Birmingham may face tougher travel guidance and surge testing due to Indian variant, experts say


Birmingham and Bedfordshire may be next in line for help with tackling the Indian variant after tough guidance was issued to nearly 4million people in the North West yesterday, experts have said.

Greater Manchester and Lancashire joined eight other areas where surge testing and tighter travel advice have been implemented to curb the spread of the mutant Delta strain. 

It means 28 councils are now subject to the guidelines, which has seen the Army drafted in to help give out tests and vaccines and residents urged not to leave the area and meet friends outdoors. 

But official data shows only six of the 10 areas to have spotted at least 150 cases of the Indian variant have been hit with the tougher advice, with Birmingham (223), Sefton in Merseyside (193), Nottingham (192) and Central Bedfordshire (183) yet to be added to the list. 

The Indian variant makes up more than 85 per cent of all new infections in Birmingham and is also dominant in the neighbouring areas of Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton which have each spotted at least 30 cases. 

Bedford has been subject to the advice since last month but Central Bedfordshire (183) has yet to be added to the list. The other borough in the county — Luton — has also seen 119 cases.

For comparison, Lancaster — one of the boroughs to be affected by yesterday’s update — has only spotted 11 cases, Public Health England data shows. 

Professor David Livermore, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline the high case numbers and dominance of the strain in Birmingham and other areas means they will ‘most likely’ be put under similar guidance by No10.

Downing Street is hopeful that the measures adopted will snuff out outbreaks, after Bolton saw its infection rate quickly start to fall once surge testing was brought in to root out every case. Hospital admissions have also begun to tail off in the Greater Manchester borough, fuelling hopes the NHS won’t be battered by an inevitable surge in cases from the Indian variant.

Separate MailOnline analysis showed today six of the 10 towns in England seeing the sharpest spike in Covid cases were hotspots for the Indian variant. The other three had not detected any cases of the mutant strain, but had only checked up to two cases in the latest two weeks, and no surveillance data was available for the other.

It comes as people in England making summer plans for after ‘Freedom Day’ were today told to ‘wait until you’ve heard from the Prime Minister’, in another hint that June 21 easings will be pushed back because of the Indian variant.

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick appeared to drop the biggest hint yet that England’s final unlocking will be delayed, when after being asked whether weddings with more than 30 guests would be allowed to go ahead he said: ‘I wouldn’t make plans until you have heard from the PM if that is important to you. 

In the two weeks to May 29, the latest data available, the variant was dominant in 201 of 317 local authorities, or two thirds of England

In the two-week period to May 22 the variant was dominant in 102 areas

DARK RED/PURPLE = MORE INDIAN VARIANT CASES. Variant-tracking data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows that the now-dominant Indian ‘Delta’ strain is hotly focused in the North West of England, where the new restrictions are coming into place

BIRMINGHAM: Covid cases in the city — which is also a hotspot for the Indian variant — have been rising in recent weeks. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by  the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

BIRMINGHAM: Covid cases in the city — which is also a hotspot for the Indian variant — have been rising in recent weeks. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by  the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

SEFTON: Cases are also up in this Merseyside borough. It suppressed the first outbreak of the Indian variant, but cases again appear to be rising. It is not being given extra support by the Government at this stage. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

SEFTON: Cases are also up in this Merseyside borough. It suppressed the first outbreak of the Indian variant, but cases again appear to be rising. It is not being given extra support by the Government at this stage. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

CENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE: Covid cases are also rising slightly in this area, a hotspot for the Indian variant. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

CENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE: Covid cases are also rising slightly in this area, a hotspot for the Indian variant. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

NOTTINGHAM: And this city is also seeing its infections begin to rise as Indian variant cases surge. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

NOTTINGHAM: And this city is also seeing its infections begin to rise as Indian variant cases surge. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

England’s top 10 areas with the fastest growing Covid case numbers 

Six out of 10 English towns with the fastest growing Covid outbreaks are hotspots for the Indian variant, official data revealed today.

