UK COVID-19 Update: Shielding to be 'Paused' in England

Tim Locke

June 22, 2020

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

Shielding to Be 'Paused' in England

People in England in vulnerable groups who've been shielding can take part in gatherings of up to 6 people outdoors, and can form a ‘support bubble’ with another household from 6th July.

From 1st August, shielding will be "paused". 

"Right from the start, we've been clear that we didn't want the shielding advice to be in place any longer than is clinically necessary," Health and Social Care Secretary for England, Matt Hancock told the Downing Street briefing.

He'll be writing to those affected to explain the changes.

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England said: "When this programme started we used a precautionary principle. New evidence is telling us that the risks for individuals are often more clearly due to a combination of factors in that individual, such as age, ethnicity, obesity levels for example, as well as the medical conditions that they have."

She added: "The new risk assessment research methodology is being published today by academic colleagues, led by Oxford University. In the future, therefore, those who we advise to take action may be a slightly different group to those who shielded through this new disease peak." 

She said many children who are shielding now, such as those with well-controlled asthma,  should be able to go back to school next term.

Professor Donal O’Donoghue, Royal College of Physicians, commented in a statement: "Today’s announcement will be met with mixed emotions by many. The past few weeks and months have been challenging and we know that many patients will be unsure about what lies ahead.

"It is crucial that the government builds trust by regularly communicating and engaging with those who have been shielding up to now. Patients are likely to have many questions and we need to ensure that frontline NHS staff are equipped with the detailed scientific evidence base to be able to support patients to make their shared decisions based on individual assessments of risk and their personal priorities."

He added: "As we begin to restart wider NHS services, we must also consider how the NHS can best support shielding healthcare staff. By now, we expect that all NHS staff in priority groups should have received an individual risk assessment which employers and staff should use to make decisions about individual deployments."
 

BAME Doctors' Risk Assessments

Doctors from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are significantly more likely than white doctors to be asked to work on hospital wards without personal protective equipment (PPE), a BMA member survey suggested.

Only 29% of BAME doctors felt they were fully protected from contracting COVID-19 at work, compared with 46% of white colleagues.

Polling of 7497 doctors received between 16th and 18th June  also revealed that 36% of ethnic minority doctors were unaware of any risk assessments taking place, compared with 41% of white colleagues.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, called the findings "extremely troubling".

Meanwhile, Wales' BAME COVID-19 Expert Advisory Group has made more than 30 recommendations to the Welsh Government. The group's chair Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna commented: "There’s an overall theme running through our research for this report. It centres on long-standing racism and disadvantage and the lack of BAME representation within decision-making processes."

He continued: "Many of the issues we’ve highlighted have been identified and discussed previously, but they haven’t been addressed in any systematic and sustained way."

Meat Factory Outbreaks

Meat factories and abattoirs have been the focus of recent COVID-19 case clusters in the UK and Germany.

Public Health Wales has confirmed COVID-19 cases among workers at the 2 Sisters chicken factory in Llangefni on Anglesey. All all staff have been told to self-isolate.

A number of cases have also been linked to the Kober meat factory in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire.

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, commented via the Science Media Centre: "Whilst refrigeration may be a contributory factor to the spread of the virus, the key factors are likely to be the number of people close together in indoor conditions. Some of these factories have onsite or nearby accommodation where there are several people in each dormitory, they may be transported on a bus to the site of work, and they will be indoors together all day. Levels of adherence to measures such as washing hands is uncertain and there is unlikely to be widespread use of PPE."
 

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 128 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced on Saturday, 43 on Sunday, and 15 today, taking the total to 42,647. Today's is the lowest rise in deaths since 15th March. However, numbers are usually lower after a weekend due to reporting delays.

There were 139,659 tests counted yesterday. This figure includes home tests that have been sent out but not yet processed. This takes the total tests to 8,029,757.

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

Another 958 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 305,289. The number is below 1000 for the first time since the UK passed the peak of cases.

"The virus is in retreat," Mr Hancock said.

There were 380 people admitted to hospital in the UK (excluding Scotland), and 330 mechanical ventilator beds are in use by coronavirus patients.

There are 4869 people in hospital with COVID-19, down from 5512 a week ago.

Coronavirus Concerns

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published more data on the social impacts of COVID-19 in Great Britain.

  • Among 16 to 29-year-olds, the main concerns were the effects on schools or universities (24%), wellbeing (22%), work (16%) and household finances (16%).

  • As well as being unable to attend their educational establishments, young people who reported an impact on schools or universities were concerned about exams and qualifications (58%), quality of education (46%), and a move to homeschooling (18%).

Dawn Snape, assistant director of the ONS Sustainability and Inequalities Division, commented: "Younger people were generally more optimistic about lockdown, with more than half expecting life to return to normal within 6 months."

More News in Brief

  • A decision is due tomorrow on reducing social distancing rules in England from 2 metres to 1 metre. Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, told the Commons Public Accounts Committee: "SAGE has provided advice, summarised the scientific evidence, but it's [up to] the Government then, as in all matters, to decide policy."

  • The abandoned NHSX contact tracing app has cost NHS England £11.8 million so far. The figure was given by the health minister Lord Bethell.

  • No-swab saliva home test kits are being trialled by Southampton University. The Optigene system is being tested by more than 14,000 GP and university staff, and key workers in a 4 week pilot.

  • NHS Providers is warning of a real risk of the NHS in England being overwhelmed in a winter COVID-19 second surge if the Government makes the wrong decisions on funding NHS capacity for the rest of the year. Chief Executive Chris Hopson commented: "Forward planning conducted by trusts over the last month indicates that the nightmare scenario is a second COVID-19 surge coinciding with winter when the NHS always struggles to keep up with demand."

  • The daughter of an 88-year-old man believed to have died with COVID-19 in a care home has begun legal action against Matt Hancock, Sky News reported. Dr Cathy Gardner wants the claim retracted that a "protective ring" had been placed around care homes.

  • British companies involved in the pandemic response, such as PPE makers, will be protected against takeover attempts under changes to the Enterprise Act 2002. Business Secretary Alok Sharma commented: "These powers will send an important signal to those seeking to take advantage of those struggling as a result of the pandemic that the UK government is prepared to act where necessary to protect our national security."

  • Sewage in Wales is to be studied to help track levels of COVID-19 in the community. Professor Andrew Weightman, head of the Organisms and Environment Division at Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said: "Research suggests people start to shed the virus in faeces up to about 2 weeks before they get symptoms so this approach can also be used as an early warning system to indicate when levels of the virus are rising in the community."

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

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