The UK health authorities said on Monday that they will stop publishing their regular COVID-19 infections modelling data in the new year because it is seen as “no longer necessary” as the country moves to a phase of living with the virus with the help of vaccines and medicines.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that it will continue to monitor COVID like other common viral illnesses such as seasonal flu. Since April this year, the data on the reproductive rate, or the R value speed at which the novel coronavirus infects people, has been published fortnightly as a monitoring tool.
“During the pandemic, the R value and growth rate served as a useful and simple indicator to inform public health action and government decisions,” said Dr Nick Watkins, chair of the UKHSA Epidemiology Modelling Review Group (EMRG).
“Now that vaccines and therapeutics have allowed us to move to a phase where we are living with COVID-19, with surveillance scaled down but still closely monitored through a number of different indicators, the publication of this specific data is no longer necessary,” he said.
“We continue to monitor COVID-19 activity in a similar way to how we monitor a number of other common illnesses and diseases. All data publications are kept under constant review and this modelling data can be reintroduced promptly if needed, for example, if a new variant of concern was to be identified,” he added.
The EMRG said its recent detailed review concluded that the next publication of its so-called “consensus statement” on COVID-19 on January 6, 2023, “will be the last”. The UK's COVID incidence data will continue to be accessible from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey.
The country's remaining COVID restrictions, including the legal requirement to self-isolate at home with symptoms, were removed earlier this year. Amid an expected rise in infections over the winter months, the health authorities had urged those with signs of respiratory illness to avoid mixing during the festive holiday period.
“We are seeing a rise in cases and hospital admissions for both flu and COVID-19 as people continue to mix indoors this winter. Hospitalisation rates due to COVID-19 remain highest in those aged 65 and over, so it is vital that everyone who is eligible continues to come forward to accept their booster jab before the end of the year,” Dr Mary Ramsay, Director of Public Health Programmes, said last week.
“Both COVID-19 and flu can cause severe illness or even death for those most vulnerable in our communities, and so it is also important to avoid contact with other people if you are unwell in order to help stop infections spreading over the Christmas and new year period,” she said.
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