These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about Wednesday.
73,000 Excess Deaths Possible
Up to 73,000 older people and those with comorbidities could be at risk of dying in the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdown unless the Government acts to shield them, say experts writing in the Lancet.
Researchers, led by University College London (UCL), found that between 37,000 and 73,000 excess deaths could occur from direct and indirect effects of the pandemic within 12 months.
The number of possible excess deaths depended on how lockdown restrictions were lifted.
Underlying health conditions used in the analysis included COPD, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and severe obesity,
Dr Amitava Banerjee from UCL's Institute of Health Informatics said in a news release: "Using data modelling on a number of different scenarios, our findings show the mortality risk for these vulnerable groups increases significantly, and could lead to thousands of avoidable deaths."
Daily Deaths and Data
Another 494 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced on Wednesday taking the total to 33,186.
Of the 244 deaths in English hospitals, patients were aged between 49 and 99. Of these, 4 patients aged between 51 and 78 had no known underlying health condition.
Daily COVID-19 tests stayed below the 100,000 daily target at 87,063.
Another 3242 positive cases were reported.
Currently, 11,327 people are in UK hospitals with COVID-19, down 15% from last week.
There were 711 COVID-19 admissions to hospitals in England on Monday this week and 21% of UK critical care beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.
International comparisons data disappeared from the Downing Street briefing slides for the first time in 7 weeks on Tuesday. At Prime Minister's Questions, Sir Keir Stamer asked why.
Boris Johnson said: "He seeks to make comparisons with other countries which I'm advised are premature because the correct and final way of making these comparisons will be when we have all the excess death totals for all the relevant countries. We do not yet have that data."
Sir Keir replied: "I'm baffled it's not me seeking to draw the comparisons, these are the Government slides have been used for 7 weeks to reassure the public. And the problem with the Prime Minister's answer is it's pretty obvious that for 7 weeks when we weren't the highest number in Europe they were used for comparison purposes as soon as we hit that unenviable place they've been dropped."
At the Downing Street briefing Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England was asked about the missing slides: "As a scientist, as a professional, I work on a basis of transparency of data."
She continued: "I think there is no reason why the death data can't be produced here," and that "there is no suggestion that the death data cannot be available."
However, she said: "Death data is collected in very different ways in different countries, particularly at the moment," and that: "The only really good comparison in the longer term overall will be to look back at all-cause mortality."
On Tuesday, ITV News reported on Friary Lodge in North London that's thought to be the first care home to have to close for financial reasons due to the costs of COVID-19.
Care homes were also a focus of PMQs. Pointing to Tuesday's care home death figures for England and Wales Sir Keir Starmer said that until 12th of March Government advice, now withdrawn from official websites, was: "It. It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected."
Mr Johnson said "it wasn't true the advice said that". He did though go on to say there's been "what is unquestionably" an "appalling epidemic in care homes".
He said testing was being increased and announced an extra £600 million for infection control in care homes.
Dr Harries was asked whether it is right for some hospitals to be trying to persuade care homes to take in patients who have tested positive for coronavirus. "I think it does come down to a degree of local discretion.
I know NHS England colleagues have sent out very clear instructions to hospitals to support the testing to make sure that it's done in a convenient time period before the patient is due for discharge, and to have local conversations about this, where, on occasion, and I think it is not the rule, there are difficulties.
"Clearly at the centre of all of these discussions is often a very elderly, and quite vulnerable individual and it's really important that they are managed in the way which is best for their health, and everybody else's infection risk, but also their personal life as well."
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick conceded that overall: "There is more that we can do, and our whole focus now needs to be on ensuring that care homes are guided through the weeks and months ahead, and we protect as many people as we possibly can within them."
The current official numbers were given on Wednesday for health and social care staff deaths. Boris Johnson told the Commons 144 NHS workers and 131 care workers have now died with COVID-19.
Among the recently announced NHS deaths was 56-year-old GP Dr Poornima Nair from Bishop Auckland, County Durham.
A statement on the Station View Medical Centre's website said: "The practice is very sorry to announce to our patients the death of our much loved and valued colleague and friend Dr Poornima Nair. Dr Nair passed away after a prolonged COVID-19 illness which she fought with her great strength of character. We are all devastated and upset by this tragic news and hope you will join with us in our thoughts and prayers."
In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19.
More News in Brief
Last week we reported on the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warning against cyber attacks on organisations linked to the COVID-19 response. On Wednesday, the outsourcing company Interserve that worked on the Birmingham NHS Nightingale field hospital said it has been attacked. In a statement, it said: "Interserve was the target of a cyber security attack earlier this month. Interserve is working closely with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and Strategic Incident Response teams to investigate, contain and remedy the situation. This will take some time and some operational services may be affected. Interserve has informed the Information Commissioner (ICO) of the incident. We will provide further updates when appropriate."
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) wants a new deal for international NHS and social care staff to recognise the vital role they played in the UK's COVID-19 response. This means staff and close families being exempt from the International Health Surcharge, having indefinite leave to remain, and extending the proposed NHS Visa to social care. RCP President Professor Andrew Goddard said in a news release: "There is no doubt in my mind that our NHS would not be able to cope, even in ‘normal’ times, without the contribution of our international colleagues. Their work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been crucial to saving lives, and our polling results today clearly show that the public shares our eagerness to reward them for their commitment and dedication. The government has an opportunity to reset the narrative and make the NHS a truly welcoming place to work for everyone. I hope they seize it."
Genomics England is leading a study on genetic susceptibility to coronavirus comparing 20,000 ICU COVID-19 patients with 15,000 who had mild or moderate symptoms. Study lead, Dr Kenneth Baillie, University of Edinburgh, said in a statement: "Our genes play a role in determining who becomes desperately sick with infections like COVID-19. Understanding these genes will help us to choose treatments for clinical trials." Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, Genomics England Chief Scientist, added: "For the first time in a generation we face a global viral pandemic that is life-threatening for some people, yet others have a mild infection. By reading the whole genome we may be able to identify variation that affects response to COVID-19 and discover new therapies that could reduce harm, save lives and even prevent future outbreaks."
The Centre for Evidence Based Medicine has issued a rapid review on diabetic retinopathy screening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the recommendations are patients with stable diabetic retinopathy and no urgent or referable indication can have retinal screening at 18-24 months. Caution is urged when considering high doses of hydroxycholoroquine for COVID-19 treatment in those with pre-existing advanced retinal disease as part of clinical trials. Hydroxycholoroquine associated retinopathy is a rare side effect of hydroxycholoroquine use.
Sewage could play a role in tracking COVID-19 infection hotspots and a possible second wave. The University of Sheffield is working with the Water Research Foundation on using genetic material in waste water to give local population-level indicators without having to test individuals. ITV News quotes researcher Professor Vanessa Speight: "There is great potential for waste water to provide valuable information about the occurrence of Covid-19 across communities." It also quotes a spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra): "We are actively engaging with the research community and Government scientific advisers to investigate whether monitoring waste water could be used as a way of tracking the prevalence of the virus."
The College of Policing said on Wednesday that officers have no powers to enforce social distancing as some of England's lockdown measures are relaxed. In a tweet it said: "2m distancing is set out in the Government guidance (but not in the regulations) and therefore is not enforceable. The police will continue to Engage, Explain, Encourage and Enforce in line with the regulations."