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Coronavirus swabs should be analysed using ‘pooled testing’, experts say



coronavirus swabs should be analysed using pooled testing experts say

Coronavirus swabs should be analysed in batches to speed up the Government’s lagging testing programme, experts say.

The method, known as pooled testing, involves combining multiple swabs in a batch into a single test tube. 

If Covid-19 is not detected in the combined sample, all patients are presumed to be negative. If any viral particles are picked up, all original swabs are then tested again individually.

Researchers say the method — already deployed in Germany — could help to rapidly increase testing capacity at a time when the demand is outstripping supply.

The technique is intended to save time and resources — in theory, 50 to 100 swabs could be combined to produce a single result.

Experts in Germany pool as many as 30 samples in one go, but scientists admit that borderline positive samples — often yielded by people swabbed in the very early or late stages of their infection — can slip under the radar using the method.

Boris Johnson has ambitions to swab 10million people a day but the UK is currently struggling to turn-around more than 250,000.

University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have called for the method change in an editorial in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 

The authors also recommended a major investment in people on the ground who can knock on doors to support the UK’s beleaguered contact tracing system.

They pointed to Massachusetts, where a $44million (£34m) contact tracing programme hired and trained 1,000 people to support existing local public health volunteers.

The system has reached 91.8 per cent of cases and 78.8 per cent of contacts, compared to the UK’s centralised system which is struggling to find six in 10 contacts.

The researchers write that this approach would also be much less costly than the UK government’s £100billion ‘Operation Moonshot’, but far less grandiose.

Coronavirus tests should be analysed in batches to speed up the Government's lagging testing programme, experts say. The method, known as pooled testing, involves combining small amounts of multiple swabs in a batch into a single test tube (file)

Coronavirus tests should be analysed in batches to speed up the Government's lagging testing programme, experts say. The method, known as pooled testing, involves combining small amounts of multiple swabs in a batch into a single test tube (file)

Coronavirus tests should be analysed in batches to speed up the Government’s lagging testing programme, experts say. The method, known as pooled testing, involves combining small amounts of multiple swabs in a batch into a single test tube (file) 

Several other countries – including China, the US, Germany, Portugal, New Zealand, Rwanda, Uruguay, Israel and Vietnam – have used pooled testing to considerably increase testing capacity and decrease pressure on lab reagents and operators.

As outbreaks grow and positivity rates rise, however, pooling becomes less efficient because more samples have to be tested. 

The authors said in the paper: ‘We are close to missing that window of opportunity in England unless we can control transmission quickly. 

‘For now, pooling may be best reserved for surveillance testing and asymptomatic screening of healthcare workers, care homes and hospital pre-admissions.’

The researchers set out a number of other recommendations, including making use of lab capacity in universities and research institutes. 

Experts at these facilities have for months been calling for the Government to utilise their spare lab space to help process thousands more Covid-19 tests each day. 

Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, has repeatedly slammed ministers for keeping independent labs out of the loop in favour of the government’s seven Lighthouse Labs. 

The Nobel Prize-winning geneticist urged Boris Johnson to summon the Dunkirk spirit and let the ‘small ships’ help process tests at the start of April. But his pleas for the UK to adopt a German-style mass network of labs have gone unanswered. 

Oxford University scientists create a five-minute coronavirus test which could be used in airports and offices 

British scientists have developed a rapid coronavirus test they say can spot the disease in less than five minutes.

The Oxford University team behind the device hope it will be ready to be rolled out nationwide in the middle of next year.

It works using a nasal swab that is inserted into a cartridge that scans for antigens, or proteins found on the surface of Covid-19.  

The test can also tell the virus apart from other infections such as flu and seasonal human coronaviruses, according to a small study of its efficacy.

Its creators envisage it being used to test people en masse at airports and in offices to keep the economy afloat. 

If proven to work on a large scale, the device will be three times faster than current rapid tests being reviewed by the UK Government.

