UK’s daily Covid infections fall 16% in a week to 1,979 and deaths stay steady

By | May 18, 2021

UK’s daily Covid infections fall 16% in a week to 1,979 and deaths stay steady as another five victims are recorded

  • Department of Health statistics showed 1,979 infections were registered in the last 24 hours, up eight per cent
  • There were also five Covid deaths which was one more than at the same time last week, figures showed
  • England today basked in new-found freedoms as more restrictions were eased to allow pubs and restaurants
  • Boris Johnson has, however, called for Brits to proceed with a ‘heavy dose of caution’ due to the Indian strain 

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Britain’s daily coronavirus cases have fallen by 16 per cent in a week while deaths remain steady, official figures revealed today.

Department of Health statistics show there were 1,979 new infections in the past 24 hours, down on last Monday. A further five fatalities were registered, one more than the same time last week.

Health chiefs also dished out another 131,318 first doses of the Covid vaccine, and 183,745 second doses. More Britons have got their first jab in recent days after the roll-out was expanded to 38 and 39-year-olds.

England today enjoyed more freedoms under the next stage of Boris Johnson‘s roadmap, as pubs and restaurants were again allowed to serve indoors and Britons were permitted to invite up to six people into their homes.

But the Prime Minister warned people to proceed with a ‘heavy dose of caution’ because of fears over spiralling cases of the Indian variant. SAGE members admitted they would not be taking advantage of the freedoms because there was still a risk cases could spike.

Matt Hancock revealed to the Commons that 2,323 cases of the variant have now been identified in 83 local authorities. The Health Secretary said the resurgence emphasised the importance of getting a jab for people of all ages but that the infections ‘were not tending to penetrate into older groups’. 

Local outbreaks of the alarming new B.1.617.2 variant have sprung up in Bolton, Blackburn, Sefton in Merseyside, Bedford, Nottingham and Leicester as Public Health England last week confirmed it has found 1,313 cases so far.

Downing Street has admitted the full end of lockdown, scheduled for June 21, could be thrown off course by the variant which could cause a huge spike in infections and hospital admissions in the summer. 

It comes as official figures showed the mutant strain is now behind one in five Covid infections, with five out of six hotspots lagging behind in the vaccine roll-out. Cases are focused in London and the North West. 

NHS figures show that vaccine uptake among all over-40s, which is at 83 per cent average across England, is below average in all but one (Sefton) of the Indian variant hotspot areas. Although experts do not think the at-risk older age groups are the ones driving outbreaks at the moment, it could be cause for concern if the virus spreads to them

NHS figures show that vaccine uptake among all over-40s, which is at 83 per cent average across England, is below average in all but one (Sefton) of the Indian variant hotspot areas. Although experts do not think the at-risk older age groups are the ones driving outbreaks at the moment, it could be cause for concern if the virus spreads to them 

Members of the public in Bolton are pictured queueing for coronavirus vaccines after local health chiefs did away with NHS guidance and said any adult could get a jab – the Government has asked the council and NHS not to break from national policy

Members of the public in Bolton are pictured queueing for coronavirus vaccines after local health chiefs did away with NHS guidance and said any adult could get a jab – the Government has asked the council and NHS not to break from national policy

PASSENGERS LEFT ‘TERRIFIED OF CATCHING COVID’ WHILE CRAMMED INTO HEATHROW MIGRATION QUEUE

Heathrow travellers have told MailOnline how they were 'terrified of catching Covid' while being crammed into the airport's border hall this morning. Pictured: Passengers queue at the Heathrow border hall today

Heathrow travellers have told MailOnline how they were ‘terrified of catching Covid’ while being crammed into the airport’s border hall this morning. Pictured: Passengers queue at the Heathrow border hall today 

Passengers flying into the UK today faced ‘bedlam’ at the borders with some facing a three hour wait – with some left standing next to Red List arrivals.

Heathrow travellers have told MailOnline how they were ‘terrified of catching Covid’ while being crammed into the airport’s border hall this morning.

Some even claim they were left standing next to arrivals from Covid-ravaged India while in the three hour long queues.

It comes as thousands of Britons today rushed to the airport to leave the country after the international travel ban was lifted this morning.

