Covid, what Covid? 18,000 fans cricket fans party like it’s 2019 at Edgbaston

Unmasked cricket fans stand in Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham at another 'pilot event' allowed by the Government

Nearly 20,000 unmasked cricket fans have piled into Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham today to watch the England vs New Zealand Test match, even though coronavirus is surging across the country again and Cabinet ministers are considering extending lockdown beyond June 21.

Downing Street is allowing the stadium to operate at 70 per cent capacity, meaning 18,000 spectators are watching the action without following social distancing measures at the first mass sports event without restrictions since the Cheltenham Festival in March 2020.

All fans are required to present a negative lateral flow test ahead of the match, join a ‘human snake’ to take the 20-minute walk to the stadium from the city centre to avoid public transport, and use postcode analysis of spectators’ home addresses to lay on extra buses on busy routes to avoid overcrowding. 

In the Government’s latest ‘pilot event’, which is being conducted just days before Boris Johnson is set to decide whether to delay so-called Freedom Day, spectators are not required need to wear masks when seated and must use an app for the ticket as well as ordering food and drink. 

Meanwhile, Euro 2020 matches at Wembley Stadium will be given an exemption from lockdown rules even if the Prime Minister extends lockdown, after the Football Association was required to give UEFA a commitment that at least 22,5000 fans will attend each of the seven games hosted in London. 

The scenes are reminiscent of the Cheltenham debacle in Spring 2020, when thousands of fans flocked to the Gloucestershire racecourse while the pandemic took hold in the UK. Ministers were later blamed for not preventing a surge in cases and deaths which followed.

And with coronavirus surging a third time, Downing Street is likely to face fierce criticism from scientists who are calling for an extension of lockdown. SAGE adviser Professor Neil Ferguson, who effectively designed the shutdown policy, has warned that it will be three weeks before reliable data will become available which will help ministers to decide whether the easing needs to be halted.

It comes as official figures show the Indian variant, which is 60 per cent more transmissible than the so-called Kent variant which launched the second wave in the winter, accounts for more than 90 per cent of all confirmed cases – with positive tests in England rising by nearly 45 per cent last week.

More than 25,000 people who were swabbed in the seven-day spell ending June 2 had the virus, up from 17,000 the week before. This was despite around 850,000 fewer tests being carried out.  

The Prime Minister is understood to be considering implementing a so-called ‘mix and match’ unlocking on June 21, with face coverings, work-from-home guidance and the rule of six all likely to remain mandatory into July but the 30 guest cap on weddings to be dropped. 

He hinted that lockdown could be extended yesterday after saying that ‘everybody can see cases and hospitalisations are going up’, after Department of Health bosses posted another 7,540 positive coronavirus tests in the biggest week-on-week increase since February.

However, the rise in cases is yet to result in deaths from the virus due to the vaccine roll-out – which has seen three-quarters of all adults in the country having been vaccinated.

According to Professor Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, the rising case numbers were caused by ‘increased social interaction and a newly dominant variant that is much more transmissible’. But he stressed: ‘It’s clear that this is an epidemic among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations in the UK and, due to the way vaccines have been rolled out, is largely affecting younger generations.’ 

In other coronavirus developments today:

  • Matt Hancock today admitted the first lockdown was delayed despite initial warnings over 820,000 deaths amid fears Britons would not tolerate the restrictions for long;
  • Health Secretary told MPs today that health chiefs did war-game a pandemic before the nation was eventually hit by coronavirus last year, but tried to keep it secret;
  • Professor Susan Michie, a SAGE adviser and member of the Communist Party of Britain, said social distancing and wearing face masks should remain in place forever;  
  • More than 5 million people in England are now waiting for NHS hospital treatment – the highest number ever;
  • Britain’s nightclubs are planning to reopen at midnight on June 21 to revellers desperate to party while bosses threaten to sue the Government if lockdown is extended. 

