Robert Booth reports that plans to discharge Covid patients from hospitals into care homes without tests have been branded “madness” by care home providers who warned the move risks a repeat of last spring’s crisis, which was partly fuelled by pressure to relieve the NHS.
The Department of Health and Social Care issued guidance that Covid positive patients in England who have been in isolation in hospital for 14 days “are not considered to pose an infection risk” and do not have to be retested. If they are not showing new symptoms or have had fresh exposure to the virus they can be moved directly to care homes from hospital.
Care homes are demanding to see evidence to support that assessment in the light of rising cases of the new more transmissible strain of the virus. About 1,200 care home residents died from Covid-19 in England in the first week of January and on Wednesday the NHS ordered GPs to rapidly accelerate vaccination of England’s approximately 400,000 care home residents to deliver all first doses by the end of next week.
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, which represents providers in North Yorkshire, told the Guardian:
I can’t quite believe the government is thinking of doing this. How do we know [people being discharged] haven’t been exposed especially with this new virulent strain? It seems we haven’t learned from the first wave. We want to help the health service but people will be reluctant to accept discharges without the comfort of a test … It seems madness.
The UK economy is heading for a double-dip recession after official figures confirmed a renewed slump in November as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Richard Partington reports.
The Office for National Statistics said GDP fell by 2.6% month-on-month in November, when the government launched the second national lockdown in England and amid tougher controls in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. City economists had forecast a steeper fall of 5.7%.
The impact of renewed restrictions took GDP in November down to 8.5% below its pre-pandemic level, in a setback for Britain’s economic recovery from the first wave of the crisis.
For more, head to our business live blog:
A ban on travellers from more than a dozen countries across South America entering the UK came into force early this morning because of growing concerns about a variant that has emerged in Brazil. The ban, which took effect at 4am this morning, also covers Panama, Cape Verde and Portugal because of its travel links with Brazil.
Scientists analysing the variant believe the mutations it shares with the new South African variant seem to be associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where there have already been large outbreaks of the disease.
The transport secretary Grant Shapps described the ban as a “precautionary” move to ensure the vaccination programme rolling out across the UK was not disrupted by new variants of the virus. He said:
We don’t want to trip up at this late stage. We don’t have cases at the moment but this is a precautionary approach. We want to make sure that we do everything possible so that vaccine rollout can continue and make sure that it is not disturbed by other variants of this virus.
British and Irish nationals and others with residence rights are exempted from the measure, which was backed by the Scottish government, though they must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households on their return.
There is an exemption also for hauliers travelling from Portugal to allow the transport of essential goods.
The shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the ban was a “necessary step” but accused ministers of incompetence and “lurching from one crisis and rushed announcement to another”.
Good morning. The prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans for daily testing of millions of school students a week are in disarray after the UK regulator refused to formally approve the scheme, my colleague Josh Halliday reports.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told the government it had not authorised the daily use of 30-minute tests because of concerns that they will give people false reassurance if they test negative. This could lead to pupils staying in school and potentially spreading the virus when they should be self-isolating. Mass testing with lateral flow tests is already in place in some secondary schools and was due to be expanded next week for children who are in school. The regulator’s decision is another setback for Johnson’s mass testing plan (which experts remain divided on) and raises questions about the proposed full return of schools after the February half-term, which is partly dependent on the availability of serial testing.
Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph (paywall) reports on the latest Public Health England (PHE) data revealing that outbreaks in care homes have more than trebled in a month, with levels of infections now similar to the peak of the first wave. The figures show that in the week to 14 January, there was the second highest weekly total since records began in April.
The paper has been told the care home vaccine rollout is taking longer than the government had anticipated. Sources said only 100 residents could be vaccinated in the time it took to administer jabs to 1,000 people in the community. The same lateral flow tests that the MHRA warned against using for schools are currently being used in care homes and experts have repeatedly raised concerns they are unreliable. Adam Briggs, a senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said the rise in reported care home incidents is “deeply concerning”. He told the Telegraph:
Care homes cannot be neglected again.
I’ll be bringing you all the latest UK developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share – your thoughts are always welcome!