Covid hospitalisations TRIPLE in Indian variant hotspot Bolton

Covid hospitalisations TRIPLE in Indian variant hotspot Bolton in three weeks as data shows strain is now dominant in 44 areas across England

  • Currently 43 Covid patients in Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, latest data shows, up from 12 three weeks ago 
  • Analysis of positive tests in week up to May 15 found variant had spread to 151 out of England’s 314 authorities
  • Strain now behind 90% of cases in Blackburn and eight in 10 in hotspots Bolton, Sefton, Bedford and Croydon 

The number of people in hospital with coronavirus in Bolton has more than tripled in a fortnight as Manchester borough grapples with an outbreak of the highly-infectious Indian variant, official data shows.

Sources say there are currently 43 Covid patients in the town’s NHS trust, compared to 12 that were receiving care on May 10. Experts fear the pressure on the trust, which looks after the Royal Bolton Hospital, will only get worse as the town’s infection rate climbs. 

Bolton is recording more than 400 Covid cases per 100,000 –  twenty times the national average – following a period of exponential growth of the Indian variant in the last month. It takes several weeks for infections to translate into hospitalisations due to the lag between someone catching and falling seriously ill with Covid.

However, Number 10 has said the ‘majority’ of people being hospitalised with the disease are either unvaccinated or have not been for both jabs.

Public Health England’s analysis found two doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer’s jab provide a similar level of protection from the Indian variant as they do for the Kent version, which has raised hopes that hospital and death rates will not reach the peaks of previous waves.  

Meanwhile, data published today showed the Indian variant spiralling in Bolton is now dominant in nearly 15 per cent of authorities in England – almost twice as many as the previous week.

Analysis of samples from people infected with Covid in the week up to May 15 also shows that the B.1.617.2 strain had spread to 151 out of England’s 314 local authorities.

The mutant virus had overtaken the previously-dominant Kent variant in 44 places, up from 23 the week prior. It is now behind behind 90 per cent of Covid infections in Blackburn and eight in ten in the hotspots of Bolton, Sefton, Bedford and Croydon. 

Professor Andrew Pollard, one of the main researchers behind the AstraZeneca jab, today said the pandemic in the UK could be declared ‘over’ if the vaccines work as well on the mutant virus in the real world as PHE believes. Data is expected to become clearer next week. 

However, both Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s jabs were only 33 per cent effective at blocking symptoms of the Indian strain three weeks after one dose, compared to 50 per cent against the Kent variant. Officials say it highlights the importance of getting both injections.

It comes as it was revealed that official plans for social distancing and ‘Covid certificates’ after June 21 won’t be revealed for at least another week, despite rising hopes that England’s ‘freedom day’ can go ahead. 

Boris Johnson promised the conclusions of critical reviews for England would come before the end of the month, giving businesses time to prepare for the changes. But Downing Street indicated the timetable has slipped as ministers wait for the latest data on the Indian variant. 

SAGE advisers will model the next easing of lockdown restrictions over the next few weeks but need they need to know how infectious the Indian strain is to make their predictions accurate. Experts believe it spreads around 30 per cent easier than the Kent strain. 

Meanwhile, the UK today recorded another 2,439 Covid cases nationally — up 23.2 per cent on last Monday’s figure. Another three victims were also recorded, compared to five last week. 

The Indian coronavirus variant is now dominant in 44 areas across England – almost twice as many as the previous week – according to data published by the Sanger Institute today. Of the hotspots, only 19 have seen their infection rates increase in the most recent week

In Bolton, which is recording the highest Covid infection rate in the country due to an outbreak of the Indian variant, hospitalisations have already started to creep up. There are currently 43 Covid patients in Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, according to data from the Government’s Covid dashboard, which is more than triple than at the start of May, when there were 13

Department of Health data shows how the number of positive tests being recorded each day has changed in the 10 areas with the biggest outbreaks where the Indian variant is known to be dominant. Top left shows Bolton’s outbreak, which has grown rapidly over the past three weeks. But outbreaks remain flat in other hotspots, such as Preston, Hillingdon and Ealing

The latest analysis of the Indian variant’s spread comes from the Sanger Institute, one of the largest variant-testing labs in the UK. It checks more than half of all the UK’s samples to spot different types of the virus.

