UK COVID-19 Update: Deaths Continue to Fall, and Vaccines Show Impressive Results

Peter Russell

March 02, 2021

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

COVID Deaths Fall by Around a Quarter

The number of deaths from COVID-19 in England and Wales fell by more than a quarter, latest official figures showed.

In the week ending February 19, 4079 death registrations mentioned COVID-19, a decrease of 1612 compared with the previous week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Of the 4079 deaths, 85.7% recorded COVID-19 as the underlying cause.

Registered deaths involving COVID-19 decreased in all regions in England compared with the previous week, with the South East recording the largest decrease of 338 deaths.

In Wales, the number of registered deaths involving COVID-19 decreased from 216 to 179.

Overall, the total number of deaths registered in England and Wales in week 7 was 18.8% above the five-year average.

The ONS also published latest data from its infection survey on antibody prevalence.

The figures showed that:

  • In England, an estimated 1 in 4 people would have tested positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in the 28 days up to February 11.

  • In Scotland, the figure was 1 in 8

  • In Wales and Northern Ireland, the figure was 1 in 6

The highest percentage of people testing positive for antibodies was in those aged 80 and over in England.

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said there appeared to be "clear evidence of a vaccination effect in all four countries".

Dr Zania Stamataki, viral immunologist at the University of Birmingham, noted that the second highest group for antibodies after those over 80 was the 16 to 24 cohort, which has not yet been offered a vaccine.

"These data reveal the importance of this group in virus transmission, and we should look carefully at supporting the young to prevent spreading infection while the vaccines are rolled out to all ages," she said, adding that, "We need to minimise the risk of transmission of new variants to keep our vaccines working for longer."

French 'Oui' to Oxford Vaccine for Older People with Comorbidities

France has abandoned its advice that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine should not be given to people aged over 65 with existing health problems.

Speaking to broadcaster BFMTV, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said: "Anybody aged 50 or over who is affected by comorbidities can get the AstraZeneca vaccine, including those between 65 and 74."

People aged 75 and over would continue to get the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines only, Mr Véran said.

France has struggled with its vaccination programme since French President Emmanuel Macron was quoted as telling journalists the Oxford vaccine was "quasi-effective" for over-65s.

The decision came as 'real world' data from Public Health England suggested that both the AstraZeneca/Oxford and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines were highly effective in reducing COVID-19 in older people.

The preprint study showed that protection against symptomatic COVID for the over 70s from a single dose ranged between 60% and 75% for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine and between 60% and 70% for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Both vaccines were also effective at reducing emergency hospitalisation from the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the UK variant of concern, and the Pfizer vaccine also yielded a 51% mortality risk reduction. There was insufficient data on mortality for the Oxford vaccine due to its later rollout.

Prof Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, commented: "All those that have been vaccinated to date should therefore feel reassured that they will be highly protected with one dose but will also further benefit from their second dose, regardless of which vaccine they received."

Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said the study also vindicated the decision to separate the two doses of both vaccines by 12 weeks. "The bold decision to vaccinate more older people by delaying the second dose has undoubtedly saved a large number of lives," he told the Science Media Centre.

Today's Data

Another 6391 UK positive tests and 343 deaths were reported.

The estimated R number was 0.6 to 0.9 with a daily infection growth rate range of -6% to -2% as of February 26.

Up until and including March 1, a total of 20,478,619 people in the UK had been given a first dose of vaccine, and 844,098 a second dose.

Hunt Narrows for Missing Brazil Variant Traveller

Inquiries aimed at finding an unidentified person in the UK who tested positive for the P.1 Brazil variant of concern has narrowed to 379 households in South East England, the Health Secretary said.

The individual is one of six UK cases of the variant that was first identified in Manaus, Brazil.

It was announced yesterday that the traveller could not be located because they did not complete a test registration card.

Matt Hancock told the House of Commons this afternoon that officials had now "identified the batch of home test kits in question".

The P.1 variant has been a source of concern because of the possibility that it could provide some escape from immune recognition.

Another Circuit Breaker for the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man is to go into a 21 day lockdown after experiencing a rise in cases of COVID-19.

It followed the discovery of several cases that were giving cause for concern, the Chief Minister said in a statement. One of the latest cases was seen in a school setting.

The decision to reintroduce a 'circuit breaker' was taken because the island's hospital had little capacity left, as well as to avoid jeopardising the vaccination programme.

Non-essential retail must shut and schools will close to the majority of pupils during the lockdown, which will come into force from 00:01 GMT on Wednesday.

Pandemic's Dementia Toll

An estimated 34,000 people with dementia are believed to have died with COVID-19 in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic, a coalition of charities said.

The Alzheimer's Society, Dementia UK, and John's Campaign said new calculations from the Office for National Statistics suggested that deaths of care home residents, where at least 70% of people have dementia, were 30% higher than previously thought, bringing total deaths to 11,624 since January this year.

In a survey of 1001 people who care for a family member, partner, or someone close to them with dementia, 92% said the pandemic had accelerated their loved one's dementia symptoms, while 28% of family carers said they had witnessed an 'unmanageable decline' in a loved one's health.

Kate Lee, chief executive Officer at the Alzheimer's Society said: "We urge the Government to support people affected by dementia whose lives have been upended, putting recovery plans in place, but also making the legacy of COVID-19 a social care system that cares for the most vulnerable when they need it."


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


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