UK will have 120k Covid deaths by the time No10 can ease restrictions

Britain will have suffered 120,000 Covid deaths by the time No10 can safely ease restrictions because enough of the country has been vaccinated, experts fear

  • Department of Health statistics show the UK’s Covid-19 death toll already stands at 81,000 since March
  • But experts fear another 30,000 deaths are already baked into the figures because of December cases
  • And deaths are unlikely to peak until February 16, four weeks after coronavirus cases will do the same

Britain will have suffered 120,000 coronavirus deaths by the time ministers can safely ease restrictions because enough of the country has been vaccinated, scientists fear.

Department of Health statistics show the UK’s official Covid death toll currently stands at 82,000 – half of which have occurred since the start of the second wave in September.

But experts believe another 25,000 deaths are already baked into the tally because of cases that occurred over the last three weeks, which is roughly how long it can take infected patients to become severely ill and succumb to the disease. Whitehall sources fear the figures could hit as high as 2,000 a day.

Another 15,000 could die from infections caught between now and the end of February, even if the UK manages to halve the size of its outbreak. 

Boris Johnson pledged to vaccinate 13million of Britain’s most vulnerable residents by mid-February, saying that achieving the mammoth goal would allow No10 to ‘lift many of the restrictions we’ve endured for so long’. 

But experts say it’s impossible to predict how many people will die by the time the UK has vaccinated millions of the most vulnerable people because no-one knows how well the lockdown will work against the highly-infectious mutation.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘The correct answer is that we don’t really know how many people will die. There’s still a lot of uncertainty with how effective the current lockdowns will be at actually reversing the increase in cases.’ Professor Kevin McConway, a statistician at the Open University, said the suggestion was ‘not a million miles off’. 

Fears are growing that restrictions may need to be toughened. The Prime Minister is thought to have discussed the prospect of introducing tougher controls to ensure the public abide by the lockdown, with options including forcing people to wear masks outside.       

But experts believe another 25,000 deaths are already baked into the tally because of cases that occurred over the last three weeks, which is roughly how long it can take infected patients to become severely ill and succumb to the disease. Whitehall sources fear the figures could hit as high as 2,000 a day. Another 15,000 could die from infections caught between now and the end of February, even if the UK manages to halve the size of its outbreak

Britain’s Covid death toll stood at 20,273 after the worst day of the first wave on April 21, when 1,224 laboratory-confirmed victims were added to the toll.

The toll came roughly 30 days after the UK was plunged into a blanket lockdown, proving that the overall death count will continue to spiral weeks after cases peak.  

But the second wave could prove much deadlier, with experts fearing that infections have yet to peak despite official data suggesting they have started to slow. 

Daily death counts topped the 1,000 mark four times last week, which would have taken into account infections that occurred in December, after the second lockdown ended. 

But this was before the alarm was sounded about the highly-infectious Kent mutation, which spread so quickly it gave No10 no option but to cancel Christmas for 16million people in London and the South East.

As a result of the rapid spread in late December — which is only starting to be seen in the daily death counts now, scientists fear the worst days for the second wave’s ever-growing death toll could still be ahead. 

Department of Health statistics show roughly 1million people tested positive for Covid between December 21 and January 9, the day with the most up-to-date numbers. 

But the UK’s testing regime only picks up around 40 per cent of infections. It means when 100,000 infections are reported in a single day, the actual total may be nearer 250,000.

BORIS PROMISES 2MILLION DOSES A WEEK BY THE END OF JANUARY

Ministers today released the plan behind Britain’s great Covid vaccine roll-out, promising to dish out 2million jabs a week by the end of January through 2,700 centres dotted across the country.

With a successful inoculation drive Number 10’s only hope of ever ending the constant cycle of tough lockdowns, officials have faced mounting pressure to come clean about how they intend to protect the UK from coronavirus.

Matt Hancock said the plan — which involves creating 50 mass-vaccination centres at football stadiums and other huge venues — ‘maps our route back to normality’. The Health Secretary, who will formally unveil the plans at a 5pm press conference tonight, added: ‘The next few months will present a significant opportunity to turn the tide of battle against Covid.’

