The Nation’s Backbone: Saving Local Football

Sodden and untouched, football pitches across the UK have, like so many of the public spaces that we tend to take for granted, fallen silent with the advent of the latest lockdown. It is hard to under-state the importance of the sport to the nation’s morale. Just recall the scramble to get the Premier League up and running again in the spring. Even without anyone in the stands, the return of football to our screens was undeniably a boon to countless Britons. 

The Premier League was only able to return as a result of its implementation of a strict testing regime. Players are constantly tested and monitored in order to break chains of transmission as early as possible. As a result, infection rates remain shockingly low

All the players and staff in each club are tested once a week, using the same sorts of tests as the NHS. For most clubs, this will mean using around 40 such tests every week. A testing regime like this is simply too expensive for smaller teams. Whether its minor-league clubs or just unprofessional leagues, however, they are no less important to the people of this country, forming the foundation of their weekends and recreational time. 

These last few weeks have been, for many, a confused and distressing period. The virus seems to be resurgent and all of the zeal that many had felt for the fight ten months ago has dissolved into despairing fatigue. The singular streak of optimism, as is so often repeated these days, is the imminence of mass-vaccination. Clearly, however, we could use a little more good news.

Ever since the pandemic came ashore in the UK, this blog has been devoted to advocating for the wide-spread use of rapid testing. Given the physical contact, football is one of those spheres which stands to greatly benefit from such a programme. Administering a rapid test to each player before a game or training session, you’ll know in just 15 minutes whether they are safe to interact with others – or not.

If you’re interested in saving local football, check out our range of rapid tests over on our online shop

PRIMACOV: How to Save Festival Season in 2021

If you’re in any way interested in what’s happening now in music, you’ll know what Primavera Sound is – or, at least, you should. Ever since it burst onto the scene in 2001, it has been the global benchmark for festivals, constantly impressing with its scope and commitment to the art-form. Always the first to give the brightest lights of contemporary music a platform, the likes of James Blake, Arcade Fire, Sigur Rós and Run the Jewels have all come of age on the sun-bleached plaza of the Parc del Fòrum. 

Ok, I know you’re not here to read about how good Primavera Sound is – in any case, it’s best to experience it first-hand. And, against all odds, you might just get the chance in 2021.

In the milder heat of early December, the organisers of Primavera Sound, in conjunction with a number of medical charities and authorities, embarked upon PRIMACOV. Despite its almost sinister name, smacking of shady espionage, this operation was altogether less exciting. But in a very real way, the fate of live music in 2021 rested on its shoulders. 

The goal was simple: put on a concert without social distancing. How? Well, here’s the kicker: each audience-member received a rapid test before entering. It takes just 15 minutes to return a result and tells you whether the patient is contagious. So on Saturday December 12, just outside Barcelona, PRIMACOV managed to give 1,042 music-lovers a couple of hours of escape. Inside the Sala Polo, as local DJs filled the venue with sound, it was as if 2020 was no longer happening, as if they had been simply transported to some different time, whether past or future.

“That was, precisely, the objective of this study,” explained the team behind PRIMACOV, “to validate these kinds of tests as an extremely useful tool to be able to carry out any type of event, whether musical or not, without social distancing.”

After the success of the operation, Primavera Sound stated its intention to return this June. As always, the line-up is world-beating, boasting a range that runs from the glitchy irony of cult-sensation 100 gecs and the hyper-technical heaviness of Mercury Prize-nominees black midi (yes, both of those names are supposed to be in lower-case) to trap super-star Young Thug and psych-rock pioneer Tame Impala.

But how come the trial was so successful? It’s simple. The current protocol for COVID-19 testing is to use PCR tests. This is because they are capable of detecting incredibly small quantities of viral material in the patient. It’s not that this approach is wrong – indeed, it should remain the backbone of our testing infrastructure. The problem is that this approach may be too comprehensive for a number of situations. With rapid tests, a positive result corresponds to an amount of viral material that would render the patient infectious, with or without symptoms – in short, whether the patient is safe to be around others. For a concert, which lasts only a short period of time, a negative rapid test result is all that is required for a safe experience, even if this same patient might return a positive PCR test. It is entirely possible, therefore, that a number of the 1, 042 lucky participants in PRIMACOV would have received a positive result from a PCR test and yet the event proceeded without obstacle.

Hopefully, with a rather dire start to 2021 for so many, this news will be another light in the darkness. Happy New Year!

