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Covid UK: Tory MPs urge Boris Johnson to lift lockdown sooner

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Anti-lockdown Tories have piled further pressure on Boris Johnson to lift restrictions, telling him experts say the numbers don’t justify keeping Britain closed until July.

The Prime Minister has vowed to use ‘data not dates’ when deciding how and when to end the measures in place to control the spread of coronavirus, but is facing a growing backlash from business chiefs and MPs.

The vaccine rollout has helped slash the number of deaths and infections, but the PM is being regularly reminded of the social cost of lockdown, amid fears firms unable to open under current restrictions will soon collapse.    

Mark Woolhouse, an Edinburgh University expert in infectious disease, told MPs yesterday that ‘if you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking’.

Steve Baker, a member of the 70-strong anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, used the professor’s comments to pile further pressure on the Prime Minister to accelerate his plans.

He said: ‘Boris Johnson today rightly confirmed he will focus on ‘data, not dates’ for easing restrictions as our recent letter suggested. As Professor Woolhouse, a senior government scientific adviser, says, the data are looking so good that Britain may open earlier.’ 

The Mail revealed yesterday that – under a blueprint discussed with industry chiefs – the hospitality, holiday and leisure sectors might not return to normal until July.

But the Prime Minister will today receive a dossier of data which will help shape his roadmap out of lockdown.

Despite his ‘data not dates’ pledge, the package of information will reportedly earmark the earliest possible opportunity to reopen shops and pubs, as well as a first look at the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

Those numbers will then be crunched in meetings with trusted aides and Cabinet ministers over the weekend, to add the finishing touches to his new masterplan, according to the Sun.

On Monday morning, it will be checked over by the full Cabinet, before being presented to MPs ahead of a press conference in which he will address the nation that evening.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson appeared to confirm a cautious timetable, saying he would take a ‘prudent’ approach and suggesting that pubs and restaurants would be among the last places to reopen.

An Imperial College London surveillance study – the largest in the country – found infection rates are halving every two weeks, with cases set to fall to 1,000 a day by the second week of April.  

Business chiefs and MPs demanded an accelerated time frame out of lockdown from Boris Johnson in a bid to save firms

Business chiefs and MPs demanded an accelerated time frame out of lockdown from Boris Johnson in a bid to save firms

In other developments:

  • The Imperial College study found that one in 196 people were infected with Covid in the first half of February while the R rate fell to 0.7;
  • 738 deaths were reported yesterday, down from 1,001 last Wednesday. Daily cases fell below 13,000;
  • An expert said no outbreaks had been linked to crowded beaches and it was unlikely the virus would surge when schools go back;
  • A survey showed one in four firms would lay off staff unless furlough was extended;
  • MPs warned that many nightclubs and music venues would not survive without government help;
  • The UK will be the first country to deliberately infect volunteers with coronavirus to find better vaccines and treatments;
  • Boris Johnson was said to be planning a testing blitz with kits sent to millions of homes and businesses;
  • Record numbers have applied to study nursing after being inspired by the NHS.

Piling the pressure on the Prime Minister, Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the 1922 committee of Tory MPs, said: ‘The presumption should be that people are given back control over their own lives and we move from a world of arbitrary regulation to one where we are able to take responsibility for ourselves and each other.’

William Lees-Jones, owner of pub group JW Lees, which has 1,250 staff, said: ‘Ministers just don’t understand that this is an industry that is on its knees. Even after the end of March there will be a huge number of businesses that fail.

‘We’ve invested in the pubs to keep them safe, the vaccine will make a massive difference, and if pubs are not open then people will meet up illegally.’

Clive Watson, of City Pub Group, said: ‘While we fully support the Government’s efforts to get the virus under control, we must get to a stage, once the over-50s have been vaccinated, where we start to lift restrictions so people can once again meet for a drink or a meal with friends.’

Experts yesterday called on ministers to decide what an ‘acceptable’ number of infections would be so that Britain could move on from the pandemic.

Professor Angela McLean, chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence, said they were ‘crying out’ for clarity.

And Sir John Bell, who advises the UK’s vaccine taskforce, said people wanted their normal lives back and would not accept certain coronavirus restrictions after everyone has been vaccinated.

Mr Johnson will be presented with the latest data as soon as this evening and will chair a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers over the weekend to finalise the plans for Monday’s launch of the roadmap out of the national lockdown.

