Wednesday 19 May 2021

UK (England) COVID Briefing 19th May 2021 with Matt Hancock

UK (England) COVID Briefing 19th May 2021 with Matt Hancock

Cases: 4,452,527 (+2,696)
Losses of life: 127,694 (+3)
In hospital: 939
Using a ventilator: 124
First dose: 36,985,505
Second dose: 20,870,453

7 out of every 10 UK adults have now received at least 1 dose of a COVID vaccine.
Almost 4 in every 10 have had 2 doses.

The UK is monitoring it's wastewater anyway, so monitoring for COVID isn't a biggie. They have seen signs that the Indian variant is spreading into other areas, so surge testing and vaccination will begin in:
Bedford, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester, North Tyneside, Hounslow, Glasgow and Moray (in addition to Bolton and Blackburn).
Nuneaton was also added to the usual surge testing on Tuesday.

Daily Vaccination totals

Today's UK (England) Briefing was led by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, with Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England and Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

Matt started by explaining the UK situation - cases and hospitalisations are at a very low level. We have done really well and the roadmap was/is going brilliantly. Then the bad news. He says a new variant always had the possibility to knock us off track...

"The early evidence suggests that the B1617.2 new variant, first discovered in India, passes on more easily, from person to person, than the B117 variant, that was first discovered of course in Kent. But as the Prime Minister said at lunchtime, we have increasing confidence that the vaccines are effective against it."

There are now 2,967 known cases of B1617.2 in the UK.

Matt says "we have moved fast". They have actually. It's the first time in this whole pandemic that I haven't felt led by snails. 

He talks about our "new surveillance system", which he says spotted cases in Bolton and Blackburn early. (Just a guess, but is it poo Matt?) It's allowed us to throw everything at those areas.

The weekly case rate for Bolton is now 283 per 100,000 people, and that has doubled in the last week. There are now 25 people in Bolton hospital with COVID. Nearly 90% haven't yet had both vaccinations.
Surge testing and vaccinations are happening in Bolton and Blackburn. He says this is a proven method, which worked against the South African variant in London, to bring that under control.

Matt says we have 2 further tools we are using now to work out where the virus is at risk of spreading :
1. Travel and mobility data, working out likely paths where the virus will spread.
2. Waste water. Measuring levels of virus in a town or cities poo. 

Aged 36 or over can book COVID vaccine

Matt urges us to be vigilant, and get vaccinated as soon as you are able. He adds that people in B1617.2 areas should be vigilant.

Matt shows charts with vaccination rates for different age groups. We have incredibly high 'uptake rates'. Vaccinations have so far saved around 12,000 lives. He says he wants to 'fill the bars' and he won't rest until he gets up to 100%.
He actually should chat about the maths I mentioned over the last few days, but he's got it all wrapped up and confused and just basically says "Yeeeay, and this is why".

Booster Vaccine news. 
The UK is going to run the first human trial using current vaccines as Booster Jabs.
(Basically you have Jab 1 and 2, then you have a different vaccine for number 3. The aim is to see if any combinations work significantly better than others. Different vaccines have different qualities, and it's hoped we may be able to get the best of both worlds.) He doesn't tell us any of this, he just says it's great, and we need volunteers for a trial - this will be the first clinical Booster Jab study in the world, and you can volunteer at covboost dot org dot UK.

We are building on our genomics - we are awesome at it, (world-beating) and it does save lives, and spot variants...

Matt now talks about what we've done for the world (in order to assuage his guilt over vaccinating his own population as quickly as humanly possibly):
We have donated over half a billion pounds to COVAX, which has delivered vaccines to 120 countries.
We have given the Oxford - AstraZeneca vaccine to the world, at cost, for everyone.
Almost 1.5b vaccine doses have been administered worldwide. More than 400m are AstraZeneca vaccine. It has been administered in 160 countries. 2/3 of the 400m doses have been administered in low and middle income countries, including 170m in India.
COVAX has delivered 67m vaccine doses - 65m have been AstraZeneca
Every British tax payer has had a hand in this. He thanks the teams at Oxford and AstraZeneca.

'If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's taught us that our health is intertwined together'. The G7 Health meetings will take place next month in Oxford, and they'll be discussing the pandemic now, and for the future.
"Hands, Space, Face, and Fresh Air."

