The UK has announced 2,919 more coronavirus cases 14 deaths as England braces for tougher lockdown rules from Monday amid rising cases in young people.
Fatalities are no longer a big measure of the progress of the outbreak and the attention of politicians and the public has turned to new infections.
These have been rising in recent days to such an extent that Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced people should start to ‘limit social contact’ again from Monday.
He confirmed new laws in England will allow police to issue £100 fines to people meeting in groups larger than six as he attempts to cut down on young people gathering.
The new rule, which toughens up the previous one that allowed up to 30 people to gather if from two households, will be applied across the country.
Senior MPs said today that the ‘broad brush’ approach to tightening the screw across England will mean millions living in almost Covid-free areas must pay the price for some inner cities’ inability to keep a lid on infections.
RECORD LOW CLOSE CONTACTS TRACED BY NHS
A record low number of close contacts of Covid-19 patients have been reached by the NHS amid concern the Test and Trace system is buckling under pressure.
Only 69 per cent of people identified as a close contact because they had been mingling with a Covid-19 case were tracked down by the NHS and told to self isolate.
When the scheme first launched in May, 91 per cent of close contacts were reached.
Scientists have said the ‘army’ of contact tracers must reach at least 80 per cent of Covid-19 cases and their contacts for the system to work – which is to stop the coronavirus spreading.
The figures also show the time it takes for a test result to come back is getting worse.
It can take up to three and a half days for someone tested at a satellite test centre – pop-up sites for places with an urgent need – to find out if they have Covid-19.
In that period, they may have self isolated or stayed of work for no reason if they are negative.
Dr Daniel Lawson, lecturer in statistical science, School of Mathematics, University of Bristol said this ‘dangerous’ length of time ‘ will prevent proper test and trace response’.
He added: ‘Track and trace itself continues with little change in performance, though the numbers should be watched carefully in case the system becomes strained as cases rise.’
No more deaths were reported by the health agencies in Wales or Scotland today.
Northern Ireland reported one across all settings while NHS England reported seven in hospitals alone.
The Government’s ‘official’ death toll is several higher than those reported by each nation because it takes into consideration deaths across all settings – hospitals, care homes and own homes – in each nation, and uses different time cut-off points.
The seven-day rolling average of cases is now 2,193. For comparison, at its lowest, it was 546 on July 8 and highest at 5,195 on April 14.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday held a now-rare televised press conference and confirmed the new ‘rule of six’ law that means people will face legal consequences if they gather in groups larger than six.
This rule will apply to any groups of that size meeting anywhere in England, even if outdoors or at a pub.
But the rules, brought in to try and stem a tide of surging infections among young people, will unfairly apply to everyone in the country.
While some areas are seeing seriously concerning spikes in cases of Covid-19 – there are around 30 locations on Public Health England’s watchlist – hundreds of local councils have successfully avoided the coronavirus danger.
But at least 38million people in these relatively unaffected areas will still be forced under tighter restrictions.
One Conservative MP said it was unfair to take such a ‘broad brush’ approach that pulled together people in at-risk inner city areas with those living in the spaced-out countryside.
Local authority data reveals that 65 per cent (210 out of 320) of councils have a rate of coronavirus cases below 20 per 100,000, the level at which the Government considers quarantine measures for foreign countries.
And an analysis of postcode data by The Telegraph shows 75 per cent – or 5,157 areas – have a rate below 20 per 100,000. Around 7,200 people are estimated to live in each postcode, which when multiplied gives 38million.
The UK’s coronavirus outbreak is mostly being driven by cases in hotspots including Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Birmingham and Leicester, with many areas in local lockdown measures or receiving extra Government support.
Rural areas in the South West, for example, have escaped the worst of the virus’s impact for most of the outbreak but are still being subjected to the tough rules faced by the rest of the country.
Lesser-affected areas include places such as Northumberland and Bishop Auckland in the North, to Weymouth, Ashford and Winchester in the south.
