UK COVID-19 Update: Two Week 'Firebreak' Lockdown for Wales

Peter Russell

October 19, 2020

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

Lockdown Wales

A two-week national 'firebreak' aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 will be imposed in Wales.

Everybody in Wales will be required to stay at home from 6pm on Friday 23 October until Monday 9 November, the Welsh Government announced.

People deemed critical workers, and those who were unable to work from home would be exempted.

As widely anticipated, non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants, leisure businesses, community centres, libraries, and recycling centres will close.

Gatherings for Halloween and Bonfire Night will not be allowed, but there will be some exemptions for limited Remembrance commemorations.

Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, described the lockdown as "a time-limited firebreak" and a "short, sharp shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus, and give us more time".

Mr Drakeford, who met with Government colleagues this morning, said that critical care units in Wales were already full.

He warned that the number of people being taken to hospital with coronavirus symptoms was growing every day and that, without tough action, there was "a very real risk that our NHS would be overwhelmed".

He told a news conference: "Unless we act, the NHS will not be able to look after the increasing number of people who are falling seriously ill."

The start of the Welsh firebreak lockdown has been timed to coincide with the beginning of the half-term break for schoolchildren. However, some children will be allowed to return to class after the holiday period ends.

The restrictions mean that:

  • Childcare facilities will remain open

  • Primary schools will reopen after half-term

  • Secondary schools will reopen, but only for children in years 7 and 8, and those taking exams

  • Children in other school years will continue their learning from home

University students would be required to stay at home in their accommodation and continue their education through a blend of online and in-person learning.

Mr Drakeford said that during the two-week lockdown, people would be banned from gathering with people not in their household, either indoors or outdoors.

However, exceptions would made for adults living alone, and single parents, who would continue to be able to join with one other household for support.

Places of worship would be closed, other than for funerals and weddings.

The Welsh Government said that it would announce a package of financial measures to help individuals and businesses affected by the lockdown. It would include an economic resilience fund of nearly £300 million.

Convalescent Plasma

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) appealed for more people who have had COVID-19 to donate their blood plasma at 14 new donation centres in England for use in treatment trials for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The NHS trials of convalescent plasma are the largest randomised controlled trials for this "promising" treatment for COVID-19.

NHSBT already collects plasma in its 23 permanent blood donor centres and in five pop-up plasma centres.

It said donations were urgently needed to ensure that if the trial confirms treatment efficacy, plasma will be available for the NHS. Trial results could be available before the end of the year.

Prof David Roberts, NHSBT associate medical director for blood donation, said: "We have so far seen a fantastic response from the public coming forward to donate plasma. We are rapidly building our capability to collect plasma so that we can move into supplying hospitals at scale, should the trial demonstrate patient benefit.

"With 14 new centres – an overall total of 42 donation centres and pop-ups across the country – we need people in these areas who have had COVID-19 to come forward and donate plasma for patients. You could save lives."

As of 15 October, 1445 people had been randomised into the convalescent plasma arm of the RECOVERY trial, and 291 people had been randomised into the convalescent plasma arm of REMAP-CAP.

The new centres opening in November and December will be in areas with high numbers of potential donors. The new centres will be in:

  • Ashford

  • Bolton

  • Chelmsford

  • Chichester

  • Coventry

  • Croydon

  • Huddersfield

  • Lincolnshire / Humberside

  • Northampton

  • Reading

  • Stockton-on-Tees

  • Tottenham

  • Woking

  • Wolverhampton

The centres will be backed by recruitment of 373 donor carers and nurses across all donor centres, the NHSBT said.

Deaths at Home

Deaths from dementia and Alzheimer's disease in private homes in England rose 79% during the coronavirus pandemic, according to official figures.

Excess deaths in private homes in England and Wales were mostly due to deaths not involving COVID-19, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

In England, the number of deaths in private homes registered from 28 December 2019 to 11 September 2020 was 108,842 – 25,472 more than the five-year average for the same period.

In Wales, the number of deaths in private homes was 7,440, which was 1624 deaths more than the five-year average for the same period.

Deaths in private homes for females from dementia and Alzheimer disease increased by 75.0% in England and 92.2% in Wales compared with the five-year average.

Deaths in private homes for males from ischaemic heart disease increased by 25.9% in England and 22.7% in Wales compared with the five-year average.

Commenting on the figures, Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at ONS, said: "While deaths in hospitals and care homes have dropped below the five-year average since the initial peak of the coronavirus pandemic, we've consistently seen deaths in private homes remain well above the five-year average.

"We have seen an overall increase of deaths as well as a redistribution of various causes of death. For instance, while deaths of heart disease are below average in hospital, it has been above average at home.

"It’s a similar picture when looking at prostate cancer for males, and dementia and Alzheimer's disease for females."

Commenting on the latest statistics to the Science Media Centre, Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge, said: "Usually around 300 people die each day in their homes in England and Wales – the latest ONS analysis confirms that even after the peak of the epidemic this has stayed at around 400 a day and shows no sign of declining – that’s one-third extra, very few of which are from COVID. 

"Non-COVID deaths in hospital have correspondingly declined, suggesting most of these deaths would normally have occurred in hospital, and people have either been reluctant to go, discouraged from attending, or the services have been disrupted.  It is unclear how many of these lives could have been extended had they gone to hospital, for example among the 450 extra deaths from cardiac arrhythmias.

"Crucially, the ONS data cannot tell us about the quality of these deaths, particularly in terms of the end-of-life care provided to the patients and the support for their families."

Coronavirus Health Passports at Heathrow

A new 'health passport' will be used on flights out of the UK for the first time this week under plans for a common international standard for COVID-safe air travel, The Times reported at the weekend.

The so-called CommonPass, developed by the World Economic Forum, is set for use by passengers flying from Heathrow to Newark in the US.

Under the plan, they will take a test at the London airport up to 72 hours before travel as well as completing health screening questionnaires required by US border authorities. The results will be logged on a smartphone app, the report said.

Healthcare Delivery by Drone

Trials are underway of a drone to courier COVID-19 samples, blood tests, and personal protective equipment between NHS hospitals in England, The Guardian reported.

It is hoped that the trials, backed by a £1.3m grant from the UK Space Agency, can establish a network of air corridors for electric drones to navigate using GPS.

The remote-controlled drone would initially fly between Essex’s Broomfield hospital, Basildon hospital, and the Pathology First laboratory in Basildon.

The project was developed by Apian, a healthcare drone startup.

Fraud Charity Warning

Charity trustees and donors have been warned to be on their guard against fraud boosted by the pandemic.

Charities have reported being victims of fraud and cybercrime 645 times since March, accounting for £3.6 million in total losses, the Charity Commission warned.

It said charities providing services and supporting local communities could be amongst those most at risk.

Helen Stephenson, the Commission's chief executive, said: "We are seeing evidence that opportunists may be taking advantage of charities during the pandemic and I urge all charities to be extra vigilant against fraud.

"This comes at a time when charities are a lifeline for many people suffering from COVID-19, and the wider impacts of the pandemic."

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

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