UK records 1,564 more deaths - the highest total since pandemic began

 

  • Department of Health figures show the daily coronavirus death toll has risen 50 per cent week-on-week
  • Analysis suggests that the overall number of deaths — suspected and confirmed — has passed 100,000
  • But statistics also show that the UK's outbreak is finally starting to slow, with cases down 23.7% in a week 
  • Boris Johnson has welcomed 'early' signs that tough tier and national lockdowns are controlling Covid surge
  • But in brutal clashes with Keir Starmer at PMQs Mr Johnson refused to rule out ratcheting up the restrictions 
  • Matt Hancock has warned that it is 'impossible to say' how long the lockdown in England needs to continue 
  • No10 sources say ministers are ready to tighten lockdown further this weekend unless the situation improves  

The covid-19 situation in the UK is an undulating case of rising and falling amidst lockdown success and high death rates. 

According to mail news yesterday, 13th of January, 2021, it reports that Britain today recorded its deadliest day since the Covid pandemic began with another 1,564 victims — but cases have dropped once again and hospital admissions are falling in the worst-hit areas, offering hope that the peak of the second wave may have passed.

Department of Health figures show the daily laboratory-confirmed death toll has risen 50 per cent week-on-week, with data suggesting the total number of coronavirus victims — both suspected and confirmed — has now passed the 100,000 mark. 

The three deadliest days of Britain's Covid crisis have all been recorded in 2021, with today's figure topping the 1,325 last Friday. But deaths always lag weeks behind cases, meaning fatality counts won't begin to drop until at least a fortnight after infections fall. Public Health England bosses said there had now been 'more deaths in the second wave than the first'.

But Government statistics also show the UK's outbreak is finally starting to slow. Another 47,525 positive tests were declared today, down 23.7 per cent on last Wednesday's toll of 62,322. It is the fourth day in a row that infections have dropped week-on-week.

The grim death toll came hours after Boris Johnson refused to rule out tightening lockdown further — but he also hailed 'early' signs that the brutal restrictions are bringing coronavirus under control. 

The premier insisted the measures in England were being kept 'under constant review' as Keir Starmer demanded to know why they were looser than last spring despite cases being higher. Mr Johnson warned that the NHS was at 'substantial risk' of being swamped, and the 'only way' of protecting it was to follow the 'current rules'.

But despite the latest huge death toll, Mr Johnson sounded a notably optimistic tone about the emerging impact of the restrictions. He said the country was 'now starting to see the beginnings of some signs' that the crackdown was having an effect in parts of the country, while stressing it was 'early days' and urged people to 'keep their discipline'.  

MailOnline analysis suggests the outbreak in England may have started slowing before the blanket lockdown on January 4, with infection numbers peaking in the worst-hit regions at the start of the year. The tide appears to have turned in parts of the country experiencing the worst outbreaks – London, the South East and the East of England – in the first week of 2021, with cases coming down since then. 

Coronavirus hospital admissions have also started to fall in London and the South East, although the numbers of patients are still rising on wards after surging above the peaks recorded in the first wave.

The figures bolster claims that Tier 4 - which kept schools open - thwarted the spread of the super-infectious mutant strain of the virus. But it appears the measure did not drive down infections fast enough for ministers, who instead opted for further curbs to daily life.

The PM was grilled at PMQs and then by the cross-party Liaison Committee today as he faced another barrage of demands for the national clampdown to be tightened even further - something that Nicola Sturgeon has announced is happening in Scotland.

Speaking to MPs this afternoon, the Prime Minister said he was 'concerned' about the new Brazilian variant of the virus.

'We already have tough measures, as you know, to stop from new infections come from abroad. We are taking steps to do that in response to the Brazilian variation.'

It is still yet to be identified in the UK, and there is no evidence that it causes a more severe infection than other strains - although there are fears it may be as transmissible as the Kent strain.

It is normal for viruses to mutate and early signs don't suggest that any of the new variants of coronavirus are more deadly than others, but in some places it is evolving to be able to spread faster.

If the virus is faster spreading it will inevitably lead to more cases which will in turn lead to a higher death count, even if the strain itself isn't more dangerous.

During the Committee, the Prime Minister also warned parents he still wasn't sure whether schools would be allowed to re-open after the February half-term.

When asked if they would re-open next month, he said: 'The priority is obviously to get schools open as soon as possible, whether we can do that after the half term depends on a number of things. The success of the vaccination process, depends on us not finding out the South African or Brazilian variants are vaccine resistant.

'We have no evidence that they are, but that's got to go well. But the crucial thing is the lockdown measures have to go well. What we are seeing today is some early signs of progress in containing the virus, but it is far, far too early to say if we can see any relaxation in February.' 

