UK COVID-19 Update: Tributes to Leading Doctors, Third Lockdown Impact

Tim Locke

January 05, 2021

Editor's note, 5 January 2021: This article was updated with the latest daily data and information from a Downing Street briefing.

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

Tributes to Leading Doctors

Tributes have been paid to London GP Dr Augustine Obaro who died with COVID-19 on New Year's Day.

Waltham Forest CCG said in a statement that he'll "be sadly missed by patients and staff at Addison Road Medical Practice, colleagues, acquaintances and family throughout the UK, Africa and America and especially by his loving wife Elizabeth and sons Raphael, Charles, Osebi and Christopher."

Dr Obaro qualified as a doctor in 1984 at the University of Maiduguri, Nigeria.

He moved to the UK to begin GP training in 1999. He completed his training in Kent in February 2004 and worked as a Waltham Forest GP ever since.

He also completed a postgraduate diploma in diabetes with the University of Leicester and was completing further postgraduate education to become a trainer in general practice.

Dr Obaro and his wife also returned to Nigeria each year to do charity work.

"His generosity and benign leadership qualities led to him being given the nickname ‘King’ from a young age," the CCG said.

His son Raphael tweeted: "He was a great husband to my mum. A wonderful father of four and the most giving person I know."

https://twitter.com/RaphaelObaro/status/1345098041976643585

Also remembered is renal consultant and Royal College of Physicians' (RCP) Registrar, Professor Donal O'Donoghue, who died on Sunday at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

Prof Donal O'Donoghue/RCP

He'd become unwell with COVID-19 in mid-December.

RCP President Professor Andrew Goddard said: "Words cannot express how sad this has made all of us at the RCP. Donal was the loveliest person and considered by many to be the 'big daddy' of British renal medicine. He was my friend, my wingman and my confidant. I will miss him terribly.

"All our thoughts and prayers go to Donal's family at this time. We are also indebted to the team at Stepping Hill for all they did in their care for him."

Prof O'Donoghue was awarded an OBE for services to kidney patients in 2018.

Kidney Research UK Chief Executive, Sandra Currie, said: "Donal made an enormous contribution as the chair of the advisory board on our PIVOTAL trial, providing independent strategic insight. He was very supportive of the global trial, which brought new evidence on IV iron treatment in haemodialysis patients."

In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19

Impact of England's Third National Lockdown

More experts have been reacting to last night's announcement of a third national lockdown in England.

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology, University of Reading, told the Science Media Centre: "The new [virus] variant raises the R number by 0.4-0.7, so it’s possible that even with schools closed and people ordered to stay at home, this new lockdown may struggle to achieve an R of less than 1 as quickly as in previous outbreaks."

On mental health, Professor Neil Greenberg, professor of defence mental health at King’s College London, said: "In my view it seems likely that there will be a lot of short-term distress but until we know more about the 'end' of lockdown it is hard to predict what the longer-term impact on mental health of this lockdown will be."

On school closures, Dr Catherine Carroll-Meehan, head of School of Education and Sociology, University of Portsmouth, said: "In times of change, children need consistency, clarity and care. Schools, teachers, and teaching assistants provide that for children. We need to see this in the round too, children during the Blitz were displaced with homes bombed and moved away from family and their education disrupted, we need to learn lessons about the impact of this type of trauma on children and build in time to consider mental health impact rather than focussing solely on targets and outcomes. Mental wellbeing should be prioritised once schools reopen."

Medicine is among the small number of university subjects allowing in-person tuition to continue.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Sky News a progressive easing of the restrictions should be able to begin in March.

New travel and border restrictions are also coming soon, he said. "We’ll be coming forward very shortly with new proposals on how exactly we will make sure that our borders are safe.

"But the message is very, very clear for UK citizens that they should not be travelling."

Record Cases

UK positive cases passed a new milestone today to 60,916. Another 830 deaths were announced. This number includes some delayed reporting from Scotland.

Another 3075 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital taking the current total to 23,857. There are 1847 ventilator beds in use.

The Office for National Statistics said an estimated 1 in 50 people in England were infected with coronavirus between December 27 and January 2. That's more than 1 million people.

