Britain’s Covid-19 infections have fallen by 11 per cent in a week as fears continue to grow around the impending winter wave.
Department of Health bosses reported a further 39,962 cases today, a drop from the 45,140 reported last Sunday.
However the number of people dying from the virus has risen, with 72 deaths reported today compared to 57 on October 17 – a rise of 26 per cent.
The Government figures come as the vaccine effort continues across Britain, with a total of 45,542,207 now having received both doses of the Covid jab.
Earlier today Rishi Sunak insisted there was no need to move to Plan B to cut Covid cases – after health chiefs discussed whether there needed to be an ‘immediate rollout’ of tougher measures to combat a surge in cases.
The Chancellor insisted that the data shows that bringing back working from home and introducing mandatory Covid passports was not yet required.
His comments to the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme came after it was reported that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) contacted local authorities on Friday to canvass their level of support for the ‘immediate rollout of the winter plan – plan B’.
An ‘official – sensitive’ document seen by the Observer sought opinions from the leaders and chief executives of councils across England to be fed to the Cabinet Office before then end of the day.
But Mr Sunak today said: ‘The data does not suggest we should be immediately moving to Plan B.’
Yesterday a Government scientific adviser said he was ‘very fearful’ there will be another ‘lockdown Christmas’.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) and SAGE subgroup CO-CIN, said case numbers and death rates are currently ‘unacceptable’.
But SAGE scientists insisted it was ‘highly unlikely’ that the NHS would be overwhelmed by the virus this winter even without restrictions.
Modelling by the group for England predicted that the combination of vaccine-acquired immunity and natural protection would be enough to keep hospital rates below levels seen during the second wave.
It came as Health Secretary Sajid Javid said new cases could reach 100,000 a day but Downing Street insisted there was still spare capacity in the NHS and that Plan B would only be activated if it came under ‘significant pressure’.
Meanwhile, it was revealed Brits may need three Covid vaccinations to go on holiday next summer but under-50s are unlikely to receive a booster until ‘well after Christmas’.
Care minister Gillian Keegan, 53, said the current vaccine passport system will have to evolve, which could mean having three jabs to be able to jet off.
But an anonymous source on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said boosters for people under the age of 50 would most probably be given ‘well after Christmas’.
The JCVI member said the committee would probably not extend the booster roll-out to other groups of people until more tangible progress was made with people eligible for the third vaccine at the moment.
Professor Openshaw, of Imperial College London, told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’m very fearful that we’re going to have another lockdown Christmas if we don’t act soon.
‘We know that with public health measures the time to act is immediately. There’s no point in delaying.
‘If you do delay then you need to take even more stringent actions later. The immediacy of response is absolutely vital if you’re going to get things under control.
Rishi Sunak insisted there was no need to move to Plan B to cut Covid cases today
Modelling by SAGE predicted that the combination of vaccine-acquired immunity and natural protection would be enough to keep hospital rates below levels seen in the second wave. Even in the most pessimistic scenarios, the group estimated that daily Covid hospital admissions would not rise above 1,500. More optimistic models had them peaking at below 1,000 in winter. The above charts are based on modelling by Warwick University and look at how quickly people go back to pre-pandemic social contacts. It was based on the booster doses given ‘sustained’ immunity
Other SAGE modelling took into account ‘repeated’ waning from booster doses, and projected that hospital admissions could breach levels seen during the second wave in January under the worst-case projections
Only around 4.5million (green line) out of the 9.3million eligible people (blue line) in England have received the crucial third dose, prompting ministers to urge people to come forward for their inoculations
‘We all really, really want a wonderful family Christmas where we can all get back together.
Boris Johnson insists there is ‘absolutely nothing to indicate’ there will be another lockdown this winter
Boris Johnson today insisted there is ‘absolutely nothing to indicate’ there will be another lockdown this winter.
The Prime Minister said a national shutdown is not ‘on the cards’ as he was grilled about rising coronavirus case numbers.
His comments came after Tory MPs and hospitality chiefs urged the PM to resist calls from health bosses to trigger the Government’s Covid-19 ‘Plan B’.
Conservative MPs fear going ahead with the fall back strategy of telling people to work from home and to wear face masks would put the nation on a ‘slippery slope’ towards another lockdown.
They are adamant there should be no return to draconian curbs, claiming that the Government must not be ‘bullied’ by health leaders into imposing new rules.
Meanwhile, hospitality bosses have warned against reimposing restrictions, telling the PM that many pubs, bars and restaurants would ‘go to the wall’.
The hospitality industry is concerned that even light touch restrictions could hit bookings and put ‘Christmas at risk’.
The Government has insisted the triggering of ‘Plan B’ is not imminent, with the focus currently on rolling out vaccine booster shots.
But ministers struck an ominous tone this morning as they said the blueprint is ‘there for a reason’.
‘If that’s what we want, we need to get these measures in place now in order to get transmission rates right down so that we can actually get together and see one another over Christmas.’
Professor Openshaw said it is ‘unacceptable to be letting this run at the moment’, adding: ‘I think the hospitals in many parts of the country are barely coping actually.
‘Talking to people on the front line, I think it’s just not sustainable to keep going at this rate.
‘I think it’s just unacceptable to see the number of deaths that we’ve got at the moment.
‘At one stage last week there were 180 deaths in a single day. That is just too many deaths. We seem to have got used to the idea that we’re going to have many, many people dying of Covid and that I think is just not the case.
‘We need to slow down transmission and really redouble efforts to get everyone vaccinated and all the boosters out, and then we can open up again.’
Professor Openshaw was asked what he would say to people who have concerns about what they can do to stop the spread of the virus in the event of the Government not reintroducing measures.
He told the programme: ‘I think take matters into your own hands. Don’t wait necessarily for Government policy.
‘I’m very, very reluctant now to go into crowded spaces because I know that roughly one in 60 people in a crowded space are going to have the virus. If you can, cycle to work, don’t go on public transport.
‘I think do everything possible in your control to try to reduce transmission. Don’t wait for the Government to change policy.
‘The sooner we all act, the sooner we can get this transmission rate down, and the greater the prospect of having a Christmas with our families.’
Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation warned the vaccine alone will not be able to lift the world out of the pandemic.
Spokesperson Margaret Harris told Times Radio: ‘The problem is focusing on one thing, the vaccine isn’t going to get us out of this.
‘We really have to do other measures.
‘We have got to be serious about not crowding. We have still got to be looking at wearing the masks, when you’re indoors particularly.’
Scientific advisers have told the Government it must ensure Plan B restrictions to tackle coronavirus can be ‘rapidly’ deployed if needed.
Experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said, in minutes of a meeting published on Friday, that a further huge spike in infections as seen in January was ‘increasingly unlikely’, as experts predicted a series of broader, flatter peaks as the virus continues to spread.