After almost a week of falling case numbers, there are tentative signs that the spread of COVID-19 in the UK is starting to slow.
Reported cases, which include tests from a number of days previously, point to a decline in infections. But numbers based on tests conducted in the previous 24 hours do not show as clear a picture.
So, what does the data tell us about the state of the pandemic in the UK?
The picture varies across nations. While Scotland saw case rates apparently peak in early July, other parts of the UK have only just begun to see infections fall over the past few days.
The chart below shows new cases based on the day someone tests positive and the data from 19 July is subject to change.
Colin Angus, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield, says that part of this divergence could be explained in part by Scotland’s early defeat in the Euros.
He said: “In Scotland this effect seems to have fizzled out after they were knocked out of the tournament in the group stages, while for England we are still seeing the after effects of it in the data now.”
The earlier start to the summer holidays could also explain the lag between case rates in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
But even in Scotland the data is unclear. A randomised community survey by the ONS estimates that one in every 80 Scots had COVID-19 in the week ending 17 July compared with one in 90 the week before.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor at the University of Reading, said: “It’s too early to read too much into the ordinary test data – we’ve seen ups and downs before and it’s longer-term trends that matter.”
Why could case rates be falling?
One reason that cases could be falling is the start of school holidays in England, as children are often asymptomatic and are not required to get daily tests outside of term time.
But data shows only a moderate drop off in lateral flow tests in recent weeks. Meanwhile, PCR tests, which account for the vast majority of the system, continue to increase.
Another factor that could be driving infection rates is the number of people in self-isolation, which increased to more than 600,000 in the week ending 14 July.
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said: “The ongoing coverage of the so-called ‘pingdemic’, unhelpful as it has been, actually reflect the fact that, in response to a large surge of infections, a great many people have been asked to self-isolate recently and this could have a direct impact upon transmission.”
Is the regional picture any clearer?
In England, case rates appear to be falling across most regions among 10 to 29-year-olds, but the trend is most pronounced across all age groups in the North East and North West.
Despite the rampant spread of COVID-19 in these regions, case rates among the elderly remained low, raising the question of whether vaccines have suppressed infection in older populations.
At the peak for the North West in January, there were more than 950 cases per 100,000 over-90s, compared with just 102 in the latest wave.
But University of Sheffield’s Colin Angus says that he is not convinced that the outbreaks have fizzled out because the virus has run out of susceptible people to infect.
He said: “If you look at Bolton and Blackburn, the original hotspots in the Delta wave, you can see that cases didn’t really fall back that far and the outbreak has continued to rumble along there in the past month or so, seemingly under the radar.”
Whatever the trends, experts warn that any decline in cases could be short-lived.
The return of schools combined with less outdoor socialising in the autumn is likely to lead to a surge in infections. In addition, it is still too early to gauge what impact lifting England’s remaining restrictions on 19 July will have on case numbers.
Dr Clarke said: “As things stand, we really don’t have any data for the effect of what’s happened on 19 July. It should put upward pressure on infection numbers, as should any measure which allows people to mix more.”
The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.
Inside the training sessions where Just Stop Oil’s new recruits are taught how to protest
“I don’t feel guilty about stopping people going to work.”
“I think stopping somebody from going to hospital is one of the most important things. But all the other things – taking people to school and going to work, I think the cause is more important.”
Those were the thoughts of two potential Just Stop Oil recruits when asked if they would feel guilty about disrupting ordinary people.
We were sitting in a circle, during a seven-hour “non-violence” training session in central London.
I’d been invited to capture on camera, for the first time, Just Stop Oil’s training day for all potential recruits.
Anyone who wants to join the climate protest group must attend a day of training, with sessions run across the country.
We experienced a much lower-than-normal turnout – while 12 people had signed up, just five arrived in the morning.
The day was split into two halves.
The first included introductions, meditation, a discussion on entrants’ hopes and fears, and the theory of “non-violence activism”.
Practical techniques were taught after lunch, along with role-plays.
Potential recruits took it in turns to play an angry driver, screaming and swearing into each other’s faces, while practising “de-escalation techniques”.
Some gave it more gusto than others, but it was clear they all understood the public’s rage and frustration.
“We don’t have an ethical right to stop someone going to school,” said Heidi, who ran the session.
“But the government also shouldn’t have the right to issue new oil and gas licences, when it’s going to cause billions of deaths.”
Trainers repeatedly denied that all they are doing is putting people off climate activism.
“People feel threatened by us, but they should be threatened by the government’s inaction about the climate crisis,” said potential recruit Max.
Heidi told the group to “remember their humanity”, adding that they should listen, empathise and watch their body language if accosted on real-life protests.
She told me later that the scenarios were an “extreme” version, but that it’s important they prepare new people for what could face them on the streets.
Later on, they practised “going floppy”, a technique of non-compliance during arrest, where protesters lie down and go limp, forcing several police officers to pick them up and carry them.
