Thurrock in Essex records highest rise in covid cases in England

Thurrock and Rochford in Essex record the highest rise in coronavirus cases in England as mutant strain caused a 200% spike in infections in a just one week

  • Worst-hit area was Thurrock, Essex, with 1,841 new cases over the last week
  • Elsewhere in Essex, Rochford saw the second largest jump in its infection rate  
  • Havering in London has second highest rate in England, and fourth fastest rise

Thurrock has been named as the Tier 4 region with the highest and fastest rising rate of covid-19 infection, seeing the largest week-on-week jump in England as 90 per cent of the country sees rates rise.

Analysis shows Thurrock in Essex is experiencing the fastest spread of infection, with 1,841 new cases recorded in the seven days to December 16 – the equivalent of 1,056.0 cases per 100,000 people. This is up from 387.2 in the seven days to December 9.  

The area with the second biggest week-on-week jump other than Thurrock is Rochford, also in Essex, which has seen the rate rise from 266.7 to 864.2, with 755 new cases. 

Epping Forest, Essex, follows closely with the third largest week-on-week increase with the rate rising from 382.7 to 956.8 and 1,260 new cases.

And Havering in London, which has the second highest rate in England, is the area with the fourth fastest rise in its rate, which has increased from 513.6 to 1,021.8, with 2,652 new cases this week.

Basildon in Essex has the third highest rate in England overall, where the rate has risen from 619.7 to 995.2, with 1,863 new cases.

Of the 315 local areas in England 90 per cent (285), have seen a rise in case rates, while 29, nine per cent, have seen a fall and one remains unchanged.  

And Infections in some London boroughs, now all under Tier 4, have increased by nearly 150 per cent.     

Today the UK reported a further 35,928 coronavirus cases with a spike in positive tests putting today’s figure at nearly double the 18,447 recorded last Sunday. 

Official figures also revealed 326 more people have died after testing positive for the virus – more than double the 144 deaths reported this time last week.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that the new strain of coronavirus is ‘out of control’ in Tier 4 areas of England

The mutant Covid strain is believed to be responsible for the 94.8 per cent rise in infections.   

The rapid rise in these Tier 4 areas, and much of the UK, is likely to see London and southeast England remain under tighter coronavirus curbs for some time, Britain’s health minister suggested today.  

As the number of people carrying the coronavirus more than trebled in a week Matt Hancock said Saturday’s decision was taken speedily after evidence showed the new strain was responsible for spiralling COVID-19 cases.

The new strain, which officials say is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original, also prompted several European countries to place travel restrictions to and from Britain. 

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said that while many regions had cases of the new strain, these were in much smaller numbers than in London, Kent and parts of Essex.

She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘It has been detected in many other parts of the country.

‘Every region has cases but with very small numbers.

‘It has also been detected in Wales, in Scotland, we have not had any detected in Northern Ireland.’

Chris Whitty confirmed that a new mutant strain of coronavirus is more contagious yesterday – as he warns that cases are ‘rapidly rising’ in the South East

The mutations of the coronavirus has caused changes to the spike protein on its outside (shown in red), which is what the virus uses to attach to the human body (Original illustration of the virus by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson abruptly tore up plans to allow three households to mix indoors for five days over the festive period, and imposed new Tier 4 level curbs – similar to a national lockdown in March – on London and southeast England.

Tier 4 restrictions apply in London, Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey, Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings, all of which were previously in tier 3.  

Hancock suggested the tougher measures – which require about a third of the population of England to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work – might stay in place until vaccinations become more widely available.

‘We’ve got a long way to go to sort this,’ Hancock told Sky News.

‘Essentially we’ve got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe. Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.’ 

Epidemiologist John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said: ‘This is the worst moment of the epidemic because of the extraordinary infectivity of the new strain.’

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference yesterday Boris Johnson revealed that the variant was 70 per cent more transmissible than previous stains and could increase the country’s R value by 0.4. Pictured: Increasing case rates in the UK over the last two weeks

He added: ‘This strain has been increasing exponentially during the lockdown and during the tier 3 restrictions that Kent and other parts of the South East have been under.

