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Dozens of hospitals hit ‘dangerous’ bed occupancy levels in May, figures suggest

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Dozens of hospitals in England hit dangerous bed occupancy levels at the end of May even though Covid had fizzled out, official figures show.

MailOnline’s analysis of the latest NHS data showed 21 trusts had more than 95 per cent of beds filled in the final week of May. One board in London — North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust — had almost every single bed occupied for the whole week.

More than a third — 50 out of 130 trusts in England — had over 92 per cent of beds occupied by patients, a level which NHS chiefs say should not be exceeded because it can make hospitals unsafe.

And more than three quarters — 106 of 130 trusts — saw occupancy levels rise above the official target level of 85 per cent. For comparison, only 82 trusts were above this level before Covid hit. 

NHS bosses warned that hospitals were very busy working through the backlog of millions of patients waiting for routine operations including hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery.

Thousands of operations have been cancelled since March after the health service shifted its attention to fighting the pandemic, leaving patients in agony as they waited for non-Covid care including cancer treatment and hip replacements. 

Currently, fewer than one per cent of patients in hospital are suffering from the virus and hospitalisations remain flat at around 125 admissions a day nationwide.  

There are now fewer than 1,000 people in hospital with Covid across England, down from nearly 40,000 at the peak of the second wave in January as lockdown and vaccines have kept the virus under control.

But experts fear the rapid spread of the Indian variant will start to ramp up pressure across the NHS in the coming weeks, despite the massive vaccine roll-out which has got first doses to more than three in four adults. 

Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘Any slight rise in [Covid admissions] will put [operations] in jeopardy, as hospitals will again lose flexibility in how they manage their bed bases around infection control policies.’

Bolton — which was first hit by the mutant strain — is already seeing its hospitalisations fall after they rose to a peak about half the size of the second wave, with hospital officials saying the vast majority of those admitted after catching the virus had not been vaccinated. 

Blackburn with Darwen — the nation’s Covid hotspot — may also be seeing early signs that its admissions could peak, after cases began to fall among over-60s in a good sign for pressure on hospitals.

And Matt Hancock yesterday revealed only three patients that have been hospitalised with the Indian variant had been fully vaccinated. Another 28 had received their first dose while 83 were un-vaccinated. No data was available for the other 12 hospitalised patients. 

More than a third of NHS hospitals (orange and red) had over 92 per cent of beds occupied in the last week of May, a level which NHS chiefs say should not be exceeded because it can damage hospital performance

The 21 hospital trusts in England that had more than 95 per cent of their beds occupied in the last week of May

NHS England publishes weekly figures on bed occupancy by patients who are suffering from Covid and other ailments to allow officials to keep track of the pressure on hospitals.

MailOnline’s analysis used data for general beds for the seven days to June 1, the latest data available. There is a lag of about a week because of the time taken to collect the data.

NHS figures showed that of the 21 hospitals with more than 95 per cent of beds filled, four were in London and three were in the North West.

North Middlesex Hospital Trust had the highest proportion of beds filled over the last week of May (411.7 beds occupied out of 412.3 available).

All over-50s could be fully vaccinated by July 1st – two weeks after ‘freedom day’ 

All over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21 — but it will take until September for all adults to have had two jabs, MailOnline analysis can reveal

All over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21 — but it will take until September for all adults to have had two jabs, MailOnline analysis can reveal.

The figures will boost calls for the Government to delay opening up all restrictions on June 21 for a fortnight in order to ensure the most vulnerable members of society have all had time for both doses to have had an effect.

And it comes amid claims that science chiefs Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have spooked No10 into pushing back plans for June 21’s ‘Freedom Day’ total unlocking citing fears of a third wave.

Experts say the vaccine forecast supports the case for a delay in reopening because one dose of vaccine can be as little as 30 per cent effective against the Indian coronavirus variant that is now dominant in the UK.

Cases are currently rising by around 40 per cent a week and new infections will be well above 15,000 a day by June 21, although it remains to be seen if the full vaccination of older Britons will keep hospital occupancy low.

But opponents of a postponement believe the vaccines have successfully broken the link between cases and hospitalisations, and argue the economic cost of a delay would be greater than that caused by a third wave this summer.

MailOnline analysis of official figures shows all people aged 50 and above could all of had their second vaccine dose by June 17, with a full immune response coming two weeks later.

But over-16s will not have received by their final inoculation until September 14, fueling concerns a surge in Covid infections caused by the Indian variant will result in a spike in deaths and hospitalisations among the unvaccinated. 

And experts today told MailOnline the figures suggest the Government would be right to delay by two weeks in order to ensure all over-50s have had their second dose and are protected.

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Whittington Health NHS Trust, also in London, had the second highest proportion of beds filled (98.1 per cent of beds filled, or 173.4 out of 176.7). 

It was followed by Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust in the South East (97.8 per cent, or 414.3 out of 423.7), The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust in the Midlands (97.5 per cent, or 537.4 out of 551.4) and Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the the South West (96.7 per cent, or 510.9 out of 528.4) and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the North West (also 96.7 per cent, or 635 out of 657).

NHS Improvement says trusts should avoid filling more than 92 per cent of their beds with patients, saying that higher levels lead to lower quality patient care.

Its 2020/21 hospital plan states ‘bed occupancy levels should be reduced to a maximum of 92 per cent’. It says this can be achieved through providing more beds, shortening patients’ length of stay and avoiding admissions where possible.

There are mounting concerns that if hospitals are filled above these levels, they could quickly be overwhelmed by any further spike in Covid patients.

