Covid cases in England appear to be flatlining already, after modelling by the Government’s scientific advisers estimated the third wave will shrink from next month even without Plan B.
Data from the Government’s Covid dashboard suggest the latest surge in infections peaked last Thursday, when there were just over 44,000 in a day, and have fallen or plateaued every day since.
Even when looking at when people actually took their test, rather than when they got their result instead of when they were fed into the system, cases also appear to have started flattening last week.
While the figures are only based on a few days’ data, they are in line with some of the more optimistic projections from No10′ scientific advisory panel SAGE.
Modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for SAGE had cases dropping from next month without any additional restrictions, to as low as 5,000 per day through winter.
Scientists said that a combination of booster vaccines, growing natural immunity in children and a reduction in classroom mixing during the October half-term break would drag cases down.
SAGE has previously been criticised for overegging the scale of the country’s outbreak, but Dr Simon Clarke, from the University of Reading, said it looked like this time they ‘had a high chance of being right’.
But he told MailOnline: ‘Just as people criticised the shortcomings of pessimistic models we have to apply the same scepticism to such optimistic ones. But the team at LSHTM are very good at what they do.’
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, said he ‘trusted’ the LSHTM model, adding: ‘Over the next few weeks, we should start seeing a substantial fall in cases followed by hospitalisations.’
But not all scientists advising the Government agree, with many on SAGE publicly lobbying for masks, working from home and vaccine passports to safeguard against rising cases in winter.
Downing St was forced to defend its decision not to revert to Plan B today after leaked Government documents showed delaying the contingency plans could cost the economy £18billion. The estimate for the damage from reverting to working from home and face masks was produced by the Treasury and Cabinet Office.
A separate paper from the Culture Department, however, raised concerns vaccine passports could be ‘counter-productive’ and drive people to poorly ventilated pubs.
Covid cases in England appear to be flatlining already after modelling by the Government’s scientific advisers estimated the third wave will shrink from next month without Plan B. Data from the Government’s Covid dashboard suggest the latest surge in infections peaked last Thursday, when there were just over 44,000 in a day, and have fallen or plateaued every day since
While SAGE’s models only look at England, figures from No10’s Covid dashboard suggest that UK-wide infection numbers are also plateauing. Nationally, infections appear to have peaked on Thursday at about 52,000, falling every day since, to just 36,500 yesterday
LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE AND TROPICAL MEDICINE: These charts show the impact of returning to normal level of social mixing in three months (bottom) versus remaining cautious for a year – and the impact this would have on infections (left), admissions (middle) and deaths (right). The models show cases plummeting by November in both scenarios thanks to natural immunity but rising in spring (bottom) when vaccine protection is expected to wane
While SAGE’s models only look at England, figures from No10’s Covid dashboard suggest that UK-wide infection numbers are also plateauing.
Nationally, infections appear to have peaked on Thursday at about 52,000, falling every day since to just 36,500 yesterday. But, like England, the figures are always slightly lower on weekends and Mondays due to recording lags.
The optimistic trends and forecasts have given No10 the confidence to reject growing calls for it to revert to Plan B, which would see compulsory masks and WFH guidance return, as well as the introduction of vaccine passports.
The firm at the centre of a testing blunder that allowed tens of thousands of Covid-infected patients to roam the streets is still processing private travel PCR swabs, it was revealed today.
Up to 43,000 people, mostly in the South West of England, were wrongly told they were negative for the virus due to ‘technical issues’ at a private lab in Wolverhampton, run by Immensa.
The error has been linked to the recent explosion in Covid cases in the region, where a record one in 45 residents are now estimated to have the virus. Operations at the facility — where workers were filmed playing football and wrestling on shift — were suspended after the error was finally spotted on October 15.
But it has now emerged Immensa is continuing to process and profit from PCR results for international travellers who buy tests for up to £68 through its sister company Dante Labs.
Professor Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, described the situation as ‘an absolute scandal’, adding: ‘How can anyone have any confidence in them?’
Immensa — which was awarded nearly £170million by the Government to analyse PCR samples last spring — has insisted that all swabs, including for travel, are being redirected from the Wolves lab. The company also runs a facility in Cambridge.
Despite the numbers, No10 was forced to defend its decision to hold off on Plan B today as leaked documents suggested delaying could cost the economy up to £18 billion.
