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PM’s Operation Moonshot plan ‘can be done’, says Chinese company behind new 30-minute COVID-19 test | World News

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Boris Johnson’s moonshot testing programme “can be done”, according to a Chinese company which has developed a new 30-minute COVID-19 test.

The firm’s founder told Sky News it could provide the capacity to test one million people in the UK each day within a month.

Sabrina Li, the founder and chief executive of biotech company Coyote, said: “If Boris Johnson calls me, I’d say; ‘Hi Boris, we are ready to help the UK’.

“I think we have the best technology and we are definitely willing to help.”

A Chinese company has developed a new 30-minute COVID test
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The company demonstrated the test at its lab in Beijing

At the end of July, Coyote won approval in China for its rapid testing instrument, which it believes to be the fastest polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in the world.

The company demonstrated the test to Sky News at its lab in Beijing, with results produced in half an hour and delivered to a phone a few minutes later.

Around 500 units are now being used in hospitals and airports across China.

A Chinese company has developed a new 30-minute COVID test
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The results of the COVID-19 test can be delivered to a phone within minutes

During recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Beijing, Dalian and Urumqi this summer, it carried out 500,000 tests as part of its validation process.

Ms Li said: “For this kind of new test, everyone will have doubts. Is it precise or good enough?

“Although it’s quick, is it good enough? So we keep answering this kind of question to the professionals and the experts and then finally we pass [the Chinese government’s] test.”

Sabrina Li is the founder and chief executive of biotech company Coyote
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Sabrina Li is the founder and chief executive of biotech company Coyote

Ms Li said that the rapid test meets the same standards for sensitivity and specificity as slower tests.

The 30-minute test is not designed to replace less rapid, mass testing, which is required to chart the spread of COVID-19 through a population and doesn’t depend on a quick turnaround.

But rapid testing has applications in time critical situations like hospitals and border control.

Ms Li said: “The point of care tests like the 30 minute test is; let’s say if you got to the hospital and there is an emergency for the patient, they want to go to the ICU or even to operation very, very soon, then you need that short period of time to get that COVID-19 negative result, so that the nurses and doctors won’t get infected.”

A combination of slow and rapid testing means it’s feasible to test 10 million people per day in the UK, one of the reported goals of the UK government’s Operation Moonshot.



Boris Johnson Downing presser







Ambition for ‘millions’ of tests per day

“It requires a lot of equipment,” Ms Li told Sky News. “But it can be done.”

If 10 swab samples are batched together in one tube – an approved method in China – 500 Coyote machines could provide 2,000 30-minute tests per day, meaning one million daily tests.

The technology is also relatively simple to operate compared to more traditional PCR tests, which could take pressure off UK testing facilities currently under strain.

A Chinese company has developed a new 30-minute COVID test
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The rapid tests can be used in time critical situations such as hospitals and border control


Ms Li said: “For our test you can just train a nurse, even a layman to do it, and it’s very simple to operate.

“After training for maybe half an hour, you could operate it.”

Two machines are currently being validated in the UK through its Hong Kong-based partner, Prenetics, which is also carrying out COVID-19 testing for the Premier League.

Coyote expects approval by the end of the month.

Ms Li said Prenetics is speaking to FIFA about using the machine for the 2022 World Cup.



Boris Johnson Downing presser







Ambition for ‘millions’ of tests per day

The company can currently produce 500 units per month at its Beijing facility and is aiming to increase capacity to 1,000 per month by the end of the year.

Ms Li added: “For this kind of instrument it actually has all these different controls – electrical, thermal, optical. And also biochemical reactions.

“It’s not as simple as a cell phone, so it’s not at that scale. It’s a medical device, a very complex medical device.”

Each instrument costs 350,000RMB, approximately £40,000.

Demand is high and the machines are currently sold out. But the Chinese government is providing support, including increased access to materials and components.

Ms Li said: “They are helping to increase our ability to manufacture, so that we can not only provide China or the Chinese people, we can provide our technology worldwide.”

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Venezuela goes to court over £800m of gold held by Bank of England | UK News

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Nearly a billion pounds’ worth of Venezuela’s gold being held by the Bank of England will be the subject of a landmark legal case over who the UK government recognises as the country’s leader.

Ownership of the horde will be decided at the Court of Appeal in a case brought by Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV), the Socialist-run country’s central bank.

BCV’s board, which was appointed by Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, launched legal action earlier this year in an effort to release the gold held on its behalf.

maduro
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Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro

The hearing starting on Tuesday will see it challenging a High Court ruling in July that the UK government has “unequivocally recognised” opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president.

The bank has pledged to sell the bullion to buy “healthcare equipment, medicines and basic foodstuffs” from the United Nations Development programme (UNDP) to help tackle the South American nation’s coronavirus outbreak, it says.

BCV board solicitor Sarosh Zaiwalla said in a statement: “This case raises a number of issues of public international law, which forbids the interference by any country in the internal affairs of another sovereign nation.

