17th March 2020 – United Kingdom – 1,950 (+407) Cases ¦ 71 (+16) Deaths


More stories added soon.

22:18 UK transport could be nationalised amid crisis

The UK government has acknowledged it could temporarily nationalise transport companies in an attempt to help them through the coronavirus outbreak.

Some companies have warned of possible collapse and during an exchange in the House of Commons, Labour called for the transport system to be brought back into public ownership during the crisis.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told MPs a number of ideas were being looked at, adding: “We will work in partnership with the transport industry to keep essential services running for the public and for those who need to get to work, those who have essential business.”

He continued: “It’ll be hugely challenging and we will require a lot of different responses and mechanisms in order to get there, including on occasions organisations being run by the public sector, which [Labour has] already seen in the case of trains but for a completely different reason.”

20:18 Turkey makes arrests over virus posts

In Turkey, 19 people have been detained for making ““unfounded and provocative” posts on social media about the government’s handling of the outbreak.

The government has also identified 93 suspects who had written posts “targeting officials and spreading panic and fear”, the country’s interior ministry said.

Turkey has closed cafes, sports venues, and suspended mass prayers in mosques. The number of confirmed cases there is 47.

19:49 EU will close borders to non-essential travel

EU member states have agreed to close the EU’s borders to all non-essential travel for 30 days, the President of the European Council Charles Michel has announced after a meeting of the EU’s 27 leaders.

The travel ban will affect all non-EU nationals from visiting the bloc, except long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats, cross-border and healthcare workers, and people transporting goods.

19:35 New York mayor considering ‘shelter in place’ order

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio says he is considering issuing a “shelter in place” order like that already in place in California’s Bay Area.

Such an order would mandate that all city residents stay in their homes and avoid contact with others except for essential purposes.

De Blasio’s comments were contradicted by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a Tuesday press briefing. Cuomo said he had no plans to “contain New York City”.

19:28 ‘Humanitarian corridor’ in Hungary

Thousands of people stranded in Austria after Hungary closed its borders have begun to cross into Hungary, after the Budapest government opened a “humanitarian corridor” in a one-off move.

Some 3,500 Romanians were stuck at the Hegyeshalom crossing in a 20km (12-mile) tailback.

Hungary closed its border at midnight on Monday and a state of emergency came into force in Romania on Tuesday.

Romania has appealed to tourists and business people to return home urgently but says the three to five million Romanians who live in the EU should stay put

19:26 Belgium to go into lockdown from Wednesday

Everyone in Belgium must quarantine themselves from Wednesday 12:00 (11:00 GMT, the country’s Prime Minister Sophie Willems has announced.

The measures will last until at least 5 April and police.

Gatherings will be banned – people can only leave their homes in an emergency, or to go to food shops, pharmacies, the post office, and banks. But outdoor exercise and walks will be allowed – with people being asked to keep a distance of at least 1.5m.

19:08 UK emergency legislation published

The British government has published its Coronavirus Bill.

Among others, measures include allowing retired NHS staff back into work without affecting their pensions, allowing doctors to discharge patients with minimal paperwork. Changes to councils’ duties under the Care Act allow them to prioritise people with the greatest care needs and make the best use people working in social care.

The bill formalises many of the proposals described in the prime minister and chancellor’s press conference.

A government spokesperson said that other measures in the legislation include:

  • Allowing police and immigration officers to support and enforce public health measures, including powers to detain people and put them in appropriate isolation facilities
  • Making arrangements for statutory sick pay for those self-isolating without symptoms from day one
  • Allowing small businesses to reclaim statutory sick pay payments from the government
  • Allowing more phone or video hearings for court cases to stop the spread of the virus in courts
  • Enabling Border Force to temporarily suspend operations at airports or other transport hubs if there are insufficient resources to maintain border security

19:04 Cases and deaths in France rise

French authorities report a further 27 deaths, bringing the total to 175 – and what’s more, 7% are in people aged under-65.

The country now has a total of 7,730 cases – an increase of 17% in past 24 hours – with 699 people in intensive care.

On Monday President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide lockdown, enforced by thousands of police officers on the streets.

18:41 Financial relief coming for Canadians, says Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising “money in the pockets of Canadians” financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and its mitigation measures.

Parliament might be recalled in order to pass legislative measures to deliver aid to Canadians, he said. He told Canadians they all had a responsibility to help save lives over the coming weeks. “As much as possible, stay home,” Mr Trudeau said. Mr Trudeau also praised his provincial counterparts in Ontario, who on Tuesday declared a state of emergency.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, has banned public events of over 50 people until 31 March.

