Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 574

Issue # 574                                           Week ending Saturday 17th  October  2020

To Be Or Not to Be Intent on Beating this Awful Killjoy Virus. That is the Question by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Did you hear about the Stornoway cove who went into the bookshop and said: “I would like a book by Shakespeare.” The assistant replied: “Of course, sir. Which one?” He said: “Er, William?”

I mention that because Mr Shakespeare’s last play has just been found in the Scots college, a religious institution, in Spain. It’s called The Two Noble Kinsmen and was published in 1634. It could be the oldest Shakespearean work in the country. That flowery language has fallen out of use except in institutions of learning and certain hostelries.

Some years ago, two young lads were quaffing in a downtown Stornoway oasis. The discussion about some football game turned dark with insults being flung around. They were disinclined to seek fresh air and the curses got louder. Then stepped forth, a merry chap clad in the finely-cut cloth of the professional squire. He put a hand on each lad’s shoulder and said: “Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.”

By offering a bevvy and promising the jittery barman they would soon depart, he cooled hot heads. They soon shook hands before venturing outside where they each found a wall to lean against. Soon they simultaneously slid down to the pavement which they used as a pillow before someone summoned a taxi to scoop them up and deliver them to their loved ones in faraway places called Barvas and Shawbost.

The well-turned-out shopkeeper must have quoted a learned scribe. When we met again, I asked from where the soothing words had sprung. He’d been a teacher for a few years. He’d a good enough grasp of the Merry Wives of Windsor Act 1 Scene 1 to quote it on occasion.

He had tips for anyone wanting to appear like a well-read Shakespearean type. Add -eth to the ends of verbs, he advised. He runneth, he trippeth, he falleth over. If you are chatting to a fulsome young lady, he suggested comparing her to a summer’s day. He added: “If she knocks you back after that, tell her to get herself to a nunnery.”

Shakespeare never fails to grab me. His choice of words, his easy use of many long rambling sentences which would take me a week to construct, and the different kinds of tales, some scary, some bloody, some touching, that he told us through the medium of a rigidly-enforced curriculum.

Back in the day, I delved into The Merchant of Venice and I seem to remember chunks of Richard III. I had to. Nowadays, it isn’t so popular with so many references to bad boy Shylock being seen as terribly unfair to anyone who works in financial services. With overdraft charges as they are now, they take more than a pound of flesh.

Lockdown has meant pounds of people’s hard-earned are being spent on wine. When I came in the other night, I am sure Mrs X had a wee vino. She was shouting at the TV: “Don’t go in there. Don’t go in that church, you idiot.” Hmm, she was probably watching our wedding video.

Will family reunions happen this festive season? Who knows? Last Christmas was great because I met people I hadn’t seen for ages. Down on Cromwell Street, I met Bill. I hadn’t seen him for about 25 years and he said he had a big family now. Bill was a bit wobbly. He told me he had just taken his son out for his first pint. Oh, how the years have passed.

He said they went into the pub and he had got his son a Foster’s lager but he didn't like it. So Bill himself had it himself. Then Bill got him a Tennent’s Special but he didn't like that either. So Bill had that as well. It was the same with the cider and the Guinness. He then said: “You know what? By the time we got to the whisky, I could hardly push the pram.”

Stop. Don’t call social services. He was kidding. His oldest and youngest, however, are nearly 20 years apart. If only I had a Shakespearean quotation to tell him he had wound me up. Nah, can’t think.

We probably won’t know for a while how Covid will affect Christmas. Hopefully, our daughter might get home before long. She’ll have to get her van serviced for the trip north. Last year, she was so worried that a Gloucestershire mechanic would rip her off because, like many women, she is not mechanically-minded and she knows nothing about vehicles. Imagine her relief when the mechanic said she only needed some indicator fluid.

So we will have to make an effort at home. We must not let Covid completely ruin the Yuletide and make us cancel the festivities. No. The only answer to lessen the virus risk will be to celebrate outside. That is why we have decided to put up a Christmas marquee in the garden. We will get in the spirit with funky music and lots of flashing lights. Now is the winter of our disco tent.

