Welcome to the COVID-19 weekly update. Every Monday we summarise the key events that have happened in the previous week in this pandemic. We will give you a rundown of what’s going on in the UK and the major events globally.
This week’s key statistics
UK cases rise from 88,621 on Monday to 120,067 on Sunday
UK deaths rise from 11,329 on Monday to 16,060 on Sunday
Worldwide cases rise from over 1.8 million on Monday to over 2.3 million on Sunday
Worldwide deaths rise from over 117,000 on Monday to over 160,000 on Sunday
What has happened in the UK this week?
On Monday there had been outbreaks of COVID-19 in 92 care homes over the past 24 hours, amongst questions about how the virus is affecting social care.
Sir Patrick Vallance said a review of evidence on the impact of wearing masks is happening, but the advice on the public wearing masks when outside of their homes is yet to change.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Tuesday that the wage furlough scheme will be open for applications on 20th April.
Hospital admissions in some regions are plateauing with the latest data suggesting that UK cases are also plateauing, but this does not provide the full picture as not everyone is being tested.
Prof Yvonne Doyle from Public Health England said that they are working towards getting daily data on all deaths in the UK, including from care homes.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Wednesday a new plan to cope with COVID-19 in care homes. Priority drops of protective equipment for staff in care homes will happen over the next 3 weeks whilst an online system is developed.
The UK will also be producing a single brand for social care, replicating the iconic NHS logo. Care staff will be asked to have the same priority as NHS staff in supermarkets and there will be a recruitment drive for the sector, with induction training funded by the government.
Matt Hancock also announced new procedures to allow people wherever possible to say goodbye to dying relatives.
On Thursday, First Secretary of State Dominic Raab announced that the UK’s lockdown measures will be extended for at least 3 more weeks. Any changes to the social distancing measures would at the moment, risk significant increase in infections, a second peak and an increase in the number of deaths.
He said that 5 conditions need to be met before lockdown can be eased. These are:
Ensuring the NHS can cope
A sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths
Reliable data showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels
Ensuring PPE and testing supply can meet future demand
Confidence that any adjustments would not risk a second peak
He said that Boris Johnson’s remark at the beginning of the outbreak – that it would take 3 months to come through the peak – still applies. In better news, the NHS is within capacity. There are 10,000 beds available across the country before taking into account the additional capacity added by the Nightingale field hospitals.
Dominic Raab has said that it will not be completely business as usual with China after the end of this crisis, and that hard questions will have to be asked about how the outbreak came about.
On Friday, Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced a new government-led vaccine taskforce, which will aim to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines in the UK.
It is already up and running, led by chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance and deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan van Tam. The government has already given the go-ahead to 21 projects with £14 million added to the existing pledge of £250 million to fund vaccine development.
However, this did come with a caution that it will be many months before a vaccine is ready. Clinical trials of existing medicines to treat COVID-19 now have more than 5,500 UK participants.
£1.6 billion of new funding for councils to provide vital services was announced by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick on Saturday.
Amongst worrying reports of frontline staff about to run out of gowns this weekend, and many asked to reuse PPE, a large shipment – 84 tonnes – will be arriving from Turkey. It is a significant shipment including 400,000 gowns. Robert Jenrick also urged that parks and cemeteries must stay open.
The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Sunday that he cannot give a date for schools to reopen. Up to 40% of school students have no computer at home or have a difficult environment to work in. The government is ordering laptops for disadvantaged children who are sitting key exams next year and is also purchasing 4G routers for those without internet.
What has happened globally this week?
On Wednesday, global cases of coronavirus surpassed 2 million. This is not the full picture, due to the variability of testing between countries. However, the number of new hospitalisations seem to be decreasing in many of the worst affected areas.
This could be the first phase of the flattening of the curve. In South Korea, recovered patients have been testing positive again for coronavirus. It is thought that the virus has been re-activated rather than the patients being re-infected.
Many lockdowns are being extended around the world. On Monday French President Emmanuel Macron extended their lockdown until 11th May in a much-expected move.
