Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night begged families to stay at home as the Covid death toll hit a grim new record.
He said that infections were rising at an alarming rate, despite the new national lockdown imposed at the start of the week.
And he warned the only way to prevent thousands more deaths was to follow the rules. ‘I know the last year has taken its toll,’ the Prime Minister said.
‘But your compliance is now more vital than ever. Once again, I must urge everyone to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’
Another 1,325 Covid deaths were reported today – one a minute and more than the peak of 1,224 in the first wave last April.
With the virus ‘out of control’ in London, an advertising blitz will run on TV, radio, newspapers and social media carrying shocking images of the severely ill in hospital.
Amid calls for even tougher restrictions, ministers are considering making face masks mandatory in busy outdoor locations, such as supermarket queues.
As London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident, saying the virus was ‘out of control’ and threatening to overwhelm hospitals in the capital:
- Confirmed coronavirus infections hit a record high of 68,053;
- One in every 15 people in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham may have the virus, according to an official survey;
- A new highly infectious variant now makes up 81 per cent of cases in the capital;
- Senior officials warned its virulence meant the current lockdown was likely to be less effective at curbing the virus than the first;
- More hospitals cancelled other treatments, even cancer operations;
- Police were put on standby to drive ambulances in London;
- Constabularies launched a crackdown on lockdown-breakers;
- A study suggested the Pfizer vaccine works against the new strain;
- UK regulators approved a third vaccine but it will not be available until spring;
- Vaccine tsar Kate Bingham vowed the target to inoculate the 13million most vulnerable by February 15 would be met.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a plea to families and begged them to stay home to save lives as the UK recorded its highest death toll since the pandemic began today and the NHS launches a new ad campaign fronted by Chris Whitty
Everyone in England is being urged to stay at home and ‘act like you’ve got it’ as part of a major advertising campaign. including posters (pictured) encouraging the public to control the spread of the virus and protect the NHS and save lives
A commuter wears a facemask as he sits in a bus shelter with signage promoting ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ in central London
The hard-hitting ad campaign was launched on TV last night, fronted by Chief Medical Officer Professor Whitty. He said that while vaccines provided ‘clear hope for the future… for now we must all stay at home’.
Professor Whitty, who is the most trusted government figure on Covid, said the rapid spread of the virus was putting ‘many people at risk of serious disease and is placing a lot of pressure on our NHS’.
Dramatic images will carry the stark message: ‘Coronavirus. If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.’
Prof Whitty says: ‘Covid-19, especially the new variant, is spreading quickly across the country. This puts many people at risk of serious disease and is placing a lot of pressure on our NHS.
‘Once more, we must all stay home. If it’s essential to go out, remember: wash your hands, cover your face indoors and keep your distance from others.
‘Vaccines give clear hope for the future, but for now we must all stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.’ The campaign also urges people to ‘act like you’ve got it’ adding that ‘anyone can spread it’.
No 10 fears that Mr Johnson’s stay-at-home order is being flouted – a suspicion backed up by figures from Transport for London.
Passenger levels on the Underground were running at 18 per cent yesterday, compared with just 5 per cent last April. Bus use is at 30 per cent of capacity, compared with around 18 per cent in the first lockdown.
And traffic levels on main roads in the capital were at 76 per cent of normal compared with 30-40 per cent nine months ago.
Apple Mobility Trends shows driving down by 44 per cent, walking down by 62 per cent and transit down by 68 per cent in London
Tom Tom figures also has commuters driving into work at rush hour as remaining steady at just 25 per cent
It is also vital to ferry key workers to and from their jobs in industries such as healthcare and construction
Most seats were taken up at Canada Water on the Jubilee Line heading into the city centre and some people had to stand
Pictured is driving, walking and transit data from Apple Mobility for the capital over the course of the last year
The major incident declared by Mr Khan yesterday is a procedure previously invoked following the Grenfell Tower disaster and major terrorist attacks.
The mayor called for the closure of places of worship and for face masks to be worn routinely outside the home. Downing Street sources said there were ‘no more new lockdown measures on the way’.
But the Mail understands that Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers have been examining the case to extend the use of masks.
Mr Khan said the situation in the capital was dire, with an estimated one in every 50 Londoners infected. ‘It’s like being in a theatre of war,’ he said. ‘Unless we reduce the spread, the NHS will run out of beds.’
City Hall said Covid cases in the capital had exceeded 1,000 per 100,000 and there were 35 per cent more hospital admissions with the virus than last April.
Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s regional director for London, said: ‘This is the biggest threat our city has faced in this pandemic to date.
