Britain’s daily coronavirus case have risen by another third in a week, official figures revealed today after Boris Johnson warned more lockdowns could still be on the cards this winter.
Department of Health bosses recorded 10,633 positive tests in the last 24 hours — up 37.3 per cent on last Monday’s count — with the national uptick in cases fuelled by the highly-transmissible Indian variant, which MailOnline today confirmed was now dominant in more than 300 areas of England.
Despite cases steadily increasing since mid-May, the number of people dying from the disease has stayed relatively flat, in a key sign the vaccines have broken the link between infections and fatalities. Five victims were added to the official toll today, compared to three last week.
But hospital admissions — which also lag weeks behind any spike in positive tests because of how long it takes for infected patients to become severely ill — have risen by another 20 per cent in the space of a week.
The data came as the Prime Minister poured cold water on the prospect of easing the remaining coronavirus rules early, as he refused to rule out future lockdowns and warned the nation should brace for a ‘rough winter’.
No10 has delayed ‘freedom day’ by four weeks to July 19 but a two-week review will take place on July 5 to see if the return to normal can be moved forward.
Mr Johnson struck a pessimistic tone during a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire as he said ‘Delta’ variant cases, hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care are still rising and the country must therefore be ‘cautious’. But he insisted it is ‘looking good’ for the rules to be lifted at the ‘terminus point’ of July 19 as he said the ‘vaccination rollout is going gangbusters’.
However, he declined to rule out re-imposing draconian curbs later in the year as he warned ‘some new horror’ could emerge which ‘we simply haven’t budgeted for’.
Meanwhile, the PM also dashed hopes of international travel being opened up in time for summer holidays as he admitted foreign trips this year will be ‘difficult’ – despite ministers drawing up plans to scrap quarantine rules for returning double-jabbed Britons.
Travel experts said they fear ministers will not ‘open things up very much at all until August’ as the industry faces another disastrous summer. Mr Johnson said it is his priority to keep Britain ‘safe’ and block dangerous new Covid variants from entering the country, which means anyone looking to fly abroad in the coming months is likely to face ‘hassle’ and ‘delays’.
The remarks appear to contradict recent comments from Cabinet ministers who have suggested the Government is actively looking to give fully vaccinated people more freedoms.
The PM said: ‘I want to stress that this is going to be – whatever happens – a difficult year for travel. There will be hassle, there will be delays, I am afraid, because the priority has got to be to keep the country safe and stop the virus coming back in.’
Department of Health bosses posted 10,633 positive tests — up 37.3 per cent on last Monday’s count, with the national up-tick in cases fueled by the highly-transmissible Indian variant, which is now dominant in more than 300 areas of England. Pictured left and right, maps show how the mutant strain has quickly spread across the country. The dark the colour, the higher proportion of positive tests the Indian variant is to blame for
Data collected by the Wellcome Sanger Institute — Britain’s largest centre for monitoring Covid variants — revealed the Indian variant was dominant in more than 300 local authorities in England during the fortnight ending June 12, which is the most recent day figures are available for (right)
Boris Johnson struck a pessimistic tone during a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire as he said ‘Delta’ variant cases, hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care are still rising
Matt Hancock blames ‘stress’ for Boris Johnson calling him ‘totally f****** hopeless’
Matt Hancock today suggested Boris Johnson was ‘stressed’ when he called him ‘totally f****** hopeless’ in a private WhatsApp message sent to Dominic Cummings.
The Health Secretary dismissed the significance of a series of bombshell messages from Mr Johnson which were published by Mr Cummings last week.
Mr Hancock said the communications, sent during the height of the coronavirus crisis last year, represented ‘ancient history’.
He said that ‘at times of stress people say all sorts of things in private’ but ‘what matters most is how well you work together’.
The Cabinet Minister also said he is not embarrassed by Mr Johnson’s apparent assessment of his performance.
Mr Cummings, the PM’s former chief aide, stepped up his war with Number 10 last week when he published a number of messages sent to him by Mr Johnson.
In one exchange from March 27 last year, Mr Cummings criticised the Health Secretary over the failure to ramp up testing, with Mr Johnson replying: ‘Totally f****** hopeless.’
Downing Street has not confirmed or denied that the messages published by Mr Cummings are genuine.
Mr Hancock was asked this morning during an interview with the BBC Breakfast programme how he felt about the PM describing him as ‘hopeless’.
He said: ‘Honestly? It feels like ancient history, right? The vaccine programme is a huge success.
‘At times of stress people say all sorts of things in private. What matters is how well you work together.
‘You are referring to comments apparently from the Prime Minister. I work with the Prime Minister every single day. We work very strongly together, firstly to protect life and secondly to get the country out of this. That is what matters.’
