Friday 31 March 2023

COVID-19 Coronavirus and other virus UK and World News Update 31st March 2023

COVID-19 Coronavirus and other virus UK and World News Update 31st March 2023

World COVID Statistics: 683,871,943 reported cases and 6,830,866 losses of life.

"Isn't a baseline of 1 million current cases & several hundred deaths a week dramatic enough for you? Like Coronation Street, it drags on forever, but can't be said to lack drama."
Excellent quote from someone named Mal Smith on the COVID stats last week. COVID very definitely isn't over, we are 'learning to live with it'. Never forget those who won't ever be able to take it lightly. Around 1.5 million people in the UK will always be more vulnerable to serious disease and death. Never belittle someone who wants to wear a mask or flinches if you cough, whether for their own safety or yours.

310323 1st and 2nd COVID jabs will end for most on 30th June

The weekly COVID19 surveillance report from the UK HSA shows that hospital admission rates have decreased in almost all age groups. The highest admission rates continue to be seen in the over 75s.
This is for the week ending 26th March, so it's much more up-to-date than we used to have to work with. 

It seems the UK Government's "evergreen offer" of COVID jabs is a little more deciduous than previously suggested. We're being told:
"Book now to make sure you get both jabs before the offer ends for many people on 30 June."
Hmmmmm... I guess they got bored of initial jabs and want to concentrate on Boosters. No suggestion that they'll be adding COVID vaccination to the childhood Immunisation schedule. Looks like kids will be expected to gain protection during pregnancy, and from catching it when they're young and risk of actual death is infinitesimal.
As a reminder, until 30th June:
"Everyone aged 5 (on or before 31 August 2022) and over can get a 1st and 2nd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Children who turned 5 on or after 1 September 2022 can only get a 1st and 2nd dose of a COVID-19 vaccine if they’re either:
- at increased risk due to a health condition or because of a weakened immune system
- living with someone who has a weakened immune system
If you have not had a 1st or 2nd dose yet, you're still eligible and should get them as soon as possible."

In contrast, the US FDA look likely to recommend a second bivalent booster for older and immunocompromised Americans. Protection wanes more quickly from the older single-pronged jabs, and in people who are more vulnerable, older or less able to form an appropriate immune response, that difference can be really important. 

The weekly ONS random COVID sampling may have come to an end alas, but we do still have some very big and important stats from the ONS and the UK Government this week. "Risk of death following COVID-19 vaccination or positive SARS-CoV-2 test in young people, England: 8 December 2020 to 25 May 2022". 
This research was to look more closely at potential cardiac and all-cause deaths in young people aged 12-29 years in England. They found that:
"There was no significant increase in cardiac or all-cause mortality in the 12 weeks following COVID-19 vaccination compared with more than 12 weeks after any dose for the study population as a whole."
Overall, vaccinations didn't make a noticeable difference in how many young people died. However...
"There was evidence of an increase in cardiac death in young women after a first dose of non-mRNA vaccines, with the risk being 3.5 times higher in the 12 weeks following vaccination, compared with the longer-term risk."
So young women who received AstraZeneca or Moderna as an initial vaccination did have an increased risk of fatal heart problems following vaccination (6 in 100,000, or 1 in 16,666).
There is a caveat (as always). In the UK the younger people who received non-mRNA vaccines were vaccinated early on - medical workers and clinically vulnerable groups - so most of them may have been "at greater risk of adverse events following vaccination than the general population".
This is still very important information for us to learn, and will advise vaccinations going forward. The study also points out:
"A positive SARS-CoV-2 test was associated with increased cardiac and all-cause mortality among people; the risk was higher in those who were unvaccinated at time of testing than in those who were vaccinated."
Risk of death from any cause within 6 weeks of a positive COVID test during the time period was:
1 in 11,936 unvaccinated
1 in 55,661 vaccinated

310323 UKHSA COVID surveillance hospital admissions by age

Figures show the December UK NHS meltdown wasn't just caused by COVID, it was clearly caused by a mix of COVID, flu and RSV. 
The ONS have released their "Summary of findings from the influenza (flu) and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) pilot survey", which ran from October 2022 to February 2023. 
Over the course of the 20-week pilot, 14,900 nose and throat samples were tested for two other respiratory viruses in addition to COVID-19 - flu and RSV. 
130 participants tested positive for influenza (flu) A or B, 0.9% of the sample
180 participants tested positive for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), 1.2% of the sample.
This pilot study proves just how useful this testing can be, and it's hoped that "the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey could support any future health surveillance strategy by providing early warning of levels of flu and RSV in the population, as well as providing more information on which flu strains are in circulation".
My commiserations to 12 people in the study who had 2 of those 3 at the same time... 

