Friday 16 September 2022

COVID-19 Coronavirus (and other virus) UK and World News Update September 16th 2022

COVID-19 Coronavirus (and other virus) UK and World News Update September 16th 2022

A kind of normal report today, covering the last 2 weeks' COVID news. You'll be glad to read that nothing too major or disastrous has visibly occurred on the virus front while focus is elsewhere. 

If you are in the UK then you can now book your Autumn COVID booster jab if you are:
- aged 75 and over
- immunosuppressed
- health & social care workers
Invites will be in the post. 

Autumnal leaves surround text telling you that you can get your Autumn COVID boosters when called

Remember last year when Scotland's (and Ireland's) COVID cases started going up at the beginning of September because their kids had gone back to school? And the rest if the UK followed the same pattern with a 2 week delay? Well guess what... 
Yep. The very latest ONS random sampling data shows a levelling off and then a 2 week rise in cases in Scotland, and uncertainty in N. Ireland. Cases in England and Wales were already levelling when samples were collected on 5th September. Winter is coming. 
The latest ONS random sampling report is in fact from the week previous, so for the week ending 28th August for England, Wales and Scotland, and 26th August for Northern Ireland:
- England, estimate 770,800, equating to 1.41% of the population, or around 1 in 70 people.
- Wales, estimate 31,500, equating to 1.04% of the population, or around 1 in 95 people.
- Northern Ireland, estimate 38,000, equating to 2.07% of the population, or around 1 in 50 people.
- Scotland, estimate 104,400, equating to 1.98% of the population, or around 1 in 50 people.

The UK has authorised the Pfizer booster jab. It is a bivalent vaccine which has all the original stuff, plus extra bits which have been specially adapted to attach better to Omicron variant virus. The USA also approved it a few days ago, along with the Moderna bivalent vaccine which the UK were first to approve. 

More drug authorisation news, and it's one I know a lot of you will be especially excited about. China has become the first country to approve use of the CanSino inhaled vaccine as a booster. Logic says it could prove especially effective, as it directly hits the parts the virus infects. The trial results (not yet undergone their full period of peer-review - this is normal) look great - with around 10 times as many virus-busting antibodies at 14 days. Annoyingly this is performance against Delta variant, and obviously Omicron accounts for the vast majority of cases now, so only time will tell in the real world. 
It's a really positive step forward for anyone who can't receive vaccination by injection. 

Energy price guarantee England, Wales and Scotland

The UK has a new Prime Minister, Mrs Elizabeth Truss, and a new Health Secretary, Ms Thérèse Coffey. 
There have been comments about Ms Coffey's appearance and habits. She's a larger lady, she smokes cigars and enjoys a drink. NONE OF THAT IS IMPORTANT. What is important in this case is how she feels about other people's health and wellbeing: 
- She voted against same sex marriage
- She voted to reduce Universal Credit
- She voted against extending access to abortion care
Not exactly soft and cuddly. There are a few charities feeling twitchy at Ms Coffey's appointment to the job.
Her first visible move seems to have been upsetting admin staff at the UK Health Services Authority by being somewhat patronising in an email setting out how she wants things to be run. Amongst other changes or requests, she has vetoed use of the Oxford comma (a comma before 'and' in a list - e.g. 'dictatorial, despotic, and oppressive') and she has asked that situations are 'framed positively' (e.g. 'we have an uptick in new cases' instead of 'well, it's bad'). 

Liz Truss has already announced a cap of £2,500 per year on the cost of energy for your average home in England, Wales or Scotland. It does not apply to Northern Ireland. 
This is more of an actual "price cap" called the Energy Price Guarantee, as opposed to the previous "price cap", which was called Price Cap and was more of a "price list", which went up whenever the energy producer's shareholders fancied an extra yacht. 
The Department for Business and Stuff (BEIS) say AVERAGE domestic household bills will be capped at:
Purpose built flat - £1,750
Converted to a flat - £1,950
Bungalow - £2,450
Terraced - £2,400
Semi-detached - £2,650
Detached - £3,300
Although this will put a lot of people's minds at ease, it's still a massive increase, it will put the UK even further into eye-watering levels of debt, and it relies on fracking and nuclear power. 
(Damn, I forgot to frame that entirely positively...)

