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Coronavirus UK: Boris Johnson's Great Recovery Bill for economy

Boris Johnson is drawing up a ‘Great Recovery Bill’ to slash red tape and help get the economy moving again, and ministers have been told to submit ideas for reforms that would allow firms to adapt to the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Government officials are also being asked to find ways of ensuring essential services can operate while social distancing remains in place.

The plans could include enabling shops to stay open all day on a Sunday by suspending Sunday trading laws for a year, according to The Times. Cafes and pubs could be given fast-track approval to serve food and drink outside.  

The plans would be rolled together in a legislative agenda provisionally entitled the ‘Great Recovery Bill’. It will sit alongside a mini-budget, pencilled in for July, which is expected to include tax cuts to fuel consumer spending and business investment.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is under pressure to temporarily lower VAT and stamp duty, is considering a national insurance holiday for employers to boost jobs.

As the official Covid-19 death toll passed 40,000 today, the Government said they were still aiming to ease a swathes of lockdown restrictions on businesses on June 15, with non-essential retail being allowed to open back up again.

Mr Johnson’s shake-up could include major reforms to the planning system to revive his ‘infrastructure revolution’, which has stalled during the lockdown. Ministers believe new housing, roads and broadband will be central to any recovery.

Plans to create a network of ‘freeports’, where normal tax and customs rules do not apply, are also set to be fast-tracked. 

A Government source said: ‘Departments are being asked to identify the things they need to keep services going, but also the changes that would free up the economy and get business moving again once we start to open up.

‘The idea is to then put them all into one big piece of legislation that helps get the recovery going.’

The Prime Minister’s plan to revive the economy comes as: 

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock said all hospital patients, visitors and staff will have to wear masks from June 15, as it was revealed coronavirus cases fell by 30 per cent last week to 5,600 a day;
  • He also urged people to stay away from George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests across the country this weekend to avoid spreading the virus; 
  • The UK’s official coronavirus death toll yesterday surpassed 40,000 as health chiefs announced 357 more Brits lost their lives to the disease 
  • Scientists suggested the R rate has now risen to above one in the North West and South West of England  
  • Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca revealed it is already manufacturing Oxford University’s experimental vaccine in India, the UK and Europe amid plans to distribute 2billion doses as early as September if it works; 
  • Fears of a second wave were sparked after Iran became the first country in the world to report another cluster of coronavirus infections after easing its lockdown;
  • British Airways threatened legal action against the Government over its 14-day quarantine plan for travellers entering the UK;
  • Half of Britons are shunning Chinese products and two-thirds would like the government to impose more tariffs on imports from the communist state, according to a poll;
  • The anti-malarial drug hailed as a miracle virus cure by Donald Trump is ‘useless’, a British study concluded; 
  • TV presenter Kate Garraway broke down in tears as she revealed critically-ill husband Derek Draper thanked her for ‘saving his life’ before he slipped into a coma during his 10-week battle with coronavirus.
Boris Johnson is drawing up a ‘Great Recovery Bill’ to slash red tape and help get the economy moving again, and is asking Ministers to submit ideas that will prop up firms following the pandemic's upheaval of the economy

Boris Johnson is drawing up a ‘Great Recovery Bill’ to slash red tape and help get the economy moving again, and is asking Ministers to submit ideas that will prop up firms following the pandemic’s upheaval of the economy

 

Some of the changes being eyed by the Government will require primary legislation and have prompted the idea of a wide-ranging new law. 

The last major change came in 1994 with the Sunday Trading Act, prior to which it was illegal to open on a Sunday under the Shops Act 1950. 

Some of the red tape that ministers will target can be ditched without the need for primary legislation. They are already considering scrapping local authority fees for cafes and restaurants that want to put tables on the pavement.

Ministers also want to make it easier for pubs to reconfigure so they can serve customers outside, and planning restrictions on high street could be simplified so retail unit can more easily change between shops, retail and residential uses.

The Department for Education is assessing whether further legal changes may be needed to allow a full return to school in September, when social distancing is expected to make normal classes difficult.

And the Ministry of Justice is considering whether to allow juries to sit with fewer than 12 members in order to allow for social distancing in court.

The Prime Minister is calling for a ‘green recovery’ and new investment is expected in electric vehicles and battery technology to help the ailing car industry.

Government sources have indicated that despite the dire impact of the lockdown on the public finances, which could see the deficit soar to more than £300billion this year, Mr Sunak is keen to cut taxes.

One idea is a national insurance holiday for employers, which experts believe could save hundreds of thousands of jobs and stimulate investment.

But Mr Sunak is also under pressure to cut personal taxes to revive collapsed consumer demand and directly put money into the pockets of families.

Former Labour and Tory chancellors Lord Darling and Philip Hammond this week backed calls for a temporary VAT cut.

Mr Hammond said there was ‘no economic logic to increasing taxes in the short term’, adding: ‘The question is as we move more deeply into the recovery phase, there may be a need for some short-term fiscal stimulus to the economy and that could be delivered most obviously through tax cuts.’

Today, the UK’s official coronavirus death toll today surpassed 40,000 as leading scientists suggested the R rate has now risen to above the dreaded number of one in two regions of England.

Department of Health data shows 343 deaths occurred in England, followed by nine in Scotland, four in Wales and one in Northern Ireland – taking the official Covid-19 death toll to 40,261.

But the true number of coronavirus victims is known to be thousands higher. The Government only includes laboratory-confirmed cases in its daily update, meaning patients who are suspected to have died but never got tested for the infection aren’t included.

It comes as separate estimates produced by experts at Public Health England and Cambridge University today suggested the R-rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – is above the danger level of one in the North West and South West. It must stay below one or Britain will face another crisis. 

The data – fed into No 10’s scientific panel SAGE – suggested the R rate was falling before lockdown was imposed and has been creeping back up since the darkest days of the outbreak at the start of April. SAGE said the overall rate remained between 0.7 and 0.9 across the UK as a whole but admitted it may be a little higher in England.

Data from Public Health England showed that London has the largest proportion of its population already infected with the coronavirus, while the fewest people were infected in the South West of England

Data from Public Health England showed that London has the largest proportion of its population already infected with the coronavirus, while the fewest people were infected in the South West of England

 

 

Face masks will be compulsory for ALL hospital staff and visitors and outpatients must wear homemade coverings from June 15 

ByDavid Wilcock, Whitehall Correspondent For Mailonline 

Face coverings will become compulsory in hospitals for all staff, visitors and  outpatients from June 15, Matt Hancock revealed today.  

