The chances of ministers activating their winter Covid ‘Plan B’ is less than 20 per cent, Government sources claimed today — but face masks might make a partial comeback in schools.

Despite warning last week that daily cases could rise to 100,000 this winter, Downing Street is thought to have taken confidence from the fall in national infections in recent days and optimistic forecasts by SAGE.

According to scientific advisers, the Government could see a natural decline in the epidemic next month without curbs. This is due to a combination of the booster vaccination rollout and the growing natural immunity of children.

Whitehall sources told the Financial Times today that things were moving in the right direction. They also stated that there was less than 20% chance of Plan B being activated. 

Another senior Government official cautioned against complacency because it was ‘too soon to read a lot into data’. They acknowledged that there was no evidence to suggest that Plan B should be activated.

UK Covid cases have fallen for three days in a row following nearly three weeks of consistent growth, with 40,954 new infections recorded yesterday. Children who have not been vaccinated are the ones responsible for this outbreak.

However, there were reports today that ministers will give regional public health officials the power to order secondary schools to bring back face masks in communal areas such as assemblies and corridors after half-term next month to curb the outbreak in youngsters. 

It is unknown if children will be required to cover their faces again in the classroom, a policy that campaign groups claimed hampered their learning as well as caused them physical harm. 

Although local councils already have the power in some areas to restore Covid curbs, the change could extend the powers to entire parts of England. The Department of Health refused to comment.

Many within SAGE are still pushing for the suite of measures in Plan B — compulsory face masks, working from home and vaccine passports — to be enforced nationally to give added protection and bring cases down quicker.

LONDON SCHOOL OF HYGIENE AND TROPICAL MEDICINE: These charts show the impact of returning to normal level of social mixing in three months (bottom) versus remaining cautious for a year - and the impact this would have on infections (left), admissions (middle) and deaths (right). The models show cases plummeting by November in both scenarios thanks to natural immunity but rising in spring (bottom) when vaccine protection is expected to wane

LONDON SCHOOL of HYGIENE and TROPICAL MEDICINE: These charts compare the effects of returning to a normal level of social interaction in three months (bottom), and remaining cautious for a full year (right). They also show the impact on infections (left), admissions and deaths (middle), respectively. The models show cases falling in November in both the natural immunity and vaccine protection scenarios, but rising in spring (bottom).

Ministers were warned on Tuesday that the cost of implementing the contingency plan could cost the economy up to £18billion in a leaked report.

The Treasury and Cabinet Office provided an estimate of the damage that would result from the return to work from home and the use of face masks.

A separate paper by the Culture Department raised concerns about vaccine passports being ‘counter-productive’ and driving people to poorly ventilated bars.

Top Oxford expert says don’t “bash” UK for having a greater Covid outbreak than EU. We’re testing more. 

An Oxford University expert claims that it is unfair to criticize Britain for having higher Covid infection rates than the EU. However, Britain tests up to ten-times more people than other countries.

Official data shows that the UK has the highest infection rate in Europe, with the exception of a few countries in Eastern Europe.

According to surveillance data, it is performing the second-highest number of virus swabs. Austria is the only country that conducts more tests per head.

Sir Andrew Pollard, the man who designed the AstraZeneca vaccine warned today that it is not helpful to compare Britain’s Covid infection rate with other countries. 

He told a Parliamentary committee: ‘I’m not trying to deny that there’s not plenty of transmission because there is, but it’s the comparisons that are problematic.

“If you look across Western Europe you will see that there are approximately 10 times more tests per day than any other country. This is per capita. This is why we must constantly adjust by looking at data. 

When the UK is compared to other major EU nations in terms of test positivity — the number of cases per test carried out — it is on par with its neighbours.

The latest data available shows that Britain had a positivity ratio of 4.6% in the week ending October 17. This was lower than Germany (8.3%) and the Netherlands (6.6%), but higher than Spain (2%) and France (1.2%) and Italy (0.7%). 

