Covid infections in England fall by two-thirds since January, React study shows
Covid infections have fallen by two-thirds in a month in England but the virus is now spreading most among primary-age children and young people, research suggests. The React 1 study from Imperial College London points to the third national lockdown having significantly curbed the spread of the coronavirus despite the emergence of new variants.
Prevalence remains high however, with about one in 200 people infected with Covid-19 between 4 and 13 February, compared with about three times that number between 6 and 21 January, the interim findings showed.
Although these are interim findings, based on more than 85,000 swab tests from randomly selected people, they suggest social distancing and restrictions are having an impact. Prof Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial, said the drop in infection rates was “really encouraging”.
Read the full story in The Guardian.
World’s first COVID-19 human challenge trials to begin in UK
Healthy, young volunteers will be infected with coronavirus to test vaccines and treatments in the world’s first Covid-19 “human challenge” study, which will take place in the UK. The Human Challenge study, which has received ethics approval, will start in the next few weeks and recruit 90 people aged 18-30.
They will be exposed to the virus in a safe and controlled environment while medics monitor their health. Human challenge studies have played a vital role in pushing the development of treatments for a number of diseases, including malaria, typhoid, cholera and flu. The trials will help scientists work out the smallest amount of coronavirus needed to cause infection, and how the body’s immune system reacts to it. This will give doctors a better understanding of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, which will feed into the development of vaccines and treatments.
The study is being delivered by a partnership between the UK government’s Vaccines Taskforce, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the company hVIVO which has pioneered viral human challenge models.
Extra 1.7m vulnerable added to COVID-19 shielding list
On Wednesday, it was announced an extra 1.7 million vulnerable people are to be added to England’s shielding list. It comes after a new protection model was developed that takes into account extra factors rather than just health and was developed following work by Oxford University which looked at the characteristics of people who died in the first wave to better understand risk. This calculation includes things such as ethnicity, deprivation (by postcode) and weight to work out a person’s risk of becoming seriously ill if they were to catch Covid.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said: “All of these people who are identified for the first time, are those who have not had an individual clinical condition that we’ve previously been able to identify through the clinically extremely vulnerable group, but they are people who have multiple personal risk factors and underlying health conditions which move them into a higher risk group.”
Another new coronavirus variant found in the UK
Scientists have identified another new variant of coronavirus in the UK with some potentially troubling mutations. B.1.525 appears similar to the South African variant which prompted door-to-door tests in areas where it has been found. Researchers from Edinburgh University have found 38 cases so far – 2 in Wales and 36 in England – in samples dating back to December.
It has been seen in other countries, including Denmark, Nigeria and the US. UK experts are currently studying it to understand what risk it poses. It is too soon to say if it should be added to the UK’s list of “variants of concern” and whether mass testing for it should happen. So, for now, it is a “variant under investigation”.
Prof Ravi Gupta, from the University of Cambridge, is one of the scientists advising the government on new and emerging virus threats. He said B.1.525 appeared to have “significant mutations” already seen in some of the other new variants. “That is partly reassuring because we can predict what their likely effect is.” he added.
Prof Yvonne Doyle from Public Health England (PHE) said: “PHE is monitoring data about emerging variants very closely and where necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, such as extra testing and enhanced contact tracing.”
Quote of the week
A new report by Novartis UK has recommended continuing collaboration across the life sciences sector in the UK after identifying enhanced collective efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Possible report has found that responses to COVID-19 were collective and represented an enhanced collaboration between government, regulators, academia and the pharmaceutical industry. This enhanced collaboration, according to the report, provides a new opportunity to ‘unlock’ the potential of the UK life sciences sector.
“COVID-19 and our collective response to it brought greater innovation and health service transformation than witnessed in generations…We have seen that we are stronger, more innovative and more sustainable when we work together. To overcome the substantial pressures on the health service, it is crucial that we sustain these new ways of working in the years to come.” said Chinmay Bhatt, managing director of Novartis Pharmaceuticals UK, Ireland and Nordics.