Covid cases exploding across England as mutant strain spreads across all regions and infections triple in a month

THE number of people testing positive for Covid has exploded across England as a mutant strain takes hold across all regions and infections triple in just a month.

The country's case rate is around three times higher than it was on December 1 as the mutation bites down in every area, the PM said as he announced a third national lockdown in England.

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At the beginning of last month, rates were around 151.3 per 100,000 people in England.

But as of December 30, infections soared to 518 per 100,000, Boris Johnson said in the national address.

It comes as:

  • An 82-year-old man became the first person to get the Oxford AstraZeneca jab this morning as the new vaccine was rolled out to hospitals
  • Boris Johnson yesterday told primary kids to return to schools today if they are open – but they are expected to shut for the next four weeks at least
  • Hospitals across the country are filling up with more Covid patients – with now a quarter more people needing treatment there than in the first wave
  • Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty was spotted at No10 today for talks with senior officials

Week-on-week, the number of people testing positive for Covid has risen by a whopping 50 per cent, while at the end of December, experts from the Office for National Statistics said the new variant is increasing "sharply" while other strains "continued to decline".

Daily confirmed cases are far exceeding those reported in the first wave of the spring.

However, the time periods are not comparable because there was significantly less testing back then.

As a result of the surge, the Prime Minister has tonight announced a new March-style countrywide lockdown, with schools shut, non-essential travel banned and household mixing prohibited.

It comes after Public Health England researchers found people with the new variant are 54 per cent more likely to pass it on to others.

And it's being blamed for surging rates in London and the south-east, where hospitals are nearing crisis point and the sick sent to wards miles away from their homes.

What does the mutant variation mean for cases?

Data from John Hopkins University shows the sudden surge in cases over the past month caused by the new variant.

After the November lockdown to suppress the second wave, cases lulled for a brief period of time to around 200 cases per million people.

Then they began rising sharply in early December, doubling to 400 cases per million people within two weeks.

A month later and recorded cases are over 800 per million people – or 80 per 100,000 – and show no signs of slowing down.

The latest R number is estimated at 1.1 to 1.3. Anything over 1 means the outbreak is growing, rather than shrinking.

That’s despite the fact three quarters of people living in England are now in Tier 4.

Hospital admissions have also soared above the the darkest days of the first wave in April.

In England, there are currently 23,823 patients being treated for Covid in hospital, according to the latest data up to December 28, compared to 18,974 on April 12.

The latest data shows a 33 per cent rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in hospital in England between Christmas Day and January 2.

In a sombre speech tonight, Mr Johnson hailed the "great national effort to fight Covid", adding that there is "no doubt that if we were fighting the old variant, our collective efforts were working".

However, he said: "We now have new variant and it's been both frustrating and alarming to see speed with which it's spreading.

"Scientists confirmed it's between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible, meaning you're much more likely to catch it and to pass it on.

"Our hospitals are under more pressure than at any time since start of pandemic.

"In England alone, the number of patients in hospital with coronavirus has increased by a third in the past week to just under 27,000 Covid patients – 40 per cent higher than first peak.

"On December 29, more than 80,000 people tested positive – a new record – while the number of deaths is up 20 per cent on last week and will sadly rise further."

Despite being more contagious, the strain does not appear to cause worse symptoms or more deaths. It's also no more infectious among children than other strains.

However, academics from Imperial College London say the super-infectious strain was spreading among children during the lockdown in November.

And they warned that only closing schools can keep it contained.

Their study confirms that the new variant is more infectious, and the shutdown did little to contain it.

It was most prevalent among the 10-19 age group, experts say.

The study is yet to be peer-reviewed, but academics claim the R number for the mutation is between 0.4 and 0.7 points higher.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Sage member Professor Sir Mark Walport said it was "pretty clear" tougher restrictions were needed to control the strain.

The former chief scientific adviser told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "It's the Tier 4 restrictions, it's obeying them.

"It is thinking about breaking essentially every possible route of transmission we possibly can.

"Those are the things that are absolutely necessary and it is pretty clear we're going to need more."

He said the mutation is "transmitted more readily in younger age groups", adding: "It is going to be very difficult to keep it under control without much tighter social restrictions."

And today, Matt Hancock revealed he is "incredibly worried" about a highly-infectious mutation first spotted in South Africa – amid fears it could scupper Britain's vaccine roll-out. 

The Health Secretary warned the variant poses a "very, very significant problem".

One of the Government's coronavirus advisers yesterday claimed there was a "big question mark" over whether any of the current wave of jabs could protect against it.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, says the South African variant was is far more worrisome than the Kent one.

That's because it has "pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein", meaning vaccines could fail to work.

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