Although cases have risen, the positive test rate – how many people test positive out of all those tested – has not reached levels seen during the pandemic. This gives an indication that some cases are due to more focused testing in hotspots, but not all, given that the positivity rate is starting to creep up
All will be required to ensure people meet in groups no larger than six indoors and outdoors, and subject to fines ranging from £100 to £3,200 if they fail to comply, despite their low numbers of coronavirus cases.
A Conservative former Minister criticised the measures as a ‘very broad brush’ and said that something ‘more concentrated’ would have been better.
David Jones MP told MailOnline: ‘I can understand that the Government has to do something, because there is certainly an uptick.
‘But it is not an uptick across the country as a whole. There are some parts of the country such as Devon, Dorset where there is very little virus activity at all.
‘So it does seem to be very broad brush… I would have thought something more concentrated would be better.’
OXFORD’S VACCINE ‘STILL ON TRACK’
The Oxford coronavirus vaccine could still be ready by the end of this year or early next year, the company developing it has claimed, despite trials being paused this week.
Pascal Soriot, the CEO of drug giant AstraZeneca, told an online event he thought vaccine development remained ‘on track’ but they would have to wait for permission from an independent safety panel before resuming research.
Trials were paused on Wednesday after a British woman who received the vaccine reportedly suffered transverse myelitis, or a swelling of the spinal cord.
The company has denied these claims, and said more tests are needed before a final diagnosis can be made.
CEO Soriot said once the volunteer’s illness was diagnosed it would be submitted to an independent safety committee for review, which would decide whether trials can continue.
Answering questions on why research had been paused he said it was ‘very common’ for this to happen during clinical trials.
But he added: ‘The difference with other vaccine trials is, the whole world is not watching them, of course. They stop, they study, and they restart.’
The Government’s chief scientist, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned yesterday that a coronavirus vaccine may not be ready until after Christmas.
Oxford’s vaccine is one of nine candidates in the world, and has been earmarked as most promising by the World Health Organisation.
Millions of doses have been ordered by nations around the world, should the vaccine prove effective and safe to use.
He added that while crowded pubs had been ‘asking for trouble’ it was ‘not something that appears to be uniform across the country’. ‘Something more focused would be appropriate,’ he said.
Christopher Snowdon, the Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs, said the Government had ‘over-reacted’ to a rise in cases by bringing in the draconian measures.
‘Figures show that the (coronavirus) problem is still quite highly localised, despite what was said yesterday,’ he told MailOnline. ‘I look at the map where you can check outbreaks and, in my neck of the woods, there are huge stretches of land where there are less than two cases.
‘It suggests to me that local lockdowns or local restrictions are still the best way forward and the broad brush approach is, at best, premature.
‘I think the Government has maybe decided to bring in this “rule of six” because it will have a smaller economic impact than closing pubs or schools, but there will be an economic impact. You can’t have more than six people in a group in restaurants, for example.
‘I know the hospitality industry is very concerned. (They) are still trying to balance the economy and risk to some extent, but they got the balance wrong.’
Mr Johnson said the move to crack down on social gatherings was aimed at ‘simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact’ and ‘making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce’.
He admitted lockdown rules have become ‘complicated and confusing’. The Government have been encouraging Britons to return to work, eat out in restaurants and shop confidently over the past few months.
But the PM is facing a Tory revolt today, with MPs first confronting Matt Hancock in the Commons chamber yesterday.
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 backbench committee, said the ‘profound restrictions’ had not been considered enough.
He asked Matt Hancock in the Commons: ‘Why has there not been a debate or vote in the House of Commons this week?’
Former minister Harriet Baldwin said she was concerned the government was imposing ‘more restrictions on people’s liberty’.
She said the goal previously had been to avoid the NHS being swamped. ‘Has he now gone further and is he aiming for zero Covid in England?’ she added.
Another MP told MailOnline Mr Johnson would unfairly end up being seen as ‘the Grinch’ if the restrictions dragged on to Christmas – especially as Ms Sturgeon was being more permissive.
‘It is not him. It is not who he is,’ the MP lamented.
A normally-loyal backbencher said they were completely miserable about the situation.
‘I hate it. I think it is stupid… if it’s got to be done it has got to be done, but I don’t like it,’ they said. ‘You think ”boll***s to this, we should let it all drop now.’
