UK COVID-19 Update: COVID Deaths Pass 100,000 'Milestone', Vaccine Supply Warning

Peter Russell & Tim Locke

January 26, 2021

Editor's note, 26 January 2021: This article was updated with today's daily data and information from a Downing Street briefing.

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

COVID Deaths Pass 100,000 'Milestone'

Mortality from COVID-19 in the UK has passed 100,000, according to today's daily data and the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) provisional figures.

ONS said the total number of deaths in the UK involving COVID-19 during the pandemic was 103,704.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a Downing Street briefing: "It's hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic, the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and for so many relatives, the missed chance even to say goodbye." 

A total of 7245 registered deaths in England and Wales mentioned COVID-19 on the death certificate in the week ending January 15, an increase of 1188 deaths compared with the previous week, according to statisticians.

Deaths involving COVID-19 accounted for 40.2% of all deaths in England and Wales, the highest proportion recorded during the pandemic.

The number of registered deaths involving COVID-19 increased in eight out of nine English regions compared with Week 1, with the South East and East of England recording their highest weekly numbers of deaths involving COVID-19.

In Wales, the total number of registered deaths in Week 2 was 314 higher than the 5-year average.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, commented: "It is a tragedy that we have now seen more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. This is a dreadful milestone to have reached, and behind each death will be a story of sorrow and grief.

"We pay tribute, once again, to NHS and care staff who have done everything they can throughout the long months of this pandemic to avoid each one of these deaths and reduce patient harm.

"We thank them for their commitment, professionalism, and compassion."

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, suggested that the death toll was likely to be even higher.

He told the Science Media Centre: "There will be a lot of attention given to deaths with COVID reaching 100,000, but this is based on the figures released each day, which only include people who both had a positive test and then died within 28 days.

"The more accurate ONS data show that over 100,000 people in the UK had already died with COVID on their death certificate by January 7, nearly 3 weeks ago. This rose to 108,000 by January 15, and the total now will be nearly 120,000.  

“Around 90% of these had COVID as the immediate cause of death, and so perhaps we can say that around 100,000 people in the UK have now died because of COVID. An awful total."

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said: "The numbers may well still be increasing next week, but there could at least be some signs that they aren't increasing so fast. And even when they level off or start to decrease, they will still be very high.

"Vaccination will help, but there’s still a very long way to go."

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King's Fund said: "It will take a public inquiry to determine exactly what went wrong with the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but mistakes have been made. Decisions to enter lockdown have consistently come late, with the Government failing to learn from past mistakes or the experiences of other countries.
 
"The pandemic has had a grossly disproportionate impact on poorer communities and ethnic minority groups. Many forms of inequality have widened during the pandemic, so reducing inequalities should be at the heart of the Government’s post-COVID recovery plans."

Daily Data

In today's daily data another 20,089 UK positive tests were reported and 1631 deaths. That took the total number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test over 100,000 to 100,162. 

Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, called it "a sobering moment in the pandemic".

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty said the number of deaths appears to have "flattened out but at a very high level".

He added: "I think we have to be realistic, that the rate of mortality, the number of people dying a day will come down relatively slowly over the next 2 weeks...so we will still unfortunately be having additional deaths to add to that very sad total."

Source: Downing Street


Mr Johnson was reminded that less than a year ago the Government hoped to contain deaths to 20,000. "We truly did everything we could, and continue to do everything that we can to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering," he said.

The UK ranks fifth in the world for COVID-19 deaths behind the USA, Brazil, India, and Mexico, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US.

Another 3341 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital. The total is now 37,561, and 4032 ventilator beds are in use.

As of yesterday, 6.8m people have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 472,446 a second dose.

Vaccine Supply Warning

The EU has warned it might impose restrictions on the supply of COVID-19 vaccines manufactured within the bloc after becoming frustrated with supply issues of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

Stella Kyriakides, the EU's health commissioner, said it intended to install an "export transparency mechanism" in the immediate future.

She said Europe would "take any action required to protect its citizens and rights" after becoming frustrated with the UK-Swedish pharmaceutical company's ability to supply European countries with the vaccine largely made in the UK.

The warning led to concerns that restrictions could affect supplies to the UK of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which is made in Belgium.

Nadhim Zahawi, the UK's vaccine minister, admitted today that supplies were "tight" but that he was confident the UK would receive enough doses to meet its targets.

Giving evidence this morning to the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: "We are at the moment pretty much using up each week's vaccine as we get it."

Meanwhile, the University of Oxford has refuted claims in the German press that its vaccine might have low efficacy among older people.

German coalition sources told tabloid Bild and Handelsblatt that the federal Government only expects an effectiveness of 8% among the over-65s.

The news outlet said it called into question whether EU authorities would recommend the vaccine for this older age group.

Experts cast doubt on the claims.

Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said one explanation was that older people were recruited late to the vaccine trial. This could have led to "a lower confidence interval" that was "calculated on very preliminary data".

A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said there was "no basis" for the claim and pointed to the results of clinical trials that showed "similar immune responses in younger and older adults".

 A spokesman for AstraZeneca, said the reports of 8% efficacy were "completely incorrect".

UK Genomics 'Know-how' Aims to Help Countries Identify New Variants

The UK has pledged its genomics expertise to help less developed countries identify new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was part of a Government 5-point plan for pandemic preparedness that was developed during the UK's presidency of the G7 group of nations.

Countries will be offered UK capacity through the launch of the New Variant Assessment Platform, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

The work will be led by Public Health England (PHE) in partnership with academics, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and others.

The announcement was made by England's Health Secretary, Matt Hancock in a speech at Chatham House.

Dr Isabel Oliver, director of PHE's National Infection Service, said: "We know that the virus will evolve over time and certain mutations could potentially cause the virus to spread faster, make people sicker, or possibly affect how well vaccines work. Genomic testing is crucial to our efforts to control the virus – it allows us to keep an eye on how the virus is changing and to respond before it's too late.

"This new initiative will bring Public Health England's cutting-edge science to countries that have little or no ability to sequence and analyse COVID-19 virus strains themselves.

"It will also give us crucial early warning of new variants emerging around the world that might endanger the UK."

Countries will be able to apply for assistance by contacting the WHO where an existing channel does not already exist with the UK.

Schools Out for Rule Breakers

An Oldham headteacher has warned that students could be withdrawn from school because of reports that some parents were breaking lockdown restrictions.

Martine Buckley, executive headteacher of Yew Tree Community School in Chadderton said she had received reports of children visiting friends, neighbours, and family members.

In a letter to parents she said: "Our teachers and support staff are putting their own safety at risk to look after your children and they should be confident that you are doing your bit to follow the lockdown rules." 

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

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