UK COVID-19 Daily: Dominic Cummings' trip to Durham 'undermined trust in Govt'

  • Peter Russell, Medscape.com

  • UK Medical News
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These are the latest UK coronavirus stories you need to know.

Cummings' Lockdown Road Trip 'Damaged Trust': Study

Public confidence in the Government's ability to handle the COVID-19 pandemic was severely dented after it was revealed that the Prime Minister's senior aide Dominic Cummings had seemingly broken lockdown rules, according to researchers from University College London (UCL).

A correspondence article published in The Lancet described an analysis of data from the UCL COVID-19 social study involving 40,597 individuals between April 24 and June 11.

The researchers looked at public attitudes to the decision by Mr Cummings to travel with his wife and child on a 260 mile road trip from London to his parents' estate in Durham and what effect this might have had on public engagement with lockdown restrictions.

They report a clear decrease in confidence starting on May 22, the day the revelations appeared in two national newspapers. Also, confidence ebbed away over the following days when the story was top of the news agenda.

Respondents were asked how much confidence they had in the Government's handling of the epidemic from 1 (not at all) to 7 (lots). They found that between May 21 and May 25, confidence in England fell by approximately 0.4 points on the scale.

No such reduction in confidence was seen for the devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales.

There was no recovery in England from the so-called 'Cummings effect' in the 4 weeks after the story broke, according to the authors, who found signs that the news had an impact on people's willingness to follow rules and guidelines from the Government.

However, they note that there had already been a gradual decrease in public adherence to guidelines prior to the publicity about Mr Cummings’s actions.

Dr Daisy Fancourt, an associate professor of behavioural science and health from UCL'sInstitute of Epidemiology and Health Care, who led the study, said: "Public trust in the Government’s ability to manage the pandemic is crucial as it underpins public attitudes and behaviours at a precarious time for public health."

In a comment to the Science Media Centre, Dr Nilu Ahmed, lecturer in social sciences at the University of Bristol, said: "Whilst there was already an obvious downward trend in how much people trusted this Government's handling of the virus, we can clearly see a sharp fall following Boris Johnson's lack of condemning Mr Cummings' trip. At a time when across the population people were making serious sacrifices and unable to see loved ones, even tragically missing funerals, the Prime Minister’s support of the breaking of the rules by his unelected advisor, might have felt like a deep betrayal to the electorate.

"The anger at Boris Johnson specifically is seen in the fact that people in Scotland and Wales did not express the same level of loss of confidence in leadership of their own countries."

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said: "The shift in 'trust in Government' for England is striking, although it may be too narrow to describe it as uniquely a 'Cummings effect'. There had been previous breaches of the rules by other public figures and it may be that the media treatment of the Cummings trip pulled these together as the culmination of a pattern of behaviour rather than as an isolated incident."

R Number

Only one region of England, the East of England, can be said with any certainty to have an R value below 1 (its median is 0.81), the value indicating a continued decline in transmission, latest figures show.

Updated numbers from the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge suggest that the R number is very close to 1 in most regions of England.

The South West, with a median R of 1.03 (95% confidence level 0.74 to 1.33) is the region in which it is most likely that R is above 1, with a probability of 60%, statisticians say, although the number of new infections is very low.

The probability of R exceeding 1 is less than 20% for London and the South East, and less than 5% in the East of England.

The estimated epidemic growth rate, the measure of how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is 0.0 (95% confidence level -0.02 to 0.03) for England, indicating a plateau in the number of new infections. Statisticians say this is supported by the estimated level of infections remaining at around 3,200 (95% confidence level 1700 to 5800) per day for the last three weeks.

The Unit's latest nowcasting and forecasting suggested that in those regions where the median estimate for R is potentially greater than or equal to 1, the estimation is uncertain, and the number of daily new infections is low. It said those two factors combined indicate that there is "no particular public health concern", although the situation should be monitored closely.

Latest on Positive Testing for COVID-19

Latest figures suggest that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in England and Wales has levelled off in the last week.

An estimated 28,300 people (95% credible interval 18,900 to 40,800) in England had COVID-19 in the week July 27 to August 2, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). That equates to around 1 in 1900 people.

The figure does not include positive tests for individuals in care homes and hospitals.

The ONS said modelling showed that rates of people testing positive for COVID-19 had risen since the end of June, but there was evidence that the trend could be flattening.

Statisticians said there was no clear evidence to say whether COVID-19 infection rates differed by region in England, nor whether infection rates have increased in different regions over the past 6 weeks.

The ONS estimated that during the most recent week there were around 0.68 (95% credible interval 0.38 to 1.17) new COVID-19 infections for every 10,000 people in the community population in England, equating to around 3,700 new cases per day.

The ONS survey now also includes Wales. It estimated that between July 27 and August 2, 1400 people in Wales had COVID-19 (95% credible interval 400 to 3400), equivalent to around 1 in 2200 people.

Quarantine Restrictions Tightened

Belgium, Andorra, and The Bahamas have been removed from list of travel corridors in the UK following data showing a significant increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19.

It means that people arriving in England from these destinations from 4 am on Saturday August 8 will need to self-isolate for 2 weeks as the countries are removed from the quarantine exemptions list.

The decision was taken using data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England.

The Government said there had been a consistent increase in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population in Belgium since the middle of July, with a 4-fold increase in total cases.

In Andorra, new cases per week increased 5-fold over the same time period, while in The Bahamas the weekly case rate peaked at 78.6 last week, up from 3.1 in mid-July.

Ministers said they had been "consistently clear" they would take decisive action if necessary to contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Meanwhile, Brunei and Malaysia will be added to the Government's travel corridor list from August 11 following a decrease in confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Pools and Gyms to Reopen in Wales

Swimming pools, indoor fitness studios, gyms, and leisure centres will be able to re-open in Wales from Monday August 10.

Children's indoor play areas will also be able to open their doors again.

The Welsh Government said councils would be given further powers to take action against leisure facilities that flouted coronavirus restrictions.

Announcing the move on Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "We continue to take a step-by-step approach to easing the lockdown, closely monitoring the impact of each change we make."

Adapted from Medscape UK.