A further three areas seeing the fastest growth in cases have not detected a single case of the mutant strain.

But less than five infections were checked for variants in each over the last two weeks of May, the latest period data is available for.

One area seeing the sharpest rise in cases carried out no surveillance for mutant strains over the past two weeks.

It comes as Boris Johnson comes under pressure to push back June 21 lockdown easings amid the rapid spread of the new variant. 

Department of Health-calculated infection rates for local authorities in England on June 3 were compared to those a week beforehand to determine which areas had the fastest upticks in infections.

Staffordshire Moorlands, Cheltenham, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Tewkesbury, Cheshire East and Chester and Elmbridge were all hotspots for the Indian variant with the fastest rising cases in the country.

Maldon, Adur and Rochford had no cases of the mutant strain but had done very little sequencing, and Eden had carried out no surveillance. 

Eden, in the Lake District, saw the sharpest rise, with its infection rate leaping more than 10-fold from 1.9 cases per 100,000 residents to 31.9.

It was followed by Maldon, in Essex, where cases spiked almost nine-fold from 3.1 to 30.8 per 100,000.

And the Staffordshire Moorlands where cases rose seven-fold from 12.2 to 95.5 cases per 100,000.

Across Britain 302 out of 380 local authorities saw their infections rise in the week to June 3, the latest available.

Only eight saw no change in their Covid infections, and 73 saw cases continue to fall. 

MailOnline’s analysis of Public Health England and Sanger Institute data shows Birmingham has the fifth highest number of Indian variant cases in the country — the highest of areas where guidance has not already been issued.

Of those areas, Sefton had the second highest followed by Nottingham. The strain, scientifically called B.1.617.2, made up 60 per cent and 79.3 per cent of cases in the areas respectively.

The strain made up 89.7 per cent of cases in Central Bedfordshire, 76.4 per cent in Hillingdon (148 Indian variant cases), 94.4 per cent in Croydon (137) and 76.8 per cent in Luton (119).  

Asked whether Birmingham, Sefton and Central Bedfordshire were likely to be next in line for surge testing and tougher travel guidance, Professor Livermore said he expected them to.

He said: ‘I’m loth to best guess what the Government will do but they are most likely to pursue such approaches in places where the Indian variant is most prevalent and where its incidence in the population is also high.’ 

But Professor Livermore suggested the approach may be too lax to reduce cases although even with an increase in infections, hospitals are unlikely to become overrun because of how many vulnerable people have now been vaccinated.

SAGE advisers fear a huge uptick in admissions with a variant that is up to 40 per cent more transmissible than the once dominant Kent strain, a figure that advisers believe is feasible.

Grim modelling which spooked ministers following the emergence of the Indian variant warned hospitalisations could hit levels seen at the peak of the second wave — even though more than 80 per cent of Britons have already received their first dose.

Data shows one jab is less effective at blocking symptoms against the Indian variant but two doses appear to thwart the strain.  

Professor Livermore said: ‘The variant seems able to out compete the previously dominant Kentish type and is well on the way to becoming nationally predominant in the UK. 

‘We know the Kentish variant expanded in North Kent and East London during the second lockdown in November last year so it is to be expected that the Indian variant will do so under the laxer conditions of “guidance” — though this will be slowed by growing herd immunity and the coming of summer. 

‘Despite this inevitable spread, and rising case numbers, there is scant evidence of rising severe disease and none that NHS is still under severe Covid pressure.’  

Tougher guidance designed to stop the spread of the Indian variant was already in place in eight councils, including Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen before Lancashire and Greater Manchester were added to the list.

But another 20 councils were added to the list yesterday, with 5.7million people — around a tenth of the country — now living under stronger advice.

The specific areas included in the new guidance in Greater Manchester are: Manchester, Salford, Bury, Rochdale, Wigan, Oldham, Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and Bolton.

