Friday 2 December 2022

COVID-19 Coronavirus and other virus UK and World News Update 2nd December 2022

COVID-19 Coronavirus and other virus UK and World News Update 2nd December 2022

World COVID Statistics: 648,755,570 reported cases and 6,643,011 losses of life.

"What's clear is that this is an unusually early flu season, a fact that's well illustrated by this graph. The flu hospitalizations are unusually high for this time of year, but they aren't heading for the stratosphere, like the very bad 2017-18 flu season. At least, not yet."
Helen Branswell, lead writer for Infectious Diseases at STAT News, talking about Flu in the USA. The early arrival of flu is a pattern which is repeating around the Northern Hemisphere, including in the UK. Is it just early, or is it a portent of doom? Get your flu jab if you're eligible. Flu + COVID together = double your chance of being hospitalised or dying. 

COVID-19 Coronavirus and other virus UK and World News Update 2nd December 2022

"One third of our members in the ambulance service believe that they have been involved in a delay that has led to a patient dying, so this isn't a situation where this is a service that runs perfectly well. This is a service that's dying on its feet, and our members are actually standing up and the public of Britain should support them. This is a matter of a life or death situation. They don't want to strike, they do their job because they want to save lives."
Andy Prendergast, GMB (general workers union) National Secretary on Sky News. 

UK Ambulance workers from GMB union have voted to strike. Over 10,000 staff across 9 NHS Trusts will take part in strikes before Christmas - dates to be announced.
The army are on standby if needed. 
(And with the number of Army Ambulances and military medical vehicles that I've seen go past my house this week, you'd believe they were already assisting in the North West...)

Aaaaand following on from what was said there... the UK Ambulance system is broken, broken. Its been broken for a while, with massive delays outside hospitals preventing ambulances going back out and rescuing people. Now it's even more broken than that. 
Latest figures from UK NHS show waits of 2 hours for strokes and heart attacks are commonplace (and now the average in Cornwall), and the BBC are reporting on a lady who waited 40 hours from ringing an ambulance to hospital admission for emergency surgery for a broken hip - including 26 hours sat in an ambulance outside A&E. 
Broken, broken. 
Faced with a complete inability to do the job you were trained to do, very long hours and a severe shortage of staff, which will be leading to the deaths of lots of people who shouldn't be dying, it is no wonder they are going on strike. We need them far more than we need bankers. Stop clapping Rishi and start paying a decent living wage, and where the hell are the military? How bad does it have to get before "on standby" becomes "we have a field tent outside the hospital for minor injuries and triage".

It's come to light that 6 children in the UK have now died from Strep A this year. This is a bacteria which can cause Impetigo and Scarlet Fever and other symptoms, but isn't usually serious. Do NOT panic, it's tragic for all involved, but still incredibly rare. If your child is ill, keep an eye on them. Any high fever or illness which doesn't improve after a few days needs checking. If you are in doubt, ring 111. If you are worried, insist. You know your child best. 

ONS Random Sampling Week Ending 21st November (Wales 22nd November):
The percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) increased in England, continued to decrease in Wales, and the trend was uncertain in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
- England estimate 873,200, equating to 1.60% of the population (an increase from 1.48% in the previous week) or around 1 in 60 people.
- Wales estimate 39,600, equating to 1.30% of the population (a decrease from 1.49% in the previous week) or around 1 in 75 people.
- Northern Ireland estimate 28,900, equating to 1.57% of the population or around 1 in 65 people.
- Scotland estimate 91,100, equating to 1.73% of the population or around 1 in 60 people.

ONS Ongoing Symptoms to 6th November:
- 2.2 million people living in private households in the UK (3.4% of the population) were experiencing self-reported long COVID (symptoms continuing for more than four weeks)
- 1.9 million (87%) for at least 12 weeks, 1.2 million (55%) for at least 1 year and 594,000 (27%)for at least 2 years.

Avoid people for 10 days if you can

The UK ONS Monthly Mortality Report is out. 
"In October 2022, there were 45,353 deaths registered in England, 4,006 deaths (9.7%) above the October five-year average (2016 to 2019, and 2021) and there were 2,975 deaths registered in Wales, 176 deaths (6.3%) above the October average."
Coronavirus (COVID-19) was the 8th leading cause of death in England (1,512 deaths / 3.3% of all deaths) and 7th in Wales (103 deaths / 3.5% of all deaths).
Somewhat importantly, "Including all deaths involving COVID-19 (2,305 deaths), this percentage increased to 5.1% of all deaths in England", and in Wales it increased to 147 deaths / 4.9%. 
The leading cause of death in both England and Wales was dementia and Alzheimer's disease (11.6% of all deaths in England /10.9% in Wales).
(I don't think I need to comment on what COVID can do to your brain...)
"Accounting for population size and age structure, the year-to-date (January to October) age-standardised mortality rate (ASMR) in 2022 in both England (936.4 deaths per 100,000 people) and Wales (1,010.4 deaths per 100,000 people) was significantly lower than most years since our data time series began in 2001."
We've been losing around 10% more people than average figures each week for several weeks, so has our population really grown by 10% among older and less healthy people?... So many questions...
The COVID Actuaries using the ONS deaths data for England and Wales 2022 (up to week ending 18th November) say we've had "505,976 deaths recorded which is 8% more than the 2015-19 avg".
See, told you. 

