UK COVID-19 Update: 'Irresponsible & Perilous' Unlocking, Scotland Keeps Mandatory Face Coverings 

Tim Locke

July 13, 2021

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

'Irresponsible & Perilous' Unlocking

The BMA led the criticism of the Government's decision to go ahead with removing England's COVID-19 restrictions on 19 July amid rising Delta variant infections. "It’s irresponsible – and frankly perilous," said BMA Council Chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul. "In doing so, the Government is reneging on its own promise to be led by data and impact on the NHS."

The use of face coverings moves from mandatory to recommended in crowded indoor settings. A BMA survey found that 90% of doctors believe face coverings should remain compulsory on public transport.

"Doctors will also be incredibly worried if the requirements around face coverings and social distancing are scrapped for healthcare settings – putting both staff and incredibly ill patients at higher risk – and it’s imperative that an exception is put in place now and communicated to the public," Dr Nagpaul said.

Pat Cullen, Royal College of Nursing acting chief executive and general secretary, said: "Public mask-wearing is straightforward and well established - Government will rue the day it sent the wrong signal for political expediency."

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said there was "a real risk that dropping the restrictions including to wear masks, especially in health care settings and to socially distance will lead to a significant COVID-19 surge which will place even more strain on a system struggling to cope".

SAGE Papers

SAGE modelling papers say: "The scale of the resurgence in hospital admissions after 19 July is highly uncertain."

There's a central estimate of 1000-2000 hospitalisations a day in England and 100-200 daily deaths.

SPI-M-O (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group) said: "Under the cautious assumptions on vaccine effectiveness, all behavioural scenarios breach 1000 hospitalisations a day. It is highly likely that any such pressure on the NHS would vary regionally and temporally.

"Given this uncertainty, it would be prudent for contingency plans to be put in place for how to respond if hospital admissions approached levels that could disrupt the smooth functioning of health services."

Scotland Keeps Mandatory Face Coverings

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the mandatory wearing of face coverings is to stay in place when Scotland moves to Level 0 on July 19 as planned.

Face coverings will remain in place "not just now but, in all likelihood for some time to come," she said.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Hopefully with new cases starting to fall, we will also see hospital admissions fall in the next few weeks, but at the moment the pressure on the NHS is of concern."

She added: "Every hospital bed occupied by a COVID patient is one less bed available to tackle the backlog of non-COVID care."

Scotland is also planning to end the requirement to self-isolate after close contact with a COVID case for fully vaccinated people, after a negative PCR test.

Deaths

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show deaths in England and Wales registered in the week ending 2 July were 5.2% below the 5-year average but slightly higher than the previous week.

COVID-19 accounted for 1.2% of all deaths, the highest figure since mid-May.

Clinically Extremely Vulnerable Guidance

From next week guidance has been updated for England for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV).

"As someone who is at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if you were to catch COVID-19, you may wish to think particularly carefully about additional precautions you might wish to continue to take," the guidance says.

This includes continuing to meet outdoors and asking friends and family to take lateral flow tests before visiting.

Latest ONS data show 29% of CEV people in England were continuing to shield, even after shielding was paused at the beginning of April.

Of CEV people who were not comfortable going into healthcare, hospitality, educational, or cultural settings, mandatory face covering was the most common measure that would help put them at ease.

Pregnancy 'Mixed Messaging'

The Guardian reported on campaigners' claims of mixed messaging for pregnant women from health professionals over COVID-19 vaccination.

The Twitter feed for the group Pregnant Then Screwed included a message from a social media consultant who was told by a midwife: "Probably don’t want to risk another thalidomide situation by having the vaccine."

An observational study from Israel published today in JAMA found the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was associated with a lower risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and "Vaccine-related adverse events were reported by 68 patients; none was severe. The most commonly reported symptoms were headache (n = 10, 0.1%), general weakness (n = 8, 0.1%), non-specified pain (n = 6, <0.1%), and stomach ache (n = 5, <0.1%)."

Teledermatology

Teledermatology is the latest NHS England initiative to speed up skin cancer diagnosis after referrals fell under lockdown.

Skin pictures are taken by a medical photographer and sent to hospitals for analysis.

"Cancer has been treated as a priority throughout the pandemic, and is being treated as a priority in the recovery programme, because there is a survival window," National Director for Cancer, Dame Cally Palmer, told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee earlier.

Megalab

The UK’s first COVID-19 testing 'megalab' has opened in Royal Leamington Spa.

Chief Executive of the new UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, said: "The pandemic has provided us with clear evidence, on a daily basis, that you can only challenge viruses of this kind with the right testing and genomics infrastructure in place.

"The Rosalind Franklin Laboratory is going to be a critical scientific addition to how we manage this virus in the months ahead, arming us with data and intelligence on the spread of variants that will inform decision-making and ultimately, save lives."
 

PM's Apology

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has apologised for lifting lockdown measures too soon as infections reached their highest levels so far this year.

"What we thought would be possible, turned out not to be possible in practice," he said

"We had poor judgement, which we regret and for which we apologise."

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

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