Under the plans, teachers and other key workers could be bumped up the priority queue. NHS England’s boss Sir Simon Stevens today claimed there was a ‘strong case’ to give them jabs once the first high priority groups, which includes all over 70s, adults with underlying conditions, NHS workers and care home staff, have had their jabs.

‘Roving’ vaccination teams, which are already being deployed to get care home residents inoculated, could be asked to go door-to-door in boroughs with low uptake rates.

The document adds that by the end of January everyone in England will be within 10 miles of a vaccination site. And for those outside of this catchment, in highly rural areas, the vaccine will be brought to them via mobile teams.

So far the UK’s vaccination scheme has been plagued by supply and staffing shortages, logistical problems and bureaucratic barriers that have hampered its scale-up.

But the latest figures offer a glimmer of hope, showing Britain has ramped up its vaccination programme to giving 150,000 doses a day — with the NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens saying 2.5million have already got the jab, up from 1.3million on January 3.

No10 today also suggested they could set up a round-the-clock jab programme if the public wanted it — but that it had not yet happened because there was not the demand for it. However, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi today blamed a shortage of supply for not rolling out 24/7 jabs.

Ministers said an army of over 80,000 trained health workers would be involved with the vaccine rollout and more than 200,000 community volunteers have said that they will help with non-clinical side of the programme.

The data suggests that there were actually around 2.5million new cases over the same three-week period, or the equivalent of around 3.8 per cent of the UK’s population. 

Of those new cases, researchers who have studied Covid since the pandemic began in China at the end of 2019 believe up to 1 per cent — or 25,000 — will eventually succumb to the illness, with most victims not dying until up to a month after first getting infected.

But the 25,000 figure only takes into account cases between December 21 and January 9, with tens of thousands more deaths likely to occur with the sky-high infection rates currently. 

Experts fear cases won’t start to noticeably fall for at least another week, when England’s third national lockdown has had a chance to kick in. It can take up to a fortnight for infected patients to develop symptoms and get a Covid test result.

But MailOnline today revealed that coronavirus cases in Britain may be starting to level off because of the national lockdown. 

The Department of Health announced another 46,169 positive coronavirus tests, the lowest figure since December 28. The average number of cases, counted by the date on which the swab was taken, has now fallen for two days in a row, to 57,851 from a peak of 59,660 on Saturday. 

Daily cases fell by 40 per cent during England’s second national lockdown, dropping from almost 25,000 at the start of the blanket intervention to 15,000 by the time it was lifted. 

Even though the measures now are tougher than what was adopted during November, experts fear cases won’t drop as quickly as they did during the start of the second wave because of the infectiousness of the new variant, B.1.1.7. 

Professor Hunter told MailOnline that most of the drop from the second lockdown was when the old variant was spreading.

He added: ‘With the new variant lockdown won’t have as much of an impact. It is now the dominant variant in the UK. I don’t think we’ll see the same drop as we did in November.’

If lockdown works against the mutated strain as well as the first lockdown last spring, when deaths halved within three weeks of hitting the peak, the UK may suffer another 500,000 diagnosed cases — or an average of 25,000 per day — by the end of January. This could then equate to 1.5million true infections, and roughly 15,000 deaths. 

Taking into account all the best scientific estimates available, it would equate to roughly 40,000 extra fatalities between now and the end of February — pushing Britain’s overall death toll past 120,000. 

However, this could be lower because scientists can’t agree on an infection-fatality rate (IFR) — the proportion of everyone who gets the illness who will die. SAGE advisers believe it may be as low as 0.5 per cent, which would halve the 40,000 figure.

Professor McConway said it could be argued that the 1 per cent IFR — one of the most recent estimates from the infamous Imperial College London team — ‘is a bit high because of improvements in keeping people alive’.

He added the assumptions of several weeks until cases trigger deaths and the proportion of infected people who die from the virus seemed ‘reasonable’.

However, he cautioned it was difficult to be certain because of the new variant — which may impact the fatality rate from the virus — and the impact of the lockdown. Health officials have not projected what the final death toll could be because of how hard it is to predict.   

