UK COVID-19 Update: Older Kids' Virus Spreading, COVID Safer Sex Tips 

Tim Locke

August 11, 2020

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

Older School Children 'Spread COVID-19 Like Adults'

As children went back to school today in Scotland, The Times (paywall) reported on unpublished new research that found older children can spread coronavirus as easily as adults.

Although primary school children don't appear to pass the virus to each other, the paper says Public Health England (PHE) scientists believe different rules may be needed for older children. The results haven’t been fully analysed and it said researchers are unhappy with the way ministers have used the findings.

The Times quotes Prof Russell Viner, SAGE member and president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health: "It's increasingly clear that older children, teenagers probably, transmit as much as adults."

The newspaper also reports three different sets of daily COVID-19 figures are to be published after a review of PHE methodology. England didn't have a 28 day cut-off period from positive test to death, so no one was ever shown to have recovered, and unrelated causes of death inflated daily figures.

New Local Focus for England's Test and Trace 

Ministers aren't admitting any failures of England's test and trace system but a new local focus has been announced.

In week 9 of NHS Test and Trace, 79.4% of those transferred to the system were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts. Of those identified as coming into close contact with someone who tested positive, 72.4% were reached and asked to self-isolate. That's a decrease from 76.2% in the previous week.

In statistical notes, the Department of Health and Social Care said: "The overall percentage of contacts reached has been declining since Test and Trace began, primarily due to the reduction in contacts relating to local outbreaks (complex cases), as these are managed by local health protection teams and have a higher success rate than those dealt with by contact tracers."

Six thousand national tracer jobs are being cut and local areas now get ring-fenced teams from the national service. Local follow-ups can involve home visits when contacts cannot be contacted by phone.

Health minister Edward Argar told the BBC the system was "evolving and flexing".

Councillor James Jamieson, chair of the Local Government Association, commented: "Using councils’ unrivalled local knowledge and vast experience of contact tracing within local public health teams is vital in the Government’s national efforts."

NHS Winter Funding

Plans to boost NHS funding in England to prepare for winter have been confirmed by the Government.

A share of £300 million will go to 117 trusts to upgrade A&E facilities. The funds could also be used for other measures to improve patient flow.

Emergency Department Care 'Reset'

Emergency department care needs a 'reset' after the peak of COVID-19, experts write in the Emergency Medicine Journal.

Dr Adrian Boyle from Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Dr Katherine Henderson, from Guys & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, London, and the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, co-authored the editorial.

"As we progress beyond the peak of this outbreak, we must act now to ensure patient safety is never jeopardised again through poor infection control, design, physical crowding, inadequate staff protection and corridor care," they write.

"EDs should return to their original core purpose: the rapid assessment and emergency stabilisation of seriously ill and injured patients. They can no longer be used to pick up the pieces where community, ‘out of hours’ or specialist care has struggled, or chosen not, to cope. Our colleagues in primary care must be able to safely offer face-to-face consultations and physical examination."

Dr Boyle also tweeted: "If we don’t sort this out, there will be a return to crowding and corridor care. Emergency Departments must not become reservoirs of infection. This is not inevitable."

Excess Deaths Still Below Normal Rates

Excess deaths in England and Wales were below the 5 year average for the seventh consecutive week, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In Week 31 (ending 31 July) registered deaths were 1.0% below the 5-year average.

Global Outlook

Russia has become the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine after less than 2 months of human trials, but the announcement has been received with scepticism by many experts.

One of President Putin's daughters has already received the 'Sputnik V' vaccine.

Prof Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology at University College London and director of the UCL Genetics Institute, commented via the Science Media Centre: "This is a reckless and foolish decision. Mass vaccination with an improperly tested vaccine is unethical. Any problem with the Russian vaccination campaign would be disastrous both through its negative effects on health, but also because it would further set back the acceptance of vaccines in the population."

Globally, COVID-19 cases have now passed 20m, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University in the US.

New Zealand's run of 102 days without a new case came to an end with four cases in a family in South Auckland. Local lockdown measures have been put in place.

Charity Issues COVID Safer Sex Tips

The sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust has issued safer sex tips to help avoid COVID-19.

In a blog post, Medical Director Dr Michael Brady, suggests wearing face coverings, avoiding kissing, and opting for non face-to-face positions.

Masturbation is the safest option, he writes, and: "The next safest option is sex with a sexual partner within your household."

Dr Brady advises talking to new partners about COVID-19, their symptoms, and those of people they've been close to.

Handwashing is also important, he says, before and after sex.

COVID Sniffer Dog Trial Needs Volunteers

Scientists who are investigating the ability of specially trained dogs to detect COVID-19 in humans are looking for volunteers from the North West of England, Univadis from Medscape reported.

The trial is a collaboration between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Medical Detection Dogs, and Durham University. The Department for Health and Social Care has funded the first phase of the trial.

The research team needs volunteers to provide human scent samples for the sniffer dogs. Samples will be collected from individuals with mild symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 who are due to undergo a swab test, or have had a swab test done in the past 24 hours.

The volunteers will provide breath and body odour samples by wearing a mask for 3 hours, and nylon socks and a T-shirt for 12 hours. Around 325 positive and 675 negative samples are needed for the trial. The samples will be further analysed in a laboratory to identify compounds in odour that signify SARS-CoV-2 infection. Six dogs at the Medical Detection Dogs’ training centre will then be trained to detect the virus from the samples.

According to the researchers, a successful trial could mean that dogs can be potentially deployed at airports in the UK for rapid screening of travellers arriving from abroad, with an hourly screening capacity of up to 250 people.

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

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