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Covid-19 UK: Britain DID simulate a coronavirus pandemic but health chiefs WON’T say how it went

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock faced a grilling from MPs today about No10’s failures throughout the virus crisis and accusations of being a serial liar

British health chiefs did war-game a coronavirus pandemic before the nation was eventually hit by Covid but tried to keep it secret, it was revealed today.

Matt Hancock — who faced a grilling from MPs today about No10’s failures throughout the virus crisis — has only ever confessed to carrying out a mock-up of a flu crisis called Exercise Cygnus.

And giving evidence today, the Health Secretary reiterated that ‘famously all the preparations and the plans that were in place were for a flu pandemic’. 

But Public Health England has now admitted it carried out ten other epidemic-fighting scenarios between 2015 and 2018.

One of the preparation tests — called Exercise Alice — focused on MERS, one of only seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. It kills around 35 per cent of people it strikes. 

But PHE refused to reveal any details about how the secret operation went, claiming revealing any information about the exercise would damage national security. 

The only details known are that it was carried out in February 2016 and involved PHE and Department of Health officials. 

Dr David Matthews, a Bristol University virologist, told The Guardian the findings of the report may have been ‘completely relevant’ to No10’s Covid response.

Dr Moosa Qureshi, an NHS consultant who uncovered the previously unpublished exercises, accused Mr Hancock of never confessing that the UK had already carried out a coronavirus-fighting exercise. 

But the Department of Health insists that it has always been clear that it undertakes exercises regularly.

Mr Hancock today admitted the first lockdown was delayed despite initial warnings over 820,000 deaths because ministers feared Brits would not tolerate draconian restrictions for long.

In a dramatic evidence session with MPs, the Health Secretary said that as early as January he was presented with a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ of the huge potential toll, based on Spanish Flu. 

But imposing the draconian first national restrictions did not happen until March 23, with Mr Hancock pointing to expert advice that the public would only ‘put up with it’ for a limited time and concerns about the ‘immediate costs’.

Public Health England has now admitted it carried out ten other epidemic-fighting mock-ups between 2015 and 2018

Dr Qureshi said: ‘The Health Secretary told Parliament that Exercise Cygnus looked at UK preparedness for a flu pandemic — not other pandemics.

‘But the truth is that he’s covering up multiple secret reports on preparedness for other pandemics, including a coronavirus pandemic.

‘Politicians need to stop playing ‘Yes Minister’ and understand that pandemic preparedness is improved by transparency and public scrutiny.

‘Dominic Cummings himself has said that secrecy contributed greatly to the Covid catastrophe.

What were the other secret pandemic-modelling scenarios?

Disease modelled

Exercise Alice 

Exercise Cygnet

Exercise Cygnus

Exercise Typhon

Exercise Broad St

Exercise Cerberus

Exercise Pica 

MERS 

Pandemic flu

Pandemic flu

Lassa

Lassa and H7N9

Avian flu

Pandemic flu 

Exercise Northern Light 

Surge capacity Exercise

Preparedness & Review Workshop 

PHE and APHA Workshop 

Avian and pandemic flu 

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‘We’re facing a third pandemic wave and there will be future pandemics. Let’s stop playing politics and get scientific with this.’

Ten of the pandemic exercises were carried out before Mr Hancock became Health Secretary in July 2018, with his predecessor Jeremy Hunt.

Only Exercise Pica — which simulated an influenza crisis in September 2018 — was performed while Mr Hancock was in office.

Three operations looked at Ebola, an incurable haemorrhagic fever that kills around a third of everyone it infects.

Five were based around flu and two delved into the potential effects of an outbreak of Lassa fever, another haemorrhagic illness that has a case-fatality rate of around 1 per cent.

But Mr Hancock today reiterated the Government’s response to Covid was based on Exercise Cygnus.

He said: ‘Famously all the preparations and the plans that were in place were for a flu pandemic.

‘Novel coronavirus, as we’ll come to when we talk about asymptomatic transmission, its different from even the previous coronaviruses — including SARS and MERS.

‘So it’s true that the countries that experienced SARS and MERS were better prepared than we were, partly because of that experience.

