#AceNewsReport – Jan.20: Unlike many other places, Hong Kong has maintained a “zero Covid” strategy focused on eliminating the disease:
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says according to BBC Asia News Report: An outbreak of the Delta variant linked to a worker in the shop prompted officials to test hundreds of animals there – with 11 hamsters positive.
Officials said it may be an example of animal-to-human Covid transmission.
Only the hamsters at the pet shop seemed to be affected, with negative results for other animals there such as rabbits and chinchillas. But as a “preventative measure”, 2,000 hamsters and other small mammals will be killed.
The animals are spread across 34 different pet shops and animal storage centres.
And any new pet owners who bought a hamster since 22 December, perhaps as a Christmas gift, will need to hand the animal over to authorities for euthanasia.
A telephone hamster hotline is being set up, and a ban on the import and sale of hamsters and other small mammals will also be enacted, agriculture officials said.
The outbreak was linked to an employee of this pet shop in the Causeway Bay area
A pet-shop employee, a customer, and the customer’s spouse have now tested positive or provisionally positive, health authorities said.
The virus that causes Covid-19 – Sars-Cov-2 – can be caught by animals including dogs, cats, ferrets and rodents, all commonly kept as pets. But there is no clear evidence that pets can easily pass the infection to humans.
“Pet owners should keep a good hygiene practice, including washing hands after touching the animals, handling their food or other items, and avoid kissing the animals,” Hong Kong’s agriculture department director Leung Siu-fai told reporters at a news conference.
Hamster owners in particular “should keep them at home”, she said.
She also promised that the 2,000 animals scheduled for culling would be put down “humanely”.
#AceHealthReport – Jan.12; The previous record was 1.03 million cases on Jan. 3. A large number of cases are reported each Monday due to many states not reporting over the weekend. The seven-day average for new cases has tripled in two weeks to over 700,000 new infections a day.
The record in new cases came the same day as the nation saw the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also hit an all-time high, having doubled in three weeks, according to a Reuters tally.
There were more than 136,604 people hospitalized with COVID-19, surpassing the record of 132,051 set in January last year.
While the Omicron variant is potentially less severe, health officials have warned that the sheer number of infections could strain hospital systems, some of which have already suspended elective procedures as they struggle to handle the increase in patients and staff shortages.
The surge in cases has disrupted schools, which are struggling with absences of staff, teachers and bus drivers.
Chicago canceled classes for a fourth day as the district and teachers failed to agree on how to deal with increased infections.
New York City suspended service on three subway lines as a large number of workers were out sick, according to its Twitter account. Companies’ plans for workers to return to office have also been derailed.
Deaths are averaging 1,700 per day, up from about 1,400 in recent days but within levels seen earlier this winter.
A redesigned COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant is likely needed, Pfizer Inc’s (PFE.N) CEO said on Monday, adding his company could have one ready to launch by March.
#AceHealthReport – Jan.10: Xi’an, capital city of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, has basically stopped the spread of COVID-19 in communities one month after the resurgence of the epidemic hit the city, thanks to stringent containment measures such as city-level lockdown and rounds of mass nucleic acid testing.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk – Brutal Lockdown in community due to spread of #COVID19 basically blocked in China’s Xi’an according to Xinhua Headlines: Published On Jan.09:
XI’AN, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) — Xi’an, capital city of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, has basically stopped the spread of COVID-19 in communities one month after the resurgence of the epidemic hit the city, thanks to stringent containment measures such as city-level lockdown and rounds of mass nucleic acid testing.
As notable progress has been made to control the epidemic, Xi’an will gradually lift closed-off management based on the judgment and research conducted by national and provincial experts.
The virus spread in communities had been basically cut off, Xu Mingfei, vice mayor of Xi’an, told a press conference on Jan. 5. Xu said that all the new cases found over the previous rounds of nucleic acid testing were among the people who were quarantined at designated places (centralized quarantine) or at home.
Daily cases in Xi’an with a population of 13 million began to drop since the start of this year and slipped to two-digit numbers quickly, with 30 new cases, all in centralized quarantine, reported on Saturday.
The city, a popular tourist destination known for the Terracotta Warriors, registered 1,989 locally transmitted confirmed cases as of Saturday since Dec. 9, 2021.
The viral genome sequencing of the new cases has identified them as strains of the highly contagious Delta variant, which are highly homologous with imported cases from an inbound flight on Dec. 4, 2021, according to the provincial center for disease control and prevention.
STRICT CONTAINMENT MEASURES
Many positive patients didn’t show obvious symptoms in the initial stage, and they tended to ignore their physical condition, which led to community transmission and clustered cases, local officials have said.
The number of confirmed cases in Xi’an rose by more than 150 per day for a week in late December, and the virus has spread to other cities and provinces.
To curb the spread of the virus, the city has launched several rounds of mass nucleic acid testing, with thousands of sample collecting venues set up.
Mass nucleic acid testing can help health authorities identify the infected cases and put them under quarantine early. Meanwhile, it is conducive to adopting precise control measures and relieving public stress, said Li Qun, director of the health emergency center of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the trajectories of the positive cases in Xi’an were complex and involved a wider area, and some could not be traced to known sources, the megacity imposed closed-off management for communities and villages since Dec. 23 last year.
“The strict containment measures introduced are based on the epidemic situation to prevent transmission within the city and spreading elsewhere,” said Lei Zhenglong, a member of the Xi’an taskforce team sent by the State Council for epidemic control.
JOINT EFFORTS AGAINST EPIDEMIC
During a recent tour to Shaanxi Province for investigation and research on prevention and control of the epidemic, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said that Xi’an saw a sharp decline in daily-reported new COVID-19 cases and had basically blocked the spread of COVID-19 in communities. However, Sun warned that the epidemic containment is still at a crucial stage, and urged efforts to prevent the rebound of the epidemic.
As of 6 p.m. Jan. 6, the city arranged 431 venues for centralized quarantines, putting 45,760 people under quarantine.
“The quarantined personnel have overcome the inconvenience to themselves and their families for the safety of all. They are also heroes,” said vice mayor Xu.
Ma Hui, one of the residents in isolation, recorded his life in a quarantined site in short videos. “Despite some inconvenience at the beginning, the room is warm, and we receive necessities and even snacks,” said Ma, 40, in a video.
Community workers and volunteers have devoted themselves to sending free groceries to residents in lockdown. People can also place orders online, and items will be distributed and delivered to each household by community staff and volunteers.
A volunteer arranges packed vegetables in Yanta District of Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, Jan. 5, 2022. (Xinhua/Zhang Bowen)
The city government has taken measures to help people under closed-off management overcome inconvenience brought about by containment measures.
For example, responding to people’s difficulty in accessing medical services, the city government has dispatched buses to shuttle those who need emergency treatment at hospitals to prevent the risk of cross-infection, said vice mayor Xu.
In Yanta District, the worst-hit district, several officials, including the Party chief of the Yanta District, have been removed from posts due to dereliction of duty.
As notable progress has been made to control the epidemic, Xi’an will gradually lift closed-off management based on the judgment and research conducted by national and provincial experts, Lyu Yongpeng, deputy director of the city’s health commission, said on Saturday.