Dr Megan Smith, an NHS doctor and legal and policy officer at campaign group EveryDoctor, said hospitals would not be able to cope with even a small spike in Covid patients.

‘We’ve heard of hospitals effectively closing their waiting lists, which is unheard of,’ she said. 

‘Without question, there should be a pause [in easing restrictions on June 21].

‘And in my view, there should be a look at whether there needs to be backtracking and have more restrictions in place. Obviously, that is a deeply unpopular thing to say.’ 

Hospitals have seen the number of beds available reduced due to social distancing measures, which has made it harder for many to clear the backlog of patients. 

It comes amid claims England’s June 21 ‘Freedom Day’ could be delayed ‘by a fortnight’ because ministers want to wait for all over-50s to get both doses and give time for the jabs to take effect.  

The cabinet is split on the issue, with some urging Boris Johnson to exercise caution while others say the focus must now shift to economic recovery.

In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government ‘don’t rule anything out’ in terms of changing the timetable.

But he also insisted that the data on vaccines were ‘encouraging’ and a final decision will not be taken until next Monday.

Medical and science chiefs Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance reportedly gave a ‘fairly grim’ update on the situation to ministers, underlining that jabs can never provide 100 per cent protection and variants are significantly more transmissible.

Whitehall sources said contingency plans are being drawn up for a possible ‘short’ delay to give scientists more time to consider data and allow the NHS to carry out more vaccinations.

One cabinet source told The Times they expected to see a delay of ‘between two weeks and a month’.

They said there was not much concern about political backlash as long as the full reopening happened before schools break for summer on July 23.

Matt Hancock and Michael Gove are among those pushing a more dovish approach, while Rishi Sunak and Grant Shapps want to avoid delay.

Despite the vaccine success, some ministers and officials have been spooked by a surge in Covid cases – with a 68 per cent rise today compared to last week.

However, those cases have so far not fed through into hospitalisations and deaths, suggesting immunity levels are offering substantial protection.

The good Covid news: Fewer than 1,000 infected patients are now in hospital – 40 TIMES fewer than at peak of second wave, ICU death rates have HALVED with drugs, and average age of patients falling seriously ill has dropped by a decade to below 50

Covid hospital admissions are still only a fraction of what they were at the peak of the second wave in January, according to official data that will bolster calls for No10 not to delay England’s June 21 ‘Freedom Day’.

Fewer than 1,000 Covid patients were on wards across the country at the end of May – 773 on May 31, which has since risen slightly to 860 – just 2 per cent of the peak in early January when there were nearly 40,000 beds taken up by the infected.

And the average age of patients being admitted to hospital has plunged by a decade to below 50 for the first time during the pandemic, thanks to vaccines protecting millions of vulnerable older people who were prioritised in Britain’s inoculation roll-out. 

Scientific breakthroughs in finding drugs to help seriously ill patients, such as dexamethasone and budesonide, have also helped the death rate in intensive care halve since January, dropping from 40 per cent of all those admitted to less than 20 per cent.  

The positive figures will inevitably put further pressure on Boris Johnson not to delay England’s roadmap — which is still set to see nightclubs reopen and weddings allow more than 30 guests by June 21.

But No10 is reportedly considering pushing the date back by at least two weeks after England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief science adviser Sir Patrick Vallance spooked officials that unlocking too early could fuel a third wave.

Ministers reportedly plan to delay the unlocking to leave enough time for all over-50s to get their vaccines, plus two weeks to allow time for the jabs to take effect. MailOnline analysis suggests all over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21.

It comes as Matt Hancock today told 4million people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to ‘minimise travel’, get tested and meet outdoors amid the spread of the Indian variant, in a sign Freedom Day may be pushed back. 

Mr Johnson said yesterday he could still see nothing in the data that suggested a pause would be needed. Sources say ministers will not take a decision until June 14, a week before the final easing is set to go ahead. 

Covid patients (red) made up three quarters of all ICU patients in January but this has tumbled to just one in five

The percentage of people admitted to hospital who die has tumbled from almost half to just one in five

The age of patients admitted to intensive care suffering from the virus has fallen (top graph) since the start of the pandemic. The average is now 50 years, compared to 60 years last March

Matt Hancock tells 4million people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to ‘minimise travel’ 

Up to 4million people living in Greater Manchester and Lancashire face lockdown rules creeping back into their lives as the Government has urged them not to leave the area and to avoid meeting people indoors to stop Covid.

The North West areas are hotspots for the Indian ‘Delta’ strain and are now being sent ‘enhanced support’ from the military and Department of Health including surge testing and contact tracing to try and contain the variant.

NHS boards in the area will split from national policy and allow anyone over the age of 18 to book a vaccine in a bid to boost protection.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today asked local people to get tested for coronavirus and said: ‘We know that this approach can work, we’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.’

Both places were added to the ‘coronavirus restrictions’ page of Government guidance under the heading ‘If you’re in an area where the new Covid-19 variant is spreading’, alongside other parts of the North West, Leicester, Hounslow in London and North Tyneside. They cover a total of 5.7million people – around 10 per cent of England. Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham insisted: ‘It is not a lockdown.’

The move comes amid claims that science chiefs Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have spooked No10 into pushing back plans for June 21’s ‘Freedom Day’ total unlocking citing fears of a third wave.

The top advisers reportedly gave a ‘fairly grim’ update on the situation to ministers, underlining that jabs can never provide 100 per cent protection and the new variant is significantly more transmissible so will cause more cases.

Whitehall sources said contingency plans are being drawn up for a possible delay of ‘between two weeks and a month’ to give scientists more time to consider data and allow the NHS to carry out more vaccinations.