‘But it is also true that Covid-19 is very different from SARS and MERS and the number one difference is that it has asymptomatic transmission.’

The operation modelling MERS came to light after Dr Qureshi’s Freedom of Information (FOI) request was rejected, which was made in the wake of the revelation about Exercise Cygnus. 

Dr Qureshi has complained to the Information Commissioner about PHE not releasing the information because of ‘national security’ concerns. 

Law firm Leigh Day is assisting Dr Qureshi with his legal battle to secure more information on the exercises.

Tessa Gregory, the lawyer represents Dr Qureshi, said: ‘Initially PHE refused to provide any information about the other exercises – not even giving their name.

‘It was only on internal review that they provided these bare details. Why are the Government not being open and transparent about the pandemic exercises that were conducted?’

It took more than seven months from the start of the pandemic for the Government to publish its report on Exercise Cygnus, which is regarded as the main focus of the pandemic plan recommendations. 

Speaking in the Commons on October 20 last year, Mr Hancock first publicly  acknowledged the existence of Exercise Cygnus.

He said: ‘Exercise Cygnus was not designed to consider other potential pandemics, or to identify what action could be taken to prevent widespread transmission.’ 

And former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is also on record saying the UK was prepared for the wrong pandemic by believing the next biggest threat would come from flu.

What was Exercise Cygnus? 

Britain carried out a drill to check its pandemic preparedness in 2016, codenamed Exercise Cygnus.

The operation modelled a fictitious flu virus – similar to Covid as it triggers respiratory infections – which emerged in Thailand in June.

It saw more than 1,000 NHS and Government officials asked how they would respond by week seven of the outbreak.

The virus was modelled as one that affected 50 per cent of the population and triggered 400,000 deaths.

It saw mock Cobra meetings held with ministers, news articles published on a fictitious site called WNN, and ministers sharing warnings on ‘Twister’.

The report made 22 findings. These included that by week seven the NHS was ‘about to fall over’, overwhelmed social care sector, insufficient supplies of PPE and glaring issues with virus testing capacity.

But it added the first wave would not have peaked by this point – with further pressures expected in the modelling.

It came at a time when the then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was cutting beds in NHS hospitals.

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In an interview with the BMJ, Mr Hunt said: ‘We’ve really been on the back foot from the start on test and trace, and in some ways it dates back to the period when I was health secretary.

‘We did exhaustive pandemic preparations; we were lauded by Johns Hopkins University as being the second best prepared country in the world.

‘But we were sadly also part of a groupthink that said that the primary way that you respond to a pandemic is the flu pandemic playbook — with a focus on areas like vaccination and boosting hospital capacity — rather than the methods that you would use for Sars and Mers — surveillance and containment, community testing, contact tracing and isolation, and stockpiling personal protective equipment, and ventilators.’ 

Exercise Cygnus’s aim was to ‘test systems to the extreme, to identify strengths and weaknesses in the UK’s response plans, which would then inform improvements in our resilience’.

It modelled a fictitious influenza virus which emerged in Thailand in June 2016 and involved 1,000 NHS and Government officials.

The virus was modelled as one that affected 50 per cent of the population and triggered 400,000 deaths.

It saw mock Cobra meetings held with ministers, news articles published on a fictitious site called WNN, and ministers sharing warnings on ‘Twister’.

The report made 22 findings. These included that by week seven the NHS was ‘about to fall over’, overwhelmed social care sector, insufficient supplies of PPE and glaring issues with virus testing capacity.

But it added the first wave would not have peaked by this point — with further pressures expected in the modelling.

It came at a time when the then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was cutting beds in NHS hospitals.  

The Department of Health said: ‘This is an unprecedented pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice, to protect the NHS and save lives.

‘We have always been clear that we undertake exercises regularly, both at a national and local level, as they are an essential part of assessing both our pandemic preparedness and planning for a wide range of scenarios.

‘The lessons learned from these exercises have contributed to our ability to rapidly respond to this unprecedented global crisis and continue to be considered by the government and a range of stakeholders, including expert advisory groups and local emergency planners in reviewing pandemic response plans.’

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Britain hit by MONKEYPOX: Two patients in North Wales test positive for killer virus

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Two cases of the rare monkeypox virus have been confirm in the UK, Matt Hancock has revealed.