The Mail revealed that a blueprint discussed by officials and industry leaders would see rules eased every four weeks after a ‘limited’ loosening at Easter.

Hospitality would have to wait until early May for the green light to resume restricted trading, with the rule of six applying right through June and potentially into July. On a visit to South Wales yesterday, Mr Johnson said his plan would ‘be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way as to be irreversible’.

He added: ‘There is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality.’

It comes as Britain today confirmed 12,718 new coronavirus cases and 738 deaths amid signs that the country’s outbreak may have stopped shrinking, with a symptom-tracking study suggesting infections are now rising in parts of the UK. 

Figures show the biggest increase was seen in Scotland, where the daily number of cases was thought to be 29 per 100,000 on February 13, the most recent period. This was up from an estimated daily 26 cases per 100,000 the week before

Figures show the biggest increase was seen in Scotland, where the daily number of cases was thought to be 29 per 100,000 on February 13, the most recent period. This was up from an estimated daily 26 cases per 100,000 the week before

In Northern Ireland, there were believed to be 31 daily infections per 100,000, up from 29 the week before, according to the King’s College London surveillance study

Infections also appear to have stagnated in Wales, hovering at 34 cases per 100,000 on February 13, and in the North West of England they seem to be grinding to a halt, too, dropping from 18 to 17

Infections also appear to have stagnated in Wales, hovering at 34 cases per 100,000 on February 13, and in the North West of England they seem to be grinding to a halt, too, dropping from 18 to 17

A similar theme was spotted in Yorkshire and the Humber, where daily infections climbed from 20 per 100,000 to 22. Scientists said there was a smaller rise in the East of Midlands, with daily infections increasing from 23 per 100,000 to 24

WHICH AREAS HAVE SEEN THE SHARPEST RISES IN INFECTIONS IN THE PAST WEEK? 

This data is from the Department of Health, and compares the change in the infection rate per 100,000 people from February 11, the latest date available, to a week earlier. 

Area

Torridge

Exeter

East Ayrshire

Lincoln

Copeland

Powys

Newark, Sherwood

West Lindsey

East Devon

Perth, Kincross

% (infection rate)

+133.5% (44.3)

+89.1% (67.7)

+83.1% (283.6)

+36.3% (120.8)

+34.4% (240.5)

+28.1% (257.3)

+25% (115)

+24.1% (67)

+15.8% (72.4)

+15.5% (217.3

The ZOE and King’s College app suggests the number of people reporting symptoms of Covid has started rising again in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Yorkshire, the North East and the East Midlands in England. 

Scientists behind the surveillance study said infections are ‘starting to trend up again’ and called it a ‘hitch’, given that almost every other key metric shows that Britain’s second wave of infections is firmly in retreat. 

Official Department of Health data — which shows confirmed infections and not just people who have symptoms — shows infections have been falling for around six weeks. But today’s figure is only a tiny drop – 2.3 per cent – on the 13,013 last Wednesday. Deaths are continuing to drop, however, with a week-on-week fall of 26 per cent. 

Any turn in the trend could be devastating now, with the Government inching closer to finally lifting lockdown for good. But doctors and scientists say they want infection and hospital numbers as close to zero as possible before draconian restrictions end.

Boris Johnson today suggested pubs, bars and restaurants will be the final parts of the economy allowed to fully reopen under his lockdown exit strategy, which he will unveil on Monday. The Prime Minister said his blueprint will be ‘based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach’ to ease restrictions in ‘such a way as to be irreversible’.

It is thought the document will not allow the hospitality sector to get back to normal until July, a prospect which immediately sparked Conservative anger. 

The PM is under growing pressure from backbenches to scrap curbs as quickly as possible, with data showing the outbreak is shrinking and the vaccine roll-out continuing to be a success. Almost 16million of the most vulnerable have already had their first dose, with another 380,000 jabs dished out yesterday.

Figures collated by the King’s College London surveillance study show the biggest increase was seen in Scotland, where the daily number of symptomatic cases has risen to 28.5 per 100,000 people on February 13 — up from 25.2 the week before. 

Infection rates have also risen in Yorkshire and the Humber (19.8 to 22.0), the North East (25.7 to 28.2), the East Midlands (22.0 to 23.8) and Northern Ireland (28.6 to 30.9). Covid outbreaks also appear to have stagnated in Wales, the West Midlands, the North West and the South East.   