‘Although the lockdown was enough to bring cases down elsewhere, it was not enough to stop this strain from spreading rapidly. We will need much more severe measures to bring the incidence down.

‘Worse than that, we are starting from a very high incidence already with hospitals stretched and NHS staff under strain. It is a very perilous situation.’ 

The rapid rise in areas which were last night plunged into new tier 4 measures is said to be down to a new virus strain, which was first announced on Monday

Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street briefing yesterday that there had been a ‘really dramatic’ increase in the proportion of cases seen with the new variant.

Screening tests suggest that in the South East of England, 43 per cent of the virus was now the new variant, in the East it was 59 per cent and in London 62 per cent. 

The new strain is thought to have spread along a corridor from Kent to London, before seeding in the capital and then spreading to the Home Counties via commuter routes. The Office for National Statistics estimated that 567,300 people had Covid last week, up from 481,500 seven days earlier.

Tracey Crouch, Tory MP for Chatham and Aylesford in Kent, responded to the latest surge by tweeting: ‘I feel quite down (personally & professionally) about tougher restrictions… but I also understand why this has happened.

‘Our local hospitals have reached capacity, the virus and its new variant is rife in our community. Focus must be on vaccine rollout.’

Tudor Price, deputy chief of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said the new restrictions for the county were ‘disappointing but not surprising’. He said: ‘It’s the worst of all possible situations from a business point of view but understandable from a public health point of view. I am extremely empathetic towards those businesses that now have to close.’

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, whose constituency North Thanet is also in Kent, said: ‘It is very hard but if we are to enjoy Christmas and at the same time stay safe, it is vital that everyone sticks to the restrictions that have been announced this afternoon.

‘The alternative will be a truly dangerous and terrible start to 2021.’

HOW DID THE MUTATED STRAIN OF CORONAVIRUS EMERGE? 

Like all viruses, the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has a piece of genetic code which contains all the information the virus needs to survive and reproduce. 

It is made of RNA, which is a single stranded version of its more famous bigger brother, DNA. RNA is made of four types of molecules, known simply as A, U, C and G.

Three of these bases in a row provide the blueprint for bigger molecules known as amino acids, which are the building blocks of every organic thing on Earth. 

Once the virus has infected a person’s cells, such as a human lung cell, it reproduces by forcing the human cell to read its RNA and make more viruses.

These replicas are designed to be exactly the same, which is made possible because the RNA is the same, but sometimes the the cells can ‘misread’ the genetic code and introduce an error. This is where mutation occurs.

A glitch in the process can cause one of the A, U, C, G to be either deleted or swapped for another one, which changes how the physical form of the virus is produced. 

Other causes of mutations include interactions with other viruses infecting the same cell and changes induced by the host’s or a person’s own immune system. 

Most mutations to SARS-CoV-2 are due to the latter, researchers have said previously.  

These happen completely at random and are common. 

Researchers have found the mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2 to be unusually slow compared to other viruses, such as flu and HIV. 

Nevertheless, the SARS-CoV-2 has mutated, with several different strains emerging. 

One, D614G, emerged in February and is now the dominant strain worldwide. 

This happens on the spike protein which binds to the ACE2 receptor, allowing the virus to infect the cell. The mutation, at the 614th location on the spike, saw a ‘D’ code for aspartate to a ‘G’ for glycine.

The new mutation occured at the 501st location on the spike protein and saw a ‘N’ code for the amino acid Asparagine which changed to a ‘Y’ for Tyrosine.

Of the three bases which code for the amino acid, only one was incorrect. Instead of being AAU, it ended up being UAU. This single change altered the amino acid that was produced, affecting the structure of the spike. 

As well as this swap, two amino acids were deleted, called H69/V70, which are found on the first subunit of the spike protein in the receptor-binding domain, a key location as it is where the spike latches on to the ACE2 receptor.  

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