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‘Time to learn to live with Covid’: Downing Street warns UK will have to accept flu-like death toll

Boris Johnson took an increasingly hardline approach to ending lockdown on July 19 today, telling the Cabinet the country will have to ‘live with Covid in the future’.

Amid clear signals that ministers are increasingly set on ending draconian restrictions in three weeks come hell or high water, the Prime Minister highlighted that the link between infections and serious illness and deaths has been significantly weakened.

Downing Street said the Cabinet – including new Health Secretary Sajid Javid – ‘agreed that once we have completed the road map, we will be able to live with Covid in the future, even if cases continue to rise, thanks to the protections provided by the vaccine.’

It came as new figures showed that weekly Covid deaths have risen slightly in England but the virus is still only responsible for fewer than 100 fatalities every seven days . 

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report published today found that 74 people died directly from Covid in the week ending June 18, which was up 12 per cent on the week before. Wales recorded no deaths from the virus in the most recent week, for the first time since the pandemic began.

A separate study from scientists at Cambridge University found that fewer than one in a thousand people who catch Covid in England now die from the disease.

They estimate the overall infection fatality rate (IFR) of coronavirus has been driven down to 0.085 per cent thanks to the country’s hugely successful vaccine rollout. 

The official data will give ministers confidence Freedom Day can go ahead next month as planned.

Amid clear signals that ministers are increasingly set on ending draconian restrictions in three weeks come hell or high water, the Prime Minister highlighted that the link between infections and serious illness and deaths has been significantly weakened.

'Time to learn to live with Covid': Downing Street warns UK will have to accept flu-like death toll

'Time to learn to live with Covid': Downing Street warns UK will have to accept flu-like death toll

'Time to learn to live with Covid': Downing Street warns UK will have to accept flu-like death toll

Fewer than one in 1,000 patients are dying from Covid now compared to one in 90 during second wave 

Fewer than one in a thousand people who catch Covid in England now die from the disease, according to scientists at Cambridge University.

They estimate the overall infection fatality rate (IFR) of coronavirus has been driven down to 0.085 per cent thanks to the country’s hugely successful vaccine rollout. 

This graph shows the proportion of people who catch Covid that are dying from the disease by age group. The rate has fallen markedly among older people, who are most at risk from the virus, since the vaccine roll-out began in January

This graph shows the proportion of people who catch Covid that are dying from the disease by age group. The rate has fallen markedly among older people, who are most at risk from the virus, since the vaccine roll-out began in January

For comparison, the team at Cambridge’s Medical Research Council (MRC) biostatistics unit estimated that about one in 90 cases (1.1 per cent) resulted in death at the end of the second wave.  

In the most vulnerable over-75s group, the IFR is now thought to be under 2 per cent after plummeting from 17 per cent during the winter peak in January.

Experts told MailOnline that while the findings were encouraging, the death rate will likely increase in the coming weeks as a result of the rise of the Indian variant. 

The MRC ‘nowcasting’ unit estimates the number of infections that lead to fatalities based on official data including daily Covid cases, deaths and hospital admissions. It also takes into account asymptomatic cases who are missed by the centralised testing scheme.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, said it was likely the number of infections leading to deaths would rise in the coming weeks because of the rapid rise in cases over the past two months.

‘We also have got to remember that what we are dealing with now is an increasing situation (of cases) and an increasing rate of infection,’ he told MailOnline.

‘Most people who have had the infection are in the early stages of it so they won’t have died yet.

‘I think it will go up later on, but it won’t go anywhere near the one in 90 (at the peak of the second wave), but I expect more than one in a thousand.’

Asked whether the July 19 easing was likely to go ahead, he said this would ‘probably’ happen.

‘There is evidence — good evidence — it seems that the vaccine is working and the vaccines are protecting’ against serious disease and death, he added.  

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman today told reporters that ‘as with other diseases such as the flu we will have to live with the virus’.  

When he was asked whether this meant that the Government would be comfortable with an annual death toll similar to flu, he said: ‘That is just factual, the number. That is not a target or number that the Government sets.’

Officially a decision on July 19 Freedeom Day is not being made until a week beforehand, July 12.