The Long Journey of the West Highland Way
By Steven McKenzie
Tens of thousands of people walk the West Highland Way every year. The route is celebrating its 40th anniversary - but the creation of the first trail of its kind in Scotland was itself a long journey.  The West Highland Way starts in Milngavie, near Glasgow, and then winds its way north for 96 miles (154 km) to Fort William in the Highlands.  It follows old cattle drover routes and 18th Century military roads along the eastern shores of Loch Lomond, across sprawling Rannoch Moor, and up the zig-zag ascent of the Devil's Staircase footpath in Glen Coe before reaching its final destination in Lochaber. More than 100,000 people walk part of the trail each year, about 36,000 of whom complete the whole route. The journey often takes up to a week. Walkers break the trail into sections and stay overnight in the villages that punctuate the route.  The inspiration for the long-distance walking route came from Glaswegian Tom Hunter.  At the end of World War Two, Mr Hunter - who had served in Africa and Europe with the RAF - was walking up Ben Lomond with his wife Margaret.  He noticed hydro electric construction and other building work taking place on the western shores of Loch Lomond, and began to wonder how the eastern shore could be protected from similar development.  He came up with the idea of an official footpath, and the Hunters began discussing the idea with their local hillwalking group.  But establishing a long-distance walk from Milngavie to Fort William was no easy task. There was the route to be considered, including ways to safely cross some challenging terrain, and they needed to negotiate with landowners.  By the 1970s, the project stepped up a gear and geographer Fiona Rose was commissioned to survey the route.  She is said to have worn out several pairs of walking boots tramping for miles through hills and glens to complete her task.  In 1974, Mr Hunter secured official approval to develop the trail and six years later, on 6 October 1980, it was officially opened.  Hillwalker, writer and broadcaster Jimmie MacGregor was among the first to walk its entire length.  A keen hillwalker since he was a boy, Mr MacGregor was living in Highgate, London, when he read about the opening of the West Highland Way. The 90-year-old told BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme: "I spent about six weeks jogging around Highgate woods in heavy boots to get myself keyed up to walk it." During his preparations, Mr MacGregor called up Radio Scotland "on a whim" and convinced its bosses to let him record a radio programme about the new route, including the history, geology and wildlife of the places it crossed.  The trek would mark the start of his broadcasting career. Mr MacGregor said: "They gave me a radio pack and at the time I didn't realise how expensive it was, I think they cost £4,000, and I had it banging off my boots and stuff.  I really just blethered to myself most of the way because there was hardly anybody there. I encountered maybe 50 to 60 people."  Mr MacGregor later wrote a book about the West Highland Way, which topped the Scottish booksellers' list - pushing renowned Scottish novelist William McIlvanney into second spot. "William McIlvanney was a pal of mine and I said to him: 'William I take it you don't talk enough about beetles and buzzards'," Mr MacGregor said. The broadcaster said the West Highland Way was a great achievement. It was the first official marked walk way in Scotland and it has led to so many more, which is a wonderful thing. "For me it was a gift."  Hundreds of people have been marking the trail's 40th anniversary this week.  Covid-19 has prevented events from being held, but a virtual celebration has been taking place online, dedicated to Mr Hunter, who died in 2016, and the many others who helped to establish the route.  People have been posting photographs and tales of their trips to a special page on the West Highland Way website. Carol Matthews, who has been curating the entries, said the trail meant different things to different people.  She said: "Something that is very special to me, such as a beautiful horizon, might not be to somebody else. They might appreciate a beautiful bridge and its construction. I think everybody gets something different from the things that they see."  Ms Matthews said for most people the trail was far more than just a walking challenge.  She said: "I think there is a real emotional and strong sense of spirituality that comes through. People have created music, poetry and paintings that have been inspired along the West Highland Way." And while the route is a week-long expedition for most walkers, the fleet-footed have managed to cover the distance in less than a day.  Ultra-runner Rob Sinclair set the men's record in 2017 with a time of 13 hours 41 minutes and eight seconds, while Lucy Colquhoun's women's record of 17 hours, 16 minutes and 20 seconds was achieved in 2007.

