UK COVID-19 Update: Lifting Lockdown 'Surge' Risk, BAME Heart Attack Disparities

Tim Locke

March 09, 2021

Editor's note, 9 March 2021: This article was updated with today's daily data and new information from the Scottish Government.

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

Lifting Lockdown 'Surge' Risk

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance appeared before the Commons Science Committee today and was asked about the risk of lifting lockdown measures too soon. "We're cognisant of the fact that we don't really have a very tight handle on the magnitude of impact for different measures, so we can make estimates but we can't really know," he said.

Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty told the Committee: "All the modelling suggests there is going to be a further surge and that we'll find the people who either have not been vaccinated, or where the vaccine has not worked, and some of them will end up in hospital and sadly, some of them will go on to die, and that is the reality of where we are with the current vaccination."

He added: "The ratio of cases to deaths will go right down as a result of vaccination, but not right down to zero, unfortunately."

Scotland is easing lockdown measures from Friday.

  • Up to four adults from two households will be able to meet locally in any outdoor space

  • Outdoor non-contact sport and group exercise can resume for adults in groups of up to to 15

  • 12-17-year olds can meet outdoors in groups of up to four people from four different households

Deaths

Deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 26 February were 9.2% above the 5-year average but lower than the previous week, according to Office for National Statistics data.

COVID-19 accounted for 23.1% of all deaths compared with 29.5% the previous week.

Care home deaths fell below the 5-year average for the first time since the end of 2020.

In today's daily data another 5766 UK positive tests were reported and 231 deaths.

Another 590 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital. The total is 9418  and 1356 ventilator beds are in use.

As of yesterday, 22,592,528 people have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 1,181,431 a second dose.

Vaccine vs Variants

A US lab study published as a research letter in the New England Journal of Medicine found blood from people who'd had the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine neutralised a new virus variant that's spreading rapidly in Brazil.

The authors concluded: "Ultimately, conclusions about vaccine-mediated protection that are extrapolated from neutralisation or T-cell data must be validated by real-world evidence collected in regions where the SARS-CoV-2 variants are circulating."

OpenSAFELY preprint data released today suggests the UK virus variant is 1.67 times more likely to result in death after controlling for other factors.

BAME Heart Attack Disparities

A Keele University-led analysis of first wave heart attack patients found racial disparities with the authors saying clinical guidelines should be reviewed to take into account additional risks for BAME groups.

"BAME communities are at a significant disadvantage to receive guideline indicated care and more likely to experience longer delays," the research found.

"Our data suggest that there is an urgent need to address the widening racial disparities in the care of AMI [acute myocardial infarction] patient during the current COVID-19 outbreak," the authors wrote in the journal Heart.

Meanwhile, Queen Mary University of London and University of Southampton research using UK Biobank data found that people with unhealthy heart structures and poorer functioning hearts have a significantly higher risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The findings are published in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research.

Stroke Delays

The Act F.A.S.T. stroke symptoms awareness campaign is being relaunched after data show a 12% drop in stroke admissions in March and April last year.

Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, Juliet Bouverie, said: "Last year we saw thousands of people with suspected stroke put off calling 999 due to fear of catching COVID-19 or being a burden on the NHS."

Breast Cancer Backlog

Breast Cancer Now estimates that 10,700 people in the UK could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer because of disruption to services under the pandemic last year.

Chief Executive, Baroness Delyth Morgan, said that "looking ahead, while we cannot know the full impacts of the pandemic, what we do know now is that over the coming years the number of women coming forward could overwhelm our already over-stretched workforce."

School Mass Testing

An MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, simulation-based preprint assessment suggests that regular school-wide lateral flow testing reduces the need for school closures. However, testing does not replace the need for symptomatic isolation of close contacts, the modelling found.

Testing is not compulsory in England, and the authors write: "These findings remain valid when test compliance is not enforced although the effectiveness of outbreak control is reduced."

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Dr Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology, University of Reading, said: "This study – alongside other similar studies using different models and methods – illustrate something that 'feels' surprising: diagnostic tests don’t have to be perfectly accurate to be useful. One reason for this is that virus spread is typically exponential – so the more cases there are, the faster the virus spreads – but this means even a small improvement in spotting cases early can have a significant benefit."

Jab Texts

NHS England is starting to send COVID-19 jab text messages to over-55s and unpaid carers. They'll be followed up with letters and a reminder text 2-3 weeks later.

To avoid people thinking the messages are scams, the texts are sent using the Government’s secure Notify service and will show as coming from 'NHSvaccine'.

Did COVID-19 Symptom Checkers Delay Treatment?

The NHS 111 COVID-19 symptom checker, and others available in the US, Japan, and Singapore, may have stopped some patients getting prompt treatment for serious illness, according to a study in BMJ Health & Care Informatics.

The UK and US symptom checkers missed symptoms of severe COVID-19, bacterial pneumonia, and sepsis, instead advising patients to stay home.

"Our results suggest that whilst 'symptom checkers' may be of use to the healthcare COVID-19 response, there is the potential for such patient-led assessment tools to worsen outcomes by delaying appropriate clinical assessment." the authors write.

NHS Digital said the research involved an early version of its tool.

Pay Debate

NHS England Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens appeared before the Commons Health and Social Care Committee this morning, and confirmed budgeting assumptions were based on a 2.1% pay rise for staff this year rather than the 1% the Government announced last week.

He told MPs: "You would expect the head of the health service to want to see properly rewarded NHS staff, particularly given everything that the service has been through over the course of the last year."

He said the right way forward is for independent pay review bodies to look at all of the evidence and to be able to "independently make a fair recommendation so that NHS staff get the pay and reward that they deserve".

He also conceded there's a funding gap after April this year: "There’s an urgent need now to give that funding certainty to hospitals, to local frontline services, and the beginning of the financial year is hoving into view. We do expect that that would be resolved very shortly."

Farewell Nightingales

The Nightingale field hospitals in England are to close next month. NHS England called them the "ultimate insurance policy" but the extra capacity was not needed.

The Express and Star reported that the £66.4m facility at Birmingham's NEC will be shut without seeing a patient.

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

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