Britain has recorded another 17 coronavirus deaths today in the preliminary count, ending the four-day stint of single-digit fatalities.
NHS England reported 15 more Covid-19 victims, and Scotland and Northern Ireland each reported one. Wales recorded zero deaths.
The preliminary total is calculated by adding up fatalities in all of the home nations, but it does not include deaths in care homes and in the community in England.
It means the official figure announced could be higher, announced later by the Department of Health along with the new diagnosed cases.
Yesterday 1,508 new cases were reported, marking the third highest figure since June 14 as infections continue on an upward trajectory.
But Matt Hancock claimed today Britain could be back on its feet by Christmas if rapid coronavirus tests are proven successful in trials.
The Health Secretary, who has announced a £500million investment in a mass on-the-spot saliva testing regime, said it was the ‘best shot’ at ending social distancing.
Britain has recorded another 17 coronavirus deaths today in the preliminary count
In other coronavirus developments;
- Scientists claim coronavirus herd immunity may be closer than thought because ‘flawed’ antibody surveys that only test blood ‘dramatically underestimate’ how many people have had the disease;
- Pharmaceutical firms GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi launch human trials of promising coronavirus vaccine with 60million doses already ordered by UK officials;
- NHS Test & Trace failed to reach almost a third of at-risk contacts of infected patients last week, its worst performance so far;
- Portugal is on the brink of quarantine amid a spike in cases, with Britons facing a dash to beat the expected 4am Saturday deadline.
TEST & TRACE FAILED TO REACH A THIRD OF AT-RISK CONTACTS LAST WEEK
Almost a third of contacts of Covid-19 cases were not reached by the NHS Test and Trace system last week, data shows, which was the lowest since the system launched in May.
A total of 31,388 people were identified as coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive between 20 August and 26 August.
Only 69.4 per cent of those were reached and told to self-isolate, down from 77.1 per cent in the previous week.
The report from the Department of Health and Social care said the reduction is largely due to ‘non-complex cases’, which have a higher proportion of contacts who are unable to be reached.
Non-complex cases are those which are not related to an outbreak, and are handled by call centres or online.
Just 59.8 per cent of close contacts have been reached and asked to self-isolate when handled by those teams.
In comparison, complex cases, managed predominantly by local health teams, are consistently more likely to be reached.
This week, 97.3 per cent of contacts handled by local health protection teams were reached and asked to self-isolate.
Figures published today also show it takes more an average of three and a half days for a home-test result to come back, which has been increasing for several weeks. The average person who takes a home test kit, which can be ordered online, won’t get their result back for 86 hours, more than the 76 hours the week prior.
The UK could get back to normal by Christmas if the rapid coronavirus testing being trialled by the Government is successful, Matt Hancock said today, as he announced a £500million investment in a mass on-the-spot saliva testing regime.
The sput tests can give a positive or negative result in just 20 minutes, compared to the current lab-based swabs that can take days to complete.
Main pilots of the portable ‘lab in a van’ tests will take place in Salford, Southampton in Hampshire.
Mr Hancock refused to put a date on when the tests would be available more widely to people around the UK but he said it would be ‘in the coming weeks and months’, appearing to be planning for them to be in use by the winter.
Although treatments for the virus are improving, unless a vaccine is found it still cannot be cured or prevented completely.
So keeping track of the bug and squashing it out of communities is the only way to prevent more people ending up in hospital and dying.
When asked about ending social distancing, Health Secretary Mr Hancock said on BBC Radio 4 this morning: ‘I hope that if this mass testing regime comes off, if the new technologies we’re working so hard on work, or we manage to get a vaccine between now and then – which we can’t rule out – then I hope we can have the happy and loving Christmas that people yearn for.’
However, as the Government begins its trials of tests that it hopes will become widespread, members of the public are still trying to get hold of drive-through swab tests that have been running for months.
Even this service does not seem to be working well, as people are being asked to travel more than 100 miles to get them.
An investigation by the BBC found that the system routinely tried to direct people to testing centres tens or hundreds of miles from their homes.
London postcodes were directed to Cardiff, it found, while someone in Devon might have to travel more than 100 miles to Wales, and a postcode in the Lake District redirected to a test centre in Scotland.
On top of this, the tests, of which around 180,000 are done each day, are being used more in areas that are in local lockdowns or at risk of facing extra restrictions.
As a result, people who feel unwell in less badly-affected areas of the country are struggling to access the swabs and some report being told to drive for hours to centres in other cities, counties or even countries.
In a bid to speed up testing, the Department of Health today announced it was opening a new laboratory in Loughborough that will be capable of processing 50,000 tests per day.
But NHS Test & Trace data today showed the system is still floundering and was last week unable to reach almost a third of people who had been in contact with an infected person.
And home tests – the only ones available for people being told to travel dozens of miles by the booking system – are now taking an average three days to return results.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today announced the Government is investing £500million in mass rapid testing for the coronavirus
Cases as of yesterday, September 2
It comes as scientists claim Britain may be closer to herd immunity against Covid-19 than previously thought because surveillance studies are inherently flawed.
According to research looking at antibody test results, just seven per cent of Britons and 17 per cent of Londoners have been infected and recovered from the disease.
Experts made these estimates by testing random swathes of people for coronavirus antibodies in their blood, produced by the body in response to the illness.
It’s thought that at least 60 per cent of a population need to have caught the virus for the group to reach herd immunity, which is when a disease runs out of room and can no longer spread because too many people are immune to it.
