UK

NHS bosses warn Boris Johnson that easing Covid rules over Christmas could spark third wave

NHS bosses have warned Boris Johnson that relaxing Covid restrictions over Christmas could lead to cases spiraling out of control yet again.

Under the Government’s plans for a more-normal festive season, families are able to form a ‘bubble’ with two other households between December 23 and 27.

And in November, the Prime Minister pledged that several areas under the Government’s harshest set of lockdown rules will be moved to Tier Two before the end of this week.

But NHS executive Chris Hopson has urged Mr Johnson to exercise ‘extreme caution’ before putting any region into a lower tier as any relaxing of rules ‘will trigger a third wave’.

He instead insisted that areas such as London – which sees 211 cases per 10,000 people each week – should be moved up to Tier Three to get numbers under control. He also said Essex, Kent and Lincolnshire have shown worrying figures.

Mr Hopson – the chief executive of NHS Providers which represents trusts across the country – said the current rise in cases is ‘worrying’, especially as it came towards the end of the England’s second nation-wide lockdown.

The country’s case total soared by 21,502 yesterday – a 38 per cent rise on the 15,539 recorded last Saturday.  Saturday’s death toll of 519 is a 30.7 per cent spike on the 397 fatalities seen on the same day last week.

In other coronavirus developments: 

  • Councils under England’s toughest coronavirus restrictions are to roll out rapid community testing programmes in a bid to cut Covid-19 transmission rates this winter;
  • Doctors administering the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine next week have been told to prioritise elderly patients from ethnic minorities and those who have underlying health conditions if there is high demand for the jab;
  • Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association, said as many as 40 per cent of care home staff could choose not to take the coronavirus vaccine as it is rolled out over the coming days; 
  • Demonstrators took to the streets of London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Brighton for anti-lockdown protests yesterday amid the roll-out of Britain’s mass vaccination scheme;
  • Researchers have found that Coronavirus lateral flow tests only pick up 49 per cent of infections because they fail to catch people with low levels of the virus;
  • SAGE, Number 10’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, estimated the R number across Britain to be between 0.9 and 1.0, having risen from 0.8 and 1.0 a week ago.

Britain's high streets (Regent Street, pictured yesterday) have been packed with eager Christmas shoppers as the country's case-total soars by 21,502 - a 38 per cent rise on last Saturday's figure

Britain’s high streets (Regent Street, pictured yesterday) have been packed with eager Christmas shoppers as the country’s case-total soars by 21,502 – a 38 per cent rise on last Saturday’s figure

A total of 481,500 patients had coronavirus in the seven days up to December 5, down from 521,300 the week prior (8 per cent), according to estimates by the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

A total of 481,500 patients had coronavirus in the seven days up to December 5, down from 521,300 the week prior (8 per cent), according to estimates by the Office for National Statistics (ONS)

The case rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week

The case rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week

Weekly Public Health England data show that many areas in London, East and South East have seen infection rates rise since the lockdown ended and could face Tier Three rules from next week

Weekly Public Health England data show that many areas in London, East and South East have seen infection rates rise since the lockdown ended and could face Tier Three rules from next week

Party goers in Christmas hats were seen on the streets of Soho in London. London is in Tier Two meaning alcoholic drinks at bars can be served with substantial meals

Party goers in Christmas hats were seen on the streets of Soho in London. London is in Tier Two meaning alcoholic drinks at bars can be served with substantial meals

Busy bars and restaurants in London were packed on Saturday night as revellers got into the Christmas spirit

Busy bars and restaurants in London were packed on Saturday night as revellers got into the Christmas spirit

Making London Tier 3 will inflict catastrophic damage, warn Tory MPs

London‘s Tory MPs have urged Boris Johnson not to inflict ‘untold damage’ on the capital by moving it into a tier 3 lockdown this week.

In a letter seen by The Mail on Sunday, the MPs urge the Prime Minister to spare the capital because shutting it down would hurt not just Londoners, but ‘people across the nation’ who depend on the ‘wealth and prosperity generated by our great city’.

A decision on whether to plunge London into the highest lockdown before Christmas was going to the wire this weekend, with a row brewing with Ministers after police and local councils objected to plans to divide London into different tiers. 

With the capital’s businesses saying tier 3 would deliver a £3 billion hit to the economy, Ministers including Michael Gove have suggested that only the outer London boroughs with the highest infection rates should go in to the top tier.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is also understood to be considering splitting the worst-hit parts of the capital off into tier 3 but leaving the majority of the city in tier 2. 

It would mean restaurants and other hospitality businesses in London’s West End could stay open, while those in suburban areas would close.

In a letter to the PM, seen by The Times, Mr Hopson wrote: ‘We are now seeing a worrying increase in infection rates across a wide range of areas.

‘Trust leaders are worried that if infection rates remain as high as they are at the moment, relaxing the restrictions will trigger a third wave.’

It comes after scientists urged Britons to ‘rethink’ Christmas gatherings that are ‘not worth the risk’.

