UK COVID-19 Update: R Number Up, Delta Variant Cases Rise, World Leaders Pledge Global Vaccine Rollout

Peter Russell

June 11, 2021

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

R Number Increases

England's R number increased to between 1.2 and 1.4, compared with 1.0 and 1.2 last week.

The latest growth range was +3% to +6%, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

The highest range was seen in the North West where the R number was 1.3 to 1.5.

The North East and Yorkshire had the lowest R number at between 1.0 and 1.2

The DHSC said that care should be taken when interpreting the estimates because they were based on low numbers of cases, hospitalisations, or deaths, and might include clusters of outbreaks seen with the Delta variant.


Delta Variant

The increase in the R number coincided with an analysis by Public Health England (PHE) which found that 42,323 cases of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 that originated in India had been confirmed in the UK, up by 29,892 from the previous week.

The assessment found that the Delta variant of concern "continues to demonstrate a substantially increased growth rate compared with Alpha", the variant first detected in Kent. Latest research suggested an approximate 60% increased risk of household transmission compared to the Alpha variant.

The data indicates that over 90% of new COVID-19 cases in the UK are now the Delta variant.

Cases of the Delta variant were estimated to be doubling every four and a half days in parts of England, the data suggested.

Although early evidence suggested that the Delta variant was likely to lead to more hospitalisations than the Alpha variant, an increase in cases had not been accompanied by a similarly large increase in the number of hospital admissions, PHE said.

An analysis suggested a 15% to 20% reduction in vaccine effectiveness after one dose for the Delta variant compared to the Alpha variant. Vaccine effectiveness was higher after two doses, although there remained uncertainty about effectiveness against the Delta variant following two doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: "With numbers of Delta variant cases on the rise across the country, vaccination is our best defence. If you are eligible, we urge you to come forward and be vaccinated. Remember that two doses provide significantly more protection than a single dose.

"However, while vaccination reduces the risk of severe disease, it does not eliminate it. With data showing that Delta is significantly more transmissible than Alpha, it is just as important as ever to follow public health advice, which has not changed."

Of the total number of Delta cases, 39,061 were confirmed in England, 3035 in Scotland, 184 in Wales, and 43 in Northern Ireland.

Positive Tests Rise

The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 continued to increase in the week ending June 5,Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed.

Statisticians estimated that:

  • In England, , an estimated  96,800 people, or 0.18%, in the community population had COVID-19, equating to around 1 in 560 people.

  • In Wales, 2300 people had COVID, equating to around 1 in 1300 people

  • In Northern Ireland, 2600 people had COVID, or around 1 in 700 people

  • In Scotland, 9700 people were estimated to have COVID, equating to around 1 in 540 people

Cases of the Alpha variant were no longer predominant in England, the ONS said.

Sarah Crofts, head of analytical outputs for the COVID-19 Infection Survey, said: "Infections are still low compared with what we saw in January, when they were around 12 times the level we are seeing now. However, they have recently increased and are now similar to levels we last saw in April."

'Delay Lifting COVID Restrictions'

Lifting the last COVID restrictions in England on June 21 should be delayed to avoid "reversing the significant progress we have made", a public health official said.

Jim McManus, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said that despite the success of the vaccination programme that was "breaking the link" between COVID cases and deaths, new variants, particularly Delta, had "made the vaccination race even tighter". 

He suggested that we would need to maintain some of the infection prevention and control measures which were now habitual in the UK.

"Patience now, will pay off in the long run," he said.

Boris Johnson is due to decide whether or not to proceed with the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown this weekend, with a decision expected on Monday next week.

Reports have suggested that the Government could opt for a 2 to 4 week delay to allow the vaccination programme to make more progress.

Vaccines for the World

As leaders of the G7 began a summit in Cornwall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated a target of delivering one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries in order to vaccinate everyone in the world by the end of next year.

The UK would donate at least 100 million surplus vaccine doses within the next year, including 5 million beginning in the coming weeks, Mr Johnson said. The 100 million figure was calculated based on the total needed to vaccinate the UK population, "factoring in the possibility of future vaccine-resistant strains being detected, and potential disruptions to our supply", Number 10 explained.

US President Joe Biden said the United States would purchase half a billion Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines for lower income countries, with distribution beginning in August. There would be "no strings attached", he promised.

The President said America would be "the arsenal of vaccines" in the global fight against COVID.

Younger People More Eager for Foreign Travel

Official figures showed that 12% of adults said they were planning to go on a trip abroad before September. More than 7 in 10 said the trip was for a holiday, the ONS found.

Most of the data was collected before Portugal was moved from the green to the amber list on June 8.

Younger people were more likely to have planned a trip overseas. 16% of 30 to 49 year olds had foreign destinations in mind, compared with 8% for those aged 70 and older.

Wearing face coverings and providing proof of vaccination were generally accepted as a necessary part of foreign travel, but quarantine measures once back in the UK were far less popular.

The data also showed that people were leaving home for a wider range of activities following the lifting of restrictions.

The proportion of people who reported maintaining social distancing with people outside their household fell to 68% in the week ending June 6, compared with 74% in the previous week.

Average happiness in the past week increased to 7.3 out of 10, the first time it has been above the pre-pandemic level since May 2020, when it was 7.4, the ONS reported.

Average anxiety improved slightly to 3.6 in 10.

However, overall life satisfaction at 7.0, and a feeling that things accomplished in life were worthwhile, at 7.3, both remained lower than before the pandemic.

Capillary Leak Syndrome Warning for Oxford Vaccine

People who have previously had capillary leak syndrome should not be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said.

It followed a review of 6 cases of the rare syndrome in people who had received the vaccine.

Most of the cases occurred in women, and within 4 days of vaccination. Three of those affected had a history of capillary leak syndrome, and one of them subsequently died.

Capillary leak syndrome should be added to the product information as a new side effect of the vaccine, together with a warning to raise awareness among healthcare professionals and patients of the risk, the EMA said.

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


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