But as thousands jetting off to the likes of Portugal joined orderly queues in the departures area today, those in arrivals faced chaos at the border.

One of those stuck in the queue told MailOnline: ‘I arrived back in the country from South Africa today – one of the Red Listed countries.

‘I was more terrified catching Covid while going through border control than walking around South Africa.

‘While queuing there was no social distancing we had a plane from India arrive straight after ours and we queued for over three hours and when their plane arrived it was out the door.’

New York-based journalist Steve Myall was one of those caught up in the Heathrow arrivals chaos this morning.

The reporter, who flew in from ‘amber listed’ America, documented his experience on Twitter – saying in one post how he had been forced to sit next to a family from a red list country.

He said: ‘Have arrived in Heathrow. Been told to join the one hour plus queue and also that the fast tracking of families with young children is on hold.

‘Asked to go and sit somewhere while one parent queues up we’ve been directed to sit with a family who have just arrived from a Red List country.’

He later claimed that just 10 of the 35 Border Force desks were being staffed when he went through around 6am today.

 

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Department of Health figures showed of the deaths recorded today, three were in England and one was in Northern Ireland and Wales. There were no fatalities from the virus in Scotland. 

Covid cases have plateaued recently amid mounting concern over the Indian variant, which scientists suggest could be 50 per cent more transmissible than the already dominant Kent variant.

Bolton – which is a hotspot for the mutant strain – now has the highest infection rate in the country after 790 residents tested positive, giving an infection rate of 274.4 cases per 100,000 people.

It was followed by Bedford (212 cases or 122.3 per 100,000) and Blackburn with Darwen (176 cases or 117.6 per 100,000), which are both also hotspots for the B.1.617.2 strain.

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At the most recent count the Sanger Institute in London, which is analysing the variants in positive tests, found the Indian variant now makes up 20 per cent of all cases, showing it is edging out the Kent variant, now at 78 per cent.

The Sanger lab found 895 samples containing the variant in the six hotspot areas between April 25 and May 8, not including people who had travelled into England from abroad.

But only Sefton is keeping pace with the national vaccine roll-out, having got at least one dose to 86 per cent of over-40s, while the England average is 83 per cent.

The five other areas are behind on the measure and Nottingham had reached only 74 per cent of eligible adults by May 9, with only 75 per cent in Leicester.

All but Sefton are also below the national average on getting two doses to everyone over the age of 70 (90 per cent) and four out of the six are behind on the proportion of over-50s to have had both doses.

Although figures suggest low vaccine rates aren’t causing high rates – most cases are in young adults – they will raise concerns that outbreaks could quickly turn deadly if older people aren’t protected. Eighteen people are reported to have been hospitalised with the variant in Bolton, with ‘the majority’ of them not fully vaccinated.

Bolton has taken the vaccine rollout into its own hands and is giving jabs to young adults in a bid to slow the spread of the variant, which scientists fear is more infectious than the Kent strain.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called for the same tactic to be used elsewhere but the Government is resisting the idea, insisting that areas keep going with the age-based system, which is now on people in their 30s and which ministers say has been ‘very effective’ so far.

Fears about the variant taking off have led to disagreements over whether vaccines should be given out more widely to try and increase protection in hard-hit areas that could see outbreaks worsen in the coming weeks.

Downing Street today urged health officials not to extend the coronavirus vaccine rollout to younger people and to stick to the priority list advised by experts.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘This is a decision made by the JCVI about how best to deploy the vaccines we have, but we have deployed thousands more additional doses in Bolton so they can do this work of getting vaccinations to people.’

He added: ‘We want every part of the country to abide by the advice set out by the JCVI, it’s this unified approach that has allowed us to proceed so quickly with our vaccine rollout.’

Earlier in the day London Mayor Sadiq Khan and former prime minister Tony Blair had called for the opposite and want jabs targeted at hotspots and given to people of all ages to try and slow down the virus.

In Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea in London, only 58 per cent of all the eligible over-40s had taken up the offer of a vaccine by May 9 – fewer than anywhere else in England.