Schools will gradually reopen from the 11th May. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also extended the nation’s lockdown, until 3rd May. Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended New York’s lockdown until 15th May.
However, not everywhere is taking this approach. On Wednesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the lockdown there will be eased, with small shops being allowed to reopen from 3rd May and children returning to school from the 4th May.
Italy is allowing a limited number of shops to reopen in less affected regions. In Denmark, plans are to ease lockdown faster than originally planned.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that America was stopping all funding to the WHO, whilst a review is conducted over the ‘mismanaging and covering up of the spread of the coronavirus’. The US is the biggest sole contributor to the WHO budget – providing $400 million which is just under 15% of its total budget.
The President has accused the WHO of having failed to act accordingly when the outbreak first emerged in Wuhan. Wuhan has revised its death toll with an increase of 50% from 1,290 to 3,869. This is amidst allegations of the Chinese covering up their true statistics. Many questions will be asked when this global crisis is over.
The head of the WHO has said this week that only an effective vaccine against COVID-19 can fully interrupt transmission. The global connectedness means the risk of a resurgence of the virus continues.
Things to look out for next week
There are a lot of questions about deaths in the community, especially care homes. Data from 5 European countries has suggested that around half of deaths from coronavirus happen in care homes.
Many people are concerned that these figures are not being made public or included in the official death toll in the UK. The addition of these numbers may see the number of deaths from COVID-19 skyrocket.
We learned this week that different regions of the UK are expected to be on the same curve as London, despite it being said that ‘London was 2 weeks ahead of the rest of the country’ in previous statements.
This is because the lockdown restrictions were introduced everywhere at the same time. As the UK is set for at least 3 more weeks of lockdown with no easing, eyes will be on countries that have begun to loosen their restrictions. Half of the world’s population is currently under social distancing measures.
On Thursday, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific advisor, said that it is highly likely that the average person in the community who has COVID-19 is infecting one person or less. This ‘R rate’ needs to be less than one to bring down numbers of new cases.
However, in other areas such as care homes, this number may be higher. This sounds like great news, but, naturally the R number is 2.5 for this virus – i.e. the average person will infect 2.5 further people. However, as soon as restrictions are lifted, there is a worry that this number will rise again, leading to a rise in cases.
This leads to the question of how exactly when we are going to be able to come completely out of a lockdown, with the answer looking like a vaccine that is at very least months away. Patrick Vallance did concede that there may be a number of measures that must continue to control the virus until a vaccine comes along.
Despite no change on the advice on healthy people wearing face masks, as people in the UK see many other countries mandating the use of face masks when out in public, many are wondering if and when the government here might do the same.
At the moment they do not want any taken away from those who need them most – frontline workers. However, masks have the potential to be part of the exit strategy for the UK.
This week the UK was told it would face at least another 3 weeks of lockdown. There will be no easy way out of this crisis, but many people will be wondering what restrictions will be relaxed first.
Looking at other countries, this could be schools recommencing, people being allowed to go back to work or even very small gatherings being allowed again.
3 hopeful pieces of news
All of the news on COVID-19 can seem very doom and gloom, but there are good things happening amongst all of the pandemic chaos. Here are 3 snippets of good news from the last week:
99-year-old army veteran raises more than £26 million for the NHS (as of Sunday evening)
Captain Tom Moore smashed his original target of raising £1000 for NHS Charities Together. He hoped to raise this by doing 100 laps of his garden, aided by his walking frame, for his 100th birthday at the end of April. He has said he will not stop and hopes to do another 100 laps. The total continues to rise! It was announced on Saturday that he will be the guest of honour (virtually) at the opening of the Harrogate Nightingale Hospital.
10,000 CPAP devices made by Mercedes distributed throughout the NHS
The continuous positive airway pressure devices were produced in partnership with University College London. CPAP delivers oxygen to the lungs without the patient requiring sedation as is required in normal ventilation.
106-year-old recovered from coronavirus – thought to be the oldest in the UK
The great-grandmother who lived through World War Two had the virus for almost 3 weeks before being given the all clear.
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