There are approximately 440 cases of the virus currently confirmed Canadawide. Five deaths have been linked to the disease across the country.

18:25 Italy death toll jumps, but rate of infections slows

The latest figures from Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country, report a further 345 deaths in the past 24 hours. It’s an increase of 16%.

The virus has now killed 2,503 people there – 2,060 people are in intensive care, from among a total of 31,506 cases, up from 27,980. However, this was the slowest rate of increase since Italy identified the presence of the virus.

18:10 UK Coronavirus Press Conference

Boris Johnson says the UK “must stop the disease spreading to a point where it overwhelms our NHS”. He says coronavirus is “so dangerous and so infectious that without drastic measures to check its progress it would overwhelm any health system in the world”.

Mr Johnson says the steps announced yesterday will “have an effect on the spread of the disease”. He adds: “I stress although the measures are extreme we may well have to go further and faster. “And we must act like any war-time government and do anything it takes to support our economy.” Boris Johnson seeks to reassure the public, adding: “Yes, this enemy can be deadly, but it is also beatable. “And we know how to beat it and we know if as a country we follow the scientific advice… we know that we will beat it”. He says: “However tough the months ahead, we have the resources and the resolve to win the fight.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says the coronavirus is “a public health emergency but also an economic emergency”. He promises government intervention “on a scale unimaginable only a few weeks ago”. “The government will stand behind business small and large,” he says and announces government backed loans “to get businesses through this”. He says this will amount to £330bn of guarantees.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says there are concerns about the impacts on pubs, clubs and theatres. “For those venues which do have a policy that covers pandemics – the government action is sufficient to allow them to make claims,” he says. For the smaller businesses in that sector who don’t have insurance he says he will provide cash grants of £25,000 per business “to help bridge through this period”. He also says businesses in the sector will get a “business rates holiday”.

At the budget last week, the chancellor committed £1bn to support vulnerable people through the welfare system and hardship funds for local councils. But he plans to increase that further, with the announcement that mortgage lenders will provide three-month mortgage holidays for those that need them. “In the coming days I will go much further to support people’s financial security,” he adds, promising to talk to trade unions and business groups to arrange new support.

But he also wants to reiterate his promise that “this is first and foremost a public health emergency and… whatever resources the NHS needs they will get.”

Rishi Sunak is asked about people who have been laid off today after the new social distancing advice came into place, and urges business to stop and take a breath., “Many businesses are frankly struggling right now,” adds the chancellor. “They haven’t done anything wrong [but] are watching their finances fall off a cliff. He says that the new announcements he has made should “hopefully provide reassurances that support is on its way”. Mr Sunak adds: “We will help them get through this. They don’t need to rush these decisions. “We want to help them get through this. It is better for them, better for the economy and better for everyone.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have pledged further action on top of measures announced in last week’s Budget to help families and business affected by the coronavirus outbbreak.

Among the new help just announced is:

  • Government backed and guaranteed loans of £330bn to support companies
  • A potential support package specifically for airlines and airports
  • A three-month mortgage payment holiday for homeowners
  • £10,000 cash grants for smaller firms
  • An extension of the business rate holiday announced in the Budget

16:51 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in temporary jail release

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman detained in Tehran, has been released from prison for 10 days, her MP has said.

In a tweet, Tulip Siddiq said she is “relieved that she’ll be with family rather than in jail at this time of terrible chaos and uncertainty in Iran”.

Iran has freed 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held since 2016 on spying charges, which she denies.

The UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab welcomed the move and urged Tehran to ensure she receives any necessary medical care.

“While this is a welcome step, we urge the government now to release all UK dual nationals arbitrarily detained in Iran, and enable them to return to their families in the UK,” Mr Raab added.

The Free Nazanin Campaign said it was pleased to confirm the news but added Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe would “be exceptionally required to wear an ankle tag during the furlough”.

It said: “This makes her release more comparable to house arrest than the standard furlough arrangement that has been granted to other prisoners”.

16:35 Saudia Arabia suspends prayers in mosques

Saudi Arabia has suspended all prayers in mosques, with the exemption of one in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, and another in Al-Medina, the state news agency says.

The deeply religious country had previously banned foreign pilgrims from performing Umrah or pilgrimage in the kingdom.

The move comes just weeks before Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayers, begins at the end of April. The country has 133 confirmed cases of the infection.