Professor McConway added that vaccinations would likely send the death rate into a tailspin as there’s ‘very good evidence’ it has a big impact on severity of illness. He told MailOnline: ‘That could bring the deaths down much more quickly than you’d see just by projecting the cases,’ he said.

‘Against that, the fact t the lockdown isn’t actually as strict this time as the first one was, both in terms of the rules and what people seem to be doing, might mean that the decline in cases would be slower than the first one, other things being equal.’ 

The Prime Minister has promised to get all top priority Britons — the over-70s, adults with underlying conditions, NHS staff and care home residents and workers — vaccinated against the virus by mid-February.

Matt Hancock today revealed 2.3million people in the UK have now had a Covid vaccine, hitting a rate of around 200,000 jabs per day.

Boris Johnson last week pledged to hit 200,000 doses a day by this Friday, meaning the target appears to have been hit early after the number of people to receive their first dose of the vaccine has almost doubled in a week, from 1.3m on Sunday, January 3, to 2.6m by today. 

Ministers today released the plan behind Britain’s great Covid vaccine roll-out, promising to dish out 2million jabs a week by the end of January through 2,700 centres dotted across the country.

HOW WAS THE GRAPH OF PREDICTED COVID-19 DEATHS CALCULATED?

Moira Edwards receives an infection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at Epsom Race Course, Surrey, today

Around one per cent of all those who are infected with Covid-19 die about three weeks  later, according to experts, meaning there is a delay between a drop in infections and a drop in deaths from the virus.

Scientists at Imperial College London – who have studied the pandemic since it first emerged in China – suggested the figure in a study published in October. But it has been disputed by other experts, who suggest that improvements in healthcare may have driven it down to closer to 0.5 per cent. 

To calculate the number of Britons that may have died from coronavirus by the middle of February – when Boris Johnson is set to have vaccinated all 13million of the most vulnerable – the time period was broken into two parts. 

The first considered the number of deaths triggered by infections caught over the four weeks to January 5, when England’s third lockdown started.

Department of Health statistics show roughly 1million people tested positive for Covid between December 21 and January 9, the day with the most up-to-date numbers. But the Department also says it picks up only around 40 per cent of all cases, meaning the actual number of infections may be closer to 2.5million.

This suggests there may be 25,000 deaths over the first four weeks of lockdown, assuming a death rate at one per cent.

The second time period considered the number of deaths triggered by infections reported in the first two weeks of lockdown. Experts say they will still spiral over the first fortnight because it can take this long for someone who has caught the virus to start showing symptoms and get a positive test – although there may be early signs a dip is approaching.

To estimate the number of deaths over this time, the average number of daily Covid-19 infections over the seven days to January 4 – the latest week available – was used. The 2.1million infections suggested would lead to as many as 21,300 deaths from the virus, assuming one per cent of all those who are infected succumb to the disease. 

Although shown on the graph, experts warned it was not clear how quickly deaths would start falling – but that they should reach their peak in the next four to six weeks. There are warnings they could top 2,000 by mid to late January, in what could be the darkest days of the second wave.

In November’s lockdown they had dropped by 27 per cent by the second week, but experts cautioned this could not be used as a comparison because during this shutdown schools were open and the more infectious mutant variant of the virus was not widespread, the opposite of the current lockdown.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘The correct answer is that we don’t really know how many people will die. There’s still a lot of uncertainty with how effective the current lockdowns will be at actually reversing the increase in cases.’

London infections blow through Tier Four: Charts show terrifying rise despite lockdown (and it’s so bad in some boroughs, they may be approaching herd immunity)

By Sam Blanchard Deputy Health Editor for MailOnline

Tier Four restrictions had little effect on cutting down rates of Covid in London — despite data suggesting that parts of the capital could be close to developing herd immunity against coronavirus because so many people are thought to have been infected.

Analysts believe as many as half of people in some boroughs in the east of the city have had the illness already. And given that re-infection with Covid appears to be extremely rare, scientists say this could mean the spread of the virus is getting slower in those areas as fewer become susceptible to catching it and passing it on.

