UK COVID-19 Update: Equality Watchdog BAME Inquiry, Deaths Pass 40,000

Tim Locke

June 05, 2020

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Equality Watchdog BAME Inquiry

Earlier this week Public Health England published a report confirming additional COVID-19 risks for people from BAME communities, but it was criticised for failing to make any recommendations.

Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission has announced an inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on ethnic minorities.

The group's Chair, David Isaac, commented: "This inquiry is part of our long-term strategic approach to tackle the structural inequalities that the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare. This is an important step towards ensuring that the deep-rooted inequality faced by ethnic minorities is meaningfully addressed as we rebuild."

Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive and General Secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, commented: "Those in power have avoided tackling the issues of systemic racism and structural inequalities for far too long and this avoidance has worsened outcomes for communities. Nurses see this in their work every day.

"The message is clear: equality and inclusion are the bedrock for good health, prosperity and a cohesive society. It is time for us to all talk seriously about racism, disadvantage and privilege, and take action. Long-term sustainable change is what is needed now."

Hospital Face Coverings and Masks

All visitors and outpatients at NHS hospitals in England will have to wear face coverings from 15th June, it was announced today. Also, all hospital staff will be required to wear type 1 or 2 surgical masks in all areas except those designated as COVID secure workplaces.

Yesterday, the Government announced mandatory use of face coverings on public transport in England from 15th June. However, the BMA said face coverings should be made compulsory now in any setting where social distancing isn't possible.

The BMA is also calling on the Welsh Government to change policy to support face coverings. BMA Cymru Wales Council Chair, Dr David Bailey said: "BMA Cymru Wales is calling on Welsh Government to change their position immediately, to lessen the risk of the public spreading the virus."

Daily Deaths and Data

There was no scientist, doctor, or public health expert at the Downing Street briefing for a second day. Health and Social Care Secretary for England, Matt Hancock, gave the briefing alone and announced he'd donated blood today for the convalescent plasma clinical trial.

Another 357 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced today, taking the total past a new milestone to 40,261. Mr Hancock described this as "a time of sorrow for us all".

There were 207,231 tests counted yesterday. This figure includes home tests that have been sent out but not yet processed.

Figures for the number of people tested were last given on Friday 22nd May.

Another 1650 positive cases were reported today.

There are 7080 people currently in hospital with coronavirus, down from 8285 this time last week.

Another 694 people were admitted to hospital in the UK (excluding Scotland) with COVID-19 and 571 mechanical ventilator beds are in use across the UK by coronavirus patients.

Latest R Number

The range for the UK's R number remains unchanged this week at 0.7-0.9.

However, the latest COVID-19 nowcast and forecast by the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge and PHE shows the median value for R at 1 or above in two regions of England.

  • North West      1.01

  • South West     1.0

  • South East      0.97

  • London            0.95

  • East                 0.94

  • Midlands          0.9

  • NEast/York     0.89

ONS Data

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released more COVID-19-related data for England and Wales.

There were 46,380 excess death registrations between 7th March and 1st May 2020 compared to the 5-year average, of these, 27.8% did not involve COVID-19.

ONS gave possible explanations:

  • Was COVID-19 undiagnosed in some cases?

  • Was there a delay in accessing or receiving health care leading to more deaths?

  • Did pressure on the healthcare system due to COVID-19 result in more deaths?

  • Did an increase in stress-related diseases and/or external stress-related factors cause an increase in deaths?

  • Did changes in the death registration process increase efficiency of registration, leading to an apparent increase in weekly deaths?

Between Week 11 and Week 18 almost 11,000 more deaths were registered in care homes, an increase of 60.5%.

The largest increases in non-COVID-19 deaths compared to the 5-year average were in deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer's disease and 'symptoms, signs and ill-defined conditions', such as old age and frailty.

Data were also released estimating England's community infection rates.

At any time between 17th May and 30th May an average of 0.10% of the community population had COVID-19 equating to an average of 53,000 people in England. That's more than halved since the 133,000 estimated the previous week.

Modelling suggests the number of people testing positive has decreased in recent weeks. There were an estimated 39,000 new COVID-19 infections per week, down from 54,000 reported last week. This week's estimate equates to an incidence rate per week of 0.07 new cases per 100 people.

RECOVERY: 'Hydroxychloroquine No Clinical Benefit'

Oxford's RECOVERY trial investigators have found no benefit from hydroxychloroquine in hospitalised patients with COVID-19.