‘What I’m saying to the Government is there are five boroughs in particular with high numbers of these cases,’ Mr Khan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘What we’d like to see is the vaccine being accelerated in these areas with younger Londoners receiving the vaccine sooner than other parts of London because the early evidence is it does appear that if you receive the vaccine, particularly both doses, you may be less likely to catch it.

‘The spread is less but also the consequences should you test positive are less serious as well.’

Tony Blair told Times Radio that the Government should ‘absolutely’ consider tweaking the rollout to cover younger people in high risk areas quicker.

Libby Jones, right, with her colleague Shannon Maiden, both nurses from Great Ormond Street hospital who have just finished an overnight shift, have a pint of cider at the Shakespeare's Head pub

Libby Jones, right, with her colleague Shannon Maiden, both nurses from Great Ormond Street hospital who have just finished an overnight shift, have a pint of cider at the Shakespeare’s Head pub

Passengers prepare to board an easyJet flight to Faro, Portugal, at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex after the ban on international leisure travel for leisure ended

May Morris is hugged by her granddaughter Francesca Royle for the first time in months this morning in Carlisle

May Morris is hugged by her granddaughter Francesca Royle for the first time in months this morning in Carlisle

Staff members clean seats at Vue Cinema in Leicester Square during its reopening today

Staff members clean seats at Vue Cinema in Leicester Square during its reopening today

BRITS WARNED TO WEAR FACE MASKS ON BEACHES IN PORTUGAL 

British tourists were handed face masks, sanitiser and asked to provide full details about their stay in Portugal as they touched down in the country for the start of long-awaited sunshine breaks.

All Brits arriving the country were also warned by officials at Faro airport of the strict rules for wearing face masks in public places, which includes keeping them on while on the beach or they could be hit with hefty £100 fines.

Passengers arriving were asked by immigration officials to produce proof of a negative PCR test and show that they had completed a locator form, with details of where they are staying before being allowed to proceed to the baggage hall.

In Gibraltar, support worker Lynne Wilson clinked glasses with husband David and her Rock-based daughter Kelly Dolan after a tearful airport reunion with toddler granddaughter Gabriela.

It comes as the Portuguese tourism minister announced at the weekend that ‘everything is open’ for British tourists when borders open.

Restaurants, coffee shops and bars have been opened up in time for an expected influx of holidaymakers next week, Rita Marques revealed.

She told the BBC : ‘We have been working hard to tackle the pandemic, as I said, so restaurants and coffee shops and shops and everything is open as from May 1.’

Amongst the first Brits to arrive in Faro today was honeymoon couple Siddhant Majithia, 26, and his wife Hemisha, 24.

The young couple only married two weeks ago and admitted that they were not looking forward to the prospect of honeymooning in Britain and were relieved when the Government placed Portugal on the green list.

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He added: ‘Taking a more varied approach to the way we do the vaccine rollout at this stage, given the problems and the challenge of Indian variant is absolutely sensible.’

But Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng defended the Government sticking to its strategy.

He said on Sky: ‘The Government has very clear guidelines in terms of the ordered way in which we roll out the vaccine.

‘That has been working and has been a very effective rollout, and we would suggest that people should do it in the correct order, in the right way.’

Referring to today’s new freedoms, Professor Sir Mark Walport, England’s former chief scientific adviser who also sits on SAGE, claimed that just because people are legally allowed to do something doesn’t mean they should. 

He told the Guardian: ‘My personal judgement is that I will do things outside as far as possible. My advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.’ 

SAGE adviser Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, suggested people should avoid going to pubs or restaurants in areas with low vaccine uptake or high Indian variant case numbers.

He told LBC Radio he would only dine indoors if the establishment ‘was suitably organised and it looked okay and was in an area of low prevalence and the clientele was very old [and therefore mostly vaccinated].’ He added: ‘I’ll certainly hug my children and grandchildren and others very close to me. But will I be hugging strangers? No’. 

Sir John Bell, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford University and prominent SAGE member, urged people to use their newfound freedoms ‘cautiously’. He told The Times: ‘I don’t want to be a party pooper but the most important thing is not to prolong this any longer than we absolutely have to, so going about this cautiously could be quite helpful to everybody.’ 