In an editorial in the British Medical Journal today, scientists would not say how wrong estimates might be but cautioned surveillance studies could be ‘dramatically underestimating’ infection rates.
This, they say, is because the studies do not test for all forms of antibodies, including those found in saliva which may signal mild or asymptomatic cases.
Most research into past infection has looked for the presence of IgG and IgM antibodies, the most common types, which are found in the blood and protect against viral infections.
Another type of antibody – called IgA – is not being routinely tested for. IgA is found in mucous and saliva in the mouth, nose and respiratory tract – the main sites Covid-19 uses to enter the body.
Those with these types of antibodies likely fended off the infection in its earliest stages, before it was able to burrow deep into lungs and spread through the blood.
Research has suggested that antibodies decline three months after infection — meaning only a fraction of true cases during the peak of the crisis may have been spotted and exactly how much immunity the world has developed is unknown.
And scientists say immunity in the UK is likely to be far higher than what Government antibody testing shows because it doesn’t account for T-cells. Top immunologists have said the infection-fighting cells are typically more durable and long lasting than antibodies.
Dipender Gill, a clinician at St George’s Hospital in London, who co-wrote the editorial, said: ‘Current seroprevalence surveys may be dramatically underestimating the proportion of people that have been infected by the virus.
‘Further work is required to determine the optimal survey strategy and appropriately revise these figures.’
The scientists admitted they could not put a figure on how far out the estimates were.
Mark Ponsford, a clinical immunologist at the University Hospital of Wales, said: ‘The immune response to the virus is more complex than a simple “yes” or “no” to the presence of a single antibody type in the blood.
‘It’s important that future surveys take this into account, and that we begin to standardise our approach to testing.
‘This will help us to improve accuracy and allow more valid comparisons of the results from different surveys.’
Herd immunity could be closer than scientists first thought and as little as 10 per cent may need to be infected for the virus to fizzle out. Pictured are estimates given by different teams, and how many antibodies the UK population is thought to have now
PORTUGAL TEETERS ON QUARANTINE LIST
Portugal is on the brink of quarantine amid a spike in cases, with Britons facing a dash to beat the expected 4am Saturday deadline – as officials in England resisted calls to follow Wales and Scotland by putting restrictions on Greece.
The rate of Covid cases in Portugal has been above 20 per 100,000 for the past three days – the level at which the government considers introducing a quarantine.
Yesterday the number of new cases rose to 390 from 231 the day before, suggesting the current seven-day average of 22.7 will not decrease.
Meanwhile, cases in Greece are currently at a similar level to the UK. Paul Charles, boss of travel consultancy PC Agency, said the ‘stable’ situation in the country suggested the Scottish government’s decision to put it on the red list was ‘extreme’.
He predicted Portugal would be added to the list but Greece and Italy would stay off it.
Any changes to quarantine arrangements are now announced on Thursday nights, with the new rules being imposed at 4am on Saturdays.
The previous two-week quarantine for travellers returning from Portugal was only lifted two weeks ago.
Meanwhile drug companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi are joining the race to discover a Covid-19 vaccine and starting human clinical trials this week.
The pharmaceutical giants have enrolled more than 400 people for the phase one and two trial, which will assess the safety of the vaccine candidate.
The UK Government signed a deal with the companies in July for 60million doses — rumoured to cost £500million — in the hopes that it will prove to a success.
Results of the initial testing, across 11 sites in the US, are anticipated in early December, with the third phase beginning before 2020 is over.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy previously said the jab could be given to high-risk Britons as early as the first half of next year, if it passes trials.
GSK and Sanofi together have the largest vaccine manufacturing capability in the world, and believe their jab has the ‘potential to overcome the pandemic’ which has already killed 863,000 people.
The vaccine, one of 34 now in clinical trials, is based on the existing DNA-based technology used to produce Sanofi’s seasonal flu vaccine.
If all the vaccines pre-ordered by the UK are successful and go into production the country will have a massive stockpile of 340million jabs – enough to give every person in the country five each.
Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines said: ‘Moving this vaccine candidate into clinical development is an important moment in the progress towards addressing the global pandemic we are all facing.
‘This builds on the confidence shown by governments already in the potential of this protein-based adjuvanted vaccine candidate, which utilises established technology from both companies, and can be produced at scale by two of the leading vaccine manufacturers globally.
‘We now look forward to the data from the study, and if positive, beginning a phase three trial by the end of the year.’
Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and global head of Sanofi Pasteur, said: ‘Sanofi and GSK bring proven science and technology to the fight against the global Covid-19 pandemic, with the shared objective of delivering a safe and effective vaccine.
‘The initiation of our clinical study is an important step and brings us closer to a potential vaccine which could help defeat Covid-19.
‘Our dedicated teams and partner continue to work around the clock as we aim to deliver the first results in early December.’
The first phase of the trial, on a small group of volunteers, is to make sure the vaccine is safe. Healthy subjects 18 to 49 years of age will be vaccinated to establish the correct dose for the vaccine.
The second part will assess the efficacy, making sure the vaccine actually produces an immune response in the body. It will involve older participants.
When trials move into the third phase, involving hundreds to thousands more people, scientists assess whether the vaccine actually prevents people from catching the coronavirus.
French drugmaker Sanofi and British peer GSK have enrolled more than 400 people in the US for the phase one and two trial, which will assess the safety of the vaccine candidate
Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines (pictured: headquarters in London), said: ‘We believe that this adjuvanted vaccine candidate has the potential to play a significant role in overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic, both in the UK and around the world’