How are cases spreading in the UK, and how are we trying to slow the spread?
Of the 315 local areas in England, 11 have seen a rise in case rates and 304 have seen a fall as of Feb 4, according to Government data.
Rutland in the East Midlands has the highest rate in England, with 199 new cases recorded in the seven days to February 4 – the equivalent of 498.4 cases per 100,000 people. While Torridge in Devon the lowest rate with 13 new cases, equivalent to 19 cases per 100,000 people.
In London, the rolling seven-day rate as of Feb 2 stood at 250.7 cases per 100,000 people – down from 355.1 on Jan 27.
Eastern England is currently recording a seven-day rate of 230.6, down from 305.4.
In the East Midlands, the rate is down to 269.5 for the seven days to Jan 27, and in the West Midlands it has fallen from 350.8 to 269.5.
South-west England has recorded a larger drop, from 199.6 to 155.7 – the lowest regional rate in England.
North-east England is currently at 228, down from 252.8, while Yorkshire & the Humber is at 184, down from 211.8.
In north-west England, the rate has fallen from 320.5 to 264.8.
The UK became the first western country to begin administering the coronavirus vaccine, and Government hopes that mass vaccination could help slow the infection rate, particularly among the vulnerable older generation.
A total of 12,806,587 Covid-19 vaccinations had taken place in England between Dec 8 and Feb 8 according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses.
Of this number, 12,294,006 were the first dose of the vaccine, while 512,581 were given the second dose.
In total, 250 active hospital sites, 89 vaccination centres, and around 1,200 local vaccination sites – including primary care networks, community pharmacy sites and mobile teams – will be set up to ensure every at-risk person has easy access to a vaccination centre, regardless of where they live.
Also contributing to this “unprecedented national effort” will be the Armed Forces, who are set to be drafted in to help run mass vaccination centres in sports stadiums and public venues.
Some 100 Oxford million jabs have been ordered by the Government, with 40 million due to be rolled out by March. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency also approved the Moderna vaccine for use on Jan 8, which will be delivered in the spring.
But what about the new strain?
On Dec 14 the Health Secretary announced a new variant of coronavirus had been identified in England that caused a rapid increase in cases in London and the South East of England before Christmas.
However, Sir Patrick Vallance said on Jan 22 that there is “increasing confidence” that the UK variant will be susceptible to the vaccine.
The chief scientific advisor told the Downing Street press conference: “There’s increasing confidence coupled with a very important clinical observation that individuals who have been infected previously and have generated antibodies appear to be equally protected against original virus and new variant.”
Cases of the South African variant have been discovered in the UK that have not been linked to travel or known cases, leading to door to door testing taking place in some parts of England from Feb 2 to “come down hard” on the variant, the Health Secretary has said.
The news comes as scientists have found that the Kent coronavirus variant is mutating to mimic the South African variant, which could render current vaccines less effective.
Studies suggested the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine may be only 10 per cent effective against the South African strain, but Professor Jonathan Van Tam said the variant is not likely to become dominant.
Surge testing in areas of Manchester, including Moss Side and Fallowfield, will start from Feb 9 to combat the spread of the Kent variant, after four cases from two unconnected households were discovered. Door to door testing will take place for those who cannot attend testing centres, as well as offering tests to those who work in the area.
Although a fourth Covid-19 vaccine, Novavax, could be approved for use in the UK within weeks as late-stage trials suggested it was 89% effective in preventing coronavirus, and highly effective against the UK and South African variants.The UK has secured 60 million doses of the Novavax jab.
Boris Johnson also announced on Jan 22 that the UK variant of coronavirus could be up to 30 per cent more deadly than the original.
Prof Neil Ferguson, who sits on Nervtag, the Government’s virus advisory committee, said the latest data showed up to 13 in 1000 people aged 60 who contract the variant strain could die, compared with 10 in 1000 who caught the original variant.
“It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty,” Prof Ferguson told ITV.
Moderna Inc confirmed on Jan 25 that their vaccine produces virus-neutralizing antibodies in laboratory tests against new coronavirus variants found in the UK and South Africa. The vaccine was approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on Jan 8 and will be delivered to the UK in the spring.