UK COVID-19 Update: Surge in Positive Antibody Tests, Hancock 'Pinged'

Peter Russell

January 19, 2021

Editor's note, 19 January 2021: This article was updated with today's daily data.

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

Up to 1 in 8 Could Have Tested Positive for COVID-19

An estimated 1 in 8 people in England would have tested positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in December, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.

In Wales, an estimated 1 in 10 people would have tested positive, and in Scotland the proportion was 1 in 11, the ONS said.

Northern Ireland had the lowest proportion, with an estimated 1 in 13 having antibodies last month, the figures suggested.

In England there was a substantial variation in antibody positivity between regions, from 16.8% in Yorkshire and The Humber compared with 4.9% in the South West.

The provisional analysis was based on blood test results taken from a randomly selected subsample of individuals aged 16 years and over.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the Warwick Medical School, told the Science Media Centre that the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 detected in the UK  "is more transmissible and may account for the increased levels of infection as detected by antibodies".

Estimates were derived from a long-term study to track COVID-19 in the general population produced in partnership with the University of Oxford, the University of Manchester, and Public Health England.

COVID-19 Mortality

More than 90,000 people have now died with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, new figures indicated. There have been 91,470 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Another 1610 deaths were reported today, and 33,355 positive cases.

There were 17,751 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending January 8, an increase of 7682 on the preceding week, ONS figures showed.

Of the deaths registered in the first week of January, 6057 mentioned COVID-19, accounting for 34.1% of all deaths in England and Wales.

Of those deaths involving COVID-19, 88.6% recorded this as the underlying cause of mortality.

Statisticians cautioned that the latest figures were affected by the Boxing Day and New Year's Day Bank Holidays.

Scotland Lockdown Confirmed Until Mid-February

Scotland's pandemic lockdown was extended to at least the middle of February.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister said she hoped there could be a phased return of school children to classes in the middle of next month.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that Scotland remained in a "very precarious position".

She said: “Any relaxation of lockdown while case numbers remain high, even though they might be declining, could quickly send the situation into reverse.

"We believe that the lockdown restrictions – and the sacrifices everyone continues to make – are beginning to have an impact. However, it is important to be cautious."

Level 4 restrictions have been in place in most of Scotland since Boxing Day.

Vaccine Rollout

The Department of Health and Social Care hailed a "significant milestone" in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, saying 4.06 million people in the UK had been given first doses of vaccine up until January 17. 

It said more than half of people aged 80 and over and more than half of elderly care home residents had received a vaccine.

The DHSC said that 10 major vaccination centres would begin operating today in England.

The 10 new vaccination sites are at:

  • Bournemouth International Centre

  • Taunton Racecourse

  • Blackburn Cathedral

  • Salt Hill Activity Centre, Slough

  • Norwich Foodcourt, Castle Quarter

  • The Lodge, Wickford, Essex

  • Princess Royal Sports Arena, Lincolnshire

  • St Helens Rugby Ground

  • Park and Ride at Askham Bar, York

  • Olympic Office Centre, Wembley, London

Immune Response Study into Long COVID

The risk of developing long COVID might be established soon after infection with SARS-CoV-2 by a patient's early immune response, according to a study preprint.

A research team led by Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge found that an early robust immune response, without systemic inflammation, was associated with asymptomatic or mild COVID-19.

More severe and progressive disease was associated with profound persistent abnormalities in circulating immune cells and with evidence of early systemic inflammation.

The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, was based on 207 COVID-19 patients with a range of disease severities taken at regular interviews over three months following the onset of symptoms. Those were compared with samples from 45 healthy controls.

The scientists noted an early, robust adaptive immune response in infected individuals whose disease was asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

Among hospitalised patients, an early adaptive immune response was delayed, and profound abnormalities in a number of white cell subsets were present.

Dr Laura Bergamaschi, the study's first author, said: "It’s these populations of immune cells that still show abnormalities even when everything else seems to have resolved itself that might be of importance in long COVID. For some cell types, it may be that they are just slow to regenerate, but for others, including some types of T and B cells, it appears something is continuing to drive their activity."

Dr Paul Lyons, senior co-author, added: "Our evidence suggests that the journey to severe COVID-19 may be established immediately after infection, or at the latest around the time that they begin to show symptoms. This finding could have major implications as to how the disease needs to be managed, as it suggests we need to begin treatment to stop the immune system causing damage very early on."

Experts called for larger studies to confirm the results.

Warwick University virologist Prof Young said: "This could mean that early intervention with therapies that target the virus and/or the immune system could prevent severe disease and even the development of long COVID."

Young People 'Unable to Cope' During Pandemic

The pandemic has taken a "devastating toll" on young people's mental health, a new report said.

The Prince's Trust Tesco Youth Index found that 26% of 16 to 25 year olds reported feeling unable to cope with life since the pandemic started.

That increased to 40% for those not in work, education, or training.

It also found that 50% of the 2,180 young people polled said their mental health had deteriorated because of COVID-19.

Jonathan Townsend, the charity's chief executive said: "The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on young people's mental health and wellbeing.

"They face a disrupted education, a shrinking jobs market, and isolation from their friends and loved ones, and as a result, too many are losing all hope for the future.

"As ever, it is unemployed young people – and those with few qualifications and little confidence – who have an even more negative experience."

Matt Hancock Self-isolates After Being 'Pinged'

Matt Hancock/Twitter

Matt Hancock is self-isolating after being 'pinged' by the NHS coronavirus app on Monday night. England's Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said he would be working from home for the rest of the week and not leaving the house until Sunday.

"I know from the app that I have been in close contact with somebody who's tested positive, and this is how we break the chains of transmission," he said in a video posted on Twitter.

Mr Hancock revealed at the end of March last year that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

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

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