The group have been a huge drain on the Metropolitan Police’s already over-stretched resources.
On Wednesday night 16 Just Stop Oil protesters were arrested during a demonstration outside the prime minister’s London home in Kensington.
In the summer, then Home Secretary Suella Braverman revealed the group had cost police more than £18.5m.
Just Stop Oil plan all their actions around the core value of “non-violence”.
Key to that mantra is a refusal to fight back; they can be verbally abused and even beaten on the road, and they won’t respond.
After showing trainees a video of one activist getting kicked on the ground, trainer Paul curled into a ball on the floor, demonstrating how to best protect the internal organs.
He was adamant these training sessions work: “Maybe the proof is that we’ve done hundreds of actions, with thousands of people and they’ve remained peaceful.”
However, there was an implicit recognition throughout the day that their actions could, in a worst-case scenario, result in serious harm, or even death.
Conversations about the policy of letting ambulances pass roadblocks, or the risk of mistakenly causing a traffic accident, got perilously close to an ethical debate of how one death could be balanced against the need to “save billions of lives”.
So, how do they justify themselves?
“If non-disruptive protest worked we would be doing that,” Heidi said.
“It’s not because it’s fun, it’s not because we want to disrupt people’s days. We’re doing it because the government desperately needs to change its policy.
“And if they don’t change their policy we’re going to see even more disruption.
“The government can end this now by saying they won’t issue any more oil and gas licences.”
Since Just Stop Oil started its disruptive protests, the only laws that have changed have been to strengthen police powers around demonstrations.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, the government announced plans for a new annual system for awarding oil and gas licences in the North Sea.
Just Stop Oil says that this won’t stop them.
From the end of this week, the group will pause its demonstrations for a period of planning, but say they will be back with more protests next year.
Matt Hancock: The key questions facing ex-health secretary when he gives evidence to COVID inquiry
Former health secretary Matt Hancock played a key role in the UK’s response to the COVID pandemic – and his decisions will today be scrutinised by the official inquiry.
Mr Hancock was a familiar face at the regular press conferences that took place during that period, giving updates to the public about social distancing measures, the state of the NHS and the vaccine programme.
In 2021, he was forced to resign after he admitted he broke the government’s own coronavirus guidance to pursue an affair with an aide.
Today it is his turn to give evidence to the COVID inquiry.
He will follow a string of high-profile witnesses who have already shared their experience of the pandemic with inquiry chair Baroness Hallett, including Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, Lord Simon Stevens, who was the chief executive of the NHS at the time, and former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Mr Hancock has already featured heavily in the testimonies of the witnesses who have given evidence to the inquiry so far.
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said he has “supported the inquiry throughout and will respond to all questions when he gives his evidence”.
Former NHS CEO Lord Stevens made this assessment of Mr Hancock when he appeared before the COVID inquiry at the beginning of November.
“The secretary of state for health and social care took the position that in this situation he – rather than, say, the medical profession or the public – should ultimately decide who should live and who should die,” he said in a written statement to the inquiry.
“Fortunately, this horrible dilemma never crystallised.”
However, although Lord Stevens suggested that Mr Hancock wanted too many powers in his capacity as health secretary, he did add that “for the most part” the former cabinet minister could be trusted.
“There were occasional moments of tension and flashpoints, which are probably inevitable during the course of a 15-month pandemic but I was brought up always to look to the best in people,” he said.
‘Nuclear levels of over-confidence’
The day before Lord Stevens gave evidence, the COVID inquiry heard from Helen MacNamara, who was deputy cabinet secretary during the pandemic.
She told the inquiry Mr Hancock showed “nuclear levels” of confidence at the start of the COVID pandemic and “regularly” told colleagues in Downing Street things “they later discovered weren’t true”.
For example, Ms MacNamara said the former health secretary would say things were under control or being sorted in meetings, only for it to emerge in days or weeks that “was not in fact the case”.
She also recalled a “jarring” incident where she told Mr Hancock that it must have been difficult to be health secretary during a pandemic, to which he responded by miming playing cricket, saying: “They bowl them at me, I knock them away” during the first lockdown.
‘Lied his way through this and killed people’
There is clearly no love lost between Mr Hancock and Mr Cummings, who told the inquiry that he repeatedly called for Boris Johnson to sack him.
Mr Cummings alleged that the ex-health secretary “lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it”.
In a message sent to Mr Johnson in May 2020, Mr Cummings said: “You need to think through timing of binning Hancock. There’s no way the guy can stay. He’s lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it.”
In August 2020, he wrote again: “I also must stress I think leaving Hancock in post is a big mistake – he is a proven liar who nobody believes or [should] believe on anything, and we face going into autumn crisis with the c**t in charge of NHS still.”