Its data excludes door-to-door surge testing and travellers’ swabs, allowing it to reflect which variants are spreading in the community and not random cases brought in from elsewhere.

It found that by May 17, the variant accounted for more than half of cases in 44 places of England, up from 23 a week ago. Of the hotspots, only 19 have seen their infection rates increase.

AUTHORITY

Bolton

Blackburn w D

Sefton

West Lancashire

Stevenage

Nottingham

South Northants

Bedford

Chelmsford

Hillingdon

Camden

Hounslow

Greenwich

Croydon

Bromley

Dartford

Sevenoaks

Canterbury

Rushmoor

Hart

Ribble Valley

Preston

Fylde

Burnley

Rossendale

Chorley

Central Beds

East Northants

North Herts

East Herts

West Oxfordshire

Bristol

Wiltshire

Test Valley

Swindon

Reading

Woking

Havering

Barking & Dag

Barnet

Ealing

Slough

S Oxfordshire

Wigan

INFECTION RATE

434.0 

215.1 

22.4 

9.6 

10.2 

22.8

16.9 

142.5 

5.6 

39.1 

8.5 

47.5 

26.0 

29.5 

19.6 

8.0 

9.9 

34.5 

22.2 

21.6 

21.4 

49.8 

9.9 

60.7 

57.4 

55.8 

35.0 

15.9 

6.7 

6.7 

15.4 

14.5 

6.2 

7.9 

19.4 

33.4 

16.9 

6.9 

11.3 

9.9 

35.7 

25.4 

4.2 

34.1 

WEEK GROWTH

up 72.6% 

up 87.2% 

down 54.1%

down 35.3%

down 18.2% 

down 35.0%

down 50.0%

up 20.5%

down 44.4% 

down 7.0%

down 39.5% 

down 13.4%

up 21.0% 

up 14.0% 

up 41.3%

down 50.0%

up 140.0% 

up 533.3% 

down 27.6%

down 32.3%

up 44.4% 

up 40.0% 

down 42.9%

up 22.7% 

up 215.4%

up 61.0% 

up 83.6% 

down 31.8%

down 10.0%

down 11.1% 

up 183.3%

up 4.7% 

down 53.7%

down 16.7% 

up 19.4% 

up 68.8% 

up 112.5% 

down 45.5%

down 35.1%

down 48.0%

down 8.3%

down 5.0% 

down 66.7% 

flat  

The places where the Indian strain overtook the Kent variant in the most recent week were: Ribble Valley, Preston, Fylde, Burnley, Rossendale, Chorley, Central Bedfordshire, East Northamptonshire, North Hertfordshire, East Hertfordshire, West Oxfordshire, South Oxfordshire, Bristol, Swindon, Wiltshire, Test Valley, Reading, Woking, Slough, Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Ealing.

It is still dominant in: Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Sefton, West Lancashire, Stevenage, Nottingham, South Northamptonshire, Bedford, Chelmsford, Dartford, Sevenoaks, Canterbury, Rushmoor, Hart, Hillingdon, Camden, Hounslow, Greenwich, Croydon and Bromley. 

But it is no longer the dominant strain in Oadby and Wigston, Broxbourne and Brent which may be down to very low case numbers in these areas. 

Bolton has the highest infection rate out of local authorities suffering outbreaks of the Indian variant (434 cases per 100,000 people) which has more than doubled over the past week. 

Data suggests that two per cent of people in one neighbourhood of the borough tested positive for the virus last week.

Blackburn with Darwen had the second largest outbreak (215.1), and Bedford had the third largest (142.5). They were followed by new hotspots Burnley (60.7), Rossendale (57.4), Chorley (55.8) and Preston (48.9).

Indian variant hotspot Hounslow had the highest Covid infection rate in London (47.5). It was followed by Hillingdon (39.1) and Ealing (35.7).  

For comparison, England’s average is 21.3 per 100,000 and has remained around this level since mid-April. 

PHE’s latest breakdown shows 46.2 per cent of Covid cases were the Kent variant in the week to May 10, but 53.8 per cent were down to other variants. It is thought the first majority were B.1.617.2.

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that the Indian strain was likely already the dominant strain of the virus across the UK because the Sanger data is weeks out of date.

