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More than half a million people in England were pinged by the NHS Test and Trace app in a week, the highest figure recorded.

A total of 520,194 alerts were sent to users of the NHS COVID-19 app in the week to July 7, telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus and to self-isolate.

This is up from 356,677 the previous week – a rise of 46% – and is the highest weekly figure since data was first published in January.

Robert Jenrick
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Robert Jenrick has conceded the government is ‘concerned’ by the number of people off work

It comes as some companies are reportedly missing 20% of their workers.

Factories across Britain are in danger of closing down as a result of employees being “pinged” by the app, union Unite warned.

The union said large numbers of workers are being told to self-isolate, with companies in the automotive industry particularly affected.

This morning Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government is “concerned” about the number of people off work due to being “pinged” by the app.

More on Covid-19

Mr Jenrick told LBC radio today: “It is important that we have the app, that we take it seriously, that when we do get those messages we act accordingly.”

But he said ministers would give “further thought” on how the government can ensure it is a “proportionate response”.

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From Monday, the legal requirement to wear face masks indoors in England will end.

He added: “We are concerned about absences as a result of being pinged, for example. That is one of the reasons why we do need to move to a more proportionate approach.”

Mr Jenrick was forced to defend the government’s handling of COVID-19 rules, branded a “total shambles”.

He insisted the nation is moving into a “new phase” where “we all exercise our personal judgement”.

Now might be a good time to reset the way app works

The huge jump in numbers will concern the government.

Boris Johnson keeps pointing to the success of the vaccine rollout and the protection it offers. But he cannot afford to disregard the steep rise in the number of people being pinged by the NHS app.

We know infection rates are rising so we expect more people be alerted by the app. There was much talk last week that Health Secretary Sajid Javid had asked for the app’s sensitivity to be looked at following pressure from employers and businesses warning of severe staff shortages.

Now might be a good time to reset the way app works. It is based on proximity and duration: it calculates risk based on how close you were to someone and for how long. It does not know if these two contacts are vaccinated, standing back to back or in a well-ventilated area.

But reports in some of the papers today suggest the government is rowing back on changing the sensitivity right now as case numbers continue to surge. It is still one of the the best ways to gauge the growth in infections.

Next month the rules will change meaning double jabbed people will no longer be asked to self isolate. But that is still a number of weeks away.

We are likely to see a surge in infections in the coming days as the ‘football effect’ kicks in. The scenes of fans gathering to enjoy the Euros worried many epidemiologists.

And next week all restrictions in England will be lifted driving infections up even further and faster.

But Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said it is “difficult” for people in England to know exactly what is required of them.

And he urged Westminster to follow a four-nation approach.

“It is the UK government that is the outlier and if they were prepared to bring themselves into line with the decisions that have been made in Scotland and in Wales, for example, that would be clearer and simpler for everybody,” Mr Drakeford told Good Morning Britain.

The TUC slammed the official guidance as a “recipe for chaos and rising infections”.

And shop workers union Usdaw described it as a “real mess”, offering no assurances for employees or customers.

Meanwhile Dr Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said firms are “understandably confused” by the government’s “mixed messages and patchwork requirements”.

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Antibiotics could be given to children at schools affected by Strep A infections, schools minister Nick Gibb says

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Antibiotics could be given to children at schools affected by Strep A infections, schools minister Nick Gibb says

Antibiotics could be given to children at schools affected by Strep A to stop the spread of the infection, schools minister Nick Gibb has said.

Mr Gibb told Sky News that the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) is “working closely with the schools involved and giving very specific advice to those schools which may involve the use of penicillin”.

He added that health officials will “have more to say about that”.

“They’re providing more general advice to parents, which is to look out for the symptoms – so, sore throat, fever, high temperature and also a red or raised rash on the skin are symptoms of this invasive Strep A outbreak.”

His comments came after the ninth death of a child from the infection.

The idea was first indicated by health minister Lord Markham in the House of Lords on Monday.