Medical and other staff will have to wear surgical masks at all times, the Health Secretary announced tonight.

Visitors and outpatients attending appointments will not be allowed in without wearing the sort of face coverings that can be made at home, he also told tonight’s Downing Street press conference.

The announcement came after a similar move yesterday, when it was revealed face coverings would be compulsory on public transport from the same day.  

Mr Hancock said the move was required to protect all hospital workers as NHS units gradually reopen their doors for procedures that were delayed by the coronavirus response. 

‘As the NHS reopens right across the country, it’s critically important to stop the spread amongst staff, patients and visitors too,’ he said.

Mr Hancock also revealed he had donated blood plasma to an antibody trial in London today (pictured)

Mr Hancock also revealed he had donated blood plasma to an antibody trial in London today (pictured)








Hydroxychloroquine does NOT treat Covid-19: Biggest study into the Donald Trump-backed anti-malaria drug is ended with ‘immediate effect’ after researchers found it made no difference 

Hydroxychloroquine does not treat coronavirus, according to the world’s biggest trial of the anti-malaria drug backed by US President Donald Trump.

Oxford University scientists pulled the controversial from the RECOVERY trial today after results showed it had no benefit on patients hospitalised with the virus.

A quarter of NHS patients given hydroxychloroquine died from Covid-19, compared to 23.5 per cent who were not prescribed the drug.

The scientists running the trial, which has recruited more than 1,500 patients from around 170 UK hospitals, said the results were ‘pretty compelling’, adding: ‘This isn’t a treatment that works.’

Professor Martin Landray, lead author of the study, added: ‘If you’re admitted to hospital with Covid – you, your mother or anyone else – hydroxychloroquine is not the right treatment. It doesn’t work.’

He called for doctors around the world to stop using the drug, which can cause a slew of nasty side effects including heart arrhythmias, headaches and vomiting.

But Professor Landray said the results do not necessarily mean the tablets cannot prevent people from catching Covid-19 in the first place, which several studies are still investigating.

Early results on hydroxychloroquine from the RECOVERY trial were not supposed to released until July. But the study’s chief investigators said they felt compelled to release the data and set the record straight on the drug, which has been at the centre of furious debate.

US President Donald Trump hailed it as a wonder drug at the start of the crisis and admitted to taking it himself to ward off the infection, while countries like China and India regularly prescribe it to Covid-19 patients.

It comes after medical journal The Lancet last night retracted a controversial study that found hydroxychloroquine raised the risk of death in Covid patients, which led to trials being halted around the world.

‘So today we’re setting out that all hospital visitors and outpatients will need to wear face coverings.

‘One of the things that we’ve learnt is that those in hospital, those who are working in hospital, are more likely to catch coronavirus whether they work in a clinical setting or not.

‘And so to offer even greater protection we’re also providing new guidance for NHS staff in England which will come into force again on June 15 and all hospital staff will be required to wear type one or two surgical masks.

‘And this will cover all staff working in hospital, it will apply at all times – not just when they are doing life-saving work on the frontline – and it will apply in all areas, except those areas designated as Covid-secure workplaces.’

It came as newly updated World Health Organisation (WHO) advice advised people to wear homemade fabric masks in public where social distancing is not possible.

The WHO previously stressed there was no evidence that wearing a mask – whether medical or other types – by healthy people in the wider community could prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including Covid-19.

However, it said ‘evolving’ new science now pointed to the use of medical-grade masks in hospital settings – even for those not treating coronavirus patients – as well as similar protection worn by people aged 60 or over, or with underlying health conditions, when outside of their home where social distancing was not possible.

Mr Hancock said the Government was upgrading the guidance to ensure that ‘even as the virus comes under control’ hospitals are a place of ‘care and of safety’.

‘We’ve also strengthened infection control in care homes and we’re working with the social care sector on how this approach can apply appropriately in social care too.

‘It’s about protecting the NHS and social care, which means protecting our colleagues who work in the NHS and in social care.’

Earlier today a senior Government minister rejected calls to force shoppers to wear face coverings – as medics demanded that strict rules forcing their use on public transport be brought in immediately. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who last night revealed that commuters face £80 for not wearing them from June 15, said this morning they were not required in other settings because people spend little time in close proximity.

It came after the head of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said the compulsory wearing of face coverings should be introduced in ‘all areas’ where social distancing is not possible, and should start immediately. 

Only a handful of Tube users wore masks at rush hour today as Dr Nagpaul warned delaying the £80 fines will only make the spread of coronavirus worse.

Commuters again packed on to the London Underground and were forced to break social distancing rules on the Jubilee Line, which runs through the heart of the capital.

The BMA head said face covers ‘should not be restricted to public transport’, raising the prospect of masks also becoming compulsory in shops, restaurants and pubs. 

The Government has previously said that it plans for non-essential retailers to reopen from June 15. 

But Mr Shapps said High Street browsing was  ‘clearly not the same’ as being on a bus or train for a sustained period of time.

He told the BBC: ‘I think the big difference is in a shop you may well pass somebody and the guidance acknowledges you might be near somebody for a short period of time but then you are going to move on.

‘On public transport you could be next to somebody for 10, 20 minutes, 30 minutes so there is a much larger chance of being close to somebody for a longer period of time plus the guidance for shops is don’t let the shop become overcrowded and that is something you can control with queues outside the shops, we are all used to them now, two metre queues outside.’ 

 

A testing debacle, a U-turn on face masks and brutal rows over PPE shortages and lockdown: How Britain’s approach to tackling coronavirus crisis has been behind rest of the world at almost EVERY step

Boris Johnson is facing growing questions over the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic with Britain’s official death toll now approaching 40,000.  

It is now 18 weeks since the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK on January 31.

Since then the Government has been repeatedly rocked by rows and blunders as critics continually asked why ministers were taking a different approach to the outbreak compared to other countries. 

Downing Street has now said the UK is beginning the ‘recovery phase’ of the crisis but with a public inquiry inevitable, there is growing scrutiny of the action taken by the Government. 

A No10 spokesperson defended the Government’s record on responding to Covid-19 by saying: ‘This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it.

‘At every stage, the government has been guided by the advice of experts from SAGE and its sub-committees – advice which has now been published on gov.uk.

