Chris Whitty
Coronavirus, News

Covid: ‘Most dangerous time’ of the pandemic, says Prof Whitty

The UK will go through the “most dangerous time” of the pandemic in the weeks before vaccine rollout has an impact, England’s chief medical officer has warned.

Prof Chris Whitty urged people to minimise all unnecessary contact with others.

The next few weeks will be “the worst” of the pandemic for the NHS, he said. Thousands more people are due to receive a vaccine this week after seven mass centres opened across England.

NHS England said hundreds of more GP-led and hospital services would also open later this week. But with all centres, people will need to wait until they receive an invitation.

The government is aiming to offer vaccinations to around 15 million people in the UK – the over-70s, older care home residents and staff, frontline healthcare workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable – by mid-February.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will set out the government’s vaccine delivery plan at a news conference later. He said the proposals would be the “keystone of our exit out of the pandemic”.

Outlining the vaccine rollout in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that ministers aim to give all over-80s the first dose of the vaccine over the next four weeks.

The Welsh Government plans to offer a vaccine to all over-50s and everyone who is at greater risk by spring.

In Northern Ireland, which is rolling out vaccines for care workers, health trusts have seen the busiest 48 hours since the start of the pandemic.

Mr Hancock said on Sunday about two million people in the UK had been vaccinated so far. Over the weekend, the UK passed the milestone of 80,000 deaths with coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Map showing where England's vaccination centres and mass vaccination sites are, as well as the UK's hospital hubs


BBC Covid Stats
Coronavirus, News

Covid-19 in the UK: How many coronavirus cases are there in your area?

Daily cases at record level

Coronavirus cases are now rising fast again, driven by a new variant of the virus thought to be much more easily transmissible than other strains.

A further 54,940 confirmed cases were announced by the government on Sunday – down, like Saturday, on Friday’s record total of 68,000.

Around one in 50 people in England are estimated to have the virus, according to a new estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Chart shows daily cases are continuing to increase

It is thought the infection rate was much higher than was evident from the reported number of cases during the first peak in spring. Testing capacity was too limited to detect the true number of daily cases.

After the first peak in April, infections started rising again in July, with the rate of growth increasing sharply in September and October. It fell in November before rising steeply in December.

Although the new variant is now spreading more rapidly than the original version, it is not believed to be more deadly.

Short presentational grey line

Where are cases high?

Cases are rising steeply in nearly all parts of the UK, while London, the South East and East have the highest estimated rate of people with coronavirus in England.

On Friday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” in the capital and said the spread of Covid was “out of control”.

Chart shows daily cases rising in all parts of UK

Coronavirus across the UK

Tap or click to see how many cases per 100,000 in the latest week

map showing where the hotspots are for coronavirus cases in the UK

Daily deaths remain high

The average number of daily deaths began to rise again in September, following the first peak in spring.

On Sunday, the government announced a further 563 deaths. Friday had seen the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic, with 1,325 deaths announced.

However, Friday’s total probably included some deaths not reported earlier because of delays over the Christmas holidays.

Of Sunday’s total, 498 were in England, 45 in Wales, 17 in Northern Ireland and 3 in Scotland.

Chart shows daily deaths are continuing to increase

Rules were amended over the summer to include deaths in the coronavirus total only if they occurred within 28 days of a positive test. Previously in England, all deaths after a positive test were included.

England has seen the majority of UK deaths from Covid-19. Using the 28-day cut-off, there have been about 70,000.


Covid-19 Vaccine rollout
Coronavirus, News

Why you have to wait for your COVID-19 vaccine

People most at risk from the complications of COVID-19 are being offered the vaccine first.

In the UK, there are 2 approved COVID-19 vaccines. They both require 2 doses to provide longer-lasting protection. Both have been shown to be effective in clinical trials and have a good safety record.

An independent group of experts has recommended that the NHS first offers these vaccines to those at highest risk of catching the disease and of suffering serious complications or dying from COVID-19. This includes older adults in care homes and frontline health and social care workers.

When more vaccine becomes available, the vaccines will be offered to other people at risk as soon as possible.

Eligible groups

You should have the vaccine when it is offered if you are:

  • living in a care home for older adults
  • a frontline health care worker
  • a frontline social care worker
  • a carer working in a care home for older residents

Then the vaccine will also be offered in age order to:

  • those aged over 80 years
  • those aged over 75 years
  • those aged over 70 years
  • adults on the NHS shielded patient list
  • those aged over 65 years
  • adults under 65 years with long term conditions (see conditions below)

Those aged 50 to 64 will be offered it later.

