Friday 17 March 2023

COVID-19 Coronavirus and other virus UK and World News Update 17th March 2023

COVID-19 Coronavirus and other virus UK and World News Update 17th March 2023

World COVID Statistics: 682,255,152 reported cases and 6,817,431 losses of life.

"Over 3 years into the COVID19 emergency, too many lives have been lost. Too many people are still suffering, including from Long COVID. We'll never stop demanding equitable access to life-saving tools.
"Understanding COVID19’s origins and exploring all hypotheses remains:
-a scientific imperative, to help us prevent future outbreaks
-a moral imperative, for the sake of the millions of people who died and those who live with Long COVID"
Dr Tedros, Head of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Norovirus home care NHS advice

On 11th March it was 3 years since WHO declared COVID a pandemic. It wasn't actually their job, but by 11th March 2020 it had become clear no-one else was going to do it and everyone was waiting, so Dr Tedros made the announcement. In some people's minds this made him responsible for the entire thing. 
"Around this time three years ago, the world woke up to the seriousness of COVID19, to stay at home orders, to life - as we had known it - changed…
We have all been impacted by the COVID19 pandemic, we are all different, and we cannot go “back” to the way it was, we need to make our futures better…
I know the world wants so desperately for the COVID19 pandemic to be over. I do too. But we aren’t done yet and this virus isn’t done with us yet. It is here to stay and we can do more to protect everyone, everywhere…"
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead, Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Lead, WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

3 years down the line and where are we now? Possibly the 2nd to last UK ONS random survey (for week ending 7th March England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 6th March Scotland) found:
"The estimated percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) decreased in Scotland, and the trends were uncertain in England, Wales and Northern Ireland."
- England, estimate 1,322,000, equating to 2.36% of the population, or around 1 in 40 people.
- Wales, estimate 68,200, equating to 2.21% of the population, or around 1 in 45 people.
- Northern Ireland, estimate 26,600, equating to 1.45% of the population, or around 1 in 70 people.
- Scotland, estimate 105,100, equating to 2.00% of the population, or around 1 in 50 people.
- In England, the estimated percentage increased in the North West and Yorkshire and The Humber, decreased in the East of England, East Midlands and London. 

In the week ending 6th March hospitalisations with COVID were up by 12% across England on average (a heady 23% in the North West). Bed occupancy has gone up by 10% since the previous week. 
These tend to be our coalmine canary figures, which give us an idea of how case numbers are going to be rising and falling over the next week or two in the community as a whole. The ONS is the same time period and looks mixed, so fingers crossed this time the canary is over-sensitive. Although clearly the rise in cases in the NW is something I can attest to...

Following on from that and I suppose not entirely unexpected, yet very unwelcome, ambulance handover times are creeping back up. The target is 15 minutes to drop off a patient, and it looks like England is averaging around an extra half hour on top (the South West is nearing an hour at times on average). 

170323 Weekly hospital admissions England UKHSA

This week's Continuous Mortality Investigation (CMI) report (up to 3rd March) shows a rise in excess (unexpected) deaths, but we are still not approaching levels seen over the last year (+8%). We lost 423 people more than the same week in 2019 (+4%). 513 people had COVID mentioned on their death certificate.
"CMI calculates 167,800 excess deaths in the UK since the start of the pandemic. That total has increased by 16,400 in the first two months of 2023."
Some of the numbers people are becoming increasingly confident the ripples and waves in excess mortality are being caused by flu, and deaths purely due to COVID alone have levelled off. 

The World Health Organisation have updated the tracking system and working definitions for variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID. 
Over 3 years we've had several distinct lineages, but currently worldwide the vast majority of cases (98%) are all from one branch of the family (Omicron variant), which has evolved into its own brand new tree, with big branches (BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, BA.5) and then the BA.5 branch has it's own powerful offshoots (BQ.1 and BQ.1.1). Once the entire world was mainly BA.4 and BA.5, so we didn't forget the rest of the family existed, two BA.2 variants (BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75) recombined (almost definitely within a single human host) to create XXB.1.5 - the faster than ever Kraken variant. It is this Kraken variant which is currently driving up cases in the US, UK and elsewhere - purely because it travels person to person so fast. 
Anyway, I digress. WHO will now be giving all of the Omicron branches (BA.1-5) and some offshoots their own classification as a 'Variant Of Concern (VOC), Variant Under Investigation (VUI), or a Variant Under Monitoring (VUM). 

