UK COVID-19 Update: Fully Jabbed Delta Hospitalisations, Wales' Level Zero, Junior Doctors' Industrial Action? 

Tim Locke

August 06, 2021

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

Fully Jabbed Delta Hospitalisations

Public Health England's latest variant technical briefing shows the Delta variant accounts for approximately 99% of COVID-19 cases.

Since 19 July, there were 467 confirmed hospitalisations with Delta. Of these cases, 55.1% were unvaccinated but 34.9% were fully vaccinated.

Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries,  said that "vaccines do not eliminate all risk: it is still possible to become unwell with COVID and infect others. It is still vital that we exercise caution, particularly while cases are high."

Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey data for the week to 31 July estimate:

  • 1 in 75 people in England had COVID-19

  • 1 in 120 people in Scotland had COVID-19

  • 1 in 230 people in Wales had COVID-19

  • 1 in 55 people in Northern Ireland had COVID-19

Sarah Crofts from ONS said: "After rising for some weeks as a result of the Delta variant, it is encouraging that infections have now fallen across England, Wales and Scotland. They are still increasing in Northern Ireland where Delta emerged slightly later.

"Infection rates remain high across the UK, however, and we’ll need to see more data before concluding whether we are over the peak of this current wave."

England's latest R number is 0.8 to 1.1 and the growth is -3% to +1%.

Separate ONS data show the proportion of adults self-isolating in Great Britain fell from 6% to 4% in the week to 1 August as new infections fell.

ONS also found 92% of adults continue to wear face coverings outside their home despite this mandate being lifted in England. That's down from 95% the previous week.

The Ministry of Defence released figures showing the total number of positive COVID tests in the armed forces during the pandemic so far is 11,890, out of around 280,000 personnel.

Junior Doctors' Industrial Action?

The BMA is consulting junior doctors over possible industrial action over their exclusion from England's 3% NHS pay rise.

BMA Junior Doctors Committee Chair, Dr Sarah Hallett, said: "Given the significant lengths that junior doctors have gone to throughout the pandemic and the profound impact this has had on their personal and professional lives, the Government’s decision to exclude them from the pay uplift announced last month is nothing short of insulting."

A survey of consultants over possible action began last month.

Med School Boost

The cap on medical and dental school places has been adjusted to allow for more than 9000 places in England with applications up 20% this year.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: "As we look beyond the pandemic, it’s incredibly important we safeguard the future of our NHS by ensuring there is a pipeline of high-quality staff to bolster the workforce in the years ahead."

Dr Mary Anne Burrow, co-chair of the BMA medical academics committee, welcomed the announcement but said: "This increase in student places must not come at the expense of extra funding for the existing workforce or reductions in funding in future years, because tackling the waiting lists and backlog are going to require sustained investment over many years. And the Government must make clear that there will be sufficient clinical places for all those who succeed at medical school."
 

'Disingenuous' GP Data

The BMA has criticised England's GP workforce data methodology.

GP Committee Chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, said the data "is disingenuous and fails to accurately reflect the staffing shortages that we, and thousands of doctors across England, know are facing primary care - and have been for at least a decade".

He continued: "The methodology NHS Digital is now using no longer includes estimated data to accommodate for the small proportion of practices that upload no or only partial workforce figures each quarter. As a result, this makes it look like the decrease in the GP workforce is less than the actual reality shown across previous datasets.

"The new way of collecting the data suggests that the fully-qualified FTE GP workforce has shrunk by 363 since September 2015 - but we know that in September 2015 only 88% of practices provided data, compared to almost 100% in today’s dataset. This means that the number of doctors we’ve lost over that period is significantly higher than what is being presented, and the data therefore does not accurately depict the extent of the staffing crisis in general practice.

"It’s clear that the change in methodology was designed to obscure the reality; the data release is now less accurate and simply doesn’t capture what we know to be happening on the ground."

Wales' Level Zero

Wales moves to alert level zero tomorrow (Saturday) with most restrictions lifted, no limit on people meeting indoors, and nightclubs reopening.

Like Scotland, face coverings are still required in indoor settings, including for healthcare.

"Alert level zero does not mean the end of restrictions and a free-for-all," said First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Fully vaccinated adults will no longer need to self-isolate if they come into contact with a positive case.

In England, leading nightclubs will play messages encouraging jab uptake from Bodalia.
"As a doctor and a DJ, I want everyone to enjoy themselves as safely as possible now that clubs and music events are back," he said.

In Scotland, medics in their 20s and 30s have written an open letter to encourage people in their age group to take up COVID-19 vaccination offers.

Dr Miles Mack, chair of the Scottish Academy, said: "I would plea with people to listen to these young medics. They have been on the front line of the pandemic. They have seen the serious illness that COVID-19 can cause in people of all ages. Please follow the young medics’ advice and get vaccinated as soon as possible."
 

Mandatory Care Home Staff Jabs

Coronavirus vaccinations will be mandatory for care home staff in England from November 11. This also applies to visiting healthcare professionals.

New guidance says: "We want to ensure that care homes are as safe as possible for the staff working in them and the people they care for. We believe that the best way to do this is to ensure that everyone who can take up the offer of vaccination, does."

Discharge Funding 'Cliff Edge'

Health groups, including the NHS Confederation have written to the Chancellor asking for continued funding for the 'discharge to assess' scheme in England.

It said this had already helped free up 30,000 hospital beds, and 6000 staff, and has cut the proportion of 3 week hospital stays by almost a third.

The letter said a decision is needed by the middle of the month or "commissioners and providers will accelerate standing down services in anticipation of the funding 'cliff edge'".

Fenofibrate 

A UK and international laboratory study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology has found fenofibrate and fenofibric acid can significantly reduce SARS-COV-2 infection in human cells.

It’s thought the drug might bind to the virus spike protein preventing it from entering cells and causing infection.

First author, Dr Scott Davies, University of Birmingham, said: "We now urgently need further clinical studies to establish whether fenofibrate is a potential therapeutic agent to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Dr Peter English, retired consultant in communicable disease control, said:  "I should point out that many drugs seem to have plausibility, and this can be confirmed in laboratory studies; but that this plausibility often fails to translate into useful clinical efficacy."

Antibodies

A follow-up study among 578 Spanish healthcare workers found that levels of IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 spike protein remained stable 7 months after infection.

No reinfections were seen in the study that's published in Nature Communications.

"Rather surprisingly, we even saw an increase of IgG anti-Spike antibodies in 75% of the participants from month 5 onwards, without any evidence of re-exposure to the virus," said  Gemma Moncunill, senior co-author of the study.

There could also be some protection from previously having the common cold. Lead researcher Carlota Dobaño, Barcelona Institute for Global Health, said: "Although cross-protection by pre-existing immunity to common cold coronaviruses remains to be confirmed, this could help explain the big differences in susceptibility to the disease within the population."

Trust Makes Own Masks

Gateshead NHS Trust has set up a special company to manufacture its own specially designed FFP3 masks.

Consultant Ruky Talawila was involved in the design process. "Staff will often wear these masks for their full shifts and more often than not, they can be uncomfortable. It was great to be involved in this process and as a team, we had lots of input into the design of these masks to ensure compliance and comfort with maximum protection.

"The mask will include a headband rather than the standard straps and have also been designed to fit better on our face which will be a much more comfortable fit."

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

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