Clinical conditions list:

  • a blood cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)
  • diabetes
  • dementia
  • a heart problem
  • a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
  • a kidney disease
  • a liver disease
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as HIV infection, steroid medication, chemotherapy or radiotherapy)
  • rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or psoriasis
  • have had an organ transplant
  • had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • a neurological or muscle wasting condition
  • a severe or profound learning disability
  • a problem with your spleen, example sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
  • are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)
  • are severely mentally ill

At the same time as the adults under 65 years with long term conditions the vaccine will also be offered to:

  • adults who provide regular care for an elderly or disabled person
  • younger adults in long stay nursing and residential settings

Please wait your turn. If you are not in the groups above, you will have to wait for a COVID-19 vaccination until more supplies are available. When more vaccine becomes available we will be offering it to more groups of the population.


Covid-19 Keep Apart
Coronavirus, News

Covid: Regional rules ‘probably going to get tougher’, says Boris Johnson

Regional restrictions in England are “probably about to get tougher” to curb rising Covid infections, the prime minister has warned.

Boris Johnson told the BBC stronger measures may be required in parts of the country in the coming weeks.

He said this included the possibility of keeping schools closed, although this is not “something we want to do”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for new England-wide restrictions within 24 hours.

Sir Keir said coronavirus was “clearly out of control” and it was “inevitable more schools are going to have to close”.

It comes as the UK recorded more than 50,000 new confirmed Covid cases for the sixth day in a row, with 54,990 announced on Sunday.

An additional 454 deaths within 28 days of a positive test result have also been reported, meaning the total by this measure is now above 75,000.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson said he stuck by his previous prediction that the situation would be better by the spring, and he hoped “tens of millions” would be vaccinated in the next three months.

But he added: “It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country. I’m fully, fully reconciled to that.”

“And I bet the people of this country are reconciled to that because, until the vaccine really comes on stream in a massive way, we’re fighting this virus with the same set of tools.”


Covid-19 Vaccine rollout
Coronavirus, News

Covid vaccine: When will you be eligible?

The NHS has begun the biggest mass vaccination campaign in its history, with a jab that protects against Covid-19.

So far, two vaccines have been approved in the UK. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first to be approved for mass use in over-16s.

More than 600,000 people in the UK have been vaccinated since Margaret Keenan became the first in the world to get that jab outside of a clinical trial.

Four weeks later, a vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca was also judged to be safe, and roll out of this second vaccine will now begin alongside the Pfizer jab.

Read more at:

Hospital Crisis
Coronavirus, News

Covid-19: Hospitals in crisis as ambulances queue and staff are asked to cancel leave

Hospitals across London and the South East and East of England are struggling to meet rising demand as covid-19 hospital admissions rise to the highest point in the pandemic and the new, more transmissible variant of the virus spreads across the country.

In the face of rising demand, medical leaders have told The BMJ that some hospitals are having to ration oxygen, staff are being asked to work extra shifts, and patients are being treated in the back of ambulances because hospitals have no space.

Read more at:

BMJ 2020;371:m4980

Dr Kenneth Baillie ICU
Coronavirus, News

Genes May Hold Key To New Treatments For Covid-19 Infections

Why do some people have no symptoms from a Covid-19 infection, and others quickly become septic, develop respiratory failure, and die? We’ve had only a few clues—age, gender, and weight are crude predictors of trouble. 

A new multicenter study from the UK sheds more light and brings the promise of new treatments. Dr Kenneth Baillie, a critical care specialist at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, is the project’s chief investigator. 

Using genetics can help find targeted new therapies. In this case, they found five genes (called LZTFL1, OAS1, DPP9, TYK2, and IFNAR2) that were markedly different between ICU patients and volunteers who did not have Covid-19. He continues, “Your DNA is a long code, which we represent as the letters A, C, T and G. There are 3,000,000,000 letters in the code to make a human.

Dr. Kenneth Baillie, a critical care specialist at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, is the project’s chief investigator. 

At this one position, if you have a “T” instead of a “C”, then your odds of life-threatening Covid-19 are 1.3x greater.

Doesn’t sound like much, and compared to the effect of age on risk, it isn’t. But that’s not why it matters.

That one change makes a difference to how much of the TYK2 gene you make. So we can ask, if you make more TYK2, are you more at risk?