While Dr Zubaida Haque, from Independent Sage, told BBC Essex that with the India variant in circulation, indoor mixing for the next 2-3 weeks ‘is a really dangerous idea’ and could lead to ‘thousands of hospitalisations’.

The scientists spoke out this morning after a guarded statement before revellers packed into pubs to celebrate the lifting of restrictions, where the Prime Minister said the emergence of the Indian strain of coronavirus meant the restored freedoms should be exercised carefully.

Tory MPs however called on Mr Johnson to reject warnings from scientists that lockdown curbs may have to remain in place longer because of the new variant. Britain recorded four new daily Covid deaths and 1,926 cases yesterday as Matt Hancock urged people to hug ‘carefully’ and get jabbed to prevent the new Indian strain spreading ‘like wildfire’.  

Amid rising cases in pockets of the north-west because of the Indian strain of Covid, Mr Hancock said that most of the 18 people hospitalised in Bolton ‘haven’t had the jab but are eligible’, with the aim now to administer up to 1million jabs per days as soon as possible and encourage more people to take it. 

What can people in England do from May 17? 

Can people come over to my house again?

Yes. Up to six people from multiple households or an unlimited number of people from two households will be allowed to visit you inside your house again.

Can people stay over at my house again?

Yes. People from outside your household will be allowed to stay overnight, as long as you stick to within the rule of six or two households.

Can I still meet people outside?

Yes. You will now be able to meet in groups of up to 30 people outside. Bigger groups will be illegal. Until May 17, you can still only meet outside in groups of six.

A member of bar staff wearing a face masks serves drink in a pub in East London in July 2020

A member of bar staff wearing a face masks serves drink in a pub in East London in July 2020

Can I hug my friends and family again?

Yes. The Government has said you can hug ‘close friends and family’ from outside your own household – for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020.

However, people are being urged to be ‘exercise their own personal judgement in line with the risks.’ There is no legal definition on who ‘close friends and family’ are.  

The Government also said wider social distancing rules will remain in place in adult social care, medical, retail, hospitality and business settings.

Can you sit inside a pub again?

Yes, indoor hospitality will resume – so you can sit inside a pub or restaurant with people from other households, as long as the rule of six (or two households) is met.

Will there be a substantial meal or curfew requirement for pubs?

No. As with step two on April 12, venues will not have to serve a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks; nor will there be a curfew.

An audience sit at the Pavilion theatre in Weymouth for a pantomime in December last year

An audience sit at the Pavilion theatre in Weymouth for a pantomime in December last year

Will you be able to stand at the bar?

No. Customers will still have to order, eat and drink while seated at a hospitality venue – even though they will now be allowed inside.

Will indoor entertainment venues now be allowed to reopen?

Yes. Cinemas, theatres, museums and indoor children’s play areas will all be allowed to reopen, but must follow guidelines on social distancing and face masks.

Concert halls, conference centres and sports stadia will also be allowed to reopen, with larger events in all venues able to resume with capacity limits (see below). 

Will venues face capacity limits?

Yes. Larger performances and sporting events will be capped in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full, whichever is a lower number. For outdoor venues the cap will be 4,000 people or half-full – again, whichever is lower.

In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can be spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend – or a quarter-full, whichever is lower.

Football fans at Wembley Stadium at a pilot event for the FA Cup semi-final last month

Football fans at Wembley Stadium at a pilot event for the FA Cup semi-final last month 

Will social distancing and face masks rules remain for now?

Yes. The one-metre (3ft) rule remains in place in public settings such as pubs, shops and restaurants. You should wear a face mask when walking around these places.

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What about children wearing masks in schools?

Secondary school children will no longer have to wear face masks in classrooms and corridors from May 17. However, those aged 11 and above will still be required to wear the masks in public settings such as shops, unless they have a medical exemption.

Ministers said infection rates among students and staff continue to decrease in line with wider community transmission, but twice weekly home testing will remain. 

Will students be able to attend university lectures in person again?

Yes. All university students in England can return to campus next week for in-person teaching. They will be expected to get tested for Covid-19 twice a week.