Downing Street is considering options ranging from limiting takeaways and click and collect, to closing more workplaces and nurseries and banning people from exercising with friends. Matt Hancock said this morning that the 'next few days' would be key to understanding whether the lockdown is working, with the PM set to wait until the weekend to make a final decision on new measures.

However, scientists have cautioned that critical capacity in the NHS will still be under enormous strain into March due to the lag between infection and people getting ill, with up to 250,000 people a day said to be catching the virus.   

London Councils and Mayor Sadiq Khan today appealed for Mr Johnson to bring in new measures such as closing places of worship immediately, or risk putting an 'unsustainable strain' on services.

Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament this afternoon that from Saturday she is banning drinking outdoors and non-essential click-and-collect, as well as going inside eateries to pick up a takeaway. 

Earlier, Mr Hancock defied mounting Tory calls to guarantee that the draconian restrictions will be eased from March 8 - around three weeks after the government is due to have vaccinated the 14million most vulnerable.

But in a glimmer of hope data from the Department of Health suggests England's outbreak may have started to slow down before the national lockdown started on January 4, as infection numbers appeared to peak in the worst-hit regions at the start of the year.

Millions living in London, the South East and East of England were forced into gruelling Tier 4 restrictions the weekend before Christmas, scuppering festive plans for millions as ministers tried to get a grip on the new variant of the virus.

And in the first week of January the region's infection rates began to drop, suggesting the highest level of measures may have been enough to thwart the spread of the super-infectious mutant strain.

It can take up to two weeks for someone who is infected with the virus to start showing symptoms, get a test and then receive a positive result, meaning there is a lag before the impact of restrictions shows up in the data.

In another positive sign the second wave may be waning, data also shows hospital admissions in London and the East of England peaked in the days after lockdown was imposed.

Department of Health statistics appear to show London's hit their peak on January 6 - on day two of the shutdown - when the seven-day average stood at 864. It dropped to 845 the following day. In the South East, hospitalisations also peaked on January 6 when they reached 662.

And in the East of England - which was plunged into the highest bracket of restrictions at the same time - they had started to level off by January 4.

It can take weeks for someone infected with the virus to suffer symptoms severe enough to be admitted to hospital, meaning there is a delay between a drop in cases and hospitalisations. But the early downturn adds to claims that Tier 4 - which kept schools open - was enough to control the mutant variant.

Even as they slowed across the capital and in regions first plunged into the toughest bracket, however, the number of patients in hospital continued to rise because the number of new cases needing treatment each day is still high.

And hospital admissions for patients suffering from the virus are also continuing to rise in the South West, North West, North East and Midlands.

Despite the drops, hospital admissions remain above the highest levels seen during the darkest days of the first wave and in the final month of last year - in a warning sign health care staff could yet be overwhelmed. 

In London they stood at 150 at the start of December before soaring upwards, and never went above 750 in April. For the South East, they stood at 165 in December, and never moved above 323 in the first wave. 

It's still too soon for the effects of national lockdown to show up reliably in data but cases starting to come down in some of the worst-affected places suggests that Tier 4 rules were working before they were abandoned.  

Some Government scientists fear, however, the true case rate is still running at more than 250,000 a day. They have warned the Prime Minister that, even with the rollout of the vaccine, the death rate may not start to fall until the middle of next month.

Despite the more positive news on infections, Sir Keir goaded Mr Johnson that he was already too late toughening the rules.  

'The next big decision is obvious, the current restrictions are not strong enough to control the virus,' he said.

'Can the Prime Minister tell us when infection rates are much higher than in March, when hospital admissions are much higher than last March, when death rates are much higher than last March, why on earth are restrictions weaker than last March?'

Mr Johnson responded: 'We keep things under constant review and we will continue to do so.

'And certainly if there is any need to toughen up restrictions, which I don't rule out, we will of course come to this House.'

But he also highlighted the 'serious damage that is done by lockdowns'. 

'The lockdown measures we have in place combined with tier four measures that we were using are starting to show signs of some effect and we must take account of that too,' Mr Johnson said. 

Sir Keir took the premier to task for being 'slow to act' when infection rates began to surge in December.

'The last PMQs was on December 16,' the Labour leader said. 'The Prime Minister told us then that we were seeing, in his words, a significant reduction in the virus. He told us then that there was no need for endless lockdowns and no need to change the rules about Christmas mixing.

'Since then, since that last PMQs, 17,000 people have died of Covid, 60,000 people have been admitted to hospital and there has been over a million new cases. How did the Prime Minister get it so wrong and why was he so slow to act?'