Unmasked cricket fans stand in Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham at another ‘pilot event’ allowed by the Government

A general view of the Hollies stand as the spectators fill the stand during day one of the second Test Match between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston

A general view of the Hollies stand as the spectators fill the stand during day one of the second Test Match between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston

Unmasked cricket fans stand in Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham at another 'pilot event' allowed by the Government

Unmasked cricket fans stand in Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham at another ‘pilot event’ allowed by the Government

General view of the fans in the stands watching the action on the pitch as England bat during day one of the Test match

General view of the fans in the stands watching the action on the pitch as England bat during day one of the Test match

Fans in the stands who are part of the Government's latest pilot event which is allowing up to 18,000 spectators in the arena

Fans in the stands who are part of the Government’s latest pilot event which is allowing up to 18,000 spectators in the arena

A wide shot of Edgbaston Stadium, which is operating at 75 per cent capacity - 18,000 people in attendance

A wide shot of Edgbaston Stadium, which is operating at 75 per cent capacity – 18,000 people in attendance

General view as fans watch the action at Edgbaston Stadium during the England vs New Zealand match

General view as fans watch the action at Edgbaston Stadium during the England vs New Zealand match

Unmasked cricket fans stand in Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham at another 'pilot event' allowed by the Government

Unmasked cricket fans stand in Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham at another ‘pilot event’ allowed by the Government

A trumpeter plays music in a packed Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham as England play New Zealand in a Test match

A trumpeter plays music in a packed Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham as England play New Zealand in a Test match

Spectators in the Hollies Stand stack up plastic cups during day one of the second Test Match between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston

Spectators in the Hollies Stand stack up plastic cups during day one of the second Test Match between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston

Fans in the stands who are part of the Government's latest pilot event which is allowing up to 18,000 people in the arena

Fans in the stands who are part of the Government’s latest pilot event which is allowing up to 18,000 people in the arena

The number of people falling ill with Covid has more than doubled in a week, a symptom-tracking study warned today amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant across the UK

The number of people falling ill with Covid has more than doubled in a week, a symptom-tracking study warned today amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant across the UK

Illness is rising significantly more rapidly in 20- to 29-year-olds than in vaccinated older age groups, There were more than 400 symptomatic cases per 100,000 people in the cohort compared to less than 50 in over-60s

Illness is rising significantly more rapidly in 20- to 29-year-olds than in vaccinated older age groups, There were more than 400 symptomatic cases per 100,000 people in the cohort compared to less than 50 in over-60s

There are currently 1,917 vaccinated people falling ill with the virus, compared to 9,991 unvaccinated people. But cases are increasing in both groups, with 89 per cent more symptomatic cases in people week-on-week even after being jabbed

There are currently 1,917 vaccinated people falling ill with the virus, compared to 9,991 unvaccinated people. But cases are increasing in both groups, with 89 per cent more symptomatic cases in people week-on-week even after being jabbed

Meanwhile, Test and Trace figures released today showed the number of positive cares in England rose by almost 45 per cent last week. More than 25,000 people who were swabbed in the seven-day spell ending June 2 had Covid, up from 17,000 the week before

Meanwhile, Test and Trace figures released today showed the number of positive cares in England rose by almost 45 per cent last week. More than 25,000 people who were swabbed in the seven-day spell ending June 2 had Covid, up from 17,000 the week before

The rise in Test and Trace figures came despite around 850,000 fewer tests being carried out compared to the week before

The rise in Test and Trace figures came despite around 850,000 fewer tests being carried out compared to the week before

Heat maps, ‘human snakes’ and negative lateral flow tests: The rules 18,000 cricket spectators have to follow at Edgbaston pilot event 

There will be no social distancing at Edgbaston, but the stadium is using a range of innovative solutions to minimise the risk of transmission of coronavirus. They include: 

  • obtaining a negative lateral flow test ahead of the match
  • joining a ‘human snake’ to take the 20-minute walk to the stadium from Birmingham city centre to avoid public transport
  • using post code analysis of spectators’ home addresses to lay on extra buses on busy routes to avoid overcrowding
  • additional car parking spaces since fans may not want to use public transport
  • wearing masks when not seated
  • providing more than 300 hand sanitising stations
  • using the ‘Edgbaston app’ for the ticket as well as ordering food and drink inside the ground
  • using the app to identify routes around the ground that are not congested and check toilet queues are short

Currently, no event can have more than 25 per cent stadium capacity, up to a maximum of 10,000 people, as part of step three in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Step four could take place as soon as June 21 when all social distancing may be lifted, provided the spread of the virus remains under control and the vaccination programme continues to roll out. The next stage of the

The first phase of pilot events relied upon testing attendees to ensure they did not have the virus, as well as social distancing once inside.

