Britain today recorded 11,625 coronavirus cases – the most since mid-February – and deaths may have finally started creeping upwards following the rapid spread of the Indian variant.
Department of Health figures show daily infections have risen by 51.5 per cent in a week, with today’s count the most since February 19 (12,027).
Hospitalisations – which lag behind cases by several weeks because of how long it takes for infected patients to fall severely ill – have jumped up by a fifth. But there are still just 1,380 Covid inpatients across the UK.
Deaths have nearly tripled in the last week, with 27 victims recorded today compared to 10 last Thursday. But the average number of daily fatalities is currently 13 and figures can fluctuate day-to-day because of recording lags.
Deaths had remained flat in recent weeks despite cases quadrupling since late April – but No10’s top scientists expected deaths to eventually nudge upwards because of the spike in infections.
Even though figures show the outbreak is still growing in the face of the mutant Delta strain, Matt Hancock today claimed England was ‘on track’ for Freedom Day of July 19 to go ahead as planned. But he ruled out bringing the unlocking forward to July 5.
The Health Secretary argued there were signs the speed of growth was ‘slowing’ for the first time since the Indian variant took off. He also said hospitalisations were rising but not quickly and deaths were still ‘very, very low’.
Other promising data today revealed the country has moved one step closer to herd immunity, with nearly nine in 10 adults now having antibodies against Covid.
The major Office for National Statistics (ONS) blood testing survey highlighted the success of the UK’s mammoth vaccination campaign, which is now open to every adult in all four home nations. Almost 60 per cent of over-18s (31.5million) are now fully jabbed.
But only 60,000 jabs were recorded as being dished out yesterday because of an ‘IT issue’ affecting England. The problem resulted in clinicians having to log who received their vaccine with pen and paper.
The PC Agency travel consultancy has suggested that 14 countries currently on Britain’s amber list could be moved to green
Antibody positive levels are highest among older age groups who have had two doses but rising fast in younger adults, too. In those who were first to get vaccinated the rate of immunity has flattened off at over 99 per cent, showing almost everyone has at least some protection against the virus
HAS BRITAIN’S THIRD WAVE ALREADY PEAKED? Britain is recording nearly 10,000 daily infections now compared to 2,000 in late April when the ‘Delta’ variant was first seeded in the country. But the speed at which cases are increasing every week has slowed to nearly 30 per cent, down from 65 per cent earlier this month, suggesting the outbreak had peaked by the first week of June
Britain is recording nearly 10,000 daily infections now compared to 2,000 in late April when the ‘Delta’ variant was first seeded in the country.
But the speed at which cases are increasing every week has slowed to around 35 per cent, down from 65 per cent earlier this month.
Just 1,290 people are currently being treated in hospital for Covid now, compared to nearly 40,000 at the peak of the second wave. The current figure is significantly better than even the best case scenarios modelled by some scientific groups within SAGE.
Weekly coronavirus deaths are also continuing to fall. A Office for National Statistics’ weekly report today found that there were 84 deaths registered across England and Wales in the past seven days, the lowest figure recorded since September last year.
The same set of statistics also showed Covid accounted for just 0.8 per cent of all deaths recorded across the two countries in the most recent week — with flu and pneumonia now killing 10 times as many patients as coronavirus.
And analysis of the data by MailOnline revealed more than a third of all 300-plus councils across the two nations have not suffered a Covid fatality since April.
Britain’s impressive vaccination programme is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who are showing signs of immunity and the low hospitalisation figures.
Across the whole of the UK, 43.1million people have had at least one dose of a jab.
The UK was expected to hit another milestone in the roll-out today, with ministers hoping to pass figure of 60 per cent of adults fully vaccinated.
But an IT system crash on Monday afternoon has caused a delay to the daily vaccination numbers, according to NHS England.
The issue resulted in clinicians being unable to log who had received their jab via the usual digital method, and instead had to record it with pen and paper.
Now the system is back up and running the data needs to be manually entered, which will be time consuming given that several hundred thousand doses are being administered each day.
‘Following the IT issue that was reported to the NHS yesterday (21 June), the daily Covid statistics will be updated tomorrow, while vaccinations recorded yesterday are updated to the digital system,’ the NHS England website said.
‘The issue is now resolved and there has been no impact on vaccinations taking place.’
People were still urged to get their jab if they had a booking, as it would cause no difference to the service. The problem was also an isolated incident, meaning the public could still access the booking site as normal.
On top of the vaccine effect, there are also positive signs that the new Delta variant can be controlled without lockdowns. Hotspots Bolton and Blackburn managed to get cases under control with extra testing and contact tracing.
This appears to have given No10 confidence it can push ahead with its July 19 planned unlocking, despite the Indian variant now accounting for almost every new infection.
Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We are seeing that growth in case rates is slowing. Thankfully the number of hospitalisations, while rising, is not rising very quickly and thankfully even more is that the number of people dying from Covid remains very, very low.’
He added: ‘So I’d say we’re on track for the opening on the 19th of July, and we will watch vigilantly and we’ll look at the data in particular at the start of next week.
‘But I’d say the data has since, over last week or so, been encouraging, and especially looking at the number of people who are dying, that is staying very, very low and shows the vaccines are working and getting us out of this.’