Matt Hancock added that it is still likely to be another couple of weeks before advisers and ministers can fully understand how well the vaccines work against the now-dominant Delta strain.

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm by next Monday at the latest whether the June 21 plan will go ahead and he is running the roadmap timetable down to the wire, so far refusing to give any indication of what he will do. His spokesman said today: ‘We need to take the time as built into the roadmap to consider the data.’

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Covid patient numbers are still very low and at just 2.5% of the January peak

Covid patient numbers in UK hospitals are still very low, despite warnings they could surge due to the spread of the Indian variant.

Department of Health data shows they are at just 2.5 per cent of the peak in the darkest days of January. 

There were an average of 900 patients suffering from the virus in hospitals over the seven days to May 31, the latest available, a similar level to the start of the month.

For comparison, at the peak of the second wave around 38,000 Covid patients were in hospital beds.

It was feared that hospital admissions with the virus would start to rise amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant.

But figures are yet to show a sudden peak, with hospitalisations now falling in Bolton which was the first place to be hit by the variant.

Experts say vaccines have broken the link between rising cases and upticks in hospital admissions.

But ministers are waiting for clearer data to confirm that is the case before pressing ahead with any unlocking plans. 

Only 5% of hospital patients end up in intensive care

While Covid hospitalisations remain very low, the number of patients who end up in intensive care or needing mechanical ventilation is even smaller.

Department of Health data shows 3,493 people suffering from Covid were admitted to hospital in May and 169 to the intensive care unit (ICU).

This means just 4.8 per cent of Covid patients admitted to hospital ended up in intensive care.

For comparison, there were 56,457 Covid patients admitted to hospitals across the country in the first two weeks of January, and 3,816 (6.7 per cent) patients were taken to intensive care.

The South West, South East, East of England and Wales all had fewer than 10 people go into intensive care across May – four, eight, six and two, respectively. 

The discovery of drugs that can save people from dying of Covid have dramatically boosted survival rates in ICU, too, with the death rate halving to around 20 per cent from 45 per cent in the first wave, The Telegraph reports.

Medicines such as the steroid dexamethasone and arthritis drug tocilizumab have both helped to cut the risk of death for hospital patients since they were proven to work in June and January.

Average age of Covid patients in hospital has dropped by 50% as vaccines drive takes effect 

An intensive care admissions report shows the average age of Covid patients has fallen by 10 years since the start of the pandemic amid a successful vaccine roll out.

The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) said patients were aged 60 on average during last March, at the start of the pandemic.

But the average age has fallen to 50 years during the last three months.

The vaccine roll out prioritised older age groups first, because they are more at risk of hospitalisation and death if they caught the virus.

And the above results show the drive is working, pushing down hospitalisations among older groups.

More than 40.4million Britons — or three in four adults — have received at least one dose, and more than 27.9million — or over 50 per cent — have got both jabs. 

The Indian variant is susceptible to vaccines

There has been mounting alarm over the rapid spread of the Indian variant which has now reached more than 85 per cent of areas in England.

But studies show it is just as susceptible to vaccine-triggered immunity as the old virus.

Bolton — one of the first places hit by the variant — is now seeing its hospitalisations with the virus fall after surge testing to root out every case.

Matt Hancock yesterday told the Commons that only three of the 126 patients in hospital suffering from the variant had been vaccinated.

He added that 28 had received one dose, and 83 were yet to get their jabs. No data was available for the other 12 hospitalised patients. 

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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Health

Minister Robert Jenrick hints weddings WON’T be ramped up to allow 30+ plus guests

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Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick hinted today that long-awaited weddings for more than 30 guests could be delayed beyond June 21 as the Prime Minister comes under increasing pressure to delay lockdown easings

People in England making summer plans for after ‘Freedom Day’ were today told to ‘wait until you’ve heard from the Prime Minister’, in another hint that June 21 easings will be pushed back because of the Indian variant.

No10 is considering delaying the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown following jittery warnings from top scientists about the spread of the mutant strain.

Some are pushing for restrictions to remain in place until as late as the start of English school holidays on July 23, hoping the move would give the NHS valuable extra time to ensure millions more over-50s are fully vaccinated and protected against the Delta variant.

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick today appeared to drop the biggest hint yet that England’s final unlocking will be delayed, with cases ‘clearly rising’. Yesterday Britain recorded the biggest week-on-week jump in infections since before Christmas, after the number of positive tests jumped by 90 per cent to 6,083.

Asked whether weddings with more than 30 guests will once again be allowed from June 21, he said: ‘I wouldn’t make plans until you have heard from the PM if that is important to you.

‘We have always said that the roadmap is subject to review of the data. That is what is happening right now, so whether it is weddings or international travel or any of these other important topics, you always have to wait until the judgement is made on the basis of the data at the decision point.’  

Weddings are one of the few areas of society yet to enjoy any freedom, with ceremonies currently capped to 30 guests in England. The final step of the roadmap will remove the limit, alongside allowing nightclubs to reopen and people to invite more than six others into their homes. 

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm by Monday at the latest whether the June 21 plan will go ahead and he is running the roadmap timetable down to the wire, so far refusing to give any indication of what he will do.

Despite growing calls to delay the move, Michael Gove — who has called for a cautious approach to the roadmap — said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 if he was a ‘betting man’.

Meanwhile, Whitehall sources say Rishi Sunak — who is desperate for the PM to stick to the target date to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders — could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown but for no longer than ‘a week or two’. But The Guardian claims the Chancellor would be willing to delay Freedom Day by a month, which could see it pushed back until July 19.

