UK COVID-19 Update: Better Test & Trace Needed for Schools Reopening

Tim Locke

August 04, 2020

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

Back to School: 'Test and Trace Needs Improvement'

A better testing and tracing system is needed in England if a new wave of infections is to be avoided when children go back to school, experts have warned.

Modelling led by researchers at UCL and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

It found a second wave could be avoided if both 75% of people with COVID-19 symptoms were found and 68% of their contacts traced, or both 87% of people with symptoms were found and 40% of their contacts traced.

In a news release, senior author, Professor Chris Bonell, LSHTM, added: "Our study should not be used to keep schools shut because of a fear of a second wave but as a loud call to action to improve the infection control measures and test and trace system so we can get children back to school without interrupting their learning again for extended periods of time. This is even more important in the context of opening up other areas of society."

Local government minister Simon Clarke conceded to Sky News that there is "more to be done" on COVID-19 test, trace, and isolation but said it is "not up for debate" that schools in England will reopen in September.

In its most recent figures the Department of Health and Social Care said more than 80% of those testing positive were reached with over 75% of their contacts reached as well.

Meanwhile, Blackburn with Darwen council has begun its own contact tracing system.

If the national system cannot make contact with someone in the area after 2 days, their details are given to the local service.

Paul Fleming from the council commented: "Our system complements the national system because we have the local knowledge of the area and the ability to send officers round to people’s addresses."

UK Tops Global COVID-19 Case-Fatality Table

Analysis by Johns Hopkins University in the US puts the UK top of a table for observed case-fatality ratio out of the 20 countries most affected by COVID-19. It notes: "Countries at the top of this figure have the most deaths proportionally to their COVID-19 cases or population, not necessarily the most deaths overall."

Credit: Johns Hopkins University

Health Anxieties Rose Under Lockdown

COVID-19 and lockdown measures caused a rise in health anxieties, especially among those shielding, according to University of Bath research.

The findings published in American Psychologist are based on online responses from 842 people over 10 days in April as to how they were coping.

The researchers found 14.8% reached clinical cutoff for health anxiety, the fear of having or contracting a serious illness.

Lead author, Dr Hannah Rettie, from Bath’s Department of Psychology, commented: "Those in vulnerable groups, classified according to the UK government ‘vulnerable’ categories, report twice the rates of health-related anxiety than the general population. Those who identified themselves in these categories were on average more anxious and depressed, with anxiety and health anxiety specifically significantly higher than in non-vulnerable groups. Those who are in the vulnerable group are at risk both physically and psychologically."

ONS Data

Latest weekly data from the Office for National Statistics show the number of deaths registered in week 30 (ending 24 July) in England and Wales was 1.8% below the 5-year average. That's the sixth consecutive week that deaths have been below the 5-year average.

The number of COVID-19 deaths decreased across all English regions, except for Yorkshire and The Humber and the East Midlands.

For the UK as a whole, the number of deaths registered that week was 10,142, which was fewer than the 5-year average by 118 deaths.

COVID-19 was involved in 231 of all deaths that week.

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 were still being published on another gov.uk page. Today there's a new message saying: "This website will be decommissioned on Tuesday 4 August 2020."

Later, a further 89 deaths were announced, taking the total to 46,299.

Another 670 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 306,293.

One of the latest outbreaks to be managed is in Swindon centred on the XPO Logistics depot. There have been 64 confirmed cases and a mobile testing unit was put in place as the depot remains operational.

Medication Stockpiling

With medication supply chains already under pressure from COVID-19, the Government is asking medicine suppliers to prepare for the end of Brexit transitional arrangements with the EU at the end of the year.

In a letter to suppliers, Steve Oldfield, chief commercial officer, Department of Health and Social Care, said: "We recognise that global supply chains are under significant pressure, exacerbated by recent events with COVID-19. However, we encourage companies to make stockpiling a key part of contingency plans, and ask industry, where possible, to stockpile to a target level of 6 weeks’ total stock on UK soil."

UK and EU negotiators are still working on a new free-trade agreement. The UK has said it won't ask to extend the current arrangements and a no-deal 'hard Brexit' remains a possibility.

Dried Blood Spot Antibody Test

Welsh scientists have developed a convenient, low-cost antibody test for COVID-19 based on dried blood spot (DBS) sampling technique, Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network, reported.

DBS samples have long been used to test neonates for inherited disorders. The novel antibody test uses a single drop of blood drawn using a pinprick and blotted on a special filter paper card. The cards can then be shipped to laboratories for testing. Once they reach the laboratory, a disc is ‘punched out’ from the card and the antibodies are released using a special liquid.

The test has been collaboratively developed by researchers from the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff University, and the Welsh Blood Service. They have optimised the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) antibody test to be used with the DBS method and say translating the test onto an NHS automated platform will allow hundreds of samples to be tested at once.

Professor Ian Weeks, dean of clinical innovation at Cardiff University’s College of Biomedical and Life Sciences, commented: "This approach could prove important in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. The test only requires a finger prick sample of blood, rather like a diabetic patient checking their blood sugar levels."

Drive-through Testing Parking Fine

The Metro reported on photographer Geoff Pugh, 52, who got a £90 parking fine after using an NHS drive-in COVID-19 test centre at Edmonton Green Shopping Centre in Enfield, North London.

Mr Pugh says he didn't even get out of the car.

Highview Parking said it would refund the charge. It said his number plate was captured by cameras on a day when staff weren't aware the site was being used for testing.

Editor's note, 5 August 2020: This article was updated to include daily deaths.

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

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