UK’s Johnson slams brakes on reopening as COVID cases surge

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British PM Boris Johnson waves to the media as he leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, to go to the Houses of Parliament to make a statement on new COVID-19 restrictions Tues., Sept. 22, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Shoppers, some wearing a face mask or covering, walk past an electronic billboard displaying a UK Government advert advising the public to take precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Newcastle, England, Sept. 17, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2020

UK’s Johnson slams brakes on reopening as COVID cases surge

  • Pubs and restaurants across England will be ordered to close at 10 p.m.
  • A plan to bring spectators back to sports stadiums starting in October is being put on hold

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed the brakes Tuesday on the country’s return to offices and a normal social life, saying the UK was at a “perilous turning point” in its fight against coronavirus.
Saying that Britain had to act now or face a huge second wave of the disease, Johnson announced a package of new restrictions, including requiring pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues in England to close down between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and urging people to work from home where possible.
“This is the moment when we must act,” he said, warning that the measures might have to remain in place for six months.
People will have to wear face-masks in taxis as well as on public transport. The size of gatherings is being curtailed, with weddings limited to 15 people instead of 30. A plan to bring spectators back to sports stadiums starting in October is being put on hold.
The British government is also increasing the penalties for breaking the rules.
The announcement comes a day after the British government’s top scientific and medical advisers said new coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days in the country and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing was done to stem the tide.
On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May.
The UK has gradually been increasing restrictions as cases rise, including barring people from meeting in large groups. But the measures are less stringent than a nationwide lockdown imposed in March that confined most of the population and closed most businesses. Britain eased its lockdown starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.
Some lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party are uneasy about tightening restrictions on business and daily life, citing the impact on Britain’s already-reeling economy and the curbing of civil liberties.
Employers and workers in hospitality businesses are also concerned.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality said before the announcement that the restrictions were “another crushing blow” for many businesses.
But most epidemiologists believe restrictions are again necessary and even worry that the government plans may not go far enough.
Polls suggest a majority of people in Britain support lockdown measures to contain the virus. But they also show that trust in the government’s handling of the pandemic has declined after troubles with testing, mixed messages on reopening and the UK’s high death toll.
Britain has the highest confirmed virus death toll in Europe, at 41,877 deaths, according to a tally by John Hopkins University that experts say undercounts the true toll of the pandemic due to limited testing and other factor.s
Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway University, said people’s behavior is “the biggest influence” on the spread of the virus.
“Most people know how to prevent spread and, most importantly, how to prevent spread around older or more vulnerable friends and relatives,” she said. “In essence, the government is saying, ‘Stay sober, stay sensible and the venues can stay open.’ It’s a carrot to encourage responsible behavior.”
The chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Monday raised the UK’s virus alert from three to four, the second-highest level, on the advice of the Joint Biosecurity Center. They said cases of COVID-19 were rising “rapidly and probably exponentially.”
In a live televised briefing, Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said new confirmed cases increased slowly over the summer but now were doubling every seven days. In other countries, such an increase has soon led to a rise in deaths, Whitty said.
Whitty stressed that infection rates are rising among all age groups, and infections among the young and healthy will inevitably spread to friends, family and ultimately to the most vulnerable in society.
“This is not someone else’s problem,” he said. “This is all of our problem.’’
The UK reported a seven-day average of 21 deaths a day last week, compared with a peak of 942 deaths on April 10.
To persuade people to stay home if they test positive, the government announced it would pay low-income workers 500 pounds ($639) if they are told to self-isolate for 14 days. It also said those breaking quarantines could face fines up to 10,000 pounds ($12,800).
The rise in UK infection rates comes as lawmakers across the political spectrum have criticized the Conservative government’s testing program. While ministers tout the record numbers of tests being performed, there are widespread reports of people having to travel hundreds of miles for tests or tests being voided because it’s taking labs too long to process them.
An app meant to bolster virus contact tracing efforts is to be released this week after months of delay.


Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

Updated 22 October 2020

Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

  • Bristol University virology expert David Matthews: The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness
  • AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19

LONDON: AstraZeneca’s Oxford COVID-19 vaccine accurately follows the genetic instructions programmed into it by its developers to successfully provoke a strong immune response, according to a detailed analysis carried out by independent UK scientists.
“The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness,” said David Matthews, an expert in virology from Bristol University, who led the research.
AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19.
The first data from late-stage large-scale clinical trials being conducted in several countries around the world, including Brazil, the United States and Britain, are expected to be released before the end of the year.
The vaccine — known either as ChAdOx1 or AZD1222 — is made by taking a common cold virus called an adenovirus from chimpanzees and deleting about 20% of the virus’s instructions. This means it is impossible for the vaccine to replicate or cause disease in humans.
The Bristol researchers’ focus was to assess how often and how accurately the vaccine is copying and using the genetic instructions programmed into it by its designers. These instructions detail how to make the spike protein from the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.
Once the spike protein is made, the immune system reacts to it, training the immune system to identify a real COVID-19 infection.
“This is an important study as we are able to confirm that the genetic instructions underpinning this vaccine ... are correctly followed when they get into a human cell,” Matthews said in a statement about the work.
His team’s research was not peer reviewed by other scientists, but was published as a preprint before review.