Tag: Matt Hancock

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.

Leicester Lockdown: We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

Last Monday, Boris Johnson explained that whereas the rest of country will have opened up by July 4th, Leicester will remain locked down. This came as a surprise to many and added a sour note to the triumphal announcements of the past few weeks. It certainly came as a surprise to Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby who took to Sky News to express scepticism regarding the government’s decision, claiming that the disproportionate rise in the number of cases is a direct result of disproportionate testing. 

In any case, what is the government’s reasoning for extending the lockdown in Leicester? Well, according to findings from Public Health England, which recently added a regional dimension to its monitoring of COVID-19 cases, Leicester saw a surge in the fortnight following June 8th, an increase of 900 cases. During this period, confirmed cases in Leicester accounted for 1 in 16 positive tests. There have been reports of school closures as well as problems with a number of workplaces in the preceding weeks – Health Secretary Matt Hancock singled out clothing factories in the area as particular hot-spots. Concerns have also been raised over the effects of local Black Lives Matter protests.

For the people of Leicester, these announcements are disturbing. Our thoughts are with them. For the rest of us, the Leicester lockdown serves as a reminder that our own individual responses to the pandemic remain important, especially those of us who run businesses. 

The Leicester lockdown also raises questions about the potential use of these measures for other areas. The reports from Public Health England which identified the rapid uptick in Leicester also registered comparable rates of activity in the West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester regions. The BBC graphed these readings

Importantly, Leicester is not the first city to be subject to what Boris Johnson referred to as the government’s “whack-a-mole strategy”. Outbreaks linked to a hospital in Weston-super-Mare, a meat-packing factory in Cleckheaton and a number of GP surgeries in London lead to similar local lockdowns.

Clearly, as the Prime Minister has said, “we are not out of the woods yet”. A few weeks ago, we compiled some of the guidance on workplace health and safety, filling in the gaps with regard to preventing against infection. Understanding the risks to your employees and how to mitigate them is now more important than ever. 

For more information and to view our range of workplace safety products, including rapid COVID-19 test kits, visit our website

Antibody Tests: Is This How Lockdown Will End?

Recently, it has been reported that antibody testing could become more widespread in Europe and the United States as various governments begin to consider ways to ease the lockdown. 

Antibody tests are designed to test whether someone has had a virus in the past. If you have had a certain virus, your immune system will have developed specific antibodies which can be identified by these tests, which range from swab tests to blood tests. Usually, having these antibodies grants the person at least a period of immunity against the virus. It is for this reason that antibody tests for COVID-19 are now being widely considered, since a positive antibody test might then enable the person to return to work. Antibody testing on a large scale could be the key to easing the lockdown and restarting the economy.

At the beginning of June, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first authorisation for an antibody blood test. As might be known to those in the field, the FDA sets a near-global standard for commercial pharmaceuticals which means that many other countries should soon be following suit. 

Similarly, the UK government has been slowly increasing its antibody testing and commercial enterprises throughout the country have begun to offer their own as well. At Lab Solutions, we have recently released Return2Work, a COVID-19 response kit which includes surgical gloves and masks, an external thermometer for monitoring temperatures and a simple antibody blood test. 

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the government are considering so-called ‘immunity certificates’ that would be awarded in the event of a positive antibody test and entitle the certificate-holder to return to work, among other privileges. However, the German government – who have been ahead of the UK in using antibody tests – raised concerns when they were considering a similar idea last month. The main concern is that it would create a two-tier system, leading to community resentments that might negate the positive benefits of the scheme.

For further information on our test kits, take a look at our website.

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