Most students, apart from those on critical courses, were told not to travel back to term-time accommodation as part of the third national lockdown in January.

Students on practical courses, who require specialist equipment and facilities, began returning to face-to-face teaching on March 8. But it is estimated that about half of university students have not been eligible to return to in-person lessons.

Cinema-goers in their seats for a film at the Odeon Leicester Square in London last August

Cinema-goers in their seats for a film at the Odeon Leicester Square in London last August

Can I go on holiday abroad again?

Yes, but with many restrictions. Last Friday, the UK Government cleared just 12 destinations for quarantine-free tourist trips for Britons from May 17.

However, many of the destinations are remote islands or have very strict entry measures or blanket bans on UK tourists, further reducing the list of options.

Portugal and Gibraltar are the only countries on the ‘green list‘ that most Britons will realistically be able to visit for a warm weather holiday this month.

You can technically also go on holiday to ‘amber list’ and ‘red list’ countries again too, but you will need to complete a period of quarantine as follows:

For amber list, you must quarantine at home for ten days on your return and take a PCR test on days two and eight – as well as a lateral flow test before the return flight.

Or there is an alternative option that you could pay for an additional ‘Test to Release’ on day five to end self-isolation early. There is also a chance the country turns red.

Those returning from a red list country must stay in a government-approved quarantine hotel for 11 nights upon their return at a cost of £1,750.

Will there be a new limit on wedding numbers?

Yes. Up to 30 people will now be able to attend weddings. This limit will also apply to other types of significant life events including bar mitzvahs and christenings.

Will funerals also now be limited to 30 people?

No. There will now be no limit of the number of mourners at funerals, although the venue must operate in a socially distanced way and within capacity guidelines.

Travellers arrive at London Heathrow Airport on May 3. Non-essential travel is set to reopen

Travellers arrive at London Heathrow Airport on May 3. Non-essential travel is set to reopen

Can you stay overnight somewhere with people from another family?

Yes. The rest of the accommodation sector will now reopen, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs – and people from different households can share the same room.

Up until May 17, if you want to stay at a hotel or self-catering accommodation, you must only do so with members of your own household or support bubble.

Can I go to indoor sport classes now?

Yes. All indoor adult group sports and exercise classes will be allowed again, five weeks after gyms were allowed to reopen under step two on April 12.

Will closed parts of leisure centres now be allowed to reopen?

Yes. Saunas and steam rooms will now be allowed to reopen, following on from swimming pools and gyms on April 12.

There will be no more limits on mourners at funerals. Above: File picture of a funeral last July

There will be no more limits on mourners at funerals. Above: File picture of a funeral last July

Will there be limits on numbers in support groups?

Yes. The Government has said 30 people will now be able to attend a support group or parent and child group. The limit does not include children aged under five.

Will restrictions on care home visiting be changed?

Yes. Care home visiting will be eased further, with residents able to have up to five named visitors and more freedom to make ‘low risk visits’ out of the home.

Will the guidance on working from home change?

No. People are still being advised to ‘continue to work from home where they can’.

Hugs with family and friends will be allowed again from May 17 (file picture posed by models)

Hugs with family and friends will be allowed again from May 17 (file picture posed by models)

What is the exact time that the rules change on May 17?

Unconfirmed. This is not yet clear, but the April 12 rule change towards step two came in at midnight, so it is likely this will be the same for May 18.

Are there businesses that still cannot reopen?

Yes. Nightclubs are the only businesses that must remain shut until at least June 21.

Is there a confirmed date for when all Covid rules will cease?

Not yet. The Government hopes that on June 21 it will be able to drop all legal limits on social contact, but this will be confirmed nearer the time.

Before this date, the Government will complete a review of social distancing and other long-term measures such as face masks and guidance on working from home.

All university students in England can return to campus next week for in-person teaching (file)

All university students in England can return to campus next week for in-person teaching (file)

Why can we now move into Step 3 on May 17?

The Government has set four tests to further ease restrictions, which have now been met. These are that:

  • The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully;
  • Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated;
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS;
  • Assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.

It also comes after the UK Chief Medical Officers confirmed this morning that the UK Covid-19 alert level should move from level four to level three.

 

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