But a clearly infuriated Mr Johnson shot back: 'Of course, what (Sir Keir) fails to point out is that on December 18, two days later, the Government was informed of the spread of the new variant and the fact that it spreads roughly 50-70 per cent faster than the old variant, and that is why it is indeed correct to say that the situation today is very troubling indeed.'

He added: 'This is the toughest of times, but we can see the way forward.'

Mr Johnson also sounded bullish about the vaccine rollout, accusing Sir Keir of failing to give the programme enough credit.

He said the UK was in a 'comparatively favourable position' compared to other countries. 

No10 sources have indicated that ministers were ready to tighten the lockdown further unless the situation improves by the weekend. 

'The compliance data is mixed,' an insider said. 'We should have better data by the weekend and at that point we will have to decide whether we need to go further.'

Another source told MailOnline that Ms Sturgeon was acting because of 'escalating' cases in Scotland, albeit from a lower level. 

Extra measures being considered in England include removing the exemption that allows two people to meet outdoors to exercise.

Some ministers have been pushing for more businesses to be closed, including estate agents, outdoor markets and click-and-collect retail. 

Scientists are also arguing for the two-metre social distancing rule to be increased to three metres.

SAGE member Prof Andrew Hayward told Sky News that ramping up controls now could be the only way of ensuring the lockdown can end in March.

'We could see faster decreased in those numbers of hospitalisations and deaths if we were to tighten those lockdown measures, and particularly focus on whether all of the people who are going into work really need to be going into work,' he said. 

After a major incident was declared in the capital last Friday due to rising Covid-19 cases, Mr Khan and London Councils chair Georgia Gould have written to Mr Johnson demanding tougher measures.

Aside from the closure of places of worship, they have called for the PM to make mask-wearing mandatory outside the home – including in supermarket queues, on high streets and in other possibly crowded outdoor settings.

Also among four major demands is for the Government to provide greater financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate and are unable to work, backed by improved asymptomatic testing for key workers.

The two leaders also called for the the rollout of vaccines across London to be accelerated, and for the provision of daily vaccination data by borough and ethnicity.

'We recognise how difficult these decisions are and how they will impose further tough restrictions on Londoners,' the letter says. 

'With new levels of infection remaining high we are left with little choice but to ask that you implement them.'

Mr Khan and Ms Gould said places of worship were 'crucially important for communities' and that 'we wouldn't be making this request if the situation wasn't very serious'.

The letter also urges four other temporary measures: an urgent review of what constitutes essential and non-essential retail, stricter guidance on how retailers can prevent unsafe queues and crowding, prohibiting click and collect services at non-essential retail chains, and stronger guidance on size restrictions for weddings, funerals and similar gatherings.

In a round of interviews, Mr Hancock told Sky News that it was 'impossible to know' when restrictions could be eased.

'We will keep the restrictions in place not a moment longer than they are necessary, but we will keep them in place as long as they are necessary,' he said. 

He added: 'I am looking to see the case rate just starting to level off. I hope that is what we start to see over the next few days. The few days ahead of us is the critical period to know whether this national lockdown is working.' 

Asked if the NHS could end up overwhelmed, Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: 'We're going to do everything we possibly can to give the NHS the support, the resources it needs.

'That includes, for instance, opening the Nightingale hospitals and the London Nightingale hospital is now receiving patients for the first time since April.'

He said sending some patients to hotels was a 'further back-up plan' only done if appropriate for the patient but 'it's not something we are actively putting in place'.

He said it would be for 'step-down' patients only.

He insisted the government was 'absolutely up for' giving people jabs 24/7 'if it helps to speed up the vaccination programme'.

'I can't see that being the major factor, because most people want to get vaccinated in the daytime, and also most people who are doing the vaccinations want to give them in the daytime, but there may be circumstances in which that would help,' he said.

'We're absolutely up for that.'

Mr Hancock dodged saying whether the government will change any rules, saying it 'always keep these things under review'.

'What I'd say is that what really matters now is the degree to which everybody follows the existing rules,' he told BBC Breakfast.

'Of course you can always make changes at the margin, but we brought in a very significant restriction, the stay-at-home measures … It is possible then to make further restrictions but what I'd say is that the most important thing is compliance with the existing measures, that's the thing that is going to make the difference.'

He repeated his warning that some people were 'stretching' the exemption for people to take exercise outdoors with one friend.

'What I'd rather see is everybody follows that rule and doesn't stretch it or flex it … people should not take the Mickey out of the rules and they shouldn't stretch the rules, people should respect the rules, because they're there for a reason and that's to keep everybody safe,' he said. 

Mr Hancock also hailed the move by John Lewis to end click and collect services. 'I'm grateful to John Lewis for the change they've made, and I'm grateful for the supermarkets for the increased compliance they're going to require; that is by far and away the best way to get this under control,' he said. 