Energy Price Guarantee collage of different properties average bills

If you are in the UK and struggling, the Government have put together "help for households dot campaign dot gov dot uk" - the vouchers and deals page includes £10 monthly unlimited mobile connection for people seeking work, and £15 monthly broadband for people on Universal Credit. 

The World Health Organisation are warning that Flu might be especially bad this Winter. Numbers have been right down for 2 years, because the preventions we took to avoid COVID also protected us from flu. Experts predicted a massive wave last Winter and it didn't happen, so were we buying time, or were they wrong? We shall see... get your jab if you're invited - remember COVID + Flu = very poorly indeed.

Bad news via the COVID Actuaries. In Spring 2022 the UK lost a lot less people than expected. Makes sense right, a lot of older, frailer, poorlier people have died early from COVID, so there are less deaths for a while afterwards. In fact, during January to March 2022, the UK was 2,000 deaths down on what we'd expect in a usual year, which was kind of 'what we'd expect'.
After March that started to change, and by August 2022 the UK had lost 15,500 people more than expected in 2022. Excess deaths are adding around an extra 12% on top of expected deaths. That is a lot of people, not far short of 1,000 a week. 
Only around 1/3 of the extra is COVID, the other people are dying because they didn't diagnose illnesses early, they waited too long to go to hospital, they're weakened by previous COVID infections, they died in an ambulance, strokes, heart attacks etc etc. It's not a pretty picture, and hopefully it's not a complete surprise to you guys, even if it is unpleasant.
Best sort that one out fast Thérèse. 

160922 Age standardised mortality via John Actuary

The UK Government report on "Characteristics associated with the risk of deaths involving coronavirus (COVID-19) among people receiving a booster vaccination, England: January to March 2022" has been published.
It studies risk of death involving COVID after 3 jabs.
No real surprises. At 3 x vaccinated, risk is reduced for virtually everyone.
- Age remains the single most defining factor, with your risk at age 80 being thirty times higher than at age 50.
- The risk of death with some health conditions was elevated, including among people with severe combined immunodeficiency, cancer of the blood or bone marrow, and dementia.
- There is very little difference across ethnic groups, although people of Indian background have slightly higher risk than white.
- People living in deprived areas are more likely to die than people in less deprived areas. 
- People living in care homes have greater risk of death from COVID, but obviously they live in a care home for a reason, and especially with older people, tend to be more frail.
19,473,570 people's records were studied, and during the period of the study, 4,781 people died with COVID listed as a cause. 

Argentina had a scare last week, with several cases of pneumonia of unknown origin. I don't think anyone's actually been pleased to discover Legionnaires Disease before, but they are now.

China is still enforcing lockdowns in an attempt to maintain zero COVID. 6 districts of Chengdu went into a full 'stay indoors' lockdown a fortnight ago, and people have now been allowed out. Shopping centres and restaurants are still closed, and residents cannot leave their own area.

Monkeypox update:
The outbreak really is cooling off in the UK, and seems to be doing so elsewhere. Up to 12 September 2022 there were 3,407 confirmed and 145 highly probable monkeypox cases in the UK: 3,552 in total. Of these, 92 were in Scotland, 31 were in Northern Ireland, 46 were in Wales and 3,383 were in England.
Worldwide according to the US CDC tracker, there have been 60,220 cases
in locations that have not historically reported monkeypox. There have been 10 losses of life. 
(There have been 579 cases in locations that have historically reported monkeypox, and 10 people have died.)

