UK records highest daily surge of cases as ‘serious concern’ grows over new covid strain
Offical data has shown the number of COVID-19 cases in Britain surged by the highest daily rise since the start of the pandemic. There were also 326 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, lower than the 534 recorded on Saturday. It comes as the Government has toughened restrictions in London and southeast England to try to curb the spread of a new, fast-spreading variant of the virus
The figures were recorded for the seven days to December 16 and are based on tests carried out in laboratories (pillar one of the Government’s testing programme) and in the wider community (pillar two).
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said the “sharp and sudden increase” in new cases on Sunday was of “serious concern”.
She said: “Most of the new cases reported today are concentrated in London and the South East, although it is too early to tell if this is linked to the new variant.
“What we do know is that the way to control this virus is the same, whatever the variant.
“It simply will not spread if we avoid close contact with others.”
It comes as figures from PA also revealed the latest week coronavirus rates for local authority areas in England.
Of the 315 local areas in England, 285 (90 percent) have seen a rise in case rates, 29 (9 percent) have seen a fall and one remains unchanged.
Thurrock has the highest rate in the country after seeing the largest week-on-week jump in England, with 1,841 new cases recorded in the seven days to December 16 – the equivalent of 1,056.0 cases per 100,000 people.
This is up from 387.2 in the seven days to December 9.
Havering in London has the second highest rate, up from 513.6 to 1,021.8, with 2,652 new cases.
Basildon in Essex is in third place, where the rate has risen from 619.7 to 995.2, with 1,863 new cases.
All these areas are in the new Tier 4 announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday.
The Government faced criticism for imposing an effective lockdown on more than 16 million people just days before Christmas.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Saturday’s decision was taken speedily after new evidence showed the new strain was responsible for spiralling COVID-19 cases.
The variant, which officials say is up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original, also prompted concerns about a wider spread. Several European countries, including Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, said they were taking measures to prevent people arriving from Britain, including bans on flights and trains.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson abruptly tore up plans to allow three households to mix indoors for five days over the festive period, and imposed new Tier 4 level curbs – similar to a national lockdown in March – on London and southeast England.
Mr Hancock suggested the tougher measures – which require about a third of the population of England to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work – might remain in place until vaccinations become more widely available.
He said: “We’ve got a long way to go to sort this.
“Essentially we’ve got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe. Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.”
The UK also began inoculating people using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech earlier this month.
The new variant of coronavirus sweeping London and the South East has spread to other parts of the UK, a public health leader also warned.
But Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said that while many regions had cases of the new strain, these were in much smaller numbers than in London, Kent and parts of Essex.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “It has been detected in many other parts of the country.
“Every region has cases but with very small numbers.
“It has also been detected in Wales, in Scotland, we have not had any detected in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Hopkins said: “I understand people’s wish to get home to their families and loved ones that they may live with on a normal day-to-day basis and wanted to get out of London last night.
“I hope that when they go to wherever they are moving to they reduce their social contacts and don’t contact anyone outside their household for the next 10 days, as that will help minimise the risk of transmission to other parts of the country.
“We know it’s in other parts of the country in small amounts but what we are trying to do is prevent more spread and rapid increases across the rest of the country.”