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3rd June 2022 update

Team members James Beecher and Claire Biggs summarise data on Covid-19

Key links around vaccinations, testing, and government guidance are included at the end of this update. If you have a question about any of this, please ask in our Facebook group.

We’re going to stick to COVID in these updates, but it would be remiss not to mention another infectious disease that has prompted work by public health agencies. If you are interested in the recent coverage of a rise in monkeypox cases – including in the UK, please read the UK Health Security Agency’s recent article on monkeypox. At present “A large proportion of monkeypox cases diagnosed in the UK are among gay and bisexual men“. However, “Doctors and public-health experts have spoken to the BBC about the “delicate balance” of keeping those currently most at risk informed, without stigmatising them or letting others become complacent.” Read more: ‘Monkeypox and gay men: Separating stigma from health advice‘.

The latest local data:

The total number of people who have tested positive and are occupying any hospital bed in Gloucestershire was 54 as of 31st May, down two from last week. The trend is unclear at the moment (see chart below), but the number of patients with COVID-19 in hospital is almost as low as it has been this year (lowest was 41 patients on the 16th May). On the 31st May there was one patient with COVID-19 in local critical care, but there have again been a few days with no patients in critical care with COVID-19 recently (28th and 29th May).

8 people died with COVID-19 listed as a cause of death in the most recent week (to 20th May), two of them had lived in the Stroud district. These deaths bring the total number of people who have died with COVID-19 mentioned on their death cerficiate in Gloucestershire to 1,553. Across Stroud district the total is 292. The chart below shows how people have been less likely to die in the post-vaccination era (underplaying this because in the absence of restrictions and with more transmissable variants, far more people have been infected – but are less likely to be hospitalised, let alone to experience the severest symptoms). Many people have been admitted to hospital or diagnosed in hospital in recent months – but these are less likely to be severe cases of COVID-19.

Source: the UKHSA dashboard data for Gloucestershire

The chart below takes the hospital numbers for 2022 alone so the recent changes can be seen more easily.

Source: the UKHSA dashboard data for Gloucestershire

The chart below shows how there have still been some COVID-19 patients admit to critical care in recent months, but that since January 2022, the number has never been above 5 – and several times this year there have been no COVID-19 patients in critical care. The contrast with 2021 (when there were around 10 and even up to 19 COVID-19 patients in critical care during previous peaks) is clear.

The Office for National Statistics produce estimates for the percentage of people that would test positive in a week, based on a large scale PCR-test based ‘infection survey’ designed to represent the population. The chart below shows recent data for Gloucestershire and England. The bank holiday means we only have half a week’s data, and only for England. However, encouragingly, the prevalence of infections has continued to fall, to around 1.44% or 1 in every 70 people across England in the data to 24th May (compared to 1.6% or 1 in every 60 people in the data to 20th May). In Gloucestershire the rate was last estimated at 1.7% – essentially around 1 in every 60 people. With new sublineages of Omicron (known as BA.4 and BA.5) potentially on the rise, the delay in the time between the time the ONS survey is conducted and when results are published means prevalence may not be falling anymore but now flat, but there is still no sign of this (we’ll need to wait and see, but hopefully the number of infections continues to fall).

Source: ONS infection survey

The chart below from Paul Mainwood gives a rough indication of what might happen if the data available on growth rates of different varieties of SARS-COV-2 (versions or ‘sublineages’ of the Omicron variant) follows the patterns they have been.

Estimates by the ZOE app / Kings College London team, based on reporting of symptoms and test results by app users, more up to date but less representative of the population than ONS – confirm the dramatic drop locally in Stroud district until recently – as across Gloucestershire and nationally. However, their latest estimate is around 2,900 people with the virus across the district (2.4%), up substantially on recent estimates which went to around 2,300 (1.9%). We have seen a couple of apparent ‘rises’ which were only hiccups in the downward trend so it is too early to tell if the situation is shifting. And the rate is still much lower than the peak where ZOE estimated around 8,800 people in Stroud district (or 7.3%) had an infection at the beginning of April.

Source: ZOE app

National summary

For a great summary of the national situation, see the ONS “Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest insights” page, which is updated with the latest possible data from the Office for National Statistics and other sources.

The ONS summary also includes an update on the numbers of people reporting they are experiencing some form of ‘Long Covid’ (estimates are difficult as a settled description of symptoms associated with this condition has not been achieved). Nonetheless, the data is worth considering:

“An estimated 2.0 million people (3.1%) in the UK said they were suffering long COVID symptoms four weeks after they first suspected they had the virus, as of 1 May 2022.

Of people who said they had long COVID, 22% (442,000) first had it less than 12 weeks earlier, while 72% (1.4 million) first reported they had it at least 12 weeks earlier.

19% of people who reported long COVID symptoms had it for at least two years previously. Self-reported long COVID symptoms affected the day-to-day activities of 71% (1.4 million) people, with 20% (398,000) reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.

