Britain’s daily number of Covid-19 cases dropped today for the first time in a month as health officials announced 24,701 more infections amid hopes the second wave could finally be tailing off.
Department of Health statistics show 26,688 positive coronavirus tests were added to the Government’s count last Wednesday. It means today is the first time the daily number of cases has fallen on the amount recorded the week before since September 28, when the tally was affected by a counting blunder.
But deaths are continuing to rise. Another 310 coronavirus victims were recorded today, up from the 191 posted this time last week. Yesterday officials announced 367 deaths, in the highest daily toll since the end of May. It can take infected patients several weeks to become severely-ill, meaning the death toll lags behind any spike in cases.
It comes as Tory MPs have today urged Boris Johnson to resist pleas for tougher action after the Prime Minister was warned by his top scientific advisers that the UK faces a second wave of coronavirus even deadlier than the first — with daily deaths projected to hit 500 within weeks.
Projections by SAGE suggest the peak of the second wave will be lower than it was in the first wave. However, the peak is expected to last for longer, with high numbers of daily deaths likely to continue for months, resulting in a ‘lampshade’ second wave.
Sir Patrick Vallance, Number 10’s chief scientific adviser, is leading calls within the Government for Mr Johnson to take more drastic action as soon as possible to slow the spread of the disease. SAGE is understood to be of the view that all of England will be forced into Tier Three lockdown by mid-December.
But Mr Johnson is facing a difficult balancing act, with his experts calling for tougher restrictions while Tory MPs demand the PM set out a lockdown exit strategy. Businesses have repeatedly warned blanket measures would be disastrous for an economy already crippled by the first lockdown in March.
Senior Tories claimed SAGE operate sin a ‘medical vacuum’ with no appreciation for the state of the economy or for ‘how people feel’ amid concerns about the mental health impact of the current rules. One MP asked: ‘What would be the purpose of imposing lockdowns in parts of the country where there is very little Covid?’
According to internal analysis provided to Number 10 by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), deaths will peak at a lower level than in the spring but could remain high for weeks or even months with a Christmas respite unlikely
Sources within SAGE say there could be 25,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 by the end of November, more than double the 10,000 currently receiving care. Latest NHS England figures suggest the country has about 110,000 beds at its disposal, plus tens of thousands more in the Nightingale hospitals built during the first wave, which went unused. Its suggests that, even if the bleak prediction of 25,000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals by next month comes true, the health service will not be overstretched
But Mr Johnson is having to perform a balancing act, with SAGE experts calling for tougher lockdowns while Tory MPs press for a road map out of restrictions
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE LAMPSHADE?
A coronavirus lockdown row erupted today after No10‘s scientific advisers called for another national shutdown to curtail Britain’s Covid-19 resurgence amid projections that the second wave could end up being deadlier than the first because it will last for longer.
Top experts questioned why the ‘incredibly harmful intervention’ was being considered when Britain successfully squashed its epidemic earlier in the year and the NHS is still nowhere near full capacity. Oxford’s Professor Carl Heneghan told MailOnline: ‘We flattened the curve and protected the NHS. So what happened to learning to live with the virus?’
It emerged today that SAGE — the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which is steering the Government through the Covid-19 crisis — has projected the winter wave of the virus will be deadlier than the first and will take the shape of a ‘lampshade’.
Modelling by the advisory panel, which is being circulated through Downing St, has predicted a smaller but more prolonged second peak, which could see a moderate number of daily deaths rumble on for months, eventually overtaking the death toll of 40,000 in spring. For comparison, about 200 Covid-19 patients are currently dying each day and more than 1,000 were being killed daily during the darkest spell in March and April.
Mr Johnson has previously described the Government’s coronavirus curve, which plot the number of deaths, as looking like a sombrero or a camel’s hump. But the latest SAGE modelling suggests the second wave will look like a ‘lampshade’, with deaths peaking in a month and then remaining high for months before eventually falling.
Sources within SAGE warn there could be 25,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 by the end of November, more than double the 10,000 currently receiving NHS care.
Latest figures suggest the country has about 110,000 beds at its disposal, plus thousands more in the Nightingale hospitals built during the first wave which went unused. Thousands of private beds were also commandeered to give the NHS some breathing room if it’s faced with a surge in Covid-19 admissions.