16:31 NHS England to advise ban on all but essential visitors

We’re reaching the end of the health committee but UK MP Jeremy Hunt uses one of his last questions to ask if NHS England will advise hospitals that they should ban all but essential visitors.

“Yes, that is essentially what we are saying,” replies NHS England chief exec Sir Simon Stevens.

However he adds that there may be exceptions “in the case of parents and children and end of life care”.

16:27 Help for rough sleepers in England

Local authorities in England are to be given £3.2m of emergency funding to help rough sleepers self-isolate to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick says the money cover the cost of providing accommodation and other services.

He adds: “We are working closely with councils and charities to ensure they have the support they need throughout this period.”

16:24 Nissan suspends Sunderland production

Nissan says it is is suspending vehicle production at its plant in Sunderland, north-east England due to the impact from coronavirus.

The Japanese company says “further measures” are also under consideration as it assesses “supply chain disruption and the sudden drop in market demand caused by the COVID-19 emergency”.

The plant is the UK’s biggest car factory, producing the Qashqai, Juke and Leaf models.

16:22 Queen to scale back duties

The Queen is to cancel her annual garden parties and begin her Easter break earlier than planned because of the coronavirus outbreak, Buckingham Palace says.

The 93-year-old monarch will carry out a number of small scale duties at the palace in the next few days, including meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

But she will then leave for Windsor Castle on Thursday – a week earlier than scheduled – and will remain there beyond the Easter period, the palace said.

In a statement, the palace says the changes were “a sensible precaution”, adding that “a number of public events with large numbers of people due to have been attended by the Queen, and other members of the royal family, in the coming months will be cancelled or postponed”.

16:20 US Treasury Secretary: ‘We’re sending Americans cheques now’

More from the White House – and Treasury Secretary Sreve Mnuchin says the administration is “looking at sending cheques to Americans immediately”.

“Americans need cash now and the president wants to get cash now. And I mean now, in the next two weeks.”

Mnuchin did not disclose how much would be distributed but said he was discussing with Republican lawmakers.

Speaking with Mnuchin with the White House coronavirus task force, Donald Trump said there would be four or five ways to get Americans payments immediately.

“We are going big,” the president said. “We don’t want people losing their jobs to not have money to live,” adding that the banks are “record-setting strong”.

Amid increasingly aggressive efforts to contain the spread, the US president has maintained an optimistic tone.

“We’re going to win and I think we’re going to win faster than people think.”

16:18 Huge US stimulus package under discussion

The US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said the administration is working on a big economic stimulus package, reported to be worth some $850bn, which he’ll be discussing with Congress in the coming hours.

Under the plans, Americans will be allowed to defer up to $300bn worth of taxes. It also includes payments to small businesses and loan guarantees.

More from Mr Mnuchin and President Donald Trump, who are speaking to reporters at the White House, shortly.

16:06 French Open postponed until autumn

One of the world’s major tennis tournaments, the French Open, has postponed the competition until the autumn. Instead of starting on 24 May, it will be held from 20 September to 4 October 2020, organisers Roland Garros announce.

15:54 UK jury trials ‘should be halted’

Trials that involve a jury in England and Wales should be urgently halted, the Bar Council says.

In Scotland no new jury trials will start, but those that have already started will run their course, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service announces.

“Being in a jury trial should not be a game of Russian roulette with participants’ health,” says Amanda Pinto QC, the Chair of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales.

All those involved in court proceedings, including barristers, witnesses, defendants, jurors or members of the public should not expected to attend court, she adds.

15:45 Euro 2020 football tournament postponed

Wembley was due to host seven matches at Euro 2020, including the semi-finals and finalImage caption: Wembley was due to host seven matches at Euro 2020, including the semi-finals and final
More now on our earliest post about Euro 2020 being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

European football’s governing body Uefa made the decision to hold the tournament in 2021 during an emergency video conference involving major stakeholders on Tuesday.

The tournament, due to take place from 12 June-12 July this summer, will now run from 11 June to 11 July next year.

The postponement provides a chance for European leagues that have been suspended to now be completed.

Uefa said it wanted to avoid “placing any unnecessary pressure on national public services” of its 12 host countries, as well as helping allow domestic competitions to be finished.

Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin said: “We are at the helm of a sport that vast numbers of people live and breathe that has been laid low by this invisible and fast-moving opponent.

“It is at times like these, that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism

15:39 Church of England suspends public worship

The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced that public worship is “suspended until further notice”.