Giving evidence to MPs today on the handling of the pandemic, the health secretary casually said the killer virus had been spotted.

Public Health Wales subsequently confirmed in a statement that two people from the same household in North Wales picked up the virus abroad and were admitted to hospital in England. 

It confirmed that one of the people infected with monkeypox is still in hospital, but did not give further details of their location or condition.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease which causes a blistering skin rash, headaches, back pain and flu-like symptoms. It is caused by a virus spread by monkeys, rats, squirrels and other small mammals.

The illness can spread between people either by skin-to-skin contact, coughs and sneezes or by touching contaminated clothes or bedding. But human-to-human contact is ‘relatively limited’, according to the the World Health Organization said.

Monkeypox can be caught from various mammals including monkeys and rats and causes skin spots which then turn to blisters and can take weeks to clear up  (stock image)

Giving evidence to MPs today on the handling of the pandemic, the health secretary casually confirmed the killer virus had been spotted

Discussing the trace and isolation system, Mr Hancock said it was ‘essentially built for very important, but very small outbreaks’.

‘As health secretary you are dealing with these sorts of outbreaks all the time. I am currently dealing with a monkeypox outbreak and cases of drug-resistant TB and that is absolutely standard,’ he said.

The Welsh health body said it and Public Health England are monitoring the two cases of the virus. 

‘The index case was acquired overseas, and the two cases are members of the same household. Both cases were admitted to a hospital in England, where one currently remains.

‘Monitoring and follow-up of the cases and their close contacts are undertaken as part of normal practice, and the risk to the general public is very low.’ 

Richard Firth, a consultant in health protection at Public Health Wales, said ‘confirmed cases of monkeypox are a rare event in the UK, and the risk to the general public is very low’.

Monkeypox cases were identified in the UK for the first time in 2018 when three people caught the infection in separate instances in Cornwall, Blackpool and Liverpool. 

More recently, a person in south west England was diagnosed with the virus in December 2019 after visiting Nigeria. They were treated by specialists at St Thomas’ Hospital Trust in central London.

Other cases were confirmed in the US in 2003 after patients had close contact with some dogs that were infected by African rodents.

Around one in 10 people who become ill with monkeypox will die and most deaths from the virus occur in younger age groups, according to the WHO.

 

WHAT IS MONKEYPOX? 

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease which causes a blistering skin rash and feverish, flu-like symptoms.

The virus responsible for the disease is found mainly in the tropical areas of west and central Africa.

Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958, with the first reported human case in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970. Human cases were recorded for the first time in the US in 2003 and the UK in September 2018.

It is found in wild animals but humans can catch it through direct contact with animals, such as touching monkeys, squirrels rats or other mammals, or eating badly cooked meat. 

The virus can enter the body through broken skin or the eyes, nose or mouth.

It can pass between humans via droplets in the air, and by touching the skin of an infected individual, or touching objects contaminated by them. 

Symptoms usually appear within five and 21 days of infection. These include a fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and fatigue.

The most obvious symptom is a rash, which usually appears on the face before spreading to other parts of the body. This then forms skin lesions that scab and fall off.

Monkeypox is usually mild, with most patients recovering within a few weeks without treatment. Yet, the disease can often prove fatal.

There are no specific treatments or vaccines available for monkeypox infection, according to the World Health Organization.

 

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Covid UK: Indian variant now makes up 91% of all cases, Matt Hancock warns

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The Indian variant now makes up 91 per cent of all Covid cases in the UK, Matt Hancock has warned as official data revealed outbreaks are spiralling in nine out of ten areas in England — leaving ‘Freedom Day’ hanging in the balance.

Speaking at a select committee today where he was grilled by MPs on mistakes made in handling the pandemic, the Health Secretary said the ‘Delta’ variant now makes up more than nine in ten infections across Britain. 

He said: ‘The assessment that I saw from last night is that the “Delta” variant now comprises 91 per cent of new cases in the UK.’ 

Public Health England data released today showed cases are spiralling out of control across the vast majority of the country.