High streets were packed with eager Christmas shoppers yesterday as Covid-weary spenders give Britain’s hard-hit businesses a £1.7billion boost.

But top scientists have said families should avoid gatherings that could ‘risk infecting the vulnerable and elderly people we love’.

Professor Devi Sridhar, the chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian: ‘If people [aren’t] cautious, then we will pay for our Christmas parties with January and February lockdowns.’  

‘With a vaccine just weeks away, why risk infecting vulnerable and elderly people we love?’     

Professor Susan Mitchie, a psychologist at University College London and member of SAGE, added: ‘One has got to respond to the situation as it is, not the situation as we’d like it to be.’ 

And Professor Stephen Reicher, Government advisor in the SAGE sub-group dedicated to ensuring the following of public health measures, warned that a plea by health secretary Matt Hancock to stick to the rules ‘missed the point entirely’. 

NHS executive Chris Hopson (pictured) has urged Boris Johnson to exercise 'extreme caution' before putting any region into a lower tier and said any relaxing of rules 'will trigger a third wave'

Boris Johnson

NHS executive Chris Hopson (left) has urged Boris Johnson to exercise ‘extreme caution’ before putting any region into a lower tier and said any relaxing of rules ‘will trigger a third wave’

Scientists urged Britons to 'rethink' Christmas gatherings that are 'not worth the risk' as the country's case-total soars by 21,502 - a 38 per cent rise on last Saturday's figure. Pictured: Drinkers gathered in Soho on Saturday night

Scientists urged Britons to ‘rethink’ Christmas gatherings that are ‘not worth the risk’ as the country’s case-total soars by 21,502 – a 38 per cent rise on last Saturday’s figure. Pictured: Drinkers gathered in Soho on Saturday night

High streets were packed with eager Christmas shoppers yesterday as Covid-weary spenders give Britain's hard-hit businesses a £1.7billion boost. Pictured: Diners in Soho

High streets were packed with eager Christmas shoppers yesterday as Covid-weary spenders give Britain’s hard-hit businesses a £1.7billion boost. Pictured: Diners in Soho

Top scientists have said families should avoid gatherings that could 'risk infecting the vulnerable and elderly people we love' - amid fears that Covid cases could spiral out of control yet again. Pictured: Diners in Soho, some wearing Santa hats

Top scientists have said families should avoid gatherings that could ‘risk infecting the vulnerable and elderly people we love’ – amid fears that Covid cases could spiral out of control yet again. Pictured: Diners in Soho, some wearing Santa hats

Families across the UK can form a Christmas 'bubble' and spend the festive season with no more than three households between December 23 and 27. Pictured: Shoppers out in Regent Street on Saturday

Families across the UK can form a Christmas ‘bubble’ and spend the festive season with no more than three households between December 23 and 27. Pictured: Shoppers out in Regent Street on Saturday

Experts have warned the Government is sending the 'wrong message' by only asking families to 'follow the rules', with some suggesting a third wave of infections could be sparked in the new year. Pictured: Shoppers, and a man dressed as Santa Claus, on Regent Street

Experts have warned the Government is sending the ‘wrong message’ by only asking families to ‘follow the rules’, with some suggesting a third wave of infections could be sparked in the new year. Pictured: Shoppers, and a man dressed as Santa Claus, on Regent Street

Areas such as London (Regent Street on Saturday, pictured), which is in danger of moving into Tier 3, have experienced a surge in infections - with the case rate per 100,000 people at 191.8 on December 6 compared to 158.1 the previous week

Areas such as London (Regent Street on Saturday, pictured), which is in danger of moving into Tier 3, have experienced a surge in infections – with the case rate per 100,000 people at 191.8 on December 6 compared to 158.1 the previous week

Scientists are urging Britons to 'rethink' their Christmas plans, insisting the 'best thing' to keep loved ones safe is to 'not see them.' Pictured: Christmas shoppers on Regent Street

Scientists are urging Britons to ‘rethink’ their Christmas plans, insisting the ‘best thing’ to keep loved ones safe is to ‘not see them.’ Pictured: Christmas shoppers on Regent Street

Covid lateral flow tests only pick up 49 per cent of infections, researchers believe

Coronavirus lateral flow tests only pick up 49 per cent of infections because they fail to catch people with low levels of the virus, researchers have found.

The findings of a pilot of 3,199 people has blown a hole in the Government’s mass testing strategy, which featured plans to hand out millions of 30-minute tests to allow Britons to go back to living life normally, it was revealed yesterday.

The lateral flow test produced by US-based Innova only pick up 48.89 per cent of active infections, according to a University of Liverpool pilot programme.

It contradicts earlier lab tests, which found the test had an overall sensitivity of 76.8 per cent, rising to 95 per cent in individuals with a high viral load. 

The pilot’s results come after an audit by the Mail found four major care home chains and nine councils were refusing to use rapid tests for visitors, which establish whether they can be admitted to premises, due to concerns about their accuracy.    

