Health

UK reports 9,284 Covid cases on day before lockdown was due to end


More than 9,200 Covid cases were reported in the UK on Sunday, the day before it was originally planned that all remaining Covid restrictions in England would be lifted.

It came as figures revealed that more than 1m Covid jabs were booked in two days following the invitation on Friday for all adults in England to come forward for vaccination.

Covid cases in the UK have been rising in recent weeks as a result of partial easing of restrictions together with the growth of the Delta variant. On Friday Public Health England revealed cases of the Delta variant had increased by 79% in the space of a week, and it is now believed to account for 99% of new Covid cases.

The number of patients in hospital in the UK has also been increasing, albeit by far less than would have been expected without the vaccination programme. The number reached 1,316 on Thursday – the highest since the end of April.

The Delta variant is not only more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which previously dominated, but may also be linked to a greater risk of hospitalisation and is believed to be somewhat more resistant to Covid jabs, particularly after one dose.

The situation led Boris Johnson to delay the final easing of lockdown restrictions in England, pushing it back from 21 June to a possible date of 19 July, not least because the postponement will allow more people to receive their second vaccine dose.

Sunday’s figure for new cases of 9,284 in the UK was down from 11,007 on Thursday. This was the highest figure since 19 February.

Surge testing, which has been used in hard-hit areas such as Bolton, has been expanded to other areas of fast Delta variant spread including Lancashire and Cheshire West, where it was rolled out earlier this month. On Saturday surge testing was also announced for parts of south London and Cumbria.

NHS England has said 1,008,472 appointments for Covid jabs were booked over Friday and Saturday following the announcement that all adults in England can now receive the vaccine. The figure is likely an underestimate as it does not include appointments made with GPs or those who had the jab at walk-in centres, such as the pop-up vaccination centre at Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium in London which opened for the day on Sunday.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS test and trace, and deputy director of Public Health England’s National Infection Service, said the UK was seeing the impact of vaccination in key infection hotspots, but infections were rising in other areas.

“We are definitely seeing some signals in some areas of cases slowing down. Bolton, for example, has definitely reversed, Blackburn and Darwen has stabilised,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. “But there are other parts of the country, particularly in some parts of the north-east, some parts of London, that are still rising quite fast.

“So I think this is not all doing the same thing all over the country, and we’re seeing rises and falls as people go out and get tested and I think we are seeing the impact of vaccination and that is good news.”

Hopkins’ comments echo those from the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who pointed to a recent decrease in case numbers in Bolton, adding the same could happen in the rest of his region.

“I think we are coming through this. I think we now need to be careful and proportionate in terms of the way we manage things going forward,” he said.

As of 15 June, Bolton had a seven-day case rate per 100,000 population of 269.2, down from a peak of 452.8 on 21 May. By contrast, seven-day case rates in Manchester rose from 63.1 per 100,000 population on 21 May to 339.7 per 100,000 on 15 June, making it one of the worst-hit areas at present.

While the current picture is mixed around the UK, experts have warned the country could be in for a difficult winter.

Hopkins said the future situation remains unclear. “We may have to do further lockdowns this winter. I can’t predict the future, it really depends on whether the hospitals start to become overwhelmed at some point,” she said. “But I think we will have alternative ways to manage this, through vaccination, through anti-virals, through drugs, through testing that we didn’t have last winter.”

She also said people who have had two jabs may not need to quarantine. “I’m not sure when, but a time in the future I can imagine a situation where we will have alternatives to isolation for people who have two doses of vaccine.”



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