‘Our response has ensured that the NHS has capacity for everyone who needs it and that it can provide the best possible care for people who become ill.’

Below is a breakdown of how the UK responded to the spread of the disease and how its approach has differed from other countries which have fared better in tackling it.

Boris Johnson's personal approval has dived over by 40 points to turn negative in less than two months. His net rating was plus 38 in mid-April, but by this week it was minus five

Boris Johnson’s personal approval has dived over by 40 points to turn negative in less than two months. His net rating was plus 38 in mid-April, but by this week it was minus five

Government advisers warned in February that PHE’s contact tracing capacity would be ‘exhausted’ in TWO WEEKS 

Public Health England only had enough contact-tracing capacity to last two weeks before it became ‘exhausted’, scientists warned in February.

Experts said capacity should be increased immediately but admitted it could only be expanded about 10-fold, to contact 8,000 people per day, which still wouldn’t be enough.

A batch of scientific papers submitted to the Government’s SAGE committee were published today and reveal more of what officials were being told in the early stages of the UK’s epidemic.

Researchers said there was ‘no evidence’ that stopping shaking hands would reduce transmission of the virus, shortly after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ridiculed for continuing to use the greeting.

The UK’s initial response to the Wuhan outbreak 

Coronavirus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December with the outbreak quickly spiralling in just a matter of weeks. 

Beijing took the unprecedented decision to put the city into a strict state of lockdown on January 23. 

World Health Organisation officials have said that all major governments were made aware by the end of January of how serious the situation could become. 

But the UK Government’s focus was largely on Britain’s long-awaited departure from the European Union which finally took place on January 31 after years of bitter political wrangling. 

Mr Johnson delivered a major speech in Greenwich on February 3 in which he set out his vision for post-Brexit Britain. 

But coronavirus had started to creep into the political mainstream as Mr Johnson made clear his view on Wuhan-style lockdowns. 

He said: ‘We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage…’

No10 told MailOnline that the Government started to act ‘as soon as it was alerted to a potential outbreak’, with initial work starting before the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic on 11 March.

They added: ‘Mr Hancock was first alerted to Covid 19 on 3 January and spoke to Departmental officials on 6 Jan before receiving written advice from the UK Health Security Team.

‘He brought the issue to the attention of the Prime Minister and they discussed Covid 19 on 7 January. The Health Secretary continued to update the Prime Minister on a regular basis.

‘The government’s scientific advisory groups started to meet in mid-January. Sage met on 22 January but the first New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group NERVTAG meeting was held on 13 January.

‘The Health Secretary instituted daily meetings to grip the emerging threat. We have taken the right steps at the right time guided by the scientific evidence at all times.’

The Wuhan airlift 

As soon as the Chinese city was put into a state of lockdown the UK government faced questions about bringing back British citizens. 

Both the US and Japan managed to airlift some of their citizens from the city on January 29. 

But the first charter flight heading to the UK did not leave Wuhan until January 31 after being delayed due to China failing to grant permission to take off.

Meanwhile, people due to get onto the flight were only given five hours notice to get to the plane despite the city being in lockdown.

When the 83 British evacuees arrived back in the UK at RAF Brize Norton they were then taken by bus to a facility at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral. 

But the Government faced a backlash after the bus drivers tasked with transporting the people to the site 172 miles away were not provided with protective equipment. 

It was not until February 4 that the Foreign Office advised all Britons to leave China if they were able to.  

Downing St responded by saying that they used enhanced monitoring at UK border points to identify symptomatic travellers from high risk areas early and safely triage them into the health system.

‘This was applied to those returning from Wuhan on 22 January and broadened to the whole of China on 25 January; Japan on 8 February, Iran on 25 February, Northern Italy on 4 March and the whole of Italy on 5 March.

‘Once there was significant transmission within the UK, the scientific advice was that border restrictions would have a very marginal impact on the number of cases of coronavirus within the UK, as at that point they contributed a tiny proportion of the number of new infections.

‘In the minutes of the SAGE meeting of the 23rd March, SAGE reiterates its previous advice that closing borders would have a negligible effect on the spread of the virus.’ 

Hancock walks the walk as he urges public to follow his example and donate blood plasma 

Matt Hancock encouraged people who had recovered from coronavirus to donate their blood plasma – as he revealed he had made a donation.

He said: ‘If you have had the virus, then you can help make a difference. Because by donating your plasma from your blood that has your antibodies in it, then you can help somebody who is currently suffering in hospital with coronavirus.

‘I did this earlier today, I gave my antibodies, and the process is simple, it’s straightforward.

‘If you have had coronavirus, if you go to the NHS blood and transplant website… then you too can donate your antibodies and help protect somebody who is currently in hospital with coronavirus.

‘And I’d encourage anybody who can do that to step forward.’

Abandoning routine testing

During the early weeks of the outbreak the UK was routinely testing people with coronavirus symptoms and attempting to trace their contacts to stop the spread of the disease. 

But the Government abandoned routine testing on March 12 as Mr Johnson told the nation that anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate at home for a week.      

The decision to shift away from testing was blamed on a lack of domestic capacity while Government experts also suggested checks were no longer an ‘appropriate intervention’ because of the scale of the spread of the disease. 

However, as the UK outbreak surged, the Government was forced into a U-turn as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on April 2 a new ‘five pillar’ plan to boost testing capacity.

The UK’s decision to ditch testing seemingly went against World Health Organisation advice, with the body having said that the key to fighting the disease was to ‘test, test, test’.

Effective test and trace regimes have been critical to the success of other countries like South Korea and Germany in keeping their death rates much lower than the UK.  

The decision to abandon routine testing is now seen by many experts as one of the main reasons why the UK has one of the worst death tolls in the world.

No10 denied that contact tracing had ever been abandoned, saying it ‘has been used throughout the COVID19 response’.

‘At the start of the outbreak, tracing the contacts of every case helped to delay community transmission and bought time for the NHS and country to prepare, ultimately helping save lives,’ said a spokesperson.

‘When we moved from the initial containment phase, the focus switched to using stay at home measures for everyone other than essential workers to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Contact tracing did not stop, but it focused on specific settings such as care homes or prisons where there was greatest risk of local outbreaks.