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street briefing that the UK case rate increased by 70% over a 2 week period, and the number of hospitalised patients with COVID-19 "is going up very rapidly".

Vaccine Second Dose Debate 

More than 1.3 million people in the UK have now been vaccinated, and daily numbers will be issued from next week.

The British Society for Immunology is the latest group to comment on the decision to delay second doses of the approved coronavirus vaccines to 12 weeks from 3.

President Arne Akbar said in a statement: "While our preference is always for an evidence-based approach, we understand the pragmatic approach taken by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation in recommending a longer gap between COVID vaccine doses."

The Society says a "robust programme" of immunity monitoring is needed to assess how altering the dosing schedule impacts efficacy of both the vaccines, "with rapid modification of dosing schedules as appropriate".

Prof Whitty said the current vaccination timetable "is realistic, but not easy", and the second dose delay to approximately double the number of people getting a first dose was "based on a number of different scientific lines of decision making".

He also said the "theoretical risk" of the dose delay allowing further virus mutations was low compared to the benefits.

Yesterday, the US FDA said the idea of changing the authorised dosing or schedules of COVID-19 vaccines was premature and was not supported by the available data.

The Guardian reported on an online survey of 1318 doctors by Everydoctor. It found 13% had received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine but their second dose appointment had since been cancelled.

Another 39% hadn't been told when they'd have their first jab.

The Royal College of GPs has criticised red tape preventing retired doctors returning to help with vaccinations.

RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall said: "Requiring people to submit more than 20 pieces of documentation, some of which have low relevance to the task they will be doing, and some of which some retired medics and returners to the profession won’t even have, is a deterrent for them getting involved at a time when we need all hands on deck."

PPE Plea

Around a thousand health professionals have signed an open letter to UK political leaders appealing for hospital PPE to be upgraded.

Staff on general wards should get the same high-quality masks usually only issued in intensive care units, they say. The letter follows increased evidence about how virus particles spread in the air indoors.

'Fresh Air NHS' said: "We are a group of frontline healthcare workers and supporters who recognise the importance of airborne SARS Co-V 2. We are asking for the UK and devolved governments to ensure measures are in place in healthcare settings, for the protection of staff and patients against airborne virus."

Long COVID

Many people with long COVID are still not back working at full capacity 6 months after infection, according to an international preprint study led by University College London.

A survey was distributed through support groups and social media, and 3762 respondents from 56 countries took part.

At 6 months, the most frequent symptoms were fatigue, post-exertional malaise, and cognitive dysfunction.

The authors conclude: "Patients with long COVID report prolonged multisystem involvement and significant disability. Most had not returned to previous levels of work by 6 months. Many patients are not recovered by 7 months, and continue to experience significant symptom burden."

Cancer & COVID-19

Cancer patients shouldn't be grouped together as part of a COVID-19 response, according to new preprint research published in Cancer Cell and funded by Cancer Research UK.

The study of 76 cancer patients found the immune response to COVID-19 is the same in people with solid tumours compared to people without cancer. However, responses varied in blood cancer patients.

Lead researcher Dr Sheeba Irshad, said in a statement: "These conclusions imply that many patients despite being on immunosuppressive therapies will respond satisfactorily to COVID-19 vaccines. 

"For patients with blood cancers, especially those with B-cell malignancies, this may not hold true even in the era of COVID-19 vaccines. Our work suggests that they may be susceptible to persistent infection despite developing antibodies, so the next stage of our study will focus on monitoring their response to the vaccines. At present the best way to protect them may be to vaccinate all the carers to achieve herd immunity in the clinic."

Rule Breaking

SNP MP Margaret Ferrier has been arrested over alleged COVID-19 rule breaking last year.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "We can confirm that officers today arrested and charged a 60-year-old woman in connection with alleged culpable and reckless conduct."

In October, we reported how the MP felt unwell enough to have a coronavirus test, but took a train to London to speak in the Commons. After hearing her test was positive she took the train back to Scotland.

The Speaker of the Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle called her behaviour "reckless" and she was suspended by her party.

COVID Deniers

Colchester Hospital  security guards ejected COVID deniers at the weekend. A group was trying to take photos of empty corridors to imply that the pandemic is a hoax.

Chief Executive Nick Hulme told the BBC it "beggars belief".

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

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