UK COVID-19 Update: 'Cautious Hugging', New Alert Level, Primary Care 'Risks Being Overwhelmed'

Tim Locke

May 10, 2021

Editor's note, 10 May 2021: This article was updated with new information from Public Health England and a Downing Street briefing.

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

'Cautious Hugging'

A return to indoor socialising for two households, or the 'rule or six', was confirmed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as part of the latest easing of England's lockdown from 17 May.

The announcement was made in a Downing Street briefing this evening, and follows the traffic light system for international travel announced on Friday. 

The PM said: "From next Monday, we're updating the guidance on close contact between friends and family, setting out the risks for everyone to make their own choices."

He added: "We all know that close contact, such as hugging, is a direct way of transmitting this disease. So I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones, whether they've had a vaccine, one or two doses, and whether there has been time for that vaccine to take effect." 

Other changes announced include the reopening of indoor hospitality, cinemas, indoor adult group sport and exercise, and more people will be able to attend wedding receptions and funeral wakes.

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty said the tests for moving to the next stage of the lockdown roadmap had been met but: "There are still some residual issues that we need to keep a very close eye on and therefore we need to go carefully and steadily." 

Ministers and experts commented ahead of the announcement.

Health Minister Nadine Dorries told Sky News: "I think it’s what most people have missed, that intimate contact with family and friends, and entertaining, having people in your own house, meeting outdoors." 

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), told the BBC: "We are still a few steps away from normality, so it’s really great that we can hug our loved ones, but what we need to remember is we need to be a little bit careful.

"So, again, do it responsibly – if people have symptoms, if you have particularly vulnerable relatives, maybe do this with caution."

Alert Level Lowered

The UK's four CMOs moved the alert level from 4 to 3 today which means a COVID-19 epidemic is still in general circulation.

In a statement they cautioned: "COVID is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day so we all need to continue to be vigilant. This remains a major pandemic globally."

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Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine, The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, said: “The reason the alert level has moved down to level 3 but not further down to level 2 is because case numbers are still not low only lower than they were. The current following 7 day rolling average is still higher than it was during the first week in September. The recent rapid increase in reports of the Indian variant is another very good reason why we can’t drop the risk level even further."

Data presented at Friday's Downing Street briefing showed:

  • The 7-day average for people testing positive is 2060

  • The 7-day average for COVID-19 deaths is 12

  • 1231 people were hospitalised with COVID-19 on 5 May

A third of UK adults are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Jabs 'Highly Effective' Against Death and Hospitalisation 

Newly released Public Health England preprint data show:

  • People who have single dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have an approximately 80% lower risk of COVID-19 death compared with unvaccinated individuals

  • Protection against death with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine rises from around 80% after one dose to 97% after both doses

  • A separate analysis showed two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalisation in over-80s by 92%

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE said: "The vaccines are saving lives every day. This analysis gives us even more reassurance that the vaccine is highly effective in protecting adults against death and hospitalisation from COVID-19."

Primary Care 'Risks Being Overwhelmed'

A new report from the NHS Confederation highlights an "increasing and unsustainable workload in primary care" in England.

Ruth Rankine, the Confederation's director of primary care, said: "Rising demand, growing complexity, higher expectations, increased administrative burden, and the continued challenge of rolling out the largest ever vaccination programme mean primary care is under immense pressure.

"Much of the public debate has been focused on the strain faced by hospitals, but this needs to change. Primary care leaders are committed to working together and doing everything they possibly can for their patients, but an open and honest discussion needs to be had, coupled with a clear set of achievable priorities. Otherwise, there is the very real risk of care becoming disjointed and services being overwhelmed."

COVID-19 & Pregnancy

The majority of pregnant women are unlikely to experience severe complications of COVID-19, according to a new study published in  PLoS One.

However, the authors wrote: "Risks could be minimised where possible through pre-pregnancy optimisation of weight and medical comorbidities. Further research is required to determine why women of Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnicity are disproportionately affected and how to minimise the impact of this through care provision."

More News

  • The Royal College of Nursing launched its Nursing Workforce Standards on staffing backed by polling of 1752 members of the public that found 70% agree that there are too few nurses to provide safe care.

  • The Department for Education announced more than £17 million funding to improve post-pandemic mental health and wellbeing support in England's schools and colleges.

  • The Guardian reported concerns by London School of Economics researcher Clare Wenham that the Government "consistently failed" to consider gender in its response to the pandemic, "Despite mounting evidence women have been disproportionately furloughed or made redundant while absorbing more of the unpaid work associated with the pandemic."

  • A poll of 2273 adults for groups including the Wellcome Trust and One Campaign, found 67% of the public agreed the UK should share vaccines with other countries to help prevent new coronavirus strains emerging.

  • The Royal Mail is trialling autonomous drones to deliver 100kg consignments of PPE and COVID-19 test kits 70 miles from the mainland to the Scilly Isles.

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

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