Britain today recorded 981 Covid deaths in the deadliest day of the pandemic since April and posted 50,000 more cases, as another 20million people were plunged into the toughest restrictions in a desperate attempt to control the spiralling second wave.
Department of Health figures show the daily number of deaths is up 31 per cent in a week, with 744 added to the tally last Wednesday. Today’s figure — technically the highest since 1,010 were declared on April 24 — will include hundreds of coronavirus victims who succumbed to the illness over the Christmas period.
Health chiefs also posted another 50,023 cases in the past 24 hours, which is up by 27 per cent on the 39,237 announced last Wednesday. The spike in infections is not down to reporting delays, Public Health England has said.
It comes as Number 10 announced three quarters of England will be in Tier 4 from midnight, adding the rest of the South East, Midlands, North East, parts of the North West and parts of the South West to the top bracket.
All remaining areas – barring just 2,000 people on the Isles of Scilly – are being escalated to Tier 3, including Liverpool, previously seen as an example of how to cope with the disease. It means virtually the whole of England is facing brutal lockdown until the Spring.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are already in the midst of their own clampdowns amid fears over the more infectious ‘mutant’ strain that is running riot.
But, in a glimmer of hope for the UK’s fight against the winter wave of the virus, the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine sealed approval from the UK regulator today, with the first injections due to start on Monday.
In the latest twists and turns in the pandemic:
- Secondary schools are expected to shut until January 11 at the earliest amid spiking cases in teenagers – but scientists want them closed until February. Boris Johnson will make the final decision today;
- The WHO has warned the coronavirus is not necessarily ‘the big one’ and a more deadly pandemic could sweep the globe;
- Chief medical officer Chris Whitty won praise after being spotted doing his rounds on the respiratory ward of a London hospital over the Christmas weekend;
- Author Michael Rosen, 74, says his ‘near death’ intensive care Covid battle has left him almost blind in one eye, partially deaf and suffering breathless dizzy spells;
- An A&E nurse has tested positive for Covid-19 eight days after he received Pfizer vaccine;
- London ICUs have asked major hospitals in Yorkshire if they will agree to take some patients as wards hospital admissions exceed peak of first wave;
- 51,135 further cases and 414 deaths were reported on Tuesday.
In another grim signal for the country, Boris Johnson used a round of interviews this afternoon to warn that the public ‘should not, in any way think that this is over’ due to the positive news on vaccines as ‘the virus is really surging’. ‘I know that it is tough for people but it really has to be done,’ he told ITV.
He pleaded to the BBC: ‘There are plenty of reasons for people to be optimistic about the spring, but we must must focus on fighting the disease for now.’
Pointing to rapidly increasing infections thought to be driven by the mutant Covid, Mr Hancock told the Commons: ‘Sharply rising cases and the hospitalisations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading.’
He said the majority of new cases recorded yesterday ‘are believed to be the new variant’.
Where is going to Tier 4 from midnight?
Leicestershire (Oadby and Wigston, Harborough, Hinckley and Bosworth, Blaby, Charnwood, North West Leicestershire, Melton)
Lincolnshire (City of Lincoln, Boston, South Kesteven, West Lindsey, North Kesteven, South Holland, East Lindsey)
Northamptonshire (Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire, Wellingborough)
Derby and Derbyshire (Derby, Amber Valley, South Derbyshire, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Chesterfield, Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, High Peak)
Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (Gedling, Ashfield, Mansfield, Rushcliffe, Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, Broxtowe)
Birmingham and Black Country (Dudley, Birmingham, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton)
Warwickshire (Rugby, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwick, North Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon)
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent (East Staffordshire, Stafford, South Staffordshire, Cannock Chase, Lichfield, Staffordshire Moorlands, Newcastle under Lyme, Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent)
Lancashire (Burnley, Pendle, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Blackpool, Preston, Hyndburn, Chorley, Fylde, Lancaster, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire, Wyre)
Cheshire and Warrington (Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Warrington)
Cumbria (Eden, Carlisle, South Lakeland, Barrow-in-Furness, Copeland, Allerdale)
Greater Manchester (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan)
Tees Valley (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees )
North East (County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Sunderland)
Gloucestershire (Gloucester, Forest of Dean, Cotswolds, Tewkesbury, Stroud, Cheltenham)
Somerset Council (Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton, South Somerset)
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
Isle of Wight
Mr Hancock added: ‘Unfortunately, this new variant is now spreading across most of England and cases are doubling fast.
‘It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 4 measures to a wider area, including the remaining parts of the South East, as well as large parts of the Midlands, the North West, the North East and the South West.’
Delivering more bad news, Mr Hancock said almost all the country will be under the top two brackets.
‘Even in most areas not moving into Tier 4, cases are rising too, and it is therefore necessary to apply Tier 3 measures more broadly too – including in Liverpool and North Yorkshire,’ he said.
‘The rest of Yorkshire remains in Tier 3. These changes will take effect from 00:01 tomorrow morning.
‘The new variant means that three quarters of the population are now going to be in Tier 4 and almost all of the country in Tiers 3 and 4.
‘And I know that Tier 3 and 4 measures place a significant burden on people, and especially on businesses affected, but I am afraid it is absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we’ve seen.’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is set to announce changes to the plans for schools to return in January later, with secondaries expected to keep classrooms closed for longer while testing systems are put in place.
Some three quarters of England — more than 44million people — will be under Tier 4 curbs following the latest review of the system, which was announced in the Commons this afternoon.
Another 14million will be in Tier 3, leaving just the Isles of Scilly in Tier 1.
Speculation is also growing about a ‘Tier 5’ crackdown, that could include even harsher measures such as a curfew, although Mr Hancock made clear that would not come today.
Some 24million people, including London, much of the South and the East are already under the strictest stay-at-home orders.
Pressure has mounted on the Government to act as hospitals across England warned of increasing strains on services due to Covid-19 patient numbers, which have reached their highest levels during the pandemic, while a record daily high of 51,135 further cases were reported on Tuesday, along with 414 deaths.
The approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine was a desperately needed boost after the country racked up a record 50,000 daily cases yesterday.
Mr Hancock insisted a rapid rollout of the jab now offers ‘high confidence’ the pandemic will be past within months.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine with supplies due to arrive today or tomorrow and the first jabs starting on Monday.
Two doses are needed to get long-term protection, but Mr Hancock revealed that the stocks could be spread more widely than anticipated as the MHRA has advised that the gap between the first jab and the second jab can be extended from four weeks to 12 weeks.
The same rule will be applied to the Pfizer jab already approved in early December – raising the prospect that more Britons could be given a single dose soon to ease the pressure on the NHS from rampant infections. Tony Blair has been calling for all available stocks to be used for single doses, with the booster follow-up being delayed.
However, Mr Hancock dodged saying whether he believed the numbers being vaccinated could be scaled up to the two million a week scientists say is needed.
And alongside the positive news he delivered a stark warning that the country still faces a tightening of the brutal lockdown today.
Mr Hancock said today’s decision meant Britain can ‘accelerate the vaccine rollout’ and ‘brings forward the day when we can get our lives back to normal’, adding: ‘We will be able to get out of this by the Spring.’
He told Sky News: ‘It is going to be a difficult few weeks ahead.
‘We can see the pressures right now on the NHS and it is absolutely critical that people follow the rules and do everything they can to stop the spread, particularly of the new variant of this virus that transmits so much faster.
‘But we also know that there is a route out of this. The vaccine provides that route out. We have all just got to hold our nerve over the weeks to come.’