Covid-19 – How British science came to the rescue | Britain

ON FEBRUARY 28TH last year Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor, sent an email to Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, a medical-research charity. At the end, as an aside, he added a question: was anyone thinking about randomised trials for covid-19 treatment? “Because if we don’t, then lots of drugs will get thrown at lots of patients,” Dr Landray recalls writing, “and we will be none the wiser about whether any of them work or don’t, or are even causing harm.”

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In less than a fortnight a protocol was ready. In less than three weeks patients had been recruited. In less than four months the trial had found the first successful treatment for covid-19: a cheap steroid called dexamethasone (which one estimate finds has so far saved 650,000 lives across the world). In less than a year it had found another, tocilizumab, and ruled out four more, including hydroxychloroquine, a drug promoted by Donald Trump.

Britain’s scientific response to the pandemic has been a mirror image of its political one. Although the government’s scientific advisers share blame for the original sin—the delayed response in March—they have since run a world-leading campaign. Alongside vast clinical trials, the country has been home to most of the world’s genetic sequencing, the development of a successful jab and its fast roll-out. Elite institutions, streamlined regulation and big datasets are a potent combination—as, it turns out, are close links between business, academia and government.

It is not hard to find evidence for the importance of path dependency. Most sequencing is done at the Wellcome Sanger Institute (named after Frederick Sanger, twice winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry); a vaccine was discovered at Oxford’s Jenner Institute (named after Edward Jenner, inventor of vaccination). As well as four excellent life-science universities, the country is home to deep-pocketed charities (the Wellcome Trust disburses more than £1bn, or $1.6bn, a year) and two big pharmaceutical firms (GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, which was recruited to manufacture Oxford’s vaccine).

Compared with other rich countries, the British state spends little on research and development. But what it does spend is concentrated on health (see chart)—which is in turn concentrated in leading institutions. Over half of government and charity spending on biomedical research goes to just three places: Oxford, Cambridge and west London (home to Imperial College London). British science is less hierarchical than much of Europe and more cosmopolitan. Researchers are enthusiastic international collaborators, working across borders more often than peers in America.

Recent governments have been keen to turn this powerful research base into jobs. Britain struggles to produce the big biotech firms that flourish in America thanks to the mix of funding, agglomeration and venture capital found in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. So in 2014 David Cameron set up the Office for Life Sciences, which sits between the business and health departments. “The thesis was that investment in life sciences is particularly effective,” says Nicole Mather, its first director, now at IBM, “because not only do you create jobs, but the NHS can also benefit from the products that are developed.” Three years later Theresa May’s industrial strategy put life sciences front and centre.

This focus on life sciences has delivered some concrete benefits. The Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Harwell, Oxfordshire—a collaboration between three universities and two pharmaceutical firms—will soon churn out doses. But it also offers more subtle ones. As Stian Westlake, a former adviser to three science ministers, puts it: “If you tested every government on how well they understood life sciences, I bet the UK would score well.”

Sir John Bell, Oxford’s regius professor of medicine who led the life-sciences industrial strategy, is a regular in Downing Street. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, was hired from GlaxoSmithKline. Kate Bingham, who led the vaccine taskforce, is a venture capitalist. Below them are civil servants with commercial experience. “Ten years ago people would have said, ‘The Americans are really good at people coming in and out of government from either science or industry’,” says a minister. “Well, we’ve now got that.”

The government has deferred to this expertise. Ms Bingham was given the freedom needed to strike deals. Sir Patrick was given a “fight fund”, which supported Dr Landray’s RECOVERY trial and COG-UK, a group of academics responsible for genetic sequencing. “Before we even met he was saying, ‘sequencing is important,’” says Sharon Peacock, who runs COG-UK. “And then by the time we met and got an application, they were ready to fund it very, very quickly.” Funding councils slashed approval times, working through the night, and created a single approval process to avoid duplication.

The ability to move quickly was particularly important to the RECOVERY trial. The World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency also stressed the need for big clinical trials. The difference, Dr Landray says, is that his team got in early: before the first wave had hit and treatment was set in stone. Britain’s chief medical officers wrote to every hospital urging them to take part, which they did.

“With vaccine development you can tell your classic great-man-of-history, out-there-creative-genius story,” says a funding-council director. RECOVERY, though, “was modern science, this was distributed, this was interdisciplinary, it was across lots of institutions and you had public engagement, you had volunteers.” The paper on dexamethasone in the New England Journal of Medicine was authored by the “RECOVERY Collaborative Group”; an appendix credits hundreds of researchers. COG-UK is another broad effort.

