Saturday 19 December 2020

UK Coronavirus Emergency UK Briefing 19th December 2020

 UK Coronavirus Emergency Briefing 19/12/20

It's bad news. You may want to sit down. 

- Across all of England, Scotland and Wales the Christmas relaxation has been reduced to Christmas Day only.
- The areas of London, the South East and the East which are heavily affected by the new virus strain will move to Tier 4 (the same as the lockdown in November).
- People should not enter or leave Tier 4 areas.
- People in Tier 4 areas must not stay overnight away from home or mix with other households, even on Christmas Day. 

The UK Government have been holding emergency meetings since last night because case numbers in parts of London and the South West are really flying. They're rising incredibly quickly. (I personally think it's possible parts of Wales e.g. Merthyr Tydfil could also be in this position.)
With the same restrictive measures as other areas, we aren't getting the same effect. The situation has changed rapidly over the last 48 hours.
We do know there is a strain of COVID that has appeared there which is different. It has a better ability to lock onto it's target. It's definitely beginning to look like it could be easier to transmit - or else everyone in these areas is holding secret choir practise. It could be as much as 1 1/2 times as catchy.
Even a tiny bit more makes a big difference when you have high numbers, so whatever change there is will be amplified.
Left to run free, we think everyone with COVID on average usually infects around 3 to 4 others. Restrictions try to bring that number, the R or Reproductive Number, down below 1.
English Tier 2 restrictions almost universally have failed to do this. In some areas Tier 3 aren't doing it either.
If the new strain is even more catchy, we need to come down really hard, or we will have an explosion of cases incredibly quickly.
Running out of hospital beds over Christmas and New Year would be a disaster. Exponential spread over Christmas and New Year would mean January would be hell on Earth. 

191220 Case Rates  UK Gov Briefing

Also a disaster for any country would be to let a more transmissible strain out. Just imagine for one second that any other country had that strain - Germany,  Russia, Namibia, Taiwan, anywhere. If they found it and knew it existed, didn't act swiftly and it managed to escape, the rest of the world would be furious. It would also lead to potentially many thousands of extra people having to live the rest of their lives without someone they loved. 

Ideally the cases of COVID with the more serious strain wouldn't be allowed to move. If Jacinda were in charge,  she would immediately impose a movement ban preventing people from moving between areas. That could prevent 2 of my own uni kids coming here for Christmas, I don't say it lightly, but you know it's what she would already have done. 

Over the last 24 hours the UK have reported 27,052 new cases and 534 losses of life within 28 days of a positive test. 

191220 r rate UK Gov Briefing

So - Boris addressed the nation this afternoon.  He was escorted by Professor Chris Whitty, England's Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, England's Chief Scientific Adviser.

Boris explained he has been briefed, and spoke about the new variant of the disease. There is NO evidence it causes more severe illness or mortality, but it may increase the R by 0.4, and may be up to 70% more transmissible than the usual virus (wow. In a bad way). There is also NO evidence to suggest it won't react as well to the vaccines. The findings so far have already been submitted to the World Health Organisation. 

1. We will introduce more severe measures in the areas worst affected, primarily parts of South East, London, East of England Tier 3 areas. They will enter new Tier 4 - which is basically 'lockdown'.The areas which are moving to Tier 4 -
Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings; London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London); and the East of England (Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Essex excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).
- Residents in those areas must stay at home.
- Non-essential retail, leisure, personal services must close.
- People must work from home if they can
- People should not enter or leave Tier 4 areas
- People in Tier 4 areas must not stay overnight away from home
- Individuals can only meet 1 person from another household outdoors in public spaces
- Communal worship can continue (please don't!)
These measures take effect from midnight tonight. Review 30th December. 

191220 Daily Hospital Admissions  UK Gov Briefing

2. We are issuing new advice on travel. We are asking everyone in all Tiers to STAY LOCAL. Carefully consider whether you need to travel abroad. Residents from Tier 4 areas ARE NOT PERMITTED TO TRAVEL ABROAD apart from limited exceptions.