Bad news for those people who will never mount a great immune response. The monoclonal antibody treatments have lost authorisation like skittles, because they perform so poorly against Omicron B5 variants.
Omicron B5's Great-grandchildren BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are very rapidly taking over in the USA - they now account for 57% of cases nationally and over 50% in all regions except one - so the US CDC have revoked authorisation of the last monoclonal antibody treatment to treat people who have already caught COVID, bebtelovimab.
There is still one remaining monoclonal antibody treatment authorised in the USA to help prevent immuno-compromised people from even catching COVID, Evushield, but the US CDC warn it will not be as effective as it used to be against earlier strains of COVID.
Monoclonal antibody treatments are so specific that you need constant tweaking them for them to remain effective, and that investment just isn't happening quickly enough. Severely immune compromised people are NOT being looked after - for them COVID is every bit as dangerous as it always was.

Take steps to prevent spreading COVID to others

Did we learn lessons from the COVID pandemic? Well, you'd hope so, but possibly some UK Government officials were distracted by something else and didn't take them on board.
The ex head of the UK Vaccines Task Force, Dame Kate Bingham, has spoken out, and she isn't impressed. It seems that while we stood up to the plate and rapidly built vaccine testing and development capability, and gave promises about future vaccine manufacturing in the UK, we did such a good job that the temptation to sell it became too great. Much of what was built has now gone wholesale to the USA.
She also points out that we don't have anyone overseeing any of this any more (COVID's over now, right?). 
“We’ve got the capability in the country, but it can’t be done in a vacuum, we need to have an expert leader to bring that together to try and get us back into a better position.”
She has a point. Where is the Oxford mark 2 jab? Why no traditional Omicron-specific vaccines? Is it right that the UK went so quickly from Man Of The Match to sitting in the stands? 

Not COVID but of huge importance, newly-developed Alzheimer's drug Lecanemab has been found in trials to reduce decline in memory and thinking during the early stages of the disease.
The trial included 1,795 participants and lasted 18 months. The group taking the drug saw a 27% reduction in decline.
It's not a magic bullet, but this is done by clearing away deposits of amyloid - a protein which builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimers. It proves real results are possible, we can make a difference, so it is worth trying. As well as helping people now, it opens the door to funding for further research and trials.
Alzheimers is very cruel to those with it and anyone who cares for them. Well done to the Japanese and US team behind this one. Manufacturer Eisai will now apply for approval and authorisation in the USA, Japan and Europe before the end of March 2023. 

Sir Chris Whitty (remember him?) is in the Daily Fail today warning that what's happened over the past 2 years will lead to a "prolonged period" of excess deaths. No short Sherlock.
We prepared for a disaster, then wound it up and shut it down before the disaster was over. We asked people to risk their lives, work all hours, cover for other staff and see people die who should never have died, and then said "thanks, stand down, back to normal", but never gave them the respect and thanks they really deserved.
Anyone could see there would be a huge amount of catching up to do, and there would be a backlog of people prime for all sorts of bugs and nasties once the post-COVID party started. We're exhausted and COVID-damaged. This was always coming and we should have tried to be ready.

021222 World AIDS Day image of person's face and text

So last week there was an horrific fire in a Chinese apartment block. 10 people died and at least 9 more were seriously injured. Local residents had reportedly been locked down for around 3 months - although the fire was not essentially connected to COVID measures, as it was caused by a faulty extension lead. 
The residents of the apartments began a protest and demanded to leave. 
I thought it was a very sad story and wasn't really going to change anything or teach us anything, so I didn't mention it. Oops, how wrong I was. It turned into mass protests and demonstrations across China.
Thousands of people can be seen on videos in Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and elsewhere, chanting and calling for an end to COVID restrictions. This is pretty much unprecedented in China, and shows the depth of public feeling. Zero COVID comes at a large cost to the people who lose their freedoms. At which point does it become too expensive? At which point do you say it is no longer working?
China are reporting their highest numbers of cases ever, and no longer include asymptomatic positives - and if you were in China right now with mild symptoms, the temptation to say "I'm fine, no symptoms" is massive, because otherwise you are often taken to a quarantine centre.