If you’re interested in our range of rapid test kits, take a look at our online shop.

Roasted Test-Nuts: How to Save Christmas

Perhaps, you’ve been avoiding the news as much as you can – and who can blame you? It seems to be just endless doom and gloom. You’re just trying to enjoy a Christmas season that you had hoped would mark an end to a terrible year. Of course, you know that isn’t true anymore but if we’re not careful, all of our hopes will seem dismally ironic by the time 2020 is done. 

So, what do you need to know? Well, the upshot is that infection rates are rising pretty uniformly across the country, although particularly in the South-East. The R-rate is not as menacing as it was before the lockdown but we’re hovering around 1, i.e. the threshold that both lockdowns were intended to stop us from going over. For small businesses, any rise in the R-rate in their zone is a problem, threatening a change in Tier which if you’re currently managing to stay open, will probably mean that you’ll have to close. Rumours about widespread changes to the status of a number of areas of the UK have been escalating. Seemingly, London is heading for Tier 3 with large segments of the South-East to follow. Apologies for the doomsday forecasts but it’s over now.

Although it might not seem that way, these projections are not set in stone. There is a simple way to help prevent closures and further lockdowns: widespread rapid testing.

Recently, Public Health England have certified a number of rapid tests. To receive accreditation, these tests have to meet world-leading standards. This means exceptionally high levels of reliability.

It must be reiterated that the exceptional reliability of these rapid tests does not mean that they perform the same function as other tests for COVID-19. For example, the tests you will receive from the NHS are PCR tests. These tests are the gold-standard for identifying traces of COVID-19 in the body. However, a certain amount of viral material must be present in the body before a person can spread the disease. Government-accredited rapid tests reliably identify if such an amount is present. 

In the PHE’s evaluation, Sir John Bell, Regis Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said of these tests: “They identify those who are likely to spread the disease and when used systematically in mass testing could reduce transmission by 90%.”

They could reduce transmission by 90%. What might that do for our Christmases, all of us who have to weigh up the risks of spending time with family that we might not have been able to see, let alone hug, for nearly a year now? Monitoring yourself and those you hope to spend time with this Christmas with rapid tests is the best – and increasingly it looks like it may be the only – way to save Christmas and wave an eager goodbye to a terrible year. 

If you are interested in rapid tests for yourself or your workplace, take a look at our online shop, where you’ll find our range of rapid tests which are on the path to accreditation.

Liverpool: The City Leading the Charge

Many Britons have found themselves despairing over the dashed prospects of a COVID-free Christmas ever since Boris Johnson announced a second national lockdown just over a week ago. For many of these same Britons, this despair is accompanied by a nagging question: if it’s been almost half a year since the country went into its first lockdown and we haven’t developed any other tactics for fighting this pandemic, how far have we really come?

It’s a depressing question. But fortunately, the answer might not be.

Last Friday, Liverpool City Council launched a new mass testing programme for all residents. Now, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that we have kept tabs on Liverpool throughout the whole period following the first lockdown which has seen the city struggling to find its feet, enduring sporadic bursts of new measures and regulations that have isolated the area from the rest of the country. A case could be made that, as a result of its uniquely high rates of infection throughout the pandemic, Liverpool has had to serve as a sort of testing-ground for the government’s new strategies. It was one of the first areas of the UK to undergo a local lockdown and it had lived under Level 3 restrictions for a few weeks before that nation-wide system of classifications were introduced.

And with the launch of this new programme, Liverpool is once again playing the role of the government’s crash-test dummy. How so? 

Well, the city’s new mass testing programme is the first in the UK to be based only on rapid tests. Importantly, this also means that they are using rapid tests that are approved by the national government, making them the first of their kind to have received the green light from Westminster since the pandemic came to British shores in March. Again, any familiarity with this blog will tell you that this is exactly the sort of tactic for which Lab Solutions have been passionately advocating since the first national lockdown. 

With rapid testing, Liverpool’s residents might be able to live with more freedom than the rest of the country. Liverpool’s rapid tests can tell you whether you are currently infectious within an hour and the results hold for at least 24 hours, meaning that businesses might be able to re-open by only putting employees on shift who can display the text message they received indicating a negative result that morning. Similarly, customers can enter the premises on the same condition, displaying their own negative result at the door. In all likelihood, this might actually increase employment, given that local business would have to maintain a larger work-force in order to mitigate periodic loss of staff who are self-isolating. 

