UK COVID-19 Update: Rule of 6, Testing Moonshot, Vaccine Setback

Tim Locke

September 09, 2020

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

Rising Cases

Rising cases in recent days have led to new England-wide restrictions being announced in a return to a Downing Street briefing for Boris Johnson and his advisers.


Government Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty said: "The numbers are now going up, and going up really much more rapidly over the last few days." The rise mostly affected younger people, he said, and "this is not an effect of greater testing in these groups". 

Prot Whitty said evidence from other countries gave "a clear indication that if you act rapidly and decisively when these changes are happening, there is a reasonable chance or a good chance of bringing the rates back down under control." 

Rule of Six

In response to this, "We are simplifying, and strengthening the rules, making them easier for everyone to understand, and for the police to enforce," the PM said.

"In England from Monday, we're introducing the rule of six. You must not meet socially in groups of more than six. And if you do, you will be breaking the law."  Previously the gathering limit in England was 30.

Mr Johnson said: "I wish that we did not have to take this step."

There are exemptions, including for weddings and funerals, workplaces, schools, colleges, and universities.

Giving contact details to venues will become mandatory, and 'COVID-secure marshalls' will be introduced to check compliance.

The measures weren't part of another national lockdown, the PM said: "The whole point of them is to avoid a second national lockdown." 

Testing 'Moonshot'

Boris Johnson announced a new target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October. In future, a mass rapid testing 'moonshot', he said "could allow life to return to closer to normality".

Testing will be trialled in Salford to identify people who don't have COVID-19 "allow them to behave in a more normal way in the knowledge that they can't infect anyone else with the virus" the PM said.

The BMJ said leaked Government plans to carry out 10 million COVID-19 tests a day by early next year would cost £100bn. The briefing memo said it would involve GSK, AstraZeneca, Serco, and G4s.

Vaccine Trial Halted

Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine trial with AstraZeneca is on hold after a participant developed "a potentially unexplained illness". No further details of the condition were given. However there are reports it is the neurological disorder transverse myelitis.

A statement from the company said: "As part of the ongoing randomised, controlled global trials of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, our standard review process was triggered and we voluntarily paused vaccination to allow review of safety data by an independent committee.

"This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials.

"In large trials illnesses will happen by chance but must be independently reviewed to check this carefully."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "The whole way of conducting vaccine trials with independent data and safety monitoring boards, as well as regulatory processes, is intended to protect the participants in the trials and is why trials are conducted. This very incident shows that the Oxford trial, and any other trials conducted in the UK, are monitored very carefully and precautions are taken to protect both the trial participants and those who might get the vaccine in the future."

Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told the Downing Street briefing pausing a trial "is not an unusual thing in a phase III programme" and that he expected similar announcements from other studies on pausing and restarting trials.

Medscape UK Lockdown Poll Results

Yesterday we launched an online reader poll asking whether lockdown measures have been eased too far.

As of 1500 today there were 557 responses and 62% agreed measures have been lifted too far. Twenty-nine percent disagreed and 9% weren't sure.

Asymptomatic Patients 'Taking Test Slots'

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock has blamed problems on testing availability on people with no symptoms booking tests. He told Sky News: "We have seen an increase in demand including from people who are not eligible for tests, people who don't have symptoms."

He added: "About 25% of people who are coming forward don't have symptoms and aren't eligible."

However, yesterday in a tweet a director of the NHS  Test and Trace system in England, Sarah-Jane Marsh, apologised to people who could not get a test and said the problem was capacity at laboratories.

The fact checking charity Full Fact also pulled up Mr Hancock on Test and Trace performance.

In the Commons yesterday, Labour's Jonathan Ashworth said only 69.4% of contacts are now reached and asked to self-isolate.

Mr Hancock said Mr Ashworth had "got into a bit of a muddle" and that was "simply untrue".

However, Full Fact confirmed that the numbers were correct.

Hands. Face. Space.

The Government has reprised its 'Hands. Face. Space.' slogan for England first announced in July.

Ashley Woodcock, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester, commented: "This is just what is needed. Simple, simple, simple messaging. Repeated.

"One observation – we all have a responsibility to protect the elderly and vulnerable. So when in the presence of the vulnerable, the new ‘Hands. Face. Space’ mantra is doubly important. Don’t touch, kiss or even get close to grandma – preferably, don’t visit."

Horse Racing Doors Bolted

The new restrictions have led to horse racing spectators being banned from the final days of the St Leger Festival pilot event in Doncaster. After today it will be held behind closed doors.

Dr Rupert Suckling, director of public health for Doncaster, said in a statement: "I appreciate this decision may not be met with universal agreement but it is the safest and most appropriate way to move forward for everyone's best interests in the borough and beyond."

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


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