Today’s ONS antibody report was based on random blood tests of around 18,000 adults across the UK between June 7 and June 10.
It showed that all the age groups over 34 in England had antibodies were estimated to have 90 per cent of people with antibodies, which independent scientists described as ‘remarkable’.
Overall, 86.6 per cent of the results in England were positive, with rates mostly even between regions. Wales had the highest proportion of positive tests at 88.7 per cent, but its results were based on just 654 samples.
Boris Johnson, pictured returning to Downing Street this morning following a run, said yesterday he expected it to be a ‘difficult year’ for the travel industry
The number of adults with antibodies in Northern Ireland was estimated to be 85.4 per cent and Scotland had the lowest rate at 79.1 per cent.
Experts believe about 80 per cent of a population need to have protection against Covid to reach herd immunity — when so many people are immune that the virus can no longer spread.
But there are still 14million children and teenagers under 18 who are not routinely being vaccinated and are still spreaders of Covid.
The detection of antibodies does not always guarantee immunity either, and a small number of double-jabbed people will still catch the virus and an even smaller number will fall ill. The risks are greater after one vaccine.
That puts the country still someway off achieving herd immunity status, but ministers are mulling controversial plans to jab children in order to get there faster.
There had been fears immunity triggered by jabs or older variants of the virus would not work as well against the now-dominant Indian variant, which MailOnline yesterday revealed is now dominant in almost every single council area in England.
While it is true that the mutant strain finds it easier to infect vaccinated people, jabs currently being deployed are still extremely effective at preventing serious illness and deaths.
Public Health England’s best guess is that two doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines prevent up to 96 per cent of people from being admitted to hospital and they are even better at reducing fatalities. One jab is significantly weaker, however, giving around 70 per cent protection.
The ONS said: ‘Across all four countries of the UK, there is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid antibodies but the detection of antibodies alone is not a precise measure of the immunity protection given by vaccination.’
Most people develop antibodies after being vaccinated but some will have them from having been infected with Covid in the past.
Antibodies are proteins that the body makes in response to a virus so they can stick to the viruses and prevent them from causing infection.
Weekly Covid deaths have fallen again in England and Wales by 14 per cent to just 84 — the lowest figure recorded since September last year — Office for National Statistics data showed today
Analysis of data released by the Office for National Statistics today revealed more than a third of all 300-plus councils across the two nations have not suffered a Covid fatality since April
They are super-specific and antibodies for one type of virus generally don’t work for another type, and they only start to be made when someone is infected or given a vaccine.
The immune system then stores the memory of how to fight the virus and maintains its ability to mass-produce the antibodies at the drop of a hat in case the body is faced with the same bug in the future.
Testing positive for antibodies does not make someone completely immune, however, and people who have them can still get sick. Getting a positive test result means only that there were a certain amount of them in their body at the time of the test.
Scientists say antibody levels dip naturally after peaking in the weeks following an infection or first vaccine, and people may not have detectable levels of antibodies now — even if they did so earlier in the year.
And likewise, people who test negative for antibodies may still be protected from the virus because there are other types of immunity such as T-cell immunity which is based on white blood cells.
Studies have suggested that virtually everyone infected with Covid seems to develop T-cell responses, though these don’t show up on antibody tests.
The ONS report found higher rates of antibodies in middle-aged and older people who have for months and weeks been coming forward for their vaccines, and lower ones among younger people who were only recently invited.
In over-35s in England, for example, more than 92 per cent of people showed signs of immunity. In those aged25 to 34-year-olds it was 69 per cent and in under-25s it was 55 per cent.
The report explains: ‘In March 2021, antibody positivity decreased among people aged 80 years and over and has since increased as a result of second doses.
‘A similar decrease and subsequent increase was seen in those in their 70s at the end of March 2021, and for those in their 60s and 50s antibody positivity flattened before increasing in April 2021 and May 2021 respectively.
‘The percentage of adults testing positive for antibodies varies by age group between the four nations of the UK.
‘This could be explained by different historical trends in COVID-19 infection rates and the approaches to vaccine distribution in different nations.’
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘The latest report from ONS on the antibody prevalence survey covers the period 7th to 10th June and so lags behind the current situation by about a week or two.
‘The most obvious findings are that in all the age groups over 34 for England the modelled percentage of people with antibodies is over 90 per cent and in the 60 to 79 age groups it is over 95 per cent.
‘This is remarkably high rate and most of this will be due to the impact of vaccine. What is perhaps even more reassuring is that in the rate of people aged 25 to 34 is 69 per cent and aged 16 to 24 is 56 per cent.
‘Given than vaccination has only been offered to all adults in the past few days much of the 16 to 24 age group will have acquired their antibodies from natural infection, only 25 per cent of this group has had a single dose vaccine by the 10th June and somewhat fewer of those would have had their dose long enough ago to have generated antibodies.
‘Whilst immunity to COVID infection is not guaranteed in people with antibodies the presence of antibody is strongly correlated with at least some degree of protection.
‘So this is very good news, even for younger age groups in that a substantial proportion (probably even the majority) of those younger age groups already have some degree of protection.’