Here is the Nervtag paper published on the new UK variant, which was referenced in the press conference earlier this evening.
The variant appears to have increased transmissibility compared to other variants in the UK and some recent analyses have been undertaken which show that there may be an increase in the severity of disease associated with this new variant, as the prime minister announced.
However, there are limitations to the data and further research is crucial.
Dr Susan Hopkins, the strategic response director at PHE said:
There is evidence from some but not all data sources which suggests that the variant of concern which was first detected in the UK may lead to a higher risk of death than the non-variant. Evidence on this variant is still emerging and more work is underway to fully understand how it behaves.
Covid-19 is still very much with us and causing severe illness and death. The most important thing is to stay at home. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cover you face and keep your distance. Remember that every unnecessary contact with someone else may create a chain of transmission that eventually leads to a vulnerable person becoming seriously unwell.
- There is ‘some evidence’ that the new variant of the coronavirus first identified in London and the South East may be associated with a higher degree of mortality, Boris Johnson said. For men in their 60’s that means an increase from roughly 10 in 1,000 deaths to about 13-14 deaths. Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance stressed there are many caveats and a lot of uncertainty around this, with some reports finding no increased risk at all, so more research is needed. Scientists are fairly confident that the new variant is between 30-70% more transmissible than the original. Current evidence shows that both vaccines are effective against both the old and the new variant. More research is needed into whether the South African and Brazilian variants could be less susceptible to vaccines.
- The government can’t consider unlocking while case numbers are so high until the vaccine is working and it’s sure the new variants aren’t more deadly or transmissible, the prime minister said. Johnson also said he didn’t want to risk another rebound with the virus, where infections spiral and restrictions have to be toughened as has been the case after ever lockdown so far. Johnson’s thinking is there is a need to be extra cautious about lifting restrictions. He is under great pressure from his own backbenchers about relaxing restrictions once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.
- The number of people in hospitals in the UK is 78% higher than during the first peak in April, though that increase is now flattening out in some parts of the country. Chris Whitty said the reduction of cases in hospital and deaths will take a while yet and warned that incidence of the virus remains “extraordinarily high”.
- 5.4m first doses of the vaccine have now been given, with a record 400,000 administered in the last 24 hours. Overall 1 in 10 adults in England have now been vaccinated, including 71% of the over-80s and two-thirds of care home residents. 151,000 vaccinations have been done in Northern Ireland, 358,000 in Scotland and 212,000 in Wales. The prime minister said the government remains confident in its goal of giving a first dose of the vaccine to everyone in the top four priority groups by the end of February.
- The R value of Covid-19 transmission has fallen and is now estimated to be between 0.8 and 1 across the UK, according to Sage. Sage scientists said: “It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not. We all need to play our part, and if everyone continues to follow the rules, we can expect to drive down the R number across the country.”
- A further 1,401 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to 95,981, according to government data.
That’s all for today. If you would like to continue following the Hlcarpenter.com’s worldwide coverage of the pandemic, head over to our global live blog.
Everyone across the UK will be asked “Can you look them in the eyes and tell them you’re helping by staying at home?” in a new government advertising campaign which will act as a stark reminder to the public of the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and the extreme pressures facing frontline workers.
The hard-hitting national TV ad represents a marked shift in tone, featuring raw footage and testimonials from patients who have Covid-19, as well as the NHS staff who are working around the clock to look after them at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital.
The adverts will remind the public, including those who have had the vaccine, of the ongoing need for caution when on public transport, or shopping, and to make sure they only use these services when it is essential to do so and to adhere to the principles of hands, face and space. It asks viewers if they can look frontline workers in the eyes and tell them they are helping to stop the spread by following the rules and staying at home.
It will launch on ITV and Channel 4 this evening and across radio, out of home, digital and across social media from Saturday evening.
Across the country, someone is admitted every 30 seconds with the virus, and a quarter of those are under the age of 55. There are currently over 38,000 beds taken up in England by patients with Covid-19.
The latest data shows the UK has seen the highest number of deaths recorded from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, with over 1,000 people dying per day for the last 10 days.
The health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said:
The NHS is under intense pressure. They are relying on all of us to follow the rules. The message couldn’t be clearer - stay at home.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said:
The impact of the current wave is still putting significant pressure on hospitals across the country and many patients are very sick. Vaccines give clear hope for the future, but for now we must all continue to play our part in protecting the NHS and saving lives.
Q. Does the decision to delay the second dose risk increasing vaccine resistance and make the virus more dangerous?
Q. Can you give reassurance that you’ll continue furlough beyond April if restrictions are still in place?
Vallance says the most risky part about new mutations is high prevalence of the virus.
There’s also a benefit to partial immunity as it could stop the infection quicker, he adds.
Whitty says medicine is about balance of risk.
The view is that the balance of risk is in favour of having many more people vaccinated, he says.
Johnson says the government will do whatever it takes to support jobs and livelihoods.