A Church of England spokesman said weddings and funerals could still go ahead.

15:16 Non-urgent ops to be postponed in England

NHS England has told hospitals to postpone all non-urgent operations for three months from 15 April.

This will free up 30,000 hospital beds, it says.

Hospitals will also be able to wind down non-urgent work over the next 30 days in an effort to free up more staff and beds for coronavirus patients.

15:10 Festival-goers stranded in Panama

People attending the Tribal Gathering festival in Panama are not being allowed to leave the event’s site after the country’s government issued a state of emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

The festival took place between 29 February and 15 March, and was held on a remote beach on Panama’s north coast.

In a post on Instagram, the organisers said the health ministry had taken the “extraordinary step of ordering all guests currently on site to remain in place” until 23 March. It is not clear how many people are there.

There were no confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus among the guests, according to the organisers. They advised relatives of attendees to contact their respective country’s embassy for information.

The UK embassy in Panama said on Twitter it had been informed of the situation at the festival and that it was working with the local authorities.

Panama has confirmed 69 cases of coronavirus and one death.

15:06 EU announces help for businesses

The EU plans to urgently ease rules restricting state aid industries, in order to help businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Thousands of firms across Europe are already suffering, and many fear their cash flow will dry up soon.The situation is particularly urgent for airlines and travel firms.

Under the EU Commission plan, governments will be able to provide direct grants or tax advantages worth up to €500,000 (£454,000; $549,000) per company.

They will also be able to grant guarantees for companies’ loans from banks.

And lower interest rates will be provided for companies’ loans from private or public lenders.

Furthermore, state aid channelled to the “real economy” via banks will not be treated as direct aid to the banks.

Only companies that experienced difficulties after 31 December 2019 will be eligible for aid under the new EU “temporary framework”. That is to ensure that the aid is tied only to those hit by the coronavirus.

Some member states have already announced aid for businesses to keep them afloat as the crisis bites.

Italy has pledged €25bn in extra public spending; France will provide more generous state loan guarantees; and Germany has promised extra loans via the state bank KfW.

14:50 Bosnia declares state of emergency

Bosnia has declared a nationwide state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Zoran Tegeltija said.

“We are focusing in all ways on how to alleviate the consequences of the coronavirus,” he told reporters.

A body headed by the security ministry will be launched to deal with the outbreak, he said.

Bosnia has reported 26 cases of the new virus so far, with no fatalities.

14:32 Brazil reports first death

A person in the Brazilian city of São Paulo is the first person to die from coronavirus in the country.

Brazil has 234 confirmed cases of the virus, in a population of 209 million people. It has not shut its borders, but in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, schools and universities have been told to close and public events have been called off.

However, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has dismissed precautions against coronavirus as “hysteria” and “fantasy”.

So far Latin America has not reported significant clusters of the virus in the same way as parts of Asia, Europe and the US.

However some countries are not taking chances. Peru declared a national emergency, closed its borders and told everybody to self-quarantine for 14 days, while Chile said it would close its borders after cases more than doubled there to 155.

14:13 Dog walkers flout Spain’s lockdown rules

A dog-walking exception to Spain’s national lockdown is reportedly being exploited as an excuse to leave home as the government battles to contain coronavirus.

Spain’s government declared a state of emergency last week, imposing a 15-day long period of restrictions on movement to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Some 47 million Spanish residents have been banned from leaving home, with a few exceptions for emergencies, going to work and essential errands.

The Spanish government said walking dogs was one of those errands, but some people are reportedly taking advantage of the exception – taking lengthy strolls, socialising in public or masquerading stuffed animals as real pets.

Spanish authorities can levy a fine on those who breach restrictions on movement while the state of emergency is in force.

The mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez Almeida, has called on dog owners not to abuse the exception. “It is logical that the dog should be walked, but it [should be] done for a minimum indispensable time,” he said in an interview on Telemadrid.

In some parts of Spain, dog owners are offering their animals for rent to walkers on classified ad website Wallapop. Prices vary, but some are renting their pets for as much as 50 euros (£45; $54) per walk.

13:35 Israel announces new restrictions on movement

Israel’s health ministry has announced new restrictions for residents, ordering people not to leave their homes unless they need to get food or medication, seek medical attention, or carry out essential work.

Trips to parks, playgrounds, beaches, pools and libraries are banned.

Meanwhile, the Magen David Adam ambulance service has said it will set up a number of 24-hour “drive-through” facilities to help expand testing of people suspected of having the virus that causes Covid-19.