But sport has been clear that social distancing is not a viable option to support the return of fans in large numbers and the next phase of events are designed to test much greater capacities with additional safeguards.

The events include 12,000 spectators attending Royal Ascot each day from June 15-19 and 22,000 fans at Wembley for England’s Euro 2020 group games against Croatia on June 13 and Scotland on June 18. Some of them are expected to include testing covid passports, which will confirm if a person is vaccinated against coronavirus or received a negative test.

There are plans in place to accommodate those who do not have a smartphone and cannot use the app, but Edgbaston is hoping that most people will be able to access the technology.

But the scenes at Edgbaston are likely to fuel panic among certain pockets of the Government, as SAGE advisers call for an extension of draconian curbs on liberty and the economy.

Professor Susan Michie, a SAGE adviser and member of the Communist Party of Britain, has called for social distancing and face masks to remain in place forever. Wanting them to become a normal part of everyday life, she bizarrely compared coverings to seat belts and picking up dog litter in the park – claiming that people learned to adjust over time.  

She told Channel 5 News: ‘Vaccines are a really important part of the pandemic control but it’s only one part. Test, trace and isolate system, border controls are really essential. And there third thing is people’s behaviour.

‘That is the behaviour of social distancing, of when you’re indoors making sure there’s good ventilation and hand and surface hygiene. We’ll need to keep these going in the long term and that will probably be good not only for Covid but to reduce other diseases at a time when the NHS is…’

She was cut off by presenter Claudia-Liza Armah who asked her: ‘When you say the long term, what do you mean by that – how long?’

Professor Michie replied: ‘I think forever, to some extent.’ Both the host and the professor laugh at the bizarre suggestion. Later in the programme she was asked if she realistically thought people could continue to live with masks and social distancing.

She said: ‘I think there’s lots of different behaviours we’ve changed in our lives. We now routinely wear seat belts, we didn’t use to. We now routinely pick up dog poo in the park, we didn’t use to. When people see that there is a threat and there is something they can do to reduce that… themselves, their loved ones and their communities, what we see now over this last year is people do that.

‘And I think we can just begin to adopt routines. When we go out of the house we check we’ve got our phone, we’ve got our keys, we’ve got tissues, we’ve got a face mask in case we need to use it.

‘It’s not going to be a huge big deal the kind of changes we’re talking about and I think we also need to think about the way we plan our cities, our transport our lifestyles.

‘Instead of going back to huge long commutes, have more local working hubs where people don’t have to travel so much – good not only for the health, but there environment.’ 

However, others have called for calm, while anti-lockdown Tories have demanded that the Prime Minister stick to his June 21 pledge. Mr Johnson had insisted that the roadmap would be ‘cautious’ and ‘irreversible’.  

NHS bosses say hospitals should be able to cope with surging cases because vaccines have meant fewer infected patients need medical care. Dr Richard Cree, an intensive care consultant in Middlesbrough, today claimed he was confident the third wave won’t mirror the crises seen last spring and in January.

Meanwhile, one virus-tracking scientist even claimed the outbreak could plateau soon because of the combined effect of jabs and warmer summer weather.

In other developments today, Matt Hancock admitted the first lockdown was delayed despite initial warnings over 820,000 deaths because ministers feared Britons would not tolerate the restrictions for long.

In a dramatic evidence session with MPs, the Health Secretary said that as early as January he was presented with a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ of the huge potential toll, based on Spanish Flu. 

But imposing the draconian first national restrictions did not happen until March 23, with Mr Hancock pointing to expert advice that the public would only ‘put up with it’ for a limited time and concerns about the ‘immediate costs’.