The Conservative peer said: “We have given instructions to doctors that where necessary they should be proactively prescribing penicillin as the best line of defence on this, and also where there is a spread in primary schools, which we know is the primary vector for this, whether they should be working with local health protection teams, and sometimes actually look at the use of antibiotics on a prophylactic basis.”

Read more:
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms of the bacterial infection?
Strep A is common and generally causes mild infections – so why the spate of deaths now?

Overnight, the i newspaper reported that penicillin or an alternative antibiotic is to be given to all children in a year group that have been hit by a case of Strep A – even if they do not have symptoms.

GPs generally avoid mass prescription of antibiotics as it can build up resistance to serious infections in the population.

But the paper quotes health officials as confirming the plan and saying isolation among children during the pandemic may have contributed to them having reduced immunity.

The UK Health Security Agency told the PA news agency the measure of prescribing antibiotics to children in a school or nursery exposed to non-invasive Strep A was “rare”.

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What is Strep A?

The agency added the move is only considered in “exceptional circumstances” by the Outbreak Control Team (OCT) on a “case-by-case basis”.

“There is no good evidence of (antibiotics’) effectiveness in routine outbreak control in this setting (involving children who have been contacts of non-invasive Strep A),” UKHSA said.

“It can be considered in exceptional circumstances by the OCT, for example when there are reports of severe outcomes, or hospitalisations.

“In school and nursery settings, antibiotic chemoprophylaxis is not routinely recommended for contacts of non-invasive (Group A streptococcus) GAS infection.”

Asked about the recent rise in cases on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said: “We are seeing a higher number of cases of Group A strep this year compared to usual.

“The bacteria we know causes a mild infection which is easily treated with antibiotics and in rare circumstances it can get into the bloodstream and cause serious illness.

“It is still uncommon but it’s important parents are on the lookout for symptoms.”

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Strep A outbreak in charts

Strep A infections are usually mild and can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Illnesses caused by the Group A strep bacteria include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

There has been a big leap in the number of scarlet fever cases.

There were 861 cases reported during the week ending 27 November, according to the latest UKHSA figures, compared to an average of 186 for the same timeframe in previous years. the figure was slightly down on the previous week’s 901 cases, but the figure for the first 47 weeks of 2022 is already 10 times higher than the same period for 2021.

The number of cases of the more serious invasive group A streptococcal disease (iGAS) in England and Wales in the week ending 27 November was eight.

Symptoms of scarlet fever include sore throat, headache and fever, along with a fine, pinkish or red body rash with a “sandpapery” feel.

On darker skin, the rash can be harder to see but will still be “sandpapery”.

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Man arrested after egg thrown at the King during Luton visit

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Man arrested after egg thrown at the King during Luton visit

King largely warmly welcomed by diverse crowd

Everyone was desperate for this to be a visit without any problems or distractions. And then the police had to act.

When you watch the footage back you see them subtly move the King away, as a man in his 20s was arrested for allegedly trying to throw an egg.

The King clearly very quickly briefed but still waving as he walked towards another part of the crowd.

Yes, it may potentially have been a display of anti-monarchy sentiment, but this was nothing like the egg-throwing incident seen in York a few weeks ago.

I was in St George’s Square in Luton and no one really clocked that it had even happened. And on a day when it was always going to be interesting to see how people responded to the monarch, he was largely warmly welcomed by the diverse crowd.

After all, this was the first time he’s been out meeting the public since those trailers were released for Harry and Meghan’s docuseries and the racism claims emerged against the palace last week.

I met Sean and Raja, who closed their office so all the staff could come to see the King. Not your usual royal fans, they were impressed that he’d come to visit and are prepared to give the King time to make changes.

“It’ll be good to see what he does for us and the country,” Raja said, with Sean adding: “Even if people have concerns, you can’t change it (the institution) overnight. It’s a work in progress… in every job everyone needs a bit of time.”