From 17th May you can meet up indoors Picture of 6 people sitting around a table

Jon with the slides. "No surprises." Very slight 'uptick' in cases numbers the last couple of days, the 7 day average is flat, and very low. Hospital numbers are incredibly low, and slightly decreasing. Losses of life most recent 7 day average is 8 people per day. He reminds us each one is one too many, but thankfully nothing like the numbers we were seeing.

Public ask how long booster jabs might last. Jon says antibodies persist for at least 6 months, plus longer T Cell immunity, but that's as much as we know. "We can't make time go any faster" - we'll tell you when we reach the point we know.

Public asked about priority vaccinations for pregnant people. Jenny says we feel it's perfectly safe for people to have the vaccine when pregnant, and it's appropriate to be called in with your age group unless you have underlying conditions.

Press asked when they think they'll have enough data to be clear on the next step of the road map? Matt says Step 4 won't be before 21st June, and a final decision will be made on 14th June, but we are getting more information every day - this is a rapidly evolving situation. "We remain vigilant" and data "is published every day".
Jon says B1617.2 is more transmissible, but we don't yet know how much more. The credible range estimate from SAGE is from around 10-50% more transmissible. In another week we will have a better understanding. (We really will.)
He reminds us that even with this virus, we have the ability to prevent transmission, be careful, follow guidance, stay apart, get vaccinated. Matt also mentions this. 

Jon gives an explanation as to why they are trying to bump up 2nd doses. The effect kicks in more quickly.
Because time is everything right now, the benefit from giving second doses becomes greater than adding more first doses, because it boosts protection for the most vulnerable, and the effect is there within a week. We really are in a race against the Indian variant. Told you it was tricky maths. 

Press asked about the 'Amber List' confusion which has taken over the news today. Although visits to Amber List countries are legally allowed, you shouldn't take them unless you have good reason. (I understood that very clearly.) The press have jumped on it and said it's confusing.
Matt says he thinks it's been really clear.
Red - NO.
Amber - ill relative, YES.
Green - YES.
He says he "would advise all Sun readers to listen to the government", look at the website, watch the briefings etc... (Yowch.)
Then the man from the previously mentioned paper said that George Eustice had given the wrong advice on Monday. Matt says he expected this question, so he's checked what was said, and the press are wrong. George didn't say anything that wasn't in the UK Government guidance, and nor did Boris today.
The Amber List is "not for holidays", and entails testing and home quarantine.
"In the last we have done 30,000 home visits to check people are quarantining."

Press asked is it unwise to visit 'hotspot' areas, or to take advantage of new freedoms in those areas? Matt says the majority of cases are in younger people, and they are less affected by hospitalisations. (I'm not sure what question he was answering?)
Jon was still on this planet. He says he advises caution, keep it outside when you can. The freedoms are so that we can make judgements for ourselves, and learn to manage the risks for ourselves. Be cautious, weigh it up carefully. Take tests when you need to, and get vaccinated - 1st or 2nd dose. 

people exercising indoors in classes

Press asked why fully vaccinated people aren't exempt from the travel Traffic Light System? Specifically he wants to know why we might be able to travel to Europe, but have to quarantine on return to the UK.
Matt says it has 5% South African variant, we don't want that bringing back thanks, it's a bit vaccine-escapey. (He used different words.)
Jon answered for an incredibly long time. He covered every aspect of everything, and Matt obviously agreed. He said " There we are, Jon's Theory of Relativity".

For the benefit of anyone who has never seen them, Jenny Harries is middle aged and always looks harried. She's very slim and concerned-looking, like a librarian who can't find Volume 3 of something important. Cardi wearer. Jon reminds me of a wise mole. He worries his hands together a lot, looks over the top of his glasses, and talks incredibly slowly and deliberately. He's not their usual look, but he'd be great for CBeebies bedtime stories. Definite home cardi-wearer. Matt is very smiley, not always at the appropriate moment. He's average height, weight, stature, brown LEGO man hair. Secret cardi-wearer I reckon.

Between them, Jenny, Jon and Matt said "Come forward for your second dose" approximately 372 times, so I'm taking that as message of the day. Do it now, book it...

Back tomorrow with the regular round up... Open A Window, Wear A Cardi, Save The NHS. 


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