UK COVID-19 Update: Over 50s Flu Jabs, Obesity Campaign Expected

Tim Locke

July 24, 2020

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

Over 50s Flu Jabs

The Royal College of GPs said extending free flu vaccination to over 50s in England is "sensible" but wants more details on how it will happen.

RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall commented: "This announcement of an extension to the flu programme is sensible as we prepare the NHS for a busy winter and potential second wave of COVID-19, but GPs and our teams, who will be delivering the majority of vaccinations, need more detail about the practicalities of how it will work. Practices plan meticulously for the flu season every year to ensure the vaccination programme runs smoothly and as many people as possible get vaccinated – they will have made their orders at the beginning of the year and will need to amend these. We also need assurance that the Government can guarantee adequate supply for everyone covered under the extension.

"It is likely that COVID-19 will present challenges to delivering the flu programme – we will need to take measures to ensure all patients are safe when they come to get their vaccination, and we will need to ensure people, particularly in at-risk groups, are confident in doing so."

Year 7 children are also included in flu vaccination this year. Professor Helen Bedford, immunisation expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: "Unlike COVID-19, the flu virus can make children very sick and they are super spreaders. Flu vaccination protects the child and the rest of the community including older relatives."

Speaking at a media event at a GP surgery this morning Boris Johnson commented: "There’s all these anti-vaxxers now. They are nuts, they are nuts."

New Anti-obesity Announcement Expected Next Week

With obesity a known risk factor for worse COVID-19 outcomes, new anti-obesity measures are expected to be announced in England next week.

It has been reported that Boris Johnson's previous opposition to 'nanny state' measures may have been affected by his own, personal, ICU coronavirus experience. The PM has also said the British are far fatter than any other nation in Europe except Malta.

Last week, health experts and charities appealed to the PM to implement all outstanding recommendations in the Government's Childhood Obesity Prevention Plan.

Sky News reports on a leaked letter from the Institute Of Practitioners In Advertising saying an expected ban on TV junk food adverts until after the 9pm watershed would be "draconian".

Boris Johnson today said he'd lost "about a stone and a bit".

Gaps in Face Covering Rules

Face coverings are now mandatory in shops, takeaways, banks, and post offices in England, with final details released just hours before the rules came into force at midnight.

The BMA said the measures were "long overdue" and again questioned why the decision was delayed. Council Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul commented: "In the 10 days since this rule change was announced, we’ve seen confusion, mixed messaging and U-turns from the Government about how it would apply, leaving it until the last minute to issue any meaningful guidance."

He also pointed to businesses not covered by facecovering rules: "If venues such as theatres, museums and salons are not subject to these rules, there must be an absolute assurance that they can protect the public by enforcing physical distancing or putting other mitigating measures in place such as the installation of screens – and the Government must support them in this."

Wales catches up on mandatory face coverings on public transport on Monday.

Tourist accommodation with shared facilities in Wales can also reopen from tomorrow.

Areas of Intervention

Rises in local COVID-19 cases have led to Luton and Blackburn with Darwen being classed as 'areas of intervention' by Public Health England.

These areas won't be opening gyms, pools, and other leisure facilities tomorrow as planned.

Also on the PHE watchlist are: Oadby and Wigston, Pendle, Bradford, Rochdale, Kirklees,Peterborough, Wakefield, Northampton, Calderdale, and Rotherham.

Imperial Extends Vaccine Trial Area

Imperial College London is expanding its RNA COVID-19 vaccine trial in England.

So far 92 volunteers have taken part. Now more than 200 people across four London hospitals trusts and two other sites (still to be announced) will take part in the trial.

Clinical lead Dr Katrina Pollock commented: "The trial is progressing well, and the additional sites will allow us to further evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of this vaccine, providing key clinical data."

Can Fitbits Help Track COVID-19?

King's College London researchers have launched smartphone apps to help scientists assess the ability of wearables, like Fitbit devices, to help track COVID-19. Data from devices, along with reporting of mood, symptoms, and any diagnosis will feed into the COVID-Collab mass science project.

Study lead, Dr Amos Folarin, software development group leader at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, said: "Having a cheap, continuous digital test for infection could be a game-changer. When you indicate you are experiencing symptoms in the app, we'll be able to look at your data before, during, and after this period and compare it to your healthy baseline data. Passive monitoring of symptoms coupled with movement data could be very useful as lockdown is cautiously lifted across the country."

R Number

The UK's R number remains at 0.7-0.9.

The growth rate is -4% to -1% per day.

All English regions currently have an R number with an upper value of 1.0.

The growth rate has an upper range of +2.0 in the East and South West.

Daily Deaths and Data

Public Health England (PHE) is pausing publication of daily death data after England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock ordered an investigation into its methodology.

However, data are still published on another gov.uk page with 123 UK COVID-19 deaths announced today, taking the total to 45,677.

Another 770 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to  297,914.

ONS Data

The Office for National Statistics produced new social impact data today, with 89% of adults in Great Britain with children of school age saying it was either very or fairly likely that those children would return to school or college next term.

However, 62% were very or somewhat worried about children returning to school or college, with the main concern being children catching the virus.

Use of face coverings increased from 61% last week to 71% this week.

In other ONS data, COVID-19 accounted for 22.9% of all deaths in England and Wales between March and June. That equated to 88 deaths per 100,000 people.

The age-standardised mortality rate for deaths involving COVID-19 in the most deprived areas of England was more than double the mortality rate in the least deprived areas.

The ONS weekly COVID-19 Infection Survey estimates around 1 in 2000 individuals within the community population in England had COVID-19 between 13 and 19 July. That equates to around 27,700 people.

There were around 0.52 new COVID-19 infections for every 10,000 individuals, equating to around 2800 new cases per day.

Heather Bovill, joint COVID-19 Infection Survey analysis lead, commented: "We continue to see that despite decreases in the level of COVID-19 infection from mid-May to mid-June this has slowed in recent weeks and has now levelled off. As the Government relaxes lockdown measures, we are closely monitoring these results for any changes."

NHS Discounts Ending?

Many businesses were quick to offer new discounts for NHS staff to show their support during the early stages of the pandemic. However, the BBC reported on some small businesses in Edinburgh saying they can't afford to continue to be generous.

It quotes Mohammed Alam, manager of Morningside Spice, saying: "Business is not going in the right direction because of the lockdown situation so we can't keep giving the discounts like we have been doing."

An NHS manager is also quoted saying it is not acceptable for staff to ask for discounts.

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

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