UK COVID-19 Update: Europe 'At Epicentre' of Pandemic Again

Tim Locke

October 30, 2020

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

Europe 'At Epicentre' of Pandemic Again

"Europe is at the epicentre of this pandemic once again," was the latest message from Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe. "At the risk of sounding alarmist, I must express our very real concern and convey our steadfast commitment to stand beside you and support you as best we can."

Yesterday, Europe exceeded the 10-million-case milestone.

Dr Kluge also spoke up for healthcare workers: "We have no COVID-19 response if we do not care for our healthcare and essential workers: their needs and well-being must be prioritised."

France is back in national lockdown today. There was "no other solution" according to the country's Prime Minister Jean Castex, Medscape's French edition reported. Schools stay open but children have to wear masks.

Germany's lockdown begins on Monday. Spain will be under a state of emergency until early May.

Preprint research from Switzerland suggests the strain of SARS-CoV-2 now circulating in the UK and many European countries originated in Spain.

The authors did not conclude whether tougher travel restrictions would have reduced the spread: "It is currently unclear whether this variant is spreading because of a transmission advantage of the virus or whether high incidence in Spain followed by dissemination through tourists is sufficient to explain the rapid rise in multiple countries."

1 in 100 'Have Coronavirus'

The latest results from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey suggest 1 in 100 people in England have coronavirus. That's around 568,100 people.

Infection rates were highest in the North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

ONS estimates there were around 9.52 new infections for every 10,000 people per day, or around 51,900 new cases a day.

In Wales 1 in 120 were estimated to have coronavirus. In Northern Ireland the figure was 1 in 80, and 1 in 140 in Scotland.

Katherine Kent from ONS said infections in the North East of England "appear to have now levelled off".  

She added: "When looking at infections across different age groups, rates now seem to be steeply increasing among secondary school children whilst older teenagers and young adults continue to have the highest levels of infection."

The UK's R number is now 1.1-1.3 compared with 1.2-1.4 last week.

The growth rate is +2% to +4% per day.

In today's daily data another 24,405 UK positive tests were reported and 274 deaths.

There are 10,708 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 975 ventilator beds are in use.

In the latest local lockdown changes in England, Calderdale, City of Bradford, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield move from the high tier to very high on Monday.

Did 'Eat Out to Help Out' Drive Up Infections?

The 'Eat Out to Help Out' restaurant subsidy scheme may have helped virus spreading as well as helping businesses, according to a University of Warwick working paper.

Researchers said a  'back of the envelope calculation' shows that between 8% and 17% of the newly detected COVID-19 infection clusters at the time can be attributed to the scheme.

Dr Thiemo Fetzer of the CAGE Research Centre in the University's Economics Department analysed Google mobility data, rainfall data, and local infection rates.

In a news release he said: "This strongly suggests that the link between ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and new COVID-19 infections is causal: when people were not dining out as part of the scheme there were fewer new cases of the virus."

The scheme, he said "may in the end have been a false economy: one that subsidised the spread of the pandemic into autumn and contributed to the start of the second wave."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Professor Paul Hunter, UEA, said: "The hypothesis that Eat Out to Help Out may have increased transmission of COVID is plausible and in my view likely to be true to some extent.  Nevertheless, I am not convinced that this study provides strong evidence for the hypothesis.  In particular, any estimate of the size of the impact of Eat Out to Help Out on case numbers should be treated with some caution."

Sky News quoted a Treasury spokesperson: "We do not recognise these figures - which as the study itself admits, are 'back-of-the-envelope' calculations.”

Long COVID Definition

Ahead of new guidelines, NICE, the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, and the Royal College of GPs have defined post-COVID syndrome (long COVID) as: "Signs and symptoms that develop during or following an infection consistent with COVID-19, continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis. It usually presents with clusters of symptoms, often overlapping, which can fluctuate and change over time and can affect any system in the body.

"Post-COVID-19 syndrome may be considered before 12 weeks while the possibility of an alternative underlying disease is also being assessed."

Oncology Staff Infections

Nearly 1 in 5 oncology staff tested positive for SARS-CoV-2  antibodies, according to research being presented to the NCRI Virtual Showcase.

The study of 434 staff in June found highest rates were among oncology nurses (21.3%), doctors (17.4%), administrators (13.6%), and radiographers (8.9%).

Only 38% of those who tested positive for the antibodies reported previous possible COVID-19 symptoms.

Study lead, Dr David Favara, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Cambridge, said in a news release: "Considering our findings, we propose that there should be a focus on routinely testing oncology nursing staff for both the virus antigen and antibodies until an effective vaccine becomes available."

Which? Rates Face Coverings

The consumer magazine Which? Has been testing reusable face coverings and found a big difference between the best and worse.

The best was the £5 NEQI with an 81% overall score. "The three-layer construction did a good job in our bacterial filtration tests, capturing 80% of particles on the first test and 72% after five washes."

The worst one-layer face coverings blocked as little as 7% of particles from penetrating the mask.

There were 'don't buy' ratings for masks from Etiquette (Superdrug), Asda, and Termin8. Which? said Asda had withdrawn its product from sale after the poor review but the other two companies disputed the findings and said they met government guidelines.

Pandemic Rows

A King’s College London and Ipsos MORI poll of 2237 people published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found lockdown and the pandemic is causing many people to fall out with friends and family.

  • 53% felt angry with people they know over their pandemic behaviour.

  • 23% argued with friends or family over how to behave during the crisis.

  • 8% are no longer speaking to a friend or family member over pandemic disagreements.

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

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