Health

Daily Covid cases rise by 14% in a week to 43,676 but hospital admissions drop for EIGHTH day

Covid cases continued to rise across the UK today but deaths and hospitalisations are still firmly trending downwards, official data shows.

Another 43,676 cases have been recorded in the last 24 hours, an increase of 14.1 per cent on confirmed positive cases last Wednesday. 

And daily Covid fatalities fell by a quarter, with 149 more deaths registered today. It is the fifth day in a row that deaths have fallen.

Meanwhile, 722 Britons infected with the virus sought NHS care on Saturday, the latest date figures are available for, marking a 7.3 per cent drop week-on-week. Admissions are down for the eight day in a row.

Both measurements lag two to three weeks behind the trend in cases due to a delay between a person catching Covid and becoming severely unwell. 

Cases have been trending upwards in the UK for the past fortnight after schools went back from the half-term break at the start of the month.  

Infections are concentrated among younger age groups, while booster jabs are driving down cases among the over-60s.

It comes as British experts today sounded the alarm over a new Covid variant that is the most mutated version of the virus yet. The strain, which has not been spotted in the UK, carries 32 mutations, many of which suggest it is highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant.  

But more promisingly, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) today estimated England would suffer the fewest hospitalisations compared to other European nations, if everyone in the country were to catch Covid right now.

Department of Health figures show England recorded 36,550 cases in the last 24 hours and 2,154 people tested positive in Wales, while 3,080 infections were registered in Scotland and 1,931 were recorded in Northern Ireland.

Across the four nations, 9.9million infections have been confirmed since the pandemic began last March. But the real number will be many millions more, due to the limited testing capacity at the start of the Covid crisis and not everyone who catches the virus getting tested.

Cases rates are highest and rising fastest among younger groups, with 1,090 per 100,000 10 to 14-year-olds testing positive in the seven days up to November 19. Infections jumped by 30 per cent in a week among the age group.

New Botswana variant with 32 ‘horrific’ mutations is the most evolved Covid strain EVER — as experts warn it could be ‘worse than Delta’ 

British experts have sounded the alarm over a new Covid variant believed to have emerged in Botswana that is the most mutated version of the virus yet.

Only 10 cases of the strain, which could be named ‘Nu’, have been detected so far.

But it has already been spotted in three countries, suggesting the variant is likely more widespread. 

It carries 32 mutations, many of which suggest it is highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant, and has more alterations to its spike protein than any other variant.

Changes to the spike make it difficult for current jabs to fight off, because they train the immune system to recognise an older version of this part of the virus. 

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College who first picked up on its spread, described the variant’s combination of mutations as ‘horrific’.

He warned that B.1.1.529, its scientific name, had the potential to be ‘worse than nearly anything else about’ — including the world-dominant Delta strain.  

Despite rising case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths remain less than half the level recorded at the same time last year.

Some 722 Covid-infected Britons were admitted to hospitals across the UK on Saturday, while 7,874 people who have the virus were under NHS care yesterday.

For comparison, 1,552 Covid patients were hospitalised on the same day last year and a total 17,680 were in hospital.

And 149 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, compared to 464 this time last year. 

Meanwhile, 26,822 first doses and 22,002 second doses were administered across the UK, meaning 50.8million over-12s  (88.4 per cent) have had at least one injection and 46.2million (80.4 per cent) are fully immunised.

Some 365,152 more Britons came forward for booster doses in the last 24 hours, meaning 16million over-40s, frontline workers and vulnerable people are now triple-jabbed. 

The EU today urged its member nations to give everyone aged 18 and over a third Covid jab to control infections, hospitalisations and deaths this winter.

But the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises No10 on the rollout, is yet to issue a decision on triple-jabbing all adults, after expanding the list of those eligible last week to everyone aged over 40. 

Meanwhile, scientists today raised the alarm over a new Covid variant — dubbed B.1.1.529 — that is believed to have emerged in Botswana that is the most mutated version of the virus yet.

Only 10 cases of the strain, which could be named ‘Nu’, have been detected so far. 

The variant has already been spotted in three countries — Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong — suggesting the variant is likely more widespread. 

There are no cases in Britain. But the UK Health Security Agency, which took over from Public Health England, said it was monitoring the situation closely.  

It has sparked concern because of its ‘very extensive’ set of mutations, including K417N and E484A. These are similar to those on the South African ‘Beta’ variant that made it better able to dodge vaccines. 

But it also has the N440K, found on Delta, and S477N, on the New York variant, which are also linked to antibody escape. 

The variant also has mutations P681H and N679K on a specific part of its spike protein responsible for infection.

And the mutation N501Y that makes viruses more transmissible and was previously seen on the Kent ‘Alpha’ variant and Beta among others. 

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College who first picked up on its spread, described the variant’s combination of mutations as ‘horrific’.