Covid in Scotland: Barlinnie Prisoners Locked Down After Outbreak
More than 250 inmates are in lockdown at Glasgow's Barlinnie prison after four members of staff and two prisoners tested positive for coronavirus.  Twelve staff are also isolating in the jail's A hall, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) confirmed.  All visits to the locked-down hall have been suspended until the end of October.  An SPS spokesman said the rest of the prison was not affected by the outbreak or visiting ban. He added that contact tracing was being carried out for staff members. Earlier this year, the Scottish government approved new early release regulations to help the prison system cope with Covid cases. The move, designed to free up more cells for single-use occupancy, could allow up to 450 inmates to get out of prison early. But only those sentenced to 18 months or less and with 90 days or less left to serve are potentially eligible. Serious offences are excluded.

Seven Deaths At West Lothian Care Home
Seven residents at a West Lothian care home have now died in a Covid-19 outbreak, NHS Lothian has confirmed.  It comes after four deaths were linked to Redmill care home in East Whitburn on Friday.  The health board said it was dealing with a "significant outbreak" and a multi-agency team continued to offer support.  More than 50 staff and residents at the home, which is run by HC-One, have tested positive since 25 September.  The health board said Redmill had been closed to visitors and all residents were self-isolating with additional testing for staff also introduced. Dr Richard Othieno, public health consultant at the health board, said: "Early action to isolate residents and begin enhanced testing has enabled us to identify positive cases before they become symptomatic.  Even without an outbreak, and without showing any of the classic symptoms of Covid-19, residents in this care home are tested if they appear at all unwell or not their usual selves.  Repeat rounds of testing of residents and staff is continuing and the situation is being monitored very closely."  He added: "As part of the infection control measures, the home was closed to visitors. We know this is difficult for residents and their relatives, but it is necessary to ensure the outbreaks are brought under control as quickly as possible and we thank relatives for their co-operation and understanding. Delays in test results has previously seen the home's testing regime branded a "shambles" by an MSP. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has promised to investigate any issues with testing. The care home is one of two in the NHS Lothian area currently dealing with Covid clusters. At Redmill, 55 residents and staff have tested positive, while at Milford House in Edinburgh there have been 31 positive test results. The health board has said a "small number" of people have died but will not give precise figures because of patient confidentiality.

Police Remain Tight Lipped As Investigation Continues Into Human Remains Found in Glenrothes
Police investigating the discovery of human remains found at a disused industrial estate in Glenrothes are still trying to establish the identity of the person, two weeks on from when the grim discovery was first made.  Officers and forensics experts spent over a week at the site in Whitehill Road on the outskirts of the town where the skeletal remains were found by two boys on Sunday, September 27.  In what has already been described as a “complex and highly intricate investigation” by Detective Chief Inspector Kevin Houliston, of Police Scotland’s Major Investigation Team, little is still known about the find other than that the remains are that of a male. Investigators remain tight-lipped over how long the remains were at the site or what, if any, progress has been made to identify exactly who the man is or whether there was any criminality involved in the lead up to the individual ending up at Whitehill Road. A post-mortem examination carried out a week a go confirmed that the remains were not those of long-term missing Fife men Allan Bryant or Kenneth Jones. A spokesperson for Police Scotland said: “Enquiries continue to identify the person, who was male, and establish a cause of death.” The spokesperson also added that Police Scotland would not comment on aspects of an ongoing investigation or on speculation that the remains had been covered over before being found.

