Tag: UK Government

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.

Behind the Mask: An SME’s Guide to Mandatory Masks

The next phase of the government’s response to the pandemic begins on Friday as face coverings become mandatory in various public spaces. It is unclear why exactly the government has chosen to do this. Although the pandemic rages on, we are still seeing sustained decreases in infection rates. A number of explanations have been given, most of which revolve around increasing the confidence of shoppers. Understandably, the government is desperate to give the British economy a jump-start and hope that these measures will encourage demand.

However, if this is the case, it doesn’t seem to explain why the government is punishing non-compliance, rather than simply advising compliance. It is worth re-emphasising then that COVID-19 remains a real danger to public health, as the recent outbreak in Leicester demonstrated. So, if they are effective, wearing a mask would definitely be in the public’s best interest. 

One of the other problems with this new legislation is that it promises to create a whole bunch of complications for small businesses. Our plan with this blog is to untangle some of these, to give small businesses the confidence to weather this phase of the crisis. 

What Are You Legally Required to Do?

From July 24, face coverings will be mandatory in shops, supermarkets and on public transport. It is worth emphasising that pubs, cafés and restaurants are not subject to these rules, according to a government spokesperson contacted by the BBC.

Now, the brunt of the legislation falls on the public, rather than transport operators or business owners. For example, the system of fines attached to these measures only apply to the public. The fine for not wearing a face covering in these public spaces is £100, although this halves to £50 if the perpetrator pays within 14 days. This does not mean that there can be no repercussion for business owners, however – the government has stated that they ‘will be expected to encourage compliance with the law’. It is only that there are no prescribed punishments in the legislation for non-public actors.   

The government does explain how business owners can legally respond to those breaking these new laws. Most notably, businesses can ‘refuse entry’. Since the legislation gives the police the power to fine members of the public, businesses therefore have recourse to requesting their aid in dealing with non-compliant customers.

Unforeseen Consequences

Many readers will have already observed that these new measures pose a number of challenges for small businesses. The pandemic has already been disastrous for many small businesses, especially those which require proximity to customers. For such businesses, this legislation reads as yet another major threat to their livelihoods.

For many small businesses, relationships of trust are crucial. Whether it is the trust and loyalty of frequent patrons or the necessity of making that initial impression as a trust-worthy establishment, small businesses rely heavily on the interactions with customers that might be hamstrung by this legislation. For example, consider the situation of a trusted customer entering your shop without a mask – do you risk offense and ill-will by asking them to leave? Similarly, how much new business are you willing to turn away in compliance with this legislation?

In discussing the role of transport operators to their customers, the government states that they can ‘direct some to wear a face covering’. There is no requirement for transport operators or business owners to have face coverings on hand, however, and no mention of such a practice in general. However, having a number of masks available at your workplace, staff can give them to customers entering without a mask, preventing a loss of business.

The Perfect Mask

So far, we’ve skipped over one of the most important aspects of this development: are masks even effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19? 

There has been considerable debate within the scientific community on this topic. Yet, as it stands, there is no debate around whether masks are effective, only how effective they might be. 

The picture that virologists paint about masks looks something like this. COVID-19 is spread predominantly by droplets originating in the mouth, nose and throat, partly because of the distance these droplets can cover as a result of the air propelled when someone exhales or speaks. Similarly, the virus’ main entry-point into the body is the mouth, hence all the guidance about refraining from touching your face. Masks are designed as a barrier to these infectious droplets, regardless of whether they are coming from the wearer themselves or another person in close proximity to them. Therefore, masks prevent both the infected from spreading the virus and the non-infected from catching it. 

If you’d like a more comprehensive explanation, take a look at this video: 

As might be clear to you, the effectiveness of the mask depends upon the quality of the mask. Luckily, the most effective masks are fairly simple to make and as such, relatively inexpensive, made from pieces of cotton attached to string or elastic straps. Many have become interested in so-called “valved” masks which appear to be far more high-tech and therefore more secure than the regular cotton mask. 

However, there have been rising concerns about these masks, which are nevertheless still far less popular than their cheaper cotton counterparts. Of course, these concerns are more pressing in light of this new legislation, which will spur a drastic increase in the wearing of masks. 

Recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s decision to wear a one of these masks became a flashpoint for the debate over their effectiveness. A number of virologists penned concerned letters and articles, including Dr Bharat Pankhania of the University of Exeter Medical School, who highlighted the filtering valves on the mask, supposedly a further protection, as having the potential to exaggerate the possibility of spreading COVID-19 by creating a ‘high-velocity flow of air from the mouth … which could create a plume of infection.’ In India, where the masks are more common, the government has had to issue an official statement against their use.

