End of Covid-19 pandemic ‘in sight’, says World Health Organisation



The end of the Covid-19 pandemic is “in sight”, the World Health Organisation has said.

The WHO said weekly deaths from the virus around the world are at the lowest level since March 2020 – the month the UK first went into lockdown.

The director general of the international health body, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a press conference: “Last week, the number of weekly reported deaths from Covid-19 was the lowest since March 2020.

“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic – we are not there yet, but the end is in sight.

“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view, she runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we.

“We can see the finish line, we’re in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running.

READ MORE: Disgraced MP Margaret Ferrier sentenced to 270 hours community service

“Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.

“If we don’t take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption and more uncertainty. So let’s seize this opportunity.

“Today, WHO is releasing six short policy briefs that outline the key actions that all governments must take now to finish the race.

“We can end this pandemic together, but only if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals step up and seize this opportunity.”

The documents include guidance on testing, vaccination, best practice of managing the disease, maintaining infection control measures in health facilities, preventing the spread of misinformation and community engagement.

One of the papers says: “With access to and appropriate use of existing life-saving tools, Covid-19 can become a manageable disease with significantly reduced morbidity and mortality.”

The WHO has estimated that 19.8 million deaths were averted in 2021 thanks to Covid-19 vaccines, and 12 billion doses have been administered around the world.

But it warned that the virus still poses an “acute global emergency” and highlighted that during the first eight months of 2022 more than a million people died from Covid-19.

“Transmission of the virus continues to be robust,” the document says. “Repeated disease waves and the emergence of new variants continue to present risks and challenges.”

Covid-19 infections in the UK have dropped to their lowest level for nearly 11 months.

A total of 944,700 people in private households are estimated to have had coronavirus in the week to August 28, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is the lowest UK-wide total since the week to October 2 2021, when the number was 942,600.





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NHS Highland cancels appointments for bank holiday



MANY patients in NHS Highland will see appointments cancelled as the health board confirmed plans to prioritise only the most urgent procedures after the day of the Queen’s funeral was declared a bank holiday.

NHS Highland’s chief executive Pam Dudek said the health board will observe a “national day of mourning to recognise the significance of the death of the Queen”, with only the “most time-critical or high-risk” treatments and clinics going ahead on Monday. 

The extra bank holiday comes at a time of record waiting list backlogs for elective care as a result of the pandemic. 

In NHS Highland, there were 7,746 people on the waiting list for an inpatient or day case procedure at the end of June this year – including 1,007 who had been waiting over two years – and over 20,000 waiting for an outpatient appointment. 

However, NHS Highland previously said it was on track to eradicate two-year waits for operations in most specialties by the end of August – in line with a Scottish Government target that most health boards admitted they were unlikely to achieve. 

READ MORE: Number paying for private hip and knee ops trebles amid NHS backlogs

A number of other health boards have said they intend to carry on with the majority of planned operations, with staff given the bank holiday in lieu to take on another date. 

Mrs Dudek said: “For patients who have scheduled treatment or clinics on Monday September 19, our intention is that only the most time-critical or high risk will go ahead and we will be making contact with those patients directly to confirm that they will still be seen and to confirm they wish to proceed with the appointment.    

“This means that many planned appointments will be cancelled and we will be contacting those impacted directly to make them aware of this, over the coming days.”

Patients who do not wish to attend a scheduled appointment on Monday owing to the funeral are asked to contact NHS Highland and will have their appointment rescheduled “as soon as possible”. 

Mrs Dudek added that a majority of GP and dental surgeries, pharmacies and optometrists in the region will also close for the bank holiday on Monday. 

“They will communicate with communities locally where services will be maintained and alternative arrangements to access care in place,” she added. 

Flu and Covid vaccination clinics in Highland will continue as planned. 

Mrs Dudek added: “We are seeking to ensure that the impact the life and death of Her Majesty the Queen has for many patients and colleagues, and the desire to collectively mourn her death can be supported to the greatest possible extent and we thank our patients and communities for their understanding and support.” 

READ MORE: Call to suspend ‘bank office’ NHS functions over winter to give staff more time with patients 

Meanwhile, NHS Fife has issued a statement today saying that elective surgery will “continue to operate based on clinical priority” but that patients will be contacted directly “if their appointment needs to be rescheduled”.

The health board added that flu and Covid vaccination clinics will proceed and that it intends to “retain as many of our outpatient appointments as possible”.

It comes amid reports of thousands of NHS operations being cancelled in England due to the bank holiday. 

However, in some trusts staff have described receiving “guilt trip letters” from managers warning them to have a “very good reason” for taking Monday off. 

In Scotland, efforts are being made to minimise the impact of Monday’s bank holiday on patients.

Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said it is “putting plans in place so that scheduled appointments can continue as planned wherever possible”.

NHS Forth Valley said it has “no plans to cancel operations or outpatient appointments” and is “aiming to deliver elective inpatient and day case procedures, as planned”.

In some areas, including Lothian and Ayrshire, September 19 was already a local bank holiday.

READ MORE: Increase in the number of patients waiting over a year for operations on NHS

NHS Grampian said that “all planned care activity – including surgery – will be proceeding as scheduled”, with winter vaccination clinics also going ahead.