‘As SAGE set out in the minutes of its 13 March meeting “this will increase the pace of testing (and delivery of results) for intensive care units, hospital admissions, targeted contact tracing for suspected clusters of cases and healthcare workers”.

‘As we move into the next phase of our response, where incidence of the virus is lower and lockdown measures start to be eased, it now needs to play a much greater role. We have successfully launched the NHS Test and Trace, a service to help identify, contain and control coronavirus, reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.

‘Backed by the rapid expansion of testing across the country and 25,000 dedicated contact tracers, we are now able to offer anyone with symptoms of the virus a test, and trace the contacts of those testing positive to prevent further transmission.

‘Those with symptoms and their close contacts must follow advice to self-isolate, to protect others from the virus and to allow the safe and gradual lifting of lockdown.

‘Social distancing has helped us to reduce the reproduction rate of the virus (R), meaning it is now possible to test every suspected case and, if they test positive, trace any close recent contacts they have to stop the spread of the virus further.’ 

Inadequate testing capacity 

The dramatic shift in approach on testing was best illustrated on April 2 as Mr Hancock set a target of hitting 100,000 daily tests carried out by the end of the month. 

When the announcement was made approximately 10,000 tests were being done every day with the Government then scrambling in the weeks that followed to ramp up capacity. 

In contrast, South Korea was capable of testing 20,000 people a day by the start of March while Germany was managing 15,000 by the middle of March.

UK ministers faced intense criticism for failing to seek help from the private sector, particularly from smaller firms, quickly enough.

Experts argued that small laboratories could be put to work to process swab tests and help to hit the target. 

The push was likened to the ‘little ships’ which helped during the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War. 

But the Government was accused of failing to act on offers of help when they were first made which meant the UK was always struggling to gain ground.

The slow uptake of the offers was blamed by some in Whitehall on Public Health England’s alleged ‘control freakery’ but ministers did eventually U-turn and seek support from small labs. 

Mr Hancock then claimed victory at the end of April as he said the target had been hit only for it to emerge that the Government had included postal kits in the figures on the day they were sent out rather than when they were processed.

Mr Johnson admitted at the end of May during an appearance in front of the Liaison Committee that the UK’s testing capability was underpowered at the start of the outbreak because the ‘brutal reality’ was Britain did not ‘learn the lessons’ of previous pandemics.

A Government spokesperson said: ‘In the early stages we rightly prioritised those with a medical need and healthcare workers.

‘From the outset, we have acknowledged the need to increase our testing capacity, having started from a low base and we have done so reaching over 200,000 tests per day by the end of May. Our approach has meant that everyone with symptoms now has access to rapid, free testing.’

Antigen versus antibody tests

When Mr Hancock made his 100,000 tests pledge it is thought he was expecting some of that number to be made up of antibody tests.

Antibody tests show if someone has had coronavirus while the more laborious antigen tests show if someone currently has it. 

Mr Johnson said on March 19 that the Government was in negotiations to buy ‘game changer’ antibody tests. 

But it subsequently emerged that none of the antibody tests were accurate enough to be rolled out, meaning Mr Hancock was totally reliant on ramping up antigen testing to hit his target.     

The UK then had to try to get millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money back for the antibody tests it had already agreed to purchase, with reports suggesting Britain had paid two Chinese companies an estimated £16 million for two million tests which could not be used. 

No10 claimed they have signed contracts for over 10 million antibody tests from Roche and Abbott that are expected in the coming months

‘All NHS and care staff in England will be offered a test, with patients and care residents eligible at their clinician’s request,’ they said.

‘In the 24 hours to 9am this morning there were 40,385 antibody tests carried out. There have now been 194,467 antibody tests completed on NHS staff and patients.’ 








A furious row over PPE shortages  

A row over shortages of personal protective equipment for NHS and care staff dominated April as ministers were told a lack of gowns, masks and gloves was putting the lives of frontline workers at risk. 

Ministers scrambled to buy up equipment from all over the world as they insisted there was not a national shortage of PPE. 

However, they did concede there may have been localised instances of hospitals and care homes not having enough equipment.  

Ministers were keen to trumpet their apparent successes as pressure grew with the Government announcing in the middle of April that a deal had been done to fly in a massive order of equipment from Turkey. 

However, the shipment descended into farce as delivery was delayed only for it to later emerge at the start of May that 400,000 gowns were still sitting in a UK warehouse because they did not meet British safety standards.

The Government responded by saying they have handed out 1.65 billion pieces of PPE during the pandemic, including 14 million items yesterday. 

A spokesperson said: ‘As restrictions are carefully eased – when it is safe to do so – it’s likely that we will see more people needing to use public transport

‘That’s why from 15 June it will become mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport

‘Social distancing remains the most important way to reduce the spread of the virus, but on public transport where it is not always possible to follow the guidance consistently, these changes will make sure passengers benefit from the additional protection face coverings can offer and help to keep frontline staff and fellow passengers safe.’  

A U-turn on wearing face coverings 

The wearing of face masks has become a common sight across the globe with a raft of countries steadily making the coverings compulsory on public transport and in situations where social distancing is not possible since the middle of March. 

New York made its decision on April 15, in Germany it was April 22, in France it was May 11 and in South Korea it was May 26. 

Vietnam made face masks compulsory in public on March 16 while the Czech Republic was the first European nation to make the move on March 18. 

The scientific community has been split on how effective face coverings are with the World Health Organisation still recommending that only two groups of people should wear them: Those who are sick and those who are caring for someone with coronavirus. 

However, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing. 

A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

For much of the outbreak the UK Government said it was assessing the evidence on wearing face masks as it delayed recommending they be worn. 

Number 10’s experts suggested that wearing face coverings may only provide a very small benefit.  

Eventually on April 30 Mr Johnson said face coverings could be ‘useful’ as lockdown was eased but wearing them was voluntary. 

It was only yesterday that the Government announced the wearing of face masks will be made compulsory on public transport from June 15 with some experts querying why it has taken Britain so long to make the move. 

Slow action on protecting care homes 

Ministers have faced repeated claims of treating the care sector like a ‘second class citizen’ during the outbreak when compared to the NHS. 

The Government has also faced accusations of unsafely discharging care home residents from hospitals back to care settings before coronavirus testing was widespread, risking outbreaks. 

Official statistics showed that between March 2 and May 1 there were more than 12,000 deaths in care homes where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificates amid fears the true number is likely to be much higher.

