UK COVID-19 Update: Tougher Travel Restrictions, NHS 'Nothing Special'

Tim Locke

February 09, 2021

Editor's note, 9 February 2021: This article was updated to include today's daily data.

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

Tougher Travel Restrictions

Even before the last travel restrictions the Government announced were put in place, new tougher ones were added to help keep virus variants out.

All travellers arriving in England will face mandatory £100 tests while in quarantine from next week. The tests will be carried out on days 2 and 8. That's in addition to the existing requirement for a negative result before travelling.

Travellers from 'red list' countries will have to book a £1750 10 day hotel quarantine package in advance.

The Government has booked 4600 rooms in 16 hotels.

There's also the threat of £1000 fines for failing to take a test rising to £10,000 for not staying in a designated hotel. Ten-year jail terms are threatened for people giving false passenger locator form information.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the measures as "buttressing our defences".

Scotland went a step further with all international arrivals having to enter 'managed isolation'. Wales later said it was following England's approach.

Manchester Surge Testing

Several Manchester postcodes are the latest areas targeted for surge testing in the search for virus variant cases.

Yesterday, England's Deputy CMO Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he doubted the South African variant would become the dominant variant in the UK.

Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, told the BBC radio isn't yet clear whether a new set of vaccines is needed to tackle different virus variants.

"I think the jury is out on that at the moment, but all developers are preparing new vaccines so if we do need them, we’ll have them available to be able to protect people," he said.

Daily Data

In today's daily data another 12,364 UK positive tests were reported and 1052 deaths.

Another 1987 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital. The total is now 26,723, and 3230 ventilator beds are in use.

As of yesterday, 12.64m people have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 516,392 a second dose.

Deaths

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for England and Wales show deaths in the week ending 29 January were 44.6% above the 5-year average and the fifth-highest weekly deaths so far in the pandemic.

COVID-19 accounted for 45.7% of all deaths, the highest proportion so far.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, chair, Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge, said that "this is combined with extraordinarily low levels of deaths that are not caused by COVID-19, the lowest for at least 5 years. There is almost no flu circulating, and sadly many vulnerable older people, who would have survived until now, have already had their lives shortened.

"Deaths occurring in people’s homes are 50% above their normal levels, with the minority involving COVID-19. This is a major shift in the pattern of death in this country.

"Up to 29 January, ONS report that over 126,000 deaths involving COVID-19 in the UK, more than half of which have occurred in the second wave since September. So by now the total will be over 135,000.

"The daily dashboard shows a clear and  rapid decline in deaths involving COVID-19 since January 19, and so next week we should see this reflected in death registrations."

The Alzheimer’s Society highlighted that the latest ONS data showed 48.96% of deaths in care homes in England and Wales were due to COVID-19. Overall, 23.29% of COVID-19 deaths in England occurred in care homes, the highest since the pandemic began.

The charity's Fiona Carragher commented: "We can start getting numb to these kinds of numbers, but we have to remember each one was a person with a loving family left behind. This tragedy needs to stop now: we need to urgently vaccinate care home staff, and offer second vaccines to people living in care homes."

App Stats

The NHS COVID-19 app for England and Wales has prevented approximately 600,000 cases since September, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

The app has also 'pinged' 1.7 million users to tell them to self-isolate. It has now been downloaded 21.63 million times, equating to 56% of the eligible population of over-16s with smartphones.

The Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University estimate that for every 1% increase in app users, the number of coronavirus cases in the population can be reduced by 2.3%.

Asymptomatic Cases

ONS also produced infection survey data on symptoms and asymptomatic cases between 1 October 2020 and 30 January 2021.

In England, 47% of people testing positive reported having symptoms.

In Wales, it was 55%, in Northern Ireland it was 38%, and in Scotland it was  47%.

Across the UK, cough, fatigue, and headache were the most commonly reported symptoms.

Source: ONS

BAME Deaths

ONS, with the University of Oxford, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University of Leicester, also produced data on ethnic minorities and risk of COVID-19 mortality as a preprint.

It concluded: "Between the first and second waves of the pandemic, the reduction in the difference in COVID-19 mortality between people from Black ethnic background and people from the White British group shows that ethnic inequalities in COVID-19 mortality can be addressed.

“The continued higher rate of mortality in people from Bangladeshi and Pakistani background is alarming and requires a focused public health campaign and policy changes."

Nurse Vaccination

A member survey for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has found 15% of respondents haven't received a vaccine yet. Of these, 70% work in non-NHS settings. 

RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: "Temporary and agency staff work in our communities and hospitals, with patients and the public – and they face the same level of risk as their NHS colleagues. Every effort must be made to reach all nursing staff to ensure the protection of patients and vulnerable people.

“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation guidance is clear that the COVID-19 vaccine should be available to all health and social care staff. This is irrespective of where they are employed, including agency staff and those employed in the independent sectors.”

PPE 

The BBC reported that use of tens of thousands of gowns costing £70m has been suspended because contracts didn't specify they should have been double packaged.

The US company, Saiger, said it delivered goods in accordance with its contracts and technical specifications.

WHO China Team

The World Health Organisation's team investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China has completed its work and ruled out a laboratory leak but said bats and frozen food were possible sources.

Team leader Peter Ben Embarek told a news briefing: "The possible path from whatever original animal species all the way through to the Huanan market could have taken a very long and convoluted path involving also movements across borders."

NHS 'Nothing Special'

"There is nothing special about the NHS, neither during this pandemic, nor at any other time."

Those words come from an Institute Of Economic Affairs report called 'Viral Myths: Why we risk learning the wrong lessons from the pandemic'.

The document from the think-tank's Dr Kristian Niemietz argues that the pandemic "has given rise to the phenomenon of 'Coronfirmation Bias': the tendency to interpret the pandemic as a 'vindication' of one’s own world view". 

Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, president of Doctors' Association UK tweeted: "I am so upset by this. We have worked ourselves into the ground to save lives. We have lost hundreds of colleagues. How dare you. How dare you."

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

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