Last week, following a Daily Mail campaign, the Government promised that millions of the ‘lateral flow tests’ would be rolled out to care homes by the end of next week so residents and families could be reunited.

It said visitors who tested negative for Covid would be allowed to hold loved-ones for the first time in months.

But major providers such as Bupa, MHA, Barchester Care and Anchor Hanover have all refused to trust the results of the tests.

 

‘The danger is when you say people can, you imply that it is safe and therefore they should,’ he said.

Professor Reicher added the Government advice should present the choice to meet with loved ones but warn that it is ‘dangerous’ and should only be done if necessary. 

He said: ‘There may be circumstances where there are other factors that make you think it is worth taking that risk – but people have got to do it knowing and being clear about what the risk is,; 

Linda Bauld, of the University of Edinburgh, has also warned that relaxing Covid restrictions for five days over the Christmas period is a ‘mistake’ that will have ‘consequences’.   

She said: ‘I think people have to think very carefully whether they can see loved ones outside, or do it in a very modest way. I’m also concerned about the travel, people going from high to low-prevalence areas.’

She told BBC Breakfast yesterday: ‘I think it’s going to have consequences. I completely understand why governments are doing that. Behaviourally people are fed up. 

‘If you’re meeting people indoors from other households, there’s poor ventilation, maybe older family members are in those bubbles, unfortunately because the virus hasn’t been eliminated… I think that means the Christmas period is a risk. 

‘From a public health perspective, I have to be perfectly honest, I think this is a mistake.’

It comes as Christmas shoppers were warned to be careful as London teetered on the brink of being moved into Tier 3 amid a surge in coronavirus cases. 

Teenagers have been blamed for the huge uptick in cases, prompting a mass testing programme to be rolled out in secondary schools in the worst-hit boroughs.   

London’s case rate per 100,000 people, which rose to 191.8 on December 6, means the capital is ahead of regions such as the West Midlands which are already in Tier 3 restrictions.

The Mayor of London yesterday told Christmas shoppers to keep off public transport and wear face masks at all times as they splurge £1.7billion on the High Street.  

Mr Khan told shoppers to ‘keep a two-metre distance wherever possible’ to stop the capital being plunged into the toughest level of restrictions next week.

In a joint statement with Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, he said: ‘We are appealing directly to Londoners – when out shopping it is essential that you follow the rules. 

‘You must wear a face covering in shops and keep a two-metre distance wherever possible. Try to avoid travelling on public transport during rush hour, and walk and cycle where you can. If you have symptoms – don’t take a chance and don’t go out. Self-isolate immediately and get a test.

‘Businesses across London have worked really hard to make their premises Covid-safe – but we must all play our part in following the rules. So this weekend shop safe.’ 

Christmas shoppers were warned to be careful as London teetered on the brink of being moved into Tier 3 amid a surge in coronavirus cases. Pictured: Christmas shoppers on Regent Street on Saturday

Christmas shoppers were warned to be careful as London teetered on the brink of being moved into Tier 3 amid a surge in coronavirus cases. Pictured: Christmas shoppers on Regent Street on Saturday

Crowds of shoppers were seen on Oxford Street, London, yesterday. London is at risk of moving into Tier 3 Coronavirus restrictions before Christmas

Crowds of shoppers were seen on Oxford Street, London, yesterday. London is at risk of moving into Tier 3 Coronavirus restrictions before Christmas

Christmas shoppers walk along Regent Street on December 12. Crowds descended on non-essential stores in the run-up to Christmas

Christmas shoppers walk along Regent Street on December 12. Crowds descended on non-essential stores in the run-up to Christmas

Mask-wearing shoppers were seen on Oxford Street in London yesterday. London's case rate per 100,000 people, which rose to 191.8 on December 6, means the capital is ahead of regions such as the West Midlands which are already in Tier 3 restrictions

Mask-wearing shoppers were seen on Oxford Street in London yesterday. London’s case rate per 100,000 people, which rose to 191.8 on December 6, means the capital is ahead of regions such as the West Midlands which are already in Tier 3 restrictions

On Friday, Boris Johnson’s spokesman also urged shoppers to be cautious. 

Asked by MailOnline if shoppers should be careful when out on the High Street, he said ‘absolutely’.  

Britain’s daily coronavirus cases increased by 33 per cent on Friday compared to seven days ago. 

A total of 21,672 new cases were announced, up slightly from 20,964 on Thursday. 

Mr Johnson’s spokesman urged the public to follow the safety guidelines, saying, ‘I think we have been clear throughout the pandemic. 

‘We would urge the public to follow the guidelines in relation to their activity to ensure that we are able to continue to drive down the transmission rate and protect communities.’

However, he stopped short of telling shoppers to avoid busy times. 

‘I wouldn’t get into the discussions around telling people how to shop but I would just reiterate what we would say around ensuring that people follow the guidelines that are in place,’ he said. 


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