No10 has scrapped its weekly update on the spread of the Indian variant amid calls for the daily Covid stats to be ditched.
Public Health England (PHE) said it would now offer fortnightly reports now that the mutant strain is behind virtually all new cases.
The agency also claimed that the ‘clinical risk assessment’ of the Delta variant had changed, adding that there was little reason for the constant updates.
Confidence in the jabs has grown because Covid admissions and fatalities have been almost completely flat despite the variant infecting over 20,000 people a day.
The highly infectious Indian variant is now behind more than 95 per cent of cases in Britain after becoming the dominant strain in just two months.
PHE’s move today is the first hint that officials are prepared to tweak the way Covid stats are presented.
And it comes amid growing pressure for the daily death and infection figures to be dropped, with fed up MPs and scientists earlier this week saying they were becoming obsolete and serve only to ‘frighten’.
Even the Government’s own experts are calling for the change, with vaccine adviser Professor Robert Dingwall saying it is ‘well past time to panic about infection rates and to publish them obsessively’.
Cabinet ministers today said it would make it appear as if they have ‘something to hide’ if the numbers were to suddenly be dropped.
The Department of Health has been publishing the daily figures for the last 16 months as the nation has battled through the Covid pandemic.
No10 has scrapped its weekly update on the spread of the Indian variant. The strain is behind virtually all new cases (shown left, compared to previous waves) but deaths have remained low (right). PHE claimed that the ‘clinical risk assessment’ of the Delta variant had changed, with little reason for the constant updates.
2. …back then, hospital admissions soareConfidence in the jabs has grown because Covid admissions and fatalities have been almost completely flat despite the variant infecting over 20,000 people a day
Public Health England said today they would only be publishing Covid briefings every fortnight, and no longer every week. Pictured above is the frontpage of the latest briefing
In its update today, PHE said: ‘The next Variant Technical Briefing and Risk Assessment will be published on the morning of Friday July 9, and fortnightly thereafter.
‘The return to a fortnightly publication rather than weekly is because the clinical risk assessment for Delta has become more stable in recent weeks as we have learned more about this variant.
Third wave of infections will continue ‘for longer than expected’ because of England’s Euro 2020 run
Britain’s third wave of infections will continue ‘longer than expected’ because of England’s Euro 2020 success and surging cases of the Indian variant in staycation hotspots, a top expert has warned.
King’s College London‘s Covid symptom study estimated there were 25,210 new cases every day in the UK last week, up by almost a third (31 per cent) from the previous seven-day spell.
There said there was a 50 per cent increase in the number of partially or fully vaccinated people catching the virus — but in most cases their symptoms were mild and similar to a ‘bad cold’. More than 80 per cent of infections were among the unvaccinated.
Professor Tim Spector, who leads Britain’s biggest Covid surveillance study, warned fans meeting to watch the Euro 2020 tournament would almost certainly be fuelling a surge in infections.
He added holidaymakers heading to popular staycation destinations including Cornwall, Devon, Brighton and Bournemouth were also driving spiralling cases.
The top epidemiologist called on Britons to remain ‘extra vigilant’ and continue to follow measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing to limit the spread of the virus.
‘With the summer holidays approaching, we need to remain extra vigilant and avoid unnecessary risks,’ he said. ‘Euro 2020 has the potential to spread the virus among tens of thousands of fans, so I think because of these factors we’ll continue to see high rates for longer than expected.’
‘A weekly publication was previously necessary as our understanding and assessment of Delta developed rapidly.
‘If further variants emerge that necessitate a change in the schedule, we will act upon this.’
They said weekly figures on the number of cases of the Indian variant and other mutant strains identified in the UK would still be published.
The technical briefings publish figures on how many people have been hospitalised or died after catching the variant. It also releases data on how many of these individuals had been vaccinated.
They also contain information on other variants, including the South African ‘Beta’ variant, which scientists fear could evade vaccine-triggered immunity.
The Indian variant will still be labelled a ‘Variant of Concern’ (VOC), which means public health officials will keep a close eye on its cases. Several other mutant strains including the Kent and South African variants are also still considered to be VOCs.
PHE chiefs started producing the reports every week when the Indian variant first began to take off in the country, amid concern it could spark a brutal third wave.
But thanks to high levels of vaccination — with more than 80 per cent of adults having received at least one dose — surging cases have not lead to spikes in hospitalisations and deaths.
Covid surveillance found 35,204 of 37,685 cases — or 93.4 per cent — checked for variants were the Indian strain in the week to June 23, the latest available.
For comparison, the previously dominant Kent variant was responsible for 2,399 cases — or six per cent — of all those identified.
Britain’s daily Covid cases have spiralled recently with 26,068 recorded yesterday, the highest numbers since late January when the second wave was dying down.
The decision to scrap the daily update comes as Conservative MPs say the time has now come for the Government to stop publishing daily cases and deaths numbers because the rollout means they are no longer an important indicator of the severity of the pandemic.
But a Cabinet minister told The Times it would ‘look dodgy’ if the Government stopped publishing the figures.
They added: ‘Once society has learnt to live with Covid, people won’t be interested in the figures.’
Miriam Cates, a Tory MP, told the BBC’s Politics Live programme yesterday that the numbers ‘just drive fear’.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said earlier this week: ‘Stop it now. We are publishing daily figures on Covid, but why aren’t we doing the same for pneumonia, or – when the time comes – flu?
‘The problem is it feeds the whole fear factor and makes decision making by the public irrational.
It comes despite Cabinet ministers shooting down calls for the Government to also stop publishing daily Covid cases. Pictured: Boris Johnson arrives at Nissan’s plant in Sunderland
The Indian ‘Delta’ Covid variant (light green) now accounts for more than 96 per cent of Covid infections in England after displacing the previously dominant Kent ‘Alpha’ variant (purple). Also shown: The old virus strain B.1.177 (pink) and the Wuhan virus (dark green)
‘We need to understand the balance of risks but publishing these figures every day makes it seem like nothing else matters. They should stop it and do it now.’
Independent experts have also said daily death statistics have become ‘useless’ and serve only to ‘frighten’ people.
Scientists have suggested ministers should stop publishing the number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test unless they provide corresponding figures for other diseases.
The Department of Health provides a daily update of infections, deaths, and hospitalisations.
But given the success of the vaccine programme in breaking the link between cases and deaths, many think it is now time to stop as the statistics could be taking a mental toll on the public.