The Covid symptom-tracking study — which is the first surveillance project to flag that the outbreak has started to stagnate — estimates infections based on the number of people reporting symptoms linked to coronavirus and less so on actual positive tests.

Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s and lead scientist behind the study, said his team were ‘looking into’ whether the increase in symptoms was down to people having mild reactions to their jabs. He said another plausible theory was vaccinated people taking more risks, or an increase in close contacts as a result of millions of Brits travelling to vaccine centres to get their jabs. 

Covid infections only grew in 22 of the 380 boroughs in the UK – or 5.7 per cent – over the seven days to February 11, the latest data available.

As many as 15 boroughs now have an infection rate below 50 cases per 100,000 people – including parts of Devon, Kent and Pembrokeshire. 

And only three areas – Corby, Middlesbrough and Sandwell – had rates above 300 per 100,000, as brutal lockdown curbs continue to drive down transmission.

Of the 22 areas where infections grew, the most were in Scotland (7), followed by the East Midlands (4) and the South West (3).

The lowest infection rate was recorded in South Hampshire where cases have fallen to a rate of 31 per 100,000, followed by the Scottish Borders (31.2) and Orkney Islands (31.4).

And the fastest fall in infections in seven days was in Craven where they dropped by 64.7 per cent (42 per 100,000), followed by Dundee City by 64.1 per cent (46.2) and Rutland by 63.3 per cent (182.8).

Covid cases were rising fastest, however, in Torridge, Devon, where they doubled (44.3 per 100,000), Exeter also in Devon where they rose by 89 per cent (67.7) and East Ayrshire where they ticked up by 83.1 per cent (283.6). 

All other key metrics point to an epidemic that is firmly in retreat. Yesterday the UK reported 10,625 coronavirus cases and 799 deaths in a single 24-hour period. 

It means infections are down 40 per cent in a fortnight and fatalities by a similar amount. Surveillance studies by the Office for National Statistics and Imperial College London later this week will give a better indication of whether the outbreak has truly started to slow.

SOUTH AFRICAN VARIANT WAS IN BRITAIN IN OCTOBER, TOP SCIENTIST SAYS

The South African variant of coronavirus was in Britain in October but was missed by scientists, a top Government expert says.

Addressing Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee, Professor Sir John Bell revealed that while the UK had been good at sequencing strains – it was not as good at identifying them. 

‘In all honesty we did a lot of sequencing but we weren’t that great at identifying the variants when they were there,’ he said.

‘The South African variant had been fumbling around in the database since about October, November before we actually spotted it.’

Scientists are concerned by the variant because it contains the mutation E484K, which makes vaccines less effective.

But studies show that those who get their jabs before they catch the variant are still protected from serious illness and death.

Mass testing has been carried out in several postcodes in response to cases of the variant, in an attempt to snuff them out before an outbreak takes off. 

It comes as Boris Johnson today suggested pubs, bars and restaurants will be the final parts of the UK economy allowed to fully reopen under his lockdown exit strategy as the PM faced a growing Tory backlash over the roadmap.

The Prime Minister said his plans, which he will unveil on Monday, will be ‘based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach’ to ease restrictions in ‘such a way as to be irreversible’.

It is thought the document will not allow the hospitality sector to get back to normal until July, a prospect which immediately sparked Conservative anger, with the PM under growing pressure from his backbenches to scrap restrictions as quickly as possible.

Mr Johnson appeared to confirm during a visit to a Welsh vaccination centre that punters face a long wait before they can take a typical trip to a bar or restaurant.

The PM has pointed to the approach taken to easing lockdown last year and said ‘we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things that we did because there is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality’.

It is thought lockdown rules could be eased at four-weekly intervals after a ‘limited’ loosening at the Easter holiday, with the hospitality sector likely having to wait until early May for the green light to resume restricted trading.

Appearing before MPs yesterday, Professor Woolhouse said schools were too slow to reopen after the first wave, when infections were very low throughout the summer months. 

Professor Dame Angela McLean, who also appeared before the committee, warned some restrictions – possibly including wearing face masks and social distancing – must stay in place all year to avoid a third wave.

The Sage member and chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence said: ‘I think the reason we didn’t have a summer wave last summer was mostly the interventions that we put in place.’

She added: ‘It is currently summer in South Africa where they’re coming to the end of the second wave, so I think that tells us it is possible to have a horrible wave in the summer.’

