Coronavirus cases are being driven down because young people have been shocked into following lockdown rules, according to officials.
The claim comes despite warnings of tens of thousands more deaths on the horizon with the number of infections among the elderly rapidly increasing.
Matt Hancock yesterday chaired a ‘gold’ meeting on the pandemic, and was told rates are falling among younger people and therefore curbing a national surge in cases. In particular, the North East has managed to escape the stricter Tier Three restrictions as a result of the trend, it is claimed.
While wanting to remain cautious, ministers are growing increasingly optimistic that younger people have changed their behaviour following a rise in deaths, and that an increase in cases after university freshers’ week has since been driven down.
Britain’s second wave of Covid-19 was initially pinned to teenagers and twenty-somethings, with the virus clearly make a resurgence when schools and universities went back at the start of September.
Matt Hancock blamed the wave of new coronavirus infections on ‘socialising by people in their 20s and 30s’ and urged younger Britons not to ‘kill your gran’ by spreading the disease. Boris Johnson echoed the sentiment last month, asking young people to consider their behaviour ‘for the sake of your parents’ and grandparents’ health’.
But one of the country’s top medics warned the nation in a televised Downing St press conference this week that this is no longer the case, pointing to troublesome data showing that infections are now ‘penetrating’ the older population who are more vulnerable to the illness.
And graphs presented by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, showed that rates of the coronavirus among the young are now falling in almost every region of the country. Therefore, it is hoped cases in older adults will soon begin to ease as well.
Student-dominated towns and cities have infection rates 2.5 times higher than elsewhere, according to analysis by the Times, but this is down from five times higher a fortnight ago.
Coronavirus cases are being driven down because young people have been shocked into following lockdown rules, according to officials
Cases rising in all age groups in all regions, with teens and 20s now high but declining
Testing data from Public Health England, plotted onto line graphs presented during a Downing Street press conference earlier this week, showed that coronavirus cases are now rising across all age groups in the worst-affected parts of the country.
The second wave had initially been pinned to the younger generations, with people in their teens and 20s accounting for most new infections, but this is no longer the case and they’re now creeping into older groups as rates in the younger groups start to decline.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said more cases among older people – particularly the over-60s – would inevitably lead to more pressure on NHS hospitals because those people are more likely to become seriously ill.
‘The infections that have seeded in the younger age groups are now penetrating the older age groups,’ he said.
‘This is most concerning because it is the penetration of the disease into the older age groups that gives the NHS significant problems.’
Graphs for all the regions show that infections among 10 to 30-year-olds have been the driving force behind the new outbreak, and continue to be so in most areas. In the North West, however, they showed that cases among people in their 30s and 40s have now overtaken those in teenagers, showing the creep into older groups.
The same trends, Professor Van-Tam said, are playing out across the country but are at different stages – in the Southern regions cases among over-30s are still comparatively low but could surge in future.
The graphs echo slightly older PHE data published on Friday which showed that the highest case rate for the week ending October 11 was among 20 to 29-year-olds, who saw 253 cases per 100,00 people.
It was second highest in teenagers (245), and then increased almost directly with age followed by those in their 30s (144), 40s (134), 50s (132), 60s (86), 80s (77), 70s (55), under-fives (42) and five to 10-year-olds (30).
In the north east specifically, which only days ago appeared right on the brink of a harsher lockdown, infections among teenagers have fallen by about a sixth in the same time period, meaning the prospect of introducing Tier Three restrictions have been ‘paused’.
It comes despite a SAGE scientist warning that huge numbers of deaths are still inevitable as the second wave continues to bite.
Epidemiologist John Edmunds, who is part of the Government’s scientific advisory group, believes there is very little chance coronavirus will be eradicated completely.
‘If you look at where we are, there is no way we come out of this wave now without counting our deaths in the tens of thousands,’ he told the joint hearing of the Commons science and technology committee, and the health and social care committee.
Edmunds told MPs it was an ‘almost certainty’ that a vaccine will help to manage the epidemic in the ‘not-too-distant future’, perhaps by the end of winter.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, has said it is ‘possible’ one of the dozens of experimental jabs being trialed on humans could be ready before 2021, but admitted last week he doesn’t think it’s likely that it will emerge ahead of spring.
