Week commencing 20/07/2020 – In The News

Face Coverings Now Mandatory in Shops

A woman wearing a surgical face mask.Face coverings are now compulsory for customers in shops in England.  Coverings are mandatory in enclosed public spaces such as supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, transport hubs, banks and takeaways. Police can hand out fines of up to £100 to those who do not comply.

Guidance issued by the government on Thursday for England states that staff in premises where face coverings are required are encouraged to take steps “to promote compliance with the law” and can refuse entry to people who do not have a valid exemption under the rules. However, some retailers have insisted they will not enforce the rules.

There are exemptions to the new rules for children under 11, those with disabilities or certain health conditions, such as respiratory or cognitive impairments that make it difficult for them to wear a face covering.

Read more from the BBC.

Promising Results for Oxford Coronavirus Vaccine

A virus under a microscope all in green.A coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford appears safe and triggers an immune response. Trials involving 1,077 people showed the injection led to them making antibodies and T-cells that can fight coronavirus. The findings are hugely promising, but it is still too soon to know if this is enough to offer protection and larger trials are underway. The UK has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine.

The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – is being developed at unprecedented speed. It is made from a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. It has been heavily modified, first so it cannot cause infections in people and also to make it “look” more like coronavirus.

There were no dangerous side-effects from taking the vaccine, however, 70% of people on the trial developed either fever or headache. The researchers say this could be managed with paracetamol. Prof Sarah Gilbert, from the University of Oxford, UK, says: “There is still much work to be done before we can confirm if our vaccine will help manage the Covid-19 pandemic, but these early results hold promise.”

Read more from the BBC.

UK secures early access to 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

A syringe and vial being held in someone's hand.Leading on from this, the UK has secured early access to 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses through partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, namely three main deals:

  1. 30 million doses of a vaccine being developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, the first agreement the two companies have signed with any government. This vaccine has reached Phase 2 trials.
  2. The second deal is an agreement in principle for 60 million doses of a vaccine being developed by Valneva, with an option to acquire a further 40 million doses if this vaccine is proven to be safe, effective and suitable. Valneva, which has a factory in Livingston, Scotland, is developing an inactivated virus vaccine and the government is expected to contribute to the cost of clinical trials. Funding is also being negotiated to expand the Scottish facility to allow production of up to 100 million doses for the UK and around the world.
  3. The third deal is with AstraZeneca and it gives the UK a possible one million doses of a treatment with COVID-19 neutralising antibodies which could be used to protect those who cannot be vaccinated, such as those who are immunocompromised.

The three agreements mean England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland would have enough doses to vaccinate priority groups, such as health and social care workers and those at increased risk of serious complications or death from the coronavirus. However, speaking during a visit to a school in Kent, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he cannot be “100% confident” that a coronavirus vaccine will be available this year or next year.

Read more from Sky News.

River Thames ‘severely polluted with plastic’

Plastic bottles on the banks of the River Thames.The River Thames has some of the highest recorded levels of microplastics for any river in the world. Scientists have estimated that 94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in places. The quantity exceeds that measured in other European rivers, such as the Danube and Rhine.

Many forms of microplastics were found in the Thames, including glitter, microbeads from cosmetics and plastic fragments from larger items. The bulk of the microplastics came from the break-down of large plastics, with food packaging thought to be a significant source. “Flushable” wet wipes were found in high abundance on the shoreline forming “wet wipe reefs”. However, the scientists also pointed out that the Thames is cleaner than it used to be with respect to some pollutants, such as trace metals.

Researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, are calling for stricter regulations on the labelling and disposal of plastic products. They warn that careless disposal of plastic gloves and masks during the coronavirus pandemic might make the problem of plastic pollution worse.

Read more from the BBC.