Professor Sir Andrew Pollard said it was not helpful to compare the UK's infection rate to other countries

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard stated it was not fair to compare the UK’s infection rate with other countries.

An Oxford expert said that it is unfair to criticize Britain for its large Covid epidemic compared to Europe, as it is testing up 10 times more people.

Official figures show that the UK currently has a high infection rate, exceeding those in some countries in eastern Europe.

It also has the highest number of virus swabs. Only Austria has more tests per 1,000 people. 

Professor 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.

He pointed to hospitalisations and deaths because these were less impacted by the differences in testing — but Britain is also outpacing its neighbours on these metrics.

Europeans have been looking at Britain with concern, trying understand why the’sick man in Europe’ has such high infection rates.

However, there are signs that other countries are starting to catch up. Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium are all seeing cases soar.

This graph shows the proportion of people testing positive for the virus per million people in Europe plus the US. The UK has the continent's highest infection rate except for a few countries in eastern Europe

This graph shows how many people have tested positive for the virus compared to the US. Except for a few eastern European countries, the highest infection rate on the continent is found in the UK.

But Britain is also carrying out the second highest number of Covid tests per 1,000 people on the continent, with only Austria undertaking more swabs

However, Britain also conducts the second highest number Covid tests per 1,000 inhabitants on the continent. Only Austria has more.

Professor Pollard said it was better to look at hospitalisations. But these also show Britain has a higher rate compared to other European countries

Professor Pollard stated that it was better to focus on hospitalisations. These data also show that Britain has an even higher rate of hospitalisations than other European countries.

And figures for Covid deaths show the UK has a higher number per million people compared to its European neighbours

The UK has a higher rate of Covid deaths per million than its European neighbors, according to figures

The UK has a similar vaccination rate to European countries, although some in western Europe have steamed ahead after approving vaccines for under-18s earlier than Britain

The UK has a similar level of vaccination to European countries. However, some western European countries have made strides after approving vaccines for children under 18 years old earlier than Britain.

Professor Pollard told the Science and Technology committee in the Commons today: ‘We do have a lot of transmission at the moment, but it’s not right to say that those rates are really telling us something that we can compare internationally.’ 

He added: ‘A lot of our policy decisions should be very much focused on what we think is right for this country, not by saying other countries have much less (cases), because it’s very difficult to make those assessments.

Adviser admits that UK didn’t put enough emphasis on airborne spreading at the start of pandemic. 

A Government adviser today acknowledged that Britain didn’t put enough emphasis on airborne Covid transmission in the early days of the pandemic.

Professor Andrew Curran, chief scientific adviser for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) — which issues the Government’s official workplace guidance, told MPs Covid advice may have overemphasised surface cleanliness, instead of the need for proper ventilation.

He spoke to the Science and Technology Committee and said that the recommendations have changed as more experts learn about the virus.

Top scientists first feared that the coronavirus would spread mainly via surfaces like desks, post boxes, and door handles at the beginning of the crisis last January.

It led to Government guidance for businesses, which advised them to spend thousands on cleaning products to clean PCs and door handles when employees return to work.

Research has shown that the risk of transmitting the virus to others by touching contaminated surfaces is very low. Instead, aerosol droplets are the main route for the virus to spread between people.

Professor Curran said today that Britain should have been more focused on preventing airborne transmission at work.

He said that thousands of offices that have been spot-checked and inspected by the HSE haven’t been following the agency’s guidelines, which include advice on ventilation and hygiene.

“If you adjust cases in relation to the testing rates and look at test positivity, Germany currently has the highest test positivity ratio in Europe.

‘So I think when we look at these data it’s really important not to sort of bash the UK with a very high case rate, because actually it’s partly related to very high testing.’

Figures from OurWorldInData — which has been tracking the outbreak since March last year — show Britain still has a higher Covid hospitalisation and death rate than its big European neighbours.

The UK’s hospitalization rate was 92.8 percent in the week ended October 17, according to the most recent available data. In France, it was 18.2, and in Spain, it was 4.56.

Data for Germany are limited to the week ended October 10, when it had a 21.7 admission rate.

According to the data website, there are currently 1.99 Covid deaths per million people in the UK.

It is 0.73 in Germany, and 0.48 in France and 0.47 in Spain.

Spain and France have a higher percentage of their population double-vaccinated that the UK, at 79% and 67%, respectively. Germany, however, has a similar level to the UK, at around 66%. 

Professor Pollard said that hospital admissions in Britain were now a quite different story’ from last year. The vast majority who go in have shorter stays in hospital and are less likely to be suffering from severe disease.

He explained that many of these were people who had underlying health conditions that were ‘destabilised due to having a relatively mild Covid virus’.

Sir Andrew stated that doctors see this every winter along with other viruses. He also said that people with frail health conditions will be pushed over the edge by viral infections. Covid is also doing that.

He said that the NHS was “incredibly fragile” but that Covid is contributing a small amount to its fragility. Vaccinating the NHS is not going make it fall from its current position.

The eminent scientist said the pandemic has had a major impact on waiting lists and while vaccines for the unvaccinated would make a big difference for intensive care, ‘this still doesn’t change the overall needle on where we are with a very stressed NHS’.

Sir Andrew said ensuring less transmission would cut intensive care admissions ‘but in the end the unvaccinated will meet the virus… it just might not be today, it might be next year’.

Turning to the impact of testing in schools on high case numbers, he said: ‘I think when you look in the community, for example, we see these very high rates of transmission, but in some parts of the country the vast majority of those come from very effective testing in schools, and so we’re picking up a lot of very mild infections.

‘We know from all the previous studies done that children contribute a relatively small amount to adult transmission, so those very high numbers in some regions… is reflecting something which is transmission amongst children — much less importance than transmission to older adults.’

Sir Andrew was asked if people focus on the ‘wrong things’ by focusing only on cases. He replied that even deaths are recorded within 28 days of positive Covid results. 

He said that if transmission is high, many people will have died from other causes.

He said the raw data was ‘quite misleading’ though that ‘doesn’t mean there isn’t Covid transmission and people get hospitalised with it’.

Downing Street stated that it was too early to draw conclusions from the latest figures, which suggest a possible levelling off in coronavirus cases.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘It’s always encouraging when you see reductions like that and including, I believe, a levelling off of admissions.

‘But it’s too early to draw full conclusions from the case rates and we would continue to urge the public to abide by the guidance as set out and those eligible to get booster doses.

Despite a decrease in its prevalence, the prevalence remains high.

‘There isn’t anything in the statistics currently to suggest a move to Plan B but it is too early to draw conclusions from the recent few days’ statistics which has shown drops in cases.’

Plan B could include indoor facemasks being brought back, guidance on how to get home from work, and Covid passports.

Prof Pollard later said that there was a lot if infection in teenagers and so, for many people, a single dose of vaccine was like getting a second one.