The infection rate was more than four times high in Halton, Cheshire — the area with the biggest proportional jump in the country — on June 8 as as it was on May 30, increasing from 8.5 to 43.27 per 100,000 people.

North East Lincolnshire saw the second highest jump, from 11.28 to 48.26 (a 328 per cent increase), followed by Northumberland, from 13.65 to 56.45 (314 per cent).

It comes after a symptom-tracking study today showed the number of Britons falling ill with Covid has more than doubled in a week amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant across the UK, a symptom-tracking study warned today.

An estimated 11,908 people across the UK were catching the virus every day in the week ending June 5, according to the ZOE Covid study, up 109 per cent from 5,677 last week.

The study also showed Stirling in Scotland is the worst affected area in the country for Covid cases, with 838 symptomatic infections per 100,000 people. It was followed by six variant hotspots in the North West, including: Manchester (672), Bury (672), Rochdale (605) and Trafford (589). 

The troubling figures add to mounting fears about England’s planned final lockdown easing on June 21 ‘Freedom Day’, with the scientist behind the surveillance study admitting the situation ‘has rapidly changed’ in the face of the mutant ‘Delta’ strain.

It emerged today that Boris Johnson could implement a ‘mix and match’ unlocking, with face masks, work from home guidance and the rule of six indoors likely to still be mandatory after June 21 but the 30-guest cap on weddings dropped.

SAGE advisor Professor Susan Michie, a psychologist at University College London, today said social distancing and wearing face masks should be a part of British life forever.

No10’s top scientists fear the mutant Indian strain could be up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the once dominant Kent version and SAGE modellers fear it will trigger a ‘substantial’ third wave — despite three-quarters of adults having been vaccinated.

Dr Jennie Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said the UK is not going in the right direction in terms of Covid cases, leaving ‘Freedom Day’ on a ‘knife-edge’.

And Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London and lead author of the ZOE research, said the spiralling case numbers were caused by ‘increased social interaction and a newly dominant variant that is much more transmissible’. 

Slide me

Public Health England data released today showed cases are spiralling out of control across the vast majority of the country 

Graph shows: The cases per 100,000 in different age groups in the UK over time. The highest rates are now in 20- to 29-year-olds

The number of people falling ill with Covid has more than doubled in a week, a symptom-tracking study warned today amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant across the UK

Graph shows: The number of people testing positive for Covid and the positivity rate — the proportion of tests taken that are positive

Graph shows the number of people testing positive and positivity rates for lab-checked PCR tests and rapid LFD tests

Graph shows: The cases per 100,000 in different regions across England. The North West — home to the Indian variant hotspots of Bolton, Blackburn and Manchester — has the highest case rate in the UK

Graph shows: The rising prevalence of the Indian ‘Delta’ Covid variant (VOC-21APR-02) over time. It is now estimated to make up 91 per cent of cases, according to Matt Hancock

‘Mix and match’ unlocking for June 21? Boris could keep face masks but drop 30-guest wedding limit 

Boris Johnson could implement a ‘mix and match’ unlocking on Freedom Day, with face masks, work from home guidance and the rule of six indoors likely to still be mandatory after June 21 but the 30-guest cap on weddings dropped.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that ‘everybody can see cases and hospitalisations are going up’ and gave the strongest hint yet the much-anticipated milestone will be pushed back because of the rapid spread of the Indian Covid variant.

No10’s top scientists fear the mutant strain may be 60 per cent more transmissible than the once dominant Kent version and SAGE modellers fear it will trigger a ‘substantial’ third wave — despite three-quarters of adults having been vaccinated.

Despite mounting fears about plans to go ahead with the final unlocking and intensifying calls to delay it by up to four weeks to allow the NHS time to fully vaccinate millions more vulnerable over-50s, ministers are hopeful they can relax some curbs from later this month.

A senior Government source told the FT: ‘A mix-and-match approach is probably on the cards, given the limited number of levers left.’

Officials are working to find a solution that ‘pleases the PM’s instincts’, according to one minister, but the hybrid approach would be ‘very difficult’ to put in place. It could include lifting the current 30-person limit on weddings and receptions and allowing far greater crowds to attend ceremonies, bringing it in line with the Government’s policy on funerals.