But in recent days ministers have been making a series of high-profile announcements that leave little doubt that the decision has effectively already been made.

Yesterday Mr Javid said July 19 would be the ‘end of the line’ for England’s lockdown today as he demanded ‘a return of the economic and social life that makes this country so great’.

The libertarian frontbencher made his Commons debut after replacing Matt Hancock and immediately ruled out an early end to lockdown in a week’s time.

But he was far more bullish about the restrictions being scrapped in three weeks time.   

He told the Commons: ‘I spent my first day as Health Secretary just yesterday looking at the data and testing it to the limit.

‘While we decided not to bring forward Step 4, we see no reason to go beyond July 19, because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid.

‘We know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it.’

The Government will continue to publish daily coronavirus figures once restrictions have been lifted, according to Downing Street.

Asked if this is expected to continue, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told Westminster reporters: ‘Yes. We will continue, and are continuing, to provide these updates through the dashboard that provide an important level of transparency to the public and ensure understanding how we are progressing.’

Asked how long this could go on for, the spokesman added: ‘We will keep it under review as we go forward but clearly now it is entirely right that we continue to provide this level of data and transparency to the public as the world continues to fight this pandemic.’

Earlier  Home Secretary Priti Patel said we will have to ‘adapt our lives accordingly’ in order to get freedoms back while at the same time living with coronavirus.

‘Look, I would love to take the mask off – but at the right time, I will do that,’ she told Times Radio Breakfast.

‘We are living with coronavirus and many of us have been saying this across Government, probably for the last 12 months actually, we are living with this virus, we’re in a pandemic.

‘Yes, we have the vaccine, there’ll be boosters at some stage, booster jabs as well, so we are adapting our way of life.

‘I think to look to getting our freedoms back, which of course we all dearly want, we are adapting how we live and that means living with the concept of this pandemic, the virus, and obviously we adapt our lives accordingly.’

In England, 102 people who died in the latest week had Covid mentioned on their death certificate, up from 84 a week earlier. But only 74 of them were caused directly by the virus, with the others dying from other causes, the ONS said. 

In total, there were 9,459 deaths registered in England and Wales in the most recent week, meaning just 0.78 per cent were caused by Covid – the equivalent of one in 127.

The fact weekly deaths have risen just 12 per cent in the past week despite cases quadrupling over the past two months highlight just how well the vaccines are severing the link between Covid infections and fatalities. 

Did we REALLY need to delay Freedom Day?

The number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid in Britain every day is half of what SAGE predicted earlier this month, according to official data that raises doubts about whether pushing ‘Freedom Day’ back was necessary.

Modelling by the expert group used to justify the month-long delay said that daily hospitalisations would be at 530 by this time already, and could rise to 2,000 a day over summer if the June 21 unlocking went ahead.

But currently the UK is only seeing 223 Covid admissions per day, despite the Indian variant rapidly spreading and daily infections reaching a five-month high of 22,868 yesterday.

Covid inpatient numbers were also predicted to increase to around 37,000 by the start of August, but they currently stand at just over 1,500. 

The same models predicted daily deaths could reach nearly 300 per day at their peak this summer. Covid deaths have remained under 30 per day since April 24 and plunged to just three yesterday.

SAGE has often been criticised for its modelling of the crisis, which predicted a quarter of a million deaths during the initial wave of the pandemic. 

No10 said at the time that delaying June 21 was a cautious move in case the Indian variant sparked a wave of hospitalisations and in case the vaccines were made significantly weaker by the strain. 

It has since been shown that two doses of AstraZeneca’s jab cuts the risk of hospitalisation by up to 92 per cent, while the figure for Pfizer’s was even higher at 96 per cent. 

The encouraging numbers come as a Government scientific advisor said the UK has to ‘get on with life’ and learn to live with the virus.

Professor Robert West, a member of the Spi-B subgroup of SAGE and health psychologist at University College London, said we have to treat Covid in the same way we do traffic accidents, making the environment is as safe as possible but accepting some risk and trusting people to act safely on their own accord. 

Britain’s daily Covid cases more than doubled in a week yesterday but deaths plunged 40 per cent to just three — in another clear sign the vaccines have severed the link between infections and fatalities. 

