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‘People are trying to be responsible’ – but there are no lateral flow tests | Coronavirus



As people across the UK prepare to ring in the new year, one thing that will be missing for many is a Covid lateral flow test.

Town-centre pharmacies’ stocks have been wiped out as people seek assurance before attending parties or meeting vulnerable relatives.

While it’s not unusual for shopping centres to be busy between Christmas and new year, with shoppers hitting the sales and enjoying festive markets, the most sought-after products are proving to be the tests.

On Thursday the Guardian visited four chemists in Kingston upon Thames, a busy shopping hub in south-west London, and found that three were out of stock and the fourth had one kit left.

Beverley Bairstow
Beverley Bairstow picked up the council’s free tests as she knew the pharmacies had none. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Staff advised customers to come back tomorrow, with test kits also unavailable to order online. The NHS website allows users to search for tests by postcode but none of the recommended pharmacies in Kingston upon Thames had any in stock.

Boxes of 20 LFTs were available at a council-run testing facility. Some shoppers told the Guardian it was the only place they had been able to pick up tests.

“I’ve tried three different pharmacies in the high street where I live over the past couple of weeks and they’ve been all out,” said Sally Arnold, from Surbiton. “It’s also going to be make it tricky for people going back to work if you can’t get hold of them, as we have to go in to the office.”

Her friend Lisa Sanders, also from Surbiton, said: “I ordered some about a week ago and I’m still waiting for them to be delivered – every time I look on the app it says ‘sorry, no deliveries’.

“I think people are trying to be responsible and to do the right thing but if you can’t get hold of tests then what can you do? I was lucky, I saw my sister over Christmas in a different part of the country and she is able to get them and gave me a box, but you just can’t get them anywhere round here.”

Francesca Rowland
Francesca Rowland with a box of rapid tests. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

A member of staff at the facility, who wished to remain anonymous, said LFTs had been available at the testing site throughout the year but footfall had “shot up” since the Omicron variant led to a sharp rise in recorded cases.

Ministers have been urging people to test before socialising, and the surge in demand has outstripped supply.

Beverley Bairstow, from Kingston, said she had come straight to the council facility after hearing about shortages at pharmacies closer to where she lives.

She said: “I didn’t even bother trying anywhere else because I heard they haven’t got them. We try to keep some in the house but now we have run out and were told our local chemist doesn’t have any left. We did also try online but there weren’t any available either. When we saw there were some here, we thought: great, at last.”

Lutz Amechi
Lutz Amechi: ‘The only way we will get through this is constant, frequent testing. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Francesca Rowland said she had stocked up on tests for friends and family as well as herself. “I haven’t been able to get any tests before today, and because I work in a school I need to be doing them every day,” she said. “It’s not been easy because we can’t order online now, but luckily I knew this was here.”

Lutz Amechi, from Kingston, said: “My belief is the only way we will get through this is constant, frequent testing, so we test every second day at home.”

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year



In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart


17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus



Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer



Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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