During his emergency briefing on Saturday evening, the Prime Minister tried to soften the blow of a second lockdown starting on Thursday 5 November by promising the nation that soon, it would be able to get results in “10 to 15 minutes” using “rapid turnaround” coronavirus tests. Today, The Guardian revealed that the tests Johnson mentioned are actually not approved for the public to interpret themselves without an expert’s help, meaning they will not provide results in the promised 15 minutes.
Johnson announced a mass rollout of “tests that you can use yourself to tell whether or not you are infectious and get the result within 10 to 15 minutes,” which would be made available at universities and across whole cities. He added that the army would be deployed to roll out the “many millions of cheap, reliable and above all rapid turnaround tests” everywhere they were needed.
If we have to go through another lockdown, the thought of finally having easy access to COVID-19 tests that would give results in a maximum of 15 minutes made things look less bleak—for me, at least. Looking at other countries who now have things under control, testing seems to be the number one (although temporary) solution. Well, too bad for us, the UK won’t be receiving any of that.
According to The Guardian, “three of these rapid antigen tests, called lateral flow tests, have passed an assessment by Porton Down with Oxford University. The government has bought one of them. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the government had signed a deal for 20 million, from the company Innova Tried and Tested, on 19 October.”
However, the Innova tests are not for people without symptoms, such as students or people simply wanting to get on a plane. They are designed for people who already have COVID symptoms. On top of that, the tests, which look like a pregnancy test, are meant to be read by a healthcare professional. The company itself states it clearly on its website that the tests analyse throat and nose swabs “from individuals who are suspected of COVID-19 by their healthcare provider, within the first five days of the onset of symptoms.”
The Prime Minister made it sound like he hopes the tests will help show the way out of the pandemic—and he almost had me too. They will be deployed in a wide range of situations, he said, “from helping women to have their partners with them in labour wards when they’re giving birth, to testing whole towns and even whole cities.”
“The army has been brought in to work on the logistics and the programme will begin in a matter of days, working with local communities, local government, public health directors and organisations of all kinds to help people discover whether or not they are infectious, and then immediately to get them to self-isolate and to stop the spread,” Johnson added during his briefing.
A matter of days will probably turn into weeks, months even. And while everyone agrees that lateral flow tests, which use either swab samples from the nose and mouth or saliva, have huge promise, the technology is still struggling to register low levels of virus. In other words, those tests may pick up people who are infected and have high virus levels and symptoms, but they tend to miss people who are asymptomatic, as many young and fit people are.
Until we reach mass testing (with the right tests), perhaps we should use this new lockdown to expand testing and fix contact tracing. Only then will we be able to contain the virus.
There are many conflicting opinions on whether the coronavirus pandemic is improving or aggravating our fight against the climate crisis. At first, people were quick to celebrate the lockdowns put in place in many countries—they meant less air traffic and impressive CO2 emission cuts. But as time went by, the media started changing its headlines. Despite the economic slowdown, greenhouse gases were still being emitted and recycling schemes put on hold. So, is COVID-19 having a positive or negative impact on climate change?
The widely-reported benefit of the pandemic has been cleaner air in countries such as China and some European countries. In a matter of months, transport networks and businesses have closed down, which resulted in a sudden drop in carbon emissions. A month ago, the BBC reported that “levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50 per cent compared with last year” because of the measures put into place in order to contain the virus.
Both China and Northern Italy have also recorded a decrease in nitrogen dioxide, an air pollutant that contributes to climate change. Energy use drastically dropped in China over a two week period. As many experts predicted that COVID-19 would impact CO2 levels for the whole of this year, things looked good for the planet and most people were glad to welcome this tiny bit of positive news. But as we’ve seen more recently, the pandemic has also had some serious negative consequences on climate change.
While people working from home means a decrease in overall emissions, it also results in an increase in electricity use and home heating and a surge in the amount of garbage produced by each household. People stuck at home are increasingly shopping online and ordering food to be delivered to their door, both of which come with a lot of packaging.
Shops and businesses that once preached the use of reusable bags and containers are now advising customers to switch to single-use packaging and bags despite the fact that single-use plastics can still harbour bacteria. At the beginning of March, Starbucks announced that it would temporarily ban the use of reusable cups in its coffee shops.
In other words, the plastic bag ban that was implemented in many countries is no longer being followed in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19, but also because people have ‘more important things’ on their minds right now.
As hospitals become overwhelmed with the increasing number of patients in need of care, the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) has in turn surged. As a result, COVID-19 is generating tons and tons of medical waste.
According to Bloomberg in The Unexpected Environmental Consequences of COVID-19, during the outbreak hospitals in Wuhan, where the pandemic first broke out, produced an average of over 200 tons of medical waste per day, up from its previous average of less than 50 tons.
With more plastic and medical waste being generated, countries have also decided to halt recycling programmes. In the US, some cities have done so as officials are worried about recycling centres potentially spreading the virus. In some European countries, waste disposal options have been paused indefinitely. Of course, the safety of sanitation workers should be our priority, but Italy went as far as banning any infected resident from sorting their waste at all.
Although it is true that the coronavirus outbreak has had one positive effect on our carbon emissions, it would be shortsighted to say that it will improve our environmental impact generally. After the financial crash of 2008 and 2009, global emissions dropped for a year because of the reduced industrial activity but quickly went back up as countries turned to fossil fuel for a quick and easy fix.
Right now, most of us are struggling to breathe as the planet is finally getting a breath of fresh air. And as twisted as it sounds, the worst is yet to come, environmentally-speaking. Once we start coming out of our houses again, the world will have to wake up to another problem: a garbage and recycling crisis.