Furious Covid row on the eve of Freedom Day

Furious Covid row on the eve of Freedom Day


Furious Covid row on the eve of Freedom Day as health chiefs accuse Boris of ‘letting it rip’ by unlocking as he cancels plans for Churchill speech celebrating the end of restrictions as cases rise by 68% to 55,000 and 740 new hospital admissions per day

  • Boris Johnson had planned a major speech to celebrate the lifting of Covid rules in England tomorrow
  • But it was scrapped as Number 10 became anxious after Covid-19 infections continued to rise rapidly 
  • Yesterday, the number of daily cases hit 54,674, with 740 patients hospitalised in growing crisis
  • Hundreds of thousands of people are also off work because they have been pinged by NHS Covid app 
  • Pingdemic closed part of the London Underground yesterday and raised concerns about food supplies 

Boris Johnson’s plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of lockdown in England tomorrow were in complete disarray today amid a pulsating row over Freedom Day.

The Prime Minister found himself under attack from all sides of the political spectrum amid surging virus cases and hundreds of thousands being forced to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.

Former prime minister Tony Blair led calls today for the quarantine rules to be axed for the fully vaccinated immediately as firms warned of imminent closures to factories, potentially affecting food supplies. 

Meanwhile public transport has also been hit, with parts of the London Underground forced to shut yesterday due to a lack of staff.

But at the same time leading public health officials from across the UK warned that tomorrow’s great unlocking in England – while other home nations take more cautious routes from lockdown – risked ‘letting Covid rip’.

The Mail on Sunday today revealed that Mr Johnson cancelled plans for a Churchillian launch of Freedom Day after No 10 became alarmed by the surge in the number of infections.

Officials had discussed marking the lifting of Covid restrictions with a rousing speech by the Prime Minister at an historic venue associated with the wartime leader – until scientific advisers took fright at the recent climb in cases.

Mr Johnson has abandoned his previously bullish attitude to tomorrow’s ditching of most restrictions – including social distancing and legal limits on gatherings – and is no longer referring to the moment as ‘irreversible’.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday described the situation as ‘very serious’, and raised the prospect of another lockdown this autumn. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has abandoned plans for a Churchillian victory speech tomorrow because of the rapidly escalating numbers of Covid-19 infection 

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the situation ‘very serious’ and raised the prospect of another lockdown this autumn

PM and Chancellor sidestep quarantine after Javid catches Covid 

Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are to avoid going into self-isolation despite close contact with Sajid Javid, who has Covid.

The Health Secretary triggered fears of a disruptive ‘pingdemic’ striking at the heart of Government after reveling yesterday he has tested positive. 

Mr Javid had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Boris Johnson just before his symptoms developed – sparking concerns that senior figures across Whitehall would have to be confined to home.

One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.

But this morning No10 said Mr Johnson would take advantage of a pilot scheme not widely available tot he public to avoid going into isolation. 

‘The Prime Minister and Chancellor have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid’, a spokesman said.

‘They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street. 

‘They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.’ 

Mr Hunt, who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if cases were still rising in September, ‘I think we are going to have to reconsider’.

He added the NHS dashboard’s warning light ‘is not flashing amber, it is flashing red’, although he admitted he was hopeful that enough people have had either the virus or vaccine for the country to be approaching herd immunity. 

A Government source said: ‘The plan had been for Boris to effectively declare victory over the virus by summoning the spirit of Churchill, with appropriately stirring rhetoric. That no longer feels appropriate.’

Despite the relaxation in rules, the official guidelines still advise that facemasks should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops and on public transport, while pubs and bars should be table service only.

Mr Johnson published a biography of Churchill, writing that ‘he alone saved our civilisation’.

Critics detected an attempt to draw parallels with his predecessor when the Prime Minister described him as ‘a thoroughgoing genius’ although ‘there were too many Tories who thought of him as an unprincipled opportunist’.

On Friday, the UK recorded more than 50,000 daily cases of Covid for the first time since mid-January and that tally is soon expected to pass the previous peak of 68,000.

Yesterday, the number of daily cases hit 54,674, with 740 patients admitted to hospital and 41 deaths.

But vaccination rates are slowing, with 67,956 people having their first dose on Friday, and 188,976 their second: daily rates were running well below the level at the height of the rollout.

The total number of people who have had both doses across the UK is now more than 35.7 million – just under 68 per cent of adults. 

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he thought the current wave ‘will be quite long and drawn out… my hunch is that we are looking at a high level of incidence for a protracted period right through the summer and probably much of the autumn’.

He added that with infections doubling every two weeks, the number of cases could soon reach 100,000 a day – something which he ascribed to the number of young people still unvaccinated.

Underlining the risks involved in the unlocking, Sajid Javid revealed on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid and was self-isolating – describing his symptoms as ‘mild’ and saying he has been double-jabbed.

Even as fellow MPs rushed to wish him well, alarm bells started ringing over a ‘pingdemic’ at the heart of government – with ‘close contacts’ of the health secretary potentially forced into 10-day home isolation.

The Health Secretary had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Boris Johnson just before his symptoms developed – sparking concerns that senior figures across Whitehall would have to be confined to home.

