Evolving life sciences and agricultural research approaches may have a decreasing need to access physical resources in future, such as plant seeds or viral material. Information and genetic data may be all that is required for commercial exploitation of biological resources. This POSTnote summarises the challenge this creates for international discussions on the governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing these.

There is emerging evidence that COVID-19 affects many systems of the body, with patients reporting a wide range of symptoms. ‘Long-haulers’ are patients who experience ongoing COVID-19 symptoms for several months after infection. These include fatigue, difficulties in thinking, shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular or abnormal heart rhythm, and joint pain. 

Disadvantaged pupils tend to have lower educational attainment compared with their peers; this is often called the disadvantage gap. School closures, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely to have widened the disadvantage gap. This is because disadvantaged pupils tend to have less access to technology, spend less time learning and have reduced support from parents/carers compared with their peers.

  • Rapid response

    The latest research suggests that antibodies can be detected in recovered patients for up to 2 to 3 months after symptoms. There's also emerging evidence for the role of T cells in the immune response. A better understanding of the immune response is vital if there is going to be a successful vaccine.

  • POSTbrief

    Plastic packaging waste has become a key consumer concern. In the UK, over 2.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging enter the consumer market each year. Much of this is used in the food sector because plastic packaging is cheap, light to transport, hygienic, and can be used to extend the product’s shelf-life. In the UK around 46% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling, mostly through local authority collections. However several issues with the current systems of plastics recycling persist. This POSTbrief reviews proposals to Defra and HM Treasury to improve plastics recycling in the UK .

  • POSTbrief

    Medical tourism refers to when people seek medical treatment in a different country than the one they reside. In the context of this brief it refers to UK residents seeking elective, non-emergency medical treatment abroad. This briefing outlines the nature of the global medical tourism industry, the number of UK residents seeking medical treatments abroad, the types of treatments sought and the reasons for seeking them, the countries visited, and examines the issues raised for the patients and for the NHS on their return.

  • Rapid response

    Children who have COVID-19 are not likely to develop severe symptoms. They are also much less likely to die from the disease than people in older age groups. there is some evidence on infection risk for under 13s and for BAME children but more data from well-designed studies is needed to draw conclusions.

  • Rapid response

    Charities and academics have expressed concerns that children’s mental health is disproportionately affected by the intervention measures used during the pandemic. Child and adolescent mental health may be compromised by factors such as strained family relationships, academic stress and reduced social contact with friends. Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) have been reduced during the pandemic. They are likely to be under strain to meet increased demand. The UK Government has announced funding to ensure that charities can continue supporting those in need.

  • Rapid response

    There is very good evidence that children who have COVID-19 are much less likely to develop severe symptoms and much less likely to die from the disease than people in older age groups.There is good evidence that children under 13 years old are less susceptible to developing clinical disease (this means having recognisable signs and symptoms) than adults. It is not yet clear whether this is also the case for older children. There is some research indicating that children aged 13 years and under may be less susceptible to infection than adults, but the confidence in this evidence is low. There is insufficient research to say whether this is the case for older children. There is some evidence to suggest that children transmit the virus less than adults, but more research is needed to reduce uncertainty. Children are more likely to catch an infection from adult(s) in their household. There is evidence that schools are a low-risk environment for transmission. There are some limited data suggesting that children from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background may be at higher risk of severe disease, consistent with evidence for adults. Large and well-designed studies are needed in order to draw firm conclusions. Pregnant women are not more likely to contract the virus. Transmission of the virus from mothers to babies is low. Some babies born to COVID-19 positive mothers will develop an infection; these babies are not at increased risk of severe disease.

  • Rapid response

    The effect of consumers stockpiling certain goods and the slow reaction of retailers to ration them exposed the limitations of cost-efficient and streamlined supply chains to be agile and adapt to unforeseen shocks. This suggests that changes may be needed to make the supply chain more resilient. Specific problems arose from the closure of parts of the catering sector and the lack of agility in redistributing supplies from this sector to retail outlets or the food donation/charity sector. This was due to challenges in packaging availability, logistics and labelling requirements; leading to an increase in food loss. Agricultural food producers and the wider supply chain may have incurred significant losses from the impacts of COVID-19. Food processing facilities have been responsible for a number of localised COVID-19 outbreaks. This may be influenced by a range of factors, including the proximity of workers for prolonged periods, the need to speak loudly to communicate over the noise of the machines or the shared welfare spaces external to the factory setting. The immediate effects of COVID-19 on the food supply system are the current policy concern, but the longer-term food system issues highlighted as a result of the pandemic will have to be addressed by considering how to build resilience to possible future shocks.

  • Horizon scanning

    In November 2021 the UK will host COP26, the UN climate summit that will be vital for international efforts to respond to climate change. POST is inviting anyone with expertise in areas relating to COP26 to provide feedback. We would like to know what you think the UK Parliament and Government’s priorities should be while preparing for and delivering COP26. Findings from our survey will feed into an inquiry. Those who respond to the survey will be entered onto a database of experts who may be contacted by parliamentary staff, MPs or Peers, in order to help them scrutinise government preparations for COP26 over the next 16 months.

  • Rapid response

    There are almost 150 coronavirus vaccine candidates under development. Only 19 of these are now being tested in humans. Many types of vaccines are rapidly progressing through clinical trials. Only two vaccine candidates have announced large scale Phase 3 trials, involving several thousands of people. Only one candidate has been approved for restricted human use. Measuring a reduction in COVID-19 levels is an obstacle for Phase 3 clinical trials, as they require a high infection rate among the tested population to prove vaccine efficacy. International agreements with countries where SARS-CoV-2 infection rates are still high are facilitating those trials. Future challenges in vaccine development include a better understanding of COVID-19 immunity and development of vaccination strategies.