The Prime Minister told the Cabinet yesterday it was 'more important than ever that the public stay at home'.

But shoppers and commuters travelling through London during rush hour this morning were pictured not wearing face masks.

Priti Patel said last night that a minority of the public are 'putting the health of the nation at risk', adding that officers are moving more quickly to issuing fines where people are clearly breaching coronavirus regulations.

Some people don't have to wear a mask if they have a valid exemption, such as it causing them severe distress or because of a physical or mental illness, impairment or disability – and they do not have to carry proof.

But concerns are mounting that others are simply breaking the law because they don't want to wear one – and Ms Patel revealed that nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued in the UK since March. 

National Police Chiefs' Council chairman Martin Hewitt warned those caught not wearing a mask on a bus or train 'can expect a fine' unless they are exempt - and police would no longer 'waste time' trying to reason with people such as those who disagree with the rules.

He said: 'Not wearing a face covering on a bus or a train is dangerous. It risks the lives of other travellers including those critical workers who must continue to use public transport to do their important work.' 

A string of supermarkets including Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons have now pledged to get tougher with customers who refuse to wear face coverings by denying them entry to their stores. 

Britain's most senior police officer, Dame Cressida Dick, said Metropolitan Police officers would be prepared to assist shop staff if customers became 'obstructive and aggressive' when told they must wear a face covering.

One incident this morning at a Morrisons store in Peckham, South East London, saw a construction worker clash with a store security guard when he was refused entry to the store for not wearing a mask.

The shopper angrily told the guard that he did not have to wear because he had a medical condition. But the guard said he was not wearing a certificate exempting him around his neck and refused to allow him in.

During the stand-off, the shopper pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket, insisting it was a Government-issued exemption certificate. After examining it, the guard told the man that as he was not wearing it around his neck, he would not be allowed into the store.

The disgruntled construction worker, who was trying to buy some breakfast, told MailOnline: 'It's quite ridiculous. How am I supposed to wear this certificate around my neck every time I go into a shop? 

'I've never had this problem before but clearly the supermarkets are getting a lot tougher about imposing the mask rule. I've got a medical reason for not wearing a mask and always make sure that I carry my exemption certificate with me.' 

In an illustration of the problems being caused by the surge in cases, there were claims today that the NHS is planning to discharge Covid patients into care homes without a negative test for the virus — despite the virus ripping through homes and sparking thousands of deaths during the first wave.

Documents say the patients won't be swabbed but will need to have been isolating for 14 days and not be suffering symptoms of the virus. Care homes have already warned it would be a 'grave mistake' to use their empty beds as overflow for packed hospitals.

Trusts are also reportedly considering discharging Covid patients to hotels — under plans dubbed 'home and hotel' — after exhausting critical care capacity and facing barriers to utilising the Nightingales.

Patients suffering from the virus are already being transferred from King's College hospital, London, to a nearby Best Western hotel in Croydon, The Guardian claims.

Mr Hancock admitted the government is looking at 'all options' to ease mounting pressure on the NHS, which is now treating 35,000 Covid patients — compared to 21,000 during the darkest spell of the first wave last spring.

'There are huge pressures on the NHS and we are looking to all different ways that we can relieve those pressures,' he told Sky News.

'We would only ever do that if it was clinically the right thing for somebody. In some cases, people need sit-down care, they don't actually need to be in a hospital bed.'

It comes amid fears hospitals could be overwhelmed by the surging admissions of Britons suffering from the virus, with health bosses warning the crisis won't peak until February. It can take infected patients several weeks to become severely ill, meaning any fall in cases won't be seen on NHS wards for at least a fortnight.

At a press conference yesterday, Priti Patel was asked why the lockdown rules were laxer than those introduced last March.

The Home Secretary initially said the regulations were 'tough enough' and simply needed to be followed more closely.

But she then confirmed ministers were looking again at whether the restrictions need to be tightened.

'These issues are live within government,' she said. 'Rules are always under review. We are constantly, right now, looking at where we are at.' 

Ms Patel also revealed that police had handed out 45,000 Covid fines – and warned that a minority were 'putting the health of the nation at risk'.

The PM's spokesman said: 'If we need to take further action we will. But the important thing now is we are asking people to stay at home.'

Ministers are growing alarmed by the emergence of a Covid hotspot on Merseyside, which has overtaken London as the area where the virus is increasing fastest.

A surge in cases there could be embarrassing for the Government, which made great play of the decision to move the region into Tier Two at the end of the second lockdown while most of the rest of the North West stayed in Tier Three.

The highest overall case rate in England remains Barking and Dagenham in London.


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