That’s it. The press conference is over.
Q. Are the British public ready for how long it could take to lift restrictions?
Q. Could we have mitigation measures in for quite some time?
Johnson says it’s an open question as to when and in what way we can start to relax any of the measures.
He says it depends on the vaccine rollout, no further discoveries of new variants, getting incidence down.
Vallance adds the virus isn’t going anywhere and will probably be around forever, but will be controlled.
New anti-viral drugs are going into clinical stages through this year, he adds.
We mustn’t get too hooked up on specific dates as we need to measure carefully in order to release, he adds.
Q. Is the South African variant could be 50% more resistant to the vaccine than the original and will you close the borders to all foreign travellers?
Q. One study found the new strain could be up to 91% more deadly than the original - why this discrepancy?
Johnson says non-UK travellers from South Africa have been banned since 24 December.
He adds that now any arrivals have to test within 72 hours of flying, produce a passenger locator form and 10-day quarantine is in effect.
He says he doesn’t rule out further measures still in protecting the borders.
Vallance says these are difficult lab studies which will get different results.
Some papers have suggested no increase in mortality at all, he adds, so there’s a range of data.
We mustn’t pick the highest number and assume that’s correct, he says.
Whitty adds that some other vaccines still protect against severe disease and dying, even if they are less effective against infection because of a change.
Q. If the new variant is more deadly, is it right that the rules are more lax than in the first wave? What more could you be doing?
Q. Why does the new variant spread more easily?
Q. With R below one, are we at or even past the peak of infections?
Johnson says they’re enforcing the law stringently, e.g through fines when people break lockdown, and the rules are clear - people must stay at home.
There are signs that this is working but it will need continued resolve, he says.
Vallance says it may be that the new variant binds more solidly to the receptor and gets into cells more easily or grows more readily in certain cell types.
Whitty says infections remain at a very high level across the country as a whole and it could start taking off again from this very high rate.
He says in some areas of the country and in some age groups, e.g. aged 20-30, it is still increasingly.
The peak of deaths could still be in the future, he says.
This moment is precarious and if people thought it was over now, we would get into very deep trouble very fast and the NHS is absolutely at the top of what it can manage, he says.
Johnson adds it remains the government’s intention to review the circumstances on 15 February.
But the rate of infection is forbiddingly high and there’s a need to be realistic about that, he adds.
'We can't unlock with rates of infection so very high' - Johnson
Q. How likely is it that the current lockdown restrictions will last longer now, perhaps beyond the spring into the summer? Are you considering tougher restrictions in the short term?
Q. How much of the South African variant do you estimate is already here and how likely is it of a similar strain developing here?
Johnson says this is the right package of measures to deal with the new variant and they don’t want to change them.
They want to see people obeying the measures, he adds.
In some areas it’s encouraging that infections are coming down but they’re still very high, he says.
So when it comes to unlocking, he says, we can’t consider it until the vaccination programme is working and we don’t have new variants.
The rate of infection is still so high, so we can’t unlock only to have another big rebound, he adds.
We must obey the current lockdown, he says.
Vallance says the latest PHE data suggests 44 people (with an upper limit of 71) have been detected with the South African variant.
Key is identifying and contact tracing in order to contain, he says.
There’s no evidence the South African and Brazilian variants are able to transmit more quickly or take over and become the dominant variant, he says.
They are taking questions from the media now.
Q. Do you expect the daily reported death toll to carry on rising for longer?
Q. What do you make of news from Israel that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may not be as effective as first thought?
Whitty says mortality is driven by the rate of decrease of the virus over time, but that’s going to be slow and from a very high base and is delayed.
Vallance adds the death rate will stay high for a little while before it starts coming down.
On the Israeli data, he says this is preliminary info and this will have to be monitored very carefully.
Q. Can those who have been vaccinated mix together?
Whitty says even with a very effective vaccine, there’s a period of time straight after where there’s no effect for 2 or 3 weeks.
That protection won’t even be complete with two vaccines, he says.
At the moment, a very large proportion of people you come into contact with could have the virus, he says - on average 1 in 55, or 1 in 35 in London.
There is a residual risk even if you’ve had the vaccine, he says.
The rates of infections need to come right down by staying at home while others get vaccinated, he says.
Vallance says we still don’t know how effective the vaccines are at stopping you from catching the virus or passing the virus on.
It’s very important not to assume you can’t catch it or pass it on after vaccination, he says.
They are taking questions from the public now.
Q. Will the delay in getting a second dose of the vaccine reduce levels of protection and if so how much?
Whitty says the first dose gives the great majority of the protection, but the second increases that and makes it longer lasting too.
The idea is to double the number of people that can get vaccinated, he says.
Because our major limitation is the number of vaccines the UK has to give, half the number of people would have been vaccinated in this very risky period if we hadn’t extended the time, he says.
Once you get protection initially it lasts a reasonable period of time, he says, likely up to five months, like if you had the virus.