The answer is yes. Less TYK2 is associated with lower risk. That suggests that a drug that inhibits TYK2 might make people less likely to develop life-threatening Covid-19. The good news is that we have a whole class of drugs that do this (JAK inhibitors).

The other genes we find suggest other treatments, which we discuss in the paper. We already know that genetic evidence doubles the chance that a drug will be successful.

This demonstrates the beauty of genetics for drug target discovery. Faced with a new disease, that we didn’t understand at all, we can look across the *entire* code that makes our immune system, to find the exact points we need to target with drugs, in order to save lives.”

This thread is a stellar example of effective science communication.

This multi-centre study is also remarkable for having been done within only six months and for the sheer number of collaborating centres. There were 208 ICUs across the UK which already have enrolled 2700 critically ill patients in this study to examine their genes.


Pfizer Vaccine
Coronavirus, News

Saudi Arabia approves Pfizer-BioNTech virus vaccine

Saudi Arabia has so far recorded nearly 360,000 novel coronavirus cases, including more than 6,000 deaths — the highest in the Gulf. But the kingdom has also reported a high recovery rate (AFP)

Saudi Arabia today approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech novel coronavirus vaccine, state media reported, becoming the second Gulf country after Bahrain to green-light the drug

Saudi Arabia on Thursday approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech novel coronavirus vaccine, state media reported, becoming the second Gulf country after Bahrain to green-light the drug.

“The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA)… has approved the registration of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Health authorities in the kingdom can import and use the vaccine, ”

Statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The SFDA did not specify when it would begin the rollout of the vaccine by US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

Last week, Bahrain announced it had approved the emergency use of the same vaccine.

Britain and Canada have also approved it.

American regulators are due to meet on Thursday to assess the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency approval in the United States, the worst-hit nation with more than 15 million known infections and close to 290,000 deaths.

The US Food and Drug Administration is likely to issue an allergy warning if it approves the vaccine, following Britain’s lead, after two health care workers there suffered reactions and needed treatment.

The SFDA said it will analyse samples from “each incoming vaccine shipment before using it” to ensure quality standards.

Saudi Arabia has so far recorded nearly 360,000 novel coronavirus cases, including more than 6,000 deaths — the highest in the Gulf. But the kingdom has also reported a high recovery rate.

Companies have been racing to find a vaccine for the virus, which has killed over 1.5 million people and infected more than 68 million since it emerged in China in December of last year.


Coronavirus, News

Why Is the COVID-19 Outbreak So Much More Infectious Than Others? A ‘Spike’ Turns Out to Be the Cause

The COVID-19 outbreak that emerged in China has infected millions of people and killed thousands worldwide. Public health authorities are racing for the pathogen to be suppressed, but this is not the first time the planet has had to combat a modern coronavirus outbreak. Here’s how the present scenario relates to previous epidemics.

The latest coronavirus was first documented in Wuhan, China, triggering a disease named COVID-19. It has now expanded to over 190 nations, including Japan, Italy, Iran, South Korea, and the United States.

The virus origins have not been verified, although early genetic research indicates that the pathogen emerged in bats and was then transmitted to an intermediary species before spilling into humans.Coronavirus Testing Site Set Up At FedEx Field In Landover, Maryland

(Photo : Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MARYLAND – MARCH 30: Healthcare professionals prepare to screen people for the coronavirus at a testing site erected by the Maryland National Guard in a parking lot at FedEx Field March 30, 2020 in Landover, Maryland. The guard, in cooperation with the state of Maryland and Prince Georges County, said the site will be able to test about 100 people a day for COVID-19 if they have been recommended by a doctor. There has been 1413 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland and 15 deaths since the start of the global pandemic.

What makes COVID-19 more dangerous than these two?

Latest experiments have shown that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is highly adapted for human ACE2 binding. Simulations of viral binding of various species to homologous ACE2 proteins demonstrated the preference for bats and human ACE2.

The initial preprint of the researchers’ manuscript, made accessible online in March, was one of the first to computationally examine the high affinity or propensity of SARS-CoV-2 to bind with human ACE2.

“Beyond explaining the molecular mechanism of binding with ACE2, we also explored changes in the virus spike that could change its affinity with human ACE2,” said researchers said.

The SARS-CoV-2 protein spike attachment to ACE2, situated in the upper respiratory tract and acts as an entry point for other coronaviruses, like SARS, was computer-modeled by the researchers. The team used a molecular simulation technique to compute the binding power and interactions of the viral protein’s connection to ACE2.