3. We must look again at Christmas.
"As Prime Minister it is my duty to do what is right to protect the people of this country. Given the early evidence we have on this new variant, the risk it poses, it is with very heavy heart I tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned".
- Those in Tier 4 areas MUST NOT mix with anyone from outside your household at Christmas, although support bubbles can remain.
- Across the rest of the country, in all Tiers, you are ONLY ALLOWED TO MEET WITH 2 OTHER HOUSEHOLDS ON CHRISTMAS DAY ONLY. Not for the 5 day window as previously announced.
- There will be no relaxation on the 31st December, so you MUST NOT break the rules at New Year.
"When the virus changes it's method of attack, we must change our method of defence."
Boris says there's no other option open to him, we are not alone in this fight. (That's very true. Italy just announced a strict stay-at-home order from 24th Dec to Jan 6th).
He reminds us this isn't forever. 350,000 people have had their first dose of vaccine in the UK already. He urges everyone to get your vaccine when you are called. 

"Yes, Christmas this year will be different, very different, but we must be realistic. We're sacrificing the chance to see our loved ones this Christmas,  so we have a better chance of protecting their lives, so that we can see them at future Christmases."

191220 Tier 4 area Case Rates  UK Gov Briefing

Patrick did the slides. Cases are on the up. The lockdown barely made a blip. Cases have increased by over 50% since the end of November. Kent and South Wales look bad. Daily hospital admissions in London, East of England and the South East have shot up. The case rate in the areas moving to Tier 4 is also shooting almost directly up, it's "a particularly fast-moving problem".

Patrick explains the new variant has 23 new changes. He says they include changes in how it binds and how it enters. We have little evidence yet, because this is too new, but we can see that the new variant emerged sometime in September in Kent, by mid November it accounted for 26% of new cases in London, and by mid December over 60% of new cases in London were the new strain. It's strong. 

Patrick explains we can't see any reason to assume any vaccine will be less effective. 

Press asked how Boris felt with the thousands of people who've just effectively had their Christmas plans torn up. Boris said the most mature thing I've ever heard him say "We regret the changes bitterly, but when the facts change, you have to change your approach". 

Chris said, if you are thinking of packing your bags to escape, please don't. Rates of increase in hospitalisations are rapid in areas with the new strain. If you take the virus somewhere else, e.g. The North West, where there is no increase currently, you let it loose in an area where they aren't Tier 4. 

Patrick said Porton Down are investigating and will release data whenever we have it. (It was Porton Down who spotted the new mutations, they're tracking it carefully.)

190620 percentage of new variant

Chris says in his view this is not the worst moment in this epidemic. We have a vaccine, we have counter-measures. In the medium to long term we have a way out. Back in April when cases were rising, we also lost a higher percentage of patients. We've learned a lot since then. Patrick agreed. He said "it's a horrible moment, that's for sure", but we know what needs to happen to decrease spread. He reminds us that maintaining physical distance, washing hands etc. are still our best weapons. 

Press reminded Boris that this will leave some people celebrating Christmas alone, and asked if he had a message for everyone. He did:
"We bitterly regret that this is necessary this year. I know how much love and care and thought goes into preparations for Christmas. I suppose the message is, you know, that this is the year to lift a glass to those who aren't there, in the knowledge that it's precisely because they aren't there to celebrate Christmas with you this year, that we all have a better chance that they'll be there next year to celebrate Christmas with you."

Press asked "how did the new variant get here?". It probably didn't. It was possibly born here, in Kent. It passed from 1 human to another, to another, and as it copied itself, errors (mutations) occurred - some of them turned out to be beneficial. It's the "particular constellation" that's the issue, says Patrick.(Remember it has 23 mutations from the original copy.)

Chris: Keep it small, keep it short, keep it local. And remember the vulnerable ARE vulnerable. 

Pat: Assume YOU could be infectious, and that's how you should behave. 

Boz: Remember 1 in 3 cases have no symptoms.

Wales have already announced:
- they will bring forward the planned Tier 4 lockdown to take effect from midnight tonight.
- like England, households are only allowed to mix on Christmas Day, but they are asking that only 2 households mix.
- stay at home except for essential reasons. 

Scotland have announced:
- they will only be having the one day Christmas relaxation too.
- households can only mix on Christmas Day.
- here is a travel ban - you are not allowed to cross the border for the entire festive period.
- schools will reopen from 11th January online, and in-school teaching will begin on 18th January.
17 cases of the new strain have been identified in Scotland. 

Expect an announcement from N.I. any second I imagine... 

I am truly very sorry to every single one of you who now has to re-think your plans for next week. There will be very few people unaffected. Hold on to the thought that you are helping ensure those people you love the most can spend many more Christmases with you in-person. And Christmas on June 25th could have a great Australian theme...  

You have already proven you are stronger than you think. 




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