London’s R rate may have crept above the dreaded level of one, government scientists warned today amid fears the outbreak may no longer be shrinking as millions of Brits get set to celebrate the easing of lockdown tomorrow and rush to the pub for ‘Super Saturday’.
Number 10’s scientific advisers today revealed the R rate — the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects — is still between 0.7 and 0.9 as a whole for the UK. But SAGE admitted it could be as high as 1.1 in London, and 1 in the Midlands, the North East and Yorkshire, the South East and the South West.
Separate data released by the government panel also claimed the UK’s current growth rate — how the number of new cases is changing day-by-day — may be 0 per cent, meaning it has stagnated. Coronavirus outbreaks could even be growing in London and the South West by 2 per cent each day.
It comes as Britain today recorded 137 more Covid-19 deaths, meaning the official toll of lab-confirmed victims has now topped 44,000. Official data also shows Britain’s daily number of fatalities have not fallen as quickly in July as they did last month.
Analysis shows the rolling average of daily deaths now stands at 103 — the fewest since the end of March, when the UK’s crisis spiralled out of control. But it has only dropped 15 per cent since last Friday, when 186 new fatalities were recorded. Death rates were dropping by up to 30 per cent week-on-week through mid-June.
Department of Health figures released this afternoon also show only 544 new cases were diagnosed, the smallest 24-hour jump since March 17 — a week before ministers first imposed the lockdown. But other estimates suggest the number of actual cases has plateaued at around 3,500 per day for three weeks.
Boris Johnson today declared England’s pubs can open from 6am tomorrow — just hours after he pleaded with millions of drinkers to be ‘sensible’ on ‘Super Saturday’, warning that the success of the move is down to whether Britons act ‘responsibly’ amid growing fears of another wave of coronavirus.
In tonight’s Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister claimed the UK has continued to make ‘progress nationally against the virus’ but begged the public to behave because the ‘vicious’ disease ‘is still out there’ and Britain is ‘not out of the woods yet’.
He warned the government ‘will not hesitate in putting on the brakes’ and threatened to reimpose lockdowns on a region-by-region basis if outbreaks spike, saying local Leicester-style measures will be a ‘feature of our lives for some time to come’.
But Mr Johnson said a national lockdown will only be introduced as a last-ditch resort to control any escalating crisis, as he praised the unprecedented measures imposed more than 100 days ago for saving ‘hundreds of thousands of lives’ but confessed they have ‘had a devastating impact on our way of life and our economy’.
In other coronavirus developments in Britain today:
- British holidaymakers were given hope as the government released a list of more than 60 quarantine-exempt countries – but fears have been raised that plans for mass screening could cause ‘log jams’;
- Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned councils, parents and teaching unions not to block the return to school as he insisted youngsters must have full-time education in England from September;
- Shocking figures revealed one care home resident was dying every minute in England and Wales at the peak of the coronavirus crisis in mid-April and that 20,000 have already died;
- Britain’s coronavirus outbreak has been even deadlier than government scientists’ worst-case scenario of 50,000 fatalities by September, according to one of nine newly-released SAGE papers;
- Almost two thirds of the British public want Downing Street to explore the possibility of introducing a four-day working week after the coronavirus crisis, a poll revealed.
Department of Health figures released yesterday showed 205,673 tests were carried out or posted the day before. The number includes antibody tests for frontline NHS and care workers.
But bosses again refused to say how many people were tested, meaning the exact number of Brits who have been swabbed for the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been a mystery for a month — since May 22.
Health chiefs also reported 544 more cases of Covid-19, marking the smallest daily jump in new infections since a week before lockdown was imposed. Only 407 cases were confirmed on March 17.
Government statistics show the official size of the UK’s outbreak now stands at 284,276 cases. But the actual size of the outbreak is estimated to be in the millions, based on antibody testing data.
Officials revised the actual number of confirmed cases yesterday to take 30,000 duplicates they stumbled across through ‘methodological improvements and a revision to historical data’.
But the actual number of confirmed coronavirus cases is much lower than the estimated daily infections made by the ONS, mainly because not everyone who catches the virus shows any symptoms and opts for a test.
ONS data suggested 25,000 people across the country currently have Covid-19, or one in 2,200 people (0.04 per cent of the population) — a huge drop on the 51,000 active cases the week before.
But the same data showed the virus is spreading at a slightly quicker rate, with an estimated 25,000 new cases in the week ending June 27 — up from the 22,000 infections occurring in the community the week before.
ONS statisticians, who made their projection based on swab testing of 25,000 people picked at random, warned the speed at which the outbreak is declining has ‘levelled off’.
They added: ‘At this point, we do not have evidence that the current trend is anything other than flat.’
The daily death data given by the Department of Health 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.
The data 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 as well as Northern Ireland are always out of sync.
And 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’.
NHS England today posted 38 deaths in hospitals across the country. Wales and Northern Ireland both recorded two Covid-19 fatalities in all settings, followed by one in Scotland.
Professor Jose Vazquez-Boland, an infectious diseases expert at Edinburgh University, told that the flat trend of infection was likely to explain why the steep decline in deaths had stopped.
More than 1,000 infected Brits died each day during the darkest days of the crisis in mid-April but the number of victims had been dropping by around 20 to 30 per cent week-on-week since the start of May.
But Department of Health data shows the rolling seven-day average of deaths has shrunk by only 10 per cent or less in July, and on Wednesday it was marginally higher than the week before.
Government statistics last night revealed 110 people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 every day this week, on average. In comparison, the rate last Friday was only 8 per cent higher at 119.
But the rate has now dropped to 103 — down from 121 last Friday.
The total number of lab-confirmed deaths now stands at 44,131, which is an increase of 136 from yesterday. Officials today revealed they had uncovered one death in Wales that had been a duplicate and removed it from the toll.
Downing Street’s scientific advisers today claimed the R rate of the coronavirus — which denotes how many people infected patients pass the virus on to — is between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK.
An R of 1 means it spreads one-to-one and the outbreak is neither growing nor shrinking. Higher, and it will get larger as more people get infected; lower, and the outbreak will shrink and eventually fade away.
At the start of Britain’s outbreak it was thought to be around 4 and tens of thousands of people were infected, meaning the number of cases spiralled out of control.
The R has now been consistently below one since at least April, according to the Government, but experts say it will start to fluctuate more as the number of cases gets lower.