The PM is facing a Tory revolt today after announcing people should start to ‘limit social contact’ again from Monday
The MP added grudgingly: ‘I suppose if they do all this and it stops another lockdown it will be worth it.’
SCOTLAND LAUNCHES CONTACT TRACING APP
England and Wales will now become the last places in the UK to have a coronavirus contact tracing app after Scotland launched its own version today.
Nicola Sturgeon urged residents north of the border to download the new tech, called Protect Scotland, to avoid more local lockdowns.
The app alerts users if they have been in close contact for 15 minutes with someone who has tested positive and advises them to self-isolate and get tested.
Mrs Sturgeon is eager to have as many people sign up to the voluntary app as possible after admitting this morning Covid-19’s reproduction ‘R’ rate might be 1.5.
She said today: ‘The launch of the app is a welcome development which will offer an additional level of protection – supporting NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system as it works to drive down the spread of Covid-19 across the country.
‘The more people who download and use the app, the more effective it can be in helping to make connections that may otherwise have been missed.’
Northern Ireland became the first home nation in the UK to set live its contact tracing app, called StopCOVID NI, on August 6.
People in England and Wales were supposed to have their own version in June, but the software was scrapped after it failed to alert 96 per cent of contacts.
A new version of the app, which Apple and Google have had a hand in helping develop, is currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon copied the ‘rule of six’ on social gatherings – but declared that children under 12 will be exempt.
The First Minister warned that the R rate could be as high as 1.5 north of the border as she announced that a planned easing of restriction would not be going ahead from next week.
Ms Sturgeon announced that a loosening previously hoped for from September 14 in Scotland – which up to now has been under tougher rules than England – would have to be put on hold for a further three weeks.
‘Unfortunately, due to the rise in cases we have seen since then, we have concluded that these changes must be paused for a further three weeks,’ she said.
Ms Sturgeon said that the decision ‘means unfortunately spectators will not be able to return to sports stadia and other venues over the next three weeks’ with a new indicative date given of October 5.
It comes as documents reveal Mr Johnson’s own SAGE experts raised serious doubts about his ‘moonshot’ plan for mass testing to save Christmas, costing £10billion.
The PM mooted the radical scheme at a Downing Street press conference last night as a way of returning the country to normality, with 10million people a day screened using rapid new kits.
But a SAGE assessment from August 31 insisted ‘careful consideration’ should be given to whether pouring resources into the scheme was more effective than boosting funding to Test & Trace, or encouraging people with symptoms to self-isolate.
The elite group said the ‘cheaper, faster tests’ needed for mass testing would inevitably be less accurate, and the screening could only be a ‘component’ of efforts to tackle the virus.
Ministers admitted this morning that the testing technology does not yet exist, with the government’s own scientists saying there is no guarantee it will ever be developed.
Minutes after the plans were unveiled by PM at yesterday’s Downing Street press briefing, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the technology was not yet available, warning he should not put a date on when it would be because ‘that’s not how science works’.
And Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance said: ‘There are prototypes which look as though they have some effect, but they’ve got to be tested properly.
‘We would be completely wrong to assume this is a slam dunk that can definitely happen.’
MailOnline analysis shows infections have surged from 9.2 to 28 cases per 100,000 since July 4, ‘Super Saturday’, in those aged 20 to 29 in England
At the same time, cases in over 80 year olds have dropped drastically since the height of the pandemic, when they made up the majority of Covid-19 cases, and have halved since July. Infections have stayed stable among those in their 60s and 70s, while very slightly increasing in those between the ages of 40 to 59 years old
On Thursday morning, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps declined to give a timeframe for when the tests would be read.
ONE IN 50 NHS PATIENTS HAVE WAITED A YEAR FOR PLANNED SURGERY
One in 50 NHS patients have now been waiting a year or more for planned surgery due to treatment delays caused by coronavirus.
NHS England data released today shows 83,000 patients (2.1 per cent) referred for routine operations have still not been treated after 52 weeks.
