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Belgium and Austria’s Covid outbreaks overtake UK despite having restrictions such as face masks

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Britain’s Covid outbreak is no longer the worst in Western Europe, according to official data that shows infections are beginning to soar across the continent.

Cases spiked in the UK when schools went back in September, which led to the country being branded Europe’s coronavirus capital by advocates of the Government’s ‘Plan B’ strategy.

Many scientists, including No10’s own, argued that the UK was only recording higher case, hospital and death rates because it is testing far more than other EU nations. 

But latest statistics show Austria, Belgium and Ireland have all overtaken Britain in Western Europe’s infections league table. This is despite all three countries having a mix of tougher restrictions, including face masks, work from home guidance and vaccine passports.  

And Germany today reported its highest ever daily infection toll, prompting the country’s health minister to warn the fourth wave has hit the country with ‘full force’. The World Health Organization warned Europe is ‘back at the epicentre’ of the pandemic.

Britain led the way with Covid vaccinations at the start of the year and was months ahead of the rest of the EU, which many scientists believe led to immunity waning quicker here and left the country vulnerable to another uptick in cases.

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, argued the rise across Europe showed vaccine protection was now starting to falter there too. 

The roll-out of booster jabs and the natural immunity built up following the back-to-back school wave should see Britain’s infections continue to slump over the coming weeks, he said.

Despite having no Covid restrictions in place nationwide, the UK has dropped to the fourth most-infectious country in Western Europe. Austria, Belgium and Ireland are recording up to 17 per cent more cases, despite having a mix of mandatory face masks, work from home guidance and Covid passports in place

Despite having no Covid restrictions in place nationwide, the UK has dropped to the fourth most-infectious country in Western Europe. Austria, Belgium and Ireland are recording up to 17 per cent more cases, despite having a mix of mandatory face masks, work from home guidance and Covid passports in place

Despite falling in the infection rate rankings, the UK still has the highest daily death rate. Yesterday, the UK recorded 2.5 Covid deaths per million people, compared to 1.6 in Austria, Belgium and Ireland. Deaths lag a few weeks behind case numbers, due to the time it takes someone to become seriously unwell with the virus after they get infected

Despite falling in the infection rate rankings, the UK still has the highest daily death rate. Yesterday, the UK recorded 2.5 Covid deaths per million people, compared to 1.6 in Austria, Belgium and Ireland. Deaths lag a few weeks behind case numbers, due to the time it takes someone to become seriously unwell with the virus after they get infected 

The UK dropped to the fourth most-infectious country in Western Europe yesterday, with Austria, Denmark and Ireland all recording more cases. However, Austria is also carrying out the most Covid tests in Western Europe - around 37 tested per 1,000 people each day - while the UK is conducting around 12 daily testers per 1,000 people. This means Austria is picking up more cases than the UK, where a higher proportion will be slipping under the radar. But Belgium (six per 1,000 people) and Ireland (4 per 1,000 people) - which are also recording higher infection rates than the UK - are testing up to two-thirds less than the UK

The UK dropped to the fourth most-infectious country in Western Europe yesterday, with Austria, Denmark and Ireland all recording more cases. However, Austria is also carrying out the most Covid tests in Western Europe – around 37 tested per 1,000 people each day – while the UK is conducting around 12 daily testers per 1,000 people. This means Austria is picking up more cases than the UK, where a higher proportion will be slipping under the radar. But Belgium (six per 1,000 people) and Ireland (4 per 1,000 people) – which are also recording higher infection rates than the UK – are testing up to two-thirds less than the UK

He said: ‘The virus is running out of people to infect who have not already had the infection recently.’

And he claimed Britain’s booster vaccine roll-out, which has faced criticism for being slow, should keep infections at bay in vulnerable, older groups.

Professor Hunter said: ‘Cases are already dropping quite considerably in the over-80s, who have had most of the booster doses, so I’m, I’m moderately optimistic.’

Daily testing data from Our World in Data — an Oxford University-based research platform which complies national statistics — shows the UK yesterday dropped to fourth place in Western Europe, after holding the top spot for four months.

More proof England’s Covid outbreak has ‘peaked’: Mass-testing survey reveals cases plateaued last week… but one in 50 people were still infected on any day 

England’s third Covid wave may have already peaked, more official data suggested today as a swathe of statistics now point to a slowing epidemic.

