Coronavirus

Coronavirus live: UK A&Es in ‘terrible place’ as chancellor rejects calls for immediate ‘plan B’

coronavirus-live:-uk-a&es-in-‘terrible-place’-as-chancellor-rejects-calls-for-immediate-‘plan-b’

Here’s a round up of the key events so far today.

  • The UK chancellor Rishi Sunak said data did not suggest it was time to move to plan B. “We’re monitoring everything. But at the moment the data does not suggest that we should immediately be moving to plan B,” he said.
  • Boris Johnson said vaccines will get the country through the winter and out of the pandemic. Johnson, who has said there are no plans for another lockdown, said: “Vaccines are our way through this winter.”
  • Prof Adam Finn, who is on the UK’s Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said Covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths are rising, and warned against complacency in what he said is a “worsening” situation. Vaccines were not going to be enough to keep the spread under control, and people need to make effort to avoid contact in order to slow transmission rates, he added.
  • Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the UK government should introduce its plan B to tackle the rising rates of coronavirus now. On whether plan B should be introduced now, she said: “Yes, but let’s not let the government off the hook with plan A either.”
  • Dr Katherine Henderson, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said emergency departments in the UK are in a “terrible place”. She said: “We’re already struggling to cope”.
  • Parents in England are now able to book Covid vaccinations online for children aged between 12 and 15. Just over 2.5 million letters will arrive with parents and guardians from Monday inviting them to book a jab online through the National Booking Service.
  • From 4am today, the coronavirus rules have been relaxed for travellers returning to England who are fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine. Just in time for half-term, fully vaccinated people arriving in England from a non-red list country can use a lateral flow test rather than the more expensive PCR version on or before day two.

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Hi. Caroline Davies here, back with the blog. You can get in touch on caroline.davies@guardian.co.uk

Romania reported record numbers of daily coronavirus fatalities and infections on last Tuesday, Reuters reports. The virus was killing one person every five minutes on average this month in a country where the inoculation rate is low.

The Covid death rate in Romania has risen sharply in the past few weeks. Max Roser, a researcher at the University of Oxford and founder of Our World in Data, posted the following chart. He noted the death rate is now higher than in the US or the UK during their worst waves during the pandemic.

Max Roser (@MaxCRoser)

The COVID death rate in Romania.

After a very fast increase it is now higher than in the US or the UK during their worst waves in the pandemic.

[here you can find it for all countries: https://t.co/cyYwixWeP7] pic.twitter.com/kxiGfdLBFP

October 24, 2021

It comes as Reuters reports that hospitals in Romania are stretched to breaking point, with emergency beds fully occupied across the country. Morgues were also running at full capacity.

While rich countries debate booster jabs, many in the world’s poorest have yet to receive any. AP reports on the extraordinary length researchers are going to to reverse engineer a coronavirus vaccine to help alleviate these dire shortages:

In a pair of Cape Town warehouses converted into a maze of airlocked sterile rooms, young scientists are assembling and calibrating the equipment needed to reverse engineer a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to reach South Africa and most of the world’s poorest people.

The energy in the gleaming labs matches the urgency of their mission to narrow vaccine disparities. By working to replicate Moderna’s Covid-19 shot, the scientists are effectively making an end run around an industry that has vastly prioritised rich countries over poor in both sales and manufacturing.

And they are doing it with unusual backing from the World Health Organization, which is coordinating a vaccine research, training and production hub in South Africa along with a related supply chain for critical raw materials.

It’s a last resort effort to make doses for people going without, and the intellectual property implications are still murky.

“We are doing this for Africa at this moment, and that drives us,” said Emile Hendricks, a 22-year-old biotechnologist for Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, the company trying to reproduce the Moderna jab. “We can no longer rely on these big superpowers to come in and save us.”

Some experts see reverse engineering – recreating vaccines from fragments of publicly available information – as one of the few remaining ways to redress the power imbalances of the pandemic. Only 0.7% of vaccines have gone to low-income countries so far, while nearly half have gone to wealthy countries, according to an analysis by the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

That WHO, which relies upon the goodwill of wealthy countries and the pharmaceutical industry for its continued existence, is leading the attempt to reproduce a proprietary vaccine demonstrates the depths of the supply disparities.

The UN backed effort to even out global vaccine distribution, known as Covax, has failed to alleviate dire shortages in poor countries. Donated doses are coming in at a fraction of what is needed to fill the gap. Meanwhile, pressure for drug companies to share, including Biden administration demands on Moderna, has led nowhere.

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Israel and the United Arab Emirates have signed a “green corridor” agreement allowing passengers vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel freely between the two countries, Reuters reports citing the Israeli consulate in Dubai.

