Measles warning amid ‘devastating resurgence’ of life-threatening diseases as vaccination rates miss targets
Doctors have been told to keep a close watch for symptoms of measles infections in children amid a “devastating resurgence of virtually eliminated life-threatening diseases” in the UK.
For the first time in decades, the Royal College Of Paediatrics And Child Health (RCPCH) has issued national guidance on the treatment of measles – and has called on the government to immediately publish its “overdue” national vaccination strategy.
NHS data for this year shows no vaccines met the World Health Organisation’s 95% coverage target in England – with the vaccination rate falling to the lowest level since 2010/11.
The RCPCH said many paediatricians would not have previously seen symptoms associated with measles in their careers and urged healthcare workers to check the immunisation status of all children attending hospital.
A sharp increase in the number of measles cases has been seen across the UK this year as vaccination rates for those aged under five fall to their lowest level in a decade.
Parents were warned in May to check the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination status of their children before the summer holidays.
On its new guidance, the RCPCH said: “The UK is now seeing a devastating resurgence of virtually eliminated life-threatening diseases, such as measles.
“Evidence also shows that lower socioeconomic status was associated with lower coverage.”
Last year, the government consulted healthcare workers and the public on how to improve vaccination services by addressing accessibility, misinformation, and distrust of vaccines – with the RCPCH calling for the strategy’s “swift publication”.
‘Many paediatricians fear outbreaks this winter’
Dr Camilla Kingdon, who is president of the RCPCH, said: “Having to consider measles in our national guidance for the first time in decades is a disappointing but necessary move.
“Vaccination coverage for children under the age of five is now the lowest it has ever been in the past 10 years.
“We are already starting to see the effects of this with measles outbreaks occurring in London, Wales and Leicester.
“Many paediatricians I know live in fear of potential measles outbreaks this winter.
“To add another highly contagious and dangerous disease into the mix would be disastrous and could bring our already fragile system to its knees.
“We now find ourselves once again asking the government, where is the long-awaited vaccination strategy?
“The UK government must acknowledge these low uptake figures and focus its attention on ensuring equal access to vaccinations across all regions and socioeconomic groups.”
The RCPCH guidance also recommends healthcare professionals promote the MMR vaccination to all unimmunised children.
Government figures for 1 January to 30 September showed 149 cases of measles in England, as confirmed by laboratory testing.
Most of the cases were in London, which in July was warned could face an outbreak of 160,000 cases because of low vaccination levels, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
Measles symptoms to look out for
The NHS website says the measles infection can spread “very easily” and can lead to serious health problems for some people.
The infection normally starts with cold-type symptoms, followed by a rash a few days later.
People may also get spots in their mouth, the NHS says.
The first symptoms to look out for include a high temperature, a runny or blocked nose, sneezing and coughing.
Red, sore, watery eyes are also an early sign.
It is unlikely to be measles if you have had it before – or have been given the MMR vaccine.
The infection can also be serious in pregnancy and for people with a weakened immune system.
If measles is suspected, people should contact their GP by phone before going into the surgery.
People can also dial 111 for help or use the NHS 111 website.
UK weather: New warnings issued as 1,500 properties still without power
Around 1,500 homes and businesses are still without power after heavy snow caused major power cuts in Cumbria.
It came as much of the country was hit by cold and wet conditions over the weekend, including a low of -12.5C recorded in northern Scotland overnight.
Freezing conditions are forecast to continue on Monday and the Met Office has issued new yellow weather warnings for snow, ice and rain.
Cumbria was one of the worst affected regions over the weekend, with up to 30cm of snow falling in places.
Officials declared a major incident in the county on Saturday and advised people not to travel unless necessary.
Dozens of motorists in the Lake District were forced to abandon their cars overnight. Many were forced to seek refuge in local community centres, primary schools and a church.
Electricity North West said its engineers had been “battling treacherous conditions” throughout the weekend and were still working on restoring supplies on Sunday evening.
Another 7,500 homes and businesses have been reconnected after earlier being hit by power cuts.
The weather also caused disruption to travel, including at East Midlands Airport, which was forced to temporarily close its runway on Sunday.
It came after some flights were cancelled at Glasgow Airport and London Stansted Airport on Saturday.