A recording has been leaked online which seems to suggest China are thinking of allowing fitter and younger people to catch COVID in order to create a more protected whole society and keep as much open as possible. This goes along with several of the bigger cities opening up and allowing people to visit public places by showing their Health Record rather than a negative PCR test. 
After 2 years of severe lockdowns and other restrictions, it seems foolhardy to 'just give up'. Yes, the public are unhappy. Mitigate your losses and get a more effective vaccine rolled out fast. Current Chinese vaccines only have around 50% efficacy against Omicron, which is a lifesaver (literally), but Chinese people (especially older people) have been reluctant to come forward partly because they don't feel it offers enough protection to be worthwhile. The new inhaled vaccines China has authorised are more effective - roll em out fast. (Double bonus - we can all read the data and get them approved here.)  

Still with China and here is some insanely thorough contact tracing from August. A new study has been released which is not yet fully peer reviewed (by other scientists with relevant expertise). There are a few senior experts (including Helen Branswell, lead for Infectious Diseases at STAT News) already pointing out this is plausible, but has to be almost as rare as hen's teeth or even a one-off... doesn't it? Anyway...
A bloke (patient zero) went on a flight and sat near to where 4 Tibetan travellers had sat the day before. The Tibetan travellers later tested positive, so other aircraft users were informed and sent to be tested. Our bloke patient zero tests positive, but only finds out after he's been jogging at a local park OUTDOORS.
Due to massive amounts of CCTV surveillance in China, 256 people were identified who came within a metre of our guy patient zero. It seems he infected 13 of them, and also managed to infect 20 other people who were at the park, but didn't even pass within 1 metre. This is on top of infecting 6 other people away from the park (including his wife and his foot masseuse).
34 of the 39 COVID positive people's COVID strains were genetically sequenced. 29 were an exact family match to patient zero's COVID, and 5 had developed 1 mutation. These could just be random fluke mutations, or could imply pretty rapid secondary infection (in the few days it took to contact everyone). 
This is staggering contact tracing, the likes of which we'll never see in the UK, but it really does make you think... 38 of the 39 people who tested positive didn't have a mask on, despite local guidance to wear one. Omicron COVID is super super catchy among unmasked people. Even if this can occur once, it's no wonder that despite best efforts, China is failing to keep Zero COVID going.

Smiley lady with text

The UK Health Services Agency investigation into last year's UK Wolverhampton COVID Test Lab disaster has found:
"Based on background infection rates in different population groups at the time, UKHSA estimated that this error could have led to around 39,000 results being incorrectly reported as negative when they should have been positive. This represents around 10% of samples tested at the laboratory between 2 September and 12 October 2021 and 0.3% of all samples tested for NHS Test and Trace during this period."
"...the immediate cause of the misreporting of PCR test results was the incorrect setting of the threshold levels for reporting positive/negative results by their staff..."
Double yowch. Pesky humans eh... 
Analysis estimates this led to an extra 55,000 COVID cases in the South West of England. The tests were mainly from a younger demographic thankfully (not mass testing of care homes or hospital patients etc) or these figures could have been much worse:
"We estimate there were about 680 additional hospitalisations in the affected areas that may not otherwise have occurred, based on a comparison of the observed data in affected and comparator areas. Similarly, we estimate that there may have been just over 20 additional deaths in these most affected areas." 

China are censoring (carefully choosing?) their state TV World Cup feed, to avoid images of huge maskless crowds. 
The UK media is making a huge thing of this, but it doesn't take someone who works in marketing to tell you that there is always an angle, there is always 'messaging' to be got across. Directions always come from someone somewhere, and we are all subject to them - it just isn't usually so easy to spot... 

Monkeypox has had a second rebranding. The World Health Organisation have renamed it again - because the last rename didn't stick. Do you remember what they called it? Exactly. 
They wanted to change the name as using 'monkey' suggests it is a 'monkey disease', which isn't true. All kinds of animals can catch it, including humans. 
The second rebranding is sponsored by 1990's junior pop combo Hanson - it'll be called 'Mpox'.
(Astoundingly only the second part of that sentence is actually true.)

Monkeypox is being rebranded as mpox

If you use Twitter, there has been an update on their COVID misinformation page. They will "no longer be enforcing the COVID misleading information policy". Bear that in mind if you use Twitter, and remember it on any social media - they have a legal duty to comply with relevant laws, but otherwise its up to them what you are shown. 

Talking of hoaxes, the thing about Pfizer 'admitting they didn't know if the vaccine would stop transmission' is doing the rounds again. You cannot know if a vaccine is going to stop you spreading the disease without putting a group of people alone on an island with an infected person, or waiting to see what happens in the real world. All anyone said 2 years ago was "oh crikey I hope it stops transmission, wouldn't that be great. If not then less coughing and serious illness will help, and being poorly for a shorter time will help. It should make a big difference regardless. Fingers crossed"... or words to that effect...
Pay attention at the back.  

