UK COVID-19 Update: Delta Plus Variant, Health Trust Leaders Fear Winter Pressure

Peter Russell

June 23, 2021

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

Delta+ Variant

Downing Street said that the Government and Public Health England (PHE) were monitoring the B.1.617.2 Delta plus variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said 41 cases of the variant had been identified in the UK.

PHE had already put extra measures in place where the variant had been detected including "enhanced contact tracing, testing, and isolation", the spokesman said.

Reports have said that some scientists are concerned that the Delta plus variant could be more transmissible and had the potential to supress an antibody response.

Commenting to the Science Media Centre, Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology and director at the UCL Genetics Institute, said there was "no particular cause for concern".

He said that the lineage, which carries the K417N mutation, "has remained at very low frequency" since the end of April, "with no sign of expansion".

Health Providers Fear Winter Pressure

NHS leaders said they were worried about a growing demand for health services at a time when cases of COVID-19 were accelerating.

A survey by NHS Providers found that members were particularly concerned about the likely pressure coming during the winter months ahead.

The poll found that:

  • 88% said it was very likely or somewhat likely that another surge in COVID-19 cases in the current financial year would result in additional pressures across their service

  • 89% of leaders said they were worried additional pressures would come during the winter months

  • 73% said they were extremely or moderately concerned that plans to clear the backlog of care over the winter could be disrupted by a demand for urgent or emergency care

  • 48% said they had seen evidence of staff leaving work because of pandemic burnout

Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: "Trusts are committed to clearing the backlog of care that built up during the pandemic.

"We are confident vaccines are breaking the chain between infections and hospital admissions, but the reality on the frontline is that even a small increase in COVID-19 admissions or emergency care pressures could affect our ability to deliver non-COVID services."

Dr Adrian Boyle, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said action was needed now to prepare the health service for winter. "It is absolutely essential that we ensure there is adequate capacity, adequate access to alternative care, departments have the right resources, and that staff are prepared," he said.

The findings follow a warning from the chief medical officer of a further wave of COVID-19 this winter and the decision y Boris Johnson to delay plans to further ease restrictions because of the Delta variant of concern.

Ivermectin Treatment Trial Begins

Scientists at the University of Oxford have begun a trial of ivermectin (Stromectol, Merck) to test whether it can reduce the severity of symptoms for some patients with COVID-19.

The broad spectrum antiparasitic drug is being investigated as part of the Platform Randomised Trial of Treatments in the Community for Epidemic and Pandemic Illnesses (PRINCIPLE), the world's largest clinical trial of possible COVID treatments for recovery at home and in other non-hospital settings.

Ivermectin has been shown to reduce SARS-CoV-2 replication in laboratory studies.

Small pilot studies suggest that early administration with ivermectin can reduce viral load and the duration of symptoms in some patients with mild COVID-19. However, the Oxford scientists said that even though ivermectin is used routinely in some countries to treat COVID, there is little evidence from large-scale randomised controlled trials to demonstrate that it can speed up recovery from the illness or reduce hospital admissions.

Prof Chris Butler, joint chief investigator of the PRINCIPLE trial, said, ‘"Ivermectin is readily available globally, has been in wide use for many other infectious conditions so it's a well-known medicine with a good safety profile, and because of the early promising results in some studies it is already being widely used to treat COVID-19 in several countries.

"By including ivermectin in a large-scale trial like PRINCIPLE, we hope to generate robust evidence to determine how effective the treatment is against COVID-19, and whether there are benefits or harms associated with its use."

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said that including ivermectin in the trial "should provide a final answer to the questions over whether this drug might be repurposed as an antiviral targeting SARS-CoV-2".

In February, Merck issued a statement saying that it did not recommend the drug as a COVID-19 treatment due to a lack of data.

In Other Developments

  • Health experts expressed concern that 60,000 football fans would be allowed to attend the UEFA Euro semi-finals at Wembley. Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, suggested that too much confidence was being placed in the accuracy of lateral flow tests. Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, described it as a "recipe for disaster", adding "why put the end of lockdown on July 19th at risk?"

  • The travel industry held a day of action to put pressure on the Government to put more foreign countries on the green list to allow quarantine-free trips to popular destinations. The industry said that "many thousands of livelihoods are at stake" without a "meaningful summer". Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, said: "Airlines are at the absolute limit of what they can borrow" and could soon need Government handouts to survive. Travel organisations and business urged ministers to "capitalise on the vaccine rollout by safely reopening travel for the summer season".

  • There was a marked change in how Britons spent their time between the first lockdown in March 2020 and March this year, figures from the Office for National Statistics showed. Younger people, and those not working in the health service, tended to spend more time working from home. The change was accompanied by getting less sleep, statisticians noted.

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

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