“The outcome in this case could present a further threat to the international perception of English institutions as being free from political interference, as well as the Bank of England’s reputation abroad as a safe repository for sovereign assets.

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“Mr Maduro’s government remains in sole, undisputed control of Venezuela’s instruments of state and health system.”

The Bank of England said it is “caught in the middle” of rival claims to the gold, from the BCV board appointed by Mr Maduro and an “ad hoc” board appointed by Mr Guaido.

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido
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Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido

At a three-day hearing, lawyers representing the “Maduro board” of the BCV will attempt to overturn the High Court’s ruling.

Mr Maduro, who became president of Venezuela in 2013, was sworn in for a second term last year amid claims of vote-rigging in the 2018 election, which was boycotted by opposition parties.

Mr Guaido declared himself acting president in January 2019 and, a month later, then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK recognised Mr Guaido as “the constitutional interim president of Venezuela until credible presidential elections can be held”.

Lawyers representing the “Guaido board” of the BCV argued the UK government “has decided to recognise Juan Guaido as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela and has denounced the ‘illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime’.”

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Rescuers battling to save 270 whales stranded off Australian coast | World News

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Rescuers in Australia say conditions are in their favour as they try to save around 270 whales stranded in one of the country’s worst beaching events.

The pilot whales are stuck in shallow water on a sandbar off the remote west coast of the Australian island of Tasmania.

Australian government scientists estimate about 90 of the animals have died.

'A bit of grunt from specialised crew' will be needed, experts say
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‘A bit of grunt from specialised crew’ will be needed, experts say

Around 40 government scientists, 20 police officers, and local fish farmers and volunteers are involved in the rescue attempt.

As the attempt to refloat the whales got under way, prevailing wet, cool conditions, rough waters and the remote location helped their chances of success, officials said.

Kris Carlyon, a wildlife biologist with the state government, said: “It’s pretty ugly out there for people on the ground, but as far as the whales go it’s ideal. If the conditions stay the same they can survive quite a few days.”

But the choppy seas also made it the hardest rescue they had faced, experts said, given the labour-intensive nature of the task.

Pilot whales are a species of oceanic dolphin that grow to seven metres (23ft) long and can weigh up to three tonnes.

Around 90 of the 270 stranded whales have died, scientists say
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Around 90 of the stranded whales have died, scientists say

Drawing them back out to sea can include physically pushing the animals or using specialised tarpaulins and pontoons to drag them to deeper water. Rescuers try to keep the whales upright to avoid disorientation.

Aerial footage showed large numbers of the whales largely prone on a wide sandbar at Macquarie Harbour, about 120 miles (200km) northwest of the state capital Hobart, while others floundered in slightly deeper water.

Mr Carlyon said: “We’ve got animals that are semi-buoyant, so it probably won’t take too much to refloat those animals closer to the deeper water, and will involve just a bit of grunt from specialised crew in the water.”

Scientists do not know why whales, which travel together in pods, sometimes beach themselves but they are known to follow a leader, as well as gather around an injured or distressed whale.

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Arctic ice melts to second lowest summer level on record | World News

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Arctic sea ice has melted to its second lowest level on record as a result of heat waves and forest fires, scientists have said.

On 15 September, ice in the Arctic Ocean measured 1.44 million square miles (3.74 million square kilometres), the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said.

This is the second lowest summer melt since satellite records began in 1979.

The only time it has ever been lower before the ice refreezes for the autumn was in 2012, according to NSIDC monitoring.

Forest fires in Siberia have contributed to the melting of ice in the Arctic
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Forest fires in Siberia have contributed to the melting of ice in the Arctic

This year’s ice conditions come after a “crazy” stint of heat waves in neighbouring Siberia, which resulted in mass forest fires across the region.

Mark Serreze, NSIDC director, said: “It’s been a crazy year up north, with sea ice at a near-record low, 100F (37.7C) heat waves in Siberia, and massive forest fires.

“The year 2020 will stand as an exclamation point on the downward trend in Arctic sea ice extent.

“We are headed towards a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean, and this year is another nail in the coffin.”

Ed Blockey, the Met Office’s scientific manager for polar climate, highlighted the significance of Arctic ice dropping below four million square kilometres.

Polar bear Svalbard Islands. File pic
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Polar bears are at risk from global warming. File pic

“The Arctic is one of the most vulnerable regions on Earth to climate change and warming here will have consequences both for the region and the planet as a whole,” he said.

Rod Downie, chief polar adviser at WWF, added that the Arctic was in “meltdown” and stressed the grave consequences this could have for the UK.

He said: “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.

“The UK is the Arctic’s closest neighbour and these extreme events affect us all, from changes in weather to increasing sea levels.”

“Iconic” species such as walrus and polar bears are also being put at risk, he added.

In light of the “sobering” data, environmentalists are calling on the UK government to up their climate commitments at the COP26 global conference in Glasgow next year.

Speaking from the edge of the sea ice, on board the Greenpeace Ship Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace campaigner Laura Meller urged officials to pledge to protect “at least 30% of our oceans by 2030”.

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