As of Saturday, a total of 262 patients had been discharged from hospitals after recovery.
(Video reporters: Wu Hongbo, Yang Yimiao, Lin Juan, Liang Aiping and Zhao Yingbo; Video editors: Zhang Qiru, Zhu Jianhui) ■
#AceHealthReport – Jan.06: This is a temporary measure while COVID-19 rates remain high across the UK. Whilst levels of COVID-19 are high, the vast majority of people with positive LFD results can be confident that they have #COVID19
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announces temporary changes to confirmatory PCR tests.
Lateral flow tests are taken by people who do not have COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who develops 1 of the 3 main COVID-19 symptoms should stay at home and self-isolate and take a PCR test. They must self-isolate if they get a positive test result, even if they have had a recent negative lateral flow test – these rules have not changed.
The new approach reflects similar changes made this time last year in January 2021, when there was also a high prevalence of infection meaning it was highly likely that a positive LFD COVID-19 result was a true positive. This meant confirmatory PCRs were temporarily paused and reintroduced in March 2021 following a reduction in prevalence.
The UK’s testing programme is the biggest in Europe with over 400 million tests carried out since the start of the pandemic. Since mid-December, 100,000 more PCR booking slots have been made available per day and capacity continues to be rapidly expanded, with delivery capacity doubled to 900,000 PCR and LFD test kits a day.
Under this new approach, anyone who receives a positive LFD test result should report their result on GOV.UK and must self-isolate immediately but will not need to take a follow-up PCR test.
After reporting a positive LFD test result, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace so that their contacts can be traced and must continue to self-isolate.
There are a few exceptions to this revised approach.
First, people who are eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment (TTSP) will still be asked to take a confirmatory PCR if they receive a positive LFD result, to enable them to access financial support.
Second, people participating in research or surveillance programmes may still be asked to take a follow-up PCR test, according to the research or surveillance protocol.
Finally, around one million people in England who are at particular risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 have been identified by the NHS as being potentially eligible for new treatments. They will be receiving a PCRtest kit at home by mid-January to use if they develop symptoms or if they get a positive LFD result, as they may be eligible for new treatments if they receive a positive PCR result. This group should use these priority PCR tests when they have symptoms as it will enable prioritised laboratory handling.
In line with the reduced self-isolation approach announced on 22 December, anyone who tests positive will be able to leave self-isolation 7 days after the date of their initial positive test if they receive 2 negative LFD results, 24 hours apart, on days 6 and 7.
Rapid lateral flow tests are most useful at identifying COVID-19 in people without any symptoms. The tests are over 80% effective at finding people with high viral loads who are most infectious and most likely to transmit the virus to others.
Analysis by NHS Test and Trace shows LFD tests to have an estimated specificity of at least 99.97% when used in the community. This means that for every 10,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there are likely to be fewer than 3 false positive results. LFD tests identify the most infectious people. These people tend to spread the virus to many people and so identifying them remains important.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said:
We have built a world-leading testing system and our testing capacity is the largest in Europe. This has helped save lives and protect millions of people from COVID-19. It forms a crucial line of defence alongside vaccines and antivirals.
As Omicron cases continue to rise the demand for tests has grown rapidly across the globe. We’re putting plans in place to manage the demand for PCR tests in the UK so we can ensure that those who most need tests can continue to access them.
Chief Executive of UKHSA, Dr Jenny Harries, said:
While cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate COVID-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation.
It remains really important that anyone who experiences COVID-19 symptoms self-isolates immediately. They should also order a PCR test on GOV.UK or by phoning 119.
I’m really grateful to the public and all of our critical workers who continue to test regularly and self-isolate when necessary, along with other practical and important public health behaviours, as this is the most effective way of stopping the spread of the virus and keeping our friends, families and communities safe.
Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the government will provide 100,000 critical workers in England with free lateral flow tests to help keep essential services and supply chains running.
Critical workers will be able to take a test on every working day and the provision of precautionary testing will be for an initial 5 weeks. This will help to isolate asymptomatic cases and limit the risk of outbreaks in workplaces, reducing transmission while COVID-19 cases remain high.
The full range of critical workers have been identified by the relevant departments and government will contact these organisations directly on the logistics of the scheme this week. Roll-out will start from Monday 10 January.
Tests will be separate from public sectors who already have a testing allocation with UKHSA, such as adult social care or education, and separate to those delivered to pharmacies and homes, so those channels will not be impacted by the new scheme.
We are now distributing around 600,000 packs of LFD tests (each containing 7 tests) on GOV.UK directly to homes every day (more than 50% higher than last week).
To provide estimates of coronavirus (COVID-19) positivity over the Christmas period, we have published headline results in a shortened version of our usual release.
In England, the percentage of people testing positive continued to increase; we estimate that 2,024,700 people in England had coronavirus (COVID-19) (95% credible interval: 1,951,200 to 2,096,300), equating to around 1 in 25 people.
In Wales, the percentage of people testing positive continued to increase; we estimate that 76,500 people in Wales had COVID-19 (95% credible interval: 65,100 to 89,200), equating to around 1 in 40 people.
In Northern Ireland, the percentage of people testing positive increased; we estimate that 47,500 people in Northern Ireland had COVID-19 (95% credible interval: 37,800 to 58,600), equating to around 1 in 40 people.
In Scotland, the percentage of people testing positive continued to increase; we estimate that 135,400 people in Scotland had COVID-19 (95% credible interval: 117,400 to 154,800), equating to around 1 in 40 people.
In England, COVID-19 infections increased across all age groups and were highest among those aged two years to school Year 6 and those aged 25 to 34 years; the high infections for those aged two years to school Year 6 are more likely to be compatible with the Delta variant, whereas the high infections for those aged 25 to 34 years are more likely to be compatible with the Omicron variant, as shown by separateanalysis.
COVID-19 infections increased across all regions of England, with the highest infection levels seen in London (1 in 15) and the lowest in the North East of England (1 in 45).
COVID-19 infections compatible with the Omicron variant continued to increase rapidly across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and Omicron is now the most common variant in England and Scotland.
Figure 1: COVID-19 infections compatible with the Omicron variant continued to increase rapidly across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland in the week ending 23 December 2021
Modelled percentage of positive cases compatible with the Delta variant, and compatible with the Omicron variant, based on nose and throat swabs, daily, 12 November to 23 December 2021, UK
All results are provisional and subject to revision.
These statistics refer to infections occurring in private households, and exclude infections reported in hospitals, care homes and/or other communal establishments.
Omicron variant-compatible positives are defined as those that are positive on the ORF1ab-gene and N-gene, but not the S-gene. Delta variant-compatible positives are defined as those that are positive on the ORF1ab, N-gene and S-gene, as well as gene patterns N+S and ORF1ab+S.
Data should be treated with caution. Not all cases positive on the S-gene will be the Delta variant, but some cases with pattern ORF1ab+N will also be the Delta variant where the S-gene was not detected for other reasons, such as low viral load.