Bar mitzvahs and christenings are also set to be boosted under the proposals and while socially distanced tables would not be required, guests may be urged to be ‘cautious’ about contact with other households, reports the Times.

Current guidelines suggest those attending bashes only participate in the first dance and wear masks at all times unless eating or drinking but under the new rules, people will be advised to assess the risk of hugging others themselves.

A government source said: ‘It’s been tough on the sector. If you’ve got stadiums full of people, why can’t weddings go ahead with more than 30 people?’

Mr Johnson softened his lockdown-ending stance yesterday in Cornwall ahead of the G7 summit, admitting there was now ‘arguments’ on both sides of the restrictions-easing debate. The PM repeated his pledge that No10 ‘will be driven by the data’.

But just hours before his comments, top SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson dealt another blow to hopes of Freedom Day going ahead.

The Imperial College London epidemiologist warned it would take up to another three weeks for scientists to get enough data to accurately work out how dangerous the Indian variant is and how bad the third wave will be. He added there was a risk of a ‘substantial third wave but we cannot be definitive about the scale of that’.

The chance that scientific advisers, ministers and Mr Johnson — who committed to following the science and ‘not dates’ — will sign off on June 21 without the most accurate modelling is slim to none.

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Professor Spector said: ‘It’s clear that this is an epidemic among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations in the UK and, due to the way vaccines have been rolled out, is largely affecting younger generations.

‘Vaccines are working and we want to encourage people to exercise caution, especially if they feel at all unwell, until they’ve been fully vaccinated. The race is on to fully vaccinate the whole population to save lives and return to normal life.’

Meanwhile, Test and Trace figures released today showed the number of positive cares in England rose by almost 45 per cent last week. More than 25,000 people who were swabbed in the seven-day spell ending June 2 had Covid, up from 17,000 the week before. 

This was despite around 850,000 fewer tests being carried out. Data also showed the number of people taking rapid Covid tests has fallen to its lowest level for three months – despite all members of the public being eligible to take two rapid tests a week. 

Dr Harries said that modelling data suggests there will be a further rise in Covid cases in the coming weeks.

However, she stressed it was still too early to make a decision on ending lockdown on June 21 and it will take another week before a clearer picture emerges.

It comes as the latest data from Public Health England (PHE) shows case rates in England have risen among almost all age groups, with the highest rate among 20 to 29-year-olds.

Speaking on a Royal Society of Medicine webinar Dr Harries said: ‘We are progressing, probably as a country, not quite in the right direction that we would all want to.’

She said the Government’s four-step road map out of lockdown, implemented in January, was created with five-week gaps to allow for the changes to take effect and to see whether it would lead to an increase in hospital admissions and deaths.

Dr Harries said: ‘The important thing here is, this really is a knife edge decision point, because the cases are rising and that’s becoming clearer.

‘Modelling does suggest that we will start to see a further rise, not necessarily immediately but in the coming weeks.’

She said that data suggests that those in the older age groups, aged 60 and above, are not getting ill with Covid because they are ‘doubly vaccinated’, meaning they have had both doses of the Covid jab.

She added that those appearing in hospital are either unvaccinated or those who have had a single dose of a Covid jab.

Dr Harries said: ‘Because of the rise in hospitalisations, and the risk that there may be a wider spread of the Delta (Indian) variant, it is really primarily important for saving lives that the older individuals who are more at risk, who have not had first and second vaccinations, maximally get vaccinated.’

She said that despite the UK’s ‘brilliant’ vaccination programme, Covid is ‘not going to go away’, because of a possible drop in vaccine effectiveness with the emergence of new coronavirus variants as well as a ‘large reservoir’ of individuals, such as children and young people, who can become infected and transmit the disease.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that ‘everybody can see cases and hospitalisations are going up’ and gave the strongest hint yet the much-anticipated milestone will be pushed back because of the rapid spread of the Indian Covid variant. 

Britain yesterday recorded another 7,540 positive coronavirus tests in the biggest week-on-week increase since February, with the mutant variant blamed for spiralling cases.

Despite fears infections will continue to spike given that restrictions have already been eased, other experts have called for calm. Anti-lockdown Tory MPs have demanded the PM sticks to his June 21 pledge.

