Monday 14 December 2020

COVID UK Briefing and associated news 14th December 2020

 COVID UK Briefing and associated news 14th December 2020

There was a UK Briefing today with our Prime Minister of COVID, Matt Hancock. There's some background to today's briefing, and I'd already typed it up, so it's a shame to waste it:  

"Only by protecting one another, and particularly protecting the vulnerable over this period, are we going to get to the point where people are properly protected, and we can return to having the kinds of relationships that all of us want."
Chris Whitty, UK Chief Medical Officer. 

Because of a big spike in cases, Greater London, South and West Essex, and South Hertfordshire will go into Tier 3 COVID-19 restrictions from Wednesday morning. Hospitality moves to take out/deliveries only. 

On Friday 11th December I talked about the fact that there are 7 clear strains of COVID travelling around the world, and the 'G strains' seem to be the dominant strains. This is because they are more catchy, not because they are stronger or otherwise more dangerous to us. It's also hoped they might be the strains most receptive to the vaccines, as they have more spike proteins to target, but only time will tell. 

Tier 3 VERY HIGH ALERT UK Government tiers Dec 2020

Matt Hancock on Monday morning announced that there may be a new variant of COVID which is causing cases to rise really sharply in the South West UK (+ Winter + Tier 2 restrictions, don't forget those eh Matt). 1,000 cases have been identified in the UK, mostly in the South West. DO NOT let this worry you unnecessarily. This is the first we've heard of it - unless it isn't, and it turns out he's just on about the G Strains. That's my guess. He does say they've found this strain in Europe too. 

It's clear that a few areas down South are seeing really big case numbers and you would have expected it to fall more by now, (in fact I spoke to someone down in Kent about that very thing this morning), but if it's because of this 'mutation', it's still very, very small. There is nothing to suggest that it will affect anything else, including vaccine efficacy or percentage of people who become very ill. It's appears to just be something that makes COVID a little bit more catchy.
You only need the virus to linger for an hour longer before it dies, or float better in the air, and it'll have an exponential effect. 1 extra case for every 20 very quickly adds up, and those extra people pass it on to extra people. 
The whole of Europe, and possibly North America, are finding COVID much harder to control this Winter.

Cases in London are rising incredibly sharply, and Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked the government for all schools to be closed.
The leader of Greenwich Council on Sunday night asked all schools to switch to online learning. They have more cases now than in March, at 248 per 100k (maybe that Tier 2 was a bad idea. Must. Keep. Hospitality. Open.) This looks like chicken feed when you compare it to areas like Swale or Medway in Kent, which have 633 and 613 cases per 100k.
Can we now just assume the North were "following the rules" at least as well as any other area, and agree there is no blame. Let's all actually just feel sorry for, and support, each other. 

141220 Hospitalisations for COVID UK

Wales have already closed their schools and moved to online learning for this final week of term. They are having a nightmare increase in cases and it's not slowing. They haven't blamed a new strain of COVID, but crikey, if London is claiming it, they're definitely entitled. 

UK Briefing with Matt, Chris and a new bloke called Prof Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director of Public Health England:
"Sadly the news on the spread of the virus is not good". 'We've seen a rise in cases of 14% over the last week'. Matt is pulling no punches today.
Average cases are now at 18,023 a day
16,531 patients are in hospital.
An average 420 deaths per day over the last week.
In some areas the doubling time is just 7 days, and it is across all age groups, including the elderly.
He talks about the 'new variant' and stresses it may be responsible in some areas.
He says they've taken swift action and moved Greater London, South and West Essex, and South Hertfordshire into Tier 3 restrictions ahead of Wednesdays Tier review because it needs quicker movement than that. 

Chris Whitty shows us slides with the rise in cases in the areas which are moving to tier 3. He says rates have gone down more in other areas, whereas it just didn't happen there. Hospitalisations will follow around 7-10 days behind, and hospitals are already feeling the pressure from ongoing high rates of cases. "It is very important that we take rapid action."
He praised the North, and mentions Liverpool, Manchester and the North East, all areas seeing a reduction in cases because everyone has pulled together to try and reduce them. 

Kevin talked about London and the South East. South Essex and Kent may be the worst affected, but it's spreading. They have increased testing and worked with communities to take this seriously. He reminds us of the simple messages: Wash your hands and wear face coverings, get tested and isolate if you have symptoms. 

First public question was from a nurse in Cannock, who said they are seeing an increased pressure on A&E. Matt says they'll take action wherever needed 'to protect life'. There will be a review of the Tiers on Wednesday.
Chris says January and February are the busiest time for the NHS in any year. He reminds us that 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should'. It isn't a competition to make sure you "go to the top of the licence".
The vaccine will protect us long term, but short term, over Christmas and for the next few months, it won't. 

141220 Case rates for COVID UK South London

Public asked if the vaccines affect fertility. Chris assures her it won't. (23 surprise pregnancies in the US Pfizer / BioNTech study).
Chris reminds us to reduce our risk of catching COVID NOW - then you're less likely to pass it on at Christmas.
Chris explains the new variant appears to be in Kent and areas of London, and it's not possible to say that it's showing up increasingly because cases are going up anyway, or because it's dominant.
He reminds us it doesn't appear more dangerous, it is still visible to testing, and it would be surprising if this has evolved to get around the vaccinations - partly because we haven't yet filled our population with vaccinated people. It's being studied at Porton Down right now.
Kev is enjoying his time in the spotlight - he has a lot he wants to say. He again stresses that interactions right now will affect Christmas.
Press asked 'are there any circumstances under which you wouldn't relax the restrictions?'. Matt didn't answer that, but I'm going to say the answer is...... "No". They aren't fools. They know they'd have no chance. Matt again repeated the message that it's 2 weeks until Christmas so BE CAREFUL RIGHT NOW. Then he said you should be careful all of the time. (True that.)
Lots of gushing and thanks to YOU for doing your best - it's true. Accept that praise goddamnit. Sheesh, you've had a year and a half. Thank you for all of your efforts - you might well have saved someone's life. 

(Good news is, statistically, we should be good for another 70-100 years. Traditionally we only have a major pandemic every 100 years.)
Chris says the Tiering system isn't perfect, but it's a way of balancing risks. (It is a really tricky balancing act of keeping cases below hospital capacity without making everyone financially destitute.)
Press asked the same question about 'would you ever change the decision to relax over Christmas?'. Matt insisted he'd answered it several times, and then didn't answer it again.
Interestingly, he did say "The high number of cases that we've seen In London, especially in North East London, started with a sharp increase in children of school age, but actually now has spread to all ages across the population".
That's the first time anyone's really admitted schools played a big part. 

Final press question again asked Matt if he'd ever consider cancelling the Christmas relaxations. Again he did not answer. I can't decide if it's ominous or not, but he's clearly not prepared to say yes or no.
Chris says that any variant of a virus which is more quickly spread is evolutionary advantageous, so it's not surprising. He also reminds us that a virus becoming more deadly is not an evolutionary advantage, so it's unlikely to occur. Nature, always a few steps ahead of all of us... 

Sources are pooled for 14th and 15th (sorry):

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