Other experts and Tory MPs have lined up to urge the Prime Minister not to delay the unlocking, saying people must learn to live with the virus and the NHS should be ‘able to cope’ with any surge from the Indian variant.

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said that ‘life has to go on’ when asked whether the Government should stick to its roadmap on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. But he added vaccines would not be enough and people would need to keep adapting their lifestyles to fight the disease. 

Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers which represents hospitals across England, said trusts could ‘cope’ with the inevitable rise in Covid cases fuelled by the Indian variant. He pointed to Bolton — the first place to be battered by the Indian variant — where hospitalisations were now falling.

Mr Hopson added jabs had ‘broken the link’ between rising cases and hospitalisations, and those being admitted to wards tended to be younger and less sick than those during the first and second waves. 

Ministers yesterday ramped up support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire, urging 4million people living in both areas not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors. Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s mayor, said there was ‘every reason to believe’ the extra support will successfully curb the spread of the mutant strain.

It came as official data revealed eight in 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or catching the virus in the past. Office for National Statistics blood testing found 80.3 per cent of adults tested positive for antibodies in the third week of May. 

The Indian variant is now dominant in more than two thirds of England’s local authorities, and has spread to 85 per cent of the country, according to the latest surveillance data from Britain’s leading centre for tracking the virus the Sanger Institute

Rishi Sunak (left, pictured at Oswald’s club in London last night) could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown of ‘a week or two’ following calls to delay the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown. Michael Gove (right) has said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 – if he were a ‘betting man’

Hospitals are ‘coping’ with Covid infection levels, says NHS boss 

Chris Hopson said hospitals could ‘cope’ with rising cases

Hospitals in Covid hotspots are seeing a ‘significantly’ lower death rate among people admitted for treatment and are coping with current levels of infection, the head of NHS Providers has said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the body which represents NHS trusts in England, said there was a degree of confidence that vaccines appear to have ‘broken’ the link between infections and the ‘very high level of hospitalisations and mortality we’ve seen in previous waves’.

He told Times Radio: ‘And if, and it is a big if, if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if other areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.

‘It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here… you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity they’ve got.

‘What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is a significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures.

‘So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.’

An increased package of support is being provided to Greater Manchester and Lancashire, similar to that seen in Bolton, where case numbers of the Delta variant first identified in India have been relatively high.

Mr Hopson said any decision on easing remaining lockdown restrictions in England on June 21 was finely balanced, adding that if ‘incredibly busy’ hospitals see even a small rise in Covid patients, they could have to ‘make some trade-offs between Covid and non-Covid care’.

He added that ‘we don’t quite know where we are in terms of, are we at the beginning of an exponential rise or not?’.

But he said the ‘picture on mortality seems really pretty clear, that we’ve had less than 15 people a day dying from Covid for nearly about seven weeks now and that compares to well over 1,000 a day in the January peak and 800 a day in April last year’. 

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It comes as:

  • Hundreds of British passengers on a cruise ship sailing around the country were told they could not disembark when they arrived in Scotland because of Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus restrictions;
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber warned Boris Johnson that nothing would stop him from reopening his theatres on June 21 and that he was prepared to be arrested;
  • Eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid either from a vaccine or having had the virus in the past, study showed today; 
  • An American senator blasted a letter by 27 scientists claiming Covid originated naturally as an ‘orchestrated’ attempt to damage then-President Donald Trump;
  • Cambridge University researchers found people most worried about catching Covid would judge other people’s behaviour more harshly;
  • Indian doctors claimed the new Covid variant is giving people gangrene and hearing loss not seen in older strains of the virus;
  • Weekly Covid deaths in England and Wales have dropped below 100 for the first time in nearly nine months;
  • Britain’s daily Covid cases yesterday spiked to 6,048 in a 90 per cent jump on last Tuesday — and 13 deaths from the virus were recorded.

The final batch of restrictions are due to be relaxed on June 21, but there are growing calls for the last round of easings to be delayed amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant, which is now dominant in the UK and at least 40 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain of the virus. 

Mr Jenrick hinted to Sky News that June 21 could be pushed back, saying:’We created this five-week period between the stages of the road map and that has actually proved invaluable on this occasion, because it’s a finely balanced decision.

‘We need to see that data of cases, which are clearly rising, but the link to hospitalisations and ultimately to death.

‘So the Prime Minister is reviewing that ahead of the decision point, which is going to be June 14 – at that point of course he will let everybody know what the ultimate decision is.’

He added: ‘We are going to take a cautious approach but if we can proceed with that reopening on the 21st of June of course all of us would love to see that, for our own lives and for the livelihoods that depend on that further reopening.’

The minister was also grilled on whether Britons would be able to holiday abroad this year, saying people should stick to the ‘admittedly relatively small number of countries’ on the ‘green’ list, and not travel to ‘amber’ or ‘red’ areas unless absolutely necessary.

‘You shouldn’t be booking holidays to countries that are currently on either the amber list or the red list,’ he told the programme.

‘You can go to the admittedly relatively small number of countries on the green list.

‘Even there be aware that this isn’t a normal summer for holidays, we are reviewing that list every three weeks and so I would advise people to look for travel operators who can offer flexibility, would be able to offer rescheduling or repayments if something changes.

‘We would like to open up that green list to more countries but we have obviously got to do so cautiously.’

Only 11 countries and territories are on the green list, which includes no major travel destinations in Europe.

The Prime Minister was yesterday reported to be considering delaying June 21 by about two weeks to give extra time for all over-50s — who are most at risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus — to get their second dose of the Covid vaccine, and for it to take effect.