 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife Carrie on the beach at the Carbis Bay, Cornwall today, ahead of Friday's G7 summit.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife Carrie on the beach at the Carbis Bay, Cornwall today, ahead of Friday’s G7 summit.

What are the top 25 Covid ‘hotspots’ according to the ZOE Symptom Study?

1. Stirling

2. Bury 

3. Manchester

4. Rochdale

5. Trafford

6. Bolton 

7. Kirklees 

8. Perth and Kinross 

9. Sunderland

10. Luton

11. South Ayrshire

12. East Lancashire

13. Edinburgh

14. Southwark

15. St Helens

16. Wigan

17. Oldham

18. Renfrewshire

19. West Lothian

20. East Dunbartonshire

21. Aberdeenshire

22. Wrexham

22. Leeds

24. Derby

25. Cheshire

838 cases per 100,000

672 

672 

605

589

553

539

501 

499 

473

453

395

390

379

379

349

345

336

309

297

295

290

290

288

273 

The ZOE Covid Study data suggests cases are higher and increasing faster in the unvaccinated population in the UK. There are currently 1,917 vaccinated people falling ill with the virus every day, compared to just shy of 10,000 unvaccinated people. 

Cases are increasing in both groups, jumping by 89 per cent among vaccinated people. But the rate of growth was quicker among those not yet jabbed (114 per cent).  Scotland and the North West were the worst affected regions in the UK.  

An estimated 3,465 people are now coming down with Covid every day in the North West – in which swathes of the region have been given guidance to combat the Indian variant in hotspots – and 2,446 in Scotland. 

But illness is rising significantly more rapidly in 20- to 29-year-olds than in vaccinated older age groups.

There were more than 400 symptomatic cases per 100,000 people in the cohort, compared to fewer than 50 in over-60s.

Professor Spector said: ‘The Covid situation in the UK has rapidly changed from one of the best performing nations to a nation again struggling with rising cases. 

‘Official confirmed cases are now around 7,500, which is the highest daily figure since late February. However, when you dig into the data, it’s clear that this is an epidemic among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations in the UK and, due to the way vaccines have been rolled out, is largely affecting younger generations.

‘The rapid rise is likely down to two compounding factors; increased social interaction and a newly dominant variant that is much more transmissible. 

‘It’s no surprise that people are becoming fatigued with social distancing after a long 15 months of restrictions, which will only encourage the spread. 

‘The good news is that fully vaccinated people have much greater protection. Vaccines are working and we want to encourage people to exercise caution, especially if they feel at all unwell, until they’ve been fully vaccinated. The race is on to fully vaccinate the whole population to save lives and return to normal life.’ 

Separate Test and Trace figures today showed 25,091 people tested positive for Covid in England at least once in the week to June 2. It is the highest number of people testing positive since the week to March 31.

Data also showed the number of people taking rapid Covid tests has fallen to its lowest level for three months – despite all members of the public being eligible to take two rapid tests a week.

Just under 3.5million lateral flow device (LFD) tests were conducted in England in the week to June 2, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.

This is down from 4.8million in the previous week, and is the lowest total since the week to March 3, when just under 2.8million tests were carried out. The drop in the latest week coincided with the summer half-term holiday in schools, the Department of Health said.

LFD tests are swab tests that give results in 30 minutes or less without the need for processing in a laboratory. Since April 9, everyone in England has been eligible for rapid Covid-19 tests twice a week.

Speaking at the G7 summit in Cornwall yesterday, Mr Johnson gave the clearest hint yet that lockdown easing on June 21 would not go ahead because of the rapid spread of the Indian variant.

Me Johnson said: ‘What everybody can see very clearly is that cases are going up and in some places hospitalisations are going up. What we need to assess is the extent to which the vaccine rollout, which has been phenomenal, has built up enough protection in the population in order for us to go ahead to the next stage. 

‘So that is what we will be looking at and there are arguments being made one way or another. But we will be driven by the data, we will be looking at that and setting it out on Monday.’ 