Ministers are in the market for quick antigen tests, which would play a key role in Boris Johnson’s ‘Operation Moonshot’ project to carry out 10million tests a day.

Antigen swabbing is generally considered a less accurate – though much faster – method of testing.

The gold-standard tests detect viral RNA using a technique called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). 

But they require processing with expensive laboratory equipment and chemicals and take days to turnaround a result.

Antigen tests aren’t as sensitive as the PCR versions, which can pick up minuscule amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

But proponents argue that the rapid tests could be a game changer because they can be rolled out in vast numbers and immediately spot those at greatest risk of infecting others.

Oxford University said it hoped to start product development of its test in early 2021 and have an approved device available six months afterwards. 


Meanwhile, the new paper also called for environmental surveillance by testing wastewater for Covid-19 as an early warning system for outbreaks in cities. 

Recognising the important role played by superspreading events, another of the recommendations is to increase resources to enable a greater focus on identifying clusters using retrospective tracing, as seen in several countries that have been most successful such as Japan, South Korea, and Uruguay.

Another of the authors, Professor Martin Mckee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘England stands on the edge of a precipice: find, test, trace, isolate and support strategies need to be re-thought to have any chance of avoiding a considerable rise in cases over the coming months requiring a return to stricter social distancing measures nationwide. 

‘Our recommendations are feasible, do not require further individual sacrifice and would likely have a significant impact on driving down the reproductive number and reducing the socio-economic impact of the pandemic if they were implemented quickly.’

The authors were critical of Britain’s test and trace programme, which only reached 63 per cent of close contacts of people who had tested positive for the virus last week.

Damning figures published by the Department for Health show the system failed to speak to 81,000 contacts of Covid-19 cases in England in the first week of October, meaning tens of thousands of infected people may have been allowed to walk the streets without knowing they were carrying the disease.

And one-in-five Covid-19 positive patients aren’t reached for at least three days, meaning it is taking even longer to get to many of the contacts who are reached increasing the risk of the virus being spread before they develop symptoms.

Contact tracers were required to reach 216,000 contacts of those who had tested positive for coronavirus in the first week of October, more than double the previous week’s 101,000 identified contacts.

For cases handled by local health protection teams, 97.7 per cent of  almost 27,000 contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to October 7. Only 613 were not contacted.

For those handled either online or by call centres, 57.6 per cent of 189,000 contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate. As many as 40,000 were not reached, and an additional 40,000 could not be reached as no contact details were provided.

Contact tracers were also asked to get in touch with 87,000 positive cases of coronavirus, which was also more than double the previous week’s more than 34,000.

Of these as many as 20,000 were not reached and asked to provide details of their close contacts by the service during the first week of October, suggesting that Britain’s outbreak will continue to grow as thousands of contacts exposed to the virus are not told to self-isolate.

This means they continue circulating in the community and inadvertently spreading the virus, as people tend to become infectious before developing tell-tale symptoms – a high temperature, continuous cough and loss of taste or smell.

It was the highest weekly number of Covid-19 infected patients not reached since Test and Trace was launched at the end of May.

Home testing kits are now taking 75 hours to be processed by labs, and only 16 per cent are having their test results sent out within 48 hours. 

This is a significant drop from the last week in September when 30 per cent were receiving their results within 48 hours. 

There were 1.5million tests carried out under Pillar 2 in the first week of October, which includes home-testing kits and those done on drive-through and mobile testing sites.

Boris Johnson had pledged to get all coronavirus test results out within 24 hours by the end of June, but this promise has not been met.

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Turkey’s President Erdogan calls for a boycott of French goods




turkeys president erdogan calls for a boycott of french goods

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a boycott of French goods and compared Europe’s treatment of Muslims to the way Jews were treated before the Second World War.

‘You are in a real sense fascists, you are in a real sense the links in the chain of Nazism,’ Erdogan said Monday in a fiery speech in Ankara. 

‘Muslims are now subjected to a lynch campaign similar to that against Jews in Europe before World War II.’