The main justification for a national lockdown is to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, but the latest data suggests that, even if the bleak prediction of 25,000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals by next month comes true, the health service will not be overstretched.
Professor Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, told MailOnline: ‘Lockdown should be a last resort to protect the NHS. The fundamental aim [of the first lockdown] was to protect the NHS, at that time we didn’t have testing and we didn’t have any treatments or Test and Trace, so it was justified.
‘We managed to flatten the curve and we have these now [knowledge of the virus and medicines and public health measures on how to prevent it spreading]. What happened to learning to live with the virus? People calling for lockdown need to realise that it is a blunt tool that will just kick the can down road, we need to get the message out now that this is not going away, it’s about managing Covid-19’s impact.’
The latest coronavirus developments came as:
- More police forces from across the UK confirmed they will enforce coronavirus restrictions if they are broken over Christmas – as nearly 20 per cent of families said they would ignore the Rule of Six;
- Manchester’s Nightingale hospital today became the first moth-balled facility in England to open up again in an attempt to free up hospital beds across the North West;
- SAGE member Professor Sir Mark Walport said it is ‘not unrealistic’ to think there could be 25,000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals by the end of November;
- Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, urged Mr Johnson to convene a four-nation summit to agree UK-wide coronavirus rules for the Christmas period;
- Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Government’s failure to impose a circuit-breaker lockdown over half-term meant ministers now need to ‘do something quickly to save Christmas’;
- More hospitals announced they are suspending non-urgent surgery because of an influx of coronavirus patients;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced he will reveal the Government’s spending plans for the year ahead on November 25;
- Mark Drakeford announced a further 37 coronavirus deaths in Wales, the highest daily number in more than six months;
- Bristol risked confusion as it announced it is moving into what it described as ‘Tier One Plus’, a move which includes introducing Covid marshals and taking on further test and trace powers;
- The FTSE 100 closed down 1.9 per cent as it hit its lowest level in six months;
- Drug offences soared by 30 per cent during the coronavirus lockdown as overall recorded crime dropped by a quarter compared to 2019, figures showed;
- Protesters have once again taken to the streets in Spain and Italy to vent their fury at new coronavirus restrictions as European nations teeter on the brink of a second full lockdown.
The Northern Research Group of more than 50 Conservative MPs, many from constituencies in the so-called Red Wall, is adamant the PM must announce a road map for how areas can get out of Tier Three as rebels warned the north of England is being unfairly treated.
The group’s efforts received a boost from Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday as he said he shared the MPs’ frustrations at rules being imposed and ‘you want to know when it is going to be over’ in an apparent hint at his opposition to a national shutdown.
Despite the warnings from SAGE, Environment Secretary George Eustice insisted this morning a national lockdown is ‘not appropriate’ because there is ‘no point having a lockdown in those parts of the country where the incidence of the disease is very low’.
Mr Eustice also dashed hopes of a normal Christmas today, as he warned Number 10 is prepared to act to stop illegal large family gatherings over the festive period. He also claimed even gatherings that adhere to the rule of six could be outlawed if they include people living in different lockdown tiers.
His comments come after the UK today woke up to predictions of a grim winter after it emerged that SAGE advice to the PM has projected the second wave could be even deadlier than the first.
A Whitehall source told The Telegraph: ‘It’s going to be worse this time, more deaths.
‘That is the projection that has been put in front of the Prime Minister and he is now being put under a lot of pressure to lock down again.’
MANCHESTER’S NIGHTINGALE BECOMES FIRST MOTH-BALLED HOSPITAL TO REOPEN
NHS chiefs announced the make-shift site inside the Manchester Central Conference Centre — which was placed on red alert earlier this month amid fears the region’s hospitals could be overwhelmed by a spike in infections — would accept non-coronavirus patients from today
Manchester’s Nightingale hospital today became the first moth-balled facility in England to open up again in an attempt to free up hospital beds across the North West.
NHS chiefs announced the make-shift site inside the Manchester Central Conference Centre — which was placed on red alert earlier this month amid fears the region’s hospitals could be overwhelmed by a spike in infections — would accept non-coronavirus patients from today.