Overnight, an Israel Railways train was stopped by police searching for a male patient who fled from a hospital in northern Israel, according to the Haaretz newspaper. Police officers wearing protective gear boarded the train, arrested the man and took him to another hospital for examination.

Israel has so far reported 324 confirmed cases of Covid-19, but no related deaths. The Palestinian authorities have reported 41 cases in the occupied West Bank.

13:33 Thieves ‘steal 50,000 facemasks’ in Germany

Thieves in Germany have stolen 50,000 protective face masks intended for medical clinics from a hospital, German news agency DPA reports. “This is a new grade of theft”, a spokeswoman for the hospital in Cologne told DPA. “We’re talking about items that normally have a value measured in cents, but apparently there’s a market for them now.” The city’s crisis management team took measures to secure and check all stocks after the theft.

13:28 How Royal Mail plans to cope with the virus

Advising people to limit social contact brings a particular challenge to a postal service that relies on people going door to door.

As a result, Royal Mail workers have been told not to give customers hand-held devices to sign for deliveries that need a signature.

Workers delivering post to customers will instead log the name of the person accepting the item, and can sign on their behalf.

In addition, when items are too big to fit through the letterbox, Royal Mail staff have been asked to place them on the doorstep and step back to a safe distance.

13:17 Spain sees steep rise in casualties

The number of cases climbs above 11,000

Madrid has seen by far the biggest proportion of coronavirus cases in SpainImage caption: Madrid has seen by far the biggest proportion of coronavirus cases in Spain. Almost 2,000 more cases have been confirmed in the past 24 hours in Spain, with a big increase in the number of deaths – from 342 to 491.

After Italy, Spain is the European country worst hit by the pandemic: it has now seen 11,178 cases and 1,028 of the people involved have now recovered, says emergencies co-ordinator Fernando Simón.

The Madrid region has seen 43% of the infections and, with 355 deaths, the highest fatality rate in the country at 7%. Spain is under lockdown for all but essential travel and shopping and has closed its borders to most foreigners. Unlike France and Italy, people in Spain are not required to carry a permit to go from place to place.

The government in Madrid is planning a new package of economic measures to help workers who lose their jobs and self-employed people who lose their income. Mortgage payments are set to be suspended for anyone affected by the crisis.

12:50 Exceptional travel advisory notice

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. All countries may restrict travel without notice. 

The FCO was already advising against all but essential travel or all travel to some areas or countries due to risks that do not relate to COVID-19. This advice remains in place. Check FCO travel advice pages for the latest information.

If you now need to change or cancel your travel plans, follow these steps:

  1. contact your airline, travel company, cruise line or other transport and accommodation providers
  2. get in touch with your insurance provider
  3. continue to follow the NHS coronavirus guidance

If you’re abroad

Our travel advice has changed

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises British people against all but essential travel worldwide due to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions.

We will continue to update our Travel Advice pages with relevant information if you are currently abroad. Check our travel advice for your location regularly and sign-up to email alerts.

You must follow the advice of local authorities. Your safety and security is the responsibility of the local authority where you are.

If you wish to leave the country you are in, contact your airline or travel company and your insurance provider as soon as you are able, and keep up to date with the latest developments. International travel may become more difficult. We only organise assisted departure in exceptional circumstances.

Quarantine while you are abroad

If the local authority where you are proposes to quarantine you for your own protection, you should follow their advice. When you are abroad, your safety and security is their responsibility.

If there are suspected cases of coronavirus where you are, you may need to remain in your hotel room or accommodation for 14 days, move to quarantine facilities, take tests for coronavirus and, if positive in some cases, be hospitalised abroad.

You should also contact your airline or travel company, and your insurance provider as soon as you can. We only organise assisted departure in exceptional circumstances.

12:41 UK advises against non-essential travel anywhere in the world

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says no UK citizen should travel non-essentially anywhere in the world.

Giving a statement to Parliament on the coronavirus outbreak, he says the outbreak is “the worst public health crisis for a generation and unsettling for families… so there needs to be a united effort to tackle it effectively”.

Mr Raab says UK citizens are now facing “widespread international border restrictions and lock downs”, and the speed and range of those measures are “unprecedented”.

He says these measures, and the moves taken domestically, has led to the advice “with immediate effect against non-essential travel globally for an initial period of 30 days and subject to ongoing review”.

Mr Raab adds: “We want to reduce the risk of leaving UK citizens stranded overseas.