Highland Charity Receives £100k Boost to Transform Young Lives
A pioneering charity with a track record for transforming young lives has managed to get a massive cash boost over the finishing line. Day1, which is funded by the Inverness Kart Raceway, has won a new £100,000 contract from Scotland’s national skills agency. For more than 15 years, Day1 has helped mentor children on the cusp of adulthood make better career and educational choices. The charity has typically helped from 25 to 40 school kids a year with cash earned by the kart track, which is a social enterprise on the Fairways industrial estate. Each child is designated a trained volunteer for one-to-one mentoring, while Day1 has also enjoyed great success through group skills learning focused on the building of kit racing cars. Now Skills Development Scotland (SDS), has awarded the cash to take on another 60 youngsters on a 12-month Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) accredited course. The award is part of a raft of Scottish Government-driven pilot projects aimed at bringing work-based learning to children at a younger age. Pupils from four schools – Inverness Royal Academy, Charleston Academy, Inverness High School and Millburn Academy – will take part, with some already enlisted.  Day1’s chief executive Corrin Henderson explained: “We had already been asked by Skills Development Scotland to take on 40 children.  They would not have been giving us an extra 50 per cent on those numbers if they didn’t believe in our ability to convert their programme into a reality for young people.  It is SQA-accredited, so there is an actual hard automotive skills qualification coming at the end of it. Just as importantly, there’s a secondary qualification they get in employability skills, softer skills learned in areas like leadership, communication and innovation. These are skills that are good for the workplace and they are aiming to impart some of those skills to people who come on this particular foundation apprenticeship.”  The mechanism in which children are taught these skills is through assembly of a kit car. The groups use the components of the kit car and an old ‘donor’ car – a Ford Focus ST170 – with all the parts retrievable from it recycled in the process. Mr Henderson stressed: “The kids will learn pretty much every aspect of the systems within a car and that goes all the way from how to clean a car right up to the mechanics of how a car and engine actually works. The course we will provide for them has set the bar very high and way higher than the course we’ve been commissioned to deliver.  It is more like a level five or six qualification, when in fact it’s a level four. We’ve been contracted to deliver. It is going to be a thoroughly good, thoroughly rounded exercise in auto-motive training and what we’re telling the kids – and this is the important part – is that this is going to set them up as a stepping stone into employment either in that particular industry or indeed to any other technical industry. These skills can be taken and applied to other industries.” The introduction of work-based learning at an earlier stage in pupils’ learning through apprenticeships has been identified by the Scottish Government as a way to improve Scotland’s productivity and meet future skills challenges.

Ageing Galloway Hydro Scheme in Line for Major Overhaul

A hydro scheme that can produce electricity for more than 200,000 homes in the south of Scotland is in line for a major upgrade. Energy firm Drax is to spend nearly £6m on the Glenlochar Barrage, which is more than 85 years old.  The 103m-long (340ft) bridge - built in 1934 - controls the flow of water from Loch Ken to the Tongland power station. Drax said the work - over the next three years - would allow the system to generate energy for decades to come.  Commissioned in the mid-1930s, the Galloway Hydro Scheme consists of six power stations, eight dams and a network of tunnels, aqueducts and pipelines.  At its peak during construction, more than 1,500 people were employed on the project.  Ian Kinnaird, Drax's Head of Hydro, said: "The Galloway Hydro Scheme has been generating flexible, renewable electricity for almost a century, and this major refurbishment will ensure it continues to do so for many years to come.  Scotland has a long and proud history of hydroelectricity, and with this project Drax is ensuring these power stations play an important part in securing a net zero carbon future for our country."  Drax said the community would be kept informed of the progress of the work as it was being carried out. The barrage will remain operational throughout in order to control water levels.

Brazen Drug Dealer Slammed for Selling Class B Drugs on Facebook Along with Prescription Pills

Drug dealers are brazenly selling prescription pills and other illicit substances on a Dundee woman’s Facebook page. Shocked social media users contacted a Dundee Newspaper after discovering the page, which is offering various drugs including prescription opioids and cannabis. The Newspaper has chosen to keep the alleged account holder anonymous as it is not clear whether the user is responsible for the advertisements, or whether her profile has potentially been hacked.  It understood the drug operation may be running in the east end of the city with stock apparently available through private messaging.  Included in the items which were apparently available for sale were highly-addictive painkillers and other medications, such as Codeine, Xanax and pregabalin.  The latter has been linked to hundreds of deaths in Scotland in recent years and, just last month, Public Health England warned of the dangers attached to the medication, which has become a common treatment for epilepsy and anxiety.  In 2017 it was linked to 24 deaths in Tayside alone, and was criminalised last year by drug chiefs.  Other items including diazepam and Valium were also being advertised, with captions encouraging people to purchase.

Man Jailed After Police Uncover £2.3m Cocaine Haul
James Duffy owed up to £26,000 to drug dealers and became involved in the trade in a doomed bid to pay them off.  The haul was uncovered last year in a van and two properties in his home town of East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire.  The High Court in Glasgow heard six kilos of the Class A drug, with a purity as high as 77%, were connected to the 32-year-old. Prosecutor Shirley McKenna said DNA also helped link the father-of-one to the seizure. Duffy pled guilty to being concerned in the supply of cocaine.  Defence counsel Louise Arrol told the court the construction worker, who appeared in court via a video link, had a cocaine addiction.  She said: "This was a significant addiction that amounted to debts of £24,000 to £26,000.  This identifies the level of addiction and that debt is what led to the offending before you."  Lord Armstrong told Duffy: "The quantity and value of the drugs recovered was significant.  The money involved indicates you were concerned in operations.  The court has repeatedly made clear anyone who chooses to become involved in high value-controlled drugs in any capacity must expect a substantial custodial sentence."

