Downing Street has refused calls for England’s second lockdown to be cut short and said it will run until December 2 despite evidence that the local tiers system was working.
Figures published today by the Office for National Statistics suggest that the country’s outbreak slowed down last week, with the number of people catching the virus each day 12 per cent lower than the week before.
More than half of local authorities saw their positive test rates fall at the end of October and Covid Symptom Study predicts that the UK has already passed the peak of the second wave.
But when pressed on the need for a total shutdown for a month, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said today: ‘The lockdown is for four weeks to the 2nd December. As we have said the trend of hospital admissions are going up…
‘We have introduced a second lockdown for the purposes of reducing the transmission of the virus.’
Today’s ONS report found that an average 45,700 people are thought to have caught Covid-19 in England between October 25 and October 31, down from a record high of 51,900 a week earlier.
Random mass testing by the ONS suggests that 618,700 people in England were infected with Covid-19 at any point in time last week, equal to around 1.13 per cent of the population or one in every 90 people. This was an increase from 568,100 the week before and the one-week lag between new infections and total infections meant it rose despite the daily estimate now being lower.
Experts at the ONS admitted ‘incidence appears to have stabilised at around 50,000 new infections per day’ and Oxford University biologist Professor James Naismith said: ‘This is evidence that the social restrictions prior to lockdown have had a real impact.’
The figures add to growing evidence from all corners that the second wave of coronavirus has already peaked just as England faces a month under the toughest lockdown rules since spring.
The Covid Symptom Study, run by health-tech company ZOE and King’s College London experts, has also estimated a decline in cases and the project leader Professor Tim Spector is convinced the peak of the second wave has passed, saying: ‘Over the past week cases are heading in the right direction’.
MailOnline’s analysis of Public Health England’s weekly coronavirus surveillance report, released last night, shows a sea of green has swept across the country as more than half of local authorities recorded a drop in per-person Covid-19 infection rates in the final week of October.
The brightening picture suggests No10’s three-tier lockdown system — which had received international praise for being ‘very effective’ in the North — was successfully pushing down the disease before lockdown was called.
Economists and politicians have criticised the decision to impose nationwide rules as hasty and unnecessary, pointing out infection rates were falling in many areas already, that people in Cornwall are being punished for what’s happening in the North, and adding ‘nobody has explained why we abandoned the tier approach’.
Graphs used by SAGE to make the case for the November lockdown have been torn apart by experts and ministers who showed that a model predicting 4,000 deaths per day, in particular, was weeks out of date and unnecessarily frightened the public.
Experts today said the ONS’s figures, which are considered the most accurate at estimating the true size of the UK’s outbreak, were ‘welcome’ and promising.
Professor James Naismith, who runs the scientific Rosalind Franklin Institute at Oxford University, said: ‘Today’s ONS data release for the week ending 31st October brings welcome news.
‘Although the virus is still growing, it does appear to have stabilised… Importantly, these data present a picture consistent with the [Covid Symptom Study] data, that the virus is spreading at a constant rather than an increasing rate. This is evidence that the social restrictions prior to lockdown have had a real impact.’
He said that, if this is the peak of the second wave, he would not expect the death count to rise above 1,000 per day ‘for any prolonged period’, but that it was ‘very likely’ that it would be above 500 a day for a while.
Professor Naismith added: ‘Should next week’s data show a similar stabilisation or reduction, then we can be confident that the second wave has for now stabilised.’
Scientists cautioned that although the infection numbers appeared to move in the right direction, one week’s data was not enough to be sure of a trend. And the number of cases is still very high and will pile pressure on hospitals.
The University of East Anglia’s Dr Paul Hunter added: ‘Whether this turns out to be a temporary decline or a longer term trend, possibly as a result of the imposition of the three tier system, it is too early to say.
‘Nevertheless, these observations are very welcome and hopefully when the current lockdown ends we will continue to see a continuing decline throughout the rest of the year and into 2021.’
The ONS’s estimates are based on tests done over a two-week period, and then compared with those taken over another month before that.
For this reason it still describes positive test rates as increasing – because the most recent two-week period has increased on the two-week period before that – even though there was a decline in the last seven days.
‘The infection rate has increased in recent weeks, but the rate of increase is less steep compared with previous weeks,’ today’s report said.
It added: ‘There have been increases in positivity rates in all age groups, except among older teenagers and young adults where rates now appear to be levelling off; however, the highest rates continue to be seen in this group.
‘There have been increases in positivity rates in all but one region (the North East) in England over the last two weeks; the highest Covid-19 infection rates remain in the North West and Yorkshire and The Humber.
‘During the most recent week (25 to 31 October 2020), we estimate there were around 8.38 new Covid-19 infections for every 10,000 people per day in the community population in England, equating to around 45,700 new cases per day; incidence appears to have stabilised at around 50,000 new infections per day.’
