UK COVID-19 Update: Scotland's Lockdown Plans, Jab Supplies, Costly Obituary Fees Scrapped

Tim Locke

February 23, 2021

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Scotland's Lockdown Plans

"If all goes according to plan, we will move fully back to a [regional] level system from the last week in April," First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament.

Then she said "we would expect to see phased but significant reopening of the economy, including non essential retail, hospitality, and services like gyms and hairdressers".

Like Boris Johnson yesterday, she said she was taking "a cautious approach".

On 15 March, more children go back to school, outdoor non-contact group sports resume, and more household mixing will be allowed.

The nationwide stay-at-home order would end on 5 April and the last children go back to school.

On 26 April, Scotland will move back into Level 3.

"Our current position, I would summarise, as extremely positive and promising...but still quite precarious," she said.

She added: "I know how hard all of this continues to be after 11 long months of this pandemic. But the restrictions are working, the vaccination programme is motoring, and we can now see a firm way out of this."

South African Variant 

Three confirmed cases of the South African virus variant have been detected in Northern Ireland and contact tracing is underway

Health Minister Robin Swann said: "I have previously been clear that identification of a confirmed case or cases of this variant in Northern Ireland was inevitable at some point.

"This development does not mean that this variant is going to become the most prevalent, or the dominant strain in Northern Ireland."
 

Seasonal COVID?

Last night's Downing Street briefing on the roadmap towards easing lockdown in England saw an apparent shift in narrative towards COVID-19 being a seasonal illness we'll be living with for some time.

"We've got to be realistic, and accept that there will be more infections, more hospitalisations, and therefore sadly, more deaths, just as there are every year with flu," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

"Every year in the UK, as in every other country, you get substantial numbers of people dying from respiratory infections," Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty said.

"Flu is the one everyone thinks about. An average year might be about 9000 people a year. Bad years are significantly more than that. But you also have pneumonias, you have adenoviruses, there are a lot of other respiratory infections, and...I'm afraid for the foreseeable future coronavirus is going to be added to that list of things that those who are vulnerable, even despite vaccination, can be at risk of.

"We vaccinate against flu, we vaccinate against pneumococcal pneumonia, and still there are cases and there are deaths. And I think people need to see it in that way, not to see it separate from others, but to see it as this is something where vaccination will take the rates right down, but they will not get rid of this. And this is something we have to see for the long-term. And in my view, is likely to be a problem in particular in the winter, for the next few winters."

Jab Supplies

Fewer vaccinations are taking place this week with yesterday seeing the lowest number of first doses since the programme began.

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC Radio: "It’s all about the supply. We have got a quieter week this week and then we’re going to have some really bumper weeks in March.

"It’s about the supply schedules... we have seen ups and downs in the delivery schedule."

Meanwhile, Dr June Raine has been appointed as MHRA chief executive after being interim CEO since 2019.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: "It is thanks to Dr Raine’s strong leadership during the pandemic that the UK was the first country in the world to authorise COVID-19 vaccines."

As of yesterday, 17.9m people have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 642,788 a second dose.

Deaths

Latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly mortality data show the number of deaths registered in the UK in the week ending 12 February was 17,136. That's 3575 higher than the 5-year average but 2024 fewer than the previous week.

COVID-19 was involved in 6113 of all deaths. That's 1710 lower than the previous week.

US COVID-19 deaths passed 500,000 yesterday. The UK's 129,498 COVID-19 deaths puts it fifth for global COVID-19 mortality behind the US, Brazil, Mexico, and India, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking.

In today's daily data another 8489 UK positive tests were reported and 548 deaths.

Another 1323 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital. The total is now 16,797 and 2273 ventilator beds are in use.

EDs 'Pulling Clear From Struggles'

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s (RCEM) Winter Flow Project shows that in the second week of February 2359 patients stayed in emergency departments for longer than 12 hours. That's 4.3% of all attendances and is down from 2583 the previous week.

There were 54,836 attendances down from 55,466 the previous week.

Average 4-hour standard performance was 74.73%, up from 73.48% the previous week.

"Generally speaking, it would appear that the emergency departments are pulling clear from the struggles of December and January, " Dr Adrian Boyle, RCEM vice-president, said.

"Careful management of the next stage of the pandemic is absolutely vital to ensure that the health service is not once again forced to endure the kind of pressures it saw over the last 3 months," he added.

Pregnancy

COVID-19 infection in pregnancy is not associated with stillbirth or early neonatal death, according to Imperial College London research published in Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology .

The study used UK and US data from 1606 women in the UK, and 2398 in the US, with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. Those who tested positive were more likely to have a premature birth.

Senior author Professor Christoph Lees commented: "The finding that COVID-19 infection does not increase the risk of stillbirth or baby death is reassuring. However, a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis was linked to a higher risk of preterm birth, and it isn’t entirely clear why."

Co-author, Dr Ed Mullins, added: "This study supports the prioritisation of vaccination for women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant, and existing measures that protect women in pregnancy from infection, in order to reduce preterm birth."

Bloating

Target Ovarian Cancer is highlighting bloating as a potential ovarian cancer symptom women may be more likely to ignore under lockdown.

In a recent survey of 1072 women 17% said they'd book an urgent GP appointment for persistent bloating compared to 50% who'd seek help for an unexplained lump, or a mole that has changed shape.

Costly Obituary Fees Scrapped

The BMJ has reversed its decision to charge £300 for publishing obituaries after the BMA intervened. In a tweet the BMA said: "Very concerned by the idea that ⁦‪@bmj_latest⁩ would charge for obituaries. They are fully editorially independent but we are raising our concerns about this with them directly."

Editor Fiona Godlee tweeted: "We are reversing our decision to charge for placing a BMJ obituary. We have listened to readers and recognise and apologise for any upset caused."

The BMA welcomed the "swift action taken".

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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