UK COVID-19 Update: Whitty's Warning, Mass Vaccination, Mortality Milestone 

Tim Locke

January 11, 2021

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

Whitty's Warning

"We’ve got to be very clear that we are now at the worst point of this epidemic for the UK," Government Chief Medical Adviser Chris Whitty told the BBC this morning. The NHS, he said, is facing a "dangerous time".

Southend Hospital's oxygen supply has "reached a critical situation", the BBC reported. The target range for blood oxygen levels was cut from 92% to a baseline of 88-92% to help preserve supplies.

Over the weekend there were some calls for a tougher lockdown in England.

"In a sense tinkering with the rules may be useful, but the far more important thing is that everybody abides by the spirit of the rules that are there at the moment," Prof Whitty said.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: "We don't want to go any tougher because this is a tough lockdown".

Later the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We're going to keep the rules under constant review, where we have to tighten them, we will."

Mass Vaccination Begins

More than 2.4 million people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination,  with 40% of 80-year-olds vaccinated, Mr Johnson said today. He's set a target of the 15 million people in the four top priority groups to be protected by mid-February.

The UK Vaccines Delivery Plan was published today confirming the priority list:

  • Older care home residents and carers

  • Over-80s

  • Frontline health and social care workers

  • Over-75s

  • Over-70s

  • Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement: "The next few months will present a significant opportunity to turn the tide of battle against COVID."

Mass vaccination centres in England opened today for health and care workers and over-80s:

  • Excel Centre, London

  • Ashton Gate stadium, Bristol

  • Epsom racecourse, Surrey

  • The Centre for Life, Newcastle upon Tyne

  • Etihad Tennis Club, Manchester

  • Robertson House, Stevenage

  • Millennium Point, Birmingham

Over-80s who live within a 45 minute drive of one of the seven mass vaccination centres in England will be getting invitations today. The centres will run alongside GP and hospital vaccination services.

NHS England said that if an appointment has already been offered by a GP, patients can choose which appointment suits them best.

Wales also set out its vaccination strategy today to cover up to 2.5 million people.

  • By mid-February – all care home residents and staff; frontline health and social care staff; everyone over 70 and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable will have been offered vaccination.

  • By the spring – vaccination will have been offered to all the other phase one priority groups. This is everyone over 50 and everyone who is at-risk because they have an underlying health condition.

  • By the autumn – vaccination will have been offered to all other eligible adults in Wales.

The plan ranges from mass vaccination centres to mobile units, GPs, and pharmacies.

Programme lead, Dr Gillian Richardson, said: "This is the biggest vaccination programme Wales has ever seen and the NHS is working incredibly hard to get the vaccine to as many people as possible, safely and as quickly as we can."

Scotland has more than 1100 vaccination sites, including more than 750 GP practices.

Vaccination of care workers began in Northern Ireland today with a promise of the programme being scaled up over the coming weeks. Vaccinating the wider population begins in GP practices this week.

Among famous people getting their jabs at the weekend were the Queen, 94, and Duke of Edinburgh, 99. Jabs were given by a royal doctor at Windsor Castle. This was a rare  announcement said to have been made to prevent inaccuracies and speculation. The Palace didn't say which brand of vaccine was given.

Mortality Milestone

UK deaths within 28 days of a positive test passed the 80,000 milestone at the weekend. Yesterday they stood at 81,431.

Deaths where COVID-19 is mentioned on death certificates are updated weekly and stood at 82,624 last week.

Bodies are being stored at a temporary mortuary at Headley Court in Surrey after the county’s hospital mortuaries reached capacity amid rising COVID-19 case rates.

Surrey's hospital mortuaries have the capacity for 600 bodies and the temporary unit can take a further 800.

Mass Testing

Wider availability of rapid lateral flow testing for asymptomatic people who can't work from home is being made available in England.

Around a third of people who test positive display no symptoms.

Milton Keynes Director of Public Health Vicky Head said: "Our pilot for frontline key workers is intended to help break transmission by identifying people who are positive for COVID-19 without displaying typical symptoms. By doing this we can help to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases, limit the number of people who might fall very ill, and protect the NHS."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Dr Tom Wingfield, senior clinical lecturer and honorary consultant physician, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: "Here in Liverpool, such mass testing appeared to be acceptable and had reasonable uptake: 25% of the population were tested and 900 COVID-19 cases identified. However, an interim report of the findings of the Liverpool mass testing strategy showed that tests missed 60% of COVID-19 cases and suggested that there was no clear evidence that the strategy independently led to a reduction of cases and hospitalisations locally."

The Department of Health and Social Care said: "Lateral flow tests used by the UK Government go through a rigorous evaluation by the country’s leading scientists. This means they are accurate, reliable and successfully identify those with COVID-19 who don’t show symptoms and could pass on the virus without realising."

Convalescent Plasma

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) says convalescent plasma donations are still needed despite a change in focus in clinical trials.

The international REMAP-CAP trial has paused enrolling intensive care patients after early results showed no benefit in this group.

The RECOVERY trial has paused recruiting patients who require invasive mechanical ventilation or extra-corporal membranous oxygenation.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases, University of Oxford, and RECOVERY chief investigator, said: "We don't yet know if convalescent plasma works as a treatment for COVID patients, but if it does it would have a major impact worldwide."

More than 800 people a week are receiving plasma within a trial.

NHSBT CMO Dr Gail Miflin said in a statement: "We urgently need people to continue donating thousands of units of plasma every week for the larger RECOVERY trial, which is using plasma from when people come into hospital.

"Antibodies work by stopping the virus, not by treating the symptoms. The emerging evidence from international studies is that use before intensive care may prove to be more effective."

Online Risk Tool 

The UK Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium (ISARIC4C) has developed a new risk-stratification tool to predict the likelihood of deterioration in adults hospitalised with COVID-19.

The online resource assesses 11 measurements routinely collected from patients, including age, gender, oxygen levels, and standard laboratory tests, to calculate the 4C Deterioration Score.

Data behind the tool came from records of 74,944 COVID-19 hospital patients admitted to 260 hospitals across England, Scotland, and Wales, and have been published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

The DOI will be: 10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30559-2.

Nasal Spray Trial

A clinical trial of a nasal spray to help protect against coronavirus begins today at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey.

The SaNOtize Nitric Oxide Nasal Spray (NONS) is said to have killed 99.9% of coronavirus in laboratory tests. Phase 2 trials are already underway in Canada.

The nitric oxide blocks ACE-2 receptors used by the virus to infect cells.

In a company news release, Pankaj Sharma, professor of neurology and director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Research at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "The fact that a relatively easy and simple nasal spray could be an effective treatment is welcome news and offers a significant advance in our therapeutic armoury against this devastating disease."

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

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