#AceHealthReport – Jan.04: Lauterbach, a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said that the windows of his office in the western city of Cologne were smashed.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says according to DW News Report: People angry over #COVID19 curbs have been held responsible for damaging the offices of two German lawmakers on New Year’s Eve — including the constituency office of German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach who criticised an apparent vandalism attack on his local constituency office German media reported on Sunday.
A grim milestone: 100,000 COVID deaths in Germany
Vandals also targeted the offices of parliament member Marco Wanderwitz, a center-right Christian Democrat (CDU) lawmaker for the eastern state of Saxony. The windows of Wanderwitz’s office in the town of Zwönitz were heavily damaged.
Marco Wanderwitz’s office in Zwönitz was severely damaged on New Year’s Eve
Minister: ‘These people do not represent society’
The federal health minister told German news agency dpa on New Year’s Day that he assumed that the renewed attack was from people angry at coronavirus restrictions.
His office in Cologne was also attacked on December 10 with slogans such as “Minister of Sickness,” “Murderer” and “Psycho Lauterbach.”
And on January 1, he said: “These people do not represent society, where really the overwhelming part is sticking together and trying to do everything against the pandemic.”
The perpetrators of these attacks “represent a very small splinter group,” Lauterbach added.
Democracy under attack
Meanwhile, Wanderwitz told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) that the incidents show that far-right radicalization during the COVID pandemic is putting democracy in great danger.
“The Free Saxons, a right-wing radical collection, associated with the NPD and AfD, have for months been poisoning society in Saxony,” the lawmaker said, referencing the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Saxony and other eastern German states have been hit hard by spiking COVID cases, but also have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. The state has also seen heated protests that have only grown more aggressive after the Bundestag passed a vaccine mandate for some professions in December.
Politicians such as CDU Secretary-General Paul Ziemiak, the Greens’ Michael Kellner and the newly installed Parliamentary State Secretary for the east of Germany Carsten Schneider (SPD) all expressed solidarity with Wanderwitz.
“There is no justification for [the violence]. This attack is not a form of protest, rather simply criminal,” Ziemiak wrote on Twitter
Kellner echoed those sentiments, writing in his own message on Twitter that “violence has no place in the democratic debate.”
German authorities are now investigating and have asked for any potential witnesses in both cities to come forward.
This report was written in part with material from news agency dpa.
#AceHealthReport – Jan.02: Researchers working at Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth Polar Station in Antarctica have contracted Covid-19, even though all personnel have been inoculated and any new arrival has to follow rigorous safety protocols.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says according to RT News Report: Remote Antarctic station hit with #COVID19 outbreak: Two-thirds of the station’s staff of 25 have been infected with the coronavirus, Belgium’s polar secretariat confirmed to local media earlier this week. But how the virus could have reached the remote station, located some 220km (137 miles) from the Antarctic coast, remains a mystery.
“All those present have received two doses of vaccine, and one person has even received a booster shot,” said Alain Hubert, the facility’s executive operator and head of security measures. All staff members also have to undergo a series of PCR tests on their long journey to the station.
Those en route there take one PCR test in Belgium before leaving for South Africa and another five days after their arrival. They self-isolate for 10 days in Cape Town, then undergo two further tests: one before leaving for Antarctica and another five days after arriving at the station.
Nonetheless, even such strict control measures were apparently not stringent enough, as the first Covid-19 case was reported at the station in mid-December among a group of new arrivals. The person in question was immediately placed in isolation, but two others were soon revealed to have contracted the coronavirus as well.
All three infected researchers were evacuated on December 23, but this measure did not stop the virus from spreading further. A virologist contacted by the polar secretariat said the variant that has infected personnel at the station might be Omicron – the highly transmissible strain recently discovered in South Africa.
There are two emergency doctors and all the necessary equipment at the station to treat anyone who falls ill, according to the media. In the meantime, the polar secretariat has placed all personnel under quarantine and put a halt to any new arrivals until the Covid-19 cluster there dissipates. Explorers venturing on two new expeditions had been expected on January 12, but their arrival has now been delayed.You can share this story on social media:
Developed by Pfizer, Paxlovid is an antiviral medicine with a combination of active ingredients, PF-07321332 and ritonavir, that works by inhibiting a protease required for virus replication. This prevents it from multiplying, keeping virus levels low and helping the body to overcome the viral infection. Ritonavir slows the breakdown of the second ingredient PF-07321332 in the body, thereby increasing its effectiveness.
The two active substances of Paxlovid come as separate tablets that are packaged together and taken together, twice a day by mouth for 5 days. PF-07321332 is a new antiviral, meaning that it has not been approved for use before. However, ritonavir has been used alongside some HIV medicines for many years to ‘boost’ their activity, which is similar to what it is doing for PF-07321332.
In a clinical trial in high-risk adults with symptomatic COVID-19 infection, a five day treatment course of Paxlovid reduced the risk of COVID-19 related hospitalisation and death within 28 days by 89% when compared to a placebo group when treatment was started within 3 days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. The number of hospitalisations and deaths were 0.8% (3 out of 389) in the Paxlovid group compared with 7% (27 out of 385) in the placebo group. Similar favourable results were seen in patients when treatment was started within 5 days of the start of symptoms.
Based on the clinical trial data, Paxlovid is most effective when taken during the early stages of infection and so the MHRA recommends its use as soon as possible and within five days of the start of symptoms. It has been authorised for use in people aged 18 and above who have mild to moderate COVID-19 infection and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness. Such risk factors include obesity, older age (>60 years), diabetes mellitus, or heart disease.
It is too early to know whether the omicron variant has any impact on Paxlovid’s effectiveness but the MHRA is proactively working with the company to establish this.
Dr June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive, said:
“Today we have given our regulatory approval for Paxlovid, a COVID-19 treatment found to cut COVID-19 related hospitalisations and deaths by 89% when taken within three days of the start of symptoms.
“We now have a further antiviral medicine for the treatment of COVID-19 that can be taken by mouth rather than administered intravenously. This means it can be administered outside a hospital setting, before COVID-19 has progressed to a severe stage.
“I hope the announcement today gives reassurance to those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, for whom this treatment has been approved. For these individuals, this treatment could be life-saving.”
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, Chair of the Commission on Human Medicines, said:
“The Commission on Human Medicines and its COVID-19 Therapeutics Expert Working Group has independently reviewed the data and endorses the MHRA’s regulatory approval of Paxlovid.
“Based on this data, it is clear Paxlovid is another safe and effective treatment to help us in our fight against COVID-19. As it is deployed, we will monitor its effectiveness and safety in the real-world, including any drug interactions, as we do with all medicines. Any side effects should be reported to the MHRA using the Yellow Card scheme.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid, said:
“The UK has been a world leader at finding and rolling out COVID-19 treatments to patients. This is further proved by the MHRA being one of the first in the world to approve this life-saving antiviral.
“We are also leading the whole of Europe in the number of antivirals we’ve bought per person – with over 2.75 million courses of this antiviral secured for NHS patients by the Antivirals Taskforce.
“The booster campaign, testing and antiviral defences ensure our country is in the strongest possible position to deal with the threat posed by Omicron as we head into the new year.”