The negative headlines are no doubt a challenge and will be a frustration for a monarch who from day one has wanted us to see him as approachable and less formal.

He’s been remarkably tactile with crowds and today appeared to suggest to one women she didn’t need to curtsy.

Since the start of his reign, so many engagements have been about championing diversity and celebrating an inclusive Britain, but this is a week where we find out how much that work on the ground can combat the allegations coming from across the Atlantic.

The King’s advisers will always stress that this is a man who as heir actively supported all communities, all faiths. He takes that role seriously.

We saw it today as one of his Sikh police officers was seen advising him on how he should conduct himself at the newly-built Guru Nanak Gurdwara.

He paused and prayed. An important moment of reflection, for a monarch focused on his work but inevitably bracing himself for what is to come from his youngest son.

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Strep A: Find out how many severe infections and scarlet fever cases are in your area

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Strep A: Find out how many severe infections and scarlet fever cases are in your area

At least nine children have now died with a Strep A infection across the UK, with health officials also reporting a surge in scarlet fever cases.

Typically, Strep A infections are mild and treated easily with antibiotics but an invasive form of the bacteria, known as iGAS, has increased this year, particularly in those under the age of 10.

A five-year-old child in Belfast is the latest child to die with the infection, with deaths also reported in Hampshire, London, Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Penarth in Wales.

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Meanwhile, the huge rise in scarlet fever infections saw 851 cases reported in the week November 14 to 20, compared to an average of 186 for the same timeframe in previous years, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Click or search in the map below to find out the number of scarlet fever cases in your area, according to the latest publicly available statistics.

Area with most scarlet fever cases revealed

Scarlet fever – an infection caused by Strep A – mostly affects young children and can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms include a sore throat, headache, fever, and a “sandpapery-feeling” pinkish or red body rash.

A total of 861 cases were recorded in England and Wales up to 27 November, according to data released by the UKHSA.

They included 101 cases in Wales, with 14 recorded in Bridgend and 11 in Cardiff.

In England, the North West recorded the highest number of cases with 137, including 32 in Merseyside, 27 in Lancashire and 27 in Greater Manchester.

A total of 134 cases were recorded in the South East and 128 in the East of England.

Elsewhere, there were:
• 124 cases in the East Midlands
• 103 cases in London
• 46 cases in Yorkshire and the Humber
• 48 cases in the West Midlands
• Five cases in South West – with no recorded cases in Dorset and just one each in Somerset and Devon

The figures also show there were 9,772 recorded cases of scarlet fever in England and Wales in the last 20 weeks up to 27 November.

This is compared to 1,255 cases in the same period in 2021 and just 530 in 2022, although both years would have been affected by the pandemic, when children were mixing less.

In total, there have been 21,717 recorded cases of scarlet fever so far in 2022, up to 27 November.

Read more:
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?
Strep A generally causes mild infections – why the spate of deaths now?

Areas with invasive Strep A disease

iGAS – or invasive Group A Strep – can be a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.

There were eight confirmed cases in England and Wales in the week up to 27 November, according to data released by UKHSA.

They were in Croydon, south London; Ealing, west London; Knowsley in Merseyside; North Somerset; Oldham in Greater Manchester; Redcar and Cleveland; Rushmoor in Hampshire; and the Vale of Glamorgan.

Before the death of a child in Belfast was confirmed, it was revealed a primary school pupil in Waterlooville, Hampshire, had died with a Strep A infection.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali
Pic:JustGiving
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Muhammad Ibrahim Ali died with a Strep A infection

Other known victims include a year eight student at a secondary school in southeast London; four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire; and a child in Ealing, west London.

A pupil at a primary school near Cardiff, has also died from the infection, as well as a six-year-old child who died after an outbreak at Ashford Church of England School in Surrey.

Meanwhile, four-year-old Camila Rose Burns has been on a ventilator in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool after contracting Strep A.

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