Number 10 has already ordered 340million doses of seven different experimental jabs in a spread-betting approach that banks on one of them being proven to work.
Among them are three jabs created by Oxford University, Pfizer and Janssen – owner of Johnson & Johnson – which are all in the final stages of testing. But even if there was one ready by 2021, it would only be given to the most at-risk groups first, such as the elderly and NHS workers.
Answering questions at the Science and Technology and Health and Social Care committees today, Professor Edmunds said: ‘We are going to have to live with this virus for evermore.
‘There is very little chance that it’s going to become eradicated.
‘I think there’s so much investment in vaccines, of very different types, there’s a huge array of different vaccines that are being developed.
‘I think it’s an almost certainty we will have vaccines that help us to manage this epidemic in the not-too-distant future.’
When asked what the chances were of a vaccine being available this winter, he added: ‘Towards the end of winter – it’s certainly possible.
‘I think these things are moving at pace and of course it’s not just one vaccine being developed but many, many vaccines are being developed across the world.
‘The likelihood is that some of these will become available in the not-too-distant future.’
Professor Edmunds, who works at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the UK had played a ‘clever game’ by investing in so many vaccines before they are proven to work.
‘I think that’s the right thing to do,’ he said. ‘So I think we here in the UK, we will be in a reasonable position in months.’
Ministers have bought the largest amount of its jabs (100million), from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which is manufacturing Oxford University’s jab.
It has yet to be proven to work but early studies have shown it is promising. Scientists working on the Oxford vaccine have suggested it could be approved by regulators – who look over the data – before the start of next year.
Downing Street has also signed deals to buy vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer, Janssen, Novavax, GSK/Sanofi, and Valneva, if they are eventually proven to work.
A number of vaccine candidates have shown huge potential because in early trials, the jabs have shown to produce an immune response.
But if and when they show to be able to prevent a person from catching the coronavirus in the community, it will take some time for the jab to be
Professor Peter Openshaw, from Imperial College London and a member of SAGE, said last month he expected a nine-month gap between the vaccine’s discovery and it being made available to the public.
Professor Edmund said that it was unlikely that everyone will be vaccinated in the first roll-out.
It could start instead with people at high risk of severe Covid-19 outcomes and healthcare workers, he said.
Last month it was reported by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that care home residents were among those who should be at the top of the list for a jab when one becomes available.
Everyone over the age of 80 and NHS staff will be second in line, the updated government guidance stated.
The body, which consists of 20 top scientists, advises ministers on all vaccines. It admitted its guidance for any UK Covid-19 vaccination scheme is likely to change in the future.
Matt Hancock previously pledged that Britons with underlying conditions such as diabetes or heart disease would be near the front of the queue for any jab.
But millions living with ailments that raise their risk of dying of Covid-19 won’t be vaccinated until everyone over the age of 65 is inoculated, according to the new guidance.
The head of the country’s vaccine task-force Kate Bingham has previously admitted less than half of Britain will get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Experts say it is likely people will need two doses of each vaccine to be protected against the coronavirus.
Professor Edmunds said that with a vaccine potentially on the horizon, it was important to try to keep Covid-19 cases low.
‘In fact I think it’s very important to understand that actually vaccines are not that far away potentially now, and I think that does change what we should do now,’ he said.
‘If vaccines are just round the corner, in my view we should try to keep the incidence as low as we can now because we will be able to use vaccines in the not-too-distant future.’
But cases are currently rising across the UK, with more than 18,000 people being diagnosed a day, according to Government figures.
Professor Edmunds also confirmed to the committees that in September, SAGE had suggested a circuit-breaker lockdown to reduce cases.
This, he said, was so that cases were low enough for Test and Trace not to become overwhelmed.
In March, when the crisis spiralled out of control, contact tracing was abandoned because the system was not robust enough to cope. It has since been bolstered, but is still failing to reach around a third of Covid-19 case contacts.
Professor Edmunds said: ‘We were suggesting that a circuit-breaker might be put in place and other stringent measures in order to put the epidemic clock back, as it were, back to a time in, say, August… when the cases are low enough you are confident you can stamp out cases and you haven’t overwhelmed the Test and Trace system.’