RECOVERY made use of something the NHS has long promised, but rarely delivered: patient data. The health service collects gallons of the stuff. But it is balkanised, leaving researchers hamstrung by data-sharing rules and interoperability problems. The government eased these rules, enabling both the RECOVERY trial and the OpenSAFELY one, which studied covid-19’s demographic impact. When the PRINCIPLE trial, which looks at pre-hospital treatment, was struggling to recruit, researchers teamed up with the test-and-trace system to bring in patients. Health Data Research UK, an outfit set up along with the industrial strategy, helped smooth data transfer for RECOVERY and COG-UK.

Ms Bingham has said that the pitch to pharmaceutical firms was that Britain could offer manufacturing, packaging and distribution, along with clinical trials. The country had little manufacturing capacity pre-pandemic—just two vaccine factories—but the UK BioIndustry Association, a trade group, was quick to find facilities that could be converted. Capacity has grown through the year, with firms lured by Ms Bingham’s offer, and will be further boosted by the VMIC in the autumn.

Much of this work has been aided by something less desirable: plenty of patients. As the funding-council director notes: “You can’t run a clinical trial in Taiwan or in New Zealand.” Similarly, the civil service’s early bumbling inspired the establishment of the vaccines and therapeutics taskforces.

Luck played a part, too. “If what happened at the start of 2020 was a coronal mass ejection that had knocked out the entire technology stack, we would probably be saying, ‘Goodness, if only we had more electrical engineers,’” says Mr Westlake. But the advantage of funding excellent research is that when a crisis hits, the government is more likely to have experts to hand. And as the example of covid-19 shows that is worth quite a lot.

Dig deeper

All our stories relating to the pandemic and the vaccines can be found on our coronavirus hub. You can also listen to The Jab, our new podcast on the race between injections and infections, and find trackers showing the global roll-out of vaccines, excess deaths by country and the virus’s spread across Europe and America.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “How life sciences came to the rescue”

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Italy 10-41 Ireland LIVE: Six Nations 2021 latest rugby score updates and match stream today

Back-to-back defeats mean Ireland face a tall order to replicate their “average return” of a third-place finish in the Six Nations last year.

They are resounding favourites to win at Stadio Olimpico and only a convincing victory coupled with an accomplished display is likely to prevent further scrutiny of progress under Andy Farrell.

The head coach has repeatedly expressed satisfaction at what he has seen away from the cameras and insists pressure makes him “feel alive”. Given recent results and the level of opposition, a first away success of his short tenure is a must.

Italy’s Six Nations losing streak – stretching back six years – is in danger of being extended to 30 games this weekend. Azzurri head coach Franco Smith has named an unchanged side after being competitive in defeat to defending champions England last time out but their wretched run remains a blight on the Championship.

While there have been calls for the introduction of promotion and relegation into the tournament via a play-off game, Farrell feels the Italians deserve to retain their place, pointing to the progress being made under South African Smith. There are plenty who disagree.

Follow the match LIVE with Standard Sport below…

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Live updates


83min: That’s your lot! A fistpump by Sexton to finish the day.


82min: Sexton converts. 100% conversion rate for him today.


81min: …and that does it! Earls gets no.6 in added time.


77min: A big spell of pressure and possession from Italy but it comes to nothing as they approach the 10-metre line.


73min: Ireland scum on the halfway line… and again it collapses. Very poor today.


69min: No it’s not! Forward pass in the build-up.



69min: That’s number SIX! Lowe with it.


67min: Sexton doesn’t miss.



66min: This one counts! Connors drives over.

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Punk icon Poly Styrene remembered by her daughter in documentary – Channel 4 News

She exploded on to the punk scene defying all convention. Poly Styrene was a trailblazer, a black woman singing about identity and oppression in the late 70s.

Her first hit in the band  X-Ray Spex, ‘Oh Bondage up Yours’, was banned by the BBC.

Her life is now the subject of a documentary, ‘I am a Cliche’, pieced together by her daughter 10 years after she died – much of the discrimination, mysogyny and racism Polystyrene confronted resonating today.

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Andy Capp – 27th February 2021

Andy Capp has been a favourite part of the Daily Mirror since 1957. Enjoy the adventures of Andy Capp and wife Flo every day.

See previous Andy Capp’s or visit his Facebook page.

