The UK could be past the peak of the second wave of the coronavirus, England’s Chief Medical Officer has said, but warned that numbers could rise again and future waves remained posssible.
Professor Chris Whitty was speaking at a Downing Street press conference this evening led by Boris Johnson.
The Prime Minister reiterated that the Government is sticking to the March 8 school reopening despite pressure to bring it forward.
He said he hopes that schools in England will be able to begin reopening in just over a month as the vaccination programme continues to be ramped up.
He said that in the run-up to the review of lockdown restrictions in England in the week beginning February 15, the Government would be accumulating more data so it could start charting a way forward, starting with the reopening of schools.
Mr Johnson also said that the evidence showed the coronavirus vaccines reduce “death and serious illness” from the main strains of the disease.
Here are all the key statements and announcements from this evening’s Downing Street press conference:
Tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore
The Prime Minister opened the press conference with a tribute to Captain Sir Tom Moore who died yesterday.
He also urged the public to join in the national clap at 6pm, saying: “Let’s do everything we can to carry on supporting the NHS.
“If we do, in the words of Captain Tom, tomorrow will be a good day.”
More than 10 million vaccines administered
Mr Johnson said the UK had today passed the milestone of 10m vaccinations including almost 95% of those aged 75 or more, and every person in a care home.
Government data up to February 2 shows of the 10,520,433 abs given in the UK so far, 10,021,471 were first doses – a rise of 374,756 on the previous day’s figures.
Some 498,962 were second doses, an increase of 2,166 on figures released the previous day.
The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 408,155.
Based on the latest figures, an average of 414,877 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the Government’s target of 15 million first doses by February 15.
Hospital and death numbers
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that while the number of people in hospital with coronavirus has “quite noticeably” reduced, it is still above that of the first peak in April last year.
“The number of people in hospital with Covid has now gone down from its peak, quite noticeably,” he told the briefing.
“But as the Prime Minister said, there are still a very large number of people in hospital, and more people than there were in the first peak in April last year.
“So this is still a very major problem, but it is one that is heading the right way.”
On the number of deaths, Prof Whitty added: “The number of deaths in people who have Covid is beginning to come down, but as the Prime Minister said, the numbers are still extremely high.
“And they will stay high for quite some time but coming down, as you can see, on this pathway.
“The first effects we will see on vaccination are likely to be on these death numbers.”
1,322 further Covid related deaths in UK
Mr Johnson said a further 1,322 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 109,335.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 126,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
People must stick to rules even after jabs
Prof Whitty has emphasised that it can take several weeks for immunity to build post-vaccination.
Discussing the possibility of relaxing social distancing measures for those who have received a jab, he said: “Vaccines are going to protect in three different ways, the first of which is they are going to protect you, the person who has been vaccinated and they will protect to a very good degree based on the date we have so far.”
He said: “Secondly it will mean that people will know that the people they interact with have also been vaccinated and that will also reduce the risk although we don’t yet know with confidence how much these vaccines reduce the risk of transmission.
“So they do reduce the risk of severe disease and symptomatic disease of dying and they probably reduce the risk of transmission and data came out today to support that but we are not absolutely confident about by how much.
“The third way they reduce risk is by reducing the amount the virus is circulating in the population and that we are no way being close to.”
He added: “The rate of virus in the community is still incredibly high so that third thing we also need to do is use the vaccine plus the social distancing that everyone is doing to pull the rate of the virus right down.”
Mr Johnson added: “We really need to see more data, particularly about transmission from people who have already had the vaccine and others before we think about relaxing social distancing and guidelines for everybody.
“I think that really this is something we will start to think about a bit further down the line, about what potential is opened up by these vaccinations.”
He said the Government was focusing on vaccinating everybody as fast as possible and then “taking a view on the interaction between that and the prevalence of the disease”.
“At the moment the level of infection is still forbiddingly high for us to imagine the relaxation of the current guidelines,” he said.
Infection levels still “alarmingly high” – Boris
The Prime Minister said that coronavirus infection rates remain “alarmingly high”.
He said: “Though today there are some signs of hope – the numbers of Covid patients in hospital are beginning to fall for the first time since the onset of this new wave – the level of infection is still alarmingly high.
“The wards of our NHS are under huge pressure with more than 32,000 Covid patients still in hospital.
“And so tonight let’s clap together for Captain Tom at 6pm and let’s clap for the spirit of optimism that he stood for, but let’s also clap for all those he campaigned for.”
Future Covid surges in winter, even after vaccine
Prof Whitty has warned that there are likely to be “surges” in Covid-19 in future winters.
He said: “Even with a successful vaccine there will still be a residual risk.
“If you think of flu which is less contageous, you still have flu surges in the winter. We just have to expect there will be surges in a respiratory virus.”
He added that this is unlikely to come as a surprise to the public.
Concerns over ‘vaccine hesitancy’
Mr Johnson expressed concern about the reluctance of people in some communities to get the vaccine.
He said: “We have been worried about vaccine hesitancy in some parts of the country in some communities.
“That is unquestionably an issue and we are doing everything we can to encourage people to come forward, to give them all the confidence they need.
“They should have confidence – it’s a great thing to get a vaccine.”
‘Most of my colleagues think we are past the peak’ – Whitty
Prof Whitty said the UK is now past the peak of the current wave and on a “downward slope” of coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
“I think that most of my colleagues think we are past the peak,” he said.
