UK COVID-19 Daily: Wales Announces Lockdown Changes

Tim Locke

May 08, 2020

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

The Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has beaten Boris Johnson to announcing lockdown changes from Monday. The PM is making his announcement on Sunday evening.

The scientific document underpinning the changes says R is estimated to be 0.7-0.9 in Wales. The UK-wide estimate is between 0.5 and 0.9.

The modest changes in Wales are:

  • Local exercise more than once a day, starting and ending at home and not going a significant distance from home

  • Starting the process of safely reopening libraries and recycling centres

  • Allowing garden centres to open with physical distancing in place

In a statement Mr Drakeford said: "The Welsh Government is guided by the latest scientific evidence, advice from our Chief Medical Officer and the latest public health advice. The virus remains a very serious threat to us all and we cannot be complacent in any way. For that reason, the stay-at-home regulations will remain in place in Wales.

"Our preference remains a four-nation response to coming out of lock-down, and we remain in consultation with all parts of the UK. Our duty is to the people of Wales, and our decisions will be based on the evidence and specific circumstances of Wales."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a reminder at her daily briefing that measures announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday may not apply to Scotland. "I would remind people, when the Prime Minister speaks on Sunday, these restrictions are in place separately in all four nations of the UK."

Environment Secretary George Eustace told the daily Downing Street briefing: "There is a great deal of speculation about what the Prime Minister might say on Sunday." 

He wouldn't confirm if they'd mirror the changes in Wales but said: "We are all working together to try to have a broadly similar UK approach." 

He added: "We will be very, very cautious as we loosen the restrictions we have."

Experts have commented on the Welsh announcement via the Science Media Centre.

Dr Andrew Freedman, reader in infectious diseases & honorary consultant physician, Cardiff University School of Medicine, said: "It seems unlikely that these minor measures announced today by the First Minister for Wales will have any significant detrimental effect on the rate of new infections.  We know that the risk of the infection being transmitted is much lower outdoors so exercising more than once a day should not pose a risk.

"I would expect similar measures to be announced by the other UK nations."

Professor Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases, University of Nottingham, said: "The relaxing of exercise rules is to be welcomed as outside activities pose very little, if any, risk of new infections. It is disappointing that other forms of leisure and exercise have not been included to improve people’s physical and mental health.  The evidence against other leisure activities not being allowed where social distancing can be maintained easily should be published to justify this decision.  This particularly applies to fishing and sunbathing in a park."

He added: "The different UK administrations say they want to work and stay in line and keep the messaging consistent but announcing different measures or the same measures 2 days early needs to be justified and explained. 

"Given the epidemic is really a series of multiple epidemics across the UK it is likely one-size does not fit-all and therefore different approaches are warranted. This particularly applies to various smaller islands around the UK, rural vs cities and also Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to work as one body."

He also played down expectations: "There isn't going to be dramatic change in the short-term." 

Experts writing in a future edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health have warned that clear and positive messaging from the Government will be vital to help people through the next phase of the COVID-19 response. They warn that "sustained lockdowns can be associated with civil disorder", particularly where people feel that restrictions are being managed unequally or unfairly.

Daily Deaths and Data

A 6-week-old baby was among the COVID-19 hospital deaths announced today.

Overall, another 626 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced today taking the total to 31,241.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, told the Downing Street briefing that from the 7-day average: "There again is a decline in overall deaths that again has been occurring from the middle to end of April." 

Of the 332 English hospital deaths, patients were aged from 6 weeks to 103. Of these 22 aged between 40 and 96 had no known underlying health condition.  

Daily COVID-19 tests rose to 97,029 - but again stayed below the current 100,000 daily target for a sixth day. The new target is 200,000 a day by the end of the month.

Mr Eustace dismissed criticism of targets being unhelpful: "It is important to have quite an ambitious target to expand this test capacity further."

On new cases - 4649 were reported.

Hospital admissions were at 11,788 down 18% over the last week.

Less than a third of critical care bed capacity is currently in use by COVID-19 patients. 

Prof Powis promised more data in future: "From next week, we will be publishing data on learning disabilities, autism, and mental health patients, who have died in acute hospitals."

NHS and Healthcare Deaths

The COVID-19 deaths of nine Chelsea pensioners were announced ahead of VE Day. Another 58 of the 290 army veterans who live at the Royal London Chelsea Hospital have recovered from the virus.

Among recently announced NHS deaths was Dr Tariq Shafi, haematology consultant, Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent. 

The hospital trust said: "With much sadness we confirm the untimely death of our greatly respected and loved colleague, Dr Tariq Shafi. Tariq worked at the Trust as our Lead Consultant for Haematology and he will be hugely missed by his patients, his team and all of us here at the Trust."

His friend and colleague Dr Riyaz Shah paid tribute on twitter: "A very softly spoken and humble man. A dedicated doctor and astute clinician. We’ve lost one of our best."

https://twitter.com/DrRiyazShah/status/1258324673676410880


In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19.

DHSC Disputes Channel 4 News Report Claims

The latest rebuttal of critical media reports comes from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over a Channel 4 News report on the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan (PIPP). It tackled issues one-by-one, which included:

  • PPE stockpile was incomplete and out of date: "Every single piece of PPE deployed to the front line from the stockpile was rigorously tested and met the high standard required."

  • PPE could not be easily distributed: "This is not true. The pandemic influenza stockpile has always been readily deployable." 

  • Size of the stockpile decreased over the past decade: "This is misleading. The PIPP stockpile levels were in line with guidance."

More News in Brief

  • Although England's NHSX contact tracing app is in trials on the Isle of Wight using a centralised database for symptom reporting, the FT reported a Plan B is being considered. The paper said the Swiss company Zuhlke Engineering has been asked to investigate an alternative approach using the Apple-Google localised system.

  • A UCL-led research team's genomic analysis of samples from more than 7500 COVID-19 positive people suggests the virus emerged recently late in 2019 before quickly spreading around the world from China. The research is published in Infection, Genetics and Evolution. Nearly 200 recurrent genetic mutations have been found in the virus. Co-lead author Professor Francois Balloux said in a news release: "Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected. So far we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious."

  • Today doesn't just mark a significant wartime anniversary (VE Day 75 years on), today also marks the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox. It was estimated to have killed 400 million people. Echoing the work of many scientists today Edward Jenner said in 1801: "It now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy that the annihilation of the smallpox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice."

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

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