Mr Cummings also echoed Ms MacNamara’s accusation that the former health secretary told colleagues things that later were discovered not to be true, saying he “sowed chaos” by continuing to insist in March 2020 that people without symptoms of a dry cough and a temperature were unlikely to be suffering from coronavirus.
He also revealed that he purposefully excluded Mr Hancock from meetings because he could not be trusted.
Mark Sedwill wanted Hancock removed to ‘save lives and protect the NHS’
Messages exchanged by Lord Mark Sedwill, the former head of the Civil Service and Simon Case, the current cabinet secretary, revealed that Lord Sedwill wanted Mr Hancock removed as health secretary to “save lives and protect the NHS” – a play on the pandemic-era slogan at the time.
Lord Sedwill said this was “gallows humour” and that he did not use the work “sack” when speaking to Mr Johnson about his health secretary.
However, he did admit that Mr Johnson would nevertheless have been “under no illusions” about his feelings towards Mr Hancock.
‘He had a habit of saying things he didn’t have a basis for’
Sir Patrick Vallance, who was chief scientific adviser from 2018 to 2023, was another figure who claimed Mr Hancock would say things “he didn’t have a basis for”, which he attributed to “over-enthusiasm”.
He told the COVID inquiry: “I think he had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for and he would say them too enthusiastically too early, without the evidence to back them up, and then have to backtrack from them days later.
“I don’t know to what extent that was sort of over-enthusiasm versus deliberate – I think a lot of it was over-enthusiasm.”
Asked if this meant he “said things that weren’t true”, Sir Patrick replied: “Yes”.
‘I have a high opinion of Matt Hancock as a minister’
One COVID witness who did defend Mr Hancock was Michael Gove, who was minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster during the pandemic.
He told the inquiry that “too much was asked” of Mr Hancock’s department at the beginning of the pandemic.
“We should collectively have recognised that this was a health system crisis at an earlier point and taken on to other parts of government the responsibility for delivery that was being asked of DHSC [department for health and social care] at the time,” he said.
He added: “I have a high opinion of Matt Hancock as a minister.”
Jamie Lynn Spears leaves I’m A Celebrity on medical grounds
Jamie Lynn Spears has become the second contestant to leave I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! on medical grounds.
She follows Grace Dent, whose departure was confirmed on Saturday. She told her fellow campmates that her “heart is broken” after leaving the programme early.
“Jamie Lynn Spears has left I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! on medical grounds,” the spokesperson said.
“She’s been a fantastic campmate who has triumphed at trials and bonded well with her fellow celebrities.”
Sky News understands the 32-year-old has now left the camp and her fellow campmates are aware that she won’t be returning.
Her last appearance on the show will be on Wednesday night’s episode.
Spears had threatened to quit last week after just a few days when she became emotional because she was missing her children.
During the episode on 21 November, she told her campmates she was finding it difficult to be so far away from her family.
Her emotions bubbled up further when four celebrities were tasked with a challenge to win the contestants’ luxury items, with hers being a photo of her two daughters.
Spears also appeared to use the camp phone – which normally only rings during challenges – in last night’s episode to try to call her family in the US.
During her time on the show, Spears also discussed her relationship with her sister Britney, who she said she had talked to before entering the jungle.
Spears revealed the pair had a “very complicated upbringing” which lead to them having issues with each other.
However, she added that she felt Britney would be “worried” about her in the jungle and believed she would be “checking in” regularly.
“She’s (Britney) a good big sister, she is,” Spears said. Yeah, I love her… Me and her throw down. The world’s seen that.
“I’ve learned to stop talking about it publicly, but you know what, families fight. Listen, we just do it better than most.”
Spears also discussed the challenges she faced after falling pregnant as a teenager while starring on TV series Zoey 101, and how she became Catholic after her daughter survived a freak accident where she nearly drowned in a family pond.
Other celebrities on this year’s show include former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, First Dates star Fred Sirieix and JLS singer Marvin Humes.
The show has so far attracted a lower audience than last year’s series, which featured former health secretary Matt Hancock.
This year’s launch was watched by seven million people in its first week – down from a consolidated audience of nearly 12 million last year.
Sports1 year ago
‘Storybook stuff’: Inside the night Bryce Harper sent the Phillies to the World Series
Sports8 months ago
MLB Rank 2023: Ranking baseball’s top 100 players
Environment6 months ago
Japan and South Korea have a lot at stake in a free and open South China Sea
Sports2 years ago
Team Europe easily wins 4th straight Laver Cup
Environment9 months ago
Game-changing Lectric XPedition launched as affordable electric cargo bike
Technology2 years ago
Game consoles were once banned in China. Now Chinese developers want a slice of the $49 billion pie
Politics2 years ago
Have the last few wobbly weeks seen a turning point for Johnson as PM?
Business1 year ago
Bank of England’s extraordinary response to government policy is almost unthinkable | Ed Conway