Told that it must be embarrassing for him to know Mr Johnson had said such things, Mr Hancock replied: ‘No, it isn’t really because of all the things we have delivered together.’
Matt Hancock had just hours earlier raised the prospect of foreign travel rules being loosened when he confirmed that Israel-style plans to scrap isolation for fully vaccinated people returning to the UK were being considered by the Government.
The Health Secretary said ministers were ‘working on’ relaxing restrictions for double-jabbed adults and their children, which could see the current mandatory 10-day self-isolation from amber and red list countries replaced with daily Covid tests.
But he said Downing Street could not press ahead with the plan for 31.3million Britons just yet because they are waiting for experts to analyse data from a pilot scheme to see if ‘it will be effective’.
The latest coronavirus developments came as:
- Mr Hancock suggested Mr Johnson was ‘stressed’ when he called him ‘totally f****** hopeless’ in a private WhatsApp message sent to Dominic Cummings.
- The Health Secretary said he plans to scrap the requirement for people who have had two Covid-19 jabs and come into contact with an infected person to isolate for 10 days.
- Mr Cummings claimed he ‘screamed’ at the PM while his chief aide over the premier’s insistence that Government policy should ‘follow the bloody media’.
- Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Government should rely on economic growth rather than tax hikes to fill the financial blackhole left by the Covid crisis.
- It was claimed that Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are on a collision course over the PM’s big-spending habits as Tories voiced alarm about the UK’s spiralling £2.17trillion debt mountain.
Tory MPs, hospitality chiefs and travel bosses are all hopeful the PM will accelerate the nation’s exit from lockdown.
But Mr Johnson appeared to suggest that is unlikely as he painted a grim picture of the spread of the ‘Delta’ variant.
Asked whether he will bring forward ‘freedom day’, the Prime Minister said: ‘As I say, the vaccination rollout is going gangbusters and loads of people are coming forward now for their second jabs.
‘Please come forward, get your second jab, and it is great that today we will have done all of JCVI one to nine, so everybody over 50 will have been offered two jabs as of today plus all care workers, all the vulnerable groups, huge numbers of people.
‘I think almost 60 per cent of adults in this country have now had or been offered two jabs so we are one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.
‘But look at the numbers of delta, the ‘Delta’ variant, it is sadly going up still, it is going up by about 30 per cent a week in cases, hospitalisations up by roughly the same amount and so sadly ICU admissions into intensive care.
‘So we have got to be cautious but we will be following the data the whole time.’
Mr Johnson said it is still ‘looking good’ for the July 19 reopening date amid fears among some Tory MPs that the PM could again delay the lifting of the remaining curbs.
Asked to rule out further lockdowns in the future, the premier said: ‘You can never exclude that there will be some new disease, some new horror that we simply haven’t budgeted for, or accounted for.
‘But looking at where we are, looking at the efficacy of the vaccines against all variants that we can currently see – so Alpha, Delta, the lot of them, Kappa – I think it’s looking good for July 19 to be that terminus point.
Business Secretary insists taxes should NOT rise to balance the books after Covid
The Government should rely on economic growth rather than tax hikes to fill the Covid black hole in the public finances, the Business Secretary said today.
Kwasi Kwarteng insisted driving growth is the ‘best way’ of balancing the books amid claims Rishi Sunak is looking at a pensions raid to raise revenue.
But Mr Kwarteng suggested reducing reliefs such as the £1million lifetime allowance was ‘not necessarily the way forward’.
And he said he is ‘pretty sure the triple lock will stay’ – despite alarm in the Treasury that state pensions will rise at least 6 per cent this year due to the warping effects of furlough.
The tensions emerged as Boris Johnson faces Cabinet disquiet over big spending decisions being railroaded through without consultation.
Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock had been expected to meet tomorrow to discuss proposals on social care – expected to cost another £5billion a year. However, No10 said the meeting will not be happened as billed.
In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Kwarteng was asked about tax rises to cover the huge cost of coronavirus – with the national debt mountain now £2.17trillion.
‘I am hopeful as business secretary as you can imagine that we can grow the economy,’ he told Sky News.
‘That in the past has always been the best way to raise tax revenue… the tax revenue from a thriving economy can pay down some of the debt.’
Asked about the option of a raid on pensions reliefs, he said: ‘I don’t think that is necessarily the way forward.’
‘I think what the scientists are saying is that things like flu will come back this winter, we may have a rough winter for all sorts of reasons, and obviously there are big pressures on the NHS.
‘All the more reason to reduce the number of Covid cases now, give the NHS the breathing space it needs to get on with dealing with all those other pressures, and we are certainly going to be putting in the investment to make sure that they can.’