The figures were based on 209,554 tests done in the past fortnight, of which 2,173 were positive. The positives came from 1,900 people in 1,494 homes.
Top scientists have insisted England’s outbreak could ‘look a lot worse’ and praised the tiered system, which banned socialising under the toughest measures. But they conceded stricter curbs were probably needed in the South and argued health chiefs were too slow to drag areas into higher brackets.
More than three quarters of London’s 32 boroughs — including two of the worst-affected boroughs in Ealing, as well as Hammersmith and Fulham — also saw their infection rates start to drop, the data suggested.
At the other end of the scale, however, a handful of authorities saw rises above 40 per cent, including in a corner of Kent, part of East Yorkshire, Swindon in the South West and Dudley in the West Midlands.
It comes after Boris Johnson last night unveiled a chart claiming to show how NHS England’s hospitals could be overwhelmed with Covid-19 in weeks. At a Downing Street press conference officially welcoming the nation into second national lockdown misery, the Prime Minister and NHS England chief Sir Simon Stevens pointed to the graph as evidence to justify the month-long intervention.
But top experts fumed that No10 has only hit the lockdown panic button because it was backed into a corner by its ‘gloomster’ scientific advisers who don’t want to deal with the same scrutiny that was hurled their way during the first wave. One top expert has even claimed the second wave has passed.
And today it emerged an official prediction that coronavirus deaths would soon surpass those registered in the first wave was quietly corrected by the Government because it was too high. The projections were used to push the UK nation into a second lockdown.
Conservative MPs decried the data as an Iraq-style ‘dodgy dossier of Covid graphs’, marking its similarity to Tony Blair’s controversial document which was used to take the country to war in the Middle East. Furious economists said people responsible for the ‘flawed modelling should be held accountable for the economic disaster that will follow’.
As many as 82 out of England’s 149 local authorities recorded drops in their infection rates in the week up to November 1, the most recent snapshot from Public Health England suggests.
The largest decline was recorded in Rutland, in the East Midlands, where infections dived by almost 40 per cent from 107.7 to 65.12 cases per 100,000 people.
WHICH AREAS HAD THE LARGEST DROPS IN INFECTION RATES?
* This data is for the week ending November 1, over the period of half term
In Tier Three Liverpool and Lancashire infections declined across all local authorities by more than ten per cent, in the biggest sign yet that the harshest restrictions – forcing restaurants to offer takeaway only, banning mixing between households and closing pubs – were driving down infections.
Both had been under the restrictions for about two weeks, which experts say is about the length of time it takes for interventions to start taking effect.
This is because anyone who is infected at the time measures come in will normally clear the virus in a week or two.
Across Tier Three Greater Manchester seven out of ten local authorities saw infections slip downwards, while no area saw its infections rise at a level above seven per cent.
Data on the city’s infection rates is only available for the first ten days Tier Three measures were in place, meaning the impact of the restrictions is not yet clear. But the declines signal that the highest tier was achieving its aim of pushing down escalating infections.
At the other end of the scale, the data revealed some areas were still seeing rises in infections: And the biggest rise in infections was registered in Medway, Kent, where infections surged by 55 per cent from 88.31 to 136.42 per 100,000.
It was followed by Hull, where infections surged 52 per cent from 300.3 to 457.3 per 100,000.
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, told MailOnline the data suggested the tiered system, particularly in the North, was working.
‘(that decline) is good, and a lot of the ones where have gone up, a lot of them are in the south of England, where rates are particularly low,’ he said. ‘Things could look a lot worse, but it’s reasonably positive.’
He added the rises in the south suggested further action was needed: ‘You can imagine the country in two bits; in the north, before this new lockdown started today, there were these pretty severe measures in a lot of places.
Above are the Covid-19 infection rates in London boroughs for the week ending October 24, according to official data
MASS-TESTING BEGINS IN LIVERPOOL AS CARS QUEUE OUTSIDE MAKE-SHIFT SITES
Cars queue outside a coronavirus testing centre at Wavertree Sports Park in Liverpool this morning
Cars are queuing outside Covid-19 testing centres in Liverpool as the city today kicks off England’s first city-wide mass testing scheme.
The entire population of the city of 500,000 can now get tested for coronavirus in a pilot of the Operation Moonshot that will later be rolled out across the country.
Soliders have been drafted in to support the ambitious effort and were yesterday seen setting up base at the Pontins holiday park in Southport.
Rapid tests that give results in less than an hour will be used in the trial, as well as the normal PCR swab tests that are used in centres across the country for people with symptoms of the illness.
Liverpool has faced some of the worst effects of England’s second wave of coronavirus and hospitals there have seen patient numbers surge in recent weeks. The infection rate in the city has fallen by more than half in the last month, however.
