UK COVID-19 Update: India Put on Red List, UK Passes Second Jab 'Milestone'

Peter Russell

April 19, 2021

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

India Added to Red Zone Travel List

Travel from India to the UK has been being banned for anyone who is not a UK, or Irish resident, or British citizen after the country was added to the travel 'red list'.

It follows identification of a variant under investigation first identified in India, known as B.1.617.

Announcing the move to MPs, England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the "vital decision" would also mean that UK or Irish residents or British citizens who have been in India in the past 10 days before their arrival will need to quarantine on arrival in the UK at an approved hotel.

He announced the "vital but difficult" decision was made due to a new COVID variant first identified in India, of which 103 cases have been detected in the UK.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Hancock said most of the cases of the so-called Indian variant were linked to international travel. "We've been analysing samples from these cases to see if this variant has any concerning characteristics like greater transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines, meaning that it needs to be listed as a variant of concern," he said.

The travel restrictions will apply from 0400 UK time on Friday April 23.

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he was cancelling a planned trip to India because of the development.

Reinfection Human Challenge Trial Begins Recruitment

Researchers at the University of Oxford launched a human challenge trial to investigate what kind of immune response can prevent people who have previously had COVID-19 from becoming reinfected a second time round.

Up to 64 healthy participants aged 18 to 30 will be paid almost £5000 for taking part in the 12-month study which will be divided into two phases.

The first part of the trial will establish the lowest dose of virus that can start replicating but produce little or no symptoms.

Using that data, the second phase will investigate what kind of immune responses protect against reinfection.

Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at the university's Department of Paediatrics, who is leading the trial, said they would be "interrogating the baseline immune response" in participants and then "looking at whether or not we can reinfect them".

The investigators said the findings could have important implications for future vaccine development, as well as aid research into effective treatments.

10 Million Second Vaccine Doses

The number of COVID-19 vaccines given in the UK passed a significant milestone, with 10 million second doses administered.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said: "Since England's NHS became the first health service anywhere in the world to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, the programme has gone from strength to strength, with everyone in the top priority groups given the opportunity to get jabbed ahead of target.

"The success of the NHS vaccination programme is not a happy accident. It is down to careful planning coupled with the sheer hard work and determination of doctors, nurses and countless other staff ably assisted by volunteers and many others."

Latest Government figures showed that 10,152,039 second doses had been given in the UK. A total of 32,932,448 first doses had been administered.

Go-ahead for Vaccines for Pregnant Women

Pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised.

It said that based on real world data from the US, it was preferable that pregnant women in the UK should be offered the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines where available.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 chair for the JCVI, said: "There have been no specific safety concerns from any brand of COVID-19 vaccines in relation to pregnancy."

Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, commented: "Vaccination offers pregnant women the best protection from COVID-19, which can be serious in some women.

"We believe it should be a woman's choice whether to have the vaccine or not after considering the benefits and risks and would encourage pregnant women to discuss with a trusted source like their GP, obstetrician, or midwife, or a healthcare professional in a vaccination centre."

Dr Allyah Abbas-Hanif, member of the Paediatrics and Pregnancy Expert Group of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, said the advice provided "reassuring and welcome news for pregnant women and families".

The JCVI said it would continue to closely monitor the evidence on COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy and would update its advice if required.

Vaccines 'Effective in Older People'

A single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine was effective at preventing 56% of infections among residents in care homes after 4-5 weeks, according to a preprint study.

Results from the VIVALDI 2 study found protection against infection rose to 62% after 5-7 weeks.

The research, led by University College London (UCL), looked at data from 10,412 long-term care residents aged 65 or over, 9160 of whom were vaccinated with either the AstraZeneca/Oxford or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The timing and size of the protective effect was similar for both vaccines, the results showed.

Among care home residents who had previously been infected by SARS-CoV-2, a single vaccine dose appeared to have little impact, suggesting people who have a prior infection are already well protected, according to the research.

Dr Maddie Shrotri, from UCL's Institute of Health Informatics, said: "Our study suggests that both vaccines currently in use in the UK are effective at reducing infections in frail, older adults. This new evidence is important because there is currently limited data about vaccine efficacy for this vulnerable population."

The Department of Health and Social Care said the findings infer that vaccines protect against the more transmissible B.1.1.7, or 'UK variant', as this was prevalent during the study period between December and March.

The VIVALDI study was launched in June 2020 to investigate COVID-19 infections in care homes and inform strategies to protect residents.

NHS Backlog Concerns

NHS Providers described as "concerning" the backlog of work facing the health system because of the pandemic.

It said with a clearer picture now emerging, tackling the problem could take NHS trusts between 3 and 5 years.

Additional Government funding would be required to deal with five key areas, NHS Providers said. These were:

  • Increase physical and workforce capacity

  • Specific steps to tackle pinch points, such as investment in a new network of community diagnostic hubs

  • NHS efficiency and productivity gains, often through improved collaboration

  • Reconfigure hospitals to deal with future waves of COVID-19 and winter pressures to avoid disruption

  • Rapidly adopt new ways of treating patients, specialty by specialty, including using new technology solutions in ophthalmology where the waiting lists were some of the longest

Chief Executive, Chris Hopson, said: "We need to work together over the next few months to create a joint plan to deliver for patients and service users to be announced in the multi year spending review we are expecting at the end of the year."

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