Fatigue continued to be the most commonly-reported symptom as part of individuals’ experience of long COVID (55% of those with self-reported long COVID), followed by shortness of breath (32%), cough (23%), and muscle ache (23%).”

Paul Mainwood’s chart below compares different estimates for the total number of people with the virus at any one time, and the trend. This uses the ONS ‘infection survey’ based on a large representative sample of people being tested (green – as referred to above), and the total numbers of people confirmed to test positive can also be multiplied up to match these other estimates based on a historic ratio (red). Though lower numbers of people testing themselves due to symptoms / as contacts / etc mean ‘case ascertainment’ (ie, identification of infections) is lower (Paul estimates around 13% compared to around 50% until 2022), the ONS shows there really is a rapidly falling trend. Indeed, there is very little difference between these trends (nor with ZOE). In short, the data from people getting tested, ONS, and ZOE are all saying very similar things which helps us confirm the real situation in terms of trend, even if their precise estimates of prevalence differ.

Source: Paul Mainwood

Read more from the ONS infection survey on a weekly basis. The charts in the tweets below shows rates falling across all nations of the UK with possible exception of Scotland (slight rise from last week could be margin of error in the estimate), and in all age groups – lowest among children, where they now lower than 1 in 100 for those in school years 7 to 11, and highest among those aged 25-34 where they are twice as high at around 1 in every 50 people. There are signs that the falls are levelling off, both across age groups and regions (there isn’t much difference regionally, but the South West where 2.2% of people have current infections is now the highest level, while the rate is lowest in the West Midlands at 1.5%.

The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 continues to fall, and will continue to do so as admissions are also still falling.

614 people who had lived in the UK, died with COVID-19 listed on their death certificate in the most recent week of data – to 20th May, a drop on the previous week (795, we are seeing the impact of the recent fall in prevalence of the virus and hospital occupancy). This is the lowest weekly number by this measure since the week to 6th August 2021 (when 612 people died with COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates, though a higher proportion then had it listed as the main cause of death).You can see the clear drop in daily deaths on the chart below.

The ONS find that:

  • In the week ending 20 May 2022 (Week 20), 11,520 deaths were registered in England and Wales; of these deaths, 547 mentioned “novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”, accounting for 4.7% of all deaths. This is a decrease compared with the week ending 13 May 2022 (Week 19) when the number of all-cause deaths registered was 12,048; of these, COVID-19 accounted for 719 deaths (6.0%).”
  • “Of the 547 deaths involving COVID-19 in Week 20, 61.4% (336 deaths) had this recorded as the underlying cause of death, compared with 62.6% in Week 19.”
  • “The number of deaths registered in the UK in the week ending 20 May 2022 (Week 20) was 13,023, which was 13.7% above the five-year average (1,573 excess deaths); of these deaths, 614 involved COVID-19, which was 182 less than in Week 19.”

20,960 people who had lived in the UK died with COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificate as at least contributing to their death in 2022 so far, of a total 198,079 people since the pandemic began (around 11% of total covid deaths have been in 2022).

Source: coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/deaths

It’s also important to note that – unlike in previous waves in the pandemic, COVID-19 deaths are no longer pushing the number of deaths in a given week well above the average for the year. While weekly data is affected by bank holiday impacts on reporting, looking at the year as a whole, the number of deaths is very similar to the 2019 total at this point of the year (0.1% higher – with 2019 a historic low for deaths, so mortality this year is well below 2018 and 2017).

International context

Firstly, a look to South Africa, where the new sublineages of Omicron (“BA.4” and “BA.5”) have peaked with much less impact on severe illness and death than previous waves of the SARS-COV-2 virus. We may see a smaller wave, as South Africa did not see a “BA.2” wave.

Whether people have access to testing strongly influences confirmed case numbers by continent, but across the world as a whole cases are falling having been rising again until recently. around 3.3 million people tested positive in the week to 2nd June, a fall on the 3.6 million last week (though the global trend appears to have stoped falling, due to identified cases rising in South America, and flat in North America, Europe, and Asia (obviously with wide variation within continents).

Notes

Please refer to the NHS and government guidance on:

If there is a piece of guidance you have a question about, again – please ask in our Facebook group.

These updates are designed to improve understanding of the pandemic and its impacts, with the hope this can help us to reduce those impacts locally. We appreciate they do not involve space to properly convey the full impact of the virus nor the restrictions that have making life difficult for many people. We’re also volunteers with no public health expertise – collating and signposting to other sources for guidance and authoritative data.

Please remember we have a list of resources to support your emotional and mental health during this time on our website (and welcome further recommendations). The following numbers may be useful:

  • Samaritans: 116 123
  • Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247
  • Mind: 0300 123 3393
  • Age UK: 0800 169 6565
  • Childline: 0800 1111.

Your suggestions for inclusion of data in these summaries are welcome. Please submit posts to our Facebook group.