NHS bosses say hospitals should be able to cope with surging cases because vaccines have meant fewer infected patients need medical care. Dr Richard Cree, an intensive care consultant in Middlesbrough, today claimed he was confident the third wave won’t mirror the crises seen last spring and in January. 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his wife Carrie on the beach at the Carbis Bay, Cornwall today, ahead of Friday’s G7 summit.

Illness is rising significantly more rapidly in 20- to 29-year-olds than in vaccinated older age groups, There were more than 400 symptomatic cases per 100,000 people in the cohort compared to less than 50 in over-60s

There are currently 1,917 vaccinated people falling ill with the virus, compared to 9,991 unvaccinated people. But cases are increasing in both groups, with 89 per cent more symptomatic cases in people week-on-week even after being jabbed

Meanwhile, Test and Trace figures released today showed the number of positive cares in England rose by almost 45 per cent last week. More than 25,000 people who were swabbed in the seven-day spell ending June 2 had Covid, up from 17,000 the week before

The rise in Test and Trace figures came despite around 850,000 fewer tests being carried out compared to the week before

Professor Tim Spector (left), an epidemiologist at King’s College London said the Covid situation in the UK ‘has rapidly changed’. Right: How a ‘mix and match’ unlocking might look on June 21

Meanwhile, one virus-tracking scientist even claimed the outbreak could plateau soon because of the combined effect of jabs and warmer summer weather.

In other developments today, Matt Hancock admitted the first lockdown was delayed despite initial warnings over 820,000 deaths because ministers feared Britons would not tolerate the restrictions for long.

In a dramatic evidence session with MPs, the Health Secretary said that as early as January he was presented with a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ of the huge potential toll, based on Spanish Flu. But imposing the draconian first national restrictions did not happen until March 23, with Mr Hancock pointing to expert advice that the public would only ‘put up with it’ for a limited time and concerns about the ‘immediate costs’.

Social distancing and face masks should stay FOREVER says Communist SAGE committee member Professor Susan Michie 

Social distancing and wearing face masks should stay forever, a Communist-supporting SAGE scientist has claimed.

Professor Susan Michie, of University College London, said she thinks the draconian restrictions should become part of people’s every day routine.

In a bizarre comparison, she said Britons never used to wear seat belts in cars or ‘pick up dog poo in the park’ but learned to over time.

It comes as the country waits with bated breath to see if Boris Johnson will stick to his roadmap and launch ‘Freedom Day’ on June 21.

The PM could implement a ‘mix and match’ unlocking, with face masks, work from home guidance and the rule of six indoors likely to still be mandatory.

But in a boost for young couples there were reports the 30-guest cap on weddings may be shelved.

Professor Michie told Channel 5 News: ‘Vaccines are a really important part of the pandemic control but it’s only one part.

‘Test, trace and isolate system, border controls are really essential. And there third thing is people’s behaviour.

‘That is the behaviour of social distancing, of when you’re indoors making sure there’s good ventilation and hand and surface hygiene.

‘We’ll need to keep these going in the long term and that will probably be good not only for Covid but to reduce other diseases at a time when the NHS is…’

She was cut off by presenter Claudia-Liza Armah who asked her: ‘When you say the long term, what do you mean by that – how long?’

Professor Michie replied: ‘I think forever, to some extent.’ Both the host and the professor laugh at the bizarre suggestion.

 

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In other developments today: 

  • Matt Hancock gave a damning assessment of the expert views on asymptomatic transmission, saying the WHO told him at the end of January that claims coming out of China were ‘likely a mistranslation’; 
  • NHS data revealed more than 5million people in England are now waiting for hospital treatment — the highest number since records began in 2007; 
  • Airline officials urged Rishi Sunak was urged to launch a new bailout package for the beleaguered aviation industry amid growing fears of a second ‘lost summer’; 
  • The Care Provider Alliance claimed Matt Hancock was repeatedly warned over the risk of not testing people discharged from hospitals into care homes at the start of the pandemic.

The ZOE Covid Study data suggests cases are higher and increasing faster in the unvaccinated population in the UK.

There are currently 1,917 vaccinated people falling ill with the virus every day, compared to just shy of 10,000 unvaccinated people.