He warned that B.1.1.529, its scientific name, had the potential to be ‘worse than nearly anything else about’ — including the world-dominant Delta strain. 

Scientists told MailOnline, however, that it might have too many mutations which could make it ‘unstable’ and stop it becoming widespread globally.

They said there was ‘no need to be overly concerned’ because there were no signs yet that it was spreading rapidly.

Professor Francois Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, said it was likely the variant would be much more able to dodge antibodies than Delta.

He told MailOnline: ‘For the time being, it should be closely monitored but there’s no need to be overly concerned, unless it starts going up in frequency.’

He said its ‘burst’ of mutations suggests it may have emerged during a chronic infection in an immunocompromised person, such as an HIV/AIDS patient.   

It comes as data from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) today revealed England would only suffer 35,000 Covid hospitalisations if the entire population got infected right now compared to a quarter of a million in Germany.

The analysis suggests the NHS is unlikely to be overwhelmed by the virus even in the event of a major surge.

Researchers looked at vaccination rates and cumulative infection numbers in 18 countries in Europe to estimate levels of immunity and work out what would happen if everyone was suddenly exposed to the virus.  

Just 62 per 100,000 people in England would be hospitalised if they were exposed to Covid with no further restrictions put in place, according to research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It has the lowest expected admissions in Europe thanks to its successful booster rollout and high levels of prior infection

Just 62 per 100,000 people in England would be hospitalised if they were exposed to Covid with no further restrictions put in place, according to research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It has the lowest expected admissions in Europe thanks to its successful booster rollout and high levels of prior infection

The number of Covid intensive care in-patients in European countries like Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and France are on the rise and heading into levels not seen since the start of the year. In comparison the UK's number of patients requiring intensive care is levelling off

The number of Covid intensive care in-patients in European countries like Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and France are on the rise and heading into levels not seen since the start of the year. In comparison the UK’s number of patients requiring intensive care is levelling off

Austria has the highest Covid cases per million people in Europe, followed by the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland

Austria has the highest Covid cases per million people in Europe, followed by the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland

The UK's booster drive has steamed ahead of others on the continent. More than 20 per cent of Brits have now got a booster, which is almost double the level in Austria

The UK’s booster drive has steamed ahead of others on the continent. More than 20 per cent of Brits have now got a booster, which is almost double the level in Austria

700,000 Europeans could die from Covid by March, World Health Organization warns 

Another 700,000 Europeans could die from Covid this winter, the World Health Organization warned today.

WHO officials suggested the continent’s death toll was set to spiral from 1.5million to 2.2million by March amid a ferocious fourth wave.

This figure includes 53 countries in Europe, including EU member states, the UK, Kazakhstan and Russia, among others. 

If this prediction is correct, it means that Europe is facing a winter only slightly better than last year, despite vaccines now being widely available.

Bodies are already ‘piling up’ on hospital wards in Romania, with Bucharest’s main hospital morgue now almost three-times over-capacity.

The WHO said the new wave of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, vaccine scepticism and relaxing Covid restrictions were to blame for its gloomy prediction.

Some 66 per cent of people in the European Union are already double-jabbed, and many countries are now rolling out booster doses.

Surging cases have also sent several nations scuttling back into lockdowns and tighter restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. 

It comes after an AstraZeneca boss suggested that Europe’s hospitalisations are surging because it was slow to roll out their jab to older age groups, unlike the UK.

But scientists say Europe’s fresh wave is likely due to a number of other reasons, including slower booster roll outs, longer lockdowns in the summer and shorter vaccine dosing intervals. 

In a sign of a growing crisis the Netherlands today began moving Covid patients to Germany to help ease pressure on its hospitals.

England would be the least affected in the hypothetical scenario with 34,720 admissions and 6,200 deaths. Even though the model only looked at England, there is nothing to suggest Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be hit harder. 

There have been more than 500,000 Covid hospitalisations in England alone in the last 18 months, for comparison, with just over 140,000 dying with the virus.

The study estimated around 280,000 people in Germany would be hospitalised with the virus — the most of any country in Europe — while Romania would suffer around 150,000.

The researchers include Dr Rosanna Barnard, Dr Nick Davies and Dr Adam Kucharski — three members of SAGE whose modelling has been instrumental in Government policy during the pandemic.

They said higher levels of prior infection and the success of the booster rollout in England meant the country is likely to be better protected than its neighbours this winter.

Britain was branded the ‘sick man of Europe’ this summer after it dropped all restrictions in England in July and saw cases spiral to as much as 50,000 a day. But experts now say opening up early allowed the country to frontload its cases, meaning more people now have immunity than in Europe. 

Scientists also believe Britain’s longer dosage gap between vaccines — 12 weeks compared to three weeks on the continent — has afforded Brits longer lasting immunity from jabs.