Paxlovid may interact with certain other medications. Before it is prescribed, the MHRA is therefore advising that patients’ current medications should be carefully reviewed, and appropriate advice given on adjustments that may be needed to their current medications. Additional tests may also be needed for its safe use. More information is provided in the patient information leaflet.
Paxlovid is not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19. Vaccination and having a booster after the first course remains the best way to avoid hospitalisation due to COVID-19 for most people. The government and the NHS will confirm how this COVID-19 treatment will be given to patients in due course.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agencyis responsible for protecting and improving the health of millions of people every day through the effective regulation of all medicines and medical devices in the UK by ensuring they work and are acceptably safe. All our work is underpinned by robust and fact-based judgements to ensure that the benefits justify any risks.
TheCommission on Human Medicines (CHM) advises ministers on the safety, efficacy and quality of medicinal products. The CHM is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department of Health and Social Care.
The MHRA’s Conditional Marketing Authorisation for Paxlovid is valid in Great Britain only. An emergency use authorisation has been granted for Northern Ireland to ensure access across the whole of the United Kingdom. Both authorisations were made on the basis of the same rigorous evaluation.
#AceHealthReport – Dec.30: Countries across Europe are imposing restrictions on social life during the holiday season in response to a growing number of #COVID19 cases.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Monday a series of new measures aimed at curbing the spread of #COVID19 These will come into force on January 3 and remain in place for at least three weeks as authorities fear hospitals could be overwhelmed by #Omicron-variant patients.
The maximum size of mass gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors, with a complete ban on standing concerts. A mask mandate will be reintroduced in city centers. Consumption of food and drinks in cinemas, theaters, and sports venues, and during long-distance travel on public transport, will not be allowed.
Companies that can allow employees to work remotely will have to do so for at least three days a week, the government said.
France stopped short of preemptively shutting down schools, which are set to reopen next Monday, but will evaluate whether such a measure might be necessary during a special meeting on Wednesday. In mid-January, parliament is set to vote on a bill to introduce a vaccination pass.
Greece likewise announced on Monday new rules for the January 3-16 period. The restrictions include a midnight curfew for bars and restaurants, a ban on serving standing customers, and a limit of six people per table, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said. People visiting public spaces or using mass transport will be required to wear high-protection masks.
The measures come on top of existing regulations, which banned Christmas and New Year festivities and prohibited unvaccinated people from visiting public venues.
In Germany, the restrictions announced last week came into force on Tuesday. They introduced a cap of 10 people for private gatherings, which are allowed only for the vaccinated and the recovered. If one or more people have no proof of immunity, only two households are allowed to mix.
There is also a ban on large public gatherings, including outdoor New Year celebrations in popular streets and squares. The authorities have banned all firework displays in restricted areas to discourage violators, under the threat of fines.
As he was announcing the regulations, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed that his government and the leaders of federal states had agreed to put them in place after Christmas because previous experience had shown that “Christmas and Easter haven’t been great drivers of infections.”
Spain’s northern region of Catalonia last week imposed a nightlife curfew, limited social gatherings to 10 people, and capped the capacity of many public venues to either 50% or 70%. The holiday measures, which are to remain in place until at least January 7, are more restrictive than in other parts of the country and caused mass protests in Barcelona on Christmas Eve.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to convince regional leaders to have a unified set of measures beyond a mandate to wear masks outdoors. Contrasting Catalonia, the region of Madrid focused on ramping up testing.You can share this story on social media:
#AceHealthReport – Dec.24: News of the new super-vaccine comes as the latest COVID variant, Omicron, drives a fresh explosion in cases across the US, just weeks after it was first spotted in a California COVID patient on December 1. It now accounts for 73 per cent of all diagnoses across the country, with the figure as high as 90 per cent in states including New York and New Jersey.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says according to MailOnline News Report: Army to Announce It Has Developed a Single Vaccine That Researchers at the Maryland-based facility expect to officially announce the completion of the vaccine in the coming weeks, Defense One first reported.
On Monday night, the United States confirmed its first Omicron death, a man in his 50s from Houston who was unvaccinated and had previously recovered from COVID before being infected again and dying.
The Army began working on the Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine (SpFN) in early 2020, with a final release date likely to emerge whenever the Army submits its trial results to the Food and Drug Administration. It also remains unclear whether SpFN will be a single or multiple-shot vaccine.
From the beginning, they worked to create a vaccine that would protect against all existing and potential variants of the viruses.
#AceHealthReport – Dec.22: Denmark became the first EU country to lift its Covid restrictions three months ago, but the emergence of the new variant has seen Europe revert back to tougher rules as cases and hospitalisations are on the rise again.
#CoronaNewsDesk says according to Mail Online News Report: #COVID19 ‘s icy grip on Europe: Winter infections soar on the continent as Belgium rages with anti-lockdown riots, Holland enforces brutal new curbs and Germany bans tourists in desperate bid to slow the march of #Omicron
Winter infections are soaring across Europe amid the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant
Denmark became first EU country to lift lockdown restrictions, but Europe now reintroducing tougher rules
Thousands of protestors marched through Brussels and clashed with police over tighter restrictions
Holland has announced that all non-essential stores, bars and restaurants will be closed until January 14
Germany has also confirmed Britain has been added to its list of high-risk countries as a ‘virus variant area’
Published: 15:56, 19 December 2021 |
The UK lifted its own lockdown restrictions earlier on July 19, but Health Secretary Sajid Javid today warned there are ‘no guarantees’ Christmas Day will go ahead without a lockdown as Boris Johnson desperately fends off alarming warnings from scientists.
He admitted ‘everything is under review’ after SAGE delivered a grim assessment that the number of infections could reach two million by the end of the month without tougher restrictions – floating a ‘circuit breaker’ ban on households mixing and closure of non-essential shops.
It came as France barred UK holidaymakers from entering the country without a ‘compelling reason’ this week, while Germany added Britain to its list of high-risk countries.
Meanwhile, protestors clashed with police in the Brussels earlier this month amid demonstrations against the tightening of restrictions across the continent.
#AceHealthReport – Dec.15: Their view, having considered the views of the COVID-19 Vaccine Benefit-Risk Expert Working Group (EWG), NHS planners and others is that with the low rates of anaphylaxis, in the context of the considerable need for people to be boosted or vaccinated, the 15-minute wait after a vaccination with mRNA vaccine will cause more harm than it can avert because it will significantly reduce the number of people who can be vaccinated over a short period of time. The 15-minute wait should therefore be suspended for first, second and homologous or heterologous boost vaccinations with mRNA vaccine given the current situation, with this operationalised in line with the needs in each of the 4 nations.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says that a tweet below confirms this report …..The Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) of the UK and lead Deputy Chief Medical Officers (DCMOs) for vaccines have considered whether, in the light of the very considerable need to speed up vaccination and boosting in response to Omicron variant, the 15-minute wait for some mRNA #COVID19 vaccines should be suspended….