Cases are increasing in both groups, jumping by 89 per cent among vaccinated people. But the rate of growth was quicker among those not yet jabbed (114 per cent).

Scotland and the North West were the worst affected regions in the UK.

An estimated 3,465 people are now coming down with Covid every day in the North West — in which swathes of the region have been given guidance to combat the Indian variant in hotspots — and 2,446 in Scotland.

But illness is rising significantly more rapidly in 20- to 29-year-olds than in vaccinated older age groups.

There were more than 400 symptomatic cases per 100,000 people in the cohort, compared to fewer than 50 in over-60s.

Professor Spector said: ‘The Covid situation in the UK has rapidly changed from one of the best performing nations to a nation again struggling with rising cases. 

‘Official confirmed cases are now around 7,500, which is the highest daily figure since late February. However, when you dig into the data, it’s clear that this is an epidemic among the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated populations in the UK and, due to the way vaccines have been rolled out, is largely affecting younger generations.

‘The rapid rise is likely down to two compounding factors; increased social interaction and a newly dominant variant that is much more transmissible.

‘It’s no surprise that people are becoming fatigued with social distancing after a long 15 months of restrictions, which will only encourage the spread. 

‘The good news is that fully vaccinated people have much greater protection. Vaccines are working and we want to encourage people to exercise caution, especially if they feel at all unwell, until they’ve been fully vaccinated. 

‘The race is on to fully vaccinate the whole population to save lives and return to normal life.’ 

Separate Test and Trace figures today showed 25,091 people tested positive for Covid in England at least once in the week to June 2.

It is the highest number of people testing positive since the week to March 31.

Data also showed the number of people taking rapid Covid tests has fallen to its lowest level for three months – despite all members of the public being eligible to take two rapid tests a week.

Just under 3.5million lateral flow device (LFD) tests were conducted in England in the week to June 2, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.

This is down from 4.8million in the previous week, and is the lowest total since the week to March 3, when just under 2.8million tests were carried out.

The drop in the latest week coincided with the summer half-term holiday in schools, the Department of Health said.

LFD tests are swab tests that give results in 30 minutes or less without the need for processing in a laboratory.

 

What are the top 25 Covid ‘hotspots’ according to the ZOE Symptom Study?

1. Stirling

2. Bury 

3. Manchester

4. Rochdale

5. Trafford

6. Bolton 

7. Kirklees 

8. Perth and Kinross 

9. Sunderland

10. Luton

11. South Ayrshire

12. East Lancashire

13. Edinburgh

14. Southwark

15. St Helens

16. Wigan

17. Oldham

18. Renfrewshire

19. West Lothian

20. East Dunbartonshire

21. Aberdeenshire

22. Wrexham

22. Leeds

24. Derby

25. Cheshire

838 cases per 100,000

672 

672 

605

589

553

539

501 

499 

473

453

395

390

379

379

349

345

336

309

297

295

290

290

288

273 

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Since April 9, everyone in England has been eligible for rapid Covid-19 tests twice a week.

Speaking at the G7 summit in Cornwall yesterday, Boris Johnson gave the clearest hint yet that lockdown easing on June 21 would not go ahead because of the rapid spread of the Indian variant.

Me Johnson said: ‘What everybody can see very clearly is that cases are going up and in some places hospitalisations are going up. What we need to assess is the extent to which the vaccine rollout, which has been phenomenal, has built up enough protection in the population in order for us to go ahead to the next stage. 

‘So that is what we will be looking at and there are arguments being made one way or another. But we will be driven by the data, we will be looking at that and setting it out on Monday.’ 

Just hours before the Prime Minister spoke, top SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson suggested it would take at least another three weeks for scientists to know how much more transmissible the Indian variant is, suggesting hopes of ending lockdown in a fortnight are unlikely. 

Professor Ferguson, who has guided the Government through the pandemic, said scientists still don’t know how much faster the variant spreads, how much more deadly it is nor how big the third wave will be.

