Are infection rates really going down?
Data released on Thursday from the React study carried out by Imperial College London has raised fears that infection rates might not actually be falling in England, as was previously thought. The data, based on swab tests from 142,000 people across England in the period between 6th and 15th January, insinuates that whilst new infections might have been falling recently - they could now be stable or growing slowly, with a 50% increase in the percentage of the population infected with the virus in early December. This new data might act as a reality check following recent data that suggested that the infection rate in England was falling, with new daily cases falling to 38,905 on Wednesday from previous highs of 50-60,000 in the weeks before.
Hospital havoc continues:
Even if cases might be stabilising or falling, hospitals will continue to be overrun with coronavirus patients for some time to come. On Wednesday 1,820 deaths were recorded, making it the deadliest day in the pandemic so far. Given the high-rate of infections, deaths can be expected to remain high for weeks to come and the pressure on the NHS will only increase.
Whilst infections may once again be on the uptick, the government’s vaccine rollout continues to roll out. 4.6 million people in the UK have now received the vaccine, with an additional 400,000 people having received a second dose. The figures for daily vaccines carried out in England this week have jumped around quite a bit but the general trend has been a day-on-day increase in the jabs going into arms. The government blames the inconsistent figures on some areas moving faster than others at rolling out the jabs; some areas suffering from a reporting lag; some areas focusing on care homes and therefore vaccinating at a slower rate; and intermittent supply in the short-term. In England, 63% of care home residents have been vaccinated and the government looks on track to have all over-80s vaccinated by the end of January.
Good news to hold on to:
In the UK, 200 vaccines are administered every minute.
On Wednesday, Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance appeared to subtly criticise the government’s decision making throughout the pandemic so far, saying: “It’s worth remembering Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. The lesson is every time you release it too quickly you get an upswing.” With that in mind, Boris Johnson said today that it was “too early” to say whether or not the lockdown will end in the spring. Certainly, it looks increasingly unlikely that restrictions will be eased at all in February. Gavin Williamson said he “certainly hopes” that schools might reopen before the end of Easter in England but he would not be drawn on a specific date. In a press conference on Thursday evening, the Home Secretary Priti Patel announced increased fines for people caught attending illegal house parties, with fines of £800 for people attending parties of over 15 people. It comes after police broke up a house party of 150 people in Hertfordshire and a party of 40 in London.
This week, the government closed all UK travel corridors - which had allowed arrivals from some countries with low infection rates to avoid having to quarantine - until at least 15th February. People coming to the UK from abroad also now have to show proof of a negative COVID test from up to 72 hours before their journey, as part of efforts to prevent new COVID strains entering the UK. There are reports circulating in some newspapers that the government might now be considering implementing an ‘Australia-style’ hotel-quarantine system, in an effort to stop mutations of the virus coming in from abroad. You can expect to hear more about this plan over the weekend.
North of the border?
On Tuesday, the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon announced that stay-at-home lockdown measures would be extended until at least mid-February, they were due to be eased at the end of January. Sturgeon told MSPs that the lockdown was “beginning to have an impact” on the number of new infections - which appear to be stabilising at around 1,550 new daily cases this week - but that Scotland still remained in a “precarious position” with the NHS under great strain. She added that whilst it was still her “ambition” to get schools back in mid-February, it was still too early to say if this would definitely be possible. It comes amidst claims that the vaccine roll out in Scotland is falling behind that of England and other devolved nations, with figures showing that whilst England had vaccinated 59.4% of over-80s by last weekend, Scotland had only vaccinated 13% of its over-80s. Sturgeon insists that the vaccination programme will pick up speed and momentum this week and added that she had taken the decision to prioritise vaccinating care home residents and staff first.