UK COVID-19 Daily: 'stop squabbling' over schools reopening

  • Tim Locke, Medscape.com

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

'Stop Squabbling': Children’s Commissioner

England's Children's Commissioner has published a briefing note on reopening schools and has urged the Government and teaching unions to "stop squabbling" over planned partial reopening of schools from 1st June.

On her website, Anne Longfield says that "while present scientific evidence cannot offer any guarantees around whether children are at risk from COVID-19, and whether reopening schools is completely safe... decisions about returning children to school cannot wait until a vaccine is available."

Her briefing note uses a Pink Floyd lyric for its title: "We don’t need no education?"

On Friday, the union NASUWT said it "remains clear that no school should reopen until it can demonstrate that it is safe to do so."

That stance is supported by the BMA which says "we're clear that until case numbers are much lower, we should not consider reopening schools".

However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Downing Street briefing: "I want to reassure you that this approach is based on the best scientific advice, with children at the very heart of everything that we do."

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England said: "As a doctor advising Government I'm going to be very disappointed if they're not listening to doctors but that might be for me to cope with." 

She added:  "Obviously it's important that if other groups, whether it be the BMA or other medical groups, have additional information that they feel may have been missed, or needs to come into that consideration, I'm sure SAGE and Government would be very keen to see that."

Last week the Office for National Statistics reported deaths of 65 education sector workers with COVID-19 in England and Wales - 22 men and 43 women. 

ONS analysis of US data concluded: "Workers in the education sector have lower exposure to disease than healthcare workers, but primary and nursery education teaching professionals, and special needs education professionals work in close proximity with pupils, and are more likely to be exposed to disease than secondary or higher education teaching professionals."

Dr Harries said that ONS death rate data for teaching professionals are "quite crude", but "very low actually in comparison to a number of other different professions or work areas".

'Arbitrary' Testing Targets

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has written to England's health secretary to ask for a move away from ‘arbitrary numbers and targets’ in COVID-19 testing and to focus on better access for health professionals and the general public.

RCGP Chair Professor Martin Marshall wrote: "Whilst there have been clear strides to improve testing capacity, and whilst we recognise the work of Government and a range of stakeholders, we do not believe that there is sufficient clarity on a joined-up comprehensive testing strategy to prevent a second wave of infections and to secure the overall health of the population."

Deaths and Data

Another 468 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced on Saturday taking the total to 34,466.

Of the 181 deaths in English hospitals, patients were aged between 39 and 98, Seven aged between 43 and 67 years old had no known underlying health condition.  

There were 136,486 tests on Friday. Home tests that have been sent out but not processed are included. 

Another 3451 positive cases were reported, and 10,484 people are currently in the hospital with coronavirus down 12%, from 11,872, this time last week. 

There were 736 COVID-19 hospital admissions in England on Friday, and 20% of UK critical care beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.

NHS Deaths

Among the recently announced NHS deaths was Norman Austria, 61, a healthcare assistant at University hospitals of Derby and Burton (UHDB) Trust. 

The hospital issued a statement paying tribute: "Norman brought an air of calm with him and quickly became a loved and respected member of the team. He will be remembered fondly by colleagues, often singing to patients who responded positively to his presence. Norman’s memory will live on in the song ‘You are my sunshine', a favourite of Norman’s that he could often be heard singing to calm and reassure our most vulnerable patients. His colleagues knew him as a gentle soul and a dedicated professional."
   
In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19.

More News in Brief
  • "Too little, too late, too flawed." is the assessment of the UK's response to COVID-19 so far, according to two public health experts writing in the BMJ. Gabriel Scally, University of Bristol and Bobbie Jacobson, Johns Hopkins University, along with BMJ Executive Editor Kamran Abbasi, wrote: "By the time the UK formally announced a lockdown with a huge package of economic support measures, almost 2 months of potential preparation and prevention time were squandered."

  • Deprivation, ethnicity, kidney disease, and living in a densely populated area are associated with testing positive for COVID-19 in primary care, according to an observational study published in The Lancet. Co-author Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, from Public Health England (PHE), said in a news release the analysis will "inform PHE’s ongoing Review into Factors Impacting Health Outcomes from COVID-19 that is to be completed by the end of May. This review will also analyse hospitalisations and mortality, including excess mortality, to provide further insight on how COVID-19 may be having a disproportionate impact on different groups. It will also determine the impact of occupation (including healthcare workers) where data is available."

  • On April 25th Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was looking at waiving the health surcharge for overseas NHS workers who are "making an immense contribution". However, the Independent reports no review has taken place and the charges will remain.

Adapted from Medscape UK.