The chance that scientific advisers, ministers and Boris Johnson — who committed to ‘data not dates’ — will sign off on June 21 without this information is slim to none. An extra three weeks to collect the figures plus the PM’s one-week notice for a change in restrictions suggests in the best case scenario it will be early July before Step Four of the roadmap is taken.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘It’s well within the possibility that we could see another, third, wave at least comparable in terms of hospitalisations, as the second wave. At least deaths, I think, would certainly be lower. It’s hard to judge.’

The Imperial College London epidemiologist said researchers need to see how many people are admitted to hospital and die as a result of the current surge in infections. 

They believe it is around 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant, more likely to put people in hospital and that vaccines work less well against it. 

There have now been more than 19,000 new cases in just three days and Professor Ferguson suggested the outbreak’s doubling time could be less than a week, warning of ‘quite fast doubling, comparable with what we saw before Christmas.’

The prolific SAGE member’s warning is the closest thing to confirmation that Boris Johnson will delay the ending of social distancing laws planned for June 21. His ministers today took a ‘wait and see’ approach to questions about the roadmap and told people to hold off making summer plans.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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Moderna asks FDA to expand emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine to include kids ages 12-17

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Moderna Inc has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expand emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine to Americans between ages 12 and 17.

When the vaccine was originally authorized for use by the FDA in December 2020, it was only for those aged 18 and older. 

However, recent phase III clinical trial data showed no children who were given the immunization fell ill with the virus within 14 of their second dose while four children given the placebo later tested positive.

According to Moderna, this is ‘consistent with a vaccine efficacy of 100 percent.’

It comes exactly four weeks after Pfizer-BioNTech received approval from the FDA to administer its vaccine to children between ages 12 and 15. 

As of Thursday, more than seven million children between ages 12 and 17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Still, only about one in three parents said they would immunize their children right away.

Although children can contract COVID-19 and pass the disease on to others, they tend to not get very ill and make up about 0.1 percent of deaths.

Moderna Inc has asked the FDA to expand emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine to Americans between ages 12 and 17. Pictured: A healthcare worker holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site in New York City, January 29

‘We are pleased to announce that we have submitted for an emergency use authorization for our COVID-19 vaccine with the FDA for use in adolescents in the United States,’ said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in a statement

‘We are encouraged that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infection in adolescents. 

‘We have already filed for authorization with Health Canada and the European Medicines Agency and we will file with regulatory agencies around the world for this important younger age population. We remain committed to helping to end the COVID-19 pandemic.’ 

Children are often the last group to be tested during clinical trials because they are not merely little adults.

Their bodies and immune systems behave differently, meaning they might have different treatment needs.

What’s more, children may need different doses or needle sizes depending on their height, weight and age – which is why most children are only vaccinated after safety has been well-documented in the adult population.

Moderna’s study included 3,732 adolescents from ages 12 to 17 enrolled at sites across the U.S.

The vaccine candidate, known as mRNA-1273, was given as two doses four weeks apart with half of the group given the jab and half given the placebo.

In addition to appearing to be 100 percent effective after two doses, the vaccine was found to be 93 percent effective after one dose.

This included against both symptomatic and asymptomatic illness.

Side effects were mild or moderate with the most common being pain at the site of injection, similar to adults in the clinical trial last year.

Other common symptoms were fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills, but no serious side effects were reported. 

Moderna added that its study looking at COVID-19 vaccines among children ages six months to 11 years, known as KidCOVE, is ongoing. 

Depending on how quickly FDA regulators take to review Moderna’s application, it could mean another option for parents to vaccinate their children before the start of the 2021-22 school year.   

It could also help boost vaccination rates with more than 25 million adolescents between ages 12 and 17 in the U.S., according to data from the Census Bureau.  

However, despite the promising results, many parents are not enthusiastic about vaccinating their children.

In a recent poll, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, parents were asked if they would get their child immunized once a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized and available for their child’s age group.

Only about three in 10 parents – 29 percent – of children under 18 said they would get their child vaccinated ‘right away.’ 

The poll also found 15 percent only plan to vaccinate their children if the school requires it and 19 percent said their child will definitely not be getting vaccinated. 

What’s more, although children can contract COVID-19 and pass the disease on to others, they tend to not get very will  

More than 3.94 million children have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, but only make up 0.1 percent of all deaths.  

This is a breaking news story and will be updated. 

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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