And in Lancashire they are: Rossendale, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Preston, South Ribble, Chorley, Pendle, Fylde, Lancaster, West Lancashire, Wyre, Burnley and Blackburn with Darwen.

BOLTON: Ministers brought in surge testing and ramped up the vaccination drive in this borough of Greater Manchester, which appears to be beginning to snuff out their outbreak of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

BOLTON: Ministers brought in surge testing and ramped up the vaccination drive in this borough of Greater Manchester, which appears to be beginning to snuff out their outbreak of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

WIGAN: Covid cases are also rising in this Greater Manchester borough amid the spread of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

WIGAN: Covid cases are also rising in this Greater Manchester borough amid the spread of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

MANCHESTER: They are also up in central Manchester, which is now receiving extra support from the Government

MANCHESTER: They are also up in central Manchester, which is now receiving extra support from the Government

LEICESTER: The city is also experiencing rising Covid cases, after suffering an outbreak of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

LEICESTER: The city is also experiencing rising Covid cases, after suffering an outbreak of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

BEDFORD: Cases appear to have started to level off in this area, one of the first to be hit by the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

BEDFORD: Cases appear to have started to level off in this area, one of the first to be hit by the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

BLACKBURN WITH DARWEN: There are early signs that infections in this area which is a hotspot for the Indian variant may be beginning to peak after surge testing was brought in and officials ramped up the local vaccination drive

BLACKBURN WITH DARWEN: There are early signs that infections in this area which is a hotspot for the Indian variant may be beginning to peak after surge testing was brought in and officials ramped up the local vaccination drive

Six out of 10 English towns with the fastest growing Covid outbreaks are hotspots for the Indian variant, official data revealed today.

A further three areas seeing the fastest growth in cases have not detected a single case of the mutant strain.

But less than five infections were checked for variants in each over the last two weeks of May, the latest period data is available for.

One area seeing the sharpest rise in cases carried out no surveillance for mutant strains over the past two weeks.

Staffordshire Moorlands, Cheltenham, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Tewkesbury, Cheshire East and Chester and Elmbridge were all hotspots for the Indian variant with the fastest rising cases in the country.

Maldon, Adur and Rochford had no cases of the mutant strain but had done very little sequencing, and Eden had carried out no surveillance.  

Freedom Day delayed for a MONTH? Minister warns ‘wait until you’ve heard from the PM’ on Monday before planning your summer amid fears for weddings and large events as June 21 unlocking is cast further into doubt

By Luke Andrews for MailOnline and Jason Groves Political Editor for the Daily Mail

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick hinted today that long-awaited weddings for more than 30 guests could be delayed beyond June 21 as the Prime Minister comes under increasing pressure to delay lockdown easings

People in England making summer plans for after ‘Freedom Day’ were today told to ‘wait until you’ve heard from the Prime Minister’, in another hint that June 21 easings will be pushed back because of the Indian variant.

No10 is considering delaying the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown following jittery warnings from top scientists about the spread of the mutant strain.

Some are pushing for restrictions to remain in place until as late as the start of English school holidays on July 23, hoping the move would give the NHS valuable extra time to ensure millions more over-50s are fully vaccinated and protected against the Delta variant.

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick today appeared to drop the biggest hint yet that England’s final unlocking will be delayed, with cases ‘clearly rising’. Yesterday Britain recorded the biggest week-on-week jump in infections since before Christmas, after the number of positive tests jumped by 90 per cent to 6,083.

Asked whether weddings with more than 30 guests will once again be allowed from June 21, he said: ‘I wouldn’t make plans until you have heard from the PM if that is important to you.

‘We have always said that the roadmap is subject to review of the data. That is what is happening right now, so whether it is weddings or international travel or any of these other important topics, you always have to wait until the judgement is made on the basis of the data at the decision point.’  