But some experts have called on him not to delay the unlocking. Asked whether June 21 should go ahead, Dr Nabarro suggested ministers should stick to the roadmap.

‘It can’t be just about restrictions – the future for humanity is going to require that we adapt our lifestyles so that we make it hard for this virus to spread,’ he said.

Cases in Bolton have begun to fall amid surge testing to root out every case of the Indian variant. Bolton was the first area in England to experience a major outbreak of the mutant strain

Department of Health data shows its Covid hospitalisations are also now falling, and did not reach the peaks during either the first or second wave. NHS officials in the area say they are confident they will not be overwhelmed

DARK RED/PURPLE = MORE INDIAN VARIANT CASES. Variant-tracking data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows that the now-dominant Indian ‘Delta’ strain is hotly focused in the North West of England, where the new restrictions are coming into place

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have Covid antibodies 

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Antibody positive levels are highest among older age groups who have had two doses but rising fast in younger adults, too

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region.

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

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‘We know that the virus is constantly changing, which means that although vaccination is a marvellous marvellous asset, it’s not going to be enough. 

‘We are going to have to continue to behave as though the virus is an ever present threat.

‘So by all means, let the restrictions be released, but at the same time could I encourage everybody, everywhere to go on behaving carefully.

‘At school, at the university, in the pub, in the restaurant, in the social club, the virus is still going to be around and it can come back with a huge surge, very, very quickly.’

Mr Hopson has also suggested the latest round of easings could go ahead, because the NHS may be able to cope with the higher pressure if hospitalisations follow Bolton.

The Greater Manchester borough’s hospitalisations are falling after cases also began to drop, following efforts to ramp up vaccinations in the community and surge testing to root out every case.

The NHS Providers chief executive told Times Radio: ‘And if, and it is a big if, if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if others areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.’

‘It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here…you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity they’ve got.

‘What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures. So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.’

Amid growing concern June 21 may be pushed back, impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber warned Boris Johnson that nothing will stop him from reopening his theatres on that date and he was prepared to be arrested.

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

‘We are going to open, come hell or high water,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Telegraph.

Asked what he would do if the Government postponed lifting lockdown, he said: ‘We will say: ”Come to the theatre and arrest us.”’ 

Ministers yesterday announced enhanced support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire to help the area curb the spread of the Indian variant.

Matt Hancock said the military would be brought in as part of the ‘strengthened package of support’.

The Health Secretary also encouraged the up to six million people living in the area not to travel to other parts of the UK and get tested twice a week to help curb the spread the spread of the Indian variant.

He added that residents should try to work from home where possible, and that schools could reintroduce face coverings in communal areas if they were advised to do so by local directors of public health.

Mr Burnham has expressed support for the measures taken in his region and Lancashire.

He said the package was ‘better than the way they went about it last year’, adding it had a ‘better chance of carrying the public with it’. ‘We have every reason to believe it will be successful,’ he said.

It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak was reportedly among a string of Cabinet ministers pressing Boris Johnson to stick to the target date, arguing there is a pressing need to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders.

A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak could live with a delay of ‘a week or two’ but would resist any further slippage as this could involve extending the furlough scheme.

‘I don’t think he’s in principle against a short delay if that is what is necessary,’ the source said. ‘If it is more than a week or two then that is problematic.’ 

Treasury sources said there were no plans to extend the furlough scheme, which continues in full until the end of this month. From July, employers will have to make a gradually increasing contribution until the scheme ends in September.

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APRIL LEFT, MAY RIGHT: Graphs show the proportions of people in different age groups who show signs of immunity to coronavirus in blood tests. The levels are almost maxed out in elderly and middle-aged groups who were first to get vaccinated and have clearly risen in younger groups during May 

Andrew Lloyd Webber says Boris Johnson will have to arrest him to stop theatre reopening on June 21

Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned Boris Johnson that nothing will stop him from reopening his theatres on June 21 and he is prepared to be arrested.   

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions

The pandemic has had a catastrophic financial impact on the theatre industry and many have remained closed despite the ease in Covid-19 restrictions as it is not financially viable for them to open with reduced capacities.

Lord Lloyd-Webber is preparing for a production of Cinderella, which is scheduled to open for previews on June 25 ahead of its world premiere in July.

‘We are going to open, come hell or high water,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Telegraph.

Asked what he would do if the Government postponed lifting lockdown, he said: ‘We will say: ”come to the theatre and arrest us.”’

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It comes as eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’ 

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region. 

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

The age distribution of immunity is directly linked to the vaccine rollout, with higher rates in older people and lower ones among younger people who haven’t yet had their jabs.

In over-50s in England, for example, more than 98 per cent of people showed signs of immunity.

In those aged 35 to 49 it was 78 per cent, in 25 to 34-year-olds it was 59 per cent and in under-25s it was 53 per cent.

Andy Burnham calls for No10 to redirect Covid vaccine supplies to Greater Manchester’

Andy Burnham has called for vaccine supplies to be diverted to Indian Covid variant hotspots including Greater Manchester to jab over-18s

Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham has today called for vaccine supplies to be redirected to his region and other Indian Covid variant hotspots to tackle the spread of the mutant strain.

The former Labour MP, dubbed the ‘King of the North’, is urging ministers to open up jabs to over-18s in badly-hit areas to deal with surging cases. 

He argued surging supplies to the region would stop the spread of the Delta variant and offered the best hope of No10 being able to unlock fully on June 21.

But a Government minister today dismissed Mr Burnham’s calls to divert coronavirus vaccine supplies to areas including Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Four million people living in both areas were yesterday slapped with tougher guidance urging them not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said No10 was ‘going to stick with the advice’ given to them by top scientific advisers regarding the roll-out. 