Shetland Kirks: Church of Scotland Confirms First Sales

The first kirk sales have been confirmed by the Church of Scotland following a decision to shut two-thirds of its buildings in Shetland.  North Roe and Uyeasound churches have both been sold for a combined value of more than £35,000.  The Church said the final sum for each was above the asking price.  A number of other kirks are under offer, including Quarff kirk and Sand kirk, as part of the Church's plan for closures.  The kirks to be closed were announced in October 2018. From an initial 20 to be closed, this has been reduced to 19. The Kirk closure list includes a church built in the year 1733.  The Church said the closures were necessary due to national and local financial pressures.  The aim of closing the buildings was to ensure "a more sustainable future" for the decreasing congregations in the isles. Money raised from the sales will ensure the upkeep of those kirks that will remain open, it said. "The money that we get from these churches is going to be put back into Shetland," confirmed Rev Lynn Brady, interim Minister in Shetland. That cash will improve buildings that the Church is keeping and help make them "up to date" and a "centre for the community."  "We're hoping that all the buildings we have will get wi-fi so that we can stream services," she added.  Earlier this year, Shetland was part of a redesign for the Church of Scotland in the region. It became part of a new presbytery on 1 June 2020 and now forms part of the Presbytery of Aberdeen and Shetland - the first time the Church in Shetland has joined with a mainland presbytery. The Church has said Shetland is leading the way with a new way of working, but there have been mixed emotions among congregations. Shetland Presbytery moderator Andrew John Williamson said it was the end of an era, but hoped the merger would be successful.

Kintore Rail Services Return for First Time Since 1964

Rail services are returning to the Aberdeenshire town of Kintore for the first time in more than 50 years.  The original station opened in 1854 but closed in 1964.  The new £15m station had been due to open earlier this year, but construction work was paused in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Rail services will return to the station - which is on the Aberdeen to Inverness route - on Thursday 15 October. It was funded by Transport Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council and Nestrans - the transport partnership for the area - and was built by Network Rail. Salvaged signs and a bench from the town's previous station have been restored and installed. Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the station would have "regional benefits", reducing congestion and emissions. ScotRail managing director Alex Hynes said: "This new station will reconnect Kintore to the rail network for the first time in nearly six decades and create new opportunities for the local community."

RAF Lossiemouth's £75m Revamped Runway Opens

RAF Lossiemouth in Moray has been reopened to aircraft following a £75m revamp of the station's runways.  The runways were constructed for fast jets such as Tornadoes and more recently Typhoons.  After being stripped and resurfaced, they can now handle the take off and landings of larger, multi-engine aircraft. RAF Lossiemouth is to be the base for a fleet of nine P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes, as well as Typhoons.  The first of US-built Poseidon aircraft have been stationed at nearby Kinloss Barracks, a former RAF station, and are due to arrive at Lossiemouth later today.  A squadron of Typhoons, whose crews carry out quick reaction alert (QRA) missions, are to returned to Lossiemouth after being temporarily based at Leuchars in Fife. QRAs frequently involve interceptions of Russian military aircraft detected flying near airspace of "Nato interest". Also, returning to Lossiemouth is a training squadron of Typhoons temporarily stationed at Kinloss. The first of the Typhoons were back at the Moray station on Monday.  Work on the runways began at the start of the year and continued through the coronavirus lockdown.  Separately, a £132m facility has been constructed for the Poseidon aircraft. The first of the Poseidon MRA1 planes, intended for submarine-hunting and the tracking of maritime targets, has arrived at RAF Lossiemouth.  Nine Poseidon MRA1 aircraft have been ordered, the first of which landed on UK soil for the first time in February 2020. Since then, crews have been securing the seas on operational missions.  Group Captain Chris Layden, station commander of RAF Lossiemouth, said: "Today is a proud moment for Team Lossie, ushering in a new era for the station delivering combat airpower and maritime patrol operations over and around the United Kingdom.  Yesterday I had the privilege of landing the first Typhoon on our newly resurfaced runways, and today I had the pleasure of welcoming in the first Poseidon to its permanent home in Moray.  This is just the beginning of our expansion and modernisation as one of the RAF's most strategically important stations in the United Kingdom."  Poseidon is a submarine hunter which can locate, identify and track potentially hostile vessels as they operate close to UK waters.  Its radar is also able to detect and track ships above the waves. The jets have a communications suite which enables the intelligence it gathers to be passed to commanders whether they are in the air, on a ship, on the ground, or back at RAF Lossiemouth. The 54 Squadron has been training new pilots and weapons systems operators on the platform, as 400 additional military personnel will be moving to Moray to fly and operate the aircraft. All Typhoon and Poseidon operations are back at their permanent home at Lossiemouth as from today (Friday).