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EU edges closer to vaccine passport but says travel curbs will stay for months

VisitBritain has announced that tourism businesses in the UK registered to the ‘We’re Good To Go’ scheme, which assured visitors of a safe visit last year, will now be automatically awarded an international ‘Safe Travels’ stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

The stamp means destinations meet international health and hygiene protocols and will aid the recovery of UK tourism, especially following any future reopening of borders to foreign visitors. 

“The globally recognised stamp enables both business and leisure travellers to distinguish destinations around the world which have adopted health and hygiene global standardised protocols – so they can experience ‘Safe Travels’, and VisitBritain’s adoption will help to restore consumer confidence,” said Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the WTTC.

More than 44,000 businesses across the UK are registered with the ‘We’re Good To Go’ scheme.

“We are delighted that businesses certified to We’re Good To Go can also automatically register for the WTTC’s global Safe Travels stamp, recognising the standard of protocols and processes we have in place in the UK. This is also testament to the hard work and commitment of tens of thousands of businesses right across the country who have adapted and innovated to safely meet new ways of working and are already ‘good to go’,” said Sally Balcombe, CEO of VisitBritain.

“This international stamp sitting alongside our We’re Good To Go mark also serves to reinforce that ‘ring of confidence’ for visitors that UK tourism businesses, attractions and destinations have clear processes in place to welcome them back safely as travel restrictions can be lifted.”

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Scotland – The feud within the Scottish National Party | Britain

ALEX SALMOND and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, turned the Scottish National Party from a fringe cause into a ruthless election-winner that reduced the Scottish Labour Party to a rump and in a referendum in 2014 came close to fulfilling its aim of breaking up the United Kingdom. It may yet succeed: independence leads in the polls. If it fails, the feud in which it is now locked may be partly to blame.

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On February 22nd, Mr Salmond’s evidence to a committee of lawmakers was published. In it, he claimed that Ms Sturgeon’s inner circle ran a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort” to damage his reputation “even to the extent of having me imprisoned”. Ms Sturgeon, he says, misled the Scottish Parliament and broke the ministerial code, which would be grounds for resignation. She calls it a conspiracy theory.

In January 2018, in the wake of #MeToo movement, the Scottish government received two complaints of sexual misconduct against Mr Salmond, dating back to his tenure as First Minister. It upheld them. Mr Salmond sued and in January 2019 won. The judge called the probe “tainted with apparent bias”.

Later that month, police charged Mr Salmond with 14 offences against ten women, including attempted rape and sexual assault. In his trial, the court heard that there was an informal policy of not letting women civil servants work in his residence alone at night; his defence portrayed him as a “tactile, touchy-feely” man who in a “victims’ world” had been branded a criminal. He was acquitted.

He is now seeking revenge. A committee of the Scottish Parliament is investigating how Ms Sturgeon’s government handled complaints, and an inquiry by James Hamilton, a lawyer, is examining whether she breached the ministerial code.

The #MeToo movement has exposed flaws in every organisation it has touched. In the SNP’s case, the closeness of those who have dedicated themselves to independence makes the feuding especially vicious. Mr Salmond served as leader for a total of 20 years. Ms Sturgeon, his deputy for a decade, first met him as a teenage volunteer. Peter Murrell, her husband, whom Mr Salmond identifies as a major plotter, was his bag carrier and is now the party’s chief executive. Such intimacy, once an SNP strength, has become a liability: dirt accumulates and resentments brew. The battle deepens policy rifts, over trans rights and when to hold a second referendum.

The charge that Ms Sturgeon knew more about Mr Salmond than she admits has stuck, because she is so dominant in her party and takes personal control of so much government business. “This government has been very much a centraliser. Under Nicola Sturgeon, the cabinet just rubber-stamps things,” says James Mitchell, professor of public policy at the University of Edinburgh. A Sturgeon loyalist blames a dearth of talent. “It’s the same under Nicola as it was under Alex—a very small group of the smartest people run the show and, you know what? We’ve won a lot of elections that way.”

The Scottish civil service has emerged looking weak. Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, has apologised for the first botched probe. She and Ms Sturgeon are accused of pushing on with the subsequent doomed legal action. Lawmakers have found her evidence evasive and forgetful. The impression is of a machine that lacked the grip to handle complaints, and in which party and government business were too easily blurred.