Infection rates in the city have surged in the second wave, meaning hundreds of thousands more survivors will have developed immunity to the virus which could slow it down in the future.

Per-person infection rates doubled in most parts of London in the week before Christmas, reaching higher than one per cent of the population in the worst-affected places in the East.

And they continued rising after Christmas and into early January, despite Tier Four restrictions having been in place for up to two weeks, suggesting that the local rules were not acting fast enough and potentially spurring the Government on to ordering a national lockdown before the virus became uncontrollable nationwide.

Edge Health estimates 54 per cent of the population in Barking and Dagenham have already been infected with coronavirus – more than 100,00 people. Based on death rates in the boroughs, the infection rate could be 49 per cent in Newham, 43 per cent in Redbridge and 42 per cent in Havering, the project found.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose grim forecasts sent Britain into its first lockdown last year, has said past infection rates in London — which was also worst-hit by the first wave last spring — will slow down transmission in future. 

Scientists estimate around 80 per cent of a population, or more, need to be immune for an area to be protected against outbreaks, but lower percentages may still be able to slow the spread of the disease.

Per-person infection rates in the city already appear to be slowing down after out-of-control surges in December, raising questions about whether Tier Four measures are being helped along by natural resistance. But rates still appear to be rising despite having slowed down, suggesting the draconian restrictions enforced on the capital before Christmas had little effect.

In a paper published about the fast-spreading new variant in December, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine researchers feared lockdown measures wouldn’t work as well against it because it was so infectious. 

Infection rate data shows that cases in boroughs across London are still rising but the increases have slowed down, which may be a mix of developing herd immunity and Tier 4 lockdown rules. In Barking and Dagenham, data analysts estimate over half the population has had coronavirus already

Infection rates for recent weeks show the spread of the virus has slowed down in London, although they have continued to rise despite large numbers of people developing immunity and lockdown measures being in place.

The numbers of positive tests per 100,000 people doubled in most boroughs of the city in the week before Christmas – rising by 119 per cent in Redbridge and 108 per cent in Barking – but the week-on-week rise slowed after the festive period.

In the following week the increases in rates in the five main boroughs of East London – the two named above and Havering, Newham and Tower Hamlets – fell to between 40 and 75 per cent from doubling. 

And they have since fallen further, to between 15 and 25 per cent per week.

The decreases come, however, while the city is in a Tier 4 lockdown, which started on December 19 and then morphed into a national shutdown on January 4. 

These measures are expected to have brought infection rates down or at least slowed the increase of cases, even though scientists warned last year that the new variant of the virus, now the dominant version in London and the South East, may be too infectious for lockdown rules to work.

The data suggest that Tier 4 rules started to have some effect at the start of this year, but they are acting slowly, with cases still rising two weeks after they were brought in.

Because the infection rates in some parts of the city were so high, politicians ran out of time to simply wait for the rules to take effect and called a national lockdown last Monday.

Outbreaks could be slower to spread in the future because so many people have caught the virus in the first and second waves, meaning the pool of potential victims will be smaller.

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson told the Sunday Times: ‘I think we will see growth rates slow… We may see a decline, and that may be slightly aided by the fact that there is quite a lot of herd immunity in places like London.

‘Maybe 25 or 30 per cent of the population has now been infected in the first wave and second wave. So that adds to the reduction of transmission.’

Even lower levels than the herd immunity threshold can slow down transmission of the virus because they increase the likelihood that someone who comes into contact with an infected person is already immune.

If there is 30 per cent immunity, for example, and there’s one infected person in a group of 100, each time that person meets a group of 10, only seven of those people could feasibly catch the virus from them. In the same group at the start of the pandemic, meanwhile, it’s likely all 10 of them would have been at risk.

In areas that have been even more exposed to the virus this effect could be even greater.

Modelling by Edge Health suggests that one in every five people in England has already had coronavirus and developed immunity to getting it again.

Scientists aren’t sure how long natural immunity to the virus will last for but, within the year since the virus first emerged, reinfection has been rare with most proven cases limited to people with immune system problems.

WHICH AREAS OF LONDON HAVE HAD HIGHEST EXPOSURE? 