Mr Johnson was skewered on the issue in the middle of May by Sir Keir Starmer after the Labour leader quoted official guidance that had been in place until March 12 – well after coronavirus had started being transmitted in the UK – which said ‘it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected’. 

Sir Keir said during PMQs that the advice showed the Government had been ‘too slow to protect people in care homes’.

Mr Johnson replied that ‘it wasn’t true’ to say the advice said that. He later refused to apologise and accused Sir Keir of quoting selectively from the guidance.

Amid growing pressure over the approach to the care sector, Mr Hancock then announced on May 15 that all care home residents and staff will be tested for coronavirus by ‘early June’. Critics asked why testing had not been ramped up earlier. 

No10 responded saying: ‘The Government has been working since the beginning of the outbreak to seek to minimise the rate of infection in care homes.

‘We put in place a policy to ensure all people are tested when being discharged from hospitals into care homes and we have allocated £1.3 billion of additional funding to enhance the NHS discharge process. We expect local authorities to work together with the NHS to put this approach into practice.

‘As a result of this – and the work of so many people across the NHS and social care sector – two thirds of England’s care homes have had no outbreak at all. The NHS is responsible for testing these specific patients, in advance of timely discharge to care home settings.

‘We have allocated £1.3 billion of additional funding to enhance the NHS discharge process, getting patients who no longer need urgent treatment home from hospitals safely and quickly. On 2nd April we recommended symptomatic residents discharged from hospital were kept in isolation for 14 days.

‘From 15th April, all patients were tested prior to discharge to a care home, with responsibility given to councils to identify alternative accommodation.

‘A small number of people may be discharged from the NHS within the 14-day period from the onset of COVID-19 symptoms needing ongoing social care. They will have been COVID-19 tested and have confirmed COVID-19 status. Some care providers will be able to accommodate these individuals through effective isolation strategies or cohorting policies.

‘We’ve announced a new £600m Infection Control Fund for care homes to tackle the spread of Covid-19. This is part of a support package that will help deploy NHS staff to offer clinical support and assist with restricting staff to work in only one care home. This comes on top of the £3.2 billion we made available in March and April, and the £712 million we’ve made available to the devolved authorities.

‘We have built the largest diagnostic testing industry in British history from scratch and all care home staff and residents can now be tested, whether they have symptoms or not, with tens of thousands already tested.’ 

Announcing lockdown later than European neighbours 

Mr Johnson put the UK into a state of coronavirus lockdown on March 23 as people were told they could only leave the house for food, medicine, exercise once a day or to get to work if they could not work from home. 

Up to that point the Government’s main coronavirus advice to combat the spread of the disease had been for people to wash their hands more often than normal.  

His decision to impose draconian restrictions on daily life came later than a number of the UK’s European neighbours which had already chosen to act. 

For example, a lockdown in France came into effect on March 17 while in Spain it was even earlier on March 14. 

The UK Government has always insisted its decisions have been guided by the latest scientific and expert advice.  

Official data shows that adherence to the lockdown measures in the UK has been high but the Government has faced accusations of causing confusion as the four Home Nations ease measures at different rates with England taking the most aggressive approach and Scotland being most cautious.

The Government defended their decision, saying: ‘Countries report statistics in different ways so it is not possible to make like-for-like comparisons, however, other major European countries implemented lockdown measures at a similar point in the curve of the epidemic to the UK.

‘This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it in the UK, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.’   

Social distancing

Advice to remain two metres apart from other people when outside has been a central plank of the Government’s coronavirus response, having first been announced by the PM on March 12. 

But that message risked being undermined after it emerged that scientists were urging the government to tell people to stop shaking hands the same day Mr Johnson was boasting about shaking hands with ‘everybody’.

Records released on May 5 showed a SAGE sub-committee on March 3 concluded that ‘Government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene’.

However, that evening Mr Johnson told a press conference in Downing Street that he ‘continued to shake hands’ and the important thing was washing them.   

He said: ‘I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.’

Critics have also argued that adherence to social distancing rules and wider lockdown restrictions had undoubtedly been undermined by a row over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: ‘The PM set out on many occasions that he made the decision at the time as a general principle to continue shaking hands with additional precautions including frequent hand washing. He also frequently used social media to urge the public to follow guidance on measures to reduce the spread.’

Foreign travel ban 

On March 12 Donald Trump announced sweeping travel restrictions on 26 European countries in a bid to stop the spread of the disease in the US. 

The US President banned travellers from EU states from going to the US. The UK and Ireland were initially not included before the restrictions were then ramped up. 

It was not until March 17 when the UK government took action as the Foreign Office announced it was advising against all non-essential international travel with the restrictions coming into force immediately. 








Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds speak with heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day on March 9

Failing to impose tough border control measures 

While the Government did impose a ban on non-essential international travel it did not completely close the UK’s borders which meant people were still able to come into the country from abroad – even from coronavirus hotspots. 

Statistics published in May showed that just 273 out of 18.1 million people who arrived in the UK in the three months before the coronavirus lockdown were placed into quarantine.

Even after lockdown there have still been hundreds of thousands people arriving in the UK every month. 

Ministers were repeatedly criticised over a lack of screening at airports for people coming back to the UK, particularly during the early weeks of the outbreak, amid fears Britain was importing new cases. 

The Government subsequently argued that tough restrictions at the border would have had little effect because of the increasing domestic rate of transmission.

Ministers are now planning to introduce 14 day quarantine periods for returning travellers from June 8 prompting questions over why the move was not taken right at the start of the outbreak.

A No10 spokesperson said: ‘Imported cases matter most when the UK has a low level of infection. When domestic transmission is high, imported cases represent a small amount of the total and make no significant difference to the epidemic.

‘As the UK moves to a situation where domestic transmission is much lower, imported cases could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections. Requiring arrivals to the UK to self-isolate for 14 days will reduce the risk of transmission from this group.

‘Now that domestic transmission is decreasing, it is the right time to prepare new measures at the border to protect us from imported cases and the risk of a second wave of infections from those arriving here.

‘As the Prime Minister has set out, those arriving in the UK from overseas will be required to self-isolate.’

 

Britain announces 357 more coronavirus deaths in as official number of Covid-19 victims tops 40,000 – while separate data shows crucial R rate is ABOVE 1 in the North West and South West

ByStephen Matthews Health Editorand Sam Blanchard Senior Health Reporter For Mailonline 

The UK’s official coronavirus death toll yesterday surpassed 40,000 as health chiefs announced 357 more Brits have lost their lives to the disease and scientists suggested the R rate has now risen to above the dreaded number of one in two regions of England.