The Scottish Parliament has also been embarrassed. The committee inquiry, chaired by an SNP lawmaker, has been chaotic: appearances by Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon have been repeatedly delayed amid tussles over evidence. Having published Mr Salmond’s accusations against Ms Sturgeon’s circle, the committee retracted and redacted his statement at the request of the public prosecutor.

Farce feeds conspiracism, which is rampant among nationalists. Mr Salmond’s case is that the internal probe was not merely bungled by officials determined to rise to the challenge of the #MeToo moment, but that it was a state hit-job. His backers speak of “dark forces” and MI5. The women concerned have been identified and hounded online. Rape Crisis Scotland, a charity, says the fracas may discourage women from making complaints against powerful men.

Ms Sturgeon will survive. She has no clear successor. An SNP hand reckons support for independence would drop by ten points if she went. But the party will be damaged. In May’s elections, she will seek a mandate for a second independence referendum, and ask Scots to believe her government is ready for divorce negotiations of remarkable complexity with the British government. It is a lot to ask.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Feuding nationalists”

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Coronavirus has made UK look ‘dysfunctional,’ Gordon Brown says


he coronavirus crisis has made the UK look “dysfunctional” at times due to a lack of co-operation between administrations, Gordon Brown has said.

In an article on devolution for the Scottish Fabians think tank, the former prime minister also said Boris Johnson risks becoming the “biggest recruiting sergeant for nationalism”.

Mr Brown authored part of a report for the Scottish Fabians which was released on Friday ahead of the results of the Scottish Labour leadership election.

The report said the Labour Party, in Scotland and across the UK, must find a way to articulate the purpose of the United Kingdom.

In a section of the report titled “state of the nation”, Mr Brown accuses Mr Johnson of undermining devolution with the post-Brexit Internal Market Act.

Mr Brown said: “If he continues in this manner, Boris Johnson risks becoming the biggest recruiting sergeant for nationalism and will lose any hope of persuading Scotland’s undecided voters to stay with the UK.”

He also said administrations around the UK had failed to work together through joint ministerial committees.

Mr Brown continued: “Co-operation during the pandemic has faltered with too many people having to pay the price for the absence of joined-up decision-making.

“At times Britain has looked like a dysfunctional state.

“While Scotland’s First Minister has attended some Cobra meetings on the pandemic there is no regular consultation between her and the Prime Minister.

“Instead, because of a failure to co-ordinate the machinery of government we are at the mercy of ad-hoc initiatives and informal conversations.

“This cannot be the basis of how two administrations work together.”

The former prime minister also said promises made by both the Conservatives and the SNP in their Growth Commission – the party’s economic blueprint for an independent Scotland – were “out of date” given recent events.

He called for new citizens’ assemblies and investigative committees of parliamentarians to look into claims made by both sides of the independence debate.

Mr Brown said: “Some may say that it is naive to think partisan MPs and MSPs can be trusted to provide a fair assessment, but if our newspapers and media do their job, and if the eyes of pressure groups and the general public are upon these investigations, such public scrutiny will force out the answers we need.

“They will compel our institutions to be fully accountable and will judge them harshly if they dodge the facts.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “We have been working closely with the devolved administrations at every stage of the pandemic – from providing business support, to rolling out the vaccine programme which has been an extraordinary success right across the UK.

“The Union is at the heart of everything the Government does and we are committed to delivering for all parts of the UK.”

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‘The problem is because people worship celebrities… but we are humans too’- Ghetts on cancel culture – Channel 4 News

The organisers of the Leeds and Reading music festivals have said that the two August bank holiday events will go ahead this year after the government spelled out England’s roadmap out of lockdown.

One of the last artists to perform at a major venue in England before lockdown was grime music pioneer Ghetts.

He has teamed up with musicians as diverse as Stormzy, Emeli Sande and Ed Sheeran to create his new critically acclaimed album Conflict of Interest, which is heading for the top of the charts.

We went along to meet one of UK hip-hop’s biggest guns.

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Ex-Corrie’s Lucien Laviscount unrecognisable after body transformation with 6-pack

Lucien Laviscount has completely transformed his body since his Coronation Street days.

The former soap hunk, 28, is now the proud owner of rippling muscles and a six-pack, and is now sporting a stylish bit of stubble.

He is best known for playing Sophie Webster’s church-going boyfriend Ben Richardson in Corrie, but he also starred as Jonah Kirby in BBC drama Waterloo Road and did a stint on Celebrity Big Brother in 2011, in which he famously flirted with Kerry Katona.

Taking to his Instagram account on Wednesday, Lucien posted a picture of his ripped physique and completely stunned his celebrity followers.