Hello, I’m Aamna Mohdin and I’ll be taking over the blog while Caroline has a break. If you want to get in touch, you can email me: aamna.mohdin@theguardian.com or message me on Twitter

Melbourne, which emerged from its latest spate of Covid-19 restrictions on Friday, will see more curbs eased next week when Victoria state reaches an 80% full vaccination rate, officials said on Sunday.

Melbourne’s population of around 5 million have endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of stay-at-home restrictions during six lockdowns since March 2020, longer than the 234-day continuous lockdown in Buenos Aires, Reuters reports.

Starting on Friday, when 80% of people across Victoria – of which Melbourne is the capital – are expected to be fully vaccinated, Melburnians will be free to travel throughout the state and masks will no longer be required outdoors.

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Vaccines not enough as UK cases rise, says expert

Prof Adam Finn, who is on the UK’s Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said Covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths are rising, and warned against complacency in what he said is a “worsening” situation.

“And they will go up as the number of cases go up because the virus will reach people who are vulnerable and who may get seriously ill,” he told Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News.

He said the biggest risk is among those who have not had any vaccine yet, including younger adults.

Vaccines were not going to be enough to keep the spread under control, and people need to make effort to avoid contact in order to slow transmission rates, he added.

“They do have an effect on that, but they’re not by themselves going to be enough at the present time to keep the spread of the virus under control.

“And we do need to see people continuing to make efforts to avoid contact, to avoid transmission, and to do other things as well as get vaccinated if we’re going to stop this rise from going up further.”

It was important to “stick to the science” when discussing the prospect of extending the Covid-19 booster programme to people under 50 and offering booster jabs at five months rather than six months.

He said: “Just giving more people vaccines, including people who maybe don’t actually need the vaccines yet, could actually run the risk of making things worse rather than better.

“If you boost people before they actually need the vaccine, it is in some senses a waste of vaccine, but also it means that you are immunising them earlier and they may make a smaller response to the vaccine and that response may wear off earlier.

Asked if the government should move to plan B now, he said: “Well, some kind of plan B.” He worries that the “wrong message” is being sent out to the public, he said.

“And I worry in fact that the vaccine programme itself is suffering as a consequence of this suggestion that somehow the problem’s gone and we can all go back to normal again, because that will increasingly make people jump to the conclusion that if they’ve not been vaccinated there’s no real need to do it.

“So I do think we need to see a very different kind of message coming from the government now that there is a serious problem, and we all need to continue to contribute to reducing transmission, so that we can get through the winter and the NHS can stay afloat and absolutely we can avoid lockdowns, and the disasters that those bring.

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Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the UK government should introduce its ”plan B” to tackle the rising rates of coronavirus now.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Reeves was asked what Labour’s position was on reintroducing restrictions such as the wearing of face coverings and working from home.

She said: “Labour as a responsible opposition have always said that we would follow the science, and we’ve seen today that Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) are saying that some aspects of plan B, like wearing masks on public transports and in shops, and also working from home more flexibly should be introduced.

“I think the first thing is the government have got to do more to make plan A work. If the scientists are saying work from home and masks, we should do that. So get A working better because the vaccination programme has been stalling, introduce those parts of plan B.

“But there are also things not in A or B that need to be done, like paying statutory sick pay from day one and also better ventilation in public spaces.”

Asked directly whether plan B should be introduced now, she said: “Yes, but let’s not let the government off the hook with plan A either.”

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UK A&E in ‘terrible place’ already says emergency medicine chief

Dr Katherine Henderson, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said emergency departments in the UK are in a “terrible place”.

Asked if she thinks emergency departments are going to be able to cope this winter, she told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday:

We’re already struggling to cope. This is not something that’s coming in the next couple of months. We’re already in a terrible place where we have got large queues of ambulances with vulnerable people waiting in those ambulances to be offloaded into departments and other patients at home waiting to be picked up by the ambulance.

That’s the thing that really worries me; that these are patients who have not yet received treatment that we don’t necessarily know what’s wrong with them that we’re really struggling to get into our healthcare facilities to then work out what we need to do.

Crowding was harmful to patients, she said, adding that there was already crowding in emergency departments before the pandemic.

“We didn’t go into the pandemic in a great place in emergency care. We didn’t have enough beds then. The problem is that things are worse at the moment so we need everybody to be as careful with the healthcare resources as they possibly can be, and try and minimise the need for healthcare resources.

So if we’ve got 8,000 patients in hospital who are suffering Covid, if we didn’t have those patients that would be another 8,000 beds in the system.

So every bed that gets filled by a patient with Covid in a sense is in a hospital bed with a potentially avoidable disease, and that’s what we need people to focus on if we want to get through the elective backlog.

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