Europe is currently in the midst of a rapidly worsening winter Covid crisis, with cases and hospital admissions creeping up towards levels seen last winter in countries across the continent. 

It has seen harsh restrictions and lockdown reimposed, with some countries, including Italy, opting to make vaccines mandatory, sparking protests across the continent.

The World Health Organization yesterday predicted another 700,000 Europeans could die from Covid in the coming months — despite the availability of vaccines.   

As well as slower vaccine rollouts, mobility data shows that in recent weeks Europeans have socialised more than Britons, whose behaviours have remained cautious even after lockdown.  

The LSHTM paper — which has not yet been peer-reviewed and was published on the preprint website MedRxiv — estimated the number of hospitalisations for countries in the ‘short term’ — meaning it did not include the effects of waning immunity or emergence of new variants — but did not specify the exact timescale for the hospitalisations.   

The authors said: ‘Aside from Romania, where vaccine coverage is low, countries with a combination of lower vaccine coverage among older age groups, relatively low prior exposure and older populations — Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Slovenia — have the highest maximum remaining burdens.

‘They have the potential to experience much higher numbers of hospitalisations and deaths among the elderly than countries with younger populations and high coverage in older age groups. 

Just 67million doses of AZ have been distributed across the continent compared to 440m of Pfizer's, even though more recent studies suggest the UK jab provides longer protection against severe disease in older people

Just 67million doses of AZ have been distributed across the continent compared to 440m of Pfizer’s, even though more recent studies suggest the UK jab provides longer protection against severe disease in older people

How ‘Freedom Day’ may have saved Britain from Europe’s winter wave 

Throwing off Covid restrictions in the summer may have saved the UK from Europe’s winter wave, experts have claimed.

On ‘Freedom Day’ in July England dumped its remaining measures — including face masks and social distancing.

This allowed the virus to let rip and cases soar over the warmer months when the NHS was less busy.

Experts say the move frontloaded infections into the summer, bolstering immunity for the winter. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said the UK was in a different position to Europe because it had so many infections earlier in the year.

And Sir John Bell, an Oxford University professor and Government adviser, echoed his comments claiming that Freedom Day had ‘given us longer-term protection’.

Sir John said he was confident that Christmas will be business as usual this year, telling Britons to ‘order that turkey, because it’ll be fine’.

The UK was slammed as the ‘sick man of Europe’ throughout the summer and autumn for consistently recording the highest levels of infection on the continent.

But many European neighbours including Austria, the Netherlands and Ireland are now recording a higher infection rate. 

‘Our results suggest that the potential remaining burden of Covid hospitalisations and deaths across the 19 European countries considered is substantial, amounting to over 900,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 deaths.

‘It varies considerably between countries, with countries that have experienced less transmission so far, have lower vaccine coverage and/or have older populations having much higher potential outstanding burdens.’

The modelling is based on data from October and the study’s lead author Dr Lloyd Chapman said if the study was done at the end of November, it is likely the picture would look even better in England.

It comes after the WHO yesterday suggested warned Europe’s total death toll is set to spiral from 1.5million to 2.2million by March amid a ferocious fourth wave.

This figure includes 53 countries in Europe, including EU member states, the UK, Kazakhstan and Russia, among others. 

If this prediction is correct, it means that Europe is facing a winter only slightly better than last year, despite vaccines now being widely available.

The WHO said the new wave of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, vaccine scepticism and relaxing Covid restrictions were to blame for its gloomy prediction. 

Meanwhile Pascal Soriot, chief executive at AstraZeneca, yesterday said spiralling admissions on the continent could be caused by countries delayed rolling out the company’s vaccine to older people.

Mr Soriot said the decision by most major EU nations to restrict the jab earlier in the year could explain why Britain’s neighbours are now starting to record higher intensive care rates despite having similar case numbers to the UK.

Just 67million doses of AZ have been distributed across the continent compared to 440m of Pfizer’s, even though more recent studies suggest the Oxford-made jab provides longer protection against severe disease in older people. 

French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of politicising the roll out of the British-made vaccine in January when he trashed it as ‘quasi-effective’ for people over 65 and claimed the UK had rushed its approval, in what some described as Brexit bitterness.    

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, 66, also added to initial doubts over the vaccine, stating in February she would not get the jab as her country’s vaccine regulator infamously recommended at time that those over the age of 65 should not have the jab. But Merkel did eventually get the AstraZeneca in April.

EU scepticism about the jab centred around the fact only two people over the age of 65 caught Covid in AZ’s global trials, out of 660 participants in that age group. 

Although the vaccine was eventually reapproved for elderly people in France, Germany and other major EU economies, the reputational damage drove up vaccine hesitancy and led to many elderly Europeans demanding they be vaccinated with Pfizer’s jab. Some, such as Denmark and Norway, stopped using AZ for good. 

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