NHS Borders said elective operations at the Borders General Hospital “will go ahead as planned subject to service pressures”.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway said it is “working to ensure scheduled activities and appointments are maintained wherever possible”, and that elective surgery “will continue to operate based on clinical priority”. 





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Center Parcs: Holidaymakers baffled by ‘stay indoors’ directive

Holidaymakers have reacted with confusion after Center Parcs reversed its decision to close for the Queen’s funeral – but then told guests they must stay in their lodges during the day. 

The holiday firm previously told customers they would be turfed out at 10am on Monday September 19 for 24 hours, forcing them to find alternative accommodation. 

After receiving complaints, Center Parcs offered to allow guests on “longer duration breaks” to remain on site on Monday. 

But inquiries have been met with instructions to remain indoors during the funeral, with facilities closed and the parks shut down.  

HeraldScotland: papa

… but facilities will remain shut

One guest who tweeted the company to say: “I haven’t just seen a tweet saying that @CenterParcsUK are going to kick a family with 2 small baby’s out of their park on Monday 19th. As a mum with a 3 month old I’d be absolutely traumatized, I know it’s history but surely you can do something else!” 

Center Parcs replied: “Hi Kim We recognise leaving the village for one night is an inconvenience, we have listened and made the decision to allow guests to remain on village on Monday, however, the village will still be closed, so guests will need to remain in their lodges.” They have made the same reply to everyone asking about it on Twitter. 

Center Parcs’ five UK sites are: Elveden Forest, Suffolk; Longleat Forest, Wiltshire; Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire; Woburn Forest, Bedfordshire; and Whinfell Forest, Cumbria. 

Holidays at the villages start on Fridays or Mondays and last three, four or seven nights. 

The answer from its social media team baffled prospective guests, with one jokingly asking if people would be shot for leaving their cabins, while another compared the request to a hostage situation.  

However, the holiday firm later clarified the ‘stay indoors’ directive, saying that guests would be allowed to walk around the village, adding “but the facilities will be closed.” 

Center Parcs: Decision to kick out guests for day of Queen’s funeral reversed

Center Parcs has reversed a decision to close its accommodation for the Queen’s funeral on Monday after a backlash from guests.

Customers had been told they would be turfed out at 10am on Monday September 19 for 24 hours, forcing them to find alternative accommodation.

After receiving complaints, Center Parcs has offered to allow guests on “longer duration breaks” to remain on site on Monday.

The villages are still set to close at 10am on Monday, meaning guests will not be able to use any facilities, and Center Parcs has offered a 17% refund of the lodge cost to affected visitors.

In a statement, the holiday firm said: “Like many businesses we have taken the decision to close all our UK villages on Monday September 19.

“This decision was taken as a mark of respect and to allow as many of our colleagues as possible to be part of this historic moment.

“We have contacted all the guests due to arrive on Monday September 19 and offered them a number of different options. Our villages will be open to welcome guests on Tuesday September 20.

“The vast majority of our guests are either due to arrive or depart on Monday September 19.

“We have however reviewed our position regarding the very small number of guests who are not due to depart on Monday and we will be allowing them to stay on our villages rather than having to leave and return on Tuesday.

“The villages will still remain closed on Monday and we will be offering a discount for the lack of facilities available on that day.”

In a message seen sent to customers on Tuesday, Center Parcs said: “Lots of guests have communicated with us today to tell us that they’re upset by this decision, particularly those guests on longer breaks.

“We recognise that leaving the village for one night and returning is extremely inconvenient.

“On reflection and having listened we have made the decision to allow guests on longer duration breaks to remain on village on Monday September 19.”

Before the U-turn, guest Tracy Groome, 58, a consultant who lives near Manchester, was concerned about where her party of nine would stay after she booked a seven-night stay at Center Parcs Elveden Forest in Suffolk. The trip – due to begin on Friday – cost more than £2,500.

She said: “I’m very sure it would not be what the Queen or the royal family wants.

“I’m sure they will not want everybody who was due to go to Centers Parc on a holiday to have their holiday spoiled, and for them to have this stress of trying to organise something different.”

Glynis Meloy, 68, from St Austell in Cornwall, is booked to stay for a week at Longleat Forest in Wiltshire in a group of six people at a cost of £1,800 and had expressed concerns about how they would spend the day if asked to leave.

“If nowhere is open, what are we meant to do with all these people all day?” she said.

“Not everybody’s a royalist, not everybody wants to watch.”

Mourning guidance from the Cabinet Office says: “Depending on the nature and location of their business and the tone of planned events, some businesses may wish to consider closing or postponing events, especially on the day of the state funeral, however this is at the discretion of individual businesses.”

Center Parcs’ five UK sites are: Elveden Forest, Suffolk; Longleat Forest, Wiltshire; Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire; Woburn Forest, Bedfordshire; and Whinfell Forest, Cumbria.

Holidays at the villages start on Fridays or Mondays and last three, four or seven nights.

A spokesman for Butlin’s said its resorts will remain open on Monday, with new arrivals asked to arrive from 3pm, two hours later than normal.