The long-term decisions on the 15-minute wait, when the current need for extreme speed of vaccination and boosting is over, should rest with the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM), the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). If Ministers agree then this should be a temporary measure on the grounds of public health need to protect as many citizens as possible over a short period of time. How the 15-minute suspension is operationally implemented should be determined by each nation.
The CMOs recognise that this will lead to a marginal increase in risk for a very small number of people, but substantially fewer than would be harmed by a slower vaccine rollout in the current public health emergency leading to some citizens not getting boosted or vaccinated prior to exposure to Omicron. This includes a consideration that any prior vaccination and particularly boosting is likely to lessen the likelihood of severe disease arising from Omicron variant infection.
Those with a history of allergic reactions should be managed in line with Green Book advice and everyone who is vaccinated should be given verbal and written advice on allergic reactions including what actions to take if they become unwell.
The background to this decision is laid out below.
We will copy this to the Chair of CHM and JCVI for information.
The current threat and response
Omicron is spreading extremely rapidly, with a doubling time of 2 to 3 days. If this is maintained, it will spread extremely rapidly through the population. Even if less severe than Delta, with the very high numbers involved modelling from several groups show this will cause substantial mortality, severe illness and pressure on the NHS. This constitutes a national health emergency.
While some protection by any level of vaccination against severe disease is likely, data to date show that 2 doses of any available vaccine is not sufficient to prevent symptomatic disease.
There is therefore a need to boost as much of the population as possible before the peak of the Omicron wave, or provide first vaccination to those with no prior protection. It is likely that this will significantly reduce the number of people becoming ill, hospitalised and dying. Given the speed of the current wave this will need to be undertaken very rapidly.
The mRNA vaccines have shown better ability to boost and are therefore the basis for the current booster campaign. In the CovBoost study antibody responses to mRNA vaccine boost were also much quicker than for other vaccine modalities (typically 7 to 10 days).
Basis of the 15-minute wait
All currently deployed vaccines have proven safe with low rates of severe side effects. As with all vaccines occasional cases of anaphylaxis have been reported, and the rates are slightly higher (but still very low) in the case of mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna but still overall very rare. For mRNA vaccines there have been 2 fatal Yellow Card reports of anaphylaxis linked to primary course vaccination and no deaths from anaphylaxis linked to booster vaccination reported in the UK to date.
We extract below some of the key points from the COVID-19 vaccine benefit-risk expert working group (EWG) analysis on booster vaccination:
a) Anaphylaxis following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination is a very rare but a potentially life-threatening event.
b) The EWG has previously stated that occurrence of anaphylaxis, where the first 2 doses of the same vaccine have been previously administered with no allergic reaction, would be extremely unlikely and agreed that the 15-minute observation time can be waived for homologous boosters (where the booster is the same vaccine as the first 2 doses) where no allergic reaction occurred on the first 2 doses.
c) The overall reporting rate of anaphylaxis with booster doses (0.26 per 100,000) was below that of reporting for the first 2 doses, with Moderna (1.47 per 100,000) and Pfizer (1.23 per 100,000). There had been 28 reports of anaphylaxis events with Pfizer booster doses (12 on a homologous i.e. Pfizer boosters, after Pfizer first/second dose; and 16 on heterologous schedule (i.e. Pfizer booster after AZ or Moderna or where primary dose was unspecified first and second doses).
d) Five of the 28 anaphylaxis Pfizer reports met the case definition criteria for anaphylaxis; of which 4 were heterologous, the fifth case was homologous, but the patient had received concurrent flu vaccine which is a potential co-suspect in the case. There were 9 reports of anaphylaxis events with Moderna booster doses, all reports on a heterologous schedule.
e) Within the 15-minute waiting time 17 events were reported and outside the 15-minute waiting time, 14 events were reported, but within the same day. The exact timings were not always specified, for instance – several said’<1 day’ or ‘after a few minutes’ or ‘outside the vaccination centre’. Six reports indicated an onset time of 5 minutes or less from vaccination.
f) There were no fatal reports, however 18 of the reports stated adrenaline was administered and 8 were hospitalised. It was noted that several had pre-existing allergies to a variety of allergens.
Reports with the Yellow Card database are under constant review and subject to change. This can include of receipt of additional information on reports, including additional reactions or details which may lead to identification of duplicated information. As such numbers of events may fluctuate.
The CMOs take these data as read. They demonstrate a real, but very rare, absolute risk with 2 reports of fatalities. It is not clear whether the 15-minute wait contributed to the non-fatal outcomes. The 15-minute wait was observed in the reports with fatal outcomes.
The risks of the 15-minute wait in the current situation
Initial analysis from NHS England from England, which is likely to be similar to other nations, implies that under the conditions of a system working at full capacity (as is needed now) the 15-minute wait reduces throughput by 23%. This leads to over 500,000 people not getting a vaccine in the initial period who would otherwise have done so.
Even allowing for the relatively crude initial calculations here, the absolute number of people put at risk because they cannot get vaccinated due to the 15-minute wait (in the high tens of thousands or higher) is much greater than the more precisely calculated number who get anaphylaxis.
Since the mortality rate for COVID-19 is non-trivial (although not yet calculated for Omicron) the probability of harm through delay is, in the view of the CMOs substantially in excess of the probability of benefit from maintaining 15-minute waits under the current situation.
The CHM has also agreed that the 15-minute observation period for primary course, third doses and booster doses of mRNA vaccines could be waived on a temporary basis during the emergency response to the Omicron variant. They will keep this under close review.
CMO for England, Professor Chris Whitty
CMO for Northern Ireland, Professor Sir Michael McBride
CMO for Scotland, Professor Gregor Smith
CMO for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton
DCMO lead for vaccination (England), Professor Jonathan Van Tam
DCMO lead for vaccination (Northern Ireland), Dr Naresh Chada
DCMO lead for vaccination (Scotland), Professor Nicola Steedman
DCMO lead for vaccination (Wales), Professor Gillian Richardson
Fully vaccinated 12 to 15 year olds are now able to access a NHS COVID Pass letter for international travel
Follows government decision to extend the vaccination programme to include offer of both doses of vaccine to all 12 to 15 year olds
Children remain exempt from certification in domestic settings and at the UK border
This will allow those children who have had both doses of an approved vaccine to travel to countries, including Spain and Canada, which now require 12 to 15 year olds to be fully vaccinated in order to gain entry, avoid isolation, or access venues or services.
Proof of vaccination will initially be provided via a letter service including an internationally recognised 2D barcode, with a digital solution via NHS.UK to be rolled out early next year. The letter service can be accessed by calling 119 or via NHS.UK.
Health and Social Care secretary Sajid Javid said:
From today, I can confirm the NHS COVID Pass is being rolled out to 12 to 15 year olds for international travel, allowing even more people to be able to prove their vaccination status for travel where it’s needed.
The move will enable families to plan holidays in 2022 with greater confidence, as parents can be reassured they will be able to evidence their child’s vaccination status once they have had both doses of the vaccine.
It can take up to 7 days to receive a COVID Pass letter.
Children will remain exempt from domestic certification policy in England and will not require an NHS COVID Pass to gain entry to venues.
Chief Executive of NHSX, Matthew Gould, said:
This is another example of the NHS COVID Pass service responding to the changing situation, while maintaining the integrity of the NHS COVID Pass itself.
The vaccination programme will be extended to offer all children aged 12 to 15 a second dose of an approved vaccine no sooner than 12 weeks after the first dose following the government’s acceptance of JCVI advice on 29 November.
In the last year the NHS COVID-19 vaccination programme has delivered over 100 million life-saving doses, preventing at least 24 million infections, hundreds of thousands of hospitalisations and almost 130,000 deaths.
Bookings through the National Booking System will be prioritised at most sites unless it is a pop up or walk-in only site. The National Booking System will now be stood up for over 18s and will take a short time to operationalise. From tomorrow adults over 30 will be able to book online, and all over 18s from Wednesday.
Prime Minister and NHS turbocharge booster programme against Omicron and launch an urgent national appeal calling for people to get jabbed
Latest data shows booster is needed to protect ourselves and the NHS against the variant
Prime Minister: “A tidal wave of Omicron is coming. Get Boosted Now.”
UK Chief Medical Officers raise UK Covid Alert Level from Level 3 to Level 4
All adults in England to be offered a booster jab by the end of the year. Devolved administrations also agree to accelerate vaccinations.
The latest data suggests Omicron is extremely transmissible and will become the dominant variant by mid-December. Cases are now doubling every 2 to 3 days.
Data published on Friday suggests that vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection is substantially reduced against Omicron with just two doses, but a third dose boosts protection back up to over 70%.
It is too early to draw firm conclusions about whether the Omicron variant is as virulent as Delta but even if it is more mild, a slight fall in vaccine efficacy can lead to a substantial increase in hospitalisations. Hospitalisations in South Africa have doubled in a week and are expected to rise in the UK over the next 2 weeks.
The extent of transmissibility, coupled with reduced protection after two doses and the raising of the alert level by the UK CMOs, means the Prime Minister and NHS England are today launching an urgent national Omicron appeal for the public to Get Boosted Now.
The government and NHS will rise to the challenge, working flat out to deliver jabs, save lives and ensure the NHS is not overwhelmed this winter with an influx of Omicron cases.
The vaccination programme is already delivering hundreds of thousands of boosters every day, with over 530,000 jabs in arms on Saturday alone, while catching up on elective surgeries and appointments and delivering all urgent care.
All adults will now be offered a booster jab by the New Year, bringing the target forward by one month.
Some walk-in appointments will be available from tomorrow for over 18s, dependent on location. If there are long queues or all slots have been booked, people are encouraged to be patient and keep trying, or book online.
To deliver the ramped-up vaccination programme, NHS staff will need to be redeployed away from non-urgent services. This means that all primary care services will now focus on urgent clinical need and vaccines, and some non-urgent appointments and elective surgeries may be postponed until the New Year while every adult in the country is jabbed. Without the added protection from this third dose, NHS beds will quickly fill up and the long term damage to the economy and the NHS efforts to bring down the backlog will be even greater.
The NHS will be given everything it needs to get jabs in arms as the UK responds to the Omicron variant.
The Prime Minister has today set out that the NHS will be given everything it needs to boost jabbing capacity, which will include:
New vaccination sites set up across the country, including mobile pop up sites
Increasing opening times for vaccination sites, to 7 days a week with more appointments early in the morning, in the evening and at weekends
50 military planning experts will help coordinate the national effort by supporting the NHS with logistics of the rollout
Reprioritising the NHS workforce to deliver as many jabs as possible
A national call for thousands more NHS volunteers
If Omicron is left unchecked the NHS is at risk of being quickly overwhelmed. This week the Prime Minister confirmed the move to Plan B for England following its rapid spread.
Face coverings are now compulsory in most public indoor venues, people are asked to work from home if they can from tomorrow, and from Wednesday 15 December negative lateral flow tests will be needed to enter nightclubs and large events, except for those who are double vaccinated and subject to approval from Parliament.
Every adult in the country is now being urged to book their jab as soon as possible. The vaccination programme is open to everyone, and first and second doses remain available.
The government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations on the booster rollout, and there will be Barnett consequentials for any new funding.
#AceHealthReport – Dec.13: Last month Austria became the first western European country to reimpose a lockdown for those who are vaccinated, which ends on Sunday: But restrictions will continue for unvaccinated people.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says according to BBC World Health News Report: Police say about 44,000 people rallied in the capital, Vienna, the fourth straight weekend of demonstrations and are one of the first EU countries to include mandatory vaccines …
The protesters, backed by the far-right Freedom Party, are against the government’s decision to make Covid-19 jabs mandatory from February.
The country is the first in the EU to adopt such a measure, which applies to all residents older than 14, except in the case of a dispensation for health reasons.
Opponents say people should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether to be vaccinated. The government says nobody will be vaccinated by force but those who refuse the jab will receive fines of up to €3,600 (£3.070; $4,000).
Protesters carried banners saying “No to compulsory vaccination” and chanted “We are the people,” and “resistance”. Smaller demonstrations were held in the cities of Klagenfurt and Linz.
Austria, with a population of 8.9 million people, has confirmed 1.2 million infections and more than 13,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.
About 68% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Western Europe.
Package of new measures announced to protect the social care sector from COVID-19
Extra support for booster programme to protect the vulnerable and those providing care
£300 million fund to help recruit and reward social care workforce
Updated guidance on care home visiting and testing to keep residents, staff and visitors safe
Vaccines remain our best line of defence and the NHS will redouble efforts to reach those care home residents who haven’t yet had their boosters.
Specialist vaccination teams are being expanded and deployed to guarantee all care home residents and staff, as well as people who are housebound and their caregivers, are offered the booster – with those most at risk prioritised for the jab.
Care homes will be able to request follow up booster visits from vaccination teams for staff and residents and home visit payments for GPs will be increased to further ramp up the home care programme.
More than 70% of older adult care home residents have already received a booster jab and 97% of older adult care homes have been visited by vaccination teams. Those who haven’t been visited, normally due to an outbreak, will receive visits shortly.
This will in turn help reduce pressure on the NHS this winter by alleviating delays to discharge – freeing up beds and ensuring people are being cared for in the right place.
Recognising the importance of companionship for the health and wellbeing of residents, visits to care homes will continue under updated guidance that permits 3 visitors and an essential care giver per resident, in order to balance the current COVID-19 risk and the need to keep people safe in line with clinical advice.
Staff testing will be increased from 2 lateral flow tests per week to 3 as well as a weekly PCR test. Fully vaccinated residents visiting out will be asked to take a lateral flow test on alternate days for 2 weeks after a visit. Those not fully vaccinated will be expected to isolate following a visit out.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said:
Throughout the pandemic we have done everything we can to protect the adult social care sector, and the emergence of the Omicron variant means this is more important than ever.
This new funding will support our incredible workforce by recruiting new staff and rewarding those who have done so much during this pandemic.
Boosting the booster rollout in social care and updating the visiting guidance will help keep the most vulnerable people in our society safe from the virus this winter.
The Omicron variant has led to infections doubling every 2 to 3 days and estimates by UKHSA of 10,000 cases with increased transmissibility.