Weddings are one of the few areas of society yet to enjoy any freedom, with ceremonies currently capped to 30 guests in England. The final step of the roadmap will remove the limit, alongside allowing nightclubs to reopen and people to invite more than six others into their homes. 

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm by Monday at the latest whether the June 21 plan will go ahead and he is running the roadmap timetable down to the wire, so far refusing to give any indication of what he will do.

Despite growing calls to delay the move, Michael Gove — who has called for a cautious approach to the roadmap — said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 if he was a ‘betting man’.

Meanwhile, Whitehall sources say Rishi Sunak — who is desperate for the PM to stick to the target date to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders — could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown but for no longer than ‘a week or two’. But The Guardian claims the Chancellor would be willing to delay Freedom Day by a month, which could see it pushed back until July 19.

Other experts and Tory MPs have lined up to urge the Prime Minister not to delay the unlocking, saying people must learn to live with the virus and the NHS should be ‘able to cope’ with any surge from the Indian variant.

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said that ‘life has to go on’ when asked whether the Government should stick to its roadmap on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. But he added vaccines would not be enough and people would need to keep adapting their lifestyles to fight the disease. 

Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers which represents hospitals across England, said trusts could ‘cope’ with the inevitable rise in Covid cases fuelled by the Indian variant. He pointed to Bolton — the first place to be battered by the Indian variant — where hospitalisations were now falling.

Mr Hopson added jabs had ‘broken the link’ between rising cases and hospitalisations, and those being admitted to wards tended to be younger and less sick than those during the first and second waves. 

Ministers yesterday ramped up support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire, urging 4million people living in both areas not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors. Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s mayor, said there was ‘every reason to believe’ the extra support will successfully curb the spread of the mutant strain.

It came as official data revealed eight in 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or catching the virus in the past. Office for National Statistics blood testing found 80.3 per cent of adults tested positive for antibodies in the third week of May. 

The Indian variant is now dominant in more than two thirds of England's local authorities, and has spread to 85 per cent of the country, according to the latest surveillance data from Britain's leading centre for tracking the virus the Sanger Institute

The Indian variant is now dominant in more than two thirds of England’s local authorities, and has spread to 85 per cent of the country, according to the latest surveillance data from Britain’s leading centre for tracking the virus the Sanger Institute

Rishi Sunak could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown – but for no longer than 'a week or two'. But The Guardian today reported he would be prepared to wait up to four weeks. He is pictured at Oswald's Club in London last night

Michael Gove has said he would 'bet on a relaxation' of the coronavirus rules on June 21 - if he were a 'betting man'

Rishi Sunak (left, pictured at Oswald’s club in London last night) could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown of ‘a week or two’ following calls to delay the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown. Michael Gove (right) has said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 – if he were a ‘betting man’

Hospitals are ‘coping’ with Covid infection levels, says NHS boss 

Chris Hopson said hospitals could 'cope' with rising cases

Chris Hopson said hospitals could ‘cope’ with rising cases

Hospitals in Covid hotspots are seeing a ‘significantly’ lower death rate among people admitted for treatment and are coping with current levels of infection, the head of NHS Providers has said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the body which represents NHS trusts in England, said there was a degree of confidence that vaccines appear to have ‘broken’ the link between infections and the ‘very high level of hospitalisations and mortality we’ve seen in previous waves’.

He told Times Radio: ‘And if, and it is a big if, if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if other areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.

‘It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here… you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity they’ve got.

‘What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is a significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures.

‘So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.’

An increased package of support is being provided to Greater Manchester and Lancashire, similar to that seen in Bolton, where case numbers of the Delta variant first identified in India have been relatively high.

Mr Hopson said any decision on easing remaining lockdown restrictions in England on June 21 was finely balanced, adding that if ‘incredibly busy’ hospitals see even a small rise in Covid patients, they could have to ‘make some trade-offs between Covid and non-Covid care’.

He added that ‘we don’t quite know where we are in terms of, are we at the beginning of an exponential rise or not?’.