The last time cases were at around 22,000 and rising was in early December, when there were roughly 400 Covid deaths a day and the second wave was starting to spiral.  

 

The Department of Health posted another 22,868 infections yesterday which was more than double the number a week prior. But there were just three deaths registered.

In a clear sign of the ‘vaccine effect’, the last time cases were at around 22,000 and rising was in early December, when there were roughly 400 Covid deaths a day and the second wave was starting to spiral.

Today’s ONS data also shows that, across England and Wales, flu and pneumonia are killing three-and-a-half times as many people as Covid.

Statisticians at the ONS sort all death certificates registered in England and Wales to record those that mention Covid and whether it was the main cause of death or the person had the virus alongside another illness. 

The national agency’s figures lag behind the Department of Health’s daily total because it can take around two weeks to formally register a fatality, sparking a delay.

Death certificates list underlying factors — the conditions thought to be responsible for the fatality — but also mention other conditions thought to have contributed to the fatality but not to be the main factor behind it.

The highest increase in Covid deaths was reported in the North West of England, but the region only recorded seven more deaths than the week before, 21 up from 14.

More people died from the virus compared to a week earlier in Yorkshire and The Humber (12 up from six), East Midlands (11 up from 10), West Midlands (eight up from seven) and the South East (16 up from 12). In the South West (3), North East (3), East (9) and London (19), the number of deaths stayed the same. 

None of the 573 deaths registered in Wales in the week ending June 18 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the ONS. The last time this happened was in the week ending March 13 2020.

Earleir this month top scientists admitted coronavirus will never be eradicated and Britons will need to learn to live with the virus even if it causes hundreds of deaths a day.    

Independent experts seeking to manage expectations before restrictions are lifted told MailOnline that achieving zero Covid deaths was ‘impossible’ and that the focus should be to bring them down to levels comparable with flu — which kills roughly 17,000 people in England annually and up to 50,000 in a bad year. 

The comments were echoed by Michael Gove, who said that while ministers need to do ‘everything we can to protect people’, it was important for the public to ‘accept’ that there would continue to be Covid deaths when the country unlocks on July 19.   

There has been fierce debate about what level of Covid deaths would be ‘tolerable’ when Britain emerges from the shutdown. One of the Government’s top scientists, Professor Graham Medley, said it was ‘quite possible’ there could be hundreds each day post lockdown, although current figures are way below that.

Professor Karol Sikora, an expert in medicine at the University of Buckingham, told MailOnline: ‘All deaths are very emotional and upsetting… but it’s important we embrace Covid like we have other viruses because it will become a normal feature in society. 

'Time to learn to live with Covid': Downing Street warns UK will have to accept flu-like death toll

'Time to learn to live with Covid': Downing Street warns UK will have to accept flu-like death toll

Earlier Home Secretary Priti Patel said we will have to 'adapt our lives accordingly' in order to get freedoms back while at the same time living with coronavirus.

Earlier Home Secretary Priti Patel said we will have to ‘adapt our lives accordingly’ in order to get freedoms back while at the same time living with coronavirus.

‘We should consider it a success if we bring it [Covid deaths] down to levels comparable with flu deaths every year. We will never achieve zero Covid.’ 

Cambridge University epidemiologist Dr Raghib Ali told MailOnline that once July 19 comes and most of the adult population have been given a vaccine: ‘It’s my view that we will be in as strong a position as we ever will be. Prolonging restrictions beyond that point doesn’t achieve much.’

Asked what an acceptable number of Covid deaths would be, he added: ‘If you look at deaths and excess deaths from influenza, the Government tolerates numbers up to about 50,000 [per year].’

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, told Times Radio: ‘We have to accept that this virus will circulate, and it will be the case, unfortunately, that in winters to come we will find that people contract it or subsequent variants and they will fall ill.

‘Unfortunately there are respiratory diseases, including flu itself, which do every year result in an upsurge of people being taken into hospital, and in some cases suffering tragic consequences.’ In a separate interview with BBC Radio 4, he said ‘we’re going to have to learn to live with Covid’.

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