Mayor of the city, Joe Anderson, said: ‘This is an incredible opportunity to turbocharge our efforts to reduce coronavirus in the city.’
Operation Moonshot, however, was dealt a damaging blow on day one as one of the rapid coronavirus tests set to be used in a hospital trial was found to be less than 50 per cent accurate in a study.
Researchers found the Optigene Direct RT-Lamp tests, bought because they give swab results in just 20 minutes, missed more than 50 per cent of positive cases in a trial in Manchester, meaning they risk dangerously undermining the number of people who are actually infected.
The tests were intended to be used in small scheme on hospital staff in Liverpool but there are now worries that they aren’t good enough.
‘But when you go into the south, the rates were lower, but then they are tending to go up quicker. So maybe something more was needed in the south, as well as continuing in the north because infection rates haven’t come down far enough yet.’
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert from the University of the East Anglia, told MailOnline the data suggested infections across England had ‘slowed’ over the last week.
‘Tier Three seems to be reducing numbers on average whereas cases may have been continuing to increase on average in tier 1 on average,’ he said. ‘Tier Two has a small decline but far too early to be sure.’
‘I think that the tier system may indeed have been having a good impact but perhaps not as much as it could due to delays in moving local authorities into higher tiers even when needed. However, still too early for me to be confident.’
In London, 26 out of 32 boroughs saw their infection rates fall, showing that Tier Two restrictions – banning people from visiting pubs and restaurants with other households – were also putting the plug on transmission.
The largest drop was in the Kensington and Chelsea, where the infection rate tumbled by almost 30 per cent from 157.56 to 112.73 per 100,000. The capital’s hotspot Ealing also recorded a 26 per cent decline in infections, from 231.71 to 171.15 per 100,000.
But Havering registered the largest rise in infections, where they went upwards by 16.7 per cent from 171 to 199.6 per 100,000.
No local authority in the capital has an infection rate below 100 per 100,000, and no authority in England has an infection rate below 20 per 100,000 – the level at which the Government considers quarantine measures on travel to a foreign country.
Associate professor in cellular biology at the University of Reading, Dr Simon Clarke, told MailOnline it wasn’t surprising that Tier Three areas have big dips.
‘I think it’s fair to say that if you look at the most high-ranking drops, they’re either in places like Merseyside, Lancashire or Manchester,’ he said.
‘There appears to be some kind of correlation depending on when places went under tighter restrictions’
He added that the second lockdown was imposed because ‘events overtook us’.
‘I think places were not pushed up in the tiers as aggressively perhaps as they should have been in some places.
‘I think there is the suggestion that some places could have gone up quicker.’
Professor Anthony Brookes, from the University of Leicester, told MailOnline it appeared the coronavirus outbreak is ‘plateauing’.
Responding to the data, he said the fall in infections is ‘no surprise’.
‘It is fully consistent with the trend that has become apparent across various data-sets these last several weeks, making it even more surprising that the Government claims it did not know of or allow for this when planning for the current lockdown and marketing it to the public.
‘A similar plateauing and dispersed fall in Covid-19 death rates is equally or even more apparent than the Government’s own data.
‘None of this can be due to the current lockdown (which has only just started), but whether or to what degree it is due to the Tier system is unclear.
Covid-19 cases are dropping in under-40s in England but still rising for older people
Coronavirus infection rates fell among the under-40s last week but continued to rise in older people, Public Health England figures showed today.
In its weekly report, PHE claimed per-person cases plummeted by a fifth (21 per cent) in teenagers during half term, while infections also declined among schoolchildren and people in their 20s.
Infections continued to rise in middle-aged and elderly adults, however, with the biggest increase among people in their 60s, whose cases grew by six per cent.
People over the age of 60 are the ones most at risk of dying if they catch Covid-19 so keeping rates down in that age group is critical for the Government.
Public Health England data shows that infection rates declined in younger age groups in the most recent week – week 44 – although they remain significantly higher than in older demographics
Although the second wave began with most infections happening among children and students, it has now penetrated older groups and led to surges in hospital admissions and fatalities.
PHE’s report also noted that test positivity – the proportion of tests that have positive results – rose last week to almost one in 10.
But this may be because testing tailed off dipped during half term because people don’t come forward as often during school holidays, officials said, meaning that even if the outbreak stayed the same size or shrunk slightly the positivity would still have risen.
The number of people getting tested fell in the most recent week because it was half term, which PHE said was a normal effect of school holidays. As a result, positivity rose to around one in every 10 tests, which has concerned experts
In the UK in the week ending November 1 there were 96,000 fewer tests than the week before, despite a trend of swabs increasing by 100,000 per week throughout October. As a result weekly positive cases dipped, too, from 153,000 to 150,000.