Not COVID, but something to watch. India has just placed a 20% tariff on rice exports, and banned the export of broken rice (literally all of the broken grains, which accounts for millions of tons of product). Rice production is down due to extreme weather. As we already have a problem with grain harvesting and export elsewhere, it doesn't bode well.

How sewage surveillance works UK Gov

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is absolutely fascinating and a treatment that's been used for a while now. It works by providing an oxygen rich pressurised environment, in the same sort of set up as deep sea divers go into when they surface and are trying to avoid the bends. Bodily injuries and damage often repair more quickly in a Hyperbaric chamber, and it's proven especially useful with brain injuries, ulcers and some really tricky to treat conditions. Now researchers have been trialling it with patients suffering long term brain-related problems after COVID, and the results are excellent. Sadly, even if it proves to be astounding in further trials, right now it is a very expensive and rarely available option. (The bloke leading the trial is adamant he can treat 300 people a day in his clinic, and wants to open 50 more.) 

"It’s great that COVID19 vaccination coverage of high-priority groups is improving, but still 1/3 of the world’s population remains unvaccinated, including 2/3 of health workers & 3/4 of older adults in low-income countries."
Dr Tedros, Head of WHO. 

It really is all over now. New Zealand have removed their COVID traffic light system.
PM Jacinda Ardern made the announcement on Monday afternoon and it ended at midnight the same day. Vaccine mandates will end on 26th September.
Masks will remain mandatory in healthcare, and age or disability-related residential care.
People who test positive still have to isolate for seven days, and their household have to do daily tests. 
Possibly of most interest to anyone from outside New Zealand, for the first time in 2 1/2 years, incoming travellers and air crew can enter New Zealand without proving vaccine status. 

Good news from Singapore. They have eliminated Rubella - or German Measles as we used to call it. If you catch Rubella when pregnant, it can cause birth defects, and before vaccination this was a leading cause of deafness in the UK. Well done to all involved. 

Hopefully you aren't reading this in a 14 hour queue somewhere in London. Obviously we do have a long weekend ahead and, in the UK at least, a Bank Holiday on Monday because of the Queen's funeral.
There will be a National Moment Of Reflection and 1 minute silence on Sunday 18th September at 8pm. 
There will also be a 2 minute silence to conclude the Queen's funeral on Monday, at 11.55am.

My thoughts with anyone who is mourning the loss of a loved one.

National moment of silence on Sunday 18th September 2022 at 8pm

It is still the weekend, and something nice is deserved. Take some time over the next 3 days to do something you want to do, have a treat, something to make you smile. We are allowed to be a nation in mourning and happy at the same time, and if the coverage is overwhelming, go for a walk, watch a movie or read a book, but step away. Take care of yourself first. Have a good weekend, I'll be back next week. 

Some people. They look like numbers here, but they are all people.

COVID: Countries / Cases / Losses of life officially reported YESTERDAY up until midnight GMT:

World 615,943,438 (+493,389) 6,525,397 (+1,418)
Japan 20,399,933 (+99,546) 43,177 (+192)
S. Korea 24,264,470 (+71,432) 27,665 (+72)
Russia 20,265,004 (+56,126) 385,727 (+99)
Taiwan 5,849,685 (+45,407) 10,423 (+57)
USA 97,430,411 (+40,692) 1,078,018 (+249)
Germany 32,643,742 (+38,749) 148,845 (+117)
France 34,831,399 (+33,263) 154,644 (+33)
Italy 22,114,423 (+17,973) 176,464 (+60)
Hong Kong 1,682,896 (+8,187) 9,836 (+6)
Brazil 34,610,590 (+7,928) 685,258 (+79)
India 44,522,777 (+6,298) 528,273 (+23)
Poland 6,233,113 (+5,857) 117,316 (+17)
Australia 10,128,085 (+5,210) 14,488 (+30)


China lockdowns

Image for water testing

Average energy bills under the price cap. Images and text.
National Moment Of Reflection on Sunday 18th September at 8pm.

UK Gov - live tracker where is the back of the queue?

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