Wales education minister refuses to rule out locking down entire student halls – Wales Online

Last Updated on September 30, 2020 by

The Welsh Government’s education minister Kirsty Williams has said she will not rule out locking down entire halls of residences.

Around 1,500 students in Manchester have been forced to self-isolate in their halls after 127 of them tested positive for the virus.

The Manchester Evening News reported that students in accommodation blocks at the Birley campus and Cambridge Halls at Manchester Metropolitan University, have been holding parties in their rooms after being told stay inside for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.

Manchester Met University has offered a ‘care package’ including a two-week rebate on rent, a £50 voucher for Asda, free use of laundry facilities plus washing powder and ‘essentials’ such as hand sanitiser, toilet roll and soap.

With several of Wales’ larger cities having a significant student populations, WalesOnline asked Liberal Democrat education minister Kristy Williams if she would consider similar measures if a similar-size outbreak happened here.

She said: “One thing that I have learnt during this pandemic is that to rule out anything is very unwise. To rule out something today when public health advice may in the future say there are a large number of contacts would be foolish.”

She said that the first steps would be to follow the normal test trace and protect procedures and for only the direct contacts of students diagnosed with the virus to be asked to self isolate.

She added that “the success of this will be managing the number of cases within a halls of residence” and “there is a role to play for students by following the rules and universities by limiting the amount of contacts students have.”

Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University's Birley campus

Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus
(Image: PA)

An image on a locked down hall of residence

An image on a locked down hall of residence
(Image: AP)

According to Ms Williams, students will be subject to the same Test, Trace, Protect reigime as everyone else.

She said: “We are working with our universities to make them as Covid secure as possible and that is by ensuring that groups of students don’t meet if at all possible in large numbers.

“Each case will be subject to the usual TTP regime and only the close contacts will be asked to self isolate at that time.

“It is really important that we manage those individual cases within university halls of residence.”

She also pointed to the “quite diverse” types of halls, saying that shared areas should be limited and that it was “important to remember” that “second and third year students need to follow the rules as well.”

Follow live updates from her press conference on our dedicated coronavirus blog.

Cats Shed More Than Dogs. The Coronavirus, Not Fur. – The Streetjournal

Last Updated on September 30, 2020 by

Also, outside a lab, infection depends mainly on breathing in viral particles from an infected person and normal contact doesn’t necessarily translate into infection for animals. Ferrets have been shown in the laboratory to be susceptible to infection with the virus, and to spread it to other ferrets.

But scientists at Tufts reported, in a paper that has yet to be peer- reviewed, that in one house with 29 pet ferrets and two humans with Covid not one ferret became infected with the virus.

The 29 ferrets roamed freely in the house, and both human adults were ill enough with Covid to show symptoms, so there was ample opportunity for infection. Kaitlin Sawatzki, a virologist at Tufts University and one of the authors of the ferret paper, said, “Isn’t that incredible? It was a beautiful natural experiment.”

The researchers concluded that there could be genetic barriers to infection that are overcome in a lab with concentrated doses of virus. Minks, which are in the same family as ferrets, appear to be very easily infected, and to get sick from the disease. Researchers have also reported transmission from animals to humans at mink farms in the Netherlands in a paper not yet peer-reviewed. Dr. Sawatzki said the paper showed “very strong evidence of multiple, independent mink-to-human transmission events.”

The Colorado State researchers advise keeping cats indoors, particularly if a human in a household has become infected, because they could spread it to other cats. Also, if a person with Covid needs to be admitted to a hospital and has pet cats, Dr. Porter suggested, the cat’s caretakers should know to observe social distancing as they would with a person.

The infected cats that showed immunity, Dr. Bosco-Lauth said, were animals that were infected by contact with other cats, not by pipette. And, she said, the immune response was stronger than in some other laboratory animals, although how long that protection might last is completely unknown.

The ancient Neanderthal hand in severe COVID-19 – Science Daily

Last Updated on September 30, 2020 by

Since first appearing in late 2019, the novel virus, SARS-CoV-2, has had a range of impacts on those it infects. Some people become severely ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and require hospitalization, whereas others have mild symptoms or are even asymptomatic.

There are several factors that influence a person’s susceptibility to having a severe reaction, such as their age and the existence of other medical conditions. But one’s genetics also plays a role, and, over the last few months, research by the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative has shown that genetic variants in one region on chromosome 3 impose a larger risk that their carriers will develop a severe form of the disease.

