Pressure is mounting on the education secretary to keep English schools closed after Christmas amid increasing concern over Covid infection rates with a health expert warning “we are nowhere near as bad as it is going to get.”
Teaching unions have already started legal proceedings to demand evidence from the Department of Education that it is safe to keep schools open with the new strain of coronavirus being 70% more infectious.
Gavin Williamson performed another U-turn by keeping London’s schools closed at the start of January and is now under pressure to do the same around the rest of England given the rising number of infections.
Variant increased rapidly even during November lockdown
Almost a quarter of all Covid tests in some London boroughs are returning positive results with the latest data revealing that the 20 most infected areas in England are in the capital, the east and the south east of the country.
“In London over recent days the rate has been increasing quite considerably, and if it is still increasing under quite a severe lockdown, it is dreadful,” said Prof Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia.
“I think we are nowhere near as bad as it is going to get, particularly as we saw this variant increasing rapidly under the national lockdown in November.”
95.9% of English local authorities’ positivity rates over 5%
The London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, and Newham recorded positive rates of 23.1% in tests conducted in the week to Christmas day – the record high was 32.5% recorded in Nottingham in the week to October 8.
“It does look like things are deteriorating quite quickly with this new strain, and deteriorating even in areas which have the most severe lockdown,” said Prof Hunter, a specialist in microbiology and the first professor of health protection appointed in the UK.
The World Health Organization criteria “to assess whether the epidemic is controlled” includes a measurement of “less than 5% of samples positive for Covid-19, at least for the last two weeks, assuming that surveillance for suspected cases is comprehensive.”
In the week to December 25, the positivity rate for London overall was 18% and for England as a whole it was 11.4%. In all, 61 of 149 English local authorities recorded their highest positivity rate since June, with 143 (95.9%) of them showing positivity rates above 5%.
‘Don’t waste the huge sacrifices we all made last year’
Figures released today (January 2) show a record number of coronavirus cases recorded in the last 24 hours with 57,752 breaking the previous record high 53,135 that was set on Tuesday (December 29).
The number of deaths climbed a further 445, taking the weekly number to 4,091 deaths (occurring within 28 days of a positive test), an increase of 20.2% on the previous seven days.
“These numbers are a stark reminder that, as we leave 2020 behind, we are not yet out of the woods – transmission is very high and many lives are still tragically being lost,” said Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England.
“It is more important now than ever that we don’t waste the huge sacrifices we all made last year – we must continue keeping our distance from others, washing our hands and wearing a mask to help stop the spread of the virus.”