New Covid cases seen in almost vertical upward curve

Case rates have more than tripled in a month, stark figures suggest

Boris Johnson announces a new national lockdown in England

A graph showing a near-vertical rise in the proportion of new coronavirus cases in the UK population has sparked alarm on social media, as the country braces for another round of national lockdowns.

The chart, compiled by OurWorldInData and based on John Hopkins University figures, shows that there were an average of 773 new cases per each million UK residents every day in the week to Sunday.

This compares with just 210 exactly a month earlier, as England emerged from its second lockdown – and before the health secretary Matt Hancock announced the discovery of a new and more transmissible variant.

An image of the graph – which showed a somewhat less vertical line when zoomed in further – was shared thousands of times on social media, eliciting a widespread array of responses expressing concern at the worsening situation and dismay at the government’s apparent inaction.

The rise in cases in recent weeks – despite the cancellation of a planned Christmas easing of the rules for millions – has seen the number of new daily infections across the UK continue to reach record levels, with an unprecedented 58,784 new cases reported on Monday.

Facing widespread calls to close schools and borders and issue strict stay-at-home orders on Monday as millions of children returned to schools after the festive break, Boris Johnson announced a new shutdown similar to that seen in March with near-immediate effect.

And as the leaders of the devolved administrations held an urgent four-nations call, the UK’s four chief medical officers advised that the Covid alert level be upgraded to five – its highest setting.

In a joint statement, they warned that without further action there is a risk of the NHS “in several areas” being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.

While lower testing at the pandemic’s outset make comparisons with the first peak somewhat unreliable in terms of cases, the number of people being treating with Covid-19 in English hospitals last week outstripped the previous record of 18,974 seen on 12 April, NHS figures revealed.

As he addressed the nation on Monday evening, the prime minister said that figure was now 40 per cent higher than in April.

The new restrictions will last until at least mid-February, Mr Johnson said, with Tory former health secretary Jeremy Hunt having spearheaded calls for the rules to remain until all of those deemed most clinically vulnerable have been vaccinated, which he suggested would be in around 12 weeks’ time. 

Meanwhile, many questioned why the government had allowed case rates to rise to such levels before taking action, with the prime minister having insisted schools were safe less than 24 hours before reversing his decision to keep them open to all pupils.

But reacting to the prime minister’s announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC: “There are questions about the timings of decisions, et cetera, but now is the time I think to support this package, pull together, and do everything we can to try and make this work.”

He added: “I think that we need to remake that contract with the British people, which is to say ‘in return for you enduring these measures now for the coming weeks, the vaccine must be rolled out at speed’.”

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