Papers drawn up by the Cabinet Office’s coronavirus task force and the Treasury detailed the potential cost of mandatory mask wearing and vaccine passports, along with the return of work from home guidance.
Obtained by the Politico news website, the internal Treasury impact assessment suggests the measures lasting throughout winter until the end of March would cost the economy between £11billion and £18billion.
However, the Government insisted there is ‘no planned five-month timeline’ as it disputed the assumptions in the document and maintained there is currently no need for Plan B.
While scientists believe working from home will have the greatest effect on transmission, the leaked documents suggested mandatory vaccine certification at large venues would have a ‘moderate’ impact.
The assessment said the move for venues such as nightclubs and music venues could reduce transmission at large events by 40-45 per cent and in the wider community by between 1 and 5 per cent.
A Government spokesman said: ‘The presumptions put forward here are untrue, and do not reflect Government policy. The data does not currently show that Plan B is necessary – and there is no planned five-month timeline.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Plan B would only be bought in when ‘pressure on the NHS is unsustainable’ as he defended the measures as allowing ‘venues to remain open and remain trading’.
‘We are confident the Plan B measures taken as a package will help curb Covid cases while also striking that important balance of allowing parts of the economy to remain open that will otherwise face severe restrictions or even closure,’ he added.
Meanwhile, a separate impact assessment raised concerns over possible knock-on effects of the introduction of mandatory vaccine passports.
The Telegraph reported that the document from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) warned the move could encourage people to instead go to poorly ventilated pubs and therefore be ‘counter-intuitive and potentially counter-productive’.
It also suggested that the turnover of venues hit by the move could drop between £345million and £2billion.
A DCMS spokesman said: ‘There is good evidence to suggest certification would have a beneficial impact on infection rates and it would also avoid the need for capacity caps or closures.
‘There is currently no evidence to suggest that businesses have been impacted by lower attendance when certification is used, with various venues already using this on entry throughout the year.’
Professor Paul Hunter (left), an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline he expects a ‘substantial fall’ in cases over the coming weeks, followed by hospitalisations and deaths. And Cambridge University epidemiologist Dr Raghib Ali (right) told MailOnline he also expected Covid measurements to drop as people change their behaviour in response to rising infections, the vaccine programme and the build up of natural immunity
Public health expert Professor Martin McKee (left) told MailOnline he would be ‘very cautious about making firm arrangements for Christmas’ amid ‘a very high level’ of cases and new variant AY.4.2 ‘that seems to be more transmissible than Delta’. Meanwhile, Professor Stephen Reicher (right), a member of the independent Scientific Pandemic Insights group SPI-B, told MailOnline it is difficult to predict how high cases will get, so measures such as working from home and limiting contacts should be brought back now to control rising infections
Daily Covid infections in Britain have fallen again and deaths are also down.
The Department of Health reported 36,657 new cases in the past 24 hours, down a quarter on the figure last week and the second day in a row there has been a week-on-week drop. Cases had risen for 18 days prior to Sunday.
Many experts predicted that the October half-term — which for many schools began today — would drag infection rates down and act as a miniature ‘firebreaker’.
There were also 38 coronavirus deaths registered today, down around 16 per cent on the toll last Monday. UK-wide hospital data isn’t due until tomorrow.
A technical issue means the promising statistics do not include data from Wales, which is recording on average 3,200 daily cases and nine deaths per day. The trajectory of the epidemic is likely to remain unchanged, even with the inclusion of Wales’ infection numbers.
But Greg Parmley, the chief executive of the Live music industry body, said the leak shows the move to mandatory use of passports ‘would be a mistake’.
‘These passports would cost the live music industry billions of pounds while aspects of the rollout would be impractical and potentially dangerous,’ he said.
Top experts have questioned the need for more restrictions, now that there are signs the epidemic is already flatlining. Professor Hunter told MailOnline he expects a ‘substantial and rapid fall’ in the epidemic in the coming weeks, which defeats the purpose of Plan B.
He said the booster vaccines will top up half of the population’s immunity, adding: ‘The boosters are working much better than we first thought they would.’
And children, who are responsible for the recent surge, will have acquired significant natural and jab-induced protection, according to Cambridge University epidemiologist Dr Raghib Ali.
The half-term school holiday — which for many schools started today — will act as a mini firebreaker and bring down cases further, experts believe.
But neither Professor Hunter nor Dr Ali believe cases will plunge to as low as 5,000 per day, partly because of the emergence of the new even more transmissible strain of Delta.
