Covid in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon plays down row over testing delays

Nicola Sturgeon has played down a row with the UK government over delays to Covid-19 tests in Scotland, saying she has no interest in a “war of words”.

Only 316 new cases of the virus were reported on Sunday – a dramatic drop from 1,167 on Saturday.

The Scottish government said this was due to tests being diverted from the UK government’s Lighthouse lab in Glasgow to other sites across the country.

The UK government spokeswoman insisted this was “categorically untrue”.

However Ms Sturgeon said the governments were “working very hard” to improve turnaround times for tests and did not disagree on the “substance” of the issue.

She said there were “intermittent frustrations” about the testing system, but said people should have confidence that it “does work”.

The number of positive tests registered jumped back to 993 on Monday, with the number of people in hospital also continuing to rise.

After the figures for Sunday bucked the recent trend, a post on the Scottish government website claimed that “demand from outwith Scotland” had caused a delay in test results coming back from the Lighthouse lab in Glasgow, with swabs being redirected elsewhere.

The UK government issued a response insisting there was “no capacity issue at the UK government’s Glasgow Lighthouse lab”, and that “rerouting tests to other laboratories is a routine practice to ensure timely processing”.

At her daily coronavirus briefing, the first minister said it was “not in anybody’s interest to have a war of words”.

She said: “We are working very hard with the UK government to ensure turnaround times, particularly for tests that are already taking longer than we would want, are as quick as possible.

“When I looked at the UK government statement I’m not sure they are denying or challenging the substance of what I am saying – it recognises that a large number of tests have been diverted to labs elsewhere in the UK.

“We hope that redirection will have stopped as of yesterday.”

Ms Sturgeon said tests from drive-through centres – which are usually taken by people who have symptoms and are thus more likely to return positive results – were among those diverted, which she said “might explain” why Sunday’s figures were “probably artificially low”.

Allan Wilson, who is president of the Institute of Biomedical Science, based at Monklands hospital in North Lanarkshire, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme the problem was that no one understood how the Lighthouse laboratories operate.

He said: “The issue we have with the Lighthouse lab is that there is a lack of transparency to what happens in that lab because it is not part of the NHS testing, it is delivered through the UK government and it is difficult to find out what the actual issues are until we actually hit problems like we just hit.

“They work as a network, so they move samples around the country if there are problems. That in itself increases turnaround time and delays results getting back. They did have an issue with staffing, certainly when staff returned to academic institutions, when universities started back, and we know they are actively recruiting.

“What we are calling for is more transparency. If the Lighthouse labs worked more in collaboration with the NHS labs we would be able to work between the two more easily and focus on those samples and results that are needed urgently.”

People across Scotland are currently banned from visiting other people’s homes, and tougher restrictions on licensed premises were introduced earlier this month.

Temporary measures in the central belt have led to the closure of pubs and restaurants in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Lothian, Forth Valley and Ayrshire and Arran NHS board areas.

Those living in these areas have been warned not to travel to other parts of Scotland or to areas in England where such restrictions are not in force.

These measures are due to expire on 26 October, to be replaced by a new “strategic framework” for suppressing the virus.

Ms Sturgeon is drawing up plans for a “three-tier framework” of alert levels which would trigger different restrictions, either on a local or national basis.

This will be set out at the end of the week, with MSPs set to debate and vote on the plans when Holyrood returns from the half term recess.

Ms Sturgeon said this was an “important step as we look ahead to winter”, which would be a “very challenging period”.

Baby born in lorry cab meets staff who saved her life

The family of a baby who stopped breathing shortly after being born at 26 weeks in a lorry have praised paramedics who helped save her.

Gemma Greensmith gave birth to daughter Raelyn outside her Staffordshire home in June.

“We got into my partner’s work lorry to go to hospital but didn’t make it off the street,” she said.

It quickly became obvious their daughter Raelyn was not breathing and the couple dialled 999.

“They talked us through how to do CPR on the phone,” Ms Greensmith said.

“We both did a bit – I was pumping with my thumb on her chest and my partner was blowing into her mouth.

“But she was so tiny, you couldn’t barely see her mouth.”