Care settings will be given extra guidance for infection prevention and control measures and PPE. The government has already committed to providing free PPE in care and announced an additional £388 million to support testing and infection control in September.
Minister for Care Gillian Keegan said:
Vaccination remains our best line of defence and we are going further and faster to ensure social care staff and those receiving care, whether in a care home or their own home, are prioritised for boosters.
Our priority throughout the pandemic has been the safety of those who are the most vulnerable however we need to balance this with the tremendous benefits that visiting provides.
These changes are in line with the latest clinical advice and are designed to support our fantastic social care staff in the months ahead.
These measures support the government’s wider plan to improve social care. The ‘People at the Heart of Care’ white paper announced earlier this month, backed by £5.4 billion, provides a limit to the cost of care for everyone in the adult social care system for the first time, and significantly increases state support.
The transformed social care system will apply to people in both residential and at-home care and will set daily living costs at a lower rate than originally proposed, helping people save more money. It will mean nobody is forced to sell their homes in their lifetime.
Further measures will be kept under review in line with the latest scientific advice.
Updated guidance on visiting will be published in due course.
It comes as hospitals are struggling to see and treat patients quickly enough.
Delays in many areas are the worst on record with NHS leaders saying patients are being put at risk.
The latest data released by the NHS shows:
A quarter of patients who turn up at A&E wait over four hours in England and Scotland with waits in Wales even worse
In some hospitals nearly half of patients spend more than four hours in A&E
Those that need to be admitted on to wards in England – the sickest and most seriously ill – face further long delays before being found a bed on a ward. Nearly one in three in England wait over four hours with one in 36 waiting over 12
In the first week of December, more than a fifth of patients in England arriving at hospitals in an ambulance were caught up in queues because paramedics could not handover patients to A&E staff
Hospital bosses have told the BBC that the problems have got so bad that frail and ill patients are being left overnight on chairs and trolleys because staff are struggling to keep up: Apology after 10-hour wait for ambulance
Both the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) and NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, have warned that this is causing over-crowding, which is putting lives at risk.
NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said the NHS was facing a “very difficult” period.
“The NHS won’t fall over. It never does. But the current pressures are risking patient safety, quality of care and staff health and wellbeing.”
She said the problems were being compounded by workforce shortages.
The RCEM said the situation was “extremely worrying and dangerous for patients”.
NHS England said the health service had experienced one of its busiest ever months.
They pointed to a particular problem discharging patients – data shows more than one in 10 beds are occupied by patients who no longer need care, but cannot leave because there is no support available in the community.
The NHS Tracker has been produced by Christine Jeavans, Wesley Stephenson, Nick Triggle and Ellen Clowser. Development by Alexandra Nicolaides and Becky Rush, design by Lilly Huynh.
Unvaccinated travellers are often given the option of self-isolating on arrival.
Ghana’s land and sea borders have been closed to passenger traffic since restrictions were first introduced at the start of the pandemic.
Alongside the new measures, Ghanaian authorities will also still insist that all arrivals present a negative PCR test.
All Ghanaians flying out of the country will also need to be fully vaccinated.
This means that a Ghanaian national who is not currently vaccinated but gets a jab at the airport would have to wait until getting a second dose before they were able to fly out, unless they got a Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an eight- to 12-week gap between the first and second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and a 21- to 28-day gap between the two Pfizer shots. The Moderna and Sputnik V also require two doses for maximum immunity.
Less than 10% of Ghana’s population have currently been vaccinated.
Ghana’s authorities have expressed concern about the low vaccination rates and they are particularly worried about the new Omicron variant among international arrivals.
“The expected increase during the festive season calls for urgent actions to prevent a major surge in Covid-19 cases in Ghana,” the head of the Ghana Health Service, Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said in a statement.
He said that over the last two weeks, cases detected at Ghana’s main airport, Kotoka, accounted for about 60% of all confirmed Covid cases in the country.
The authorities plan to ramp up efforts to immunize the population in January, by making it compulsory for government employees, students and health workers to get the vaccine.
Vaccine passports will also be required to enter venues with large crowds like nightclubs and sports stadiums.
Since the start of the pandemic, Ghana has reported 131,246 cases and 1,228 Covid fatalities.
#AceHealthReport – Dec.06: BBC Panorama has been looking at what this means for people living and working in the homes run by two of those groups, and for the future of care in this country.
#AceDailyNews Care Homes Following The Money Report: Three of the UK’s biggest care home groups are owned by private equity companies and are saddled with significant amounts of debt …Crisis in Care: Follow the Money is on BBC One on Monday Panorama’s Crisis in Care: Follow the Money is on BBC One on Monday at 19:30 or watch later on BBC iPlayer
By James Melley & Alison Holt BBC News Social Affairs Team
“It’s the Wild West out there,” says Mr Hunt. “We need the Competition and Market authority to make sure that market is operating in the interest of consumers, particularly the very vulnerable people who need that sector.”
In his basement home office on the outskirts of Sydney, a short walk from the beach and the South Pacific, Jason Ward spends much of his time poring over spreadsheets and going through company accounts trying to make sense of how businesses work.
When someone says “follow the money”, that is probably what Jason will be doing.
He works for an organisation called CICTAR – the Centre for International Corporate Tax Accountability and Research – which is funded by trade unions and charities.
Jason has been investigating where money goes in the care industry in countries around the world – and in particular the role of private equity investment.
Typically, private equity investors are wealthy individuals or institutions who buy businesses looking for a better return on their money than from other types of investment.
They will often do this by making them more efficient, then selling it on at a profit.
Financial investigator Jason Ward works for an international tax justice group
In the UK, two of the biggest care groups, HC-One and Care UK, are owned in this way. And one of the other biggest groups, Four Seasons, was owned by private equity firms until recently.
Between them they have nearly 39,000 beds, and there have been concerns about the amount of debt they all carry.
Early this year, Jason Ward contacted Panorama about some research he was carrying out into the UK’s biggest care home operator – HC-One.
HC-One was set up in 2011 from the ashes of care group Southern Cross – which was the UK’s biggest care home company until it collapsed when it couldn’t pay its rents.
Now, HC-One owns more than 320 homes and cares for more than 15,000 residents.
It earns on average £770 per bed, per week, from councils, the NHS and private funders, to look after vulnerable people.
Jason wanted to get to the bottom of where all this money was going.
As Jason began digging, Norman was living on the other side of the world in a care home near Wigan, Lancashire, called Ashton View – which is run by HC-One.
Because of his level of savings, Norman – who was living with dementia – had to pay for his own care. Ashton View cost him around £1,000 a week.
But despite this financial outlay, Dale says his dad wasn’t being looked after as he should have been.
“Sometimes he was dressed in clothes that weren’t his. I once went in and he had a woman’s blouse on,” he says.
“His dignity had been gone a little bit. He’d changed. I was just looking at a shell.”
Norman was meant to wear special shoes to help prevent falls, but once when Dale went to see him he says he was shocked to see his dad’s feet were as “black as tarmac”, as he’d been walking around barefoot.
