Britain today recorded its highest number of coronavirus infections in almost six weeks, after nearly a thousand people were diagnosed with the life-threatening disease in just 24 hours.
Some 938 Britons tested positive for Covid-19, up a fifth on yesterday’s figure (789) and nearly 40 per cent more than the 678 recorded last Monday. Not since June 27 — a week before pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas opened when lockdown was lifted on ‘Super Saturday’ — have daily cases been so high (960).
But figures show only 100 patients are being hospitalised each day, suggesting that an increase in the number of tests given out to people with mild symptoms is behind the climbing transmission rates.
The most recent figures on admissions — which only go up to August 1 because of delays in hospital registrations — shows that 104 people were hospitalised with the virus in England and Wales on July 31. During the darkest days of the UK’s coronavirus crisis in April, around 3,500 people were being taken to hospital each day after being struck down by the infection.
Health chiefs also recorded nine more Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of victims in the pandemic to 46,225. All of today’s deaths occurred in England. Just eight deaths were officially recorded yesterday and seven lab-confirmed fatalities were posted last Monday. But figures are always lower than normal on Sundays and Mondays because of a recording lag at weekends.
It comes as Downing Street today refused to rule out effectively sealing off London if coronavirus cases begin to spike, like official figures suggest they have in now locked-down parts of North West England such as Greater Manchester.
Boris Johnson held a ‘war game’ session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week to run through possible options as fears mount over a second peak in the disease. Drastic plans being considered could see people banned from leaving the towns or cities they live in, with entire areas turned into no-go zones.
In other coronavirus developments today:
Department of Health chiefs yesterday announced that another 938 people tested positive for the virus, taking the rolling seven-day average to 789.
In comparison, the rate was 678 last Monday and has been on the up for more than a fortnight amid growing fears of a resurgence.
Government statistics show the official size of the UK’s outbreak now stands at 305,623. 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’.
Nine deaths were recorded today, meaning 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 been in the sixties since July 18.
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 scientists modelling the UK’s epidemic say the coronavirus reproduction rate could be as high as 1.1 in the North West of England.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine estimate the ‘R’ level has risen well above the danger zone in the North West, where 4.5million people were put under tough new lockdown measures last week because of a spike in cases.
The R – which represents the average number of people an infected Covid-19 patient passes the disease to – must stay below 1 or the virus will start to grow exponentially.
The data, compiled by the university’s Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, suggests cases in the region could double in 56 days if the R rate is not squashed.
But the estimates are slightly out of date due to a lag in the way the reproduction rate is calculated, meaning they only go up to July 18. Any effect last week’s lockdown might’ve had on the R value won’t show up in the figures for several weeks.
Separate worrying figures published by Public Health England today show that infection rates increased in nine out of 10 boroughs in Manchester between July 22 and 29, two days before the new rules were introduced. Rochdale was the only place where cases were not on the rise but infections have now also started to dip in Wigan and Bolton after a weekend of lockdown measures.
Oldham, the second worst affected borough in England, saw 148 cases over the week — taking its rate from 41.6 to 62.8 cases per 100,000 people. Rates in both the City of Manchester and Tameside have more than doubled in seven days.
Local public health officials who were privy to the PHE data declared a ‘major incident’ in Greater Manchester over the weekend due to the rapidly escalating transmission rates. The alert level is normally reserved for major floods or terror attacks.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham told the Manchester Evening News that the figures ‘underline the need for caution and to follow the guidance. All 2.8million residents in Greater Manchester were banned from meeting anyone from different households inside their homes or in gardens, in a drastic move that was announced with just three hours’ notice last Friday.
The ban, also applied to parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire, extended to pubs and restaurants — but those businesses are permitted to remain open for people visiting individually or from the same household. But young people are still flocking to packed pubs, with large groups of friends gathering at busy nightspots on Saturday. Ministers have been urged to encourage youngsters to abide by the rules, which are designed to halt the spread of the virus and give the economy chance to recover.
No10 today refused to rule out effectively sealing off London in a Manchester-style lockdown if coronavirus cases spike as Sadiq Khan accused Boris Johnson of ‘riding roughshod’ over the city’s best interests.
The Mayor of London has written to the PM to voice ‘great surprise’ at suggestions a quarantine zone could be created within the M25, complaining that it has been 12 weeks since he was invited to a Cobra meeting and the lack of consultation is ‘unacceptable’.
Mr Johnson held a ‘war game’ session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week to run through possible options as fears mount over a second peak in the disease.
Measures considered included lockdown-like conditions for London, with the M25 acting as a barrier around the capital, according to the Times.
Downing Street said the government’s ‘Contain’ strategy set out that restrictions can be imposed on transport links ‘if there is an area that is particularly badly affected’. But the PM’s spokesman said that was not only a possibility for London — as any location could be subject to similar curbs.
Official figures show the worst-hit area of the capital is currently Hackney and the City of London, with 19.4 cases diagnosed for every 100,000 people between July 25 and 31. It is a lower rate than that of seven of ten boroughs in Greater Manchester, which was last week hit by tough new lockdown measures to control growing outbreaks.
A letter sent to Mr Johnson from Mr Khan and chair of London Councils, Peter John, said: ‘It is with great surprise that we read in the Sunday papers that Government held a critical exercise last week in which a major resurgence in Covid-19 infections in London was a central scenario.
‘According to media reports, the plans included using the M25 as a quarantine ring – effectively sealing off the city.
‘Our surprise is that such far-reaching contingency plans have been discussed and tested without the involvement or awareness of London’s government.
‘This is clearly totally unacceptable and an affront to London and Londoners.’
The letter also said the Government has been slow to take decisions or has taken the wrong decisions ‘time and again throughout this crisis’, adding: ‘This must stop.
‘Riding roughshod over democratically elected representatives who understand their communities better than central Government will lead to worse outcomes for Londoners, and the country as a whole.’
In a tweet, Mr Khan said: ‘Excluding local leaders in this way won’t help us control the virus and must stop now.’
Downing Street said the ability to impose travel restrictions had been set out in its strategy for preventing the spread of coronavirus but denied it was a plan specifically drawn up for the capital.
The ‘Contain’ strategy sets out ‘the possibility of putting in place restrictions on travel if there is an area that is particularly badly affected’.
‘One of the steps within that potentially includes closing down local transport networks,’ the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
‘It’s there, it’s contained in the document, it’s not a new thing – we have informed the public and politicians of that being a potential action that we could take. But, to be clear, it’s not something that is specific to London or anywhere else.’
Meanwhile, a top scientist has slammed the ‘shroud of secrecy’ around the government’s coronavirus decisions.
Sir Paul Nurse, chief of the Francis Crick Institute, raised concerns that crucial choices seemed to be made by a ‘black box’ in Whitehall with the results sometimes ‘shambolic’.
He insisted more transparency and scrutiny was needed to get the ‘best results’.
The intervention came as the government faces a fresh backlash about mixed messaging. Treasury subsidies for eating out at restaurants are launched today, and advice that everyone should work from home is being downgraded.
However, there are also mounting rumours about tightening coronavirus rules in some areas, with fears of a looming second wave.
Civil servants have complained they are being used as guinea pigs for the return to offices, with claims of more cases at the heart of government over the past fortnight.