UK COVID-19 Daily: 'A Close Run Thing'

Tim Locke

March 25, 2020

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

Critical Care Beds

In the daily Downing Street online news conference, Government Chief Medical Adviser, Professor Chris Whitty was asked if he was confident that the measures announced over the past week will prevent NHS critical care capacity being overwhelmed. "As of today, there is not enormous pressure on critical care [beds] compared to a bad or even normal winter day.” he said.

"But we expect the demand for critical care beds to continue to rise over the next 2 weeks. That is entirely what we expect to happen and that is what we thought will happen over that time. So clearly the demand is going to go up from the coronavirus."

He continued: "The NHS is increasing supply by either a combination of pushing out in time things which can be postponed, and increasing the critical care and particularly the ventilated bed capacity over the next weeks.

"This is going to be a close run thing, we all know that, and anybody who looks around the world can see this is going to be difficult for every health system."
Prof Whitty added: "We do think that if everybody, everybody, sticks to the ‘staying in your household unless absolutely essential’, this gap will be probably manageable by the NHS, but we cannot guarantee that, and nobody who is sensible would wish to guarantee that, but we think that is what we are planning for, and that is what we intend to happen."

Testing 'Bottleneck'

Prof Chris Whitty, was also asked about a continued lack of testing for NHS staff who are self-isolating when they could be back at work.

"Our bottleneck is largely global shortages which we are obviously doing our level best to free up, because it would make it a lot better for us to be able to test healthcare workers now, for sure." 

One reporter asked why the UK was "woefully behind other countries" on the scale of testing. Prof Whitty said: "You're certainly right that what we need to do is look at those countries that have actually got more testing than us and work out how to do it the way they're doing it as best we can, in our own system using our own testing systems, that's something we're doing very actively at the moment." 

Prince Charles Tests Positive

Prince Charles tested positive for coronavirus after an NHS test, Clarence House announced.

The 71-year-old is self-isolating at Balmoral Castle in Scotland with his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who tested negative.

He's said to have mild symptoms "but otherwise remains in good health".

Other members of the Royal Family are not thought to have been put at risk, however Clarence House said: "It is not possible to ascertain from whom the Prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks."

Meanwhile, a 21-year-old woman was reported to have become the youngest person in the UK to die after contracting COVID-19. 

Her family said she had no underlying health conditions. Chloe Middleton's mum Diane wrote on Facebook: "To all the people out there that think it's just a virus please think again.

"Speaking from personal experience this so-called virus has taken the life of my 21-year-old daughter."

PPE Concerns Continue

Concerns continued over a lack of PPE with an open letter being sent to the Prime Minister "pleading" with him to ensure NHS staff have adequate personal protective equipment.

"The reality is that many of us will get sick. Doctors are all too aware of the possibility that they will lose colleagues, as has happened in outbreaks around the world," the letter said.

In our own Medscape UK poll last week 7 in 10 respondents reported that they didn't have supplies of the protective equipment they needed.

Today the BMA shared one doctor's experience: "Coughed on by COVID patients all day today. No visors available…. tomorrow I’m borrowing my 9-year-old’s safety specs [which] she got in a science party bag. I wish this was actually a joke."

Chair of Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "A construction worker wouldn’t be allowed to work without a hard hat and proper boots. Even a bee-keeper wouldn’t inspect a hive without proper protective clothing. And yet this Government expects NHS staff to put themselves at risk of serious illness, or even death, by treating highly infectious Covid-19 patients without wearing proper protection. This is totally unacceptable."

The Department of Health and Social care said 15 million face masks had been delivered in 2 days.


NHS Volunteers

The Prime Minister announced a big response to yesterday's call for people to volunteer to help the NHS in England. "When we launched the appeal last night we hoped to get 250,000 volunteers, over a few days, but I can tell you that in just 24 hours 405,000 people have responded to the call," he said. 

"They will be driving medicines from pharmacies to patients, they'll be bringing patients home from hospital, very importantly, they'll be making regular phone calls to check on and support people who are staying on their own and home, and they will be absolutely crucial in the fight against this virus. That is already in one day as many volunteers as the population of Coventry. 

"And so, to all of you and to all our former NHS staff who are coming back now into the service, I say thank you on behalf of the entire country." 

Routine Dental Care Halted

Dentists have been told to stop all routine dental care due to coronavirus, the British Dental Association said. 

Telephone triage may be appropriate in some cases, NHS England told dentists, and practices should make remote urgent care arrangements.

Chat Bot

The Department of Health and Social Care launched a COVID-19 chat bot on WhatsApp.

The announcement said "This automated ‘chatbot’ will allow you to get answers to the most common #coronavirus questions from a trusted source."


Deputy CMO Turns Agony Aunt

An item we didn't have time to bring you in yesterday's COVID-19 Daily was England's Deputy CMO Jenny Harries giving relationship tips.

She was asked to give clear advice for couples who aren't cohabiting. Meetings of two people are still allowed in public places - so are they allowed to meet? When they do meet, are they allowed to be 'affectionate', or allowed to meet at each other's homes?

"I'm clearly going to start a new career here in relationship counselling, so I will tread very carefully as I work through this answer," she said.

"The principle is that we want people to stay in their household units primarily. 

"The reason for that is because if you have an infection you are very close with your family members, so your risk of exposure to the virus is pretty similar usually across a family. We almost expect another member of the family to get that unless they're applying very, very stringent precautions. 

"So if you're two individuals, two halves of the couple, currently in separate households, ideally they should stay in those households. 

"The alternative might be that for quite a significant period going forward, they should just test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household. In which case, all of the decisions about exercising, if you are in you should be on your own or within your household unit, would apply. 

"What we do not want is people switching in and out of households, it defeats the purpose of the reduction in social interactions and will allow transmission of disease. So perhaps test really carefully your strengths of feeling and stay with one household either together or apart, but keep it that way while we go forward, because otherwise we will not all be working towards achieving our outcome."


COVID-19: UK & Global Timeline of a Pandemic

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


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: