As of this morning - Friday 27th March - the current recorded case count for COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the UK has hit 11,658, with 578 deaths and 135 recoveries.

Amidst the growing “unprecedented circumstances”, the UK government has said it will contribute £210 million toward international efforts aimed at finding a vaccine against the novel virus.

The government says that the funding will be channelled to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which earlier this month warned that without $2 billion in additional funding, the drive to develop a COVID-19 vaccine could be jeopardised.

In other efforts, Thermo Fisher Scientific has also announced that it has received the CE mark in the European Union for its diagnostic test to detect nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The CE mark certification is an important step in combatting the outbreak of COVID-19 across Europe,” commented Marc N Casper, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Thermo Fisher Scientific. “We are committed to fighting this disease and we will continue to work with regulatory authorities and customers around the world to expand the availability of diagnostic testing and stem the spread of the coronavirus.”

The Thermo Fisher test, which uses Applied Biosystems TaqPath Assay and real-time PCR technology, is designed to provide patient results within four hours of a sample being received by a lab. The company says that the estimated time-to-result also includes time for sample preparation and instrument analysis.

Back in the UK, efforts are continuing to ramp up as the government and scientific community back a new genome sequencing consortium to map the spread. Through a £20 million investment, the consortium will look for breakthroughs that help the UK “respond to this and future pandemics, and save lives.”

As part of the project, samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centres which currently includes Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield.

Government chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said: “Genomic sequencing will help us understand COVID-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions.

“The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.”

The news comes as Brits have been warned against stockpiling asthma inhalers, as the UK faces a coronavirus-fuelled shortage amid nationwide lockdown.

Leading UK pharmacist Shamir Patel revealed that stocks of the medical device - commonly known as Ventolin inhalers and which contain salbutamol sulphate that helps open the airways and relax muscles during an asthma attack - have rapidly reduced over the last few weeks.

“Over the past few weeks we have seen a surge in people stocking up on the inhalers as a result of COVID-19.

“The virus is known to block the airwaves and be extremely dangerous to those who suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma, so it is no great surprise that sufferers are adding extra items to their orders.

“The inhaler works by relieving symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing or a tight chest.

“However, while they are required to have a prescription to purchase the inhalers we have had to limit them to two per person so that they can be equally distributed to those in need.

“It is important that we are considering other people who may have respiratory diseases and ensure that there is enough stock to go around.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) urges the public to stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, with information available through your national and local public health authority.

Wash your hands frequently:

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Maintain social distancing:

Maintain at least one metre (three feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early:

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.