Downing Street also played down the idea of easing rules before July 19.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said that while there would be a two-week review of the data, currently cases were continuing to rise.
‘We will monitor case data day by day to see if moving forward after two weeks is possible,’ the spokesman said.
‘You’ll see the data we are looking at – 10,000 cases recorded for the third day in a row on Saturday which is the highest level since February 2.
‘The seven-day average for hospitalisations also continues to rise. ICU intake is also rising.’
It came after Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospital admissions are ‘slowly rising’ but are nothing like the rates seen during previous waves.
He told Times Radio: ‘Two weeks ago, on June 4, we had 800 Covid-19 patients in hospital; as of Friday it was 1,170.
‘In November there were 14,700 and (in the) January/February peak, there were 34,000 people in hospitals with Covid-19.
‘It’s rising relatively slowly but it’s nowhere near anything like the kind of numbers we’ve had in previous waves.’
Despite the growth in case numbers, the Government is still planning to bring forward proposals which could make it easier for people to travel internationally as it faces growing criticism over the current traffic light system.
Number 10 is facing fresh calls to re-evaluate its red, amber and green travel list after data revealed fewer than one in 250 travellers from amber list countries tested positive for Covid last month.
Just 89 of 23,465 people who travelled into the UK from nations such as Spain, Greece, France and Italy between May 20 and June 9 had a positive Covid test.
The cases all came from just 16 of the 167 countries on the amber list, according to NHS Test and Trace data. And there were none classed as being ‘variants of concern’ — Alpha, Beta, Delta or Gamma strains.
The Government is looking to Israel for potential answers to its current international travel headache.
No10 is facing fresh calls to re-evaluate the travel list after data revealed fewer than one in 250 travellers from amber list countries tested positive for Covid last month. Just 89 of 23,465 people who travelled into the UK from nations such as Spain between May 20 and June 9 had a positive Covid test
The cases all came from just 16 of the 167 countries on the amber list, according to NHS Test and Trace data. And there were none classed as being ‘variants of concern’ — Alpha, Beta, Delta or Gamma strains
Flu could be a BIGGER problem than Covid this winter, Government adviser warns
Flu could pose a ‘bigger problem’ than Covid this winter because very few people currently have immunity against it, a top Government scientist warned today.
Professor Anthony Harnden, who advises No10 on Covid vaccines, said there had been a ‘very, very low’ prevalence of influenza over the past few years.
He added that flu cases plunged to ‘virtually nil’ when the pandemic hit as lockdowns and social distancing rules curbed the spread of other respiratory viruses.
Professor Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the low rates meant barely anyone had been exposed to flu and built up natural immunity, leaving the bulk of the population vulnerable.
He warned a large influenza outbreak could wreak havoc on the NHS this winter.
‘I will emphasise that actually flu could be potentially a bigger problem this winter than Covid,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘We’ve had a very, very low prevalence of flu for the last few years, particularly virtually nil during lockdown, and we do know that when flu has been circulating in very low numbers immunity drops in the population, and it comes back to bite us.
‘So, flu can be really, really important this winter.’
Fully-jabbed Israeli citizens wanting to travel abroad must take two tests — one three days before boarding their plane on the way home, and the other when they touch down.
They must also show border control staff proof they have been vaccinated on an official app.
Asked whether Downing Street is considering replacing quarantine rules for fully-vaccinated travellers, Mr Hancock told Sky News: ‘We know the vaccine is working.
‘That’s why it is so important so many people are coming forward to get it and we’re always looking at how we can replace the restrictions we’ve had to have as a country with the protection you get from the vaccine.
‘In fact, that’s the whole point of the vaccine – to protect life and get us out of these restrictions.’
Mr Hancock added: ‘Now, we are not able to make any specific announcements on this today. It is something that we’re working on and I very much hope we’ll be able to make progress soon.’
The aviation and tourism industries are increasingly angry at the Government over its approach to resuming international flights.
Paul Charles, chief executive at travel consultancy The PC Agency, said he does not anticipate any major changes being made to the rules in the near future.
He said: ‘I think caution is going to continue from the Government. I think there may well be very few changes. You may see maybe somewhere like Turkey move from red to amber, you may see a couple of greens added.
‘But they’ve got to re-instil confidence in people about the traffic light system. The system is shot to pieces at the moment, because of the way that they treated Portugal two weeks ago.
‘They’ve either got to reinvigorate the traffic light system, or they’ve got to outline how they’re going to enable fully jabbed citizens to travel with more freedom and not have to quarantine when they return from an amber country.’
He added: ‘I’m not sure they’re going to open things up very much at all until August.’