170323 Weekly update UKHSA quote

Planned UK NHS strike action has been suspended after talks with the Government went well. (Yeeeay!) 
"Agenda for Change staff" will get 2% salary for 2022 to 2023, on top of the pay increase of at least 4% (minimum £1,400) they received for 2022 to 2023 last year (as recommended by the independent pay review body). It means a newly qualified nurse gets a 5.5% increase and those on the lowest salaries get 9.3%.
"In addition, they will receive a one-off ‘NHS backlog bonus’ which recognises the sustained pressure facing the NHS following the pandemic and the extraordinary effort staff have been making to hit backlog recovery targets and meet the Prime Minister’s promise to cut waiting lists."
Hurrah for common sense and respect where it's due. 
The backlog bonus will be worth at least £1,250 per person (average band 5 nurse £1,350). 
For 2023 to 2024, the government is offering Agenda for Change staff a 5% consolidated increase in pay, worth at least £1,065.

And teaching unions have called a 2 week pause to any more strike announcements:
“The government and the education trade unions, Association of School and College Leaders, National Association of Head Teachers, NASUWT and National Education Union, have agreed to move into a period of intensive talks. The talks will focus on teacher pay, conditions and workload reduction."
Seems like the Government finally employed someone who is good at negotiating... about blinking time...  

In less rosy strike news, around 1/4 of the workforce at the Passport Offices in England, Scotland and Wales have announced intention to strike from April 3 to May 5.
I am assuming that will mean staggered strikes across that period, and not a solid month, however it is likely to cause backlogs and delays, so apply nice and early if you're planning a foreign holiday this Summer.

170323 UK Budget main points UK Gov

The BMA (British Medical Association) are facing complaints about their advertising. They compared the wages of a Junior Doctor (average £14.09 per hour) with a Barista at Pret (up to £14.10 per hour). As one very sensible Dr Tom Bowers reminded us:
"Don't fight in the crab bucket. Fight the guy holding it!"
According to the Big Issue, the UK is currently short of more than 8,000 doctors. 

Very sobering news from the US CDC is that maternal deaths in the US rose dramatically during the pandemic. In 2021, the U.S. had an horrendous 40% increase, to 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (1,205 mums). Black American mothers are massively over-represented (2.6 times the rate of white or hispanic). 
We know COVID is incredibly hard on pregnant bodies, and vaccination was a much more hotly debated and politically charged subject over there, but health and wellbeing leading into the pregnancy have a massive impact, so this really is a failure for US health policies.
Maternal deaths are those that take place during the pregnancy or within the next 6 weeks, and are not entirely unrelated or accidental. 
According to CDC figures, this compares with a rate of 23.8 in 2020 and 20.1 in 2019.
The World Health Organisation say in 2020 the average rate for high income countries was 12 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (430 per 100,000 in low income countries). In 2017-2019 the UK rate was 8.8. 

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Israeli Embassy contacted me. They wanted to tell me that researchers from Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research and the Israel Institute for Biological Research have created the first mRNA vaccine against a bacteria which is usually lethal to humans. They chose plague bacterium (Yersinia pestis - can be treated by current antibiotics), and in animal trials all subjects were fully protected after a single dose.
Previously it was thought mRNA could only be designed to be useful against virus, not bacteria, so this is super important. The world has a real problem with antibiotic-resistant bacteria right now, plus there is always a chance an ancient or new bacteria might suddenly break out. We don't want something so simple to cause the downfall of humanity.
This is a very long way from being ready for human use, but the potential is massive. 
The greatest inventions are often borne of disaster. All the money thrown at COVID can really benefit us in many ways. 

On Tuesday a French team presented a study to the panel for the World Health Organisation's Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (WHO SAGO). They appear to have the strongest evidence yet that COVID arrived via an animal.
Early on in the pandemic, Chinese researchers uploaded genetic sequences from samples collected at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. It also sold mammals, including potentially some that weren't legal. Several of the humans, but none of the animals tested positive, so it was dismissed as a starting place. It turns out that in some of the environmental samples which tested positive for COVID, there were also non-human animal sequences. The French team have attempted to pick out what they can from this soup, and believe they may have found genetic material from raccoon dogs, civets and other mammals which we know can catch COVID.
Basically, if loads of animals at that market had caught and spread COVID before we even really knew anything about it, any lab leak theory really does have to move back a few steps...