The UKs COVID app. is about to expire. It will close down on 27th April 2023.
Most useful back at the beginning, when a far greater percentage of us had little protection against COVID, it really hasn't had much to do since free testing stopped. At least now they have the app. technology in hand, and next pandemic they won't waste months trying to work out how to harvest all of our information whilst maintaining a friendly NHS demeanour.

The UK Health Security Agency is also making some changes to testing. From 1st April:
- All PCR testing outside NHS settings will end.
- Most symptomatic testing within the NHS will be done with lateral flow (rapid) devices rather than PCR (send to the lab) tests.
- Most routine asymptomatic testing will end.
- Most routine symptomatic testing of employees will end (e.g. prisons, homelessness and refugee settings). 
- Outbreak testing and symptomatic testing for high risk/ severely immunosuppressed settings and some other situations will continue.
- We are promised "all patients being discharged from hospitals into care settings" will be tested. 

310323 UKHSA COVID surveillance hospital admission rate per 100,000 by area England it's now a year since we officially began 'living with COVID', the UK COVID Alert Level System has been suspended.
I'm not really sure it ever needs suspending, they have monitoring on all kinds of virus and things, but officially at least, it won't be reported. 

People who understand far too well the phrase 'living with COVID' are those who still have symptoms more than 4 weeks after becoming ill. Latest UK figures were collected in the 4 weeks up until 5th March show "an estimated 1.9 million people living in private households in the UK (2.9% of the population) were experiencing self-reported long COVID".
Of those:
- 83,000 (4%) first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 less than 12 weeks previously
- 1.7 million people (92%) at least 12 weeks previously
- 1.3 million (69%) at least one year previously
- 762,000 (41%) at least two years previously
This is a gradually and very slowly decreasing total number, so despite a steady level of infection, less new people are becoming ill. Vaccinations and protection from previous infection which didn't result in Long COVID are helping protect us from damage. Sadly vaccinations didn't arrive in time for a huge number of people earlier on in the pandemic, and they aren't getting better very quickly, so the number of very long term ill is still increasing.
"Fatigue continued to be the most common symptom reported as part of individuals’ experience of long COVID (72% of those with self-reported long COVID), followed by difficulty concentrating (51%), muscle ache (49%) and shortness of breath (48%)."

The UK is so chronically short of dentists that even BUPA can't recruit. (And yet, my daughter had to sweat blood to get onto a dental course at uni - despite A* grades, hundreds of hours of work experience and a clear commitment to the role.) 
BUPA are closing 85 of their 450 practices, which will leave 365 open.
For a long time now the fees paid to dentists by the Government for NHS work do not cover all of the costs, meaning they have little choice but to do private work, or just give it up and take another job. It's grim and was always doomed to failure. COVID has meant people have missed check ups and treatment, and are now turning up in an even worse (and more expensive) position than previously. The whole system needs fixing - oral health can be a real indicator of overall health, and can even lead to your demise in some cases. It shouldn't be ignored. 

310323 Deaths of Despair Sheffield Uni study

When the pandemic was new and the lockdowns started, there were a lot of worries about our mental health. A new (not-yet peer-reviewed) Sheffield Uni study published in Science Direct has looked into 'Deaths Of Despair' in the USA and UK. They looked at age-standardised and age-specific mortality rates from suicide, alcohol and drug use. 
The results are a real mixed bag (see chart above):
"Alcohol-specific deaths increased in all countries between 2019 and 2021, most notably in the United States and, to a lesser extent, England and Wales. Suicide rates did not increase markedly during the pandemic in any of the included nations. Drug-related mortality rates rose dramatically over the same period in the United States but not in other nations.""
Good news that concerns over suicide were unfounded, but overall we drank too much when we didn't have to be up at dawn and into the workplace next day. Stress and pressure from trying to juggle home life, work and kids who weren't in school no doubt added to that, as did the loneliness many people felt without daily human interactions.
Notably alcohol-related deaths in Northern Ireland fell, as did drug-related deaths in Scotland. There are lessons to be learned here, because drug-related deaths in the USA soared, especially in men. What did Scotland and the USA do so differently to give these hugely divergent results? 