She also called for ministers to set an ‘acceptable’ level of infections going forward.  Dame Angela said: ‘It’s one of the things we’ve cried out for again and again – could somebody in a position of political power tell us what is an acceptable number of infections?’

Britain’s infections and deaths have tumbled since lockdowns were imposed nationwide. 

Top experts have warned the UK could face a coronavirus wave over the summer. They pointed to South Africa, where infections have spiked in their summer months. The country is in the southern hemisphere, meaning its summer falls between November and February

Top experts have warned the UK could face a coronavirus wave over the summer. They pointed to South Africa, where infections have spiked in their summer months. The country is in the southern hemisphere, meaning its summer falls between November and February

Professor Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh, told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee that the benefit of a lockdown halves every two weeks – providing the R rate is constant – as they become less useful the longer they are in place.

‘You get half the public health benefit of that six month lockdown in the first two weeks,’ he said.

‘And the next two weeks is only half the benefit again, and then half the benefit again. so the actual public health benefit you’re getting from lockdown diminishes overtime if the R number is constant.

‘I think that changes your view of how soon you should be trying to get out of lockdown because it becomes ever harder to justify and I think that lesson right now is underlined by a much weaker link between hospital and who is going to end up dying.’

When asked about the length of the first lockdown, he warned the Government had been too slow to lift restrictions on schools and outdoor activities. 

‘I think we probably could have considered reopening schools much sooner in the first lockdown,’ he said.

‘The other thing, quite clearly, is outdoor activities. Again, there was evidence going back to March and April that the virus is not transmitted well outdoors.

‘There’s been very, very little evidence that any transmission outdoors is happening in the UK. Those two things, I think, could have been relaxed sooner in the first lockdown.’ 

Warning that the UK could experience a third wave in the summer if all restrictions are abandoned, Professor Mclean said: ‘I think the reason we didn’t have a summer wave last summer was mostly the interventions that we put in place. 

‘It’s pretty difficult with something this new to measure how big the seasonal effect is.

‘So first of all we’re still collecting epidemiology and of course all the epidemiology we see is with many different rapidly changing interventions in place. 

‘So that makes it really difficult to untangle what changed because it was a different season and what changed because the way people were mixing is different.

‘It is currently summer in South Africa where they’re just coming to the end of the second wave, so I think that tells us it is possible to have a horrible wave in the summer.’

NHS chiefs have today warned Covid-19 cases should plummet to under 50,000 before Boris Johnson starts to lift restrictions.

The most recent figures suggest there are 695,400 people in England with the virus – or 14 times above the level they are calling for.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said there was a ‘pretty clear view’ that ‘that number needs to come down to around 50,000’. 

He has urged Boris Johnson to focus on ‘data, not just dates’ when the Prime Minister sets out his road map out of lockdown on Monday. 

Mr Hopson’s organisation, which represents NHS trusts, has set out four ‘tests’ which should guide easing: getting case numbers down, reducing pressure on the NHS, further strides in the vaccination programme and an effective strategy to control future outbreaks.

‘If you look at where we are against those four tests, each one of them tells you that we’re still some way away from being able to start relaxing restrictions,’ Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

‘We had 500 Covid patients in hospitals in September and yet, 15 weeks later, we had 34,000 patients, and we were perilously close to overwhelmed.

‘So, what that says to you is that you just need to be really careful before you start relaxing the restrictions prematurely.’ 

Coronavirus infections in England have plummeted by TWO THIRDS since January and R rate is now just 0.7 meaning the outbreak is ‘back where it was in September’, major Imperial study claims

Coronavirus infection rates have plummeted by more than two thirds since January, new figures show in proof that lockdown is working even against the fast-spreading Kent variant of the virus.

The country’s largest surveillance testing study yesterday found just one in 196 people in England were infected with the virus during the first half of February, down from one in 64 the last time around, in January.

Results from the REACT study, led by Imperial College London and commissioned by the Government, revealed 0.51 per cent of the population had the virus between February 4 and February 13, down from 1.57 per cent.

The testing of 85,400 people during this time revealed the R rate – the average number of those infected by each person with the virus – was estimated to be 0.7, meaning the epidemic is shrinking.

The figures revealed a ‘marked drop’ in prevalence compared to last month, and a ‘reassuring level of decline’.

The positive news will no doubt pile more pressure on Boris Johnson – who was last night facing a growing clamour for the speedier lifting of lockdown. 

