UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock began a period of self-isolation on Tuesday after he revealed he had been pinged an alert by the National Health Service (NHS) COVID-19 app overnight.
The minister, who also spent time in self-isolation after testing positive for coronavirus at the peak of the pandemic last year, said he learned from the NHS Test and Trace app on Monday night that he had been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive and self-isolating was “how we break the chains of transmission”.
“So you must follow these rules like I’m going to. I’ve got to work from home for the next six days, and together, by doing this, by following this, and all the other panoply of rules that we’ve had to put in place, we can get through this and beat this virus,” Mr Hancock said in a video message on Twitter.
A 10-day self-isolation, which means staying at home without any exception, is a legal requirement in the UK for anybody who has COVID-19 symptoms, has tested positive for the virus, lives with someone who has symptoms, has arrived from abroad or has been contacted by the NHS Test and Trace app.
The mobile phone application, launched last year, uses Bluetooth technology to track individuals who may later test positive for the virus. The app then calculates an isolation period to cover 10 days since the last time the individual was in contact with the positive-tested person.
Mr Hancock’s message comes as the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics show that about one in 10 people across the UK tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies in December 2020.
The study based on antibody data analysis showed a considerable spike in infections as it found that on a region-wise breakdown one in eight or 12 per cent of people in England had antibodies last month, up from 7 per cent in October 2020 — one in 10 or 10 per cent in Wales, up from 4 per cent, one in 11 or 9 per cent people in Scotland, up from 7 per cent and one in 13 or 8 per cent people in Northern Ireland, up from 2 per cent.
Antibodies are proteins in the blood which fight off specific infections and are developed if somebody catches an infection, their body fights it off, or they have been vaccinated.
More people showing signs of having at least some antibody protection against COVID-19 coincides with fears of high transmission rates within the community, which had led to the latest stay-at-home lockdown earlier this month. Experts warn that antibodies from natural infection fade over time and therefore vaccines are seen as the strongest line of defence against the deadly virus.
The latest NHS data released on Tuesday shows that more than 4 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as part of what it has dubbed as the largest vaccination programme in history. The NHS said it vaccinated a total of 4.06 million people between 8 December 2020 and 17 January 2021, including more than half of those aged 80 and over and more than half of elderly care home residents.
“This is more than double the number of vaccinations, per person per day, than any European country and is a significant step towards hitting the Prime Minister”s target of offering vaccines to the top four priority groups by the middle of February,” the NHS said.
The top four priority groups of around 15 million people accounts for 88 per cent of COVID deaths.
“This is the biggest medical deployment in British history and it’s one of the biggest civilian operations that this country’s ever undertaken. We’re on track to deliver our plan to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February, the groups that account for 88 per cent of COVID deaths,” Mr Hancock said during a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening, before he started his self-isolation period.
From this week, vaccinating the first two groups of over-80s and care home residents and frontline staff will remain the priority, but vaccination sites which have enough supply and capacity for vaccinating further people are allowed to offer vaccinations to the next two cohorts — those aged 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable people.
The NHS said its vaccination programme continues to expand, with 10 large-scale vaccination centres coming on stream from this week to add to the hundreds of hospital, general practice and pharmacy sites. Eligible people are contacted in advance by the health service and then asked to book in their jabs at any of the COVID-secure vaccination sites in operation.