COVID infection rate in UK is 'still alarmingly high' - but 'we are past' the current peak

·3-min read

The coronavirus infection rate in the UK is "still alarmingly high", the prime minister has said, but Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has suggested we are past the current peak.

Boris Johnson told a Downing Street news briefing that while there were "signs of hope", the level of infection is still too high to consider relaxing social distancing guidelines.

However, with some good news to counter the PM's stark message, professor Whitty said it looks as if the UK is past the peak of its current wave.

"I think that most of my colleagues think we are past the peak," Professor Whitty said.

"That doesn't mean you can never have another peak, but at this point in time - provided people continue to follow the guidelines - we are on the downward slope of cases, hospitalisation and of deaths in all four nations of the United Kingdom, so I think we do think, at this point, this peak at least, we are past."

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Professor Whitty also said in the briefing that while the number of people in hospital with coronavirus has "quite noticeably" reduced, it is still above that of the first peak in April last year.

"The number of people in hospital with COVID has now gone down from its peak, quite noticeably," he told the briefing.

"But as the prime minister said, there are still a very large number of people in hospital, and more people than there were in the first peak in April last year.

"So this is still a very major problem, but it is one that is heading the right way."

On the number of deaths, Prof Whitty added: "The number of deaths in people who have Covid is beginning to come down, but as the Prime Minister said, the numbers are still extremely high.

"And they will stay high for quite some time but coming down, as you can see, on this pathway.

"The first effects we will see on vaccination are likely to be on these death numbers."

It comes after it was revealed that the UK has now administered more than 10 million first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Ministers have set a target of offering a first jab to 15 million of the most vulnerable people by the middle of this month, a target they appear on course to meet.

Welcoming the vaccine milestone, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This is a hugely significant milestone in our national effort against this virus. Every jab makes us all a bit safer - I want to thank everyone playing their part."

Meanwhile, data from Oxford University released on Monday shows that its vaccine may have a "substantial effect" on transmission of the virus, reducing it by two thirds.

According to its latest research, the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab offers protection of 76% up to three months, with the efficacy increasing to 82.4% if a second dose is administered 12 weeks later.

The team behind the jab have said that vaccines specifically designed to tackle new variants of coronavirus should be ready to be rolled out by October.

Latest official figures show the UK has recorded another 1,322 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, as well as a further 19,202 new cases of the virus.