AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s final clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine were put on hold after a participant had a suspected adverse reaction. AstraZeneca described it as a ‘routine’ pause in the case of ‘an unexplained illness’. The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine is seen as a strong contender among dozens being developed globally. Hopes have been high that the vaccine might be one of the first to come on the market, following successful phase 1 and 2 testing. Phase 3 vaccine trials often involve thousands of participants and can last several years. Although the cause of the illness has not been confirmed, the New York Times reported the volunteer was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and can be caused by viral infections.

The proposed Internal Market Bill was published on 9th September. It addresses the Northern Ireland Protocol - an element of the withdrawal agreement designed to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland. The bill proposes no new checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. It gives UK ministers powers to modify or ‘disapply’ rules relating to the movement of goods that will come into force from 1st January if the UK and EU are unable to strike a trade deal. Mr Johnson defended the bill, saying it would ‘ensure the integrity of the UK internal market’ and hand power to Scotland and Wales while protecting the Northern Ireland peace process. Critics say the move will damage the UK's international reputation after a minister admitted the plans break international law. The EU president is ‘very concerned’ following the tabling of the bill in Parliament, saying such actions ‘undermine trust’ between the EU and UK.

A leading epidemiologist warned the country is at a ‘critical moment’ in the pandemic, as students prepare to return to universities. Students moving across the country could cause a wave of infection. Data showed the highest number of detected infections was in younger people. Government scientific advisors said ‘significant outbreaks’ linked to universities were likely. Pray for University administrators and lecturers to have heavenly wisdom as they take steps to minimise risks on campuses. Current strategies include online teaching, grouping students together within year groups, putting in place local testing and tracing policies and no freshers’ week for 1st-year students. The University and College Union cannot see why the government insists students move around the country and engage in unnecessary face-to-face interactions. Also, online learning ‘would remove any need to open doors and windows in the winter months as the guidance suggests’. See also NOTE:  The Students Union wants a balance between personal teaching and online teaching; not least because many have paid £ thousands for local accommodation!.

In March 2020, just before the national lockdown began, a notice appeared on the government website seeming to allow women to conduct their own medical abortions at home. Outcry followed and the notice was removed, the government website claiming that it was ‘published in error’. Website visitors were reassured that there would ‘be no changes to abortion regulations’. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care assured the House of Commons, ‘There are no proposals to change the abortion rules due to Covid-19.’ However, now 3 months later the government said, ‘DIY abortions could be a permanent fixture in the UK’. The media reported that up to 90,000 women have used the DIY service since it was introduced in March. The government will release official statistics next week. If 90,000 abortions took place it would make DIY abortion the biggest silent killer of lockdown, more than twice as many fatalities as Covid-19. See also

Ofcom reported, ‘the BBC is too white, middle class, and London-centric’ and the new BBC director-general believes ‘comedy output has left-wing partiality and needs a radical overhaul as TV and radio comedy are unfairly biased against Tories, Donald Trump and Brexit. He wants to restore ‘trust and confidence’ by reflecting all sides of the political divide. Tory MP Ben Bradley said that BBC comedy is Left-wing Tories and Brexit rants. ‘If they truly represent all licence-fee payers, that needs to change.’ Meanwhile, a new news channel is to be launched that will be ‘distinctly different from the out-of-touch incumbents’ and has already been awarded a licence to broadcast by Ofcom, under the name GB News. Its founder has said the BBC is a ‘disgrace’ that ‘is bad for Britain on so many levels’ and ‘needs to be broken up’. A rival project is also being devised by Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire. See

The following is based on ‘Reflections on Doing Church Online’ by a researcher in digital religion who points out that people are realising that online church can spiritually interconnect us when we are physically separated. Technological social interaction is growing with weekly congregational  rhythms of regular online morning and evening prayers, musical worship (streamed or interactive) throughout the week; there are daily activities for children, regular ‘Sabbath’ breaks from news and digital media; eating meals together as a family, prayer and contemplation connections; assistance for working from home, shared Bible reading, the encouragement of responsible contact with neighbours, and recruiting for all manner of community support. We can pray that pandemic lockdown re-awakens the church to her mission and calling through fresh expressions of church. Many are saying building-centred churches may never recover from low attendance, and thus low collections, compounded by pandemic-related recession. 

On 3rd September, a group of Christians uploaded a video on YouTube, entitled The Greater Middle East Blessing. In the video, Christians from 11 nations in the greater Middle East, sing The Lord’s Prayer and The Blessing in 8 different languages. The opening sequence of the video states that they came together across political, ethnic and language divides to pray for, and bless, their region. It communicates hope to the hearts of those who watch it and hope for the Middle East because Christ is there through His Church. May it also encourage people to pray for, and stand with, our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, as they continue to be salt and light in the region. see

During the last two weeks in August and for the first time ever, 185 Israeli Air Force pilots went to Germany for training in joint manoeuvres with German pilots. They also joined together to remember victims of the Holocaust and the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. This was a very moving expression of a growing trust and deeper friendship between Israel and Germany. God uses our hearts as places of transformation in order to literally turn the world up-side-down.

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