'There is no sign of a second wave': Experts rubbish Matt Hancock's warning

Britain is not entering a second wave of coronavirus infections and rising numbers of cases are a result of increased, more accurate testing picking up infections among younger people, experts say.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday warned that the UK 'must do everything in our power' to stop a second surge of people going into hospital with the coronavirus, which he said was starting to happen in Europe. 

But experts told MailOnline Mr Hancock's comments were 'alarmist' and that there is currently 'no sign' of a second wave coming over the horizon.

They agree that people must be vigilant but one said 'it is becoming increasingly clear that people are less likely to die if they get Covid-19 now compared with earlier in the pandemic, at least in Europe'.

Another 1,295 people were diagnosed with the virus in Britain yesterday, following 1,406 the day before, and the seven-day average number of daily cases is now 1,339 – a 27 per cent increase on last Tuesday and the highest since June 11. 

Scientists say it is younger people driving up infections and they are less likely to get seriously ill and end up in hospital. For that reason, hospital cases and deaths will not necessarily follow higher cases, and there may not be a deadly wave like the first.

There are currently only 764 people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK, just 60 of whom are in intensive care. This is a sharp drop from a peak of 19,872 hospitalised patients on April 12. 

Professor Carl Heneghan, a medicine expert at the University of Oxford, said: 'There is currently no second wave. What we are seeing is a sharp rise in the number of healthy people who are carrying the virus, but exhibiting no symptoms. Almost all of them are young. They are being spotted because – finally – a comprehensive system of national test and trace is in place.'

Mr Hancock said in the Commons yesterday that he feared this rise in infections in healthy people would creep into vulnerable groups if allowed to continue, saying it was a pattern seen in the US where cases are out of control again. 

His comments followed that of Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO's Europe chief, who said he 'wouldn't be surprised' if hospital admissions surged this November to levels seen during the worst days of the pandemic.

But scientists have shot down Mr Hancock's doomsayer comments, pointing out that deaths have not risen in France or Spain, and the reason hospital admissions have not risen in the UK with diagnosed cases 'simply reflects increased testing'. 

Statisticians say expansion of testing capacity means infections are being found more easily than at the start of the pandemic. In the UK alone, the number of tests being carried out has increased by 20 per cent from the start of July to now. But the number of positive results has gone up by only 0.3 per cent in the same period, suggesting new cases are a combination of more tests, and only a slight rise in infections in hotspots.  

Testing has increased vastly from no more than 13,000 tests per day at the start of April to around 150,000 in July and 200,000 in August

Testing has increased vastly from no more than 13,000 tests per day at the start of April to around 150,000 in July and 200,000 in August

The positivity rate of coronavirus tests in the UK has remained flat since June, showing that the proportion of people testing positive is not changing drastically - this suggests the rising number of cases is linked to the rising number of tests

The positivity rate of coronavirus tests in the UK has remained flat since June, showing that the proportion of people testing positive is not changing drastically - this suggests the rising number of cases is linked to the rising number of tests

Professor Carl Heneghan, an evidence-based medicine expert at the University of Oxford, said 'There is currently no second wave'. He explained that improved testing is picking up cases in younger people that were going uncounted earlier in the year

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said although death figures for the UK are low, 'we must remain vigilant' and 'do everything in our power to prevent a second wave' in the UK similar to that seen in Spain and France while protecting the NHS this winter. He is pictured arriving to attend a Cabinet meeting today

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said although death figures for the UK are low, 'we must remain vigilant' and 'do everything in our power to prevent a second wave' in the UK similar to that seen in Spain and France while protecting the NHS this winter. Professor Carl Heneghan (left) said there is no second wave happening yet in the UK and hospitals should not expect to see the same levels of infection they did in March and April

Department of Health data reveals cases are on the rise in the UK

Department of Health data reveals cases are on the rise in the UK

But hospital admissions have remained flat; There are currently only 764 people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK, just 60 of whom are in intensive care. This is a sharp drop from a peak of 19,872 hospitalised patients on April 12

But hospital admissions have remained flat; There are currently only 764 people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK, just 60 of whom are in intensive care. This is a sharp drop from a peak of 19,872 hospitalised patients on April 12

This graph shows how testing per 1,000 people has increased dramatically in the UK from March to August. But they key on the right reveals the positivity rate - how many people tested are actually carrying the virus - has dropped to around one per cent in the later months compared to more than 20 per cent at the start of the outbreak

This graph shows how testing per 1,000 people has increased dramatically in the UK from March to August. But they key on the right reveals the positivity rate - how many people tested are actually carrying the virus - has dropped to around one per cent in the later months compared to more than 20 per cent at the start of the outbreak

HOW DOES TESTING AFFECT CASE NUMBERS?