But he said the ‘picture on mortality seems really pretty clear, that we’ve had less than 15 people a day dying from Covid for nearly about seven weeks now and that compares to well over 1,000 a day in the January peak and 800 a day in April last year’. 

In other coronavirus developments today:

  • Hundreds of British passengers on a cruise ship sailing around the country were told they could not disembark when they arrived in Scotland because of Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus restrictions;
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber warned Boris Johnson that nothing would stop him from reopening his theatres on June 21 and that he was prepared to be arrested;
  • Eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid either from a vaccine or having had the virus in the past, study showed today; 
  • An American senator blasted a letter by 27 scientists claiming Covid originated naturally as an ‘orchestrated’ attempt to damage then-President Donald Trump;
  • Cambridge University researchers found people most worried about catching Covid would judge other people’s behaviour more harshly;
  • Indian doctors claimed the new Covid variant is giving people gangrene and hearing loss not seen in older strains of the virus;
  • Weekly Covid deaths in England and Wales have dropped below 100 for the first time in nearly nine months;
  • Britain’s daily Covid cases yesterday spiked to 6,048 in a 90 per cent jump on last Tuesday — and 13 deaths from the virus were recorded.

The final batch of restrictions are due to be relaxed on June 21, but there are growing calls for the last round of easings to be delayed amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant, which is now dominant in the UK and at least 40 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain of the virus. 

Mr Jenrick hinted to Sky News that June 21 could be pushed back, saying:’We created this five-week period between the stages of the road map and that has actually proved invaluable on this occasion, because it’s a finely balanced decision.

‘We need to see that data of cases, which are clearly rising, but the link to hospitalisations and ultimately to death.

‘So the Prime Minister is reviewing that ahead of the decision point, which is going to be June 14 – at that point of course he will let everybody know what the ultimate decision is.’

He added: ‘We are going to take a cautious approach but if we can proceed with that reopening on the 21st of June of course all of us would love to see that, for our own lives and for the livelihoods that depend on that further reopening.’

The minister was also grilled on whether Britons would be able to holiday abroad this year, saying people should stick to the ‘admittedly relatively small number of countries’ on the ‘green’ list, and not travel to ‘amber’ or ‘red’ areas unless absolutely necessary.

‘You shouldn’t be booking holidays to countries that are currently on either the amber list or the red list,’ he told the programme.

‘You can go to the admittedly relatively small number of countries on the green list.

‘Even there be aware that this isn’t a normal summer for holidays, we are reviewing that list every three weeks and so I would advise people to look for travel operators who can offer flexibility, would be able to offer rescheduling or repayments if something changes.

‘We would like to open up that green list to more countries but we have obviously got to do so cautiously.’

Only 11 countries and territories are on the green list, which includes no major travel destinations in Europe.

The Prime Minister was yesterday reported to be considering delaying June 21 by about two weeks to give extra time for all over-50s — who are most at risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus — to get their second dose of the Covid vaccine, and for it to take effect.

But some experts have called on him not to delay the unlocking. Asked whether June 21 should go ahead, Dr Nabarro suggested ministers should stick to the roadmap.

‘It can’t be just about restrictions – the future for humanity is going to require that we adapt our lifestyles so that we make it hard for this virus to spread,’ he said.

The Army is being sent in to help with surge testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools. Pictured: The Royal Horse Artillery help out at a walk-in vaccination bus in Bolton town centre today

The Army is being sent in to help with surge testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools. Pictured: The Royal Horse Artillery help out at a walk-in vaccination bus in Bolton town centre today

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have Covid antibodies 

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Antibody positive levels are highest among older age groups who have had two doses but rising fast in younger adults, too

Antibody positive levels are highest among older age groups who have had two doses but rising fast in younger adults, too

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region.

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

‘We know that the virus is constantly changing, which means that although vaccination is a marvellous marvellous asset, it’s not going to be enough. 