Currently the inoculation drive is only open to over-25s in England. But some areas have already begun offering jabs to over-18s, including in parts of Manchester.

Asked about whether he wanted over-18s to be prioritised in the roll-out on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘We absolutely would say surge vaccine supplies into high case areas, so not just Greater Manchester and Lancashire [but] other parts of the country. 

‘It makes much more sense to get on with the vaccination programme in June, then doing that later in the year or later because obviously the need is now to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Of course it would slow the vaccination programme in other parts of the country where cases are lower.’ 

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Debate about the lifting of lockdown has intensified at the top of government following a surge in Covid cases. 

Government scientists are understood to have warned ministers that daily cases are on course to be running at well over 10,000 a day by June 21.

Yesterday, daily cases topped 6,000 for the second time since mid-March. And there is concern that those who have had only one jab are at risk from the virulent Indian strain.

Matt Hancock told MPs on Monday that only three of the 126 people hospitalised by the Indian variant in the UK had been fully vaccinated. But a further 28 in hospital – just over a fifth of the total – had received one jab.

Mr Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty are said to have argued that a short delay would enable many more to gain the extra protection of a second jab. But Michael Gove, who is also urging caution, is said to believe Mr Johnson will press ahead with lifting at least some restrictions on June 21.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister wanted to see more data before announcing the decision on Monday. 

Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson to overrule the scientists. 

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Scientists have got themselves into a frightened state where none of them want to be the one who says unlock because they are fearful they will be blamed if something goes wrong, even though there is no evidence that it will.

‘They are drifting towards a zero Covid goal, which is unattainable, and the politicians have to take back control.’

Former Cabinet minister David Jones also warned against further delay. ‘We cannot continue to live as we have for the last 15 months,’ he said. At some stage we have to take our courage in our hands and start getting back to normal, and that stage is now.’ 

It comes after MailOnline analysis yesterday revealed all over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21.

The figures will boost calls for the Government to delay opening up all restrictions on June 21 for a fortnight in order to ensure the most vulnerable members of society have all had time for both doses to have had an effect. 

Experts say the vaccine forecast supports the case for a delay in reopening because one dose of vaccine can be as little as 30 per cent effective against the Indian coronavirus variant that is now dominant in the UK.

Cases are currently rising by around 40 per cent a week and new infections will be well above 15,000 a day by June 21, although it remains to be seen if the full vaccination of older Britons will keep hospital occupancy low.

But opponents of a postponement believe the vaccines have successfully broken the link between cases and hospitalisations, and argue the economic cost of a delay would be greater than that caused by a third wave this summer.

Experts told MailOnline the figures suggest the Government would be right to delay by two weeks in order to ensure all over-50s have had their second dose and are protected.

SIX MILLION people are told to stay outdoors: A tenth of the UK’s population gets tough new ‘advice’ to curb Indian ‘Delta’ variant in the North West of England

By Sophie Borland for The Daily Mail 

Nearly six million residents in the North West were yesterday told to meet other people outdoors and keep travel to a minimum to curb the spread of Covid’s Indian variant.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said restrictions currently in place in Bolton would be expanded across the rest of Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

People will be urged to avoid meeting others inside where possible, cut back on travel in and out of the region and maintain social distancing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said restrictions currently in place in Bolton would be expanded across the rest of Greater Manchester and Lancashire

The 22 councils in the region will be given military support to help with Covid testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools. Local leaders last night insisted the measures do not amount to a North West lockdown, but ‘guidance and advice’ for residents.

Although people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire have been told to minimise travel, they are still allowed to go on holiday. However, ministers are urging the 5.7million covered by the guidance to be cautious about social interaction in the face of high rates of the Indian variant.

Mr Hancock described the measures, which affect nearly one in ten of the UK population, as a ‘strengthened package of support’. He also admitted the Government faces a ‘challenging decision’ in working out whether ‘Freedom Day’ – the final step in lifting lockdown – can go ahead as planned on June 21.

He told the Commons: ‘We know that this approach can work. We’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.

‘This is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and Lancashire and, of course, it’s vital that people in these areas, as everywhere else, come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible because that is our way out of this pandemic together.’

He added: ‘We face a challenging decision ahead of June 21. These are difficult judgments.’

Mr Hancock also stressed that ‘conclusive data’ on the effectiveness of the vaccine against the Indian variant would not be available for at least two more weeks.

He said Public Health England officials were trying to determine the crucial figure which would show how effective the jabs were at reducing serious diseases and hospital admissions. He added: ‘It’s obviously an absolutely critical figure and I’ll report it to the House as soon as we have it.’

The areas affected by the measures – which cover ten council areas in Greater Manchester and 12 in Lancashire – all have particularly high cases of the Indian variant, which has since been renamed the Delta variant.

The 22 councils in the region will be given military support to help with Covid testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools

But Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham insisted the measures were guidance rather than a regional lockdown.

He said it was ‘very important to keep a sense of proportion’, adding: ‘This is guidance – it is advice to the public. It is not a lockdown. It is not a ban.

‘This is not about telling people to cancel their plans – it is about asking them to be careful in setting any new ones, to minimise non-essential travel.’

He urged ministers to release extra vaccine stocks, saying: ‘We are not asking for any more vaccine here than our fair share. What we are asking for is the bringing forward of Greater Manchester’s supplies so that we can run a surge vaccination programme over the next three weeks.’

Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said: ‘We remain hopeful that with these measures in place Step Four of the roadmap on June 21 will go ahead.