This will “allow our team time to watch the funeral and pay their respects”, he added.

Number paying for private hip and knee ops trebles


THE number of people paying to undergo hip and knee replacements privately in Scotland has nearly trebled compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

This “significant increase” has coincided with spiralling NHS waiting lists, and concern over a postcode lottery in orthopaedics recovery. 

It comes as several health boards sought to reassure patients that planned operations will go ahead on Monday, despite the bank holiday for the Queen’s funeral. 

The annual Scottish Arthroplasty Project (SAP) report, which audits all joint procedures, found that there were 2,755 first-time hip replacements carried out by independent hospitals in Scotland during 2021 which were either self-funded by the patient or covered by their medical insurance.

This compares to 1,001 in 2019. 

Knee replacements increased from 654, to 1,573, over the same period. 

HeraldScotland: Source: SAPSource: SAP

HeraldScotland: Tables show (top) number of hip replacements performed in private hospitals, and (above) knee replacements, where patient was paid for by NHS ("NHS independent") or self-funding/insurance ("independent") Source: SAPTables show (top) number of hip replacements performed in private hospitals, and (above) knee replacements, where patient was paid for by NHS (“NHS independent”) or self-funding/insurance (“independent”) Source: SAP

The average cost of a hip or knee replacement privately in the UK is around £13,000. 

The surge in demand has coincided with a steep reduction in orthopaedic activity on the NHS.

READ MORE: Call to suspend NHS ‘back office’ functions over winter to free up more time for patients

According to the SAP report, the number of hip replacements – including emergency surgeries on broken joints – was down by 37% per cent to 5,102 in 2021, compared to 8,047 in 2019.

Knee replacements on the NHS were down by 56%, from 7,819 to 3,427.

HeraldScotland: Source: Scottish Arthroplasty ProjectSource: Scottish Arthroplasty Project

By the end of June this year, nearly 2,700 patients on NHS inpatient and day case lists for some form of joint procedure had been waiting over two years – up from just three patients back in June 2019.

A quarter of all the patients waiting over two years are on orthopaedics waiting lists.

Despite the growing demand, however, the number of patients being sent by the NHS to private hospitals for hip and knee replacements in order to cut waiting times has also fallen steeply – from 1,008 in 2019 to 300 last year.

The SAP report also shows that several health boards – including Tayside, Lothian and Dumfries and Galloway – carried out fewer hip and knee replacements last year than they did in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

READ MORE: More than 35,000 patients waiting over a year for operation on NHS as elective activity stagnates 

Mr Matthew Moran, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and chairman of the Scottish Arthroplasty Project, said: “The reduction in activity in 2020, as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, has not recovered in 2021 and activity remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

“All health boards across Scotland are working hard to resume activity, however, the challenges from the pandemic remain and some health boards are managing a return towards pre-pandemic activity more successfully than others.”

HeraldScotland: Before the pandemic, virtually no patients waited over two years for a hip or knee replacement on the NHS (Source: Public Health Scotland)Before the pandemic, virtually no patients waited over two years for a hip or knee replacement on the NHS (Source: Public Health Scotland)

Unusually, NHS Forth Valley has managed to ramp up orthopaedic activity so much that the total number of joint procedures carried out last year actually exceeded pre-pandemic levels by around a third.

As a result, the total number of people on the region’s waiting list for a joint procedure has changed only slightly – from 1,010 in June 2019 to 1,170 by the end of June this year – against a national increase of 119%, to nearly 42,400, over the same period.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, NHS Dumfries and Galloway was able to restore just 17% of its pre-pandemic orthopaedic activity by 2021, and has seen the number of people on its orthopaedics waiting list soar from 427 in June 2019 to 1,079 by the end of June this year.

In 2021, NHS Dumfries and Galloway performed just 65 first-time hip and knee replacements compared to 193 in 2020, and 425 in 2019.

HeraldScotland: The SAP report found wide geographical variation in how well orthopaedics activity has recovered between health boards (Source: SAP)The SAP report found wide geographical variation in how well orthopaedics activity has recovered between health boards (Source: SAP)

However, Mr Moran noted that “despite the challenges of the pandemic” the percentage of patients dying within 90 days of a hip or knee replacement in 2021 was no higher than it had been before Covid.

Meanwhile, NHS bosses are seeking to minimise the impact of Monday’s bank holiday on patients. Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said it is “putting plans in place so that scheduled appointments can continue as planned wherever possible”.

NHS Forth Valley said it has “no plans to cancel operations or outpatient appointments” and is “aiming to deliver elective inpatient and day case procedures, as planned”.

In some areas, including Lothian and Ayrshire, September 19 was already a local bank holiday.

NHS Grampian said that “all planned care activity – including surgery – will be proceeding as scheduled”, with winter vaccination clinics also going ahead.

NHS Borders said it is “finalising arrangements”, while NHS Highland said the Scottish Government has given it “flexibility to plan the day while managing the impact on services and in particular our elective programme”.

A spokesman added: “We will communicate directly with staff and patients as soon as we can to inform them of any impact on service delivery.”





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