In any case, you should be watching Liverpool closely over the coming weeks. This news is more than a ray of hope in what has been, for so many, a rather dismal winter.

For more information – and to see our range of government-approved rapid tests – visit our online shop.

Madrid Goes Rapid: How Spain Is Fighting Its Second Wave

A number of European countries have been hit by a second wave of COVID-19 infections – including, unfortunately, the UK – but Spain has been hit the hardest. Today, the Prime Minister will lay out his plans for the next stage of the UK’s response, rumoured to include a ‘three-tiered lockdown system’ that will devolve greater powers to local government, but chances are it won’t include the sorts of measures that the Spanish government are pursuing in infection-hotspots like Madrid

Madrid has become one of the first major cities in the world to attempt rapid testing on a large scale. In certain neighbourhoods with climbing infection rates, like Entrevías, residents are contacted via text to attend a drop-in clinic. Local authorities intend to test as many people as possible in these areas. When residents arrive at the clinic, an external temperature reading is taken with a non-contact infrared thermometer (like the one included in our Return2Work kit).

This is an unexpected feature of the scheme but the logic is clear. Taking the patient’s temperature will give the authorities information about their condition which might not be captured by the rapid test. For example, the patient may return a negative test but still have a temperature indicative of infection, meaning that the patient may indeed have COVID-19 but as yet remains non-contagious. This may mean that they will have to return the following day for another rapid test to track their progress, as well as receiving a more comprehensive PCR test from a local hospital to see if they have contracted a smaller amount of COVID-19. It also means that the margin for error in the test’s 93% accuracy-rate might be curbed by giving an indication as to when a patient might have received a false negative.

Once inside the drop-in clinic, a nasal swab is taken by a trained volunteer, placed in the buffer solution to settle and then squeezed onto the cassette. The resident then waits just 15 minutes for the results. Depending on the result, the resident may be free to return to work or must self-isolate – which potentially means that those they live or have had significant contact with must do so, as well. 

We will have to watch cautiously over the next few weeks to see whether this programme is able to curb the infection rates in Madrid. But by any reasonable estimate, it seems highly likely to do so. With these tests being so cheap at just €5 (or £4.50), the authorities can test huge numbers of people, detecting infectious residents as soon as possible, even if they are asymptomatic. Similarly, it also identifies safe residents, allowing local business to continue its recovery where possible, so that those who have to self-isolate are supported by a network of those who currently do not. 

It’s important to remember this, however: we have known that such a scheme was possible for months. Britain should have been the first to implement one, not Spain. 

We must be next.

To view our range of products for COVID-19 protection, including our rapid test kits, take a look at our online shop

New Research Demands “Rapid Testing Now!”

This is a brief update to signal-boost this peer-reviewed article that was recently published by a group of Harvard virologists in the New England Journal of Medicine. It outlines a numbed of the developments that we have covered on this blog in the last few months, as well going into more detail on the current scientific understanding of rapid testing and COVID-19.

It’s very short and accessible, so give it a read. It should only take up a few minutes of your time. If it makes some sense to you, share it with your colleagues, friends and family. Perhaps, you might even consider contacting your MP to ask if the government is aware of this research.

How To Prevent Another Lockdown

Over the last few weeks, primary and secondary schools have been reopening. In the coming weeks, many teenagers will also go off to universities. It has been estimated that three children in a thousand will walk into the classroom with COVID-19. And no one will know until the school has to be closed on account of an outbreak.

This is a risk that affects your children. And in turn, this becomes a risk to many of the older people in their lives, including you and your loved ones.

Perhaps, as they have done so far, the government will continue to respond to these outbreaks with local lockdowns or increased restrictions on social gatherings outside of educational institutions. 

But what about prevention?

A rising number of immunologists have been excited to discover that rapid tests can provide precisely this.

A rapid test tells you whether you have COVID-19 in under 15 minutes and can be done by you at home. 

Simply, take a nasal swab. Place it in the test tube and add the buffer solution. Then, place the strip in the solution and wait 15 minutes for your results.

By testing yourself and your family regularly, you will be made aware of your infection-status as soon as possible, regardless of whether you have symptoms. It is precisely this capability which could make rapid testing one of the most effective tools that we have to mitigate the dangers of the COVID-19 virus.

But, I hear you say, rapid tests are inaccurate, right?