Just hours before the Prime Minister spoke, top SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson suggested it would take at least another three weeks for scientists to know how much more transmissible the Indian variant is, suggesting hopes of ending lockdown in a fortnight are unlikely. 

Professor Ferguson, who has guided the Government through the pandemic, said scientists still don’t know how much faster the variant spreads, how much more deadly it is nor how big the third wave will be.

The chance that scientific advisers, ministers and Boris Johnson — who committed to ‘data not dates’ — will sign off on June 21 without this information is slim to none. An extra three weeks to collect the figures plus the PM’s one-week notice for a change in restrictions suggests in the best case scenario it will be early July before Step Four of the roadmap is taken.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘It’s well within the possibility that we could see another, third, wave at least comparable in terms of hospitalisations, as the second wave. At least deaths, I think, would certainly be lower. It’s hard to judge.’

The Imperial College London epidemiologist said researchers need to see how many people are admitted to hospital and die as a result of the current surge in infections. 

They believe it is around 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant, more likely to put people in hospital and that vaccines work less well against it. 

There have now been more than 19,000 new cases in just three days and Professor Ferguson suggested the outbreak’s doubling time could be less than a week, warning of ‘quite fast doubling, comparable with what we saw before Christmas.’

The prolific SAGE member’s warning is the closest thing to confirmation that Boris Johnson will delay the ending of social distancing laws planned for June 21. His ministers today took a ‘wait and see’ approach to questions about the roadmap and told people to hold off making summer plans.

‘Mix and match’ unlocking for June 21? Boris could keep face masks but drop 30-guest wedding limit 

Boris Johnson could implement a ‘mix and match’ unlocking on Freedom Day, with face masks, work from home guidance and the rule of six indoors likely to still be mandatory after June 21 but the 30-guest cap on weddings dropped.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that ‘everybody can see cases and hospitalisations are going up’ and gave the strongest hint yet the much-anticipated milestone will be pushed back because of the rapid spread of the Indian Covid variant.

No10’s top scientists fear the mutant strain may be 60 per cent more transmissible than the once dominant Kent version and SAGE modellers fear it will trigger a ‘substantial’ third wave — despite three-quarters of adults having been vaccinated.

Despite mounting fears about plans to go ahead with the final unlocking and intensifying calls to delay it by up to four weeks to allow the NHS time to fully vaccinate millions more vulnerable over-50s, ministers are hopeful they can relax some curbs from later this month.

A senior Government source told the FT: ‘A mix-and-match approach is probably on the cards, given the limited number of levers left.’

Officials are working to find a solution that ‘pleases the PM’s instincts’, according to one minister, but the hybrid approach would be ‘very difficult’ to put in place. It could include lifting the current 30-person limit on weddings and receptions and allowing far greater crowds to attend ceremonies, bringing it in line with the Government’s policy on funerals.

Bar mitzvahs and christenings are also set to be boosted under the proposals and while socially distanced tables would not be required, guests may be urged to be ‘cautious’ about contact with other households, reports the Times.

Current guidelines suggest those attending bashes only participate in the first dance and wear masks at all times unless eating or drinking but under the new rules, people will be advised to assess the risk of hugging others themselves.

A government source said: ‘It’s been tough on the sector. If you’ve got stadiums full of people, why can’t weddings go ahead with more than 30 people?’

Mr Johnson softened his lockdown-ending stance yesterday in Cornwall ahead of the G7 summit, admitting there was now ‘arguments’ on both sides of the restrictions-easing debate. The PM repeated his pledge that No10 ‘will be driven by the data’.

But just hours before his comments, top SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson dealt another blow to hopes of Freedom Day going ahead.

The Imperial College London epidemiologist warned it would take up to another three weeks for scientists to get enough data to accurately work out how dangerous the Indian variant is and how bad the third wave will be. He added there was a risk of a ‘substantial third wave but we cannot be definitive about the scale of that’.

The chance that scientific advisers, ministers and Mr Johnson — who committed to following the science and ‘not dates’ — will sign off on June 21 without the most accurate modelling is slim to none.

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