Amid fears that Covid restrictions might last for months, business chiefs and MPs demanded an accelerated timeframe to save firms from collapse. Also warning of the social cost of lockdown, they cited the vaccine roll-out success and significant falls in deaths and infections.  

The vaccine rollout has helped slash the number of deaths and infections, but the PM is being regularly reminded of the social cost of lockdown, amid fears firms unable to open under current restrictions will soon collapse.    

The Prime Minister appeared to confirm a cautious timetable yesterday, saying he would take a ‘prudent’ approach and suggesting that pubs and restaurants would be among the last places to reopen. 

The data shows that prevalence fell across all age groups, but research now suggests the virus is now spreading the most among primary school children and young people. 

Experts warn that reopening schools would need to be done ‘carefully’ in light of the study data, which shows Covid is most prevalent among five- to twelve-year-olds and those aged 18 to 24z. 

The relatively high number of children still attending school could be behind the high frequency in young people, it was suggested, the Guardian reports. 

In other developments:

  • 738 deaths were reported yesterday, down from 1,001 last Wednesday. Daily cases fell below 13,000;
  • An expert said no outbreaks had been linked to crowded beaches and it was unlikely the virus would surge when schools go back;
  • A survey showed one in four firms would lay off staff unless furlough was extended;
  • MPs warned that many nightclubs and music venues would not survive without government help;
  • The UK will be the first country to deliberately infect volunteers with coronavirus to find better vaccines and treatments;
  • Boris Johnson was said to be planning a testing blitz with kits sent to millions of homes and businesses;
  • Record numbers have applied to study nursing after being inspired by the NHS;
The country's largest surveillance testing study has found just one in 196 people in England were infected with the virus during the first half of February, down from one in 64 the last time around, in January – the prevalence fell from 1.36 per cent to 0.44 per cent

The country’s largest surveillance testing study has found just one in 196 people in England were infected with the virus during the first half of February, down from one in 64 the last time around, in January – the prevalence fell from 1.36 per cent to 0.44 per cent

The R rate of the virus – the number of people infected by each person with coronavirus – is now at its lowest point in more than six months, the Imperial College estimates suggest, at 0.72, meaning the outbreak is shrinking

The R rate of the virus – the number of people infected by each person with coronavirus – is now at its lowest point in more than six months, the Imperial College estimates suggest, at 0.72, meaning the outbreak is shrinking

The proportion of people infected with the virus, also known as the prevalence, has come down in all regions of England in the past six weeks, the study found. Darker areas have more people testing positive for coronavirus – the map on the left represents mid-January, and the map on the right mid-February

The proportion of people infected with the virus, also known as the prevalence, has come down in all regions of England in the past six weeks, the study found. Darker areas have more people testing positive for coronavirus – the map on the left represents mid-January, and the map on the right mid-February

Scientists behind the research said what they found was ‘better than expected’ and that the outbreak in Britain was not comparable to where it was in late September as the second wave began to pick up steam.

On what the findings – among the most promising that have been published so far during the second wave – meant for easing lockdown, author of the study Professor Paul Elliott said: ‘It’s really encouraging news – we think lockdown is having an effect.

‘But the actual prevalence is still very high. We’re only back where we were in September and, clearly, we want to be back where we were in August. 

‘There is a delicate balance. Nobody wants to be in lockdown and we all want to be in a situation where we can go more about our daily business.

‘But on the other hand we do need to get levels down to where pressure is taken off hospitals. We can take a lot of encouragement from the decline we’re seeing, but we’re not out of the woods yet.’

Separate data published yesterday presented worrying signs that a steep decline in Britain’s coronavirus cases could be starting to level off, with the ZOE and King’s College symptom-tracking app suggesting the number of people reporting symptoms of Covid has started rising again in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Yorkshire, the North East and the East Midlands in England. 

Researchers behind that surveillance study said infections are ‘starting to trend up again’ and called it a ‘hitch’, given that almost every other key metric shows that Britain’s second wave of infections is firmly in retreat.  

The REACT study is carried out by swab-testing tens of thousands of random members of the public, regardless of whether they have Covid symptoms or not, and working out what proportion of them are positive.

This then allows the scientists to extrapolate and work out how many people in the country as a whole would be likely to test positive.

The study’s previous round of data, which covered January 6 to 22, estimated the R number to be 0.98 and one in 64 people to have been infected with the virus.

At the time scientists weren’t sure whether lockdown was going to work well against the Kent variant, which studies suggest is significantly more transmissible than older versions of the virus.

