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Covid-19: UK cases continue to rise amid warnings of impact of schools reopening

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: (Published 26 August 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n2124

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Schools—a gaping hole in the English covid strategy

  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The numbers of covid cases, hospitalisations, and deaths are continuing to rise across the UK, the latest figures have shown. In England, 200 705 people tested positive for covid-19 in the week to 18 August, up 5% on the previous week and the highest figure since the week to 21 July, figures published by NHS Test and Trace on 26 August showed.1

In Scotland—where schools have restarted after the summer holidays—a record 5021 daily cases were recorded on 25 August.2 “Undoubtedly the gathering of people together in schools will have fuelled that to some extent, and you can see that in the proportion of younger people who are testing positive,” said John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister.

Overall cases of covid-19 have been rising across the UK as restrictions on mixing have eased since June, from a seven day average of 2000 cases in May to a peak of nearly 48 000 in mid July.3 Cases then fell to 26 000 a day but have since climbed to a seven day average of 32 000 on 17 August.

The rise in cases comes as the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is reportedly set to announce a roll out of covid-19 vaccinations for 12-15 year olds in the coming days.

In England, Public Health England’s weekly surveillance data for the week ending 22 August showed that covid case rates were highest in those aged 10 to 19, with a seven day rate of 616.5 per 100 000 population.4

Alicia Demirjian, incident director for covid-19 at Public Health England, said, “Cases of covid-19 are still high, especially among young people. We will be closely monitoring how the start of term impacts the number of new infections and review recommendations accordingly.”

Public Health England’s data showed that hospital admission rates across all age groups were 7.74 per 100 000 population, up from 6.75 per 100 000 population the previous week.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that in the week ending 13 August, the UK as a whole registered 652 covid related deaths, an increase of 6.7% on the previous week and the highest weekly total since March this year.5 Anne Cori, a mathematical and statistical modeller at Imperial College, London, said that the upward trends were likely to continue over the coming weeks as children across the UK return to school and more adults go back to the office and mixed more indoors as autumn approaches.

In most scenarios we have modelled, cases, hospitalisations, and even deaths continue to rise for a few weeks,” she said. “But when and how high the peak is is very hard to anticipate. This is because we still don’t know exactly the extent of protection given by vaccination or by previous infection, or how long this protection lasts.”

Figures from Public Health England showed that between 1 February and 15 August 2021, almost half (183 133 of 386 735) of sequenced and genotyped delta cases in emergency departments in England were in people who were not vaccinated. Over half of overnight inpatient admissions with delta (4033 of 7285) and a third (390 of 1189) of delta related deaths occurred in unvaccinated people.6

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