Q: Is the rise in Covid cases slowing down?
A: It appears so. While the number of Covid cases is still going up – last week the UK recorded more than 10,000 cases in one day for the first time since February – the rate at which the virus is growing has slowed.
Cases had recently appeared to be doubling every ten days. Now they are doubling roughly every 14 days.
However, scientists say the rate could easily speed up again, particularly if a region sees a spike – much as the North West did in May.
But if the rate continues to slow, it will increase the likelihood that all restrictions will end as planned, on July 19.
On Thursday, Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, said: ‘The numbers this week seem to be slowing down, which is good news. Worrying areas with a high number of cases, like Scotland and the North West, are starting to level off.
‘I’m predicting, based on past experience, that although we may not have reached the peak quite yet, within two weeks we will see cases beginning to drop again.’
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said ‘things were looking hopeful’, after Office for National Statistics data published on Friday confirmed the rate of infection was slowing. He said: ‘If the numbers were continuing to jump up sharply I’d be worried, but right now the data suggests things are starting to move in the right direction.
‘It’s hard to say for certain, but I think in the next two to three weeks we could see cases begin to recede. I think by July 17, it will be safe to remove all restrictions, particularly given the number of people we will have vaccinated by then.’
Q: What’s going on in hospitals?
A: The number of people in hospital due to Covid-19 is continuing to rise.
On Tuesday, more than 200 were admitted with Covid symptoms, the most in a single day since April.
There are now more than 1,200 Britons in hospital with Covid, about 100 more than the previous week. Over the course of last week, there were roughly ten deaths linked to the virus each day.
But there was some good news. According to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the majority of coronavirus patients in hospital are in younger age groups – these have been the last to be vaccinated – meaning they are more likely to make a quick recovery. Across the whole of England and Scotland, there are about 210 patients with Covid on a ventilator.
Mr Hancock added that four-fifths of Covid patients in hospital are either unvaccinated or have had only one dose.
On Thursday, Professor Paul Elliott, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said: ‘We can take quite a lot of comfort from the fact that, when we look in the details, it does appear that there is very, very good protection in the older ages, where virtually everyone is double-vaccinated.’
Q: Why does the vaccine not work for some people?
A: The Covid vaccines are highly effective, but no jab can provide 100 per cent protection.
Last week a Public Health England study found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine give 96 per cent protection against hospitalisation, while two doses of AstraZeneca provide 92 per cent protection.
Scientists say the results of this study are proof that once enough people have been fully vaccinated, it will be safe to remove restrictions.
However, health chiefs already say several thousand fully vaccinated people could still die from Covid before the end of the year. This is because experts believe roughly one in ten people will fail to develop the necessary antibodies after vaccination.
Vaccines work by convincing the immune system to begin developing disease-fighting antibodies – cells that suppress a particular virus. But many people have severely weakened immune systems, for a number of reasons, meaning they may not produce enough antibodies after a vaccination to protect them from serious symptoms.
There are various reasons why someone may have a weakened immune system. Old age can be a factor, which is why the flu jab can fail to protect many elderly Britons. Also cancer patients, whose immune systems have been depleted by treatment, may not generate a strong antibody response. Scientists are developing alternative Covid treatments that can be given to at-risk patients.
Last week, Oxford University trial results found that a drug which uses artificial antibodies, called monoclonal antibodies, was highly effective at cutting the number of deaths in patients who failed to mount their own immune response.