Lucien Laviscount has completely transformed his body since his Coronation Street days

Lucien as Ben Richardson in Corrie with Kym Marsh as Michelle Connor
Lucien as Ben Richardson in Corrie with Kym Marsh as Michelle Connor

In the photo, Lucien posed in nothing but a pair of black swimming trunks as he leaned against a brick wall.

He looked away from the camera and pulled a pout as he amped up the sexiness.

Lucien’s muscles were on full display, proving that he’s been hitting the home workouts hard.

His new body sent his celebrity friends wild
His new body sent his celebrity friends wild

In the caption, Lucien celebrated the news that lockdown will be lifted by the summer.

“June 21st yeah… Let’s be avin ya!!!” he wrote.

But his famous followers were more concerned with his hunky figure, with Example writing: “Damn bro. Didn’t know I had these feels.”

Lucien as Jonah Kirby in BBC drama Waterloo Road
Lucien as Jonah Kirby in BBC drama Waterloo Road

“Dreamboat,” James Haskell wrote.

Aston Merrygold said: “Haaa.. tell people u go gym without telling people u go gym.”

“Pow,” Anthony Quinlan wrote alongside explosion and fist bump emojis.

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School days ‘will not be longer’ says Gavin Williamson

The Education Secretary has ruled out lengthening school days and promised not to be “timid in terms of our aspirations” when getting children to catch up on the schooling they have missed. At a Downing Street press conference, Gavin Williamson also confirmed there will be “no algorithms whatsoever” in this summer’s exam results, adding it will be “firmly in the hands of teachers”. Mr Williamson also said:

However, there was a warning for grandparents from Dr Jenny Harries, England’s chief deputy medical officer. She urged pupils “not to go hugging them too much”, even if they have been tested at school until the impact of the vaccine rollout is fully understood. It is worth reading this from Telegraph readers debating face masks in schools.

Meanwhile, at least 150,000 more people with learning disabilities will be prioritised for a Covid vaccine, officials have announced following a campaign by Jo Whiley. The BBC DJ said it was a “seismic day” after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended that all patients on the GP Learning Disability Register should be called forward, after conceding limitations in the GP system. Details here.

Woods was ‘agitated’ ahead of car crash, says witness

Tiger Woods almost hit another car and was “agitated and impatient” before his near-fatal crash in the outskirts of LA, according to a witness. Oliver Konteh, a fellow guest at the five-star resort where Woods was staying, said he saw the golfing legend in the carpark at 7am, shortly before he was meant to be at the Rolling Hill Country Club. Mr Konteh, part of a film crew at the resort, claims Woods grew frustrated as he waited for a vehicle blocking his exit to unload luggage, according to American news site TMZ. Read on for details and here is everything we know about the crash and the 15-time major winner’s recovery.

In pictures: How lockdown emptied the world

It’s hard to fathom that, just over a year ago, we would stand elbow-to-elbow with our fellow humans, without a second thought as to whether they might infect us with a highly contagious disease called Covid-19. Every February, revellers would take to the streets in Venice, wearing masks for fun, rather than to prevent infection. In spring, thousands of marathon runners would trample the streets in London, while on Easter Sundays the Pope would address the masses in St Peter’s Square. In this series of photographs, Greg Dickinson look at how, over 12 months, the pandemic has transformed some of the world’s busiest sights.

At a glance: More coronavirus headlines

Also in the news: Today’s other headlines

SNP civil war | Alex Salmond has been invited to give evidence on Friday to the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s botched investigation of him. Nicola Sturgeon has insisted it is “downright wrong” to suggest the Crown Office’s intervention in the redaction of Mr Salmond’s evidence to the inquiry was politically influenced. Tom Harris analyses how Scottish voters may yet punish Mrs Sturgeon for her handling of the affair and Adam Tompkins sets out why Holyrood caving in to the Crown Office over the evidence is an historic mistake.

Around the world: Myanmar protests turn on China

The chorus of banging pots and pans begins in Chinatown at about 8pm. The district in Myanmar’s commercial city of Yangon is normally festooned with bright red lanterns to celebrate Chinese New Year. But when the Year of the Ox arrived in mid-February, the usual festive atmosphere was gone – replaced by tension. Read how swelling ranks of young ethnic Chinese protesters are joining mass rallies against the brutal junta that abruptly deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

Wednesday big-read

Is the electric vehicle bubble starting to burst?

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