Well, think about it like this. Before you become infectious, you need to have a certain amount of viral material – that’s the stuff of the virus, all its replications – in your body. In other words, you need to pass a certain threshold before other people can catch the virus from you. 

Some researchers were worried about rapid testing because it couldn’t detect the smaller amounts of the virus, the amounts below that threshold. Soon, however, they realised that it reliably detected those amounts above the threshold. Put simply, if you’re infectious, a rapid test will give you a positive result.

So, a rapid test tells us exactly what we need to know. But the NHS already provides accurate tests, so why do we need rapid tests? 

You can probably guess the answer if you’ve already taken an NHS test: you have to wait at least 48 hours for your results. Even the new tests, lauded for their speed, take 90 minutes and require you to travel to an NHS drive-through centre. If you saw our last blog, you’ll also know that this system is crumbling. A rapid test, however, can be conducted wherever you are and delivers results in just 15 minutes. 

So, rapid testing is convenient, easy-to-use and gives precisely the results that we need. OK, but what am I asking you to do?

First, share this blog post with colleagues, friends and family members. Dispelling the myths and misconceptions around rapid testing is an essential first step.

Then, I urge you to use whatever influence you have to call on the government and the Prime Minister to consider daily rapid testing for all schools, colleges and universities in order to prevent further lockdowns and restrictions. We must act now to ensure the health and stability of Britain.

Testing Times: Why There’s a Testing Shortage and How to Fix It

On Tuesday, the BBC Breakfast ran a report on the government’s COVID-19 testing initiatives in the UK. It was pretty damning.

The main take-away from the report was the link between test shortages and staff shortages. This link should be considered from two perspectives. Firstly, test shortages in the NHS have forced Trusts to cut down on staff and volunteers who are not needed. Of course, this decision has only increased the workload for remaining staff – for example, NHS technicians processing the tests have complained about the lack of staff, claiming that it has only aggravated extant problems and contributed to increased waiting times for patients. Relatedly, known problems with the accessibility of drop-in test centres have been deepened by the shortage, with some patients being forced to drive up to 100 miles to find an operative centre. 

Secondly, such failures within the NHS have had rather troubling effects on the general population’s ability to work. Increased waiting times and lack of accessibility, all caused by or intensified by the general lack of tests, have meant that those with symptoms who have been requested by their workplace to get tested will spend longer off work. Paired with the localised lockdowns in various areas of the country, these hiatuses will be hindering what had previously appeared to be a somewhat promising economic recovery. 

In their desperation to return to work, many Britons have turned to the private sector. Nevertheless, the vast majority of these tests remain priced outside the average person’s budget, mostly because of the type of tests available. 

However, rapid testing, which has seen an upsurge in support from the scientific community in recent months, is cheap, and it delivers results in just 15 minutes – a time to which no other type of COVID-19 test even comes close.

For a number of months on this blog, I have been advocating for the NHS to switch to rapid testing. Rapid testing has an advantage over PCR testing in all the areas that the latter is currently failing. Firstly, rapid tests can be mass produced on a superior scale at lower costs. Secondly, the test does not require expert processing, freeing up the overworked laboratory technicians that currently keep the PCR testing programme running. This also means that far more tests can be done by the patients themselves at home, easing the pressure on drop-in centres. 

If these reforms could be implemented, we might see an end to unnecessarily long wait times and a rejuvenated NHS, better equipped to deal with the ongoing pandemic. If we are to continue our steady recovery from lockdown, it seems essential that this is done, and quick. 

If you are in need of a rapid test, take a look at our product range on our website

On the Rule of 6: What Does It Mean?

On Monday, Boris Johnson’s government introduced a number of laws which prohibit gatherings of more than 6 people. 

This news comes on the back of rising infection rates and other reports on the systemic failure of the UK’s COVID-19 testing infrastructure. Many have cited the inefficiencies of the currently-dominant PCR tests in dealing with such periodic infection spikes, especially in a country which has been slowly attempting to restart its economy.

Now, it’s worth going over the content of these laws in a bit of detail since, as usual, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding them. First off, these new measures override the social distancing rules that have been in force since the beginning of August. Obviously, this means that the ban on gatherings of more than 30 people has been replaced but more surprisingly, the talk of households has also been scrapped. Previously, members of two separate households could meet inside and all sorts of complicated limits on number of households held when gathering in venues or outside. 