‘Other explanations, such as people voluntarily socially distancing more during October as they realised the virus was increasing across the UK, and the establishment of herd immunity, are at least as likely as explanations.’
The data is based on confirmed cases of coronavirus by specimen date, meaning the date the swab was taken rather than the date it was processed by laboratories.
There is a delay of around five days between swabs being taken and tested for the virus, leaving statisticians unable to calculate the infection rates until all swabs have been processed.
Scientists have warned that the coronavirus infection rates may have been artificially suppressed by the half-term break, during which around 20,000 fewer swabs were completed every day across England when the number dropped from 172,000 to 150,000.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the number of tests completed dipped because fewer people asked for them over the half-term break.
They said this was down to a change in people’s routines, meaning fewer were booking swabs.
The figure for the drop in tests completed is based on the first three days of half-term – 26 to 28 October – the latest dates for which data is available.
But the number completed varies by region.
In Greater Manchester slightly more tests are thought to have been completed over the time period, remaining at almost 13,000 swabs done a day.
In Lancashire the number completed dropped by 16 per cent, from 6,341 to 5,343-a-day, in Lancashire by 13 per cent, from 7,207 to 6,280-a-day, and in London by 18 per cent, from 19646 to 16126-a-day.
Although there was a drop in the numbers, which impacts the infection rates, experts pointed out that in many areas where testing had been increased the number of infections identified had also decreased.
In Hounslow, the only borough of London where total swabs completed did not drop, the number of infections found declined by 18.5 per cent from 196 to 159.8 per 100,000.
This adds further weight to the suggestion that coronavirus cases were already in decline, and the UK’s first wave had peaked, before the second lockdown was imposed.
Economists and politicians lined up today to slam the Government’s decision to impose a second lockdown in England, saying the data already clearly showed cases were declining in many areas.
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs, said: ‘Declining rates of infection in many parts of England were apparent before the Prime Minister made his announcement on Saturday and yet he seems to have been more persuaded by theoretical models passed around in secret.
‘The experience of places such as Nottingham and Newcastle shows that the tide can be turned without resorting to the nuclear option of lockdown.’
He added: ‘No attempt was made to predict the “reasonable worst case scenario” for people’s livelihoods, incomes and mental health. Nor have we been given any explanation for why people in Penzance have to lose their jobs to reduce infections in Salford. The people responsible for the flawed modelling should be held accountable for the economic disaster that will follow.’
Conservative MP Peter Bone told MailOnline that the PHE report ‘bore out’ what he was seeing in Northamptonshire and suggested the Tiers had been working before the blanket lockdown.
He also complained that the lockdown decision appeared to have been justified with an Iraq-style ‘dodgy dossier of Covid graphs’.
‘This is why I found it difficult to understand why we abandoned the Tier approach. And we now know by their own admission that the modelling was wrong,’ he said.
‘There are lies, damn lies and Covid statistics. Nobody has explained why we abandoned the Tier approach, unless it was they saw this dreadful model from scientists saying you’re going to get 4,000 people dying every day. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be any evidence we’re moving in that direction.’
REVEALED: CHILLING GOVERNMENT GRAPH SHOWING SECOND WAVE DEATHS SOARING ABOVE MAY’S PEAK IN WEEKS ‘WERE WRONG’ AND WERE SECRETLY TONED DOWN
An official prediction that coronavirus deaths would soon pass those registered in the first wave has been quietly corrected by the government, it emerged last night, because they were too high.
The projections led to the country being hit with a second national lockdown and were shown at a Downing Street press conference last Saturday.
They claimed that England would see up to 1,500 deaths a day by early December, far higher than the peaks of deaths recorded in the first wave.
But the figures, which caused alarm across the country, have now been amended ‘after an error was found’.
The revised figures now suggest the second peak is likely to be on par with the first with the worst-case scenario at 1,010 deaths a day by December 8 – a similar figure to that seen in April.
Predictions for hospital admissions were also revised from 9,000 by early December to 6,190.
The UK Statistics Authority said the Government and devolved administrations must make clear the source of data used in public briefings and the full figures behind it. It added: ‘The use of data has not consistently been supported by transparent information being provided in a timely manner.
‘As a result, there is potential to confuse the public and undermine confidence in the statistics.
‘It is important that data are shared in a way that promotes transparency and clarity. It should be published in a clear and accessible form with appropriate explanations of context and sources. It should be made available to all at the time the information is referenced publicly.’
The watchdog added: ‘It is clear that those working on the pandemic face significant pressures. But full transparency is vital to public understanding and public confidence in statistics and those who use them.’
The slides now contain a note which says: ‘Plots on slides four and five have been amended after an error was found’
The revised figures now suggest the second peak is likely to be on par with the first with the worst-case scenario at 1,010 deaths a day by December 8