The Met Office’s new weather warnings include alerts for ice across much of northern England and parts of the Midlands, as well as snow for higher areas of Wales and the Peak District.
The weather agency said there was a risk that snow will lead to major travel disruption and there could be “accumulations of 2cm to 5cm on some roads above around 150m, and perhaps 10cm to 15cm on roads above around 350m”.
The warning runs from Sunday evening until 12pm on Monday.
The Met Office also issued a yellow weather warning for rain across parts of southern Wales and southwest England, with the alert due to come into force from midnight and run until 6pm on Monday.
Forecasters said there was a risk of flooding to some homes and businesses, as well as potential disruption to train and bus services.
The RAC warned northern parts of the country were facing an “ice rink on Monday as snow refreezes overnight” and advised motorists to take care.
Spokesperson Simon Williams said: “We’re expecting some very treacherous icy conditions in northern parts, so those who have to drive should exercise great caution.
“If it’s possible to delay or even abandon journeys that may well be the best option.”
However, Met Office meteorologist Tom Morgan said the weather would likely become milder later in the week.
He added: “So there is an end in sight to the wintry weather.”
Rishi Sunak suggests more tax cuts are on the way – but refuses to commit to triple lock manifesto pledge
Rishi Sunak has suggested more tax cuts are on the way because the economy has “turned a corner”.
The prime minister told reporters that while he would not comment on specifics, trimming taxes was “the direction of travel from this government”.
But it came as he refused to say if the pensions triple lock would be in the next Conservative Party manifesto – despite Downing Street insisting in September that it was “committed” to the policy.
Mr Sunak’s comments echo similar remarks by his ministers in recent weeks.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also said last month that the economy had “turned a corner” just before he unveiled a cut to National Insurance in the Autumn Statement.
However, four million people could also end up paying higher taxes if their wages rise after the government decided to continue the freeze on tax thresholds.
Reports suggest the Conservatives are considering additional cuts in 2024 as the party tries to woo voters and reduce Labour’s 20-point lead in opinion polls ahead of the next general election, which must take place by January 28 2025.
Cuts to stamp duty and inheritance tax are among the options reportedly being looked at by ministers.
When asked about the two policies, Mr Sunak said: “I would never comment on specific taxes. But what I will just say, though, is we have turned a corner.
“We have got inflation down, as I said we would, we have grown the economy and we are now focused on controlling spending and controlling welfare so we can cut taxes. So when we can do more, we will.”
He added: “We want to grow the economy, we want to reward people’s hard work and aspirations and cut their taxes responsibly. That is the direction of travel from this government.
“If you want controlled public spending, controlled welfare and your taxes cut, then vote Conservative.”
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Mr Sunak was unable to make similar promises about the triple lock, which ensures the state pension must rise every April by whichever is highest out of average earnings, inflation or 2.5%.
The policy has come under fire in recent months by critics who claim it has become too expensive and gives the government less financial “headroom” to deal with economic shocks.
Some senior Tories have called for it to be scrapped and Labour has refused to guarantee the triple lock will remain in place if it wins the next election.
While the government continued with the policy in its recent Autumn Statement, ensuring the state pension will rise by 8.5% in April 2024 to £221.20 a week, Mr Sunak refused to be drawn when asked directly if it would be in the next Tory manifesto.
Speaking to journalists as he flew between the UK and Dubai for the COP28 summit, he replied: “[I’m] definitely not going to start writing the manifesto on the plane, as fun as that would be.”
Mr Sunak acknowledged there had been “some scepticism” about if policy was going to form part of the Autumn Statement, but said its inclusion had been “a signal of our commitment to look after our pensioners who have put a lot into our country”.
Reindeer block dual carriageway in Suffolk
A major road was closed by police in both directions after a “large number” of reindeer wandered in front of traffic.
Police were called to the scene, on the A11 near Barton Mills in Suffolk, at around 3.20pm on Sunday.
National Highways East said no traffic had been able to pass due to the “large number” of the animals on the road and added that police had been “trying to catch them”.
The reindeer eventually left the road at around 5.20pm and it was reopened shortly afterwards, officials said.
In an update on X, formerly Twitter, National Highways East confirmed police closed the A11 “in both directions between A1134 and A1101”.
There are not thought to be any wild reindeer in England and it is unclear where the animals came from.
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