The emergency hospital closed in June when the first wave of the UK’s outbreak burned out but was placed back on stand-by over fears that local hospitals would once again be inundated. Greater Manchester, home to around 2.8million people, was last week forced into a Tier Three lockdown to tackle soaring cases.
Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate were all asked to ‘mobilise’ earlier this month in preparation for an expected surge in patients across the North of England.
Manchester’s facility, which was first opened in April, has enough space to care for 750 patients. But it is unclear whether they will have enough doctors and nurses to make all beds available.
It is reopening as figures show the number of coronavirus patients being treated in the North West is approaching the level it was at the peak of the first wave.
SAGE has separately warned that it believes all of England will have to be put into the top tier of restrictions by mid-December, putting Christmas get-togethers at risk of being cancelled completely.
Mr Johnson has previously described the Government’s coronavirus graphs which plot the number of deaths as looking like a sombrero or a camel’s hump.
But the latest SAGE modelling suggests there is likely to be a so-called ‘lampshade’ graph in the coming months as infections reach a peak and then remain at a high level for weeks or even moths before eventually falling.
Government experts believe daily deaths could remain in the hundreds for months, long beyond Christmas and potentially into March.
A Government source told The Sun the latest Sage numbers are ‘utterly bleak’ with projections reportedly showing there could be 25,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 by the end of November.
That would represent an even higher number than the peak in hospitalisations during the first wave. The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is currently just below 10,000.
Health chiefs believe the daily number of deaths could rise to 500 within weeks, still significantly below the 1,000-plus recorded during the peak of the first wave, amid fears that the Government’s tier system is not enough to get infections back under control.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of SAGE, said this morning there is currently ‘little to feel reassured about’ and that it is ‘certainly not unrealistic to think’ there could be 25,000 people in hospital by the end of the November.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are still relatively early in the second wave and, as we know, there’s a significant lag – two to three, two to four weeks – between actually getting an infection and people potentially dying, and so the number of deaths is always lagging the number of cases that are reported at any one time, so there’s little to feel reassured about.’
He added: ‘There are still an awful lot of people out there who are vulnerable, it’s not, as it were, that the disease has killed off everyone who is vulnerable, there are still very many people that are vulnerable and we know that only still a relatively small proportion of the population has had this infection.’
However, Sir Mark said he hoped improved treatments for coronavirus could keep the death toll down.
He said: ‘The number of cases is rising very significantly – it was 22,800 on 27 October and the seven-day average was just over 22,000, so there are an awful lot of cases.
‘One of the differences of course is that we are better at looking after people with coronavirus now and so hopefully the case fatality rate will be lower than it was in the first wave, but at the end of the day the fatality rate, the number of people who die is a product of the number of people who are infected and their vulnerability.’
More than eight million people across England are now in Tier Three areas, with almost all of them located in the north of the country.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly refused to rule out imposing a nationwide circuit-breaker lockdown.
FTSE 100 tumbles amid fears of second lockdown
The FTSE 100 today fell to its lowest level in six months amid growing fears over the direction of the UK’s coronavirus crisis.
Investors moved to dump riskier assets as uncertainty continues to grow over whether the Government could impose tougher Covid-19 rules or even a national shutdown as cases rise.
The index finished 1.9 per cent down after losses in real estate and travel stocks.
The FTSE 250 index also finished down 1.5 per cent as it slid to a three-week low after retailers and banks suffered a decline.
The dips came after the markets were rocked by reports that Boris Johnson is under pressure from Government scientific experts to bring forward new lockdown measures after SAGE warned the second wave of infections could be deadlier than the first.
Analysts fear a new lockdown could derail the UK’s economic recovery over the summer.
But he is reluctant to push the nuclear button because of the damage it would do to the economy and because of a growing Tory revolt over lockdown measures.
The Northern Research Group of more than 50 Conservative MPs wrote to the PM yesterday to demand he set out a ‘road map’ for how areas can get out of Tier Three.
The group was given a boost as Mr Sunak, who represents a constituency in Yorkshire, lined up to sympathise with the argument it had made.
He told the BBC: ‘I absolutely share my colleague’s frustration at restrictions, of course that is frustrating if you’re having to live under these things and you want to know when it is going to be over.’