‘However, we must not allow a disregard for the guidance now to affect those chances.

‘We must all continue to work as one to help prevent a surge of infections delaying our exit from this crisis – from those taking the time to discuss vaccine concerns with friends and family to the thousands of businesses who have worked hard to implement measures to aid the reduction in transmission.’

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Andy Burnham calls for vaccine supplies to be diverted to Greater Manchester

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Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham has today called for vaccine supplies to be redirected to his region and other Indian Covid variant hotspots to tackle the spread of the mutant strain.

The former Labour MP, dubbed the ‘King of the North’, is urging ministers to open up jabs to over-18s in badly-hit areas to deal with surging cases. 

He argued surging supplies to the region would stop the spread of the Delta variant and offered the best hope of No10 being able to unlock fully on June 21.

But a Government minister today dismissed Mr Burnham’s calls to divert coronavirus vaccine supplies to areas including Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Four million people living in both areas were yesterday slapped with tougher guidance urging them not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said No10 was ‘going to stick with the advice’ given to them by top scientific advisers regarding the roll-out. 

Currently the inoculation drive is only open to over-25s in England. But some areas have already begun offering jabs to over-18s, including in parts of Manchester.

Mr Burnham’s call would see vaccines purposely diverted to the North West, as well as other badly-hit regions, to speed up the roll-out in those areas.

He said it made more sense to prioritise younger people in June to ‘stop the march of the delta variant’. But he accepted that it would slow down the roll-out in the rest of the country. 

Andy Burnham has called for vaccine supplies to be diverted to Indian Covid variant hotspots including Greater Manchester to jab over-18s

Around four million people in the North West of England are now in the area with extra restrictions because of concerns about outbreaks of the Indian variant. Bolton, Burnley, Blackburn and Kirklees were already affected but now all of Lancashire and Greater Manchester have been added

The Army is being sent in to help with surge testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools. Pictured: The Royal Horse Artillery help out at a walk-in vaccination bus in Bolton town centre today

The Indian variant is now dominant in more than two thirds of England’s local authorities, and has spread to 85 per cent of the country, according to the latest surveillance data from Britain’s leading centre for tracking the virus the Sanger Institute

Ministers are currently facing calls to delay England’s June 21 ‘Freedom Day’ by up to a month, in order to vaccinate millions more adults.

Experts say delaying the roll-out would give the UK enough time to fully inoculate all over-50s, with around 4.3million still waiting for their second dose.  

One dose of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are less effective against B.1.617.2, which is now dominant in more than 200 areas of the country.

But two jabs appear to be just as effective at stopping people getting infected and falling seriously ill, Public Health England data shows. 

4million residents in Indian variant hotspots of Greater Manchester and Lancashire are urged to watch England’s Euro opener with Croatia outdoors 

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has encouraged residents in parts of Lancashire and Greater Manchester to watch England’s first Euro 2020 game outdoors if possible.

He urged them to ‘minimise’ the number of people they watch England’s match against Croatia with this weekend after a rise in coronavirus cases in the areas.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘If you look to this weekend with the weather looking good in Greater Manchester, which is great for everybody with the football coming, we would say minimise the number of people you watch the match with. 

‘Watch it outside if you can.’

He also praised the Government for ‘surging support’ into areas where there are high case numbers after Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that a ‘strengthened package of support’ will be provided for Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

‘We very much appreciate the help of the Government. It’s a reversal of where we were last year,’ he said. 

‘Then we were getting restrictions put on us without support. 

‘This is an approach where the restrictions are being managed nationally through the road map. 

‘We’ve been working closely with the Government on this. It’s a sensible approach and we support it.’

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Boris Johnson is expected to confirm by next Monday at the latest whether the June 21 plan will go ahead and he is running the roadmap timetable down to the wire, so far refusing to give any indication of what he will do.

Despite being a thorn in the side of the Government over previous measures imposed on Manchester, Mr Burnham said he supported the Government’s approach to tackling the Indian variant.

The Army will be sent in to help with surge testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools.

Residents are also being urged to avoid meeting others inside where possible.

But Mr Burnham said No10 has to go further to provide more vaccines to hotspots in order to prioritise all young people in the areas. Infection rates are currently soaring in younger people.

Asked about whether he wanted over-18s to be prioritised in the roll-out on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘We absolutely would say surge vaccine supplies into high case areas, so not just Greater Manchester and Lancashire [but] other parts of the country. 

‘It makes much more sense to get on with the vaccination programme in June, then doing that later in the year or later because obviously the need is now to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Of course it would slow the vaccination programme in other parts of the country where cases are lower. 

‘But my argument would be that that makes sense in those areas as well because we’ve all got an interest in stopping the spread of the Delta variant where it is rising.’

He said Greater Manchester has the staff and volunteers to ‘crack on with the vaccination programme right now’ because of the military support provided by the Government.

Mr Burnham — who insisted the guidance yesterday was ‘not a lockdown’ — added he was hoping the Government would lift all the restrictions on June 21 but it had to be done ‘safely’.

‘It’s a difficult one, I’d acknowledge it’s a difficult one for the Government, I think they’ve got voices coming in from both directions,’ he told LBC. 

When pushed for a view on whether it should go ahead, Mr Burnham added: ‘I want to try and stick to the 21st June, I think the country wants that, but it’s got to be done safely.

‘There is something they can do to give more confidence to the 21st, or as close to the 21st as possible, and that is to surge vaccine supplies into areas that have the highest case numbers, because the need now is to stop the march of the delta variant.’ 

