THIS morning, top scientists led a live briefing from Downing Street, addressing the worrying increase in coronavirus infection rates across the country.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said there had clearly been a “marked pick-up” in coronavirus cases, which would result in more deaths.

At a briefing to present the latest data, Professor Van-Tam said that although there was more testing now than at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, it was clear there was a resurgence in cases.

“The key point is that having had a rather flat summer, with very low amounts of Covid-positive patients in the UK, you can see that from early September there has been a marked pick-up,” he said.

There is also a lag between cases being identified and patients being admitted to hospital or dying.

“The hospital admissions we have now actually relate to a time when there were fewer cases of Covid-19,” he said.

“Already, with the cases that we know about, we have baked in additional hospital admissions and sadly we also have baked in additional deaths that are now consequent upon infections that have already happened.”

Andover Advertiser:

NHS England’s medical director Professor Stephen Powis cautioned that it would take “a number of weeks” before the benefit of any additional measures put in place this week are shown in hospital admissions.

He also said there were now more patients in hospital with coronavirus than there were when the Government ordered the lockdown in March.

“As the infection rate has begun to grow across the country, hospital infections have started to rise,” he told the news briefing.

“It is clear that hospital admissions are rising fastest in those areas of the country where infection rates are highest, particularly the North West.

“In the over-65s – particularly the over-85s – we are seeing steep rises in the numbers of people being admitted to hospital so the claim that the elderly can somehow be fenced off from risk is wishful thinking.”

He outlined the three tiers of "defence" against the virus:

  • Individual measures: masks, hand-washing, reducing contact with others
  • Track and Trace system
  • Hospital care for those who are most unwell

Prof Powys also announced two new measures being put into place by NHS England:

1) Regular testing for staff in high risk areas, even when they don't have symptoms

2) Nightingale hospitals in some areas are being asked to prepare to support hospitals. So far, the temporary hospitals in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate have already been put on standby.

Asked if Test and Trace, the second line of defence, has failed us, Prof Van-Tam says its always difficult to develop a system and execute it simultaneously, but urged: "Please keep on using this test and trace system, it remains vitally important."

While the focus of new lockdown measures, expected later today from the government, is likely to be the Northern areas, the scientists urged others in England not to be complacent, stating that it is not simply a case of a North-South divide.

"The epidemic this time has clearly picked up pace in the North of England earlier than it did in the first wave, and that almost certainly relates to the fact that disease levels never dropped as far as they did, in the Summer, in the South," said Prof Van-Tam.

"But pretty much all areas of the UK are now seeing growth in infection rate.

"This is a nationwide phenomenon now, that rates are changing upwards across the UK."