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The UK has reported no deaths from Covid in a day, for the first time in 10 months, raising optimism in Downing Street that England could forge ahead with the final stage of the roadmap despite scientists warning that extra restrictions might be needed to control a third wave.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, hailed the statistic as proof that vaccines were breaking the link between infection and severe illness, though scientists warned against reading too much into the numbers following a bank holiday weekend.
Official figures on Tuesday showed the four nations of the UK recorded no new deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test, for the first time since July 2020.
Due to delays in recording deaths, however, it will take time before statisticians know for sure whether there were zero deaths from coronavirus on Monday. In January, at the height of the pandemic, 1,820 deaths were recorded on a single day.
Government sources suggested the prime minister, Boris Johnson, was still minded to lift the social restrictions on 21 June, despite warnings from scientific advisers that the UK was embarking on a third wave, with infection rates rising.
No 10 suggested there was not yet conclusive evidence to suggest that the infection rates would lead to a surge in hospitalisations, which might overwhelm the NHS or cause many more deaths.
A Whitehall source said early data this week on the effects of unlocking on 17 May were encouraging, although data over the next few days – a fortnight on from people being allowed to mix indoors – would be the most crucial.
Ministers have also been heartened by hospitalisation rates in Bolton, one of the hotspot areas for the Delta coronavirus variant (first discovered in India), which have remained steady.
The rapid spread of the Delta variant, B.1.617.2, in some parts of Britain has led to calls for the final step in the government roadmap to be delayed on 21 June until more people are vaccinated.
On Tuesday some scientists went further, suggesting there was a need to reverse lockdown easing and return to past restrictions to prevent a third wave running out of control.
Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer in machine learning at Queen Mary, University of London, said the focus on 21 June distracted from stricter action that needed to be taken immediately.
“We need to roll back step three [brought in 17 May],” she said, adding that more had to be done to curtail transmission in schools, such as reimposing masks, improving ventilation and reducing class or bubble sizes. “We don’t know what is going to contain it, so I think we urgently need to put those measures in place and then observe very closely what happens.”
Mike Tildesley, a member of the outbreak modelling subgroup that feeds into Sage, did not express an opinion on delaying the roadmap but said that a pause would buy time. “Delaying does help … Younger people still haven’t got the vaccine and quite a lot of people still don’t have their second dose of the vaccine and that’s where it really can help you. At this point, if you delay three to four weeks, that is a lot of people you can get vaccinated.”
Conservative MPs seized on the zero deaths statistic as proof that the government should now commit to lifting all restrictions on 21 June.
Researchers suggested that lockdown and the vaccination campaign pushed down infections, hospitalisations and deaths steeply in the spring, so that rates going into the recent bank holiday weekend were low enough for incomplete reporting to drive down the number of reported deaths to zero.
Nathalie MacDermott, a clinical lecturer at King’s College London, said that while zero daily Covid deaths was “certainly something to be celebrated, we must remember that this follows a three-day bank holiday weekend during which time deaths may not have been formally reported or recorded”.
Official figures record the Covid-19 deaths 28 days after people test positive for the virus. The numbers are displayed by the date of actual death and also by the date the death was formally reported.
The latest figures suggest no Covid deaths occurred on Sunday 30 May, for the first time in a day since March 2020, but the numbers for the past few days will not be complete. No deaths were reported on 1 June for the first time since July 2020.
While starting June with a zero-deaths day will boost ministers’ hopes, scientists are concerned that the more transmissible Delta variant is fuelling a third wave in the UK.
“Deaths do seem to be increasing again, though as yet only slowly,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. “The apparent dip in today’s and yesterday’s figures solely represent the impact of a bank holiday on data collection and analysis.”
Hancock said it was a moment to celebrate but that it was not the end. “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 when indoors, and of course, make sure you get both jabs.”
Scientific advisers expect infections, hospitalisations and deaths to rise as England loosens lockdown restrictions, but the hope is that with the majority of older people vaccinated the number of deaths will remain low. However, with the Delta variant potentially 50% more transmissible than the Kent or Alpha variant, B.1.1.7, and partially resistant to vaccines, some fear controlling a third wave will be a huge challenge.
“Measures that were needed to keep the original strain in check were quite marked, and the B.1.1.7 variant needed even greater measures,” said Peter Openshaw, a professor and member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group. “If this one is another gear up in terms of transmission, we are in real trouble trying to control it even with high vaccination rates. The sort of measures that would be needed are very stringent indeed.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: No UK Covid deaths announced for first time in 10 months | Coronavirus