The 33-year-old from Cheadle said she was absolutely terrified, then “relieved beyond belief” when the ambulance arrived.

West Midlands Ambulance Service paramedics Kirsty Lockett and Jenine Cryle took over CPR, with the baby still attached to her mother.

The actions of the parents and paramedics proved decisive, doctors later revealed.

Raelyn was eventually discharged on 29 September after 110 days at the Royal Stoke University Hospital.

“While we were in hospital one of the consultants managed to keep in contact with the paramedics and keep them up-to-date with her progress, so it was amazing to see them outside when we were discharged,” Ms Greensmith said.

“I will never forget what they did and will always remember them.”

Paramedic Ms Lockett said “nothing will ever compare to the feeling of meeting Gemma and Raelyn and seeing them happy and healthy”.

Her colleague Ms Cryle described the outcome as “once in a life-time” and one of her “proudest moments”.

Deaths at home: More than 26,000 extra this year, ONS finds

More men than normal are dying at home from heart disease in England and Wales, and more women are dying from dementia and Alzheimer’s, figures show.

More than 26,000 extra deaths occurred in private homes this year, an analysis by the Office for National Statistics found.

In contrast, deaths in hospitals from these causes have been lower than usual.

The Covid epidemic may have led to fewer people being treated in hospital.

Or it may be that people in older age groups, who make up the majority of these deaths, are choosing to stay at home – but the underlying reasons for the figures are still not clear.

Between March and September 2020, there were 24,387 more deaths in England than expected in private homes, and 1,644 in Wales. The large majority did not involve Covid-19.

Of these, an extra 1,705 men died from heart disease at home in England – 25% more than normal.

In Wales there was a similar rise in men dying from heart disease at home, of 22.7%.

Over the same period, deaths in hospitals from heart disease went down by about a quarter in England and Wales.

During the pandemic, deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at home increased the most among women – with 1,400 more than normal.

While deaths from these conditions also rose in care homes, hospital deaths from dementia went down – by 40% in England, and 25% in Wales.

Compared with normal years, there have been more deaths at home from a number of major causes, including cancers and respiratory diseases, during the last six months.

The ONS figures show that deaths in private homes, hospitals and care homes were well above the five-year average during April and May, at the height of the UK epidemic.

Since then, deaths in care homes and hospitals have dropped to below normal levels and stayed there, but deaths in people’s homes have remained higher than usual.

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said that equated to an extra 100 people dying at home every day.

“Usually around 300 people die each day in their homes in England and Wales,” he commented.

“The latest ONS analysis confirms that even after the peak of the epidemic this has stayed at around 400 a day and shows no sign of declining. That’s one third extra, very few of which are from Covid.”

He suggested these deaths would normally have occurred in hospital.

“People have either been reluctant to go, discouraged from attending, or the services have been disrupted,” Prof Spiegelhalter added.

“It is unclear how many of these lives could have been extended had they gone to hospital, for example among the 450 extra deaths from cardiac arrhythmias.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK said the fact more people were dying from dementia in their own homes than ever before was “truly heartbreaking”.

“Many people say they would prefer to die at home, but we need to understand whether people with dementia are able to access the medical help they need during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said director of policy and public affairs, Samantha Benham-Hermetz.

“It’s likely that factors such as social isolation and people’s fear of coming forward to access the medial care they need has led to such a huge increase, which is why it’s more important than ever that people with dementia are not neglected.”

How smart devices are exploited for domestic abuse

The number of domestic abuse cases has increased dramatically since the UK’s Covid lockdown – and tech has played a role.

Smart speakers, tracking apps and key-logging software are among products that have made it easier for perpetrators to maintain control of victims and continue abuse.

Domestic-violence charity Refuge says more than 70% of those it provides support to have reported tech-related abuse within a relationship.

Two people who experienced abuse during the pandemic shared their stories with BBC Click.

They asked to remain anonymous for their own safety.

“When he left the house, that’s when I started to see that he was using the Ring doorbell camera to track me,” says Kate, who is using a pseudonym. She is referring to Amazon’s internet-connected security device. It triggers alerts when it detects motion in front of a home and allows live footage or recordings to be watched from afar.