Department of Health data shows 343 deaths occurred in England, followed by nine in Scotland, four in Wales and one in Northern Ireland – taking the official Covid-19 death toll to 40,261.

But the true number of coronavirus victims is known to be thousands higher. The Government only includes laboratory-confirmed cases in its daily update, meaning patients who are suspected to have died but never got tested for the infection aren’t included.

It comes as separate estimates produced by experts at Public Health England and Cambridge University today suggested the R-rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – is above the danger level of one in the North West and South West. It must stay below one or Britain will face another crisis. 

The data – fed into No 10’s scientific panel SAGE – suggested the R rate was falling before lockdown was imposed and has been creeping back up since the darkest days of the outbreak at the start of April. SAGE said the overall rate remained between 0.7 and 0.9 across the UK as a whole but admitted it may be a little higher in England. 

It comes as separate estimates produced by experts at Public Health England and Cambridge University today suggested the R-rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – is at the danger level of one in the South West

Separate data showed the R rate was around 0.94 in the East of England and was only slightly higher in London (0.95)

Separate data showed the R rate was around 0.94 in the East of England and was only slightly higher in London (0.95)

The estimates from the Public Health England and Cambridge University team suggested the R rate was currently the lowest in the Midlands (0.90) and the North East and Yorkshire (0.89)

The estimates from the Public Health England and Cambridge University team suggested the R rate was currently the lowest in the Midlands (0.90) and the North East and Yorkshire (0.89)

However, the academics fear the R rate in the North West is 1.01 - meaning an outbreak will continue to increase. And they said the reproduction number in the South East is likely to be 0.97

However, the academics fear the R rate in the North West is 1.01 – meaning an outbreak will continue to increase. And they said the reproduction number in the South East is likely to be 0.97

One leading Cambridge statistician – who was not involved with the latest modelling – warned the findings were the regional update that everyone has been ‘eager to have’ but admitted they were the ‘opposite of reassuring’ and added: ‘No wonder members of SAGE are worried.’

The PHE/Cambridge team – whose model is based on death data from NHS England and regional health officials, antibody surveillance sampling and mobility reports – also estimated 17,000 people were still being struck down with Covid-19 across England every day. And they warned the true figure could be as high as 25,000.

This was three times the estimate from a separate government-run Covid-19 surveillance testing scheme. Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released today – based on swabs taken of nearly 20,000 people – suggested England’s outbreak has shrunk by half in the past week and is infecting around 5,500 people each day.

In tonight’s Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged protesters to avoid going to George Floyd demonstrations across the country ‘for the safety of loved ones’. He also announced that face masks will be compulsory for all medical staff in hospitals and visitors and outpatients must wear coverings from June 15.








HOW DEADLY IS THE VIRUS?

The Cambridge-PHE team looked at the deaths across England to work out an estimated infection-fatality rate – the percentage of people who will die if they caught the virus.

They suggested COVID-19 kills 0.88 per cent of people it infects – a similar figure has been seen around the world, which would make it six times deadlier than seasonal flu. But they admitted it could be as low as 0.77 or as high as 1 per cent. 

AGE GROUP

OVERALL

0-4

5-14

15-24

25-44

45-64

65-74

75+ 

DEATH RATE

0.88%

0.00041%

0.001%

0.0039%

0.024%

0.36% 

2.3%

23% 

SO, HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER ESTIMATES?

  • 0.1% FLU
  • 0.19% ANTIBODY SAMPLE FROM HELSINKI, FINLAND 
  • 0.37% ANTIBODY SAMPLE FROM GANGELT, GERMANY 
  • 0.4% ANTIBODY SAMPLE FROM STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN 
  • 0.75% EXPERT ESTIMATE FROM REVIEW OF 13 STUDIES 
  • 0.79% ANTIBODY SAMPLE FROM NEW YORK CITY

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE CAUGHT THE VIRUS IN YOUR REGION? 

REGION 

ENGLAND

EAST

LONDON

MIDLANDS

NE AND YORKS

NORTH WEST

SOUTH EAST 

SOUTH WEST 

TOTAL CASES

5,620,000

567,000

1,490,000

1,030,000

809,000

849,000

641,000

223,000

‘ATTACK RATE’

10%

9%

17%

10%

9%

12%

7%

4% 

What is the attack rate? The Cambridge-PHE team used this term to describe the percentage of any given group that has been infected. For example, an attack rate of 20 per cent in London suggests one in five people living in the capital have already had the virus. 

How accurate is the above number? The experts gave a range of numbers for each region and settled on their best guess, which was the number quoted above. The full ranges were:

ENGLAND: 4,890,000 – 6,410,000 (9% – 11%)

EAST: 490,000 – 657,000 (8% – 10%)

LONDON: 1,300,000 – 1,700,000 (15% – 19%)

MIDLANDS: 899,000 – 1,190,000 (9% – 11%)

NE AND YORKS: 698,000 – 931,000 (8% – 11%)

NORTH WEST: 731,000 – 982,000 (10% – 14%)

SOUTH EAST: 551,000 – 744,000 (6% – 8%)

SOUTH WEST: 189,000 – 263,000 (3% – 5%)

Department of Health figures released this afternoon show that 207,231 tests were carried out yesterday, including antibody tests for frontline NHS and care workers. It is the highest number of daily tests since the disease – which has killed almost 400,000 people worldwide and struck millions – began spreading on British soil in February.

But officials have once again refused to reveal exactly how many people were tested, meaning the number of Brits who have been swabbed for the coronavirus has been a mystery since May 22, when data showed up to 2.1million people had already had samples taken from their nose and throat. 

Separate figures released by the Department of Health show that 1,650 more people tested positive for Covid-19, taking the official size of the UK’s outbreak to 283,311 cases. However, the true scale of the crisis is estimated to be in millions.

The 357 Covid-19 deaths announced today is more than double the 176 registered yesterday – health chiefs have yet to explain why there was a slight blip in Thursday’s figure. Historical data also shows it is 10 per cent higher than the 324 recorded last Friday and ever so slightly more than the 351 registered exactly a fortnight ago. 

