The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.
Speaking at the Downing Street Press Conference this week, England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths are on a ‘downward slope’.
This is the first time since the onset of the current wave that the numbers are being to fall, but despite this, the level of infection is still ‘incredibly high’ with the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 still above that of the first peak in April 2020. The Prime Minister suggested that by 22 February, the Government would be setting out a roadmap on restrictions including on plans to reopen schools in March.
Responding to the Press Conference, NHS Providers said it is ‘really good’ that infections are falling, but the situation for hospitals, the mental health community and ambulance services ‘remains extremely difficult’ with more than 27,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital and intensive care running at one and a half times baseline capacity. It argues that: ‘We should only loosen restrictions when we are absolutely sure we won’t risk triggering another wave of infections.’
On Wednesday, the UK recorded a further 1,322 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus, bringing the total number of people who have died by this measure to 109,335, while a further 19,202 new cases were recorded.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that last week the number of deaths in care homes related to Covid-19 increased, accounting for nearly half of all deaths in care homes. Responding to the numbers, the Alzheimer’s Society has called on the Government to roll out the second dose of the Covid-19 jabs across care homes, and to provide a ‘concrete plan for safe meaningful visits to ensure people with dementia get vital contact with family carers’.
Nuffield Trust said the ONS figures represent another ‘terrible and deadly week of this relentless wave of the pandemic’. It has stressed that the level of death is ‘a long way from a typical winter’ highlighting that ‘excess deaths against the five-year average for this time of year are over 40% higher’.
Efforts to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine have continued this week with the Government reporting that more than 10 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a vaccine, including nine in 10 people aged 75 and over in England. It puts the Government in line with its Vaccines Delivery plan which aims to offer vaccines to the top four priority groups by the middle of February. It is thought that these top four groups account for 88% of COVID deaths, which is why the vaccines will play such a crucial role in saving lives and reducing the demand on the NHS.
Announcing that 10 million people have been vaccinated, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This terrific achievement is testament to the monumental effort of NHS workers, volunteers and the armed forces who have been working tirelessly in every corner of the UK to deliver the largest vaccination programme in our history.’ NHS Confederation said that the milestone is an ‘amazing achievement’ but called for clearer information on how well the vaccines will guard against ever-changing COVID-19 mutations as well as more clarity on the supply and delivery of the vaccines.
Finally, a study from Oxford University shows that the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine provides sustained protection of 76% during the three-month interval until the second dose. After the second dose vaccine efficacy from two standard doses is 82.4% with the three-month interval being used in the UK.
The study supports the 4-12 week prime-boost dosing interval being adopted by the UK. Furthermore, the study indicates that the vaccine may have substantial effect on transmission of the virus with 67% reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated. This is the first study to show this trend.