“I could take the battery out of it if I wanted to, but I didn’t feel like I could because he would say to me, ‘You’re compromising our children’s safety’.

“I was worried that he would go to the police and try and suggest that I’m a bad mother.”

Another explained how her partner used Amazon’s virtual assistant to monitor her via a function that lets users remotely connect to enabled smart speakers and listen/speak via an intercom-like facility.

“He would set up all the accounts,” says Sue, who is also using an alias.

“He would set up family-sharing on things. There were various Alexa devices all over the property.

“He could drop in from outside or he could go to someone’s house and ring the Alexa when we were at home.”

Abuse experienced by men also increased during the pandemic.

The Respect Men’s Advice Line reports receiving 5,000 more calls during the start of the UK lockdown than in the same period the year before.

But women are still more likely to experience violence and harassment. Three-quarters of domestic abuse victims recorded by the police last year were female, according to the Office for National Statistics’ latest figures.

Dr Leonie Tanzer says she frequently comes across this issue of control in a study of gender and internet-of-things devices she is leading at University College London.

“The perpetrator, who very often tends to be male, is the person that purchases the device [and] maintains the device,” she explains.

“That gives that person a lot of control over both the environment they’re in but also the device admin settings.”

Both Sue and Kate’s experiences confirm this view.

‘We are all in this bubble in the house,” says Sue.

“Even when I leave, he can see my location through my [smart]watch, or my phone or my iPad or anything.

“I just realised how little control I had over mine and the kids’ life and how much he had. I had to get out.”

She says her partner locked her our of their shared Amazon account which had her credit-card details attached to it, giving him the ability to spend money she would then be obligated to cover – in effect a means of control.

“I rang up Amazon and I said I can’t take my cards off this account,” she recalls.

“They said, ‘Sorry, you just have to cancel your bank cards’.

“The companies should know what the products could be used for.”

A landmark domestic abuse bill aims to make it illegal to use modern technology to track or spy on partners or ex-partners.

The legislation, which covers England and Wales, includes a statutory definition of domestic abuse that recognises coercive or controlling behaviour involving smart technologies.

It gives police extra powers to respond to domestic abuse cases involving tech.

The law is expected to get Royal Assent in the next couple of months.

As with many areas of life, technology can also be used to offer solutions and help, to targets of abuse.

But Refuge warns that some of the apps on offer pose further risk of harm.

“We have seen many agencies develop apps for the sole purpose of protecting and offering support to victims of domestic abuse, but often these apps have clear failings and can in fact compromise victims’ safety, [for instance] features that disclose the victim’s location,” says the charity.

Many people are spending more time than ever at home as a result of the coronavirus, and that means more sharing of software and services.

So now, more than ever, Kate suggests, their developers need to think through what happens when relationships break up.

‘When you’re in a couple, that account is going to be registered to one email address,” she says,

“When something goes wrong, the person who is unable to use it can’t do anything about it. You can’t rectify anything or change the details.”

A team of security experts at IBM has considered how to minimise the risks of tech enabling domestic abuse.

It has devised a set of design principles to guide other device- and software-makers.

It believes the onus is too often on targets of abuse having to educate themselves rather than product-makers having to think through the consequences of their creations.

“We believe the burden of safety shouldn’t be on the shoulders of the end-user, and we felt it was important to shift at least some of that onus on to thoughtful designs,” IBM’s Lesley Nuttall tells BBC Click,

She says home devices, for example, could show alerts when they’re remotely activated and have a manual override.

“A lot of the smart devices are designed on the premise that all persons in the home are happy to share information with one another, but this happy scenario doesn’t recognise that there are many variations in family life,” she explains.

Family apps are used by many to monitor kids’ safety.

But by design they share a lot of information and can be misused in an abusive relationship.

“They share other pieces of information, such as battery level, which seems like a small innocuous piece of data,” Ms Nuttall says.

“But in the hands of an abuser, the victim can’t escape that barrage of abuse by simply switching off their phone, saying the battery has died.”

IBM also warns that perpetrators often send abusive messages via the reference descriptions given to low-value online bank transfers or gift notes added to internet shopping purchases.

“[There could be] intelligent monitoring of those free text fields to block abusive messages,” says Ms Nuttall.