If more people are being tested for Covid-19, this will show up in cases data, experts say. On the surface, it may look like a spike in infections, but broadly is not something to worry about because it just means more people are being diagnosed than before, when testing was limited to those in hospital.

Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, said: 'In the early stages of the pandemic, there was far less availability of testing in most countries than there now is. So one reason there are more cases is just that people have got better at looking for and finding them.'

And Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at University of Bath, said: Test more people, you will find more positives.

'Initially, testing was restricted to those reporting symptoms, but this has eased and it's now possible for a wider range of people to request tests.' 

Testing capacity has rapidly increased over the course of the pandemic in order to reach more people. And this has caused a slight increase in the number of people getting a positive result - but not to levels that suggest prevalence of the virus is soaring. 

A significantly higher number of people are being tested since July - when diagnosed cases were at their lowest, NHS Test and Trace data shows.

Some 442,392 people were tested between 13 August and 19 August - an almost 20 per cent increase on the 355,597 tested between July 9 and 15.

However, the positive result rate only slightly went up, from 1.12 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the same period. This shows there no that many more people testing positive compared to negative in August than in July.

Other data from Public Health England reveals a similar trend over the course of the pandemic. 

Testing has increased vastly from no more than 13,000 tests per day at the start of April to around 150,000 in July. 

During the same period, positive test results in Pillar 2 - which are those outside of hospitals and care homes -  went drastically down from a peak of 5.2 per cent in May to 1.4 per cent in mid-July, showing that less people were testing positive for the coronavirus despite testing reaching thousands more people.

This figure has risen slightly over this month from 1.6 per cent to 2.1 per cent in the week ending August 23. But it's a small increase when comparing with the 5 per cent seen in May. Testing has shot up to almost 200,000 per day this month.

Commenting on these figures, Dr Duncan Young, a professor of intensive care medicine at University of Oxford, told MailOnline: 'It is therefore very possible that the increase in cases is mostly related to increased testing, but will a small additional effect from the increased prevalence.'

Despite this, it doesn't necessarily rule out that transmission of the disease is, indeed, climbing. 

Scientists admit that the evident rise in cases will be driven by more transmission in the community as a result of easing lockdown restrictions. 

'But the position isn’t like it was back in March and April,' Professor McConway said. 

'The level of cases [in the UK] remains a very long way below what it was at the peak of the pandemic here in March and April.'

Advertisement

Mr Hancock said yesterday: 'I said in July that a second wave was rolling across Europe and sadly we’re now seeing an exponential rise in the number of cases in France and Spain. And the number of hospitalisations is sadly rising there too.

'We must do everything in our power to protect against a second wave here in the UK.'

France recently recorded its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections since March. Some 7,379 new cases were diagnosed on August 28 compared with the 7,578 cases recorded on March 31 - amid the peak of the pandemic in Europe. Some 26 Covid-19 deaths were reported on Tuesday.  

In Spain, cases are continuing to snowball with 8,115 new cases reported on Tuesday. Around 50,000 Spaniards have tested positive in a week, the health ministry said.

Hospitalisations are on the up in both nations, but not to levels seen at the peak of the first wave, as might be expected given cases are reaching the same heights. 

There are around 4,500 Covid-19 hospital patients in France right now, which sounds a lot but is the lowest it has been since March 19. It has been steadily declining since reaching levels of 31,000 in April. 

In Spain, Health Minister Salvador Illa stressed that the surge in infections had not led to heightened pressure on hospitals. The latest data shows there were 159 deaths registered in the past seven days, which remains far below the March-April peak, he said.   

Deaths are currently low for the UK, with just two on Monday and three on Tuesday, yesterday. The most up-to-date government coronavirus death toll for the UK stands at 41,504. It takes into account only victims who died within 28 days of testing positive. 