Famous People With COVID:
Movie actress Sharon Stone. She's been poorly for a couple of weeks, and reminds us COVID isn't over.

Bad spending on PPE that is no good, out of date or was bought at exorbitant prices has written off by the UK Government to the tune of £8.7b (almost nine billion pounds).
That's enough to give all UK Nurses a decent pay rise on its own - or fill the already deep pockets of their friends and business associates.
I'm pretty sure if I had sold them 20 quids worth of PPE that was substandard, I'd be in court to pay it back. Why is it being written off people?

291122 COVID DEaths England and Wales COVID Actuaries ONS data

My apologies to Scottish teachers who were already on strike last Friday, I forgot to mention you in my 'strikes round up'. Scotland's largest teaching union, Educational Institute of Scotland, have also announced 16 more strike dates in January and February, in a rotation around local authorities. 

National Highways workers in the UK have voted to strike, and they will be doing it in tandem with rail strikes - on December 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 and January 3, 4, 6 and 7 - so expect havoc.
Ground Handlers at Heathrow Airport will also be striking - from 16th to 19th December. 
Christmas travel will be a bit National Lampoons at this rate. Take food, drink, a torch and blankets. 

We are living in another pandemic that hasn't gone away. Yesterday was World AIDS Day, and the World Health Organisation remind us that we have amazing treatments which can remove almost all traces of HIV. They can prevent you passing it on, and stop AIDS symptoms ruining or shortening your life. We even have drugs which can help prevent you becoming infected in the first place. Despite this, at the end of 2021, 38.4m people worldwide were living with HIV. 1.7m of them are children. 

World AIDS Day Text and image of smiling child

Grant Shapps, new UK Business and Energy Secretary, has announced a plan to insulate Britain's draughtiest homes (sounds familiar, and also an excellent plan). This will reduce energy use, saving money and the planet, and the health of the occupants. While some of the money will go to people who can already access help with insulation, much of it will go to people in lower Council Tax bands, including those folk who tend to fall just above the thresholds for benefits  ("if we earnt £20 a week less, we'd qualify for free school meals/college courses/ Council tax rebate/ etc and be much better off overall").
The new £1 billion ECO+ scheme should insulate hundreds of thousands of homes, saving each an average of around £310 a year, and is backed by an £18 million campaign offering sensible advice to keep warm and reduce bills, without sacrificing comfort.
Insulate Britain, who'd have thought it eh? I've said it before - if you don't ask, you don't get. Well done guys, job's a goodun.

Santa has had his flu and COVID boosters (thank you to telly doctor Dr Hilary Jones for the photo). I've had my COVID and have just been invited to book my flu. Have you booked yours?

Santa sitting in a festive chair and getting his jab from Dr Hilary Jones

It's the weekend, and at this time of year I like to say "again? How can it be Friday already, for goodness sake I've hardly done anything this week". Don't let the stress overwhelm you. Make sure you take time off and forget about it for a while. Build that break time into your weekend and do something nice. Watch a movie, have a bath, walk the dog in your big coat, spend time with someone you like. But do it. You'll come back more refreshed and get more done in the end. And don't sweat it... remember the most important bit of Christmas is the people, including you. 

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

Countries / Cases / Losses of life YESTERDAY in the full 24 hours until midnight GMT:

World 648,527,680 (+450,492) 6,642,555 (+1,285)
Japan 24,911,367 (+118,201) 49,826 (+182)
France 37,916,052 (+69,253) 159,026 (+76)
S. Korea 27,155,813 (+57,079) 30,568 (+62)
USA 100,743,392 (+39,827) 1,106,378 (+229)
Brazil 35,336,482 (+31,767) 689,998 (+145)
Germany 36,530,020 (+30,420) 158,109 (+166)
Taiwan 8,329,000 (+15,643) 14,387 (+53)
Australia 10,725,239 (+14,741) 16,187 (+16)
Peru 4,266,251 (+13,868) 217,428 (+14)
Hong Kong 2,128,382 (+10,137) 10,762 (+15)
Russia 21,597,613 (+6,785) 392,060 (+58)
Austria 5,566,947 (+5,092) 21,216 (+1)
Chile 4,925,051 (+5,041) 62,484 (+62)
Indonesia 6,669,821 (+4,977) 159,884 (+54)
China 323,686 (+4,150) 5,233

Sources: (paywall)
Video quote

Ambulance system broken

Strep B



China disaster

Chinese contact tracing:
China COVID policy


Insulate Britain

Strep A

Santa jab

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