He spoke out amid outcry in the Muslim world at French President Emmanuel Macron’s hardened stance on Islamic extremism, following a terror attack in Paris. 

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34846674 8880199 image a 38 1603715183085

Mourning teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded after showing cartoons of Prophet Mohammed to children, Macron said France would ‘not give up the cartoons’ and accused ‘radical Islamists’ of ‘stealing our future’.

Speaking on Monday, Erdogan called for European leaders to ‘put and end’ to what he called Macron’s ‘anti-Islam’ agenda.

The suggestion that all Muslims who find cartoons of Mohammed offensive are ‘extremists’ has caused outrage in the Islamic world, with protests in Turkey, Syria, Libya, and Pakistan.

Joining the condemnation, Erdogan accused Macron of needing ‘mental health checks’ at the weekend, remarks he has repeated since. 

Meanwhile Pakistani PM Imran Khan accused him of ‘attacking Islam’ while summoning the French ambassador to explain himself.  

Boycotts of French goods are also underway in supermarkets in Qatar and Kuwait, with further calls to spurn French products in Jordan and other states.

On Monday, the head of France’s MEDEF employers’ federation said the boycott, which he described as ‘foolishness’, was clearly bad news for companies already hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

‘But there is no question of giving in to blackmail,’ Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux told broadcaster RMC. ‘It is a question of sticking to our republican values.

‘There is a time to put principles above business.’

He said MEDEF supported the government’s stance and urged companies ‘to resist this blackmail and, unfortunately, to endure this boycott’, which he said remained ‘fairly localised’ for now. 

After teacher Samuel Paty’s gruesome murder by a Chechen extremist in the name of avenging the Prophet Mohamed, Macron vowed that France would never give up cartoons such as those which in 2015 triggered a deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and which Paty showed to his class.

Macron hailed Paty as a ‘hero’ for representing the secular, free-thinking values of the French republic, which include a long-cherished right to mock religion.

‘He was killed because Islamists want to take our future,’ Macron said at a memorial for Paty. ‘They will never have it.’

Several suspected Islamic radicals have been arrested in dozens of raids since the murder, and about 50 organisations with alleged links to such individuals have been earmarked for closure by the government.

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34846654 8880199 image a 39 1603715185073

Earlier this month, Macron unveiled a plan to defend France’s secular values against a trend of ‘Islamist separatism’, and described Islam as a religion ‘in crisis’.

France has in recent years been forced to take a hard look at its core values, perceived by many to be threatened by Islam following a string of jihadist attacks that have killed over 240 people since 2015.

But Macron’s stance has fuelled tension between France and the Muslim world, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling his counterpart to undergo ‘mental checks’ for treating ‘millions of members from different faith groups this way’.

The comments prompted Paris to recall its envoy to Ankara. 

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused Macron of ‘attacking Islam’.

Maher al-Huli, a leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, condemned the comments by Macron ‘and whoever offends the Prophet Mohammed, whether through words, actions, gestures or drawings’.

The Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah and Morocco have also spoken out against France.

On Monday, the Taliban in Afghanistan added its voice to the outcry, saying Macron’s comments amounted to ‘a stand against nations’.

The Taliban said ‘it would be better if he carefully studied Islam instead of making ignorant Islamophobic remarks’.

The head of the Amman chamber of commerce, Khalil Haj Tawfeeq, in a letter to the French ambassador to Jordan, called on Macron to apologise to the Islamic world.

France’s Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot insisted Monday on BFMTV that there was ‘no fight against French Muslims, there is simply a fight against Islamism and terrorism’.

Fresh protests are planned Monday in the Gaza Strip and Tuesday in Amman.

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Paramedics airlift young girl to hospital with serious injuries after stabbing




paramedics airlift young girl to hospital with serious injuries after stabbing

A young girl has been airlifted to hospital after a stabbing left her with serious injuries. 

A woman in her 40s has been arrested near the scene in Chell, Staffordshire, as is currently receiving medical treatment at Royal Stoke University Hospital. 