So, the regular cotton mask remains the most effective which is hand since they are so much more affordable than the alternative. If you’re still in need of a mask for yourself or a number of masks for your workplace, head on over to our online shop or our eBay page to get your hands on some.

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.

An SME’s guide to mitigating infection in the workplace

As an SME, we’ve been eager to find information on managing the risks to our employees’ health. Luckily, there are a number of resources available to small businesses who have already re-opened or are set to reopen in the coming weeks. 

Some of the resources we found most useful can be found on the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Federation of Small Businesses’ websites, including downloadable risk-management checklists, accessible legal guidance and up-to-date reporting on government policy. 

Much of the guidance focusses on changes to work-flow or organisation. For example, maintaining social distancing is an essential requirement for any business operating in the near-future, so you might consider bright floor-markers which guide your employees through their procedures whilst ensuring they are two metres apart. Similarly, the cleaning of surfaces will have to occur more frequently, prompting suggestions to reduce working hours in order to maintain this necessarily high standard of cleanliness. 

In addition to these sorts of changes, improvements in personal hygiene practices while at work will also be required. Instituting protocols such as frequent hand-washing (especially in workplaces which will be serving customers in person), the tying up of long hair and, where possible, a strict separation of work materials between employees, i.e. distributing digital copies of documents instead of sharing physical ones, attempting not to share pens, keyboards, mugs, chairs, etc. A determining factor in the efficacy of these measures appears to be generalising the use of PPE within your workplace. 

One of the most important aspects of new workplace practice is the protocol for determining and reacting to the infection of an employee. Yet, this is a discussion missing from many of the available guides and checklists.

At Lab Solutions, we had an idea. If small businesses had some convenient means to detect infection, they might be able to respond quickly enough to prevent further contamination. That’s why we’re offering Return2Work, a COVID-19 response kit which includes surgical gloves, masks, an external thermometer and a quick blood-test. 

Alongside all the other preventative measures that have been outlined so far, Return2Work’s external thermometer in particular might be a helpful addition to your new health and safety procedures. For example, by monitoring the temperatures of employees as they enter work at the beginning of the day and leave at the end, you can stay abreast of any stark increases. These measurements will then indicate whether someone needs to use Return2Work’s quick blood-test, which will confirm whether the temperature increase is a result of COVID-19. 

Staying aware in this way gives you the freedom to be versatile in your health and safety procedures, tightening or loosening your protocols depending on the results of tests. This versatility is possible because Return2Work gives you both greater power to prevent and respond to infection.

If you feel that Return2Work might be useful for your business or would like further information, visit our website.

How can SMEs mitigate infection risks?

As the country prepares to return to work over the next few months, many small businesses are wary of the risks that doing so poses to their employees. At Lab Solutions, we’ve been eager to find some information on mitigating these risks. Luckily, we found a number of online resources that can provide you with both legal guidance and practical advice. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has released a number of downloadable guides for businesses in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These guides relate to a number of specific industries and workplaces. Depending on the nature and size of your business, then, you may have to use a few of these guides in combination. Different guidance is available for education and childcare as well as the transport industry.

Alongside specific guidance for different sectors, a more general checklist has been released. Of primary importance, the checklist states, is carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment that meets the criteria of the Health and Safety Executive. The organisation has published these criteria alongside further information on generalising hygiene procedures, maintaining social distancing and other practices to ensure the safety of your workplace in this guide

In response to these guidelines, the Federation of Small Businesses has published its own advice to ensure that you have the resources to implement them in an even more diverse range of workplaces. For example, their health and safety checklist includes a discussion of customer safety which considers the possibilities for maintaining social distancing and minimising surface-transmission by altering the layout of your workplace, i.e. separating exit and entrance doors or shifting to a kiosk-style, semi-outdoor way of serving where possible. 

Similarly, the Federation’s Legal Hub – for which you’ll need an account with the organisation – provides free risk assessment templates as well as updates and guidance on the specifics of the law regarding business practices as it evolves over the coming months. Indeed, both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Federation of Small Businesses offer an invaluable service as news sources for companies at this time.

Using these guides and checklists, we have been able to adapt our business to this new economy without serious losses to productivity and the breadth of information available means that whatever your business, you can adapt, too. Why wait? 

For more information, visit our website.

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