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) weekly surveillance report estimated 1.1million people were infected with the virus at any time in the week to October 30 — the equivalent of one in 50. This was approximately the same as the previous seven-day spell, bringing an end to nearly three months of rising cases which began in August. 

Experts say the levelling off suggests the latest wave of Covid triggered by the return of schoolchildren has ‘likely’ come to a natural peak, due to a combination of vaccine immunity and previous infection. 

But the ONS data still suggests the outbreak is still as big as it was at the peak of the second wave in January and the weekly total is the third highest ever recorded, even though deaths are just a fraction of levels seen during the darkest days of the crisis.

Covid cases were falling among under-16s and dipped slightly among 35 to 49-year-olds but remained static in all other age groups including the booster-eligible over-60s, according to the mass-testing survey. 

Meanwhile, Government advisers today said the R rate has fallen for the first time since millions of pupils returned to school in September. The UK Health Security Agency now estimates the rate stands at between 0.9 and 1.1 but caution that it reflects the situation three weeks ago, rather than now. 

It comes after separate data from the UK’s largest symptom-tracking study yesterday reported a fall in cases for the first time in weeks, in another sign cases may have peaked. Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist behind the survey, said the country is probably over the ‘last great peak of Covid’ for the year, but encouraged mask-wearing and social distancing to be safe. 

 

But it wasn’t the worst across the whole continent, with the Eastern bloc seeing as many as 1,202 cases per million people — more than double the UK rate. 

The UK yesterday recorded 37,269 positive tests — equivalent to 574 people per million. 

Cases had been rising in the UK over the summer but the rates have been falling across the four home nations for 11 out of the last 12 days, despite the Government resisting plans to bring in measures such as mandatory face masks and work from home guidance. 

Meanwhile, rates are on the rise in much of Europe, including in Austria, Belgium and Ireland, as well as in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Iceland.

Immunity is thought to be lower among countries, which have had lower infection levels throughout the pandemic. 

In Austria, where people must wear high-grade FFP2 masks on public transport and essential shops, 674 people per million tested positive yesterday 17 per cent higher than the UK cases. 

The country also requires unvaccinated people to wear the masks in all shops and museums. And everyone must show proof of vaccination or a negative test before entering almost all indoor settings and some outdoor spaces.

However, Austria is also carrying out the most Covid tests in Western Europe — around 37 tested per 1,000 people each day — while the UK is conducting around 12 daily testers per 1,000 people.

This means Austria is picking up more cases than the UK, where a higher proportion will be slipping under the radar.

But Belgium (six per 1,000 people) and Ireland (4 per 1,000 people) — which are also recording higher infection rates than the UK — are testing up to two-thirds less than the UK.

Belgium recorded 634 cases per million yesterday — a figure 10 per cent higher than the UK.

It requires people to wear a face mask on public transport and in shops, work from home guidance is in place.

Those in the country must show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter all hospitality and fitness venues, as well as at events with more than 200 people indoors or more than 400 people outdoors. 

And Ireland has capped the number of households that can meet indoors to three for vaccinated families, while unvaccinated people are only able to meet indoors with one vaccinated household at once. 

And face coverings are mandatory in shops, while people have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to attend cinemas and theatres at full capacity.

But despite the measures 580 people per million tested positive yesterday — one per cent more than the UK rates. 

The surge has prompted countries including France and Germany to dish out booster jabs in an attempt to limit infections. 

It follows criticism from European leaders and pessimistic scientists in recent weeks over the UK’s lack of restrictions and high case numbers — which peaked last month at a level 30 per cent lower than infections seen at the height of the second wave. 

But Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped design the AstraZeneca vaccine, last week said it is unfair to ‘bash’ Britain for its high case numbers because it tests up to 10 times more people than other European countries. 

Nearly all Covid restrictions were lifted across the UK in July as part of so-called Freedom Day, bringing an end to social distancing and mandatory masks. 