Why Are More Scots Supporting Independence?
By Sir John Curtice
A new poll from Ipsos MORI for STV has suggested that 59% now say that they would vote Yes in another independence referendum. Just 41% state that they would vote No, and thereby back staying in the Union. What conclusions can we draw?  No previous poll has put ever support for independence so high. More importantly this is the ninth poll in a row since June to put Yes ahead. On average, these polls have put Yes on 54%, No on 46%.  It is the first time in Scottish polling history that support for independence has consistently outstripped backing for staying in the Union.  However, we should be careful about drawing the conclusion from today's poll that support for independence has now risen further. We will need further evidence before we will know whether the higher level of support for Yes in today's poll represents no more than the kind of random variation that we might expect in the polls given that Yes are well ahead, or whether it signals a further significant shift in favour of independence.  In any event, today's poll provides valuable further clues as to why Yes are now ahead.  First, it confirms that over the course of the last year Nicola Sturgeon's popularity has soared back to the very high level she enjoyed in her early weeks and months as first minister.  As many as 72% say they are satisfied with the way she is doing her job as first minister.  Crucially, her popularity extends deeply into the ranks of those who voted in 2014 to stay in the Union, over half (55%) of whom are satisfied.  In contrast, only 33% of No voters are satisfied with the job that Boris Johnson is doing. It looks highly likely that this contrast has persuaded some former No voters to change sides.  Second, younger voters are firmly in favour of independence. No less than 79% of those aged 16-24 - most of whom were too young to vote in 2014 - say that they would vote Yes.  No is still well ahead among the over 65s, but the foundations of support for the Union are seemingly gradually being eroded by demographic turnover.  Third, the gender gap, which in 2014 resulted in women being markedly less likely to support independence then men, has seemingly disappeared. Today's poll, in which 60% of women back Yes compared with 57% of men, is in line with other recent polls, nearly all of which have revealed little or no gap.  Fourth, the poll suggests that some of those who voted No in 2014 are now attracted by the prospect that an independent Scotland would be able to head in a different direction from England.   As many as 38% of former No voters find this argument for independence convincing, while 28% are persuaded in particular by the fact that Scotland is being required to leave the EU even though it voted to Remain.  However, only 15% of former No voters think the claim that Scotland's economy would be stronger outside the UK is convincing, while even among those who say they would now vote Yes as many as 30% believe that leaving the UK would be a major risk for Scotland's economy. There is evidently still plenty left to argue over in the debate about Scotland's constitutional future.
John Curtice is Professor of Politics, Strathclyde University and Senior Fellow, ScotCen Social Research and 'The UK in a Changing Europe'.

