UK COVID-19 Update: London's Major Incident, Third Vaccine Approved

Tim Locke

January 08, 2021

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

London Declares Major Incident

The Mayor of London has declared a 'major incident' as the rapid spread of coronavirus across the capital left the NHS at risk of being overwhelmed.

There are 7034 people in London hospitals with COVID-19, 35% higher than the peak of the first wave.

There are around 830 admissions a day compared to 500 a day before Christmas.

The London Ambulance Service is now taking up to 8000 emergency calls a day, compared to 5500 on a typical busy day.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said the number of hours ambulances spend waiting to offload patients in parts of England is now "off the scale".

Major Sadiq Khan said: "Our heroic doctors, nurses and NHS staff are doing an amazing job, but with cases rising so rapidly, our hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed. The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically.

"We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die."

A major incident hasn't been declared in London since the Grenfell fire in 2017.

Rupert Pearse, a consultant at the Royal London Hospital, speaking on behalf of the Intensive Care Society, was asked by the i newspaper if he believes the NHS could be overwhelmed within 2 weeks: "I never thought in my entire career that I might say something like this but yes I do. Unless we take the lockdown seriously, the impact on healthcare for the whole country could be catastrophic. And I don’t say those words lightly."

London's Nightingale field hospital at the ExCel conference centre has been put on standby, reportedly for non-COVID patients.

Wales Extends Lockdown

The national lockdown in Wales that began on Boxing Day is being extended to 29 January.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "Cases in Wales remain very high and our NHS is under real and sustained pressure.

"The alert level 4 restrictions we introduced before Christmas must remain in place to keep us all safe. To slow the spread of the virus, we all must stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives."

New stay-at-home restrictions in Northern Ireland came into force today.

Belfast's Health Trust has cancelled cancer surgery due to COVID-19 pressure, and other areas have also cancelled operations.

Third Vaccine Approved

The MHRA has approved Moderna's coronavirus vaccine.

It is the regulator's third COVID-19 vaccine approval after Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca.

Seven million doses have been ordered with supplies due in the spring.

MHRA Chief Executive Dr June Raine said in a statement: "The progress we are now making for vaccines on the regulatory front, whilst not cutting any corners, is helping in our global fight against this disease and ultimately helping to save lives. I want to echo that our goal is always to put the protection of the public first."

Pfizer Jab 'Effective Against Variants'

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears to work against a key mutation in virus variants discovered in the UK and South Africa, according to a preprint study.

Pfizer and the University of Texas conducted a laboratory study on the N501Y mutation with blood samples from 20 vaccinated people and found antibodies were effective.

"It was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem," said Pfizer's Chief Scientific Officer Dr Philip Dormitzer.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Ravi Gupta, professor of microbiology, University of Cambridge, said the findings were misleading: "Firstly, the mutation selected is only 1 of 8 in the UK variant, and in fact was not expected to have significant impact alone.

"Secondly, primary titration curves are not presented so one cannot see how well the experiments worked and what the measurement error was. The number of times the experiments were repeated is not given. This work should be ignored until properly conducted work is made available.

"The present paper would not pass peer review in its current form."

More tests are planned against other mutations.

Christmas Rule Breaking

Office for National Statistics (ONS) social impact data show that 18% of respondents found it very difficult or difficult to follow Government Christmas rules. Of those, 48% said it was because they'd already made plans before the rules changed.

Forty-four percent had formed an exclusive Christmas bubble on Christmas Day.

When it came to vaccines, 85% would be either very likely or fairly likely to have the COVID-19 vaccine if offered. That's up from 78% 10-13 December 2020.

Of the 7% who were very or fairly unlikely to have the vaccine if offered, common reasons included side effect worries, long-term effects on health, and waiting to see how well the vaccine works.

Latest Data

The UK's R number has risen slightly to 1.0-1.4 up from 1.1-1.3 before Christmas.

