UK COVID-19 Update: Cummings' Accusations, NHS Pressure Rising, 3 in 4 Have Antibodies

Tim Locke

May 26, 2021

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

Cummings' Accusations

The Prime Minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings gave evidence to parliamentary committees on the Government's pandemic response today, including assumptions about herd immunity, and his view that Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been fired.

He apologised for mistakes made and said ministers, officials, and advisers "fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect".

Post-jab Stroke Risk

Doctors have been urged to look out for signs of large vessel arterial occlusion strokes linked to the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The cases, one fatal, are documented in a letter to the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

The three cases occurred in two women and one man in their 30s or 40s and involved blockages of the carotid and middle cerebral artery. Two of the three patients also had venous thrombosis involving the portal and cerebral venous system. All three also had extremely low platelet counts, confirmed antibodies to platelet factor 4, and raised D-dimer levels, all characteristic of the vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) reaction associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

"In patients who present with ischaemic stroke, especially younger patients, and who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine within the past month, clinicians need to consider VITT as a possible cause, as there is a specific treatment needed for this syndrome," senior author, Professor David Werring, University College London, told Medscape.

NHS Pressure Rising

Royal Bolton Hospital is taking action to manage extra COVID-19 demand.

In a statement yesterday it said: "People are presenting at our emergency department with a range of problems and staff are working very hard to ensure they receive all the care they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"However, we are also now seeing more people requiring hospital treatment from the effects of COVID-19, and whilst we have discharged a number overnight, today we still have 41 inpatients with COVID, including eight in critical care.

"Going into the bank holiday weekend and half term, which is always a busy time for the NHS, we anticipate this pressure continuing. As such [we] are taking urgent actions to ensure we can continue to manage this demand effectively." 

The Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, commented: "Trust leaders are telling us that COVID-19 hospital cases are increasing steadily in areas most affected by the variant first identified in India but not at an alarming rate. The next 7 days will be crucial, and trusts will be monitoring the data closely."   

Meanwhile, Scotland's GPs are at breaking point, according to a BMA member survey with responses from 669 GPs.

  • 66.8% say their current workload is unmanageable

  • 57% say it has worsened under the pandemic

  • 87.7% say they or their staff have been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in the past month

  • 70% of GPs are now more likely to take early retirement or leave the profession

  • 73.3% are struggling to cope and work is having a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing

3 in 4 Have Antibodies

Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey SARS-CoV-2 antibody blood test data for the week beginning 3 May estimate:

  • In England, 75.9% of adults would have tested positive for antibodies

  • In Wales, 76.6% of adults would have tested positive for antibodies

  • In Northern Ireland, 75.0% of adults would have tested positive for antibodies

  • In Scotland, 68.6% of adults would have tested positive for antibodies

Separate ONS data show that 4-8 May, 93% of people who had contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 fully adhered to self-isolation requirements during their 10-day isolation period.

Another set of ONS data for England show during the second wave of the pandemic the difference in COVID-19 mortality, compared with the White British population, increased for people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic backgrounds.

During the first wave, people from all ethnic minority groups apart from women in the Chinese or 'White Other' groups had higher rates of COVID-19 death compared with the White British population.

Travel Confusion

Yesterday we reported on unannounced Government advice that emerged on avoiding travel to eight areas of England affected by the Indian virus variant: Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow, and North Tyneside.

Local directors of public health first complained they hadn't been consulted and later issued a joint statement confirming there were actually no restrictions in place.

Yesterday evening, Government officials said updated guidance would be issued.

Teen Jabs

Moderna issued a news release saying its vaccine is effective in 12 to 17-year-olds with no new or major safety problems. It follows a randomised phase 2-3 clinical trial involving 3732 under-18s.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Russell Viner, professor of adolescent health, UCL, said: "We need to see the actual data to confirm this however this is both encouraging and expected."

However, he added: "Having licensed vaccine for teenagers does not mean we should vaccinate them – and there are still a range of complex questions to consider about the benefits and risks of vaccinating the teenage population.  One group we should however proceed to vaccinate is teenagers who are highly clinically vulnerable and at greater risk of more serious disease."

Vaccination Progress

England's vaccination programme opened to 30 to 31-year-olds today for the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna jabs.

As of yesterday, 38 million first doses have been delivered across the UK, and 23 million second doses.

Meanwhile, 81-year-old Bill Shakepeare from Coventry, the second person in the world to have the Pfizer jab, has died from an unrelated illness.

Local councillor and friend, Jayne Innes, said the "best tribute to Bill is to have the jab".

More News

  • The Guardian reported on criticism from the BMA and other groups about 42 trusts failing to respond to freedom of information requests about hospital-acquired COVID deaths. "Families, including those of our own colleagues who died fighting this virus on the front line, deserve answers. We will only get that if there is full transparency," said Consultants Committee Chair, Dr Rob Harwood.

  • The BMA welcomed NHS England guidance ensuring that people are not turned away from vaccination centres because they attend with dependent children. It follows the case of a junior doctor on maternity leave who tried to attend with her baby. The centre apologised and new guidance was issued recognising that parents may need to bring dependent children to vaccination appointments.

  • Strictly Orthodox Jewish people in the UK have one of the highest SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence levels in the world, reports a study published in the Lancet Regional Health – Europe. The overall seroprevalence rate was 64.3% (95% CI, 61.6%-67.0%), which is markedly higher than the estimated 6.9% rate (95% CI, 6.3%-7.4%) nationally and 10.8% rate (95% CI, 9.3%-12.5%) in London by random sampling in October by the Office for National Statistics.

  • England's Department for Education had "no COVID plan" and was unprepared, according to a report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee. "The committee was concerned that DfE appears uninterested in learning lessons from earlier in the pandemic, preferring to wait until the public enquiry which won’t report for years," said committee Chair, Meg Hillier.

  • COVID pilot events at gigs, stadiums, and nightclubs involving 58,000 participants only resulted in 15 cases, according to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden. His department clarified that further data still needs to be collected from other events.

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

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