Largest Network of Virus Testing Facilities Covering All of Scotland

The UK Government has put in place the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities created in British history, setting up a state of the art network of virus testing facilities across Scotland. In support of the Scottish Government, the UK Westminster Government is providing all COVID-19 testing in Scotland outside of NHS settings for people in Scotland. Support includes six drive-through centres, two new walk-in sites with more to follow, 20 mobile units as well as home testing kits, testing for care home staff and residents, and – highlighted here – the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab, operating around the clock to process an estimated 50,000 swabs each day, hoping to soon hit a daily target of 85,000. This Time last year, every single one of the estimated 400 people who work at the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow were doing something else. There was simply no need for a virus testing lab of this scale and ambition in the UK. What a difference a year makes. The Glasgow “megalab” that now stretches over four floors of a specially commandeered building in Govan is a vital part of the largest network of diagnostic testing facilities yet created by any UK Westminster government. As Chief Operating Officer for the College of Medical Veterinary Sciences at the University of Glasgow, Carol Clugston has been involved with the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab since its inception. “The very first day we started, in April,” she recalls, “we did 41 tests. Now we’ve just passed 2.5 million cumulative tests.”  Facilities like the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab are helping to maximise testing capacity in Scotland and across the UK. Increasing the number of people tested is a key part of easing lockdown restrictions and getting people back to work. Shortly after the Glasgow lab opened, in May, a partnership deal was struck with medical research specialist BioClavis, whose company president Harper Van Steenhouse became the lab’s new director.  “It’s amazing what people can do,” he says. “We have taken a bunch of bright, motivated, ambitious people and given them a singular focus – almost, quite truthfully, attempting to save the world. It’s going to pull these people through and provide a skilled workforce for the future. Once the pandemic is over, we’ll have a huge number of skilled people right around the corner. As somebody who runs a small business that hires these sorts of people, I’m keen that they’re learning these skills.” Let’s hope this ill wind does indeed leave something good behind.  People get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been asked to seek a test. Their swab is delivered for analysis to the lab. “Your swab is inside a tube, which is inside a bag, which is inside a bag, which is inside a box,” explains lab director, Harper Van Steenhouse. “The samples get processed out of their packaging.” Individual patients can’t be identified from swabs. “All we monitor are barcodes. The scientific team only gets the tube, with the swab in it. And it’s the liquid in the tube that is the patient sample,” assured the company chief. From there lab assistants get the RNA – the virus genetic material – from samples. The data file that comes out the end has the same barcode associated with it. If you have symptoms stay at home and get a test to protect your loved ones.

Medical Drone Delivery Service Receives UK Space Agency Backing

A medical drone delivery service that makes it possible for the machines to carry Covid-19 samples, test kits and personal protective equipment between hospitals has been backed by the UK Space Agency.  Apian, which was founded by NHS staff as part of the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, aims to establish a network of secure air corridors for electric drones to navigate via satellite-enabled GPS.  Using the drones to help in the Covid-19 response will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus. The project will be based at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, and will be supported by the local Anglia Ruskin University as the academic partner.  The hospital stands on a First World War Royal Flying Corps airfield. Christopher Law, from Apian, said: “Covid-19 has highlighted challenges in NHS supply chain logistics.  There has never been a better time to create a faster, more dependable and environmentally friendly method of transporting medical supplies. We are confident that by setting up a medical drone delivery service, we’ll be able to fly samples to labs more regularly, reliably and quickly, improving patient health outcomes.”  The start-up company is installing drone pad infrastructure so its aircraft can take off from and land at hospitals, laboratories and warehouses. The company will scale the work from its drone trials by creating the UK’s NHS Air Grid (NAG), a network of secure air corridors designed to safely, rapidly and effectively enable drone delivery across the NHS. It is working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority, UK Space Agency and the emergency services to create these corridors.  The drones, which can carry a maximum weight of 2kg and fly about 60 miles, will fly at 300ft (90m) above ground level and are designed to fly in harsh weather.  It is a hybrid drone, which means it has the rotors of a typical drone and the wings of a plane, making it very good at flying long distances. The healthcare drone company is one of three new projects using space-enabled technologies and services to support the ongoing battle against Covid-19.  The UK Space Agency is also backing DriverNet – a mobile app that will use satellite technology to provide access to more affordable community transport for people wishing to go to and from Covid care providers, and those looking to participate in community sport.  By using artificial intelligence to batch patients by their geolocation – their mobile phone location triangulated by satellites – and encouraging transport sharing, costs and miles could be cut by half.  The efforts of the UK’s space sector to support our incredible NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic have been truly inspirational Also receiving funding is the delivery of a remote platform for Earth observation learning.  The collaboration, led by the University of Edinburgh, builds on the Earth Blox cloud-based software for harnessing planetary-scale satellite intelligence.  It will provide distance learning support to students who would have been studying Earth observation science.  Earth observation courses involve frequently being in a laboratory and completing practical exercises, and the funding will help make this possible from home.  The three projects, which will share £1.3 million of funding, have been selected as part of a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA).