Briefly, where it began ....
This is the view from the market town of Ledbury, the heart of a rural community in Herefordshire, England. The county is set between the Malvern Hills and the
border with Wales. Recording facts about the pandemic as it happens from direct evidence or reliable information sources worldwide.
Background. Viruses are everywhere. Probably the earliest to be noticed and the one everyone now knows is the influenza
virus. The word ‘influenza’ coming from medieval Latin meaning ‘(astrological) influence (of the stars)’ and the illness was first recorded
by Hippocrates in 412 B.C.E. It is an orthomyxovirus and the form Influenza A has the potential to cause pandemics. The first viral pandemic
was in 1580 C.E. The most recent were all influenza virus A. “Spanish” Flu in 1918, H2N2 strain (Asian Flu) in 1957, H3N2 strain “Hong Kong”
Flu in 1967, H5N1 strain (Bird Flu) in 2005 and H1N1 strain (Swine Flu) in 2009.
The cold-weather Annual Seasonal Flu is a mild illness which has been common worldwide for many years. One influenza A(H1N1), one influenza A(H3N2), and one or
two influenza B viruses (depending on the vaccine) are included in each season’s influenza vaccines.
The earliest virus to affect humanity was probably the poliovirus which is a picornavirus. It was first described in the UK in 1789.
Because of widespread vaccination from the mid-1950’s onwards, polio was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994 but outbreaks have since been noted in
Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Around 1976 a retrovirus in Congo, West Africa passed from chimpanzees to humans and has since spread everywhere. The human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV) attacks the body’s immune system leaving you wide open to other diseases. The illness, termed AIDS, peaked between 2005 and 2012 but to date over 36
million people have died. Another virus, a coronavirus, caused the SARS outbreak of 2002 in Guandong Province, China but the outbreak was only
classed as an epidemic. Another coronavirus caused the MERS outbreak in the Middle East in 2012.
The new coronavirus strain, SARS-Cov-2A, leading to the disease COVID-19, appeared in China possibly contracted by humans from
live animals at a market in Wuhan or possibly an escape from a research labaratory in Wuhan. Previous outbreaks, SARS and MERS came from bats, via palm civet cats
and camels respectively. The virus can be de-activated by soap solution or a 70%+-alcohol sanitary handwash solution. Since it appeared the virus has mutated
into a series of variants of interest (Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda and Mu) and variants of concern (the first alpha, beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron,
the latest). The name comes from the corona or crown which shows up on an electron microscope.
Virions of coronavirus (colored transmission electron microscopy image).Image Credit: Dr. Fred Murphy & Sylvia Whitfield/CDC
1st January The i newspaper Review of the Year 2022 published on Friday 30th December quoted two experts — Professor John
Edmonds, an infection diseases expert at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Professor Mark Woolhouse, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at the University
JE - We were actually very lucky with Omicron because we had just atarted boosting the elderly and vulnerable so, by the time it hit, the over-50s were already in line
to get their vaccine dose with most older people already having had their booster.
MW - In the UK, the Government was taking action against Omicron within 10 days of it being discovered, which is an awful lot faster than we moved when COVID-19
first arrived. We learnt that lesson at least.
There is a nagging worry ... whether we have the capacity to roll out self-testing very, very quickly should we need it. Clearly, that requires a stockpile and
I’m not aware there is one.
COVID-19 isn’t going away. It’s going to be some kind of health problem for the rest of my life and beyond.There’s no ‘end point’
in the sense that it will suddenly disappear. What the end point will ook like then is we don’t treat Covid any differently than we do a raft of other
seasonal respiratory infections that we’ve all been dealing with all of our lives.
JE - Covid will continue to circulate, of course continue to mutate, and it will continue to cause quite a lot of infections, hospitalisations and inevitably,
deaths. It’s a big drag on the NHS and a big drag on the nation as a whole.
There are measures [such as more testing in settings such as care homes and hospitals] that we did have in place during the pandemic and maybe we should consider
them again. Not necessarily all the time, but when prevalence is high we should put them in place. We need studies to see how effective these measures are, from
a cost perspective as well, because we never actually did those studies during the pandemic.
2nd January The US CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dashboard
shows these details on coronavirus variants in the US which highlight a new Omicron variant which is dominating current infections. Right click to view the dashboard
MSN says that the CDC estimates that XBB.1.5 has more than doubled its share of the Covid-19 pie each week for the last four, rising from
about 4% to 41% of new infections over the month of December. In the Northeast, the CDC estimates, XBB.1.5 is causing 75% of new cases. XBB.1.5 was first detected in
New York and Connecticut in late October, according to GISAID, a global effort to catalog and track variants of the coronavirus.
The Manchester Evening News
Online reports that according to the Sanger Institute, one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres, four per cent of Coronavirus cases in the week to
December 17 were caused by XBB.1.5. The variant is a mutated version of Omicron XBB, which was detected in Singapore, India and 33 other countries in October,
according to the World Health Organisation. There is no indication the XBB.1.5 strain causes more severe illness than previous variants.
The China Daily online gives this statement — Wu Zunyou, chief expert on epidemiology at the China Center for Disease Control and
Prevention, said at a briefing held by the State Council Information Office on Dec 29, The epidemic has developed relatively early in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei
region, Chengdu-Chongqing region and some provinces in Central China, and their potential peak of the epidemic has passed. But Chongqing, Anhui, Shanghai, Hubei,
Hunan and other provinces and cities are at a high epidemic stage. The epidemic is also developing rapidly in Henan, Jilin and Fujian provinces.
4th January The i newspaper reports that, from Sunday 8th January, up to 2000 people daily arriving at London Heathrow airport
from China will be asked by UKHSA United Kingdom Health Security Agency officials to take
a PCR Covid test with the results analysed for possible new Covid variants. This is the day that China is opening its borders to allow Chinese citizens to travel abroad.
The dominant variety in China at present is Omicron BF.7 which has already circulated in the UK. Anyone testing positive at the airport will not be required to isolate
as there are no longer quarantine rules in the UK. [Ed. newspapers are now generally using Covid (not in capital letters) as a shorthand for novel coronavirus SARS-Cov-2A.
The cartoon below from March 2020 is still appropriate].
Statements from Mike Ryan, WHO Director of Emergencies, and Mao Ning, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
MR - We believe the current numbers being published from China under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of
ICU admissions, particularly in nterms of death.
MN - Facts have proved that China has always, in accordance with the principles of legality, timeliness, openness and transparency, maintained close
communication and shared relevant information and data with the WHO in a timely manner.
The UK is embarking on an ambitious plan to accelerate research into mRNA cancer vaccines, with German pharmaceutical company BioNTech. Following the success of Covid
vaccines using the same messenger-ribonucleic-acid technology, scientists now want to conduct more trials in cancer patients. And they are hoping to provide this
personalised type of treatment to about 10,000 patients by 2030. Britain is the first nation to sign up to such a partnership.
BioNTech has several international cancer vaccine trials in progress but says the UK is ideally placed as it has a great track record and infrastructure for medical
First noted here in November 2020, the Turkish husband and wife team, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, founded the pharmaceutical research company BioNTech in
Germany in 2008. To the end of 2022, nearly 425 million doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines have been given to individuals in the United States alone.
12th January The i newspaper reports a study, published in the British Medical Journal, which has been carried out at
the KI Research Institute in Kfar Malal, Israel and involved data on almost two million people with ‘Long Covid’ registered with an Israeli healthcare
provider. The symptoms patients reported included loss of taste and smell, breathing problems, concentration and memory loss - the term ‘brain fog’ is
often used - weakness, palpitations and dizziness.
Dr. Maytal Bivas-Benita is Senior Researcher at the KI Institute said:. Although the Long Covid phenomenon has been feared and discussed since the beginning of
the pandemic, we opbserved that most health outcomes arising after a mild disease course remained for several months and returned to normal within the first year.
However the study did not include those who recovered from a serious infection and experts warn that they may suffer for much longer.
Friday 13th January Relevant to the bar chart above is this report in today’s i newspaper. The funding for the
ONS Office of National Statistics weekly infections survey scheme is due to run out
on 31st March 2023. The survey almost shut down a year ago but the Government continued it for another year following a public and political outcry.
Throughout 2022 it showed the progress of two large waves of infections and one smaller one, as well as a spike in the disease before Christmas ...
The survey was commissioned by the UKHSA United Kingdom Health Security Agency .
The ONS recruited thousands of volunteers who agreed to be tested regularly and report the results, providing a representative sample that would show
how many people overall were likely to be infected.
Dr. Duncan Robertson, an expert in policy and strategy analytica at Loughborough University and a member of Independent Sage, said: The survey has been
one of the few success stories of the UK’s response to Covid. The UK will potentially be flying blind should the survey be ended.
Stephen Griffin, associate professor of virology at Leeds University, said: The ONS infection survey remains a gold standard data source. We simply
cannot switch the lights off and hope nothing dreadful happens when we're left in the dark.
Grampian online reports that Michelle Bowen, ONS head of health surveillance, has said that while infections have fallen in England
and Wales, Scotland has seen another week of increases, while the trend in Northern Ireland is uncertain. Cases have decreased
across most English regions and age groups; however, infections continue to rise in the over-70s.
The UK Express newspaper online reports a dramatic change in China’s published COVID-19 data. China has reported that 59,938 people —
with an average age of 80.3 — have died with coronavirus in Chinese hospitals between December 8 and January 12. Of those, 5,503 were said to have been caused to
respiratory failure as a result of infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The remaining 54,435 deaths, meanwhile, officials attributed to a
combination of Covid and other diseases. As of just the past week, however, China had been officially suggesting that there had only been 37 deaths — out of a
population of 1.4 billion — since December, having redefined its criteria for recording Covid deaths such that only those who died of respiratory failure would
Beijing has asserted that both COVID-19 cases and emergency hospitalisations in China have now peaked and are on the decline. Officials, however, have previously
expressed concern that a fresh wave of the virus may hit China’s rural interior late next week, as millions of people prepare to journey back to their hometowns
to celebrate the week-long holiday around the Lunar New Year, which begins on January 21 this year.
20th January The Press Association (now PA Media) chart shows the latest UK infections estimate.
The current wave of coronavirus looks to have peaked at a level below those seen in previous outbreaks.
21st January Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA reports that, up to today, there have been 1,104,103 deaths from COVID-19 in the USA.
Cases in the USA do not show the peaks as were seen in the UK.
Right click to view the graph full-size or
The main JHU COVID-19 dashboard, often referred to in this diary, was created in January 2020 by Lauren Gardner, an associate professor of civil and systems
engineering at Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering and doctoral student Ensheng Dong. It is maintained by her team of graduate
students and has become the flagship product of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
23rd January Hong Kong Free Press online says that China reports nearly 13,000 Covid-related deaths in hospitals between January 13 and 19 2023.
This is made up of 681 hospitalised patients who died of respiratory failure caused by coronavirus infection, and 11,977 who died of other diseases combined
with an infection. The figures do not include those who died from the virus at home. “Although a large number of people travelling during the Spring
Festival may promote the spread of the epidemic to a certain extent … the current wave of epidemic has already infected about 80 percent of the people in the
country,” Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform
Reuters news agency reports that in December 2022, Prof Wang Guiqiang told a State Council news conference that the National Health Commission had recently
revised its guidelines to “scientifically and objectively reflect deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic”, classifying only fatalities caused by
pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients who had the virus as Covid deaths. “Deaths caused by other diseases such as cardiovascular or cerebrovascular
diseases and heart attacks are not classified as deaths caused by coronavirus.” Hence the two figures that are issued by China’s NHC.
Benjamin Mazer, an assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, said the classification would miss a lot of cases, especially as people who are
vaccinated, including with Chinese shots, are less likely to die of pneumonia. Blood clots, heart problems and sepsis – an extreme body response to infection –
have caused countless deaths among Covid patients around the world.
26th January The Daily Mail online reports that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is changing the way it records Covid deaths. From today
only fatalities where the coronavirus was mentioned on a death certificate, if the doctor decides it was a contributing factor in the victim’s demise, will
now be included in the main toll. It spells an end to using the method of counting anyone who died of any cause within 28 days of testing positive and will mean
that the primary Covid death toll actually goes up by almost 4,000. But thousands fewer Covid fatalities will recorded moving forward, experts predict. An average
of 142 occurred per day during the last full week of data in England with the 28-day positive test method. For comparison, 87 were logged in the same spell using
the new method. The UKHSA claims the gap between the two tallies has been steadily growing over the past year. It added the new method was a more ‘reliable
indicator’ of the true situation ‘at this stage in the pandemic’. Officials will still keep track of both counting systems.
28th January The UK JCVI Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation
report dated November 2022 and updated January 2023 says: “It is estimated that over 97% of adults in England had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, either from
infection or vaccination, by the end of August 2022. In Great Britain, an estimated 93 to 99% of children aged 12 to 15 years, and 74 to 98% of children aged
8 to 11 years, had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 at the end of August 2022. Natural immunity alone provides good levels of protection against severe COVID-19
while the combination of natural and vaccine-induced immunity (hybrid immunity) is associated with even higher levels of protection. This high level of strong
population immunity developed over the past 2 and a half years is under regular monitoring through UK Health Security Agency public health surveillance programmes.”
29th January In the Observer newspaper journalists Helen Davidson in Taipei, Verna Yu, and Chi Hui Lin report on China
Over the last two months, the virus has rapidly spread through the country. Up to 10,000 critical cases were registered in hospitals every day. Morgues were
overwhelmed, pharmacies reported shortages of basic medications, and supply of antiviral drugs was held up by protracted negotiations with foreign suppliers.
Online and in the streets, people spoke of almost everyone they knew having caught Covid, and of elderly relatives dying. ...
President Xi Jinping’s extraordinary backflip left analysts alarmed and confused. China was not the only country to choose a zero-Covid strategy, and
certainly not the only one to “let it rip” once it dropped it. But it was the last, and global health experts say there were plenty of lessons it
could have heeded – primarily, making sure vaccinations and health resources were high before the tsunami of cases hit. ...
Experts on health and Chinese politics have told the Observer they believe the local authorities were hamstrung. Any preparations for ending zero-Covid would
be seen as a vote of no confidence in both the policy and Xi – an act of political suicide.
4th February The latest Press Association (now PA Media) chart showing the latest UK infections estimate. Right click to view the chart and graph
The other UK infections indicator is the ZOE study produced by Kings College, London.
The i newspaper reports that he deadline for adults aged under 50 to get a Covid-19 booster jab is approaching next week.
The NHS has said Sunday, 12 February, will be the last day people in this age group can attend a vaccination site for their primary doses, while hundreds
of thousands of appointments will be available for booster jabs. After this date, the jabs will only be offered to people considered to be at risk of
serious illness, as recommended by the JCVI. Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, and the NHS director of vaccinations and screening, Steve Russell,
urged people to take the final opportunity to get the jab.
16th February A PA news report in the Inverness Courier online highlights a depressing turn of events in the so-far brilliant development
of mRNA vaccines. A UK High Court battle between rival developers of Covid-19 jabs over patents for vaccine technology is set to be heard in London next
year. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and drug manufacturer BioNTech are locked in a dispute with vaccine maker Moderna over the use of messenger
RNA (mRNA) technology in coronavirus jabs, with similar litigation taking place in the US, Germany and the Netherlands. US firm Moderna is suing American
competitor Pfizer and its German-partner BioNTech for alleged patent infringement in relation to their Comirnaty vaccine, arguing it is due compensation
for products manufactured after March 7 last year. Pfizer and BioNTech have denied infringement, a preliminary hearing in London on Thursday was told,
with both firms seeking the “revocation” of two Moderna patents, claiming that they are “invalid”. The court was told a trial is
due to take place in April next year.
18th February ‘The Week’ magazine reports that the chief executive of AstraZeneca, Sir Pascal Siriot, has confirmed that the
firm will build a new $360 million state-of-the-art factory in Ireland rather than north-west England. Two financial changes may have made him make this
decision. UK Corporation Tax is increasing from 19% to 25% in April 2023 and the NHS Sales Levy (known as VPAS or Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines
Pricing and Access) has also been increased. NHS medicine spending is capped at a maximum of 2% each year. Any spend over this 2% must be reimbursed to
the DHSC by the drug manufacturers. In 2019, the first calendar year of VPAS, 172 drug manufacturers agreed to join the VPAS scheme and the reimbursement
percentage was 9.6%. The reimbursement percentage for 2022 was capped at 15%. In 2023, the reimbursement percentage is to be set at 26.5%.
Note: In November 2021 AstraZeneca opened a £1bn new research and development centre outside Cambridge housing 16 labs and 2,200 scientists, making it
the biggest science lab in Britain along with the Francis Crick Institute in London.
A press release today from the UK Department of Health and Social Care and The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP says that the Covid autumn booster programme -
which started on 5th September 2022 and ended on 12th February 2023 - saw 17.46 million jabs given to eligible people including those aged 50 and over,
residents in care homes, people aged 5 and over in an at risk group, and health and social care staff with 74,692 people getting jabbed in the final week
- almost double the 40,947 jabs administered in the previous seven days. Overall, 64.9% of people aged 50 and over took up the offer of an autumn booster.
Take up was highest among the 75 to under 80s (82.8%), over 80s (82.7%), and 70 to under 75s (79.2%). The latest data shows 20.9 million eligible people
have had their flu jab, but take up is low among pregnant women and children aged two and three. Eligible people – including pregnant women, young children,
and those with an underlying health condition – have till 31st March to come forward for their flu jab.
27th February The UK National Institute For Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended that three anti-viral treatments are not now
to be funded by the NHS as not being deemed cost effective. [Ed. Too expensive?] These are remdesivir,
molnupiravir and evushield. A department of Health spokesperson said “It is vital we move from the extraordinary pandemic
arrangements back to our usual processes. This will ensure clinical and cost-efectiveness of medicines.”
6th March Decreasing waves of hospitalisations in England are recorded over the last year. Other UK nations are similar but graphs are
not now available on the Government COVID website.
Nation.Cymru news reported on 3 March that the latest increase in infections in Wales is being driven by the Omicron variant BA.2.75, which now accounts
for more than three quarters (79.5%) of sequenced infections in the UK.
The i newspaper reports that a small, portable humidifier costing as little as £50 could significantly reduce the risk of catching Covid, flu and other
viruses in the cold winter months by safely disinfecting them, according to a leading chemist. Research by Professor Richard Zare, of Stanford University,
shows that that moisture-producing humidifiers could usefully be incorporated into all sorts of areas where people can pass on a virus, from care homes
and hospitals to schools, offices and even the home. But this would only work in the winter months, when indoor heating dries out the air. In the summer
months there is already enough humidity.
Professor Zare has discovered that hydrogen peroxide – a caustic substance used for disinfecting surfaces and bleaching hair – spontaneously forms in
microscopic droplets of ordinary water in tiny but effective amounts that are harmless to humans. And he has found that when it is a bit more humid the
effect is greatly enhanced because it slows down the rate at which the water droplets evaporate, giving them longer to kill the virus.
This suggests that humidifiers could significantly reduce the volume of harmful particles in the room, he told the American Association for the Advancement
of Science conference in Washington.
Some people already have humidifiers in their homes for a variety of reasons, including help with coughs, reduce snoring, keep skin and hair hydrtated,
help houseplants and prevent static electricity building up.
The public health implications of this work are clear – controlling indoor humidity is a new way to stop the spread of viral respiratory infections,
said Professor Zare. If links are further borne out, simply adding humidifiers to heating, ventilation, and cooling systems could lessen disease
Professor Zare said his findings help explain why colds and flu, in particular, are more common in the winter. In the summer, indoor humidity is higher
because the warmer outside air is more humid (containing more water) while the heating is unlikely to be on, meaning there will be larger amounts of
hydrogen peroxide with enough time to kill viruses. By contrast, in winter, when the air inside buildings is heated and its humidity lowered, the
droplets evaporate before the reactive oxygen species can act as a disinfectant, he argues.
Viral respiratory infections are seasonal, peaking in the winter time when the indoor air is heated and dried out (low relative humidity) but falling
in the summer time when the indoor air has a relative humidity much like the outside air, often ranging between 40 per cent and 60 per cent, he said.
Another study, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in November and published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, found that,
the humidity “sweet spot” of 40 to 60 per cent “is associated with a better outcome [for Covid], meaning fewer deaths and a
deceleration of the pandemic.”
10th March The i newspaper reports it understands that the ONS
Office for National Statistics weekly COVID infection survey is to be paused after ministers failed to confirm funding for the
scheme after the end of this month. This is the graph to 7 March.
The latest world figures from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland first reported on 22 January 2020. Right click
to view the dashboard full-size or
The yellow flash text says that the University has stopped collecting data as of today and the Coronavirus Resource Center has now closed.
Sir David Spiegelhalter, emeritus professor of statistics at Cambridge University and chairman of the advisory board for the
[COVID infection] survey, told the PA news agency it had been an “extraordinary achievement” which has provided “vital evidence of great
value both to national policy and international scientific understanding”.
He continued: There is a general consensus that the survey has been a world-leading demonstration of how health surveillance can best be done. It is
expensive, and this has led to it being paused, but the participant group is not being disbanded and a survey should be able to ramp up when necessary.
Meanwhile there are important lessons to be learned for future emergencies, both by us and every other country. The survey has been the envy of the
world and is a jewel in the crown of UK science.
The survey was rolled out across the UK during summer 2020, just after the first wave of the virus. It has measured every wave since then, with its
figures revealing the biggest wave came in spring 2022 when weekly infections hit 4.9 million, followed by winter 2021/22, which peaked at 4.3 million.
In recent months the survey has helped track the scale and progress of the Christmas 2022 wave, which peaked at nearly three million infections, as well
as the latest rise in prevalence. The halting of the survey comes as the rate of hospital admissions in England for people with Covid-19 rose for the
third week in a row, to 10.6 per 100,000 people in the seven days to March 19 – the highest level since the start of January. In the absence of official
estimates of Covid-19, hospital admissions will be one of the few remaining sources of data to give any sense of the spread of the virus, along with
This is the final data from the survey issued today.
27th March This is the only information being kept up to date. Patients admitted and Patients in Hospital for England. Nothing on the
Government website for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Right click to view full-size or