The UK has reported no new deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test for the first time since July 2020, according to government figures, as the country’s mass vaccination campaign continues to keep fatalities low.
But the latest data comes amid growing unease about plans to press ahead with the final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown restrictions on 21 June as daily cases have risen sharply in recent days.
Nicola Sturgeon said cases of the variant first detected in India – renamed as the Delta variant by the World Health Organisation – now accounted for over half of new cases north of the border, as she outlined a “slight slowing down” of the easing of restrictions.
While moving Glasgow down to Level 2 – the only area that had remained in Level 3 – the Scottish first minister described the current situation as “delicate and fragile” and said the vast majority of the country’s central belt would remain under Level 2, instead of moving to Level 1 as planned next week.
However, No 10 indicated that Boris Johnson still sees nothing in the data to suggest that the plan to end all legal Covid restrictions later this month in England should be delayed. A final decision is expected before 14 June.
“The prime minister has said on a number of occasions that we haven't seen anything in the data but we will continue to look at the data, we will continue to look at the latest scientific evidence as we move through June towards 21 June,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Matt Hancock said: “The whole country will be so glad there were no Covid related deaths recorded yesterday.
“The vaccines are clearly working – protecting you, those around you and your loved ones. But despite this undoubtedly good news we know we haven’t beaten this virus yet, and with cases continuing to rise please remember hands, face, space and let in fresh air indoors, and of course, make sure you can get both jabs.”
The latest death tally will feed into ministers' considerations and they will also consider that the announcement on zero deaths comes after a bank holiday weekend, so there may be a delay in the reporting of the figures.
According to the latest official figures, there were a further 3,165 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases recorded in the UK, as of 9am on Tuesday.
Scientists have warned that there are still many people who are potentially at risk from the effects of Covid-19, despite the UK’s vaccination campaign largely protecting the most vulnerable so far.
Internal NHS data shared with The Independent showed there were 42 Covid patients in hospital in Bolton, where cases have surged in recent weeks, on Tuesday – down from 49 last Thursday. There were no new patients admitted in the last 24 hours and one patient was discharged.
Overall the hospital had 11 patients in intensive care or high dependence and across England there were 776 Covid patients in hospital on Tuesday, with 36 new admissions in the last 24 hours and 83 patents discharged.
Professor Mark Walport told the BBC it was “not impossible” the nation was in the foothills of another wave of Covid, but insisted more data was needed before the government could make any final decision on the lockdown lifting date.
“We need to substitute speculation for scientific data, that's the truth of the matter. As everyone has said in the last few days, the situation is very delicately balanced with some three sets of moving parts," he said.
"Firstly, we have got a new more transmissible variant, of that there is no doubt, though we don't know exactly how much more transmissible. Secondly, there's been a change in behaviour following the relaxation of measures on May 17 and the effects of that will just be starting to come through.
He added: “Thirdly, we've got a vaccination programme that is very successful, but with a lot of people that still need both their second dose of [the] vaccine and vaccination from scratch. I'm afraid that weeks before the prime minister has to make the difficult decision it is going to be necessary to bring in the data."
Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), also warned that it was wrong to assume that the “job is done” with the mass vaccination campaign now that nearly 75 per cent of adults have received their first jab.
“There's vulnerability across the country. The idea that somehow the job is done is wrong,” Professor Finn, from the University of Bristol, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We've still got a lot of people out there who've neither had this virus ... nor yet been immunised, and that's why we're in a vulnerable position right now.”
Meanwhile professor of structural biology at Oxford University, James Naismith, said the surge in new cases proves that the £37 billion test-and-trace system – previously hailed as “world-beating – “doesn’t work”.
“With numbers as low as they were and a reasonable amount of lockdown, if track and trace was ever going to work and make a difference it would be this time – but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference at all,” he added.
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