Growing Tory disquiet over current coronavirus restrictions means Mr Johnson is likely to face a furious backlash if he does opt to impose a national lockdown, even if it is only for a few weeks.
However, the NRG demands for an exit strategy were given short shrift by some in Whitehall who said it is not possible to set out simple criteria for leaving Tier Three as they stressed it has to be a judgement call based on myriad factors.
A Whitehall source told The Sun: ‘The exit path these guys want does not exist yet.’
Mr Eustice today insisted the Government is sticking to its to strategy of imposing local lockdowns.
He told Times Radio: ‘In some ways we’ve always anticipated that there would be a second spike.
‘That’s why we have been monitoring the situation closely since September, introducing, in a timely way, restrictions that are appropriate to the level of prevalence in particular parts of the country with these three different levels of intervention.
‘And we’re adding to that all the time, so yesterday Warrington was put into the very high risk area, and there’s discussions now about Nottingham.
‘So we’re trying to intervene in things in a proportionate way across the country, but we don’t think it’s appropriate to have a national lockdown, because there’s parts of the country, like Cornwall, where the incidence of the disease is actually very low.’
Mr Eustice told the BBC: ‘We have learnt and I think our view at the moment is there’s no point having a lockdown in those parts of the country where the incidence of the disease is very low.’
The Cabinet minister also claimed the tiered system has held back the natural R rate of the virus of between 2.7 and 3 to the current level of between 1.4 and 1.5.
Pressure on Mr Johnson over the Government’s coronavirus strategy came as the UK’s European neighbours braced for tougher restrictions.
Both France and Germany are expected to announce new rules in the coming days in a desperate bid to combat a surge in infections.
The party has written to Mr Johnson as well as Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster calling for them to work together on a blueprint for the festive period.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said that because family members are often split up across the different nations of the UK it makes sense for there to be one set of coronavirus rules during Christmas to avoid confusion.
Office for National Statistics figures showed 761 Brits fell victim to the disease in the week ending October 16, the most recent recording period. Not since June 19, when there were 849 deaths, have more people lost their lives to the disease in a single week. At that point, the country was still in a national lockdown
Rishi Sunak to set out spending plans on November 25
The Chancellor had already confirmed that it was scrapping a planned multi-year spending review in the wake of the tumult caused by the pandemic.
Instead he will set out a 12-month plan with its sights firmly set on coping with the dire financial impact of the global shutdown.
PM Boris Johnson wanted to use the three-year spending review to set out his masterplan for how he intends to deliver on his promise to ‘level up’ the nation.
But the cancellation confirmed the Government has now conceded it needs to focus all of its energy on firefighting Covid-19.
Mr Sunak today tweeted: ‘On November 25 I will deliver the 2020 Spending Review alongside the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast, setting out spending plans for the next year so we can continue to prioritise our response to Covid-19 and protect jobs.’
The party wants the four nations to agree ‘uniform guidance’ on the number of people who can gather, to cooperate on the safe return of students and to explore how to expand travel options to allow people to move around the country while complying with social distancing.
Such a unified approach would represent a dramatic departure from the current way of working which has seen the four nations act largely independently in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Ashworth said the Government’s failure to use the half-term for a circuit-breaker lockdown means they now need to ‘do something quickly to save Christmas’.
But Mr Eustice said it is ‘far too early’ to set out guidelines for the festive period.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘This is a rapidly developing situation and we are making judgments all the time about what restrictions might be needed and what’s appropriate to have as restrictions in a particular area.
‘It’s far too early to say exactly where things will be by Christmas, but the Prime Minister’s made clear he wants people to be able to have a Christmas that’s as close to possible as normal.’
It came as a police and crime commissioner warned the police could break up Christmas dinners if people flout coronavirus rules.
West Midlands commissioner David Jamieson said officers would have to enforce any lockdown rules set by the Government over the festive period, as he also spoke of his fears of a ‘time bomb’ of unrest.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Jamieson said: ‘If we think there’s large groups of people gathering where they shouldn’t be, then police will have to intervene.
‘If, again, there’s flagrant breaking of the rules, then the police would have to enforce.
‘It’s not the police’s job to stop people enjoying their Christmas.
‘However, we are there to enforce the rules that the Government makes, and if the Government makes those rules then the Government has to explain that to the public.’