Covid infections have been trending downwards over the last 12 days - apart from on Monday due to a data problem one week earlier. Some 37,269 infections were recorded yesterday, a drop of 6.5 per cent in a week

Covid infections have been trending downwards over the last 12 days – apart from on Monday due to a data problem one week earlier. Some 37,269 infections were recorded yesterday, a drop of 6.5 per cent in a week

The Office for National Statistics estimated that some 1.1million people in England had Covid at any point last week. This is the same as the previous seven-day spell, but the levelling off suggests the outbreak has peaked because fewer people infected with the virus are passing it on to others — either due to self-isolation or immunity from jabs or previous infection

The Office for National Statistics estimated that some 1.1million people in England had Covid at any point last week. This is the same as the previous seven-day spell, but the levelling off suggests the outbreak has peaked because fewer people infected with the virus are passing it on to others — either due to self-isolation or immunity from jabs or previous infection

The experts behind the ZOE Covid Study — which is based on reports from around 750,000 weekly contributors and more than 40,000 swabs — calculated there were 88,592 daily symptomatic Covid cases across the UK, based on data from 42,359 positive PCR and lateral flow tests taken between October 16 and 30. Around a third of cases (26,928) are among double-jabbed Brits, up from 26,928 last week, the study found.

The experts behind the ZOE Covid Study — which is based on reports from around 750,000 weekly contributors and more than 40,000 swabs — calculated there were 88,592 daily symptomatic Covid cases across the UK, based on data from 42,359 positive PCR and lateral flow tests taken between October 16 and 30. Around a third of cases (26,928) are among double-jabbed Brits, up from 26,928 last week, the study found.

However, companies such as Transport for London require Britons to wear face covering when using their services and masks must be worn in healthcare settings.

The Government faced calls in recent weeks from medics, scientists and Labour to bring back masks and work from home guidance — it’s ‘Plan B’ measures to suppress the virus this winter — amid rising cases.

But the Health Secretary said he did not believe the NHS was facing unsustainable pressure — the measure No10 is using to determine whether to bring the restrictions back.

Is THIS why Delta is so infectious? Scientists find little-known mutation NOT on spike protein makes it ten times better at replicating in cells 

A mutation on the Delta variant that has flown under the radar may explain why it is more than twice as infectious as previous strains.

Scientists tracking the Covid mutant have until now focused their attentions on changes to the virus’ spike protein, which it uses to infect cells.

It was presumed these alterations made it easier for Delta to spread between people and harder for their immune systems to recognise and defend against.

Now researchers believe an inconspicuous mutation that alters the virus’ structural body might have played a key role in the strain becoming world-dominant. 

Their study found R203M — which is unique to Delta — allows the virus to inject up to 10 times more of its genetic code into host cells than older versions of the virus. 

When Covid enters the body, it programs healthy cells to release more viral particles which in turn infect more cells, thus helping it multiply. 

Experts told MailOnline the breakthrough may explain why people infected with Delta have a much higher viral load than those with earlier versions of the virus. 

Instead, the Government is focusing on booster jabs to the over-50s, NHS staff and vulnerable people, as well as jabbing 12 to 15-year-olds, to keep the virus at bay over the coming months.

And the downward trend in cases over the last 12 days — apart from on Monday due to a data problem one week earlier — led one of the country’s top epidemiologists to claim cases have peaked in the UK for 2021.

However, England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned there are ‘hard months to come’ in the UK this winter and warned the pandemic ‘is not over’. 

Some scientists have called for restrictions in the UK to bring down infection levels, to limit pressures on health services, bring down Covid death numbers and avoid a lockdown. 

Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last month that the UK’s high case numbers came after the country ‘abandoned all caution’, which shows measures should be lifted gradually. 

Ministers have so far been reassured by scientific modelling, which last month showed daily cases could drop to 5,000 without any extra restrictions.

But Professor Van-Tam this week urged the nation to behave responsibly and emphasised the importance of face masks — but did not outright call for their enforced return in public spaces.

Addressing the nation in a Q&A, he told BBC Breakfast: ‘Too many people believe that this pandemic is now over. I personally feel there are some hard months to come in the winter and it is not over.

‘Christmas and indeed all of the darker winter months are potentially going to be problematic.’

Asked about how another festive lockdown can be prevented, he said it depended on ‘how cautious we are’ and the UK’s vaccination drives. He urged people to come forward for their booster and flu jabs when invited. 

It comes as the ONS today estimated 1.1million people were infected with the virus at any time in the week to October 30 — the equivalent of one in 50.

This was approximately the same as the previous seven-day spell, bringing an end to nearly three months of rising cases which began in August. 

Experts say the levelling off suggests the latest wave of Covid triggered by the return of schoolchildren has ‘likely’ come to a natural peak, due to a combination of vaccine immunity and previous infection. 

But the ONS data still suggests the outbreak is still as big as it was at the peak of the second wave in January and the weekly total is the third highest ever recorded, even though deaths are just a fraction of levels seen during the darkest days of the crisis.



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