Britain is also a leader when it comes to Covid deaths and hospitalisations, but experts tell MailOnline that this is also due to increased testing.

They say when excess mortality is considered — the number of deaths compared to the number expected at a certain time — Britain consistently has one of the lowest rates.  

Downing Street reiterated Tuesday its assertion that Plan B would not be implemented if the NHS is under ‘unsustainable’ stress. 

According to the most recent count, there were 8,693 patients currently in hospital with Covid as of October 25, which is the highest level since March.

Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, stated last week that he believes the current levels of funding are’sustainable’. This angered bosses in the health service.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive at NHS England, admitted that Covid has never completely overburdened the NHS England. This was even after the peak of 40,0000 Covid-inpatients last winter.

The vaccines have made hospital rates lower than usual this year, but unlike last winter, medics are trying to manage non-Covid services as well as clearing the pandemic backlog. 

Experts expect hospital rates to rise if Covid cases begin to fall significantly. 

It comes as one Covid scientist at the Government has suggested that the recent dip was probably due to children becoming immune to the virus.

Professor John Edmunds is an epidemiologist who serves on SAGE. He said that the sudden increase in infections over the past few months was due to ‘huge number of cases’ in children. 

According to health officials, the virus was infecting as many as 1 in 12 children in England last week.

Professor Edmunds said that the rise in infections would eventually lead to children having high levels of immunity, which will then cause cases to plateau and fall. He suggested that it may be possible that we are already achieving that.

The pandemic’s epidemiologist, who was notoriously pro-lockdown, was behind the unusually optimistic modelling last week.

His team at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine saw cases fall starting next month, possibly to as low 5,000 without Plan A. 

The US is now closer to stomping children as young at five, as independent experts nearly unanimously concluded that the benefits outweigh any risks.  

Professor Edmunds, a modeller from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, stated that there was consensus among projections submitted by No10 that cases would either fall or level off in the coming weeks.

He said, “That’s because the epidemic over the last few months is really driven by huge amounts of cases among children.” I mean a really large number of cases in children.

“And that will eventually result in high levels of immune system in children, and it may well be that we’re already achieving that.”

“Or achieving” I think that is the wrong word. However, it could be that we are achieving high levels of immunity in children due to these high rates of infection. It may then start to level off.

High infection rates among children has led to 'high levels of immunity in children', which may cause cases to plateau and drop, SAGE scientist Professor John Edmunds said

Professor John Edmunds, SAGE scientist, said that high infection rates in children have led to ‘high levels immunity in children’ which could cause cases to plateau or drop.

Professor Edmunds warned that the models also predict an increase in infections in spring due to waning immunity, and a return of normality.

He said booster doses — currently being given to over-50s, healthcare workers and those with underlying conditions — should be dished out as fast as possible to address waning immunity and rising infections.

Professor Edmunds stated that they should be given to younger people “in time”.

According to the latest estimates by the Office for National Statistics, 7.8% of 11-16-year-old students were infected with the virus during the week ending October 16.

Despite the fact that cases are still high, Department of Health data shows that rates among 10-14-year-olds have fallen from 1,925 per 100,000 down to 1,869.

Some local authorities and headteachers implemented restrictions in schools in a bid to control the latest wave of infections — such as cancelling assemblies and requiring students and staff to wear face masks in communal areas.

Since September 20, vaccines have been available to English 12-15-year-olds. However, until last week the jabs were only available at schools. The roll-out was criticised for being too slow and that it was not available in all areas.

The UK’s Covid cases are likely to shrink due to children developing ‘high levels of’ Covid. 

One of the Government’s scientists claimed that Britain’s Covid cases may be falling already because children have developed immunity following the back to school wave. 

Professor John Edmunds is an epidemiologist who serves on SAGE. He said that the sudden increase in infections in the last few months was due to ‘huge numbers’ of cases in children. According to health officials, one in twelve children in England was infected last week.

Professor Edmunds stated that the rise in infections would eventually lead to children having high levels of immunity, which will then cause cases to plateau and fall. He suggested that it may be possible that we are already achieving that. 

