UK COVID-19 Update: Whitty's Warning, COVID Complications

Tim Locke

July 16, 2021

Editor's note, 16 July 2021: This article was updated with today's daily data.

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

Whitty's Warning

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty told a webinar hosted by London's Science Museum that COVID-19 hospitalisations are doubling around every 3 weeks and could hit "quite scary numbers".

"I don't think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast," he said.

He again recommended a slow approach to England's unlocking on Monday, and cautioned that SARS-CoV-2 could mutate into a "vaccine escape variant" in the future.

Today's daily data saw 51,870 new cases, 49 deaths, and 717 hospitalisations.

Latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey data for the week ending 10 July estimate:

  • 1 in 95 people in England had COVID-19

  • 1 in 90 people in Scotland had COVID-19

  • 1 in 360 people in Wales had COVID-19

  • 1 in 290 people in Northern Ireland had COVID-19

Sarah Crofts from ONS said: "Infections have increased across much of the UK, with England currently at levels last seen in February this year."

Public Health England’s weekly variant case data show a rise of 36,800 Delta cases since last week, a 17% increase. Forty-five of these were the Delta AY.1 sub lineage.

The Delta variant now accounts for approximately 99% of sequenced UK cases.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: "Case rates are still high and rising, but it is encouraging that the increase in cases still does not appear to be associated with a similar increase in hospitalisations and deaths."

England's R number remains at 1.2 to 1.4, and the growth rate range is +4% to +7%.

Pressure on the NHS has led to the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust asking staff to consider postponing annual leave, and offering bonuses for extra shifts. An internal memo said: "It certainly feels like we are entering a very difficult period, especially after the long slog of the past year."

'Unethical and Unscientific' Strategy

Experts writing in The BMJ say that the UK Government's current pandemic strategy of infection over vaccination is "unethical and unscientific".

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, senior lecturer in machine learning, Queen Mary University of London, and colleagues write: "The public overwhelmingly supports sensible public health measures such as masking indoors. This begs the question why dangerous public health decisions that are neither in the public interest, or in line with public sentiment, have been made in the midst of a raging pandemic."

ONS social impact data show 90% of adults in England felt use of face coverings when shopping to slow the spread of the coronavirus was either very important or important.

After legal restrictions are lifted on Monday, 64% said they plan to continue to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport.

Separate ONS data show that between 28 June and 3 July, 89% of those who had contact with a positive COVID-19 case stuck to the self-isolation requirements. Compliance was higher among those with symptoms (94%) than those without (86%).

COVID Complications

Half of first wave COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital developed at least one complication, research involving 70,000 people in 302 UK hospitals published in The Lancet found.

The most common complications were:

●     Kidney injury (24.3%)
●     Lung complications (18.4%)
●     Heart complications (12.3%)

Patients with complications had nearly double the risk of death from COVID-19, and had been seven times more likely to be admitted to ICU than those without complications.

Complications among hospitalised patients were high, even in young and previously healthy people.

Chief Investigator, Professor Calum Semple, University of Liverpool, said: "This work contradicts current narratives that COVID-19 is only dangerous in people with existing comorbidities and the elderly. Dispelling and contributing to the scientific debate around such narratives has become increasingly important. Disease severity at admission is a predictor of complications even in younger adults, so prevention of complications requires a primary prevention strategy, meaning vaccination."

Jabs

Pop-up vaccination centres are being set up in some Primark shops, Tate Modern in London, and The Oval.

NHS England is calling it 'grab a jab' weekend, and a "final drive to get the country protected."

Latest figures show 67.1% of UK adults are fully vaccinated, and 87.5% have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Anxiety

The greatest rise in anxiety during the first national lockdown was seen among older people, according to analysis of results from the continuing Great British Intelligence Test published in Nature Communications.

Study lead, Dr Adam Hampshire, Imperial College London,said: "Although anxiety levels increased across all ages, older people were disproportionately affected, also showing higher levels of depression, and getting fewer hours of sleep."

He said reasons could include isolation from loved ones and concerns about being at most risk from the virus.

"I believe this older demographic has not received enough attention and must be prioritised for care and mental health interventions, especially those who are clinically vulnerable and may feel left behind as we move out of lockdown," he added.

One in two people with disabilities feel unsafe over next week's easing of coronavirus infections, according to polling of 565 people for the charity SCOPE.

Chief Executive, James Taylor, said: "What’s being dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ by some will mean the exact opposite for many disabled people, who have legitimate fears about their risk from COVID-19 as infection rates surge. We’re in danger of creating a two-tier society."

Ventilation

Better ventilation in public buildings and public transport is needed to help reduce the risk of COVID-19, according to a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the National Engineering Policy Centre.

Academy Vice President, Professor Peter Guthrie, said: "Buildings make an enormous difference to people's health and we have often neglected this in the past, which is bad news in a pandemic, because they are one of the most significant levers that we have to control infection. We must take action now to make sure that good practice in ventilation is widely understood and applied across workplaces and public buildings."

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

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