The Government's fears that Britain is staring down the barrel of a second wave of hospitalisations and deaths like the one that devastated the nation in April and May have not been shared by all scientists.

Experts say a rise in cases was always expected when the country reopened and young people returned to work and social environments. It may even be safe to let the virus spread among those at the lowest risk of the death – the young and healthy – while still protecting the elderly.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and oncologist at the University of Warwick, told MailOnline: 'I think that Matt Hancock’s comments yesterday were a bit alarmist. Of course we need to remain alert and it is true that the number of infections across certain parts of Europe are rising as are hospitalisations. But not sure that this is really a "second wave rolling across Europe".

'I can, however, see the need to stress to folk in the UK that the virus is still around infecting people and that as we head towards the autumn/winter period we need to remain vigilant.'

Professor Young said although cases are on an upward trajectory, 'it is becoming increasingly clear that people are less likely to die if they get Covid-19 now compared with earlier in the pandemic, at least in Europe'.

He added: 'Possible explanations include that a larger number of younger people - 15-44 year olds - are now being infected compared to the first peak in cases in April and this group are less likely to get severe disease.

'Two; there is now more effective treatment for patients with Covid-19 with far fewer needing mechanical ventilation; and three; less aggressive variants of SARS-CoV-2, particularly the D614G variant, are more prevalent – these remain very infectious but are less likely to cause severe disease.'

Professor Young added: 'It was not unexpected that easing of lockdown and a return to more regular activities would result in more infections.

'I guess the question is "when do local spikes in coronavirus infections became a second wave?"'

France recently recorded its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections since March. Some 7,379 new cases were diagnosed on August 28 compared with the 7,578 cases recorded on March 31. The rate of coronavirus infection in Spain shows no sign of slowing down, with the country’s Health Ministry reporting 8,115 new cases on Tuesday

France recently recorded its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections since March. Some 7,379 new cases were diagnosed on August 28 compared with the 7,578 cases recorded on March 31. The rate of coronavirus infection in Spain shows no sign of slowing down, with the country’s Health Ministry reporting 8,115 new cases on Tuesday

Hospitalisations for Covid-19 are on the up in some European nations, but not to levels seen at the peak of the first wave, as might be expected in countries like France, where cases are reaching the same heights as March

Hospitalisations for Covid-19 are on the up in some European nations, but not to levels seen at the peak of the first wave, as might be expected in countries like France, where cases are reaching the same heights as March

There has been an uptick in hospital admissions for Covid-19 in Spain, according to official European data, but hospitals are not under pressure, the health ministry said

There has been an uptick in hospital admissions for Covid-19 in Spain, according to official European data, but hospitals are not under pressure, the health ministry said

Data shows that hospitalisations in France have started to rise gradually since mid-July as the number of people testing positive has increased, but no where near levels seen during the peak of the first wave

Data shows that hospitalisations in France have started to rise gradually since mid-July as the number of people testing positive has increased, but no where near levels seen during the peak of the first wave

Hospital cases in Europe remain steady this month, but are not as low as there were in July

Hospital cases in Europe remain steady this month, but are not as low as there were in July

IS EUROPE SEEING A SECOND WAVE? 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock raised fears a second wave in Europe was on its way, saying yesterday: 'I said in July that a second wave was rolling across Europe and sadly we’re now seeing an exponential rise in the number of cases in France and Spain. And the number of hospitalisations is sadly rising there too.

'We must do everything in our power to protect against a second wave here in the UK.'

The Government's fears that Britain is staring down the barrel of a second wave of hospitalisations and deaths like the one that devastated the nation in April and May have not been shared by all scientists.

Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, told MailOnline this would be partially as a result of better testing. 

But 'cases in countries with peaks can fall again,' he said.

'There was a rather scary-looking peak in cases in Belgium in early August (though nowhere as high as in April). But actions were taken. Cases are falling and have already come down to a level not much above the UK level,' he said.

Keith Neal, an emeritus professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham, agreed: 'Epidemiologically we will only know it is a second wave is when it has ended.' 