The UK Government have published an updated review on the efficacy of facemasks in preventing the wearer contracting COVID. 
Their conclusions were boringly reassuring - "N95 respirators (or equivalent) may be
more effective than surgical masks in reducing the risk of infection in the mask wearer".
Wearing any mask, according to the studies shown, reduced your own chance of contracting COVID by around 12-29%. The studies reviewed were mostly from 2021, in healthcare settings where people were ill, sometimes incredibly ill. Ideally we'll have a lot more information to go on now and can get some much more reliable figures for community transmission and less high risk settings. 

Over Easter order prescriptions early before the bank holiday

Trump Of The Day 
In bad news for... erm... Donald Trump, a grand jury has voted to indict him - basically indicate him as a suspected criminal and take him to court. We don't know yet for sure, but it seems he's being charged with paying hush money to an adult film star, the day before the 2016 election. That money was reportedly paid through his business and listed as legal fees, which is naughty. If you are doing it in order to conceal or commit another crime, it's much naughtier.
Trump's response is that it's "political persecution" - which to me implies he's saying loads of people are doing it and only he is being charged.
It's COVID-related because if this proves true, he should never have been in charge during the pandemic... 

Regular reminder to be careful with statistics, because you can usually make them say whatever message you'd like to get across.
If it says 85% fat free, it's actually 15% fat. What is a normal amount of fat in foods? Is that high or low? A banana is 0% fat, but an avocado is 22% fat. Is that actually helpful? Which is best for you? There are fats that have no redeeming features, and fats we need each day to keep our bodies running smoothly. It's rarely as simple as just a number, and the same is true for most statistics. Question everything, especially who is paying for it and what they might hope to find. 

If you need urgent mental help try online at NHS urgent mental health

Tomorrow the UK National Living Wage will rise by 92p to £10.42 an hour for workers aged 23 and over  — almost a 10% increase. It will not only affect those on minimum wage, because in many cases pay scales will move up. It isn't quite as high as inflation, so it's still a real life loss, but it's more than a lot of people anticipated and shows some realism from the Government for once. 

TV person Paul O'Grady died unexpectedly but peacefully on Tuesday night. If, like me, you are old enough to remember the telly before openly gay people were allowed on it, you may also appreciate just how much of an impact he had. He was clever, quick and funny, and his no-messing matriarchal alter-ego Lily Savage made it past late night 'Youth TV', right into mainstream daytime, in a world which was still in fear of AIDS, and where the UK age of consent for gay men had only just been reduced from 21 to 18.
TV person and so much more, Paul O'Grady, died unexpectedly but peacefully on Tuesday night. He helped make the world a better place for a lot of people. (Thank you.)

It is the weekend! Hurrah! It's also Easter hollibobs, so I'll be taking next Friday off to throw tiny foil wrapped chocolate eggs on the lawn, and watch my kids forget they are teenagers for 10 minutes while they try and gather them back up. Virus don't stop, but most of the world has a holiday, so there will be (hopefully) very little to report.
I hope you have a few moments of unashamed fun over the next 2 weeks - we've all got a lot of it to catch up on, and Easter is the perfect time to indulge yourself a little. Whatever your treat, make sure it makes you smile. A proper grin, not one of those pouty smiles for Instagram... 

Back in 2 weeks...

Don't Eat Mystery Floor Chocolate, Play Outdoors, Save The NHS.  

Some people. They look like very much like numbers here, but they'd all love an Easter egg hunt..

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

World 683,836,203 (+69,881) 6,830,720 (+452)
S. Korea 30,809,762 (+11,039) 34,255 (+10)
Russia 22,625,524 (+10,750) 397,211 (+32)
USA 106,206,057 (+9,039) 1,154,894 (+117)
Mexico 7,535,316 (+7,431) 333,490 (+41)
Japan 33,448,651 (+7,207) 73,865 (+40)
Australia 11,323,980 (+3,794) 19,842 (+13)
Germany 38,351,642 (+3,679) 170,839 (+112)
India 44,715,786 (+3,094) 530,867 (+5) 


COVID UK quote

Risk of death following vaccination or positive test was 1 in 11,936

ONS COVID vaccination deaths

Long covid

Weekly covid surveillance images:

Flu RSV testing

UK Gov COVID changes


Deaths of Despair

Some great stats from English Teacher Tabitha McIntosh on Twitter regarding the recent Telegraph headline: 'More than 60% of Scotland’s trans prisoners began transitioning after being convicted'.
In total there are only 7 trans prisoners in female jails in Scotland (and 3 of them are on remand). More than 60% actually refers to 4 people. Just 4. If this was a scientific study we'd say the numbers are statistically far too small to be meaningful. 

US Bivalent booster possible

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