He noted that the variant is spreading in areas that were hardest hit at earlier stages of the pandemic, suggesting that social and other mixing factors were contributing to the outbreaks, rather than purely the infectiousness of the strain.

‘Covid is retreating to its strongholds of last summer, looking at the latest map which is already out of data,’ he said.

‘The areas where Covid has traditionally found it easier to spread are the same areas where the variant is finding it easier to spread.

‘And that is not surprising because of deprivation, inner city, more crowded dwelling, multi-generational occupancy.’

He added that as cases rose in the coming weeks it was inevitable that hospitalisations and deaths from the virus would also go up, but that he did not know by how much.  

‘It will be somewhere between being manageable and close to Armageddon,’ he said. ‘But I’m not sure which extreme it will be closer to.’

It came after one of the country’s top scientists suggested today that Britain could officially be freed from the grips of the Covid crisis if the current vaccines work as expected against the Indian variant.

Oxford’s Professor Andrew Pollard said the pandemic in the UK could be ‘over’ if the vaccines cut the risk of hospitalisation and death as well in the real world as analysis suggests.

Because the vaccines were shown to be highly effective at stopping people falling ill with Covid in the first place, PHE said they are likely to be even better at preventing hospitalisation and deaths. 

Professor Pollard said that a few more weeks were needed to firm up this claim, but he added that, traditionally, vaccines offer ‘much, much higher’ protection against hospitalisation and death than mild infection. 

However, both Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s jabs were only 33 per cent effective at blocking symptoms of the Indian strain three weeks after one dose, compared to 50 per cent against the Kent variant. Officials say it highlights the importance of getting both injections. 

Professor Pollard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If the current generation of vaccines are able to stop people going into hospital, whilst there is still mild infections, people are getting the common cold with the virus, then the pandemic is over.

‘Because we can live with the virus, in fact we are going to have to live with the virus in one way or another, but it doesn’t matter if most people are kept out of hospital because then the NHS can continue to function and life will be back to normal. We just need a little bit more time to have certainty around this.’ 

Ministers say England is on track for all restrictions to be dropped as planned on June 21, despite fears the rapid spread of the Indian variant would jeopardise ‘freedom day’. 

Data from Public Health England shows the prevalence of variants across all the regions of England, with the Indian variant (light purple) compared to the Kent variant (white/pink). Data shows B.1.617.2 is now dominant in the North West, making up around 70 per cent of all sequenced cases. The proportion of samples analysed in a lab is shown by the black line. The sharp drop off is down to the lag in getting samples analysed and not because of a huge reduction in swabs being checked

Data also shows how quickly the different variants have grown in England, with the Indian variant (green) spreading rapidly. The South African variant is coloured blue

National data also shows how quickly the Indian variant (purple) has spread, making up around half of all new cases reported across the country. The Kent variant is shaded pink. The proportion of cases being sequenced is shown by the black line

PHE analysis also revealed how the Indian variant is spreading quickly in the community (top graph, Indian variant is purple). The middle graph shows the proportion of cases made up by travellers. The bottom graph shows the amount of cases that were sequenced in different weeks. It can take several weeks for samples to be thoroughly analysed, meaning there is a lag in the data 

Separate figures also show the number of suspected reinfections over time, which are broken down into different types of the coronavirus. The purple area highlights reinfections seen in people who have caught the Indian variant

Dominic Cummings condemns Matt Hancock for failing to ‘understand’ herd immunity 

Dominic Cummings posted a chart claiming that COBR documents had the ‘optimal single peak strategy’ showing 260,000 dead because the system was ‘so confused in the chaos’ 

Dominic Cummings has escalated his extraordinary assault on the government over coronavirus claiming ministers did not ‘understand’ herd immunity – and only switched to a ‘Plan B’ after being warned more than half a million people would die.

The former No10 chief launched another devastating swipe at Matt Hancock and the Cabinet Office for failing to grasp the implications of their own policy as the pandemic erupted.

Mr Cummings – who was at the heart of decision-making – said the original intention was to allow the virus to play out and achieve ‘herd immunity’ quickly to avoid a second peak that could overwhelm the NHS in winter.

But in a long Twitter thread he said it became apparent the strategy was ‘disastrously misconceived’ and a ‘Plan B had to be bodged amid utter chaos’.

