UK COVID-19 Update: Doctors 'Need Rest & Recovery', Infections 'Mixed Picture'

Tim Locke

March 19, 2021

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

Doctors 'Need Rest & Recovery'

A new report from the BMA finds overworked doctors need to be allowed to rest and recuperate after working through the pandemic to ensure safe patient care in the future.

The report is called Rest, recover, restore: Getting UK health services back on track.

Council Chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: "It’s clear that the backlog has to be reduced, but forcing doctors to just ‘get back to normal’ without respite and support is not the way forward and endangers patient safety and staffing ratios now and in the longer run.

"While some, exhausted and burnt out, might take more sick leave, others may decide to leave the NHS altogether – talented, committed healthcare professionals that embody everything our health service stands for."

Infections 'Mixed Picture'

Latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey data for the week ending 13 March show

  • The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in England has continued to decrease. Around 1 in 340 people had COVID-19.

  • The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Scotland has slightly increased. Around 1 in 275 people had COVID-19.

  • The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Wales has continued to decrease. Around 1 in 430 people had COVID-19.

  • The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Northern Ireland has levelled off. Around 1 in 315 people had COVID-19.

  • The percentage of people testing positive with the UK variant decreased in England, with an uncertain trend in Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland there are early signs of an increase in cases.

Sarah Crofts from ONS said: "There is a mixed picture across the UK."

She added: “Positive infections among secondary aged children have decreased and appear to be levelling for primary aged children. Our figures this week are from the first week since schools returned in England and therefore it is too early to say whether this has influenced infection rates."

The UK's R number has increased slightly to 0.6 to 0.9 from 0.6 to 0.8 last week, and the growth rate is -6% to -3%.

Oxford Vaccination Resumes in EU

Germany, France, and Italy are among EU countries resuming use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after yesterday's EMA safety review announcement that the benefits outweigh the risks.

France's Prime Minister Jean Castex, 55, was due to have the jab this afternoon. The country is restricting use of the jab to people aged 55 and over.

However, Finland has today suspended the use of the vaccine while it investigates two possible blood clot cases.

ONS data show continuing positive attitudes to vaccination with 94% of adults saying they had now either received a vaccine or would be likely to have a vaccine if offered. Among those not wanting a jab, long-term effects on their health, safety concerns, waiting to see how well it works, and side effects were the most common reasons given.

Gibraltar has become "the first nation in the world to complete its entire adult vaccination programme", England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons yesterday.

Vaccination Alone 'Unlikely to Contain COVID-19 Infections'

University of Warwick modelling published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases finds that vaccinating all UK adults is unlikely to achieve herd immunity and fully contain the virus. 

Warwick's Professor Matt Keeling said: "Our modelling suggests that vaccination rollout in adults alone is unlikely to completely stop COVID-19 cases spreading in the UK. We also found that early sudden release of restrictions is likely to lead to a large wave of infection, whereas gradually easing measures over a period of many months could reduce the peak of future waves. The huge success of the UK’s vaccine programme so far coupled with the G overnment’s gradual roadmap for easing restrictions are a cause for optimism. However, some measures, such as test, trace, and isolate, good hand hygiene, mask-wearing in high-risk settings, and tracing from super-spreader events, may also be necessary for some time."

Excess Mortality

The ONS has compared the UK's excess mortality last year with other European countries. The cumulative excess mortality rate for the UK was 7.2% above the 5-year average by 18 December.

Dr Annie Campbell from ONS said: "While the UK may no longer have one of the highest levels of cumulative excess mortality in Europe, it does persist to have some of the highest cumulative excess mortality rates for those aged under 65 years. Only Bulgaria had a higher cumulative excess mortality rate for this age group by the end of 2020, with the UK and its constituent countries having excess mortality levels well above most other European countries.

"This has been a pattern observed throughout 2020 since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March showing that the impact of the pandemic in the UK has not exclusively affected those at the oldest ages. We are working to better understand the reasons behind this trend."

The UK ranks 5th in the world for COVID-19 deaths after the US, Brazil, Mexico, and India, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking. Italy's deaths are the second highest in Europe after the UK.

Passports and Certificates

COVID-19 certificates will be piloted to help reopen sport to fans, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said today. "We’ll be testing whether we can use COVID certification to help facilitate the return of sports."

The EU is planning to have a free Digital Green Certificate in digital or paper formats to allow travel across the 27 member countries if people have proof of vaccination, a negative test result, or a documented COVID-19 recovery.

More COVID-19 Risks With Kids?

An OpenSAFELY analysis published in The BMJ looked at additional COVID-19 risks for people living with children.

The researchers concluded: "In contrast to wave one, evidence existed of increased risk of reported SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 outcomes among adults living with children during wave two. However, this did not translate into a materially increased risk of COVID-19 mortality, and absolute increases in risk were small."

A separate study from NHS worker households in  Scotland published in Archives of Disease in Childhood found: "There was no evidence that living with young children increased adults’ risk of COVID-19, including during the period after schools reopened."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said: "Together, these studies suggest two competing effects. The presence of children in the household may increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19 – especially when schools are open – but for various reasons most adults in those households are less likely to develop severe disease, so the net public health impact is very low."

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

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