France recently recorded its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections since March. Some 7,379 new cases were diagnosed on August 28 compared with the 7,578 cases recorded on March 31 - amid the peak of the pandemic in Europe. Some 26 Covid-19 deaths were reported on Tuesday.  

In Spain, cases are continuing to snowball with 23,500 new infections over the weekend. However, the health ministry said on Tuesday the number of coronavirus cases detected daily had declined over the past four days, with only 2,731 infections positive tests on Monday.

Hospitalisations are on the up in both nations, but not to levels seen at the peak of the first wave, as might be expected given cases are reaching the same heights.   

Advertisement

Professor Carl Heneghan, who has followed Government statistics closely during the outbreak, wrote in an editorial for the Daily Mail yesterday that he believes it is safe for much of normal life to return carefully.

'The Government urgently needs to send out a clear, concise message that the risk from Covid-19 is currently low,' Professor Heneghan said.   

Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics, The Open University, said it was important to keep an eye on cases in the UK, but that there was no indication the UK was heading towards a deadly second wave, and that a proportion of new infections in Europe were as a result of more testing. 

He told MailOnline: 'To say that something – a second wave here – could happen is a long way from saying that it will happen. So far I see no sign that it’s happening.

'On the position in France and Spain (and some other countries), well, the rates of new cases have certainly risen. However, it’s hard to compare the level of confirmed cases with what was happening back in March and April – because you don’t get a confirmed case unless the person has been tested. 

'In the early stages of the pandemic, there was far less availability of testing in most countries than there now is. So one reason there are more cases is just that people have got better at looking for and finding them. 

'I'm not claiming there hasn’t been a real rise in recent weeks in France and Spain, there certainly has, but the position isn’t like it was back in March and April. The level of cases [in the UK] remains a very long way below what it was at the peak of the pandemic here in March and April.

'An important point, though, is that numbers of Covid deaths in France have shown very little evidence of a rise recently. There has been something of a rise in deaths Spain, but not very marked at all.' 

Professor Rowland Kao, the Sir Timothy O’Shea Professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science, University of Edinburgh, admitted that looking at diagnosed cases alone, there is a 'general trend towards larger numbers of cases'. 

He suggested it was unsurprising cases went up last week, saying: 'Releases of restrictions, increased numbers of imports due to people travelling overseas, and evidence of poor adherence in some cases to such restrictions that remain, all have the potential to contribute to increased transmission. This trend also reflects patterns seen in other European countries which released restrictions earlier and therefore saw a case resurgence earlier.' 

He added: 'Whether or not this represents the beginning of a second wave of a national epidemic will depend on the ability of the test and trace system to respond effectively by stamping out as many local outbreaks as possible, quickly.' 

Experts have conceded that outbreaks in England don't necessarily mean the UK is heading for a second wave, and the rise in case numbers are not reflective of a nationwide rise in infections. 

CHANCE OF CATCHING COVID-19 IN BRITAIN NOW '44 IN A MILLION'

The Office for National Statistics say around 2,200 people are catching the coronavirus every day, based on surveillance swabbing in random households. 

It means the odds of catching Covid-19 in England on any given day are 44 in a million, according to economist Tim Harford, who examined the numbers collated by the ONS to assess the current risk.

He told The Sun: 'Covid-19 currently presents a background risk of a one in a million chance of death or lasting harm, every day.

'The risk of death alone is one in two million.' 

Mr Harford, who presents the BBC Radio 4 statistics programme More or Less, added: 'Simply existing in a country where the virus is suppressed but circulating is not so risky.

'It depends on age, gender, geography, behaviour and much else.

'But on average it is similar to taking a bath, going skiing, or a short motorbike ride, and considerably less risky than a scuba dive or a skydive. 

'The risk to most individuals in the UK seems modest, for now.' 

Advertisement

Dr Andrew Preston, a reader in microbial pathogenesis at University of Bath, told MailOnline: 'Initially, testing was restricted to those reporting symptoms, but this has eased and it's now possible for a wider range of people to request tests.'

But he added it was 'likely' transmission was also being driven by more interactions between people since the lockdown has eased in the summer months, and this may continue as people go back to work, travel abroad and spend more time indoors as winter comes.

He added: 'There has been lots of discussion on the continent about the recent "second wave" being driven primarily by the younger age groups.