Now, a new study, published in Nature, has revealed that this genetic region is almost identical to that of a 50,000-year old Neanderthal from southern Europe. Further analysis has shown that, through interbreeding, the variants came over to the ancestors of modern humans about 60,000 years ago.

“It is striking that the genetic heritage from Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic,” said Professor Svante Pääbo, who leads the Human Evolutionary Genomics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST).

Is severe COVID-19 written in our genes?

Chromosomes are tiny structures that are found in the nucleus of cells and carry an organism’s genetic material. They come in pairs with one chromosome in each pair inherited from each parent. Humans have 23 of these pairs. Thus, 46 chromosomes carry the entirety of our DNA — millions upon millions of base pairs. And although the vast majority are the same between people, mutations do occur, and variations persist, at the DNA level.

The research by the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative looked at over 3,000 people including both people who were hospitalized with severe COVID-19 and people who were infected by the virus but weren’t hospitalized. It identified a region on chromosome 3 that influences whether a person infected with the virus will become severely ill and needs to be hospitalized.

The identified genetic region is very long, spanning 49.4 thousand base pairs, and the variants that impose a higher risk to severe COVID-19 are strongly linked — if a person has one of the variants then they’re very likely to have all thirteen of them. Variants like these have previously been found to come from Neanderthals or Denisovans so Professor Pääbo, in collaboration with Professor Hugo Zeberg, first author of the paper and a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Karolinska Institutet, decided to investigate whether this was the case.

They found that a Neanderthal from southern Europe carried an almost identical genetic region whereas two Neanderthals from southern Siberia and a Denisovan did not.

Next, they questioned whether the variants had come over from Neanderthals or had been inherited by both Neanderthals and present-day people through a common ancestor.

If the variants had come from interbreeding between the two groups of people, then this would have occurred as recently as 50,000 years ago. Whereas, if the variants had come from the last common ancestor, they would have been around in modern humans for about 550,000 years. But random genetic mutations, and recombination between chromosomes, would have also occurred during this time and because the variants between the Neanderthal from southern Europe and present-day people are so similar over such a long stretch of DNA, the researchers showed that it was much more likely that they came from interbreeding.

Professor Pääbo and Professor Zeberg concluded that Neanderthals related to the one from southern Europe contributed this DNA region to present-day people around 60,000 years ago when the two groups met.

Neanderthal variants pose up to three times the risk

Professor Zeberg explained that those who carry these Neanderthal variants have up to three times the risk of requiring mechanical ventilation. “Obviously, factors such as your age and other diseases you may have also affect how severely you are affected by the virus. But among genetic factors, this is the strongest one.”

The researchers also found that there are major differences in how common these variants are in different parts of the world. In South Asia about 50% of the population carry them. However, in East Asia they’re almost absent.

It is not yet known why the Neanderthal gene region is associated with increased risk of becoming severely ill. “This is something that we and others are now investigating as quickly as possible,” said Professor Pääbo.

How Saltney residents living on the Cheshire border are affected by new local lockdown – Cheshire Live

Last Updated on September 30, 2020 by

Saltney residents living on the Flintshire side have been given a ‘raw deal’ in the new Flintshire local lockdown.

That’s the view of the town’s councillor Veronica Gay, who said that the new rules which stipulate that households in Flintshire are not able to leave the county without a ‘reasonable excuse’ are causing confusion and a lot of frustration.

A number of residents have taken to social media to say they are unsure of if the new rules apply to them, especially residents of Boundary Lane, where one side is in Flintshire and the other is in Cheshire.

And since the majority of Saltney residents heavily rely on travelling to Chester for everyday errands, like using the post office or the bank, Cllr Gay feels that residents on the Flintshire side are at a real disadvantage.

“It really does highlight border issues,” she said. “This has caused a lot of confusion.

Boundary Lane, Saltney. The road is the border between Flintshire in North Wales and Cheshire, England. Residents on the right hand side are free to travel and meet individually, while on the left hand side in Wales, the country remains unchanged and in lockdown. Pictured l to r: Cllr Veronica Gay with fellow Welsh resident Alan William Brumby with English residents opposite Anne Amboorallee and Linda Astbury.