The young girl was flown to Birmingham Children’s Hospital after she was stabbed in Stoke-on-Trent this morning at around 7.45am.   

Detective Inspector Lucy Maskew, of Staffordshire Police, said: ‘We are investigating the circumstances to establish what has happened, but want to reassure the community this is believed to be an isolated incident.

‘We understand there will be concerns but we are kindly urging people not to speculate while the investigation continues.’  

A spokesman for the West Midlands Ambulance Service told Mirror Online: ‘We were called to reports of a stabbing at an address on Warren Road in the Chell Heath area of Stoke on Trent at around 7.45am this morning.

‘Two ambulances, three paramedic officers and the Midlands Air Ambulance from Cosford with a doctor and critical care paramedic on board were sent to the scene. 

‘The woman was taken on blue lights to Royal Stoke University Hospital while the child, a girl, was airlifted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital.’

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Ministers under pressure to U-turn over ‘mask tax’




ministers under pressure to u turn over mask

Rishi Sunak is under mounting pressure to perform a U-turn on plans to reimpose VAT on the sale of personal protective equipment (PPE) as Labour labelled the move a ‘mask tax’. 

The Treasury cut VAT on PPE to zero in May this year, making it cheaper for businesses and individuals to buy items like face masks and aprons. 

VAT on PPE was due to return to its normal rate of 20 per cent in August but the Treasury decided to extend the holiday to October 31. 

The Chancellor is now being urged to extend the suspension of VAT on PPE again as Labour said it would be ‘unbelievable’ for the Government to ‘introduce a mask tax in the middle of a pandemic’. 

The opposition claimed reimposing VAT at 20 per cent on disposable face masks from November 1 could cost a family of four – two adults and two teenagers – an extra £94 over the next six months. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is under mounting pressure not to reimpose VAT on PPE after a six month holiday amid warnings the 'mask tax' could hit families hard

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is under mounting pressure not to reimpose VAT on PPE after a six month holiday amid warnings the 'mask tax' could hit families hard

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is under mounting pressure not to reimpose VAT on PPE after a six month holiday amid warnings the ‘mask tax’ could hit families hard

The suspension of VAT on PPE has cost the Government an estimated £255 million over the last six months.  

But any move to make masks more expensive at a time when the nation is still in the grip of the coronavirus crisis and as many families face financial difficulties will inevitably spark a furious backlash. 

Labour shadow financial secretary to the Treasury James Murray said the move was ‘the last thing’ families need. 

‘It’s unbelievable that the Government wants to introduce a mask tax in the middle of a pandemic,’ he said. 

‘With Covid cases on the rise across the country, the Government should be doing all it can to help people follow its own guidance to wear a mask, not ramping up the cost of buying one.

‘Families across the country are already struggling financially as a result of the crisis. The last thing they need is to be penalised for doing the right thing.’  

Face masks are currently mandatory for shoppers and for people on public transport as well as in a range of other settings including in museums and taxis.

Approximately one third of people are estimated to use a disposable mask which means the reimposition of VAT will hit many people in the pocket.  

When the Government announced the initial extension of the VAT holiday to October 31 back in July, Treasury Minister Jesse Norman said: ‘Extending the zero VAT rate on PPE will provide the relief needed by care homes in particular, so that as many people as possible continue to be protected against the coronavirus.’ 

The wearing of masks is compulsory in shops and on public transport in England

The wearing of masks is compulsory in shops and on public transport in England

The wearing of masks is compulsory in shops and on public transport in England

As well as consumers facing a rise in mask prices if Mr Sunak fails to perform a U-turn, business chiefs have also warned they will be hit hard. 

James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, told the Guardian last week when it first emerged the Government was not planning an extension that ‘there couldn’t be a worse time to inflict extra costs on the food supply chain’. 

‘The reasons for introducing a zero rate haven’t changed, and we face months of further Covid-19 measures,’ he said. 

‘It’s disappointing that the zero rate isn’t being continued for as long as Covid restrictions on trade are in place.’

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