Monkeypox - if you spot symptoms, get checked out

Mpox (Monkeypox) reinfection is hitting the science news.
I hope by now we all understand that some people develop better immunity than others, and that also varies with different virus and infections, and different background to the infection, time of year, what you last ate etc etc.
Monkeypox immunity is generally very good and long-lasting, but for some people it won't be, and at least two poor souls have already been reinfected.
Medics and researchers are stressing the importance of vaccination, even for people who have been infected previously, and if you get symptoms, don't disregard Mpox because you are vaccinated or already recovered. 
The mortality rate for Mpox has stayed very low, around 1 in 950ish, compared to the previous 1- 8 in 10. Sadly over 100 people have still lost their lives, but it could have been utter carnage. Smallpox vaccination is still available for those at greatest risk, and studies are showing it remains really effective protection - even offering a lot of protection to people with lowered immunity such as HIV. Those at greatest risk remain men who sleep with other men and have multiple sexual partners, and households of those infected. 

Nationwide UK Emergency Alerts are expected to be tested early this year, and will come into force sometime afterwards. Previously we relied on sirens strategically placed on buildings such as schools, but this will send an alert to every phone and internet-enabled device in the country. Bizarrely my 14 year old has been part of early trials for the past 2 years - which has caused some consternation at school, I can tell you. ("Honestly miss, I didn't do anything, it's an emergency siren test.") There isn't an 'opt out', but some devices do allow you to turn it off if you feel a need to...

The UK Health Security Agency warns us that Gonorrhoea is having a resurgence. It can cause pain while having a wee, or unpleasant discharge, (both of which you should always get checked out anyway), but is very easily treated with antibiotics. 
I used to talk to people about this for a living. You know who gets STDs? It's not just young single folk, it's people who come out of long term relationships and start dating again in later life, free from the worry of surprise babies, and therefore far less likely to use condoms. You might be 55 or 75, but you are not immune... you vixen you.

No less unpleasant, Norovirus is really doing the rounds. The 'Winter vomiting bug' hasn't gone away and is causing pressure in a few areas (Bath, Somerset, my house last week...). In the words of Tyler Durden - "Use soap". On your hands, on your clothes, your towels, your bedding. Never prepare food for other people if you are ill yourself. 

Home care for Norovirus UK Gov

Cough and cold medicines containing Pholcodine are being withdrawn from the UK. Ongoing safety checks have flagged a potential allergic reaction when a person who has taken Pholcodine has the muscle relaxants that go with a general anaesthetic. As you can't always predict whether you'll need a general anaesthetic, it's considered the risk is not worth the reward. 
We are being advised to check the labels of our medicine cupboard items (it tends to be stronger medicines or those for dry coughs) and throw away or exchange any products containing Pholcodine.

One in 5 UK households which should have applied for Government energy vouchers didn't. It really was terribly unfair that the households least likely to have a smart phone or access to email are also the households most likely to be on a prepayment meter and have to physically go and claim your vouchers. Check in on your neighbours and relatives who may not have got the message - the guy in charge of distributing vouchers said to Upday:
"If anyone has an unredeemed voucher which has expired, been lost or undelivered, they can ask their energy supplier to reissue it with a new three month validity period."
It's worth £400 guys...

It is the weekend - and we're all well in my household! Yeeeay! Thanks for your best wishes last week, it obviously did the trick, so back at you - especially if you aren't feeling entirely hale and hearty yourself. Have that treat you've earnt, and catch some of the fresh Spring air. Warmer days are coming... Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh! - Happy St Patrick's Day!

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

Countries / Cases / Losses of life (plus figures added YESTERDAY in the full 24 hours until midnight GMT):

World 682,207,942 (+93,152) 6,817,235 (+593)
Russia 22,467,942 (+13,009) 396,734 (+38)
S. Korea 30,672,163 (+9,934) 34,148 (+17)
Taiwan 10,206,482 (+9,062) 18,656 (+37)
USA 105,766,484 (+8,172) 1,150,567 (+134)
France 39,683,382 (+7,932) 165,288 (+24)
Japan 33,354,244 (+7,715) 73,391 (+57)
Germany 38,291,497 (+7,680) 169,579 (+119)
Chile 5,218,933 (+4,913) 64,353 (+20)
Austria 5,991,584 (+4,555) 22,020 (+1)
Mexico 7,500,705 (+4,040) 


3 Year Pandemic:
Dr Tedros
Maria Van Kerkhove

ONS Random Survey:
Ambulance handover times

WHO Omicron Variants reclassification

NHS strike action
Teaching staff strikes
Passport strikes

Maternal Mortality

Bacteria fighting mRNA

Doctors BMA advert

Monkeypox reinfection


Emergency alerts




UK energy vouchers

Early post link strudel 

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