Prominent SAGE scientists claimed today Britain’s winter coronavirus wave is flattening after cases fell for four days straight — despite the country recording its worst death toll ever on Wednesday.
Another 1,564 more Covid fatalities were announced yesterday across the UK in the deadliest day since the pandemic began, with the total number of laboratory-confirmed victims on track to pass the grisly 100,000 mark by February.
But Sir Patrick Vallance, No10’s chief scientific officer, and Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling plunged the UK into its first lockdown in March, said there are ‘early signs’ the third national shutdown is slowing the crisis.
They have pointed to the fact that, nationally, the number of people catching Covid is trending downwards, with the 47,525 positive tests yesterday across Britain down by a quarter on last week’s figure.
But there is a roughly three-week time delay between someone catching the disease and dying from it, which means it takes about 21 days for a trend in cases to translate to the fatality figures.
Because Britain only went into lockdown a week ago, daily Covid deaths are likely to continue to rise for at least another fortnight before falling.
Here, MailOnline answers your questions on the UK’s current Covid situation:
Are cases going down everywhere?
Covid infection rates are falling across swathes of authorities in the UK, according to most recent official data up to January 8.
Cases are falling in boroughs in London, the South East and East of England — which were bearing the brunt of the winter wave ahead of the national shutdown on January 4.
Infections in Kent — one of the first areas of England to be slapped with the harshest local lockdown measures — were actually slowing before the third lockdown, suggesting the tough Tier Four restrictions in place there were having some effect.
In London, the number of people testing positive per 100,000 fell from a peak of 1,116 on January 4 to 1,005 by January 7. But there was a slight uptick again on January 8 across every region, according to Department of Health figures.
In the East of England dropped from 856 per 100,000 to 741 and in the South East from 774 to 679 in the same time period.
In areas with the lightest rules, however, cases continued to surge late into the year and, despite almost the entire country getting tougher rules on boxing day, continued to rise into the start of lockdown, with some still going up.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘It is too early to be confident that the data from the past few days have indeed meant we have now reached the peak.
‘The current positive signs may represent a statistical glitch or a short-lived effect causing recent increases to stall only for the surge to be resumed.
‘It is also still too early for this to be driven by the vaccination campaign. Nevertheless if the recent trend is maintained this would be very good news for our NHS.’
Why are infections still going up in some parts of country?
Infections are still going up in some parts of the country because it takes weeks for lockdown measures to take effect.
It is not by chance that the places where cases continue to climb are in areas that enjoyed looser restrictions in December.
For example, the Liverpool city region — formerly Britain’s Covid hotspot — is seeing steep increases in infection rates again.
In Knowsley, where the biggest rise in England happened over the past week, cases were 1,399.3 per 100,000 people in the seven days ending January 9, up from 796.8.
Merseyside was under Tier Two restrictions right up until January, which allowed restaurants, cinemas and gyms to stay open. The same was true for places in the South West. Torbay in Devon saw its case rate double in the last week to 254 per 100,000.
When will hospital admissions start to fall?
Hospital admissions are already falling across London and the South East and are slowing in the East, official figures suggest.
Department of Health statistics show daily admissions in the capital hit their high point on January 6 — on day two of the shutdown — when the seven-day average stood at 864. It dropped to 845 the following day. In the South East, hospitalisations also peaked on January 6 when they reached 662.
And in the East of England — which was plunged into the highest bracket of restrictions at the same time — they had started to level off by January 4 but have not yet started to fall.
But even as admissions have slowed across the capital and in regions first plunged into the toughest bracket, the overall number of patients in hospital is still rising because the number of new cases needing treatment each day is still high.
Almost 36,500 infected Britons were receiving NHS care in January 11.
Despite the glimmer of hope, which comes alongside falling infections, hospital admissions for patients suffering from the virus are also continuing to rise in the South West, North West, North East and Midlands.
The roughly three-week lag between a person catching Covid and falling seriously unwell with it means hospital rates could continue to climb for another fortnight. But they are anticipated to fall after that in line with the infection rate trends.
But when will NHS hospitals start to feel ease in pressure?
The number of coronavirus infections, hospitalisations, admissions to intensive care and deaths is going to keep rising in the UK for weeks, with the peak not hitting until next month, according to a top NHS chief.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said he expects pressure to spike and begin to tail off in February because the third lockdown does not appear to be working as quickly as the one in spring, he claimed.
He warned a health and social care committee of MPs yesterday: ‘It is pretty clear the infection rate is not going to go down as quickly as it did in the first phase.
‘We were hoping for a sharp peak that came sooner and shorter. So something for example where we saw the peak and started to crest it in mid to late January.
‘It now looks like the peak for NHS demand may actually now be in February. Now if that’s right that’s going to basically mean there’s a higher level, and a more extended period of pressure on the NHS than we were expecting even just a week ago.’
A wave of admissions was now hitting the East of England into the Midlands, the North West and South West, after London, the South East and the East bore the brunt of the winter wave.
‘That’s a particular worry because trusts in the Midlands and the North have got significant numbers of patients still in hospital from the second surge.’
Why are deaths still rising?
Deaths always lag weeks behind cases because of the time it takes for patients to catch and fall ill with Covid.
Although it varies from person to person, experts say it takes roughly three weeks for an infected person to succumb to the disease.
For this reason scientists are able to forecast how deaths will trend based on how infections are fluctuating.
UK cases have fallen for four days in a row which appears to show that infections are trending downwards just a week into the national lockdown.
Because infections dropped from last week, it would suggest that deaths will follow in about a fortnight’s time.