The figure does not show how many people died in the last 24 hours, instead it is only how many fatalities have been reported. This is the reason there is always a much lower figure on Sundays and Mondays followed by a spike on Tuesdays when the recording lag at weekends is taken account for. 

Geographical breakdown of the Department of Health data shows 343 deaths occurred in England, followed by nine in Scotland, four in Wales and one in Northern Ireland. However, the figures do not always match the updates provided by each of the home nations.

For example, Scotland’s health board announced 14 new deaths today and nine yesterday. But the official government tally has a different time cut-off, meaning the daily updates from Scotland as well as Northern Ireland are always out of sync. Wales is not affected. 

The death figures come as a PHE/Cambridge team updated their real-time estimates of the coronavirus outbreak in England, estimating that 5.62million people across the country – or 10 per cent of the population – has already had the coronavirus. 

The rate is similar to data seen from a separate antibody surveillance scheme carried out by PHE, which suggested the rate was 8.5 per cent.  But it is higher than data from a separate ONS sample, which puts the national level of infection at around 6.78 per cent. 

Analysis of the PHE/Cambridge data showed London has been, by far, the worst-hit region of England (17 per cent).  At the peak of the capital’s crisis – said to be the same day lockdown was imposed – 154,000 are thought to have caught the infection.

In comparison, only 4 per cent of people in the South West are thought to have been struck down by the coronavirus. 

The team claim between 10,700 and 25,300 people caught the virus across England on June 3 and that the rate has been fairly stable since the start of May.  

The team calculated that the crucial ‘R’ reproduction rate fell to just 0.4 in the capital in the aftermath of the lockdown being introduced.  However, the rate in London – as well as other regions – slowly began to creep up to between 0.7-0.8 before moving closer to one in the past few weeks.  

At the beginning of the outbreak London was the worst affected region but the latest numbers suggest it is now ahead of all but one region in terms of recovery. The data, published by the university, shows London is recording 1,310 cases each day – behind only the South West (778). 

In contrast, the North West of England is recording 4,100 daily infections and has an R rate of 1.01, the highest for any region in the country.  The South West also has an estimated R rate of 1. While the North East and Yorkshire is the only area to still be in the 0.8s. 

Meanwhile, the team’s modelling shows only one death occurs in every 113 cases – giving it an infection-fatality rate of around 0.88 per cent. Studies conducted around the world have produced a similar figure, suggesting it is up to eight times deadlier than seasonal flu. 

The PHE/Cambridge team admitted the actual infection-fatality rate could be as low as 0.77 or as high as 1 per cent. 

And the study showed huge variation between different age groups, warning the virus has an infection-fatality rate of around 23 per cent for over-75s. But it is below 0.024 per cent for anyone under the age of 44 – the equivalent of one death for every 4,100 cases.

WHAT IS THE R NUMBER? AND HOW IS IT CALCULATED? 

WHAT IS R0?

Every infectious disease is given a reproduction number, which is known as R0 – pronounced ‘R nought’.

It is a value that represents how many people one sick person will, on average, infect.

WHAT IS THE R0 FOR COVID-19?

The R0 value for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was estimated by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team to be 2.4 in the UK before lockdown started.

But some experts analysing outbreaks across the world have estimated it could be closer to the 6.6 mark.

Estimates of the R0 vary because the true size of the pandemic remains a mystery, and how fast the virus spreads depends on the environment.

It will spread faster in a densely-populated city where people travel on the subway than it will in a rural community where people drive everywhere.

HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER VIRUSES?

It is thought to be at least three times more contagious than the coronavirus that causes MERS (0.3 – 0.8).

Measles is one of the most contagious infectious diseases, and has an R0 value of 12 to 18 if left uncontrolled. Widespread vaccination keeps it suppressed in most developed countries.

Chickenpox’s R0 is estimated to be between 10 and 12, while seasonal flu has a value of around 1.5.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE A LOW R0?

The higher the R0 value, the harder it is for health officials control the spread of the disease.

A number lower than one means the outbreak will run out of steam and be forced to an end. This is because the infectious disease will quickly run out of new victims to strike. 

HOW IS IT CALCULATED?

Experts use multiple sources to get this information, including NHS hospital admissions, death figures and behavioural contact surveys which ask people how much contact they are having with others.

Using mathematical modelling, scientists are then able to calculate the virus’ spread.

But a lag in the time it takes for coronavirus patients to fall unwell and die mean R predictions are always roughly three weeks behind.  

For people between the ages of 45 and 64, the team said the death rate was around 0.36 per cent while the rate was approximately 2.3 per cent for people aged between 65 and 74. 

It comes as separate figures released by the ONS this morning predicted that there are now only 53,000 people in England who currently have Covid-19 – 0.1 per cent of the population.

The estimate – based on swab tests of nearly 20,000 people picked at random to give ministers a clearer picture as to the true scale of the crisis in Britain – is a massive drop on the 133,000 people (0.24 per cent) thought to the have the illness in the same data last week.

And the ONS says that around 39,000 people per week are catching the infection – 5,500 per day, which is a drop from 54,000 per week between May 16 and May 23. This means that only around one in every 1,000 people are actually carrying the virus, down from one in 400 at the latest estimate.

The ONS report said: ‘As the proportion of those testing positive in England is decreasing over time, it is likely that the incidence rate is also decreasing. However, because of the low number of new positive cases, we cannot currently measure a reduction.’ 

Different data from blood antibody tests, published yesterday by Public Health England, suggested that around 8.5 per cent of the country has had the virus already – some 4.76million people.

In a separate report published today the ONS confirmed that more than a quarter of the 46,380 ‘excess’ deaths that happened between March 7 and May 1 were not directly linked to Covid-19.

That data showed that the number of people dying in care homes of any cause rose by a staggering 60 per cent in March and April, while it rose 43 per cent in private homes. Hospitals, meanwhile, saw 21 per cent fewer deaths than usual. 

As well as a lack of testing, possible explanations for more people dying without even catching the virus were down to them avoiding medical care out of fear, that increased stress caused by the pandemic was killing people, and that hospitals had less capacity to help people.   

As part of a nationwide swab testing scheme to find out what proportion of people would currently test positive for the disease, 19,723 people were tested between May 17 and May 30.

Those people came from 9,094 households. A total of 21 of them, from 15 different households, tested positive during that time – 0.1 per cent.

