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Another record daily rise in UK Covid cases but Omicron ‘appears less severe’ | Coronavirus



The UK has seen another record rise in daily Covid cases, with 129,471 reported on Tuesday in England and Wales alone, as a leading scientist said the Omicron variant was “not the same disease we were seeing a year ago”.

According to official figures from the UK government’s coronavirus dashboard, a record 117,093 cases – infections that are picked up through testing – were reported for England on Tuesday, up from a previous high of 113,628 on Christmas Day. In Wales 12,378 cases were reported on Tuesday, also a record high.

The Scottish government later reported 9,360 cases in the past 24 hours, making a total of 138,831 cases across the UK on Tuesday, by date reported. The figure is higher than at any other point in the pandemic for the entire UK, despite data missing for Northern Ireland.

It came as Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Omicron “appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital”, and high Covid death rates in the UK are “now history”.

Data from NHS England released on Tuesday revealed that the number of patients in hospital had risen by more than 1,000 in the space of a day, with 9,546 beds occupied by people with Covid on Tuesday, compared with 8,474 the day before – although some trusts, thought to have about 220 Covid patients in total based on recent submissions, did not report their figures for Monday.

Tuesday’s hospital figure is a 38% increase on that reported on 21 December and the highest since 3 March, although still far below the peak last winter of more than 34,000 people in hospital with Covid.

Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, cautioned that the latest daily case figures do not take into account changes in testing behaviour over the festive period, or delays in the processing of tests.

Clarke added that while some people in hospital with Covid will have been admitted for a different reason, the situation should not be dismissed as insignificant.

“These are vulnerable people whose condition is serious enough to require them to be in hospital over Christmas,” he said. “There is no condition I know of that cannot be made worse by Covid-19.”

However some scientists have struck a more upbeat note. Bell said that although hospital admissions had increased in recent weeks as Omicron spreads through the population, fewer patients were needing high-flow oxygen and the average length of stay was down to three days.

“The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago of intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely, that is now history, in my view, and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue,” he said.

The figures came a day after Downing Street confirmed that no new coronavirus restrictions would be introduced in England before the new year. In the rest of the UK, a raft of measures are in place, including the closure of nightclubs in Wales, and limiting socialising in Scotland to groups of up to three households.

The decision has been criticised by some scientists, with one expert describing it as “the greatest divergence between scientific advice and legislation” since the start of the pandemic.

While the latest data suggests the risk of being admitted to hospital is up to 70% less for people with Omicron compared with those infected with Delta, the sheer numbers of people with the new variant has caused serious concern both in terms of the number of people requiring hospital care and widespread impact on staffing.

According to the Office for National Statistics an estimated 1 in 35 people had Covid in the week ending 19 December, with the figure even higher in London at 1 in 20.

Experts have also cautioned that it is not yet clear how the virus has moved through the population over the Christmas period, and what will happen once the rate of infection begins to rise in older people.

The disparity in Covid rules and guidance across the four nations of the UK has also led to other concerns, including that partygoers might travel across the border from Wales to England to celebrate new year.

Nick Newman, the chair of the Cardiff Licensees Forum, said he expected many people to leave Wales for England. “It’s 40 minutes from Newport to Bristol and it’s easy to get from north Wales into Manchester or Liverpool. English businesses are going to benefit.”

Meanwhile those in England attempting to follow government advice to take a lateral flow test before mixing with others faced difficulties on Tuesday.

Pharmacies in England have reported running out of test kits before Christmas, with deliveries of new supplies delayed by the Christmas and Boxing Day holidays – although some pharmacies remained shut over Monday and Tuesday due to the bank holidays.

Availability of walk-in lateral flow or PCR tests in England was also disrupted on Tuesday morning, while people attempting to order lateral flow tests online in England also faced obstacles.

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday that people with Covid should eventually be allowed to “go about their normal lives” as they would with a common cold, noting that Covid is not going away.

“If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later. Maybe not quite just yet,” he said.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year



In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart


17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus



Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer



Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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