UK COVID-19 Update: Two Tests for COVID-19 and Winter Viruses to Be Rolled Out

Peter Russell

August 03, 2020

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

Two New Quick COVID-19 Tests

Two new tests which can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in only 90 minutes are to be rolled out across NHS hospitals, care homes, and laboratories across the UK from next week.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the tests could also detect other winter viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

Crucially, the tests do not require a trained health professional to operate them, meaning they can be rolled out in more non-clinical settings.

The DHSC said being able to differentiate between COVID-19 cases and other winter viruses would help in deciding whether people needed to self-isolate or not.

Currently, test results can take between 24 hours and two days.

An initial supply of 5000 'Nudgebox' machines, supplied by London-based DnaNudge, will be made available to NHS hospitals in the UK. These can analyse DNA in nose swabs, providing a positive or negative result for COVID-19 in 90 minutes, at the point of care.

The machines, currently operating in 8 London hospitals, can process up to 15 tests on the spot each day without the need for a laboratory.

The DHSC said it was hoped the machines would be able to process 5.8 million tests in the coming months.

Separately, 450,000 LamPORE swab tests would be made available for adult social care settings and laboratories from next week.

Oxford Nanopore, which recently built a factory in Oxfordshire, uses a method called RT-LAMP to identify and amplify the SARS-CoV-2 virus in an original sample, followed by its own sequencing technology to identify the amplified virus.

The company says it can detect and invalidate samples where there has been an error in sample collection.

Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: "The fact these tests can detect flu as well as COVID-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others."

'COVID-friendly' Cancer Treatments

Cancer treatments that are safer for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic are to be expanded and extended in England through a £160 million initiative, the NHS announced.

The funding would pay for drugs that treat patients with less impact on their immune systems or requiring fewer hospital visits.

Some of these new options mean that patients can take tablets at home or receive medicines with fewer side-effects, instead of undergoing hospital-based treatment that can leave them more susceptible to coronavirus and other infections.

Targeted hormone therapies such as enzalutamide for prostate cancer and broadened use of lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma are among the options now available for clinicians and patients.

Other treatments include:

  • Venetoclax in acute myeloid leukaemia as an oral alternative to standard chemotherapy

  • Nivolumab for patients with bowel cancer whose cancers have a specific genetic fingerprint

  • Ixazomib in myeloma as an oral alternative to treatment that would require more hospital visits and injections

  • Atezolizumab as first-line immunotherapy for bladder cancer instead of chemotherapy

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, said: "Since the first case of COVID in England six months ago, NHS staff have fast tracked new, innovative ways of working so that other services, including A&E, cancer, and maternity could continue safely for patients, and it is thanks to these incredible efforts that 65,000 people could start treatment for cancer during the pandemic.

"We are now adopting new, kinder treatment options which are not only effective but safer for use during the COVID-19 pandemic and more convenient for thousands of patients, who can take medication at home or be given medicines with less harmful effects on their immune system."

Vaccine Deal

The Government said it had entered into an 18-month agreement with global pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Wockhardt to carry out what it called the crucial 'fill and finish' stage of efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the UK.

It would involve dispensing any vaccines into vials ready for distribution.

The work would take place at take place at CP Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Wockhardt, based in Wrexham, North Wales.

Work could begin as early as September 2020.

Kate Bingham, chair of the Vaccines Taskforce, said: "We have made significant progress in securing a diverse portfolio of potential vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, adding a fourth vaccine candidate from GSK and Sanofi earlier this week.

"However, discovering a successful vaccine is only part of the solution, we also need to be able to manufacture it.

"Fill and finish is a critical step in the process to get the vaccine in a form to be given to patients."

Convalescent Plasma Donation Appeal

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) appealed for more donors of convalescent plasma from the 'first wave' of COVID-19 after experiencing an almost 50% reduction in the number of weekly appointments booked in the past month.

It said that while 13,000 donations had been made so far during the pandemic, a decline in the number of new infections since the spring meant that fewer people were now eligible to donate.

Plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 contains antibodies to the virus.

Around 130 people have so far received transfusions during randomised clinical trials. Results on safety and effectiveness could be available by the end of this year.

Gail Miflin, chief medical officer at NHSBT, said: "The number of new infections has declined greatly, which is fantastic news. Fewer people are getting COVID-19. This does mean we need to work harder to recruit new donors and we urgently need as many people as possible who have recovered to donate, to help us make as much progress as possible now.

"We especially need men who have recovered to donate because they have higher antibody levels.

"Donating plasma is safe and easy and you could save lives."

Weight Gain During Pandemic

Almost 30% of people who used a COVID-19 symptom app reported gaining weight, a UK  study found.

Average increases in body weight across the country were 0.78 kg (1.6 lbs), and up to 3 kg (6.5 lbs) in those who reported increased snacking.

Results came from the COVID Symptom Study app developed by health science company ZOE, with results analysed by King's College London. The app has been downloaded by more than 3.5 million people in the UK, with 1.6 million users participating in the questionnaire about behavioural changes during the lockdown.

Results suggested that factors behind lockdown weight gain were:

  • Increased snacking (35%)

  • Decreased levels of physical activity (34%)

  • Increased alcohol consumption (27%)

  • A less healthy diet (19%)

Obesity and being overweight have been repeatedly linked to a higher risk of hospitalisation and mortality from COVID-19.

The Government recently announced measures to persuade people to lose weight, with a ban on junk food companies advertising before the 9pm watershed, and offering incentives to doctors to help people slim down and encourage GPs to prescribe exercise to boost fitness.

Ministers propose introducing new laws to ensure that calories are displayed on menus, and a consultation on displaying hidden 'liquid calories' on alcoholic drinks.

Dementia Symptoms 'Worsened' After Lockdown

The COVID-19 lockdown has led to a "shocking" deterioration in symptoms for people with dementia, an investigation by the Alzheimer's Society found.

Isolation had led to 82% of people with dementia, or their carers, reporting a deterioration in symptoms.

The report was based on a survey of 1831 people carried out in June.

It found that, of those who noticed a deterioration:

  • 50.4% ticked 'memory loss'

  • 47.5% ticked 'difficulty concentrating'

  • 47.1% ticked 'agitation or restlessness'

  • 32.7% ticked 'struggling with speaking or understanding speech'

  • 27.6% ticked 'loss of daily skills'

  • 26.8% ticked 'difficulty reading or writing'

Social activity was key to helping slow the progression of symptoms of dementia, the Alzheimer's Society said.

Chief executive Kate Lee warned that "people with dementia are at huge risk from a second wave if we don't take urgent steps to protect them".

Eat Out to Help Out

Diners can now claim up to 50% off on bills when visiting participating restaurants, pubs, and cafes under the Chancellor's Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

The discounts will run through August and applies to food and non-alcoholic drinks consumed on the premises.

More than 72,000 establishments are participating in the scheme.

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 9 UK COVID-19 deaths announced today, taking the total to 46,119.

Another 938 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 305,623.

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

Editor's note, 4 August 2020: This article was updated to include daily data.

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