The growth rate is 0% to +6% per day.

ONS Infection Survey data for 27 December to 2 January show:

  • In England, 1,122,000 people had COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 50 people. In London, 1 in 30 has COVID-19

  • In Wales, 44,100 people had COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 70 people

  • In Scotland, 45,900 people had COVID-19, equating to 1 in 115 people

  • In Northern Ireland, 9100 people had COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 200 people

Ruth Studley, head of analysis for the COVID-19 Infection Survey, said: "In England we estimate that the level of infection has risen to over 1 million people. In Wales the percentage of people testing positive has recently decreased whilst in Scotland the percentage is increasing. In Northern Ireland the percentage of people testing positive no longer appears to be decreasing.

"London, the East of England and the South East continue to have the highest percentage of positive tests that are compatible with the new variant of the virus with increases in the percentage of new variant cases in all English regions and Northern Ireland and Scotland."

In today's daily data another 68,053 UK positive tests were reported and 1325 deaths, the highest daily number so far. The total now stands at 79,833

Another 3867 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital taking the total to 31,624, and 2929 ventilator beds are in use.


Vaccination Plan

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a full vaccine deployment plan will be published on Monday.

Yesterday he said the Government is "throwing everything at it round the clock", including military support

Brigadier Phil Prosser, commander, army logistics brigade told a Downing Street briefing: "I found this logistic operation to be unparalleled in its scale and complexity. And I say this having served in operations around the world."

Public Health England (PHE) took to Twitter to deny it caused delays to vaccine delivery.

Meanwhile, PHE said flu jab uptake among over 65s is at 80%, the highest ever.

Uptake in 2 and 3-year-olds is also the highest ever, at 54.0% and 56.5% respectively.

SAGE Secrecy

The UK Government has been criticised in a report from a committee of MPs for being too secretive about expert SAGE advice behind lockdown decisions.

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Greg Clark, said: "SAGE began with too little transparency and has improved by publishing its membership, minutes and papers. Similar openness should apply to new bodies like the Joint Biosecurity Centre. There is nothing to fear from openness. The more transparent data, analysis and conclusions drawn are, the better it is for policy making and for public confidence."

Travel Tests

International travellers arriving in the UK will have to prove they've tested negative for COVID-19 or will face a £500 fine.

Direct travel from South Africa remains suspended because of concerns about the virus variant circulating there.

Smell Training

UK experts have developed an online smell training programme called NoseWell for people living with smell loss due to COVID-19.

Smell training involves sniffing the same four scents every day for around 20 seconds each.

The scheme is funded by ENT UK, the charity AbScent, and the British Rhinological Society (BRS).

BRS President, Professor Claire Hopkins, said: "Losing sense of smell and taste has a huge impact on patients, which is often compounded by difficulties in accessing advice and support, particularly while COVID-19 continues to restrict access to healthcare."

COVID Deniers

Boris Johnson had strong words for COVID deniers: "The kind of people who stand outside hospitals and say, 'COVID is a hoax' and this kind of stuff...They need to grow up."

NHS England Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, added: "If you sneak into a hospital and an empty corridor, at 9pm at night and film that particular corridor, and then stick it up on social media, and say this proves that hospitals are empty, the whole thing is a hoax, you are not only responsible for potentially changing behaviour that will kill people but it is an insult to the nurse coming home from 12 hours in critical care having worked her guts out under the most demanding and trying of circumstances.

"There is nothing more demoralising than having that kind of nonsense spouted when it is most obviously untrue."

Clap Founder Quits

The founder of Clap for Carers, now Clap for Heroes, has quit after online abuse.

"Since announcing the return of the applause...I have been targeted with personal abuse and threats against myself and my family by a hateful few on social media," Annemarie Plas said on Twitter.

"It has never been the intention of either myself or Clap for Carers/Clap for Heroes to lobby Government or suggest that clapping is a substitute for something else," she said.

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


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