Despite his calls, Mr Jenrick this morning insisted the Government would not bend its approach in working down the age categories nationally.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘At the moment we are going to stick with the advice we have received from the JCVI, our advisers, which say that it is better to continue to work down the age categories on a national basis, rather than adopt a regional or geographical approach.

All over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21 — but it will take until September for all adults to have had two jabs, MailOnline analysis can reveal

‘Their advice has served us well so far as a country, they have got the big calls right since the start of the vaccine rollout.

‘So we are going to continue with that approach but try to do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for people in Greater Manchester to get to the vaccine centres.’

Tougher guidance designed to stop the spread of the Indian variant was already in place in eight councils, including Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.

But another 20 councils were added to the list yesterday, with 5.7million people — around a tenth of the country — now living under stronger advice.

The specific areas included in the new guidance in Greater Manchester are: Manchester, Salford, Bury, Rochdale, Wigan, Oldham, Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and Bolton.

And in Lancashire they are: Rossendale, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Preston, South Ribble, Chorley, Pendle, Fylde, Lancaster, West Lancashire, Wyre, Burnley and Blackburn with Darwen.

Labs will test as many of the positives as possible to identify outbreaks of the Indian variant — although almost all cases are now expected to be caused by it.

More than eight out of 10 cases in most of the affected areas have already been linked to the strain.

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Fewer Americans than ever are still social distancing and more are visiting stores and restaurants

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Americans are leaving their homes more and easing up on social distancing, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxing guidelines for vaccinated Americans. 

A new Gallup poll found that more ore people are visiting stores and restaurants than at any time since spring 2020.

Still, the vast majority of Americans report still wearing masks outside their homes, and significant minorities are still avoiding crowds and public spaces.

The poll shows the country is inching ‘back to normal’ in the wake of vaccinations and relaxed CDC guidance, while some Americans remain cautious.

Fewer Americans are staying isolated than ever before, according to a May Gallup poll

About 79 percent report using a face mask in the last week – lower than any time since May 2020 but still the vast majority 

On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a major announcement: vaccinated Americans could safely go out in public without a mask.

In announcing the change, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky explained that the vaccines in use in the U.S. are highly effective – including against variants – and protect against coronavirus transmission.

This means that, not only does vaccination protect you from getting sick yourself, it also means that you are unlikely to give COVID to someone else.

Thanks to this protection, the CDC said that fully vaccinated people should be able to go mask-less in any public space – at the grocery store, at the football stadium, and everywhere in between.

After the announcement, states from Kentucky to New York relaxed their own mask requirements and made other steps towards full reopening.

At the time, many Americans said they would continue to wear a mask in public, regardless of vaccination status.

But a new Gallup poll conducted one week after the CDC’s guidance changed shows that Americans are starting to get more comfortable with a reopened world.

The Gallup poll was conducted from May 18 to May 23, including a random sample of about 3,600 adults.

Only 22 percent of the adults included in the poll said they were completely or mostly isolating from people outside their household.

This is a far cry from spring 2020 – that April, 75 percent of adults were completely isolating. Just 3 percent were not making any attempt to isolate.

Americans are also returning to public spaces. The share of adults polled who say they’re avoiding places where people congregate was the lowest Gallup has recorded since March 2020.

Events with large crowds, travel, and other activities that seemed taboo in spring 2020 are now becoming commonplace once again – but many remain cautious

Still, many Americans are still taking precautions. Gallup reports that 44 percent have avoided events with large crowds during the week they were polled.

About 40 percent avoided traveling by airplane or public transportation, while 34 percent avoided going to public places in general. Just over one-fourth of Americans (26 percent) still avoided small gatherings with family or friends.

These numbers are all way down from this winter, when the country’s biggest surge hit. In January, 72 percent reported they were avoiding large crowds.

Americans are also getting more comfortable visiting stores, restaurants, and other establishments.

People are getting more comfortable going out in public, to restaurants and stores

More people are going to grocery stores, pharmacies, and other stores

More Americans are visiting restaurants – both getting takeout and dining in

In the May poll, 60 percent of respondents said they’d gone to a grocery store in the past day, 35 percent said they’d gone to another type of store, and 24 percent said they’d gone to a pharmacy – all six percent higher than these figures in April.

The number of respondents who had recently visited a restaurant increased even more sharply – from 30 percent in April to 38 percent in May. People were dining in, too – 26 percent reported dining in the past day, compared to 22 percent in April.

More Americans reported going to doctors, salons, and other service providers as well, though these areas saw lower use jumps compared to stores and restaurants.

The CDC no longer requires face masks for fully vaccinated Americans, and people are starting to get comfortable with that option

The Gallup poll also saw a decrease in face mask use, likely inspired by the CDC’s guidance shift.

In the May survey, the poll found that 79 percent of respondents said they had worn a face mask in the past week – compared to 86 percent in April.

This still indicates that the vast majority of the country is using masks, though. And mask use is higher among vaccinated adults, indicating that those people who are more likely to get their COVID shot are also more likely to remain cautious afterwards.

Among those poll respondents who said they don’t plan to get vaccinated, only 49 percent said they’d worn a face mask in the past week.

Unvaccinated Americans are less likely to wear a face mask than those who are vaccinated – and who don’t actually need the mask

Those unvaccinated Americans are the most likely to need a mask, experts say.

For this group, wearing a mask not only protects individuals from catching COVID – it also prevents the coronavirus from spreading to those Americans who currently cannot get vaccinated. This includes children under the age of 12 and those who are immunocompromised due to medical conditions

Continued vaccinations and other public health measures will be important to ensure that this spring’s reopening – coupled with the highly contagious variant from India – do not lead to surges in future months.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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