According to research by Edge Health, which used boroughs’ death counts to estimate how many cases they are likely to have had, many parts of London have higher levels of immunity than Public Health England data suggests:

Borough name

% of population infected so far (official tests)

% of population infected so far (Edge modelling)

Barking & D’ham

Newham

Redbridge

Havering

Tower Hamlets

Hackney

Brent

Waltham Forest

Croydon

Haringey

Merton

Ealing

Hounslow

Lewisham

Harrow

Lambeth

Hillingdon

Barnet

Greenwich

Enfield

Bexley

Sutton

Hammersmith 

Southwark

Wandsworth

Islington

Kingston 

Bromley

Richmond 

Westminster

Kensington 

Camden

7.9%

7.1% 

8.1%

8.1%

6.7%

5.5%

5.5%

6.6%

5.5%

5.6%

5.4%

5.7%

5.8%

5%

5.6%

5.1%

5.7%

5.4%

5.5%

5.7%

6.8%

5.4%

4.8%

5%

4.8%

4.5%

5%

5.5%

3.9% 

3.8% 

4.1%

3.8%        

54.2%

49%

42.9%

42.4%

39.8%

35.1%

34.9%

33.2%

30.1%

29.9%

28.8%

28.4%

28.3%

28.3%

28.1%

27.4%

26.3%

26.2%

26.1%

26.1%

25.7%

25%

24.3%

24%

23.8%

21.8%

21.4%

17.4%

16%

16.5%

15.5%

14.2%

The Government’s Covid-19 dashboard says there has been 2.4million cases of the disease since the outbreak began to sweep the UK in January, or four per cent of the country’s population. And Public Health England estimates through its random blood testing that 6.9 per cent of the population has had the disease – around 3.8million people

But figures produced by data analysis firm Edge Health suggest that the actual number of infections may be as high as 12.4million, the equivalent of 22 per cent of people.

If true this could mean that, on average, among every five people someone with coronavirus comes into contact with, one of them would be resistant to catching the virus.

Infection rates are much higher than average in parts of East London, which appears to be the worst-affected area of the country.

While Department of Health testing has detected that 8.1 per cent of the population in Havering has been infected – 21,189 officially diagnosed cases out of 257,000 – Edge’s analysis estimates it is 42 per cent.

Edge calculated its ‘true’ infection rate by working backwards from the death counts for local areas around the country. It used this to calculate how many people must have had the virus to cause that many deaths using fatality rates of between 0.00045 and 13 per cent, depending on age.

The model estimated that 54.2 per cent of the population in Barking & Dagenham had caught the virus since the pandemic began in Barking, 49 per cent in Newham, 45.4 per cent in Thurrock and 42.9 per cent in Redbridge.

The data shows a huge disparity between test data collected by Public Health England, which swabs only people with coronavirus symptoms, and the true number of people who have been infected whether tested or not.  

In Barking, Edge estimates 115,460 people have previously had Covid, compared to just 14,665 confirmed PHE cases. 

There was a similar theme in Newham, where there were an estimated 173,058 infections to PHE’s 21,683, and in Redbridge it was 130,806 compared to 22,125.

Immunity is also developed through vaccines, which are now being given out rapidly to elderly people across the country and will reduce the numbers of people who are likely to get seriously ill with Covid-19.

Herd immunity, either through vaccinations or natural infection or a combination of the two, is now considered the only way to stamp out Covid-19, although even that type of protection won’t be perfect.

Professor Ferguson added: ‘If you get infected once, then at least for a year or more you will have quite a lot of protection against disease, a bit like a vaccine. 

‘You’re not necessarily protected against being infected again or transmitting, you’re just not very likely to get very sick. There are all of these caveats around immunity. It’s true of the vaccine as well as natural infection.’ 

In a paper published in December they warned that the UK was now in a race to get herd immunity by vaccine, or be forced to develop it naturally, which would mean dozens of thousands more people dying.

Professor John Edmunds, Professor Sebastian Funk and Professor Rosalind Eggo, who are all members of the SAGE advisory group SPI-M-O, contributed to the study.