In a statement, Professor Peter Horby and Professor Martin Landray, said: "We have concluded that there is no beneficial effect of hydroxychloroquine in patients hospitalised with COVID-19. We have therefore decided to stop enrolling participants to the hydroxychloroquine arm of the RECOVERY trial with immediate effect. We are now releasing the preliminary results as they have important implications for patient care and public health."

Prof Horby said: "Although it is disappointing that this treatment has been shown to be ineffective, it does allow us to focus care and research on more promising drugs."

Prof Landray said: "Today’s preliminary results from the RECOVERY trial are quite clear – hydroxychloroquine does not reduce the risk of death among hospitalised patients with this new disease. This result should change medical practice worldwide and demonstrates the importance of large, randomised trials to inform decisions about both the efficacy and the safety of treatments."

Home Monitoring for Cystic Fibrosis

NHS England is offering home-based spirometry to thousands of shielded patients aged 6 and over with cystic fibrosis as part of 'NHS At Home'. The provision has been accelerated as part of the COVID-19 response. 

In a news release, Dr Janet Allen, director of strategic innovation at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: "The expansion of home spirometry by NHSEI to 4000 people with cystic fibrosis across England is great news."

New app-based Huma oximeters are also being trialled with more than 150 patients.

Patients' temperature, heart rate, and blood oxygen saturation are tracked near real-time, sending alerts if a patient appears to be deteriorating.

More News in Brief

  • A doctor who threatened to resign unless the PM's adviser Dominic Cummings quit is leaving the NHS, the Guardian reported. Cardiology registrar Dr Dominic Pimenta said in a statement: "Cummings’ transgressions … and the subsequent doubling-down of ministers, including the prime minister, defending those actions, rewriting and threatening the rules of the lockdown to accommodate one man who simply won’t admit what he did was wrong, threaten to undo all that good, all that sacrifice."

  • A group of 100 UK scientists have written an open letter expressing concerns about further easing of the lockdown. They wrote: "There is a very high probability that relaxation of lockdown, coupled with a potential breakdown in public trust, will bring us back into a situation where the outbreak is once again out of control. If this happens, all of the societal and financial sacrifices of the lockdown will have gone to waste, and we will likely experience a full blown second wave. This would inevitably lead to a second lockdown, which could be more damaging and harder to implement. As a group of UK based scientists, we urge the government to reconsider, and to follow the science, postponing the relaxation of lockdown. The level of community transmission is still far too high for lockdown to be released, and should not be attempted before we have a substantial and sustained further drop in community transmission."

  • The Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) which advises on England's alert levels now has a Director General. Civil servant Dr Clare Gardiner is currently director of national resilience and strategy at the National Cyber Security Centre. The Department of Health and Social Care said JBC is part of the NHS Test and Trace service.

  • There's more speculation over delays to England's NHSX tracing app which is still being tested on the Isle of Wight. Business minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Question Time: "We want to make sure it actually does everything it needs to do and will be in place this month." However, the Guardian quotes the Chief Operating Officer of the NHS scheme, Tony Prestedge, from a webinar saying it will be "an imperfect service at launch" but it will "improve over time" to become "world-class by the time that we are moving towards the September or October time". Meanwhile, Sky News reported that police forces won't use the app over privacy and safety concerns.

  • The British Dental Association (BDA) said it won't be "business as usual" when practices open again in England. Only 36% of 2053 practices polled plan to reopen on Monday. PPE supplies are a major factor. BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: "Anyone expecting dentistry to magically return on Monday will find only a skeleton service."

  • The Alzheimer’s Society is warning that thousands of people with dementia are dying, or deteriorating from isolation, due to COVID-19. The charity cites a survey of 128 care homes with 79% reporting deterioration of residents with dementia. The charity's CEO, Kate Lee, commented: "We’ve already seen the devastating effect of coronavirus on people with dementia who catch it, but our survey reveals that the threat of the virus extends far beyond that. We have to stem the dreadful loss of life for those who were neglected at the start of this crisis - with a threadbare social care system already on its knees, ill-equipped to protect them."

  • The Chief Executive of Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH), Tracy Taylor, has sent a video message and letter to the children of staff saying she knows "things seem very different at the moment, perhaps a little scary". She says: "It may be hard for you that the person you love might still have to come into work when some other people don't have to. This is because what they do is very important and is helping a lot of people." She reminds children to give their relative "a big, big hug". https://twitter.com/nottmhospitals/status/1268634894533644292

    See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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