Professor Elliott said: ‘I think it is very reassuring that, despite the greater transmissibility of that variant, we are seeing this reduction.’

The team said the evidence suggested that the decline in infections was happening at a similar pace to the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, although its first data wasn’t collected until May, by which time cases had plummeted already.

Official NHS Test and Trace data shows cases are falling rapidly, too, with the number of people testing positive last week – 92,399 – down 28 per cent from 128,504 the week before, with even that week significantly lower than the 400,640 people who tested positive in the first week of January.  

Prevalence of the virus had come down in all regions of England, the study found – most steeply in London and the South East – but the decline appears to have slowed in some parts of the country such as the South West and North East, where it may even be rising

Prevalence of the virus had come down in all regions of England, the study found – most steeply in London and the South East – but the decline appears to have slowed in some parts of the country such as the South West and North East, where it may even be rising

The percentage of people testing positive in random spot checks has plummeted across England. The grey bar shows positive tests in January, the orange bar February

The percentage of people testing positive in random spot checks has plummeted across England. The grey bar shows positive tests in January, the orange bar February

Hospital chiefs and SAGE scientists have warned the Prime Minister that there must be fewer than 1,000 coronavirus cases being diagnosed each day before the third national lockdown can be eased.

The REACT study found levels of infection are being halved every 14.6 days. If the rate continues, the UK can expect to reach 1,000 cases a day by the second week of April.

Results also revealed prevalence has fallen in all nine regions of England with all areas except the north east having an R rate below one.

Coronavirus cases have also fallen throughout all age groups but are still highest in 18-24 and 5-12-year-olds according to the pre-print study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London said: ‘The two highest prevalence age groups are younger school aged children and young adults.

‘There are many different observations and data sets that now agree that probably schools being open does increase the R a little bit – we’re not sure exactly how much it does.

‘But my sense is…schools are the highest priority for reopening. I think there will be a very delicate trade-off.’ 

Professor Riley said their data shows no evidence of the impact of vaccinations yet, but they will ‘know more’ when further results come in later this month.

It comes as another scientist claimed the UK should ‘unlock earlier’ as long as the decisions were being ‘driven by data’.

Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, told a Science and Technology Committee yesterday that data is pointing to ‘earlier unlocking’.

‘I completely agree that we don’t want to be overly focused on dates, not at all,’ he said. ‘We want to be focused on data. But the point I’d make about that is the data are going really well.

‘The vaccination rollout is, I think, exceeding most people’s expectations, it’s going very well.

‘The transmission blocking potential is key. But so, of course, is its actual ability to protect against death and disease, and to keep people out of hospital, and those numbers are looking really good.

‘My conclusion from that is: If you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking.’

SYMPTOM-TRACKING APP CLAIMS CASES RISING IN SOME REGIONS, SCOTLAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND

The ZOE and King’s College app suggested yesterday that the number of people reporting symptoms of Covid has started rising again in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Yorkshire, the North East and the East Midlands in England. 

Scientists behind the surveillance study said infections are ‘starting to trend up again’ and called it a ‘hitch’, given that almost every other key metric shows that Britain’s second wave of infections is firmly in retreat. 

Any turn in the trend could be devastating now, with the Government inching closer to finally lifting lockdown for good. But doctors and scientists say they want infection and hospital numbers as close to zero as possible before draconian restrictions end.

Figures collated by the King’s College London surveillance study show the biggest increase was seen in Scotland, where the daily number of symptomatic cases has risen to 28.5 per 100,000 people on February 13 — up from 25.2 the week before. 

Infection rates have also risen in Yorkshire and the Humber (19.8 to 22.0), the North East (25.7 to 28.2), the East Midlands (22.0 to 23.8) and Northern Ireland (28.6 to 30.9). Covid outbreaks also appear to have stagnated in Wales, the West Midlands, the North West and the South East.   

The Covid symptom-tracking study — which is the first surveillance project to flag that the outbreak has started to stagnate — estimates infections based on the number of people reporting symptoms linked to coronavirus and less so on actual positive tests.

Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s and lead scientist behind the study, said his team were ‘looking into’ whether the increase in symptoms was down to people having mild reactions to their jabs. He said another plausible theory was vaccinated people taking more risks, or an increase in close contacts as a result of millions of Brits travelling to vaccine centres to get their jabs.

 

 

 

 

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