The test data covers a two-week period meaning last week’s and this week’s share one of the same weeks, but the ONS’s estimate based on its data has dropped significantly.

The promising signal from the ONS ties in with testing data from the Department of Health which shows officials are finding it harder to track down positive cases.

Numbers of people getting diagnosed with Covid-19 through the official testing programme has fallen significantly this week despite more tests being carried out.

In the seven days up to yesterday, June 4, 13,335 people tested positive across the UK, compared to 18,219 in the seven days before that – a 36 per cent drop. 

Professor Keith Neal, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘The rate of infection continues to decline and is half what it was two weeks ago. Changes over a longer period are now statistically significant. 

‘This is highly compatible with the fall in diagnosed cases. The contact tracing service has more than enough staff to cope with the current level of infection.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a downward trend in the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus over the course of May

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a downward trend in the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus over the course of May








EVERY RECOVERED COVID-19 PATIENTS DEVELOPS ANTIBODIES – BUT THEY MAY NOT BLOCK THE INFECTION AGAIN

Most people who recover from the novel coronavirus generate at least some antibodies capable of neutralizing SARS-CoV-2, the first round of results from a new study suggest.

While many antibodies grab hold of the virus, only a few counteract the pathogen and prevent it from entering our cells. 

Researchers from Rockefeller University in New York City looked at 149 recovered patients and determined that the majority had a weak antibody response.

However, they found that every patient’s immune system seemed to be capable of generating the types of antibodies that neutralize the virus, just not particularly enough of them.     

‘This suggests just about everybody can do this, which is very good news for vaccines,’ Dr Michel C Nussenzweig, head of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at Rockefeller, said in a statement

‘It means if you were able to create a vaccine that elicits these particular antibodies, then the vaccine is likely to be effective and work for a lot of people.’

For the study, published on pre-peer review site bioRxiv.org, the team looked at 149 people who donated plasma at The Rockefeller Hospital in New York City over the course of five weeks. 

Convalescent plasma is the liquid portion of blood is taken from a recovered coronavirus patient, which contains antibodies and immune B-cells.

Participants had symptoms of the virus for about 12 days while infected, and their first symptoms occurred about 39 days before they donated plasma.

Researchers then mixed the plasma with a pseudo coronavirus and measured if or how well the virus would infect human cells in a petri dish. 

Most samples did not do very well at neutralizing the virus.

In fact, the neutralizing effect was undetectable in 33 per cent of donors. The investigators say this may be because their immune systems cleared the infection before antibodies could be produced.  

They found that the effect was very high among one percent of patients, so-called ‘elite donors.’

The team identified 40 antibodies that neutralized the virus, and focused on three that did so even at low levels. 

These antibodies bound to at least three sites on the spike protein found on the surface of the coronavirus that it uses to enter our cells.

Researchers now plan to clone these antibodies in hopes it will help patients with severe or life-threatening cases of the virus.

‘We now know what an effective antibody looks like and we have found similar ones in more than one person,’ Robbiani said. 

 ‘The main problem is people not getting tested for COVID-19 when they have symptoms.’

He added: ‘The main limitation of the study is the small numbers testing positive gives wide confidence intervals. 

‘No study is perfect but by following the same group of people it is a very powerful tool to identify the trend.’

A separate report published today by the ONS aimed to try and explain why there have been so many ‘excess’ deaths during the coronavirus crisis in England and Wales.

It calculated that, between March 7 and May 1, 46,380 more people died than average. Some 12,900 of them (27.8 per cent) were not direct victims of Covid-19.

That period, when NHS hospitals were urged to turf out as many patients as they could who didn’t need urgent treatment, saw a 21 per cent drop in hospital deaths, the report said. 

But the number of people dying in care homes soared by a massive 60 per cent, and in private homes it rose by 43 per cent. 

The report said the largest increase in deaths was seen in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  

Nick Stripe, the head of health analysis at the ONS, said in a tweet: ‘Dementia increases are so sharp it’s implausible that they are unrelated to Covid-19.

‘They generally affect the very old, they would tend to impact women to a greater extent than men simply due to pop[ulation] structure. Especially once care home epidemics took hold with [limited] testing.’  

The ONS said that, although many of the deaths among elderly people were not attributed to Covid-19, large numbers of undiagnosed cases of the disease were a ‘likely explanation’. 

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and other symptoms linked to old age accounted for two thirds of the total number of non-Covid-19 excess deaths in England and Wales from March 7 to May 1, the ONS said. 

There were 5,404 more deaths than expected among dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients – a rise of 52 per cent compared to average. 

And 1,567 excess deaths occurred due to ‘symptoms signs and ill-defined conditions’ – a 77.8% rise from the five-year average.  

Undiagnosed Covid-19 could ‘help explain the rise’ in the deaths of frail elderly people with underlying conditions, particularly women and those in care homes, the ONS added. 

It said: ‘The absence of large rises in deaths due to this cause that mention conditions that could exhibit similar symptoms to Covid-19 suggests that if Covid-19 is involved in the increase in deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer disease, the usual symptoms of Covid-19 were not apparent. 

‘This could fit with recent clinical observations, where atypical hypoxia [low blood oxygen] has been observed in some Covid-19 patients. 

‘In someone with advanced dementia and Alzheimer disease, the symptoms of Covid-19 might be difficult to distinguish from their underlying illness, especially with the possibility of communication difficulties.

‘Care home residents have experienced changes to their usual routine as a result of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Adverse effects of such changes cannot be discounted as another possible explanation of the increase in the number of deaths in care homes.’ 

Friday’s release is the first detailed analysis from the ONS looking at the increased number of deaths during the pandemic where coronavirus was not mentioned on the death certificate. 

The highest number of excess non-Covid-19 deaths have taken place in care homes, with a weekly maximum of 2,975 of these deaths being registered in the seven days to April 17. 

Non-Covid-19 deaths in private homes saw a separate peak in the week ending April 24, when 1,760 were registered. 

The ONS said that if patients have been discharged from hospital sooner than they may have been typically, because of pressure on the NHS’s resources, this ‘could have resulted in some deaths occurring in care homes or private homes that would have otherwise occurred in hospital’.  

It added that the reported lower rates of testing in all settings outside hospitals ‘could lead to some deaths in other locations involving Covid-19 not having Covid-19 listed on the death certificate as a contributory factor, leading to apparently higher non-Covid-19 excess deaths’. 

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