'In theory, infection among the age groups should not be a major problem (a small number will suffer disease). However, the danger is spill over into those who are at risk of severe disease. Hopefully, we have learned the painful lessons of the initial outbreak.'     

Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said the number are 'moving in the wrong after plateauing', but added: 'It should be remembered that we have not yet seen corresponding increases in hospital admissions, let alone deaths and it seems likely that we’d need to see sustained increases in the daily numbers of fresh diagnoses and hospital admissions before the authorities move towards any significant tightening of restrictions on our lives.'  

Although diagnosed cases - published by the Department of Health and Social Care each day - are rising, testing data suggests this is not a concern.

Testing capacity has rapidly increased over the course of the pandemic in order to reach more people. And this has caused a slight increase in the number of people getting a positive result - but not to levels that suggest prevalence of the virus is soaring.

A significantly higher number of people are being tested since July - when diagnosed cases were at their lowest, NHS Test and Trace data shows.

Some 442,392 people were tested between 13 August and 19 August - an almost 20 per cent increase on the 355,597 tested between July 9 and 15.

However, the positive result rate only slightly went up, from 1.12 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the same period. This shows there are not more people testing positive in August than in July.

A significantly higher number of people are being tested in August compared with July - when diagnosed cases were at their lowest, NHS Test and Trace data shows (pictured). However, the positive result rate only slightly went up, from 1.12 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the same period

A significantly higher number of people are being tested in August compared with July - when diagnosed cases were at their lowest, NHS Test and Trace data shows (pictured). However, the positive result rate only slightly went up, from 1.12 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the same period

Commenting on these figures, Dr Duncan Young, a professor of intensive care medicine at University of Oxford, told MailOnline: 'It is therefore very possible that the increase in cases is mostly related to increased testing, but will a small additional effect from the increased prevalence.'

Other data from Public Health England reveals a similar trend over the course of the pandemic. 

Testing has increased vastly from no more than 13,000 tests per day at the start of April to around 150,000 in July. 

During the same period, positive test results in Pillar 2 - which are those outside of hospitals and care homes -  went drastically down from a peak of 5.2 per cent in May to 1.4 per cent in mid-July, showing that less people were testing positive for the coronavirus despite testing reaching thousands more people.

This figure has risen slightly over this month from 1.6 per cent to 2.1 per cent in the week ending August 23. But it's a small increase when comparing with the 5 per cent seen in May. Testing has shot up to almost 200,000 per day this month.

Dr Young said: 'There are at least three possibilities for the rising “test-positive” case rate compared with hospitalisations; More people overall are being tested, but the proportion of the population (prevalence) is steady, so it is simply that more cases are being detected; The proportion of tested individuals that are positive is rising (ie there are really more cases); The tracing system has caused more patients who are at higher risk to be tested (because of exposure) meaning there were more positive tests in those tested but maybe not in the population.

'It could also be a mix of all three.'   

Other Government data supports that cases nationwide are steady, with the Office for National Statistics reporting last week that 'there is some evidence of a small increase in the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in July, following a low point in June, but this continues to level off'. 

An estimated 2,200 people are catching the coronavirus every day - in stark contrast to the 100,000 per day in March. 

Professor McConway said: 'I’m sure everyone would be happier if we could be reasonably confident that the infection rate is falling. It may well be falling, but at least these estimates indicate that it is not rising fast, nationally, and even if there is a slow rise, that doesn’t mean that it will continue to rise. We just can’t be sure.'

Meanwhile, updated estimates on the R number - how many people an infected individual passes the coronavirus on to - show the R number has risen in all regions of England and is now between 0.9 and 1.1.

And the growth rate - which reflects how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day - has also slightly increased. It estimates the number of new infections is somewhere between shrinking by 2 per cent and growing by 1 per cent every day.

But looking at both sets of data, Professor McConway said: 'My interpretation is that both of them indicate that the rate of new infections is approximately stable at the national level.' 

He added: 'There are outbreaks in some places, and when outbreaks occur, actions are being taken

read more from dailymail.....

PREV Gonorrhoea cases have soared 26% in a year to the highest level since records ...
NEXT NHS enrolls 5,000 patients in mass trial of its soups and shakes diet to ...