‘We are going to have to continue to behave as though the virus is an ever present threat.

‘So by all means, let the restrictions be released, but at the same time could I encourage everybody, everywhere to go on behaving carefully.

‘At school, at the university, in the pub, in the restaurant, in the social club, the virus is still going to be around and it can come back with a huge surge, very, very quickly.’

Mr Hopson has also suggested the latest round of easings could go ahead because the NHS may be able to cope with the higher pressure if hospitalisations follow Bolton.

The Greater Manchester borough’s hospitalisations are falling after cases also began to drop, following efforts to ramp up vaccinations in the community and surge testing to root out every case.

The NHS Providers chief executive told Times Radio: ‘And if, and it is a big if, if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if others areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.

‘It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here…you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity they’ve got.

‘What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures. 

‘So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.’

Amid growing concern June 21 may be pushed back, impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber warned Boris Johnson that nothing will stop him from reopening his theatres on that date and he was prepared to be arrested.

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

‘We are going to open, come hell or high water,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Telegraph.

Asked what he would do if the Government postponed lifting lockdown, he said: ‘We will say: ”Come to the theatre and arrest us.”’ 

Ministers yesterday announced enhanced support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire to help the area curb the spread of the Indian variant.

Matt Hancock said the military would be brought in as part of the ‘strengthened package of support’.

The Health Secretary also encouraged the up to six million people living in the area not to travel to other parts of the UK and get tested twice a week to help curb the spread the spread of the Indian variant.

He added that residents should try to work from home where possible, and that schools could reintroduce face coverings in communal areas if they were advised to do so by local directors of public health.

Mr Burnham has expressed support for the measures taken in his region and Lancashire.

He said the package was ‘better than the way they went about it last year’, adding it had a ‘better chance of carrying the public with it’. ‘We have every reason to believe it will be successful,’ he said.

It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak was reportedly among a string of Cabinet ministers pressing Boris Johnson to stick to the target date, arguing there is a pressing need to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders.

A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak could live with a delay of ‘a week or two’ but would resist any further slippage as this could involve extending the furlough scheme.

‘I don’t think he’s in principle against a short delay if that is what is necessary,’ the source said. ‘If it is more than a week or two then that is problematic.’ 

Treasury sources said there were no plans to extend the furlough scheme, which continues in full until the end of this month. From July, employers will have to make a gradually increasing contribution until the scheme ends in September.

Antibody levels in adults in April were relatively high in older people, most of whom had had at least one vaccine dose, but low in younger groups
In May almost all elderly people had been given two vaccine doses, giving the country widespread immune coverage, and rates had surged in younger adults, too

APRIL LEFT, MAY RIGHT: Graphs show the proportions of people in different age groups who show signs of immunity to coronavirus in blood tests. The levels are almost maxed out in elderly and middle-aged groups who were first to get vaccinated and have clearly risen in younger groups during May 

Andrew Lloyd Webber says Boris Johnson will have to arrest him to stop theatre reopening on June 21

Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned Boris Johnson that nothing will stop him from reopening his theatres on June 21 and he is prepared to be arrested.   

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions

The pandemic has had a catastrophic financial impact on the theatre industry and many have remained closed despite the ease in Covid-19 restrictions as it is not financially viable for them to open with reduced capacities.

Lord Lloyd-Webber is preparing for a production of Cinderella, which is scheduled to open for previews on June 25 ahead of its world premiere in July.

‘We are going to open, come hell or high water,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Telegraph.

Asked what he would do if the Government postponed lifting lockdown, he said: ‘We will say: ”come to the theatre and arrest us.”’

It comes as eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’ 

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region. 

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

The age distribution of immunity is directly linked to the vaccine rollout, with higher rates in older people and lower ones among younger people who haven’t yet had their jabs.

In over-50s in England, for example, more than 98 per cent of people showed signs of immunity.