His comments were made despite growing calls for increased vaccine uptake among students following an increase in outbreaks in schools. Teachers unions expressed their frustration with the slow pace of vaccinations, which has only 20 percent of children aged 12-15 vaccinated. 

The US is now closer to slapping children as young at five, after almost all independent experts ruled that the benefits outweigh any risks. 

Daily Covid infections in Britain reached a three month high last week, surpassing the 50,000 barrier. It prompted medical unions, some scientists and Labour to call for Plan B — mandatory face masks, work from home guidance and vaccine passports — to be implemented immediately in a bid to control infections.  

However, cases have fallen for three consecutive days. SAGE has also predicted that infections could drop to 5,000 in the coming months, despite No10’s efforts to control them.

Scientists suggested that cases would be reduced if there were a combination vaccine boosters, natural immunity in children, and less classroom mixing during the October halfterm break. 

Other vaccination sites started offering injections to students on Friday to speed up the process. More than 80,000 people have already booked to be jabbed at these sites.

Dr Nikki Kanani is a GP and deputy leader for the NHS vaccine program. She said that the vaccines are crucial for students to stay in school this winter.

It happens as Covid cases dropped for the third day in row yesterday. Hospitalisations plummeted by 6 percent in a week and deaths rose by almost a fifth.

Sir Andrew Pollard was the one who designed the AstraZeneca vaccination. He said it was unfair not to bash the UK for its high rate of cases in comparison with other countries. However, the UK also has the highest testing rate which means that more cases are detected.

He said that higher infection rates in the populace can have a negative impact on hospitalisations and deaths.

Professor Edmunds said that although there is a little bit of a bias in his comments, it doesn’t take into consideration all differences between neighbouring nations.

He stated that France’s Covid death rates are seven times lower than those in the UK, while Portugal has seen a tenth the number of fatalities in Britain.

Professor Edmunds stated that the difference is that they have higher rates of vaccine adoption. We started off well with our vaccine program, but we aren’t done yet.

‘Many of the neighbours have higher vaccination coverage, especially if they vaccinated more children than we.

“If you look at France, approximately two-thirds had received at least one dose by September and roughly half had received two doses.

“So, this epidemic has been largely fuelled and fueled by high rates of infection in younger persons. It has been reduced in many European neighbours by vaccinating teenagers more quickly.

However, he pointed out that the majority of European countries have other measures, such as vaccination passports and masks.

He stated that cases in the UK will fall from ‘this very high peak’ but that similar measures would likely cause rates to fall faster.

There have been calls in the last week for the UK to implement its Plan B winter plan — which ministers said would only be brought if if the NHS faces unsustainable pressure.

To curb rising cases, the Government will focus its efforts on distributing booster jabs as well as vaccines to 12-15-year-olds under current regulations.

The British Medical Association, a union representing doctors, accused Government of being ‘wilfully neglectful’ for not restoring Covid restrictions.

Labour leader Sir Keir Sterner said Monday that he supported Plan B because it was a ‘common sense approach’ and protects ‘yourself’ and ‘everyone else’.

Ministers have taken comfort from the unusually optimistic SAGE modeling, which predicted that the epidemic would shrink or stay well below previous waves this winter, even without the Government’s Plan B of vaccine passports, face masks, and WFH.

Other models not yet published have also shown similar drops. Experts indicate that around 5,000 cases per day could be lost during the festive period.

It comes as US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) advisers yesterday suggested that the vaccine rollout be expanded to all over-fives. They found that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

But the final decision on whether the plans go ahead — that would see youngsters receive a third of a standard Pfizer jab — will be made by the FDA and CDC in the coming days.

Data showed that the vaccine was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid among children aged 5-11 years. It also had no notable side-effects, other than myocarditis (rare cases of heart inflammation).

Myocarditis has been reported in younger boys who have had mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s. It is more common after receiving a second dose.

The No10 vaccine advisors recommended that only one jab be given to children aged 12-15 years.