‘The increase in transmissibility is likely to lead to a large increase in incidence, with Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths projected to reach higher levels in 2021 than were observed in 2020,’ they wrote, ‘even if regional tiered restrictions implemented before December 19 are maintained.

‘Our estimates suggest that control measures of a similar stringency to the national lockdown in England in November 2020 are unlikely to reduce the effective reproduction rate [R number] to less than one, unless primary schools, secondary schools and universities are closed.’  

They continued: ‘We project that large resurgences of the virus are likely to occur following easing of control measures.

‘It may be necessary to greatly accelerate vaccine roll out to have an appreciable impact in suppressing the resulting disease burden.’

Nationally, Edge Health’s analysis suggested that one in five people may have already had Covid, which would be around five times higher than the number of people who have tested positive. 

The model used to arrive at the figure compares Covid-19 deaths in each area of England against an estimated infection fatality rate (IFR) – the proportion of people who catch the virus who die – and the age breakdown of each borough.

Experts worked backwards from the death count for local areas around the country, calculating how many people must have had the virus to cause that many deaths using fatality rates of between 0.00045 and 13 per cent, depending on age.

It revealed that estimated cases are more than five times the official count in 77 places in England, just over half the 149 local authorities analysed.

In some parts of London and Essex — which were the initial hotspots in spring and are now struggling again with the highly infectious new strain — the true infection toll could be eight times higher than the official count, with up to one in two people estimated to have contracted the virus. 

In Manchester and Liverpool, which became the epicentres during autumn as the epidemic shifted north, the actual case number is thought to be six times higher than the Government’s count, with four in 10 having had Covid.  

George Batchelor, co-founder and director of Edge Health, said it was ‘incredible’ how out of whack the official testing regime was with the country’s epidemic, saying it was only painting ‘a fraction of the picture of total infections’.

It’s widely accepted that the actual number of Britons who’ve had the disease is far higher than the official toll because of asymptomatic cases and a lack of testing or people not coming forward for tests. This was particularly true at the start of the pandemic when Britain’s lacklustre testing scheme meant swabs were reserved for the sickest Covid patients in hospital. 

ONE IN FIVE IN ENGLAND MAY HAVE HAD VIRUS ALREADY 

One in five people in England may have already had Covid, according to modelling which estimates the true number of infections is five times higher than the official toll.

The Government’s Covid-19 dashboard says there has been 2.4million cases of the disease since the outbreak began to sweep the UK in January, or four per cent of the country’s population. And Public Health England estimates through its random blood testing that 6.9 per cent of the population has had the disease – around 3.8million people.

But figures produced by data analysis firm Edge Health suggest that the actual number of infections may be as high as 12.4million, the equivalent of 22 per cent of people. 

This could mean that Britain is closer to some degree of herd immunity than previously thought. Scientists believe that once a significant proportion of the population has been infected with Covid already, the virus won’t be able to spread as fast because most of them won’t get re-infected. But this isn’t expected to last forever. 

The Government’s Covid-19 dashboard says there has been 2.4million cases of the disease since the outbreak swept the UK in February, or four per cent of the country’s population. But analysis by Edge Health suggests that the actual number of infections could be as high as 12.4million, the equivalent of 22 per cent of people

The model used to arrive at the figure compares Covid-19 deaths in each area of England against an estimated infection fatality rate (IFR) – the proportion of people who catch the virus who die – and the age breakdown of each borough.

Experts worked backwards from the death count for local areas around the country, calculating how many people must have had the virus to cause that many deaths using fatality rates of between 0.00045 and 13 per cent, depending on age.

It revealed that estimated cases are more than five times the official count in 77 places in England, just over half the 149 local authorities analysed. 

George Batchelor, co-founder and director of Edge Health, said it was ‘incredible’ how out of whack the official testing regime was with the country’s epidemic, saying it was only painting ‘a fraction of the picture of total infections’.

It’s widely accepted that the actual number of Britons who’ve had the disease is far higher than the official toll because of asymptomatic cases and a lack of testing or people not coming forward for tests. This was particularly true at the start of the pandemic when Britain’s lacklustre testing scheme meant swabs were reserved for the sickest Covid patients in hospital.

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