“Banking transactions particularly can automatically flag ongoing patterns of small transactions for further investigation.”

She added that one bank in Australia was “horrified by the scale and the nature” of what it found when it looked into the issue, and has since taken action.

Illustrations by Katie Horwich

If you’ve been affected by any issues in this story you can find support via the BBC Action Line here.

Black History Month: Doncaster shows black miners films

Two documentaries charting the lives of black miners in the north of England are being shown to mark Black History Month.

Digging Deep and Skin and Coal will both be screened at Cast in Doncaster on Saturday.

Many men came from the Caribbean after World War Two and worked in collieries in Doncaster, Leeds and Nottingham.

Director Norma Gregory said the films portrayed “amazing people with poignant memories”.

Organiser Tim Brown of Doncaster African Caribbean Support Group was employed by director Claudine Booth in 1987 to help make Skin and Coal.

His father Lloyd Brown spoke in the film about equality and his worries for the future of young black people.

Mr Brown said he was “really proud” and “really appreciative” of the sacrifices his father, who died two years ago, made for the family.

“These men responded to the invitation to help rebuild England,” he said. “Mining was one of the industries which welcomed black men.”

More Yorkshire stories

In Digging Deep, from 2018, one miner said colour did not matter down the mine.

“When you’ve got coal dust all over… you couldn’t tell who was black and who was white until you had a shower, down there we was all equal.”

He added that everyone had to get on to be safe.

But in Skin and Coal, a miner’s wife recalled her child being bullied, thrown over a wall and “stoned” because he was mixed race.

And Stephen McIsaacs, 27 in the 1987 film, said the black miners “took some stick” and “just learned to get on with it”.

Calvin Williams described not having job prospects and said he intended to stop in the pit for a year “but I’ve been stuck there seven… we can’t use the skills we learnt at the pit to do anything else”.

By the 1990s most UK coal mines had closed.

Mr Brown and Ms Gregory said they wanted young people to make a follow-up film about the men’s lives after mining.

Coronavirus: Call for DUPs Edwin Poots to apologise

DUP minister Edwin Poots should apologise for saying coronavirus is more common in nationalist areas, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd has said.

Last week, Mr Poots said the difference in transmission between nationalist and unionist areas was “around six to one”.

He has also criticised new lockdown restrictions imposed by the executive to manage the virus.

Mr O’Dowd said his comments about virus levels in different council areas were a “disgrace” and should be withdrawn.

The Department of Health said it was vital to stress that Covid-19 represented “a threat to everyone in society, regardless of their background, and that it is spreading across the community” in Northern Ireland.

“For the record, data on Covid infections is not collected according to religious or political affiliation,” it added.

A further six Covid-19 related deaths have been reported in Northern Ireland by the Department of Health, bringing its total to 621.

The department also reported an additional 820 positive cases of the virus, meaning there have been 28,040.

There were 3,869 individuals tested in the previous 24 hours.

Mr O’Dowd’s comments came after Mr Poots, the agriculture minister, had spoken to UTV on Friday, openly criticising the imposition of the new regulations, which are in place for the next four weeks.

“I will abide by the regulations, as have most people in my community,” said Mr Poots.

“What I’m saying is, those people who didn’t abide by them, including the Sinn Féin leadership – because a lot of this started shortly after the Bobby Storey funeral.

“A lot of the problems started after that event, and people in that community saw the breaking of the rules.

“That’s why there is a difference between nationalist areas and unionist areas – and the difference is around six to one.”

The remarks have drawn criticism from other political parties at Stormont.

On Sunday, Mr Poots was defended by his party colleague, Education Minister Peter Weir, who said “people have a right to express their opinions”.

According to the latest Department of Health data, there are now 261 hospital inpatients being treated for Covid-19, compared to the peak of the first wave in April, when there were 322 people in hospital.

There are 29 people in intensive care, with 25 of them ventilated.

There are also 80 outbreaks of Covid-19 in care homes across Northern Ireland.

The Derry and Strabane area, which at one point had the worst infection rate in the UK, has seen numbers decrease and is now at 769.9 cases per 100,000 over a seven day period.