The maverick adviser posted a chart from mid-March 2020 showing a 259,000 death toll as an ‘optimal single peak strategy’ – against a ‘do nothing’ option that could have meant 510,000 casualties.

A full lockdown was announced later that month, with significant curbs having stayed in place ever since as the government wrestled to keep infections down. The death toll on the main measure is just under 128,000.

The latest salvo from Mr Cummings comes as he prepares for an explosive evidence session with MPs on Wednesday.

He has already branded the Department of Health a ‘smoking’ ruin over its dismal efforts to procure PPE and ventilators, saying the vaccination drive has only been successful because it was taken out of the department’s hands.

Armed with the PHE evidence vaccines work against B.1.617.2, the boss of the UK’s Health Security Agency argued the prospect of all Covid restrictions being lifted next month was ‘looking good’. Health Secretary Matt Hancock also called the findings ‘groundbreaking’. 

But some scientists are not convinced by No10’s ever-growing optimism, saying May 17’s relaxation of lockdown measures may trigger a rapid spike in cases given that the Indian variant is ‘on the cusp’ of becoming dominant in England. 

Professor Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent SAGE panel of scientists, said ministers should consider ‘rolling back step three of the roadmap’ if cases continue to rise this week. Department of Health figures show the number of positive tests has jumped by 11 per cent over the past seven days.

Hospitalisations and deaths across the UK are at their lowest levels since the crisis began, with just six fatalities a day and fewer than 100 hospital admissions, on average. For comparison, around 1,300 deaths were occurring every day at the peak of the second wave in January.

However, the number of infected patients occupying beds at the major NHS trust in Bolton — one of the country’s hotspots for the Indian variant — has continued to creep up over the past week.

There is no proof the Indian variant is more lethal than older strains of the coronavirus but data shows it is more transmissible than the Kent type, which triggered Britain’s devastating second wave before vaccines were rolled out. 

Experts believe B.1.617.2 is 30 per cent more infectious than B.1.1.7 — the name for the Kent strain — but won’t get any concrete data for at least another week.

Professor Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, suggested the pandemic could be declared over in the UK if people are kept out of hospital by vaccines. He said: ‘The thing that makes this a pandemic is people going into hospital. 

‘And so what we really need to know, and we don’t have the data yet for certain, is how well both the vaccines are performing in preventing people from going into hospital.

‘And what we’ve seen so far in the pandemic is that protection from vaccines against hospitalisation and death is much, much higher than the protection against mild infection, which is what these tests are detecting.

‘So what I’m waiting for is the answer to that exam question, which is the critical one to understand how we should respond in the future to new variants, is to find out whether these infections that we’re starting to see a little bit with this current variant are completely uncoupled from hospitalisations and deaths.

‘But we just need a few more weeks to get more evidence around that.’

On whether booster vaccines will be needed, Professor Pollard said work was ongoing to make new vaccines in case they were needed — but it was not certain that they would be.

He urged people to have their second jab and said coronavirus will find the unvaccinated, adding that the Indian variant was able to spread ‘slightly better’ whether people have been vaccinated or not.

‘Of course this is the variant that’s around at the moment but future variants are going to get even better at doing that,’ Professor Pollard said.

‘That’s the evolution of this virus, that it’s going to find ways around immune responses to be able to spread a bit better.

‘And so that gives a really important public health message, which is that if you’re unvaccinated, then the virus will eventually find those individuals in the population who are unvaccinated, and of course if you’re over 50 and unvaccinated, you’re at much greater risk of severe disease.’ 

His comments came after experts at the Government’s world-renowned Porton Down research centre concluded that the current crop of jabs work against B.1.617.2.

Data revealed Pfizer’s vaccine was 88 per cent effective against the Indian variant in preventing symptoms after two doses, compared with 93 per cent against the Kent strain. AstraZeneca’s was given a figure of 60 per cent, compared with 66 per cent against the Kent variant.

Asked if people may think the AstraZeneca vaccine was not as good, Professor Pollard said: ‘Well I think in some ways we’re looking at the wrong exam question, because this is a question about mild infection and transmission.’

Other experts said the difference between the two jabs could be down to the fact that the rollout of second doses of AstraZeneca was later than that for Pfizer, and it takes longer to reach maximum effectiveness. Because it was easier to transport, the AstraZeneca jab was also given to older people who are most at risk of falling ill. 

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