Yet other scientists have warned it is impossible to accurately predict how the outbreak will unfold and that Plan B measures — such as WFH guidance and face masks — should be brought back now to control rising infections just in case.
Professor Martin McKee, a public health expert based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he would be ‘very cautious about making firm Christmas arrangements’ because of the ‘high’ number of cases and emergence of the AY.4.2 variant which appears ‘more transmissible than Delta’.
And Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the independent Scientific Pandemic Insights group SPI-B which feeds into SAGE, questioned the accuracy of his colleagues’ modelling.
He told MailOnline making predictions about infection levels is a ‘notoriously inaccurate pastime’. Efforts should instead focus on what can be done to bring cases down, he said.
Professor Reicher said the key ways of reducing infections are behavioural — increasing vaccine uptake, limiting contacts, including by working from home, increasing ventilation and ensuring infected people self-isolate.
To do this, ‘clear and consistent messaging about the need to bring infections down and how to do so’ is needed, he said.
‘Now the messaging is all over the place, often inaccurate, and even suggesting that infections don’t matter… at which point why do anything,’ he said.
Covid sufferers now have access to a course of tablets from their GP that can avoid the need for hospitalisation.
Favipiravir which is best taken when symptoms first present, stops the virus from replicating and sheds the virus from the body.
At present, AiPharma’s antiviral treatment, which is taken orally over a course of 7-14 days, is prescribed in the UK on a Compassionate Patient Use basis only.
This means it can be prescribed privately by GPs to a patient if they have a potentially life-threatening or serious disease or condition and allows them to gain access to investigational medicines.
Favipiravir acts by inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) from replicating in the human system. It has already been prescribed to more than 1.5m people around the world in ten countries, easing the pressure on hospitals and their staff.
It was selected by the Department of Health and Social Care for the PRINCIPLE (Platform Randomised trial of Interventions against COVID-19 In older peoPLE) University of Oxford clinical trial involving 1,200 participants.
This trial has been ongoing since March and results are expected soon.
The data from clinical trials that have taken place over the past 18-months around the world indicate that more than 70% of mild to moderate patients achieved clinical improvements by day 7 with this antiviral treatment and more than 90% recovered by day 14. It also showed that 70% of patients experienced relief of symptoms by day 3 and viral clearance by day 4.
Dr Alessandro Gadotti, CEO of AiPharma Group, said: ‘Oral antiviral treatments are the first line of defense against COVID-19 and results in trials have shown that treatments like favipiravir can relieve symptoms within a few days, negating the need for a hospital stay.
‘To date this treatment is the only antiviral approved in 10 countries for outpatient (at home) treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19. It is used around the world, and we are eagerly waiting for results from the PRINCIPLE trial.
‘We are now in the process of ramping up production to meet future expected demand in dealing with COVID-19 and to prepare for the threat of future pandemics.’
AiPharma’s antiviral treatment has received full marketing authorisation or emergency use authorisation in a number of markets as a treatment for COVID-19 including Mexico, India, Indonesia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Malaysia. Many other countries have purchased the treatment under compassionate use programmes including the United Kingdom, Greece, Hungary and Saudi Arabia. Worldwide sales of the product have risen from £6.5m in Q1 to more than £108m in Q3 2021
While other medicines are being tested at various stages in clinical trials, favipiravir, known as Reeqonus in North America, has been used by 1.5m+ people since the start of the pandemic prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was involved in 40 clinical trials with 130,000 participants. AiPharma will make a submission for FDA Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) in less than 30 days.
In the past 12 months 80 million tablets have been stockpiled, at an average price of £300 per individual course of treatment.
Favipiravir is a broad-spectrum antiviral treatment designed to block virus replication at the early stage of illness. It has been licensed to treat pandemic influenza in Japan since 2014 and is effective against twelve different classes of viruses.
Dr Richard Kaszynski, Chief Medical Officer at AiPharma, said: ‘When patients are hospitalised with COVID-19, we’ve already lost half the battle. Oral antivirals like favipiravir provide doctors with the means to fight COVID-19 in the communities and possibly prevent hospitalisations or death.’
Dr Gadotti, added: ‘The strength of oral antiviral treatments in real terms is that they fight COVID-19 in the community and hospitals – which can significantly reduce pressures on healthcare systems. The increasing number of patients being administered this treatment puts us on the front line in the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemic preparedness.’