One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.

After feeling ‘a bit groggy’ on Friday night, Mr Javid – who has been double-jabbed – took a lateral flow test yesterday. When it came back positive, he began self-isolating with his family pending the results of a more reliable PCR test.

In a more positive sign, SAGE today estimated England’s R rate is between 1.2 and 1.4, down from last week’s figure of between 1.2 and 1.5

He said his symptoms were ‘mild’ but there were immediate concerns over those he had been in contact with, including Ministers and senior civil servants.

Downing Street last night said that if Mr Javid’s PCR test came back positive, those he had been close to him would be traced.

The Health Secretary was pictured leaving No 10 on Friday, shortly before he began to feel unwell, and earlier in the week he had visited vulnerable people in a care home.

Schools, hospitals, transport services and factories have been decimated by staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic’ of notifications on the NHS Covid app.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been told they have been close to someone who has tested positive so must self-isolate, while others have been contacted by Test and Trace call centres.

Unlike most ordinary members of the public, however, many Whitehall officials and Ministers have been able to carry on visiting their offices if they take a daily test. 

They include Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who was ‘pinged’ in May when he flew out to Porto to watch the Champions League football final but was able to avoid self-isolation by entering a ‘research programme’ called the Daily Contact Testing Study.

The Whitehall scare – just hours before the so-called Freedom Day relaxation of Covid measures tomorrow – came as industry chiefs warned of food shortages and unemptied bins if urgent action was not taken to address the sensitivity of the app.

One London Underground line closed yesterday when control room staff were forced to self-isolate, and teaching unions said there had been reports of children being taken out of school because parents were scared of losing family holidays if they were ‘pinged’.

Don’t panic! Vaccines are working just as expected  

Analysis by STEPHEN ADAMS, Medical Editor 

MANY will be alarmed that despite being double-jabbed, Sajid Javid has tested positive for Covid-19.

The Health Secretary is by no means a rare case: GPs across the country are seeing increasing numbers of fully inoculated patients catching the virus.

In fact, more than 15,500 partly or fully vaccinated people a day are reporting Covid symptoms, according to the latest research.

That number has soared by about 40 per cent in a week, says the ZOE Covid Symptom Study, which uses an app downloaded by at least three million people to track the disease.

Astonishingly, ZOE data suggests the number of new cases in vaccinated people – called ‘breakthrough’ infections – is set to outstrip unvaccinated cases within days.

A woman receives a Covid vaccine at a pop-up centre in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall to protect herself against the virus

So what is going on? Thankfully, the message from scientists and clinicians this weekend is reassuring: a jump in cases among the jabbed was always expected and does not mean vaccines are failing. 

While highly effective against preventing hospitalisation and deaths, both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs are markedly less effective at preventing any sign of infection. Put simply, the jabs are better at blunting the virus than snuffing it out completely.

Latest figures show two doses of AstraZeneca are 67 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic disease from the Indian – or Delta – variant that now accounts for almost all Covid cases in the UK, while two doses of Pfizer are 88 per cent effective.

In contrast, two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine cut the risk of hospitalisation by 92 per cent. The figure is 96 per cent for two doses of Pfizer.

Such figures are being borne out on the NHS front line: a growing number of vaccinated people are displaying symptoms – but most are not falling seriously ill.

‘We are speaking to lots of Covid-positive patients who have had two vaccines,’ Dr Richard Cook, a GP in Sussex, told Pulse magazine last week. ‘Anecdotally they do not seem to be getting too unwell, and I’m not aware of any of ours being in hospital.’

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, who leads the ZOE study, said: ‘In the UK, new cases in vaccinated people are still going up and will soon outpace unvaccinated cases. 

Members of the public queue outside to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass-jab centre in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

‘This is probably because we’re running out of unvaccinated susceptible people to infect as more and more people get the vaccine.

‘While the figures look worrying, it’s important to highlight that vaccines have massively reduced severe infections and post-vaccination Covid is a much milder disease for most people.’

NHS vaccination figures back up Prof Spector’s analysis – the pool of totally unvaccinated adults has shrunk from 20 million three months ago to seven million now. Meanwhile, the number of double-jabbed people has risen from ten million to 35.7 million.

Dr Raghib Ali, a senior clinical research associate in epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Inevitably, some people who are vaccinated will get infected. That’s clear.’

Mr Javid is not the first prominent individual to catch Covid despite being double-jabbed. Last month BBC journalist Andrew Marr, who had had the Pfizer jab, revealed he caught the virus while covering the G7 summit in Cornwall.

He said yesterday the infection had been ‘really, really horrid’, adding: ‘Even if you’re double-vaccinated, you don’t have superpowers – you can still get ill.’

When Marr asked Oxford University’s Covid expert Professor Sir Peter Horby in late June if he had simply been ‘unlucky’, the scientist agreed – but said as vaccination levels rose ‘the majority of infections’ would be in those jabbed.

‘That doesn’t mean the vaccines don’t work – breakthroughs are expected,’ Prof Horby added. ‘What we want to do is prevent hospitalisations and deaths, and the vaccines do that very effectively.’

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