In those aged 35 to 49 it was 78 per cent, in 25 to 34-year-olds it was 59 per cent and in under-25s it was 53 per cent.

Andy Burnham calls for No10 to redirect Covid vaccine supplies to Greater Manchester’

Andy Burnham has called for vaccine supplies to be diverted to Indian Covid variant hotspots including Greater Manchester to jab over-18s

Andy Burnham has called for vaccine supplies to be diverted to Indian Covid variant hotspots including Greater Manchester to jab over-18s

Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham has today called for vaccine supplies to be redirected to his region and other Indian Covid variant hotspots to tackle the spread of the mutant strain.

The former Labour MP, dubbed the ‘King of the North’, is urging ministers to open up jabs to over-18s in badly-hit areas to deal with surging cases. 

He argued surging supplies to the region would stop the spread of the Delta variant and offered the best hope of No10 being able to unlock fully on June 21.

But a Government minister today dismissed Mr Burnham’s calls to divert coronavirus vaccine supplies to areas including Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Four million people living in both areas were yesterday slapped with tougher guidance urging them not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said No10 was ‘going to stick with the advice’ given to them by top scientific advisers regarding the roll-out. 

Currently the inoculation drive is only open to over-25s in England. But some areas have already begun offering jabs to over-18s, including in parts of Manchester.

Asked about whether he wanted over-18s to be prioritised in the roll-out on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘We absolutely would say surge vaccine supplies into high case areas, so not just Greater Manchester and Lancashire [but] other parts of the country. 

‘It makes much more sense to get on with the vaccination programme in June, then doing that later in the year or later because obviously the need is now to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Of course it would slow the vaccination programme in other parts of the country where cases are lower.’ 

Debate about the lifting of lockdown has intensified at the top of government following a surge in Covid cases. 

Government scientists are understood to have warned ministers that daily cases are on course to be running at well over 10,000 a day by June 21.

Yesterday, daily cases topped 6,000 for the second time since mid-March. And there is concern that those who have had only one jab are at risk from the virulent Indian strain.

Matt Hancock told MPs on Monday that only three of the 126 people hospitalised by the Indian variant in the UK had been fully vaccinated. But a further 28 in hospital – just over a fifth of the total – had received one jab.

Mr Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty are said to have argued that a short delay would enable many more to gain the extra protection of a second jab. But Michael Gove, who is also urging caution, is said to believe Mr Johnson will press ahead with lifting at least some restrictions on June 21.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister wanted to see more data before announcing the decision on Monday. 

Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson to overrule the scientists. 

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Scientists have got themselves into a frightened state where none of them want to be the one who says unlock because they are fearful they will be blamed if something goes wrong, even though there is no evidence that it will.

‘They are drifting towards a zero Covid goal, which is unattainable, and the politicians have to take back control.’

Former Cabinet minister David Jones also warned against further delay. ‘We cannot continue to live as we have for the last 15 months,’ he said. At some stage we have to take our courage in our hands and start getting back to normal, and that stage is now.’ 

It comes after MailOnline analysis yesterday revealed all over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21.

The figures will boost calls for the Government to delay opening up all restrictions on June 21 for a fortnight in order to ensure the most vulnerable members of society have all had time for both doses to have had an effect. 

Experts say the vaccine forecast supports the case for a delay in reopening because one dose of vaccine can be as little as 30 per cent effective against the Indian coronavirus variant that is now dominant in the UK.

Cases are currently rising by around 40 per cent a week and new infections will be well above 15,000 a day by June 21, although it remains to be seen if the full vaccination of older Britons will keep hospital occupancy low.

But opponents of a postponement believe the vaccines have successfully broken the link between cases and hospitalisations, and argue the economic cost of a delay would be greater than that caused by a third wave this summer.

Experts told MailOnline the figures suggest the Government would be right to delay by two weeks in order to ensure all over-50s have had their second dose and are protected.



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