But the thinking behind these new rules emphasises simplicity of understanding and a corresponding strength of enforcement. From now on, if there are more than 6 of you mixing anywhere at any time, no matter how many different households you are all from, you’ll be fined and asked to disperse. Simple as that. 

On that note, the £100 fine that we’ve all heard so much about applies to all individuals involved in an illegal gathering. That’s each and every person, so scrap your plans to ignore the rules and just split the cost. It rises in increments up to £3,200, I should add, although the circumstances in which you’d be charged any of the extra amounts are unclear.

You might have also noticed that these rules apply everywhere. Whether you’re celebrating with friends at the pub, watching Tenet with your mates at the cinema, having a barbecue in your garden or playing boardgames with some work colleagues at home, you’re subject to these rules. There are a number of exceptions, including workplaces, educational institutions, group sports, funerals and weddings. Find the full list of exempt activities here.

And before you ask how the police will know that you’re watching Line of Duty in your house with more than 5 friends, the government have explicitly encouraged your neighbours to alert the police if they suspect anything.

For many of us, these measures are a shock. We’ve been under varying levels of lockdown since March, now, and many have taken solace in the fact that, slowly but surely, things were gradually getting better. After such a prolonged fight against COVID-19, how could we still be facing such restrictions on our daily lives?

Unfortunately, as many of you know, it is because over the last month and especially over the last few weeks, cases have been steadily rising, with intermittent but worryingly large spikes. For example, last Friday, we saw cases rise by 3,539, which, for context, places us at the lower end of the sort of curve which sent us all into lockdown in March. So, there are very real reasons why this law has been introduced and therefore, why you should take them seriously.

Now, there might be a number of ways that such measures could have been avoided or be stopped. As a number of reports have shown, the government have failed to create a robust testing apparatus, partly as a result of their dependence on slower testing methods. However, rapid tests, which deliver results in 15 minutes, are becoming increasingly available and thus more capable of meeting the current levels of demand. With faster, cheaper tests like these, the government might be able to avoid the sorts of measures that were introduced on Monday whilst easing our economy back into first gear.

If you think you might be interested in rapid tests, take a look at our website for our product range.

Rapid Testing and COVID-19: Why Are We Being So Sensitive?

As all of us absorb some of the more troubling aspects of the recent government announcements, we might not be able to avoid a sense of déjà vu. Just like at the end of March, the government is making decisions very quickly that will have a sizable effect the British public. Even more so, the government is pursuing the same line of response that they pursued back in March, leading some to question how far we have really come in our understanding of how to deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, however, there have been a number of breakthroughs in the scientific community. These revelations concern the sensitivity of rapid testing, a topic that has been hotly debated in the months since lockdown began. For many, the fact that rapid tests were unable to detect antibodies and viral material below a certain threshold was a fatal flaw, further confirming the predominant use of PCR testing which can detect below this threshold.  

The problem lies in the fact that PCR tests – like those available on the NHS – take at least 48 hours to return a result. Given that the government advises those with symptoms to stay at home, this might mean that the patient misses two days of work at the least, which, as infections rise again, could threaten the financial stability of those already hit hard by the pandemic. Similarly, those interested in travelling might have to postpone or even cancel their plans if they experience symptoms at an inopportune time. Clearly, there is an incentive here for Britons to simply take their chances, to keep functioning in ignorance by not applying for a test or to apply for a test but make no adjustments to their behaviour while they wait for the results. In both cases, the delay inherent in PCR testing poses a problem for mitigating infection rates.

But, since rapid tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, we have no other option but to continue with this line of response, right?

Well, Harvard immunologist Dr. Michael Mina has a strange yet simple answer (which he lays out clearly and concisely in a recent New York Times article): what if rapid tests are just insensitive enough to miss non-contagious or non-immune individuals who nevertheless have some tiny amount of viral material or antibodies? Put another way, what if a positive result from a rapid test gives us all the information that actually we care about: are we infectious/immune or not? 

Dr. Mina would answer in the affirmative. He does not dispute that rapid tests are less sensitive but still holds that they are more useful that PCR tests, since we are not interested in detecting any and all amounts of viral material or antibodies but only those amounts which make a patient contagious or presently immune. So, why are we being so sensitive?  Rapid testing offers the British public the power to make informed decisions at the pace of their lives. PCR testing interrupts their lives to give them information that they don’t need.

If you are interested in purchasing a rapid test, take a look at our online shop and our eBay page.

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