Health Minister Robin Swann appealed for members of the public not to become “distracted” and to adhere to public health messages on social distancing and reducing contacts.

“Unfortunately, the predictions that were made about the increase in cases and the consequences this will bring are coming true,” he said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “It is evident that the covid situation is deteriorating rapidly,” she said.

“The next four weeks are critical and we all need to work together to try and gain back some control.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme on Monday, Mr O’Dowd condemned the comments by Edwin Poots.

“His comments about the breakdown of the council areas and his hint that this is a Catholic problem is an absolute disgrace,” he said.

“(They are) comments that he should withdraw – and comments he should apologise for.”

Alliance MP and the party’s deputy leader, Stephen Farry, also called for an apology.

“People found it deeply offensive – the onus has to be on an apology,” he told Talkback.

“The DUP have an absolute lock on decision-making, nothing ever comes to the executive table or leaves it without the DUP’s full agreement, so people are scratching their heads as to how last Tuesday the DUP could be saying one thing in the executive and then seeing a key minister peeling off in that way.”

Mr O’Dowd also defended actions of his colleague, Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, after she called for all sporting events to be played behind closed doors.

The regulations do not prohibit spectators attending outdoor sporting events, and First Minister Arlene Foster tweeted that it was “preposterous” for sports clubs to be told anything to the contrary.

Mr O’Dowd said he believed Ms Ní Chuilín had taken “responsible action” by urging sports clubs to hold events without spectators.

“She wrote directly to sports clubs and she’ll be meeting them in the next few days to discuss this further,” he added.

“How the joint first ministers choose to respond is up to them – there are protocols and avenues in place for those discussions to take place other than on Twitter.”

Covid: England boosting plasma stocks for patients

NHS Blood and Transplant is boosting stocks of blood plasma for very ill coronavirus patients ahead of winter.

It wants more people who have recovered from Covid-19 to become donors.

Their plasma contains antibodies that are believed to help other sufferers fight the virus.

Fourteen new donation centres will open in November and December, to bring the total in England to 42. The blood plasma will be used to treat patients in Covid trials.

Mother-of-seven Ann Kitchen, from London, was the first person in the UK to get the treatment.

She was being treated for coronavirus in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital.

NHSBT says donations are urgently needed to confirm the benefit for patients, and then make the treatment available for general use in the NHS.

About 850 people have received the transfusions so far.

Trial results are expected before the end of the year.

Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said: “The use of convalescent plasma has shown promising results in treating coronavirus, and the opening of more donation centres is an important step towards getting this innovative treatment to more patients, if clinical trials demonstrate it should be available on the NHS.

“More donations are needed and everyone has a part to play in stopping this virus from harming our loved ones. I urge everyone who has had Covid-19 to come forward and donate – your contribution could save lives.”

Donating takes about 45 minutes and requires the insertion of a needle into the arm.

After your appointment, you can get on with your normal day and your body will naturally replace the plasma you have donated.

Geek Retreat: Retailer of all things geeky to open 100 new shops

From online fashion to grocery, only a handful of sectors have bucked the coronavirus downturn, and now it seems comics and gaming have joined the list.

Geek Retreat – which specialises in “all things geeky” including comics, memorabilia and table top games – says it will open another 100 stores over the next two years, at a time when the UK High Street is under pressure.

The Scottish firm currently has 14 UK sites, which combine retail space with cafes and areas to play games and hold events.

It said its Covid-safe plan would create around 600 new jobs.

“During the pandemic, while our gaming events have had to stop and the hospitality side of our business is more difficult, our stores still have loyal communities who support our retail side,” Geek Retreat boss Peter Dobson told the BBC.

“We have made sure all of our stores are welcoming and accessible to gamers whatever their interests, providing a place for our loyal customers to get out of the house and play safely post-lockdown.”

Countless High Street businesses had to close temporarily during lockdown, and many remain under pressure as shoppers minimise social contact.

However, Mr Dobson said Geek Retreat was benefitting from the growth of the wider games and hobby sector which is valued at £8bn a year in the UK and predicted to expand by 3% in 2020.

Earlier this year, miniature wargames manufacturer Games Workshop – which is best known for its Warhammer products -announced record sales and profits, and its shares were promoted to London’s FTSE 250 index.