Residents on Boundary Lane, Saltney, earlier this year
(Image: Ian Cooper/North Wales Live)

“There are so many things that people on the Flintshire side rely heavily on Chester for because we simply don’t have the facilities.

“Day to day people don’t really care if the area they live in is classed as England or Wales but in situations like this it becomes an issue.

And she also expressed concern for local businesses who will be affected by the local lockdown, such as pubs, who will now lose out on custom.

“Saltney doesn’t have a great deal of social places but we have four pubs, and staff have worked so hard to adapt to the social distancing measures. These could be more facilities that we could lose the longer this goes on,” added Cllr Gay.

“My view is that Welsh Saltney residents have always had a raw deal, and I really feel for them, it is very frustrating,” she said.

What are the rules for people living in Saltney as Flintshire enters local lockdown?

The new lockdown restrictions come into force at 6pm on Thursday, 1 October 2020 and are as following:

  • people will not be allowed to enter or leave the Flintshire County Council area without a reasonable excuse
  • people will no longer be able to form, or be in, an extended household (sometimes called a “bubble”)
  • this means meeting indoors with anyone who is not part of your household (people you live with) is not allowed at the moment, unless you have a good reason, such as providing care to a vulnerable person
  • all licensed premises have to stop serving alcohol at 10pm
  • people must work from home wherever possible

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* The restrictions are being introduced following a sharp and rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Flintshire area.

* You can leave the area if you have a “reasonable excuse” to do so – this includes going to work where you cannot work from home, or using public services that are not available locally. It also includes leaving your local area to visit family or close friends on compassionate grounds if necessary.

* If you live in Flintshire but the closest shops to you are in Cheshire, you are able to buy essential items if you can’t reasonably be expected to do this inside the area or get them delivered.

* If you live just outside Flintshire but the nearest shops and other facilities to me are inside Flintshire, you can use them for essential items if there is no reasonable alternative.

* You are able to get essential goods from outside your area  if you can’t reasonably be expected to do this within the area or get them delivered.  But in other cases you must stay within the area. Travelling outside of Flintshire to go to a clothes shop, for example, is not allowed.

Shocking increase of coronavirus cases over 48 hours in Nottinghamshire – Nottinghamshire Live

Last Updated on September 30, 2020 by

Another 270 people have tested positive for coronavirus across Nottinghamshire during the last 48 hours.

The latest data from Public Health England today (September 30) also shows the total number of UK cases has risen by 7,108 in the same time period.

The UK’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic is now 453,264.

There have been 71 more deaths recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the UK total to 42,143.

There have been no new deaths recorded in Nottinghamshire.

The latest Government figures show Nottingham has now recorded 1,945 positive tests – representing an increase of 111 cases within the boundaries of the city in 48 hours.

Elsewhere, outside of the city, a total of 4,441 positive tests have now been recorded across Nottinghamshire – an increase of 241 in 48 hours.

Across the districts and boroughs of the county the biggest increase was in Nottingham, which saw 111 new cases, followed by Newark and Sherwood which recorded 56.

This is the latest current breakdown of confirmed infections for each part of Nottinghamshire region:

  • Ashfield – 782 ( increase of 17 )
  • Bassetlaw  – 745 ( increase of 18 )
  • Broxtowe – 660 ( increase of 15 )
  • Gedling – 513 ( increase of 18 )
  • Mansfield  – 520 ( increase of 13 )
  • Newark and Sherwood – 629 (  increase of 56 )
  • Nottingham – 1,945 ( increase of 111 )
  • Rushcliffe – 592 ( increase of 22 )

Put your postcode in to see how many cases there have been near you in the last seven days

Meanwhile, the Cabinet has been updated on the preparations which are underway for winter amid a second wave of coronavirus, including the use of Nightingale hospitals, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM said we took swift and decisive action last Tuesday, announcing a package of measures designed to stem the spread of the virus, whilst protecting education and the economy. These are all now in force.

“The PM said the impact of last week’s measures will not be immediate. He said the rise in daily infections and tragic increase in the number of daily deaths shows the importance of everyone continuing to follow the rules.

“Cabinet received an update on the work that is taking place across the Government to prepare for winter, including an additional £3 billion to ensure Nightingale hospital surge capacity will be available and independent hospitals can be used to help meet demand.”

Downing Street said the funding was not new and was announced in the summer.