise in the next couple of weeks and into July.

Next Saturday, July 4, is expected to see the biggest loosening of lockdown rules since March in England as pubs reopen and people are allowed to mix with other households. 

Sir Jeremy said the country faces a ‘very precarious situation’ and examples are already emerging of people flouting social distancing rules.

Crowds were pictured packed onto Bournemouth beach last week, the police have broken up raves and parties in London and Liverpool FC fans celebrating the team’s Premier League win have been partying in the streets against official advice.

The Wellcome Trust chief said it will be even harder to control a second spike in the winter when people struggle to distinguish Covid-19 from a cold or flu.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that people would have to think more carefully about going into work when they were sick because of the risk it could be coronavirus.  

The Department of Health has diagnosed an average of 1,018 cases of Covid-19 per day over the last week, the lowest weekly average since the end of March.

But there are still believed to be tens thousands of people infected with the virus – the Office for National Statistics estimates around 51,000 at any given time.

The ONS this week warned that the decline in the number of people getting infected – which had been rapid since May – has now ‘levelled off’.

This means that the outbreak is not shrinking as fast as it was before and there’s a risk it could start to rise again.

This is likely because lockdown rules have loosened so significantly in the past six weeks, but it could be a sign of danger if numbers start to rise again. 

Sir Jeremy said: ‘In truth, the restrictions started to to be lifted towards the end of May, the beginning of June, around that bank holiday.

‘I would predict, I would guess, that we will start to see a few increases in cases towards the end of June or the first week of July.

‘We’re on a knife edge – it’s very precarious, the situation – particularly in England at the moment, and I would anticipate we would see an increase in new cases over the coming weeks.’

According to statisticians’ estimates, between 1,900 and 3,200 people are catching the coronavirus every day in England — but the speed at which the outbreak is shrinking has ‘levelled off’.

The estimates, published on Thursday, are lower than last week’s, when two separate projections from King’s College London experts and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) ranged from between 3,200 to 3,800.  

King’s College’s COVID Symptom Tracker app now predicts 1,978 people in England are getting struck down daily. The ONS, whose estimate is based on population swab testing, puts the figure at approximately 3,142. 

But statisticians cautioned the number of people infected with Covid-19 could have even gone up — from 33,000 people a fortnight ago to 51,000 on June 21, around 0.09 per cent of the population (one in 1,100 people).

The ONS explained that the extremely small sample size — the number is based only on 14 positive tests, up from 10 last week — is likely to have swayed the estimate. Experts stopped short of saying the outbreak had rebounded and started to rise again, instead saying there was no evidence it was either growing nor shrinking. 

It said Covid-19 now infects around one in every 1,100 people (0.09 per cent), which equates to a total 51,000 people at any given time. The estimate was based on 14 positive tests from a total of 24,256 done across the country.

The estimate rose from 0.06 per cent last week, which was the lowest one so far. It remains lower, however, than every other week since the data began, leaving experts hesitant to say the virus was rebounding.

In its report the semi-independent body said: ‘Modelling of the trend over time suggests that the decline in the number of people in England testing positive has levelled off in recent weeks.

‘These estimates suggest the percentage testing positive has clearly decreased over time since our first measurement on 26 April, and this downward trend has now flattened. 

‘The [possible ranges] overlap with the previous two time periods. This suggests that the actual number of individuals testing positive in the period 8 June to 21 June could be higher or lower than in the two previous periods. We therefore do not at this point have evidence that the current trend is anything other than flat.’   

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