Then in October 2020, Wigan council told Dale it was investigating allegations of poor care, involving Norman and others.
The regulator, the CQC, had found there had been problems with staffing and medication at Ashton Court, and said the home “required improvement”.
A month later, Norman had two falls and a stroke. He went into hospital and died, at the age of 91.
HC-One has apologised for the standard of care Norman received, and says there is now new management in place at Ashton View.
Given the level of care he received and the quality of his room, the family had been wondering where all Norman’s care fees ended up. In total, he paid £125,000, according to Dale.
“My dad worked all his life for all he’d got,” Dale says. “And all of a sudden it was just disappearing down a tunnel.”
In Australia, Jason Ward was making his way through HC-One-related company documents.
It took him months to unpick the company filings. He found that the HC-One group has a web of more than 80 companies in its structure.
Some of them own the physical care home properties, others run the care parts of the business. But there are many more companies with less obvious functions.
Several of those at the top of the structure are based overseas in the Cayman Islands – a tax haven.
HC-One is now majority-owned by Safanad, a US and Dubai-based company run by Kamal Bahamdan, a wealthy Saudi and Olympic bronze-medal-winning equestrian. There are also other smaller investors, which include US private equity firm Formation Capital and UK-based Court Cavendish.
Like any investor, they will be looking to make returns on the money they put in.
The Cayman Islands in the Caribbean are known as a tax haven
In accounts filed by one of HC-One’s companies (FC Skyfall Holdco 3), we can see it paid out £4.8m in dividends in May 2020.
A few days later, as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, HC-One wrote to every council it works with, asking for additional support to cope with the impact of the disease.
“At the end of the day, they’re begging for more money from cash-strapped local authorities. People are cashing in on the value of their homes to fund that care. It’s pretty shocking and disturbing,” says Jason Ward.
Back near Wigan, Dale’s wife Maggie is shocked about the money the company paid out in dividends.
“It just doesn’t sit well with me ethically or morally that amount of dividend,” she says.
Panorama asked HC-One for a breakdown of how £1,196 – the price Norman paid per week at Ashton View – is spent.
It told us that 65% goes on staff and 15% on running costs and maintenance – while nearly 20% goes towards servicing debt, building up investment reserves and providing a financial return to investors.
HC-One says “no shareholder dividend has been paid” since 2017. It adds that the £4.8m reported dividend is made up of £1.7m in interest on a third-party loan and £3.1m in asset management fees.
It also says that in the past five years, its owners “have enabled us to invest £145m” in capital expenditure – far more than “all the cumulative dividends and management fees they have received”.
Business analyst Nick Hood told Panorama private-equity investors can have a positive impact.
“They take harsh decisions, they improve businesses, they create jobs, they create wealth. There are many examples in other sectors where private equity has been positive and has improved things,” he says. But he thinks it is not working in care homes, and that their structures should be more transparent.
There are also concerns about the amount of debt private-equity-owned care homes have taken on.
Four Seasons Health Care was in private equity ownership from the 1990s until recently. It has changed hands several times, and over time more debt was added to the company.
By 2017 the company owed more than £1bn, and was struggling to meet its interest repayments.
Vivek Kotecha is a forensic accountant who has been investigating the care sector. He says that this debt had to be paid from money coming in from residents.
Vivek Kotecha (left) and Christine Corlet Walker (right) have been investigating the care industry
“In 2017, the Four Seasons Health Care Group had about £29,000 of debt per care home bed that they operated. And the interest charge per bed per week was £148,” he says.
In other words, a chunk of the money coming in from local authorities or private funders was going to pay off debts, rather than being spent directly on the service.
In 2019, two of the key companies in the group were placed in financial administration. While it is accepted some of the debt will never be repaid, the company still owes around £625m.
Its care homes continue to operate.
Christine Corlet Walker, a researcher at the University of Surrey, says some families with loved ones in Four Seasons’ care homes will be concerned about its future.
“It appears to be in a very financially vulnerable and fragile position as a company,” she says.
Four Seasons Health Care says its “ownership structure does not have any bearing on the day-to-day care of our residents”.
It says: “They and their families can be reassured that the Group maintains its focus on the care and wellbeing of our colleagues and those we care for.”
HC-One is also shouldering a lot of debt, which it says allows it to buy care homes outright, rather than rent them, giving them stability. Jason Ward’s report analysed HC-One’s purchase of 110 care homes – which were previously owned by Bupa – for £300m in 2017.
This was mostly financed by an external bank loan with a total interest rate of around 9% plus fees.
One of the three lenders charging the higher interest rate was HC-One’s main owner, the private equity firm Safanad. Within three years, that £80m loan was worth £120m.
Jason says it is a “a common private equity tactic” to move “money out of the operating companies and to the ultimate investors in a way that maximises their profit”.
We showed Jason’s research to the former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt MP, now the chairman of the powerful Commons Health and Social Care committee. Mr Hunt found the way HC-One was structured disturbing.
“To me it is the unacceptable face of capitalism, because this is a sector that is under enormous pressure. It is wholly inappropriate given the purpose of the sector is to look after literally the most vulnerable people in our society,” he says.
HC-One says “it’s a private company delivering an essential public good.” It says its loans were not a way of moving cash out of the structure, or to deliberately reduce earnings. It says it couldn’t borrow all the money it needed to buy the BUPA homes from a bank, and the 15% interest it paid was the market rate at the time. It says it pays full UK tax and its top company is registered outside the UK because its owners are transnational.
It also says it has recently refinanced and consolidated its debt, and is reducing the number of companies in the structure.
The government last week announced its proposals for the future of the care sector in England.
Mr Hunt says now is the time to bring in reforms to safeguard those that rely on care.
“There’s a real opportunity now to lay down a long-term plan for the sector and to channel private sector investment in the way we want. That could be a very positive thing and until we give that clarity, I don’t think we’re going to get the positive type of investment that we really need.”
#AceHealthReport – Dec.06: The vessel had departed the same city on November 28, and was scheduled to return there this weekend. On its route, the Norwegian Breakaway called at a number of ports in Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. More than 3,200 people are believed to be on board.
#CoronavirusNewsDesk says that a #COVID19 outbreak on cruise ship with over 3,000 passengers with 10-people who have tested positive on board a Norwegian Cruise Line ship that was bound for New Orleans, despite the strict rules in place that required that all passengers and crew be vaccinated according to RT News
Officials said in a statement that the cruise line “has been adhering to appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols as new cases and exposures have been identified.”
On arrival in New Orleans, each passenger and crew member will undergo testing. Anyone presenting with Covid will have to immediately go into quarantine, either at home or in accommodation provided by the cruise line.
So far, there is no information on the condition of the 10 passengers who are sick with Covid. The outbreak occurred despite Norwegian’s rules, which require all passengers and crew members to have been vaccinated against the virus at least two weeks prior to any trip.
Cruise ships gained notoriety last year, when the coronavirus began spreading across the globe and passengers were often denied the right to disembark. Forced to quarantine on board, some ended up dying at sea, while others eventually had to be rushed to hospital as their condition dramatically deteriorated. This prompted the US authorities to suspend all cruises for several months.