Thousands spent the day queuing for coronavirus jabs amid warnings a third wave of infections is “definitely under way”.
A huge line was in place at the London Stadium in Stratford, east London, as people waited for their jab, while giant clinics were also set up at Tottenham Hotspur FC and at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea FC had 6,000 Pfizer doses ready to administer.
Cases of the Delta variant have risen by 79 per cent in a week, according to Public Health England, and hospital cases have almost doubled, although most of those needing treatment have not had a vaccine.
Lambeth, in south London, and Cumbria have become the latest areas to roll out surge testing after seeing a rise in cases of the variant.
Professor Adam Finn, who advises the government on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said a “third wave” of coronavirus infections “is definitely under way”, but that there are grounds for cautious optimism.
“We can conclude that the race is firmly on between the vaccine programme, particularly getting older people’s second doses done, and the Delta variant third wave,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Prof Finn said the JCVI was still working to decide whether children should be vaccinated, but said that such a plan would not be the immediate priority if it was approved.
Asked if he felt confident that the current rate of vaccination would outpace the Delta variant, Prof Finn told Times Radio: “No, I don’t feel confident, but I think there are some grounds for optimism.
“The latest ONS figures continue to show a rise, but that rise has not accelerated quite as much as I’d feared over the last week.
“So, the race is on. The sooner we can get particularly second doses into older people, the less of a hospitalisation wave we’ll see this time around.
“That’s the critical thing, that’s what’s grounded us all in the past, and if we’ve managed to protect enough older people that we can avoid a great big surge of hospitalisations and deaths, then things will be able to move back towards normal.”
Dr Mike Tildesley, an epidemiologist and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), also said he was “cautiously hopeful” that the number of Covid-19 hospital admissions over the next few weeks will not be on the same scale as happened in January.
He said those going to hospital at the moment tend to be slightly younger, “slightly less sick”, and have a higher chance of recovering.
“I realise I’m being slightly cautious here,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“All of these are cautiously good signs but, of course, we do need to keep an eye on this over the next couple of weeks so that we can give as much information as we can to the government prior to the 19 July reopening.”
Meanwhile, officials are reportedly considering scrapping the 10 days of self-isolation for people who have been double-vaccinated and who come into contact with someone infected with Covid-19.
The Times reported that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is said to be keen to replace quarantine with daily testing, but that the policy will be approved only after Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, is satisfied with the results of a study of 40,000 people.
Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told Times Radio it was already happening in the US.
“The Centres for Disease Control changed their guidance a while ago to say that people who had had both doses of the vaccine, and [were] about 10-14 days after the second dose, didn’t have to self-isolate, so I think we are moving in that direction,” she said.
Additional reporting by Press Association