Geek Retreat – founded in Glasgow in 2017 – stocks merchandise such as comics, posters, clothing, figures and memorabilia as well as games and trading cards.

It also specialises in various cult brands such as Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars and Harry Potter, while selling graphic novels and gaming accessories such as dice.

The retailer said it expected to open sites in Bournemouth, Northampton and Liverpool in coming months, followed by Southampton, Dumfries, Cardiff and Sutton in London.

The chain, which operates as a franchise, aims to open five stores per month from the beginning of 2021, but points out that with the Covid-19 virus those plans are subject to change.

Mr Dobson said all his outlets were Covid secure, with only limited numbers allowed in at one time. Customers also have to book events in advance, submit their details for track and trace and follow social distancing rules.

My son survived a helicopter crash – but the trauma led to his death

Sam Bull was one of the first of the survivors to escape from a submerged helicopter after it crashed into the North Sea off Shetland.

He helped with the life rafts, and tried to resuscitate one of his fellow passengers – although those efforts would prove to be in vain.

The man he tried to save was one of four people who lost their lives on the day of the crash in August 2013.

Sam was haunted by the harrowing events. Four years later, at the age of 28, he took his own life after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As the findings of a fatal accident inquiry are published, Sam’s father Michael spoke to BBC Scotland News in the hope of raising awareness of the impact that trauma can have on people.

The link between the accident and Sam’s death only became public knowledge during the evidence.

Derek Pyle, the sheriff principal leading the inquiry, said there had been “another victim” in addition to the four people who died on the day of the crash.

“His death was plainly directly caused by the accident,” he said.

Sam, a chemist, was one of 18 people on board the Super Puma, which was heading to Sumburgh from a North Sea drilling platform.

He managed to escape after the helicopter hit the water on its approach, before overturning and filling with water.

Michael Bull, 62, said his son had been one of the first people out of the helicopter. He helped deploy the life rafts, and was involved in giving CPR.

He helped with the attempts to save a fellow passenger who died from heart failure.

“I can be proud of him, that he kept his head, trying to resuscitate that passenger,” said Michael.

But he explained: “That came back to haunt him.

“That was one of his nightmares, reliving that, flashbacks – in effect he was seeing that passenger die in front of him.”

Sam phoned his family, who live in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, after he was airlifted ashore.

“I have a very vivid memory of him calling to say he had been airlifted out the sea, but was not physically hurt,” said Michael.

Survivors were brought back to Lerwick on a Coastguard rescue helicopter.

Sam stood out in the photographs which were taken on their arrival, as he was the only person not in a survival suit.

Michael said they had asked him why he had not been wearing one.

“He was aware there would be probably be photographers,” he said.

“He didn’t think he looked good in the survival suit – he wanted to look cooler.”

Michael said his son had not been physically hurt in the crash.

“But there was clearly an injury, a big change in him, a mental injury, which ultimately led to his death.

“The inquest did confirm that it was the helicopter crash which caused the PTSD, which led to his suicidal thoughts, and eventually to his death.

“For many people it’s very difficult to understand that something like that can have that amount of impact – it really does change people.”

Sam had initially showed few outward signs of the emotional impact the crash had on him.

“I guess for a few months we did not notice anything,” his father said.

“Then over the course of the next few years he was clearly different.”

He decided to change careers and started studying law. Michael said he had since read that this was a sign of PTSD – trying to distract yourself with something different.

As time went on, Sam was “not in a great place” and started to distance himself.

Michael said he had seemed “alright” when the family went abroad on holiday in 2017.

When they arrived back at Heathrow Airport, Michael asked Sam if he was going to get a taxi home, and he said yes.

“That was the last time I saw him.”

Michael said that since his son’s death he and the family – Sam’s mother Amanda, sister Kate and brother Jacob – have been involved in fundraising for mental health charities, such as Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably).

“My daughter said everyone has a man – a son, boyfriend, husband, father.

“There are about 7,000 suicides in the UK a year, and about three-quarters are men – it’s a big issue.”

If you or someone you know needs support for issues about emotional distress, these organisations may be able to help.

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