Britain today recorded 1,522 new Covid-19 cases in the highest daily toll for almost eleven weeks, despite separate data that revealed the UK’s outbreak has shrank.
Government statistics show 1,138 positive tests are now being recorded each day, on average — a figure which has more than doubled since dropping to just 540 in mid-July.
Hopes the crisis was finally under control rose last week after the rolling-average dropped for four days in a row. But it has now risen every day since Friday, the last time it was in three figures.
The last time the UK recorded more cases was June 12 (1,541), three weeks before ministers eased lockdown rules and allowed millions of Britons to celebrate their summer with the return of pubs and restaurants. Experts warned the relaxation would inevitably trigger more cases but other scientists urged the nation to learn to live with the virus to avoid further economic catastrophe caused by blanket policies.
Doctors have insisted the spike in cases is being driven by more testing in badly-hit areas and isn’t reflective of a widespread outbreak. And they believe young people are behind the rise because the number of patients being hospitalised or dying from Covid-19 has not increased at the same rate.
Separate data released by NHS Test and Trace today added to evidence that Britain’s outbreak is not spiralling out of control, with the number of positive cases dropping almost nine per cent in a week from 6,656 to 6,115 between August 13 and 19. Other researchers tracking the situation — including the Office for National Statistics and King’s College London — say cases have dropped in recent weeks.
The Government also confirmed another 12 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus deaths today, meaning 11 Britons are succumbing to the life-threatening illness each day, on average. The rolling seven-day figure dropped to just seven last week, the lowest since before lockdown was imposed.
Today’s statistics come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock this morning chaired a ‘Gold Command’ meeting of the Joint Biosecurity Centre to discuss local lockdowns. The outcome of the JBC meeting – decisions on existing lockdowns and possible new ones – is expected to be announced tomorrow, with Birmingham still teetering on the edge of stricter rules.
In other coronavirus developments in Britain today:
The UK yesterday announced 16 deaths and just six were recorded last Thursday. The official number of victims now stands at 41,477. But this toll only includes deceased Britons who died within 28 days of testing positive.
Separate statistics compiled by the health bodies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, suggest the true number of victims — both confirmed and suspected — is closer to the 55,000 mark.
Numbers of people dying of the disease have plummeted in recent weeks, with the seven-day average dropping from 64 on July 24 to 11 today.
This is down to both a change in how the Government records deaths – it now doesn’t include anyone who died more than a month after their positive test – and also to Britain’s outbreak fading out.
As deaths continue to drop and head towards zero, however, the number of people being diagnosed has slowly increased.
After six weeks with fewer than 1,000 new cases each day, there have now been four-figure numbers announced on 15 days this month.
Experts say this is likely due to improved testing – targeted efforts in badly-hit areas are likely to be picking up more cases that they were missing before – and potentially also a rise in cases as lockdown rules have lifted almost entirely.
A disconnect between rising cases but falling deaths could be because many of the people catching the virus now are younger and less likely to get seriously ill.
It comes as data today revealed the Government’s Test and Trace system is getting worse. Call handlers reached a record-low of just 72.6 per cent of infected patients last week.
It’s the fifth week in a row the number of Covid-19 cases who have been tracked has fallen, dropping from the best performance of 82.8 per cent in the week ending July 22.
Scientists have repeatedly warned at least 80 per cent of coronavirus patients must be contacted and interviewed in order for the system — which Boris Johnson has called ‘world-beating’ — to work effectively.
Department of Health data released today also showed a third of people who tested positive for the coronavirus and referred to the system were not reached within 24 hours.
It’s crucial for the system to work rapidly, so that close contacts of Covid-19 cases who may unknowingly have the virus are tracked down and told to self isolate before they can spread the infection further.
In other developments, Matt Hancock today insisted it will be up to schools to make sure supply teachers do not unwittingly spread coronavirus if they teach lessons at different locations.
Concerns have been raised about the prospect of supply teachers working in more than one school and the risk of them carrying the virus from one institution to another.
The situation has drawn comparisons to what happened in care homes at the start of the pandemic when agency workers did shifts at multiple facilities.
The Health Secretary said this morning that a strict adherence to social distancing would minimise the risk of the disease spreading.
He also launched a furious defence of his plan to pay people on low incomes £13 a day to self-isolate as critics said the payments would not be enough to stop people going to work.
From September 1 people who receive Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit who are required to self-isolate, who are unable to work from home and who are in Covid-19 hotspots will benefit from the new payment scheme.
Eligible people who test positive for the virus will receive £130 for their 10-day period of self-isolation while other members of their household, who under current rules must isolate for 14 days, will get £182.
The scheme will initially be trialled in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Oldham — areas which are currently subject to tougher local lockdown measures.
The Government hopes the payments will boost compliance with requests from NHS Test and Trace for people to stay at home, with Mr Hancock pointing out the money will be ‘in addition’ to other benefits.
But critics believe the payments are far too small and many people will still feel that they cannot afford to stay at home. Mr Hancock insisted the payments will be enough to persuade people to stay at home.
Data released today revealed Britain’s high streets are rebounding slower than shopping centres, showing how the reluctance of staff to return to workplaces is harming businesses.
Footfall in town and city centre streets has stagnated in recent weeks, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
At the same time out-of town retail parks and urban shopping centres have continued to slowly move back towards their original footfall.
It came as Boris Johnson was told to do more to get office workers back at their desks. Carolyn Fairbairn warned today that commercial centres risk being permanent ‘ghost towns’.
Writing in the Daily Mail, the director-general of the CBI said getting staff back into offices and workplaces is as important as the return of pupils to school.
Ministers are also expected to make a decision tonight on whether to add Switzerland, the Czech Republic or Jamaica to the UK’s quarantine travel list.
The Government is holding its weekly review of travel measures today with an announcement likely to be made this evening on any changes.
The UK has said that any country which records more than 20 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in a seven-day period will be subject to a travel ban and the 14 day self-isolation requirement for returning travellers.
Switzerland appears almost certain to be added to the so-called ‘red list’ because its case numbers are currently above the threshold, with a seven-day rate of 21.2.
Meanwhile, there are growing fears the Czech Republic is at risk of quarantine after its case numbers increased from 16 a week ago to 19.4, according to an analysis by the Press Association.
Jamaica also appears to be dangerously close to the threshold with a seven day rate of 19.8 per 100,000. However, Italy is widely expected to remain on the UK Government’s safe travel list.
The case rate in Italy stands at just 10.8 per 100,000 which suggests the country is very unlikely to face action in the coming weeks.
Decisions on quarantine changes in recent weeks have been made by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Twitter on Thursday evenings.