Those most affected include people waiting for hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery or to have painful kidney stones removed.
Statistics also show the number of those waiting for elective ops for more than 18 weeks is at a 12-year high, with more than two million Britons now overdue.
Hospitals are struggling to get through the slog of patients waiting for ops because they shut down all non-emergency treatment for months during the crisis. They are still only running at a fraction of their usual capacity.
There are currently four million people on waiting lists for elective surgery but NHS bosses expect that number to grow to a record 10million by the end of the year.
He was realistic about the fact that it could be a long time, telling Sky News: ‘This is technology that, to be perfectly blunt, requires further development – there isn’t a certified test in the world that does this but there are people that are working on prototypes.’
The government currently spends £130bn on the NHS in England each year, so the cost of the testing plan, revealed by the British Medical Journal, would almost match the amount of funding pledged to the entire health service, which in itself represents some 20 per cent of all public spending.
It also equates to the cost of the nation’s education budget and represents a near-30-fold increase in the UK’s testing capacity, with daily capacity standing at around 350,000.
Sir David Spiegelhalter, a professor of risk at Cambridge University, said statisticians were ‘banging their heads on the wall’ at the idea the scheme would be effective.
‘Mass testing always seems like a good idea in any disease. ”Oh yes, let’s test everybody.” But the huge danger is false positives,’ he said.
‘No tests are perfect. It’s not a simple yes, no thing. If you are going to have a test that would allow someone into a theatre or allow them back to work you have to be really sure they are not infectious.’
‘Even if you only have 1 per cent false positives among the people who are not infectious, and you are testing the whole country, that is 600,000 people unnecessarily labelled as positives – for all that implication for them and their contacts.
‘There is no indication in the leaked documents that anybody is taking into account these issues about false positives…. Let alone all the logistical issues. I am deeply concerned about this.’
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said even with the right technology, there would be big issued with the system. She said it should be viewed as part of the wider response – suggesting people who test negative but have symptoms would still need to quarantine.
She told BBC Breakfast: ‘So that, if you have, for example, a false negative test, but you feel assured that you don’t have the disease, you don’t end up going back into the workplace.
‘Which brings me back to why it’s still so important that the critical measure here – although testing is really important, whether it be mass testing or whether it be our routine NHS Test and Trace – the issue is that if people have symptoms they need to come out of society in order to prevent disease transmission.’
CORONAVIRUS CASES NOW DO NOT COMPARE LIKE-FOR-LIKE WITH SPRING CRISIS WHEN 100,000 PER DAY WERE CATCHING IT
The Government has warned repeatedly in recent weeks that coronavirus cases are rising in Britain and officials today announced rules on socialising must tighten up again.
Official testing figures show the numbers of people getting positive results has started to return to levels last seen in May, while the country was still in lockdown.
But data shows this comparison is misleading as some scientists estimate more than 100,000 people per day were catching the illness at the end of March but not getting tested.
Data from the Covid Symptom Tracker app, run by King’s College London and healthcare technology company ZOE, showed that the number of estimated cases in the UK on March 30 was 1,779,303 and it had risen by 102,200 from a day earlier.
But official testing then showed only 3,250 new cases, from just over 8,000 tests.
So 3,000 positive cases now, when around 180,000 tests are done each day, does not compare like-for-like because there are so many more negatives.
Rationed testing in the spring meant only a fraction of people who were carrying the disease were actually tested – mostly those sick enough to be in hospital.
At times, more than 40 per cent of people getting tested were getting positive results, with a high positive rate showing a large proportion of people who thought they had Covid-19 really did, and many more were probably going missed.
Now, however, the positive test rate is around two per cent, meaning most people who think they have coronavirus actually don’t, so there are likely fewer missed cases.
Data from the Covid Symptom Tracker app, run by King’s College London, shows there were days in March and April when more than 100,000 cases of coronavirus were estimated to have been caught in the UK. But testing figures were showing fewer than 6,500, meaning that the numbers of cases now cannot be compared like for like, because the currently estimated number of new cases is around 3,200 and many of them are now being picked up by tests, whereas only a vanishingly small number were at the start