“Now that doesn’t mean you could never have another peak. But, at this point in time, provided people continue to follow the guidelines, we’re on the downward slope of cases, of hospitalisations and of deaths, in all four of the nations of the United Kingdom.
“So I think, we do think, at this point, this peak at least, we are past.”
Mr Johnson has said that the Government believed March 8 was the “prudent” date to begin reopening schools in England.
The Prime Minister said that it was three weeks after the most vulnerable groups should have received the vaccine, by which time immunity should have set in.
“What we don’t want to do now that we are making progress with the vaccine rollout and we have got a timetable for the way ahead, we don’t want to be forced into reverse,” he said.
“We think this is the prudent and cautious approach. I think it is much better to stick to that.”
Schools are ‘safe place for children to be’ – Whitty
Prof Whitty said schools are a safe place for children to be.
Prof Whitty said it was up to ministers to decide the opening dates for schools but that he was confident the risk to children of getting Covid-19 is “incredibly low”.
“We consider school is a safe place for children to be as well as the right place for children to be,” he said.
“We were managing to hold the line with schools open before we got the new variant in England.
“With this new variant, which is more transmissible, we had to unfortunately do additional things which included the closure of schools to pull down incredibly high rates of increase we had up to this very high rate we’ve now currently got.
“The rates are now coming down but they are still incredibly high, if we were to start take-off again from the very high levels we are at the moment the NHS will get back into trouble extraordinarily fast.”
Mr Johnson said he continues to keep an open mind when it comes to a regional or national approach to easing lockdown.
It feels to us at the moment as though we will be going down in tiers nationally,” he says – but that could change, he adds.
Care home visiting caution still needed
Mr Johnson said that despite the vaccination programme being rolled out, caution on visiting care home residents is still needed.
“Obviously the steps have been taken with care homes to make them as Covid-secure as possible, to allow people to be visited under very controlled circumstances,” he said.
“But you have seen the numbers in care homes lately, although they are not as bad as they were perhaps, the proportion of deaths as they were in the first peak, they remain very, very sad.
“We are seeing far too many deaths of elderly people and so we have just got to remain very cautious for the time being.”
He added: “But as you can see, we are making huge progress through those groups.”
More on quarantine hotels to be announced by Matt Hancock tomorrow
The Prime Minister was asked for a firm date on when hotel quarantines will begin.
“We have among the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world,” the PM said – saying Matt Hancock will be making an announcement tomorrow.
Earlier he was challenged in Parliament, with MPs likening it to having “the heating on but the windows open”.
Contact tracers reaching 90 per cent of contacts
Mr Johnson said NHS Test and Trace was reaching 90 per cent of contacts.
He told the press briefing that it had capacity to reach 800,000 people a day, describing it as “absolutely colossal”.
“Yes I do think people should self-isolate but NHS Test and Trace is reaching 90% of contacts and the vast majority of them are doing the right thing.”
‘Absolutely critical’ to understanding chains of transmission
Understanding chains of transmission is “absolutely critical” to persuading people to self-isolate when they are contacted by the Test and Trace service, Prof Whitty added.
He said: “Of those who are phoned up, who are phoned up as a contact, first of all we should be grateful to the people who notified because that’s a huge public service to everyone else.”
He continued: “In terms of their contacts a very high proportion of people do self-isolate but the reason people don’t – there are broadly two.
“The first is not realising how important it is so they need the positive incentive to do it, people need to realise that by (self-isolating) you are making sure you are not the bit of the chain that leads to a vulnerable person at the end.
“People understanding that is absolutely critical to this.”
He added: “Then of course it is about trying to reduce disincentives, but those are the two things that are going to determine whether someone is or isn’t going to self-isolate.”
‘Route map’ out of lockdown coming on February 22
The Prime Minister said that the Government will set out a “route map” out of lockdown on February 22.
Mr johnson said the country would be in a “very different situation” to last summer where disease levels had been reduced but there was no vaccine.
“We always knew it had the capacity to surge back in the autumn and over the winter months as indeed it has,” he said.
“This time as we go into the second half of the year we are going to have the confidence of knowing a huge proportion of the British public – particularly the most vulnerable – will have been vaccinated and probably have received a very high degree of immunity.
“That will very much change our approach to the autumn and the winter – highly infectious respiratory diseases don’t go away all together, at least not easily.”
Prof Chris Whitty hopes man who abused him in street will become ‘model citizen’
England’s chief medical officer said he “didn’t think anything of” being catcalled by a young man while walking near Westminster, footage of which has being widely shared on social media.
“The odd young lad, showing off, occasionally happens,” he told the briefing.
“I didn’t think anything of it frankly. I was very surprised it was picked up by the media at all as anything of any importance.
“I’m sure he’ll become a model citizen in due course and hopefully more like Captain Tom, who is the kind of person who I think much more exemplifies the spirit of the UK.”
‘No evidence’ of ‘groundswell’ of Covid deniers
Prof Whitty said there was “no evidence” of a “huge groundswell” of Covid deniers, saying: “There’s always going to be a noisy group of people who will disagree with more or less anything”
He added that “the overwhelming majority” are following guidelines, saying: “It’s very easy to lose that perspective.”
Addressing people who do not believe the scale of the crisis, he said: “If you don’t think this is a big issue I would urge you to go speak to a doctor or a nurse in a hospital.”
Public memorial to Captain Sir Tom
Mr Johnson said he is absolutely open to a statue or public memorial to Captain Sir Tom Moore.
He said they will be working with his family to see what they feel is most appropriate,.
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