Zero Covid deaths for first time in months as scientists debate Great Unlock

The UK has not reported any deaths linked to Covid-19 for the first day since summer last year.

No deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 were reported on Tuesday, according to the Government.

It is the first time this has happened since July 30, 2020.

Meanwhile scientists continue to debate whether the Government should press ahead with the final stages of easing social restrictions later this month.

Downing Street has indicated that Boris Johnson still sees nothing in the data to suggest the plan to end all legal lockdown restrictions on June 21 will need to be delayed.

Asked about the Prime Minister’s plans amid warnings over the spread of the Indian variant, a No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that we haven’t seen anything in the data but we will continue to look at the data, we will continue to look at the latest scientific evidence as we move through June towards June 21.”

The latest death tally will feed into ministers’ considerations.

They will also consider that the announcement on zero deaths comes after a bank holiday weekend, so there may be a delay in the reporting of the figures.

The Government has reported that the total number of deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 now stands at 127,782.

But separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 153,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The vaccines are clearly working – protecting you, those around you and your loved ones.

“But despite this undoubtedly good news we know we haven’t beaten this virus yet, and with cases continuing to rise please remember hands, face, space and let in fresh air when indoors, and of course, make sure when you can you get both jabs.”

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said: “It is encouraging to see death rates staying low. However, cases have been rising recently and many people still need to receive either one or two doses of the vaccine.

“You can help to keep the virus under control, practise ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ and get the vaccine as soon as you are offered.”

Experts are divided over whether the final stage of easing social restrictions should go ahead on June 21 amid a surge in cases of the new variant first identified in India.

Professor Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there are still many people who are vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19, as he warned “the idea that somehow the job is done is wrong”.

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Prof Finn, from the University of Bristol, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve still got a lot of people out there who’ve neither had this virus … nor yet been immunised, and that’s why we’re in a vulnerable position right now.”

He told LBC that pressing ahead with the easing of restrictions on June 21 “may be a bad decision”.

Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said a delay of a few weeks could have a significant impact on Britain’s battle against the pandemic and recommended it should be made clear to the public that it would be a temporary measure based on the surge in cases of the new variant.

“Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this,” Prof Gupta told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

Pat Cullen, acting general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, urged ministers to watch the data, adding: “As the NHS starts the road to recovery now is the time to take cautious steps and not take an unchecked leap to freedom.”

However, Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said it was important to press ahead with the June 21 easing from a societal point of view.

He told Times Radio: “I personally don’t see any case for delay … from a societal point of view, I think it’s really important that we go ahead on June 21 and I’ve not really seen anything in the data that would lead me to doubt that as a proposition on the evidence to date.”

The Government’s former chief scientific adviser said ministers need more data before ministers can make a final decision.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

“We need to substitute speculation for scientific data, that’s the truth of the matter, as everyone has said in the last few days, the situation is very delicately balanced with some three sets of moving parts,” Professor Sir Mark Walport told BBC Breakfast.

“Firstly, we have got a new, more transmissible, variant, of that there is no doubt, though we don’t know exactly how much more transmissible.

“Secondly, there’s been a change in behaviour following the relaxation of measures on May 17 and the effects of that will just be starting to come through.

“Thirdly, we’ve got a vaccination programme that is very successful, but with a lot of people that still need both their second dose of vaccine and vaccination from scratch.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

“I’m afraid that weeks before the Prime Minister has to make the difficult decision it is going to be necessary to bring in the data.”

Asked if the nation is in the foothills of another wave, he added: “I hope not, but it’s not impossible.”

It comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that parts of Scotland will move to Level 1 of the Scottish Government’s coronavirus restrictions from Saturday, but much of the central belt including Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow will be kept in Level 2.

The latest figures from the Government dashboard show that almost three quarters of the adult population have had their first vaccine.

The data show that 39.4 million people have had their first dose while 25.7 million have had their second, this equates to 74.9% of adults receiving their first jab and 48.9% have had both vaccines.

And as of 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 3,165 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

It comes as new data from the Office for National Statistics show a steep rise in healthcare expenditure as a result of the pandemic.

The ONS said current healthcare expenditure in 2020 is estimated at £269 billion, a cash increase of 20% on 2019 – the largest increase on record back to 1997.

The share of GDP attributed to healthcare rose to about 12.8% in 2020, up from 10.2% in 2019.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics for the ONS, said: “The unprecedented effects of the pandemic have seen spending on health rise at a rate not seen in modern times.”

Meanwhile, schools could stay open half an hour longer each day as part of a £15 billion plan to help pupils catch up, after having their learning disrupted by coronavirus shutdowns, according to the Times.

And the European Medicines Agency has announced that there will be extra manufacturing capacity for the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine after it approved additional manufacturing and filling lines at Pfizer’s vaccine manufacturing site in Puurs, Belgium.