‘The emergence of the new variant means we are setting record case rates at almost double the national average, with at least one in 30 people (in London) now thought to be carrying the virus.
‘Our NHS services are under immense pressure and currently another 800 people are being admitted to our hospitals every day.’
The London Ambulance Service is taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day and at one east London hospital patients were apparently waiting 24 hours for a bed after arriving at A&E.
NHS London said a record 977 patients were admitted to hospitals over 24 hours.
Cases per day in London
People being hospitalised in London
Coronavirus deaths in London
He said that over the last three days alone the NHS has announced 477 deaths in London hospitals following a positive test for Covid-19 (Piccadilly Circus pictured today)
The Office for National Statistics found in its mass testing programme that almost two thirds (61%) of the positive tests it found in England appeared to be linked to the new variant of the virus. The figure was higher for some regions – particularly in London and the South – but lower in others
The virus is also spreading rapidly outside the capital. Six out of ten hospitals in England are now reporting more Covid patients than in the first wave – a situation doctors say is ‘cataclysmic’.
Fewer than 500 were in hospital at the start of September but yesterday the figure stood at 28,246. That is an increase of more than 11,000 in a fortnight.
A doctor from Merseyside said her hospital is ‘almost at the limit’ with patients having to wait in corridors or ambulances.
Scientists advising the Government believe the current lockdown may lead to a plateau of cases across the UK rather than the dramatic cut seen in the March and April lockdown.
They estimate there are currently more than 100,000 new infections per day and possibly higher than 150,000.
They believe this estimate puts the current number of daily cases at a higher level than during the first wave of the pandemic. Hospitals are now seeing far more younger people than during the first wave.
There are also mounting fears about the knock-on effects on wider public health.
Experts expect there to be thousands of deaths as a result of disruption to cancer surgery in this wave, with some patients having vital operations cancelled even while they were heading to hospital.
Campaign group Catch up with Cancer: ‘If you have got Covid you can have a bed, but if you’ve got cancer you can’t have an operation. These cancer patients are dying at home and will be for the next five years.’
But there was light at the end of the tunnel as a third vaccine in the fight against coronavirus was approved for use in the UK on Friday.
The jab, from US biotech firm Moderna, has been given the green light by the MHRA – joining the vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca.
The approval of the Moderna vaccine means the UK should have three vaccines to use when it comes on stream in spring.
The Government has increased its order of the vaccine to 17 million doses – enough to vaccinate 8.5 million people – with batches expected to be released in phases.
It has been shown to be 94 per cent effective against Covid-19 in clinical trials. Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘Excellent news the @MHRAgovuk has approved the use of the @moderna-tx vaccine.
‘Our national vaccine effort is accelerating to vaccinate priority groups with our existing two vaccines, and the Moderna doses will add to that when they become available in spring.’
The Office for National Statistics found in its mass testing programme that almost two thirds (61 per cent) of the positive tests it found in England appeared to be linked to the new variant of the virus. The figure was higher for some regions – particularly in London and the South – but lower in others
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: ‘This is fantastic news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.’
Nearly 1.5 million people in the UK have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines, with the Government aiming to jab 15 million of those most at risk by mid-February.
With the current lockdown and vaccine rollout, deaths from coronavirus are expected to start dropping in February, while hospital admissions should drop.
Coronavirus cases are expected to drop in the spring due to vaccination plus the fact people spend more time outdoors, making it harder for the virus to spread.
Elsewhere, research published on Friday suggests the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech appears to protect against a mutation in two coronavirus variants.
The pharmaceutical giant and researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch carried out lab tests on the strains -from the UK and South Africa.
Both variants contain mutations including N501Y, an alteration in the spike protein of the virus, which is a target for vaccines.
In the study, not yet peer-reviewed, people given the Pfzier jab had neutralising levels of antibodies which appeared to work against N501Y in the new strains.
But one of the mutations in the South Africa variant, named E484K, has not yet been studied and is still causing concern for experts.
While scientists at the top of Government increasingly believe the UK variant can be tacked with existing vaccines, there is concern that the South African variant has the potential to make them less effective, though studies are ongoing.
In future years, it is thought that Covid-19 vaccines will need to be tweaked annually much in the same way the winter flu jab is.
Meanwhile, papers released by the Government from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which advises ministers, suggests communication campaigns will be needed to ensure those who are vaccinated continue to adhere to lockdown rules.
It said there was some evidence that, ‘in the absence of any mitigation policies, some of those who have been vaccinated will show a reduction in personal protective behaviours’ such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
It is not yet known whether vaccination can prevent people passing the virus onto other people.