UK COVID-19 Update: 'Appalling Error' Over Care Homes

Tim Locke

July 29, 2020

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

'Appalling Error' Over Care Homes

The Government's approach to social care during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic was "slow, inconsistent and, at times, negligent", according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee.

The parliamentary public spending watchdog said that compared to the attention given to protect the NHS during the crisis, the pandemic had exposed the social care sector as a "poor relation" caused by "years of inattention, funding cuts and delayed reforms".

The report, Readying the NHS and social care for the COVID-19 peak, highlighted an "appalling error" committed when 25,000 patients were discharged from hospitals into care homes without ensuring they were first tested for COVID-19, despite clear evidence of asymptomatic transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it was committed to bring forward a proposal for a long-term solution for the social care sector, although it gave no indication of a timescale.

Airport Arrivals Testing

Heathrow Airport's CEO is calling on the Government to introduce COVID-19 testing for arriving passengers to help remove the need for self-isolation.

John Holland-Kaye said: "The UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast. Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette. As many of our customers have experienced, it’s difficult to plan a holiday that way, let alone run a business. Testing offers a way to safely open up travel and trade to some of the UK’s biggest markets which currently remain closed."

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said testing wouldn't be a "silver bullet".

However, Dr Hans Kluge, Europe regional director for the World Health Organisation, told the BBC: "Testing is never wrong - whether at airports, community or drive-in centres - what's the difference between day-to-day life and travelling?"

Meanwhile a preprint study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine models possible approaches to testing returning travellers as an alternative to the current 14 days quarantine for some countries.

A quarantine period of 8 days on arrival with a PCR test on day 7 (with a 1-day delay for test results) can reduce the number of infectious arrivals released into the community by a median 94% compared to a no quarantine, no test scenario, they found.

Prof Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, commented via the Science Media Centre: "Their analysis explores the impact of using testing for infection as a means of reducing the duration of quarantine for new arrivals and returning residents. For example, 5 days quarantine with a single test on the last day is estimated to be at least 80% as effective as 14 days quarantine, even without factoring in reduced adherence to the longer quarantine period.

"This is a welcome illustration of the principle that testing can be used to reduce the need for quarantine."

Quick poll: Will You Risk a Holiday Abroad This Summer?

Another Vaccine Deal

The UK has done a deal to buy 60 million doses of GSK and Sanofi's COVID-19 vaccine which is based on existing DNA-based technology.

The agreement is on top of 190 million doses of three other promising vaccines, including the one developed by the University of Oxford. 

Kate Bingham, chair of the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce, said: "This diversity of vaccine types is important because we do not yet know which, if any, of the different types of vaccine will prove to generate a safe and protective response to COVID-19. Whilst this agreement is very good news, we mustn’t be complacent or over optimistic."
 

Medicine Stock Buffer

The Government should increase buffer stocks of medication beyond 6 months ahead of a possible COVID-19 second wave, according to a report from the Commons International Trade Committee.

However, the MPs found the critical supply chains largely held up during the pandemic.

The Committee recommends changes to intellectual property provisions to allow for compulsory licensing of COVID-19 therapeutic drugs or vaccines to make sure they can be made available as quickly, widely, and cheaply as possible.

Child Risks After Health Visitors Redeployed

A survey of health visitors by UCL found concerns over the needs of some children being missed as staff were redeployed due to COVID-19.

Of 663 health visitors in England surveyed in June and July 2020, 41% of teams that lost staff had between six and 50 team members redeployed. 

Study lead Dr Gabriella Conti said in a news release: "Increased caseloads for a significant proportion of health visitors, along with reports of a lack of PPE for home visits, has created a lot of additional stress and anxiety, during a time of great uncertainty and difficulty."

Professor Russell Viner from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, commented: "During lockdown, when their contribution was more important than ever, the crucial work of health visitors has been hampered by a lack of PPE and by frequently, and often needlessly, being redeployed into areas away from children and families. This can never be allowed to happen again."
 

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 83 UK COVID-19 deaths announced today, taking the total to 45,961.

Another 763 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 301,455.

The latest nowcast and forecast from the Cambridge MRC Biostatistics Unit has the R number for England as high as 1.38 in South West England with a median of 1.04. Next highest was the South East at an upper range of 1.25 and median of 1.02.

"We estimate it is very likely that R is close to 1 in most regions of England," they write.

The current estimate of the number of infections each day in England is 3000.

Avoiding Bad News?

More people are avoiding news since lockdown, the Reuters Institute and University of Oxford reported.

News avoidance was at 22% based on a survey carried out between 16 to 22 July.

Most of those that try to avoid COVID-19 news (56%) cited 'a bad effect on my mood'.

Bike Repair Voucher Site Crash

One of the measures to help get people active as part of the COVID-19 response in England was £50 vouchers to get old bikes repaired and back on the road.

The website was due to go live at 11.45pm last night so people could apply for 50,000 vouchers. However, people got 404 website error messages and took to social media to vent their frustrations. Sky News reported one cyclist saying: "So disappointed in the way this has been handled. Was really hoping to fix my bike but instead all I'll be is super tired at work tomorrow."

This morning the site, run by the Energy Saving Trust, showed the message: "There are no vouchers available right now. Vouchers are being released gradually to reflect the capacity of the bike repairers signed up to the scheme. More vouchers will be made available as soon as possible."

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

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