“We will keep this under review and amend as soon as responsibility allows.”

12:27 UK culture secretary self-isolates

The UK’s culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has self-isolated after a member of his family started showing signs of coronavirus

12:16 Closing UK Parliament would send ‘terrible signal at time of national crisis’

As more measures come into place to limit contact in the UK, Parliament is considering making changes to protect its staff.

Visitors have already been banned from the historic building, but business for MPs is, for the moment, carrying on as normal.

The Clerk of the House of Commons has written to the Procedure Committee suggesting a number of possible moves that could come into force in the coming weeks or months.

They include:

Using video-conferencing
Allowing MPs to ask questions on behalf of others
Deciding votes on voices, not going through voting lobbies
Reducing the number of staff in the Commons
Limiting the number of written questions MPs can submit
The BBC’s assistant political editor, Norman Smith, says the weekly encounter the PM has with MPs in the Commons – known as PMQs – could be a real test.

“What will be interesting is if they manage to put this in place ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow, because that is the moment when the chamber is absolutely rammed and is precisely the sort of situation you want to avoid – all the more so given we know alarm bells are ringing much more loudly about the situation in London,” he says.

“But what won’t happen, I think, is any particular move to close Parliament, because the widespread view on all sides is that would send out a terrible symbol, a really negative message, at a time of national crisis.”

11:55 UK’s Thornberry calls out ‘shameful’ Trump

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is currently taking questions in the Commons ahead of giving a statement to MPs on coronavirus.

His opposition counterpart, Emily Thornberry, quizzes him on the reaction of US President Donald Trump to the outbreak.

“The truth is Mr Speaker, Donald Trump’s lack of international leadership on the issue has been quite extraordinary,” says the Labour politician.

“He started by calling the outbreaks a hoax, comparing it to winter flu and dismissing health advice, but now he is calling it ‘the foreign virus’, blaming Europe for its spread and today blaming China, saying he takes no responsibility at all.

“Does the secretary of state agree that it is shameful that this kind of behaviour is what we have come to expect from the current American president, even at this time of global crisis?”

But Mr Raab doesn’t agree.

He tells Ms Thornberry: “I think we have done quite a good job in this House of trying to have a bipartisan approach, and whether it is domestically or internationally, it just doesn’t help finger pointing in any shape or form.”

Our Comment: Is the Labour party really that low that they feel the need to make a political point at this time of emergency. We should be working together rather than trying to cause division.


Two more cinemas have now confirmed that they will be closing their doors until further notice.

Now the closures extend to Cineworld, Odeon and Picturehouse.

Theatres in London’s West End and around the UK have already closed and many concerts have been called off.

The move comes a day after the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, advised people to stay at home and avoid public venues including theatres and cinemas.

11:37 European air traffic ‘down by a third’ on Monday

Eamonn Brennan, the boss of pan-European air traffic control organisation Eurocontrol, has reported that Monday saw a rapid decrease in the number of flights being operated across the continent.

It was down by a third compared to the same operational day last year.

11:31 Mumbai city stamps hands of those in home quarantine

Mumbai, India’s most populous city, has told officials at airports and hospitals to stamp the left hand of those who should be quarantined at home with indelible ink that lasts for 14 days.

The stamp – an image of which has been circulating on social media and WhatsApp since Tuesday afternoon – shows the date until which a person is to be quarantined.

Mumbai is located in Maharashtra state, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases so far – 39.

India has confirmed 126 cases, and three deaths until now.

“Those who require self-quarantine but don’t want to stay in hospital or hotels and want to go home, they should have a sense of responsibility. They should not roam around freely. They should follow quarantine strictly,” Maharashtra’s chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray told local media. The ink being used is the same as the one used to mark voters during elections.

The state’s health minister said this was a way to ensure that those under home quarantine follow it strictly, and so that others can identify them if they do step out.

11:24 UK airports appeal to government for help

Major UK airports have written to the prime minister asking for emergency financial support.

The letter has been signed by bosses at Gatwick, Heathrow, and the Manchester Airports Group.

The airports are asking for more flexibility over protocol for border staff, and that Air Passenger Duty is deferred or suspended.

Meanwhile, the organisation which represents UK airports warned that airports might have to shut down within weeks unless urgent action is taken by government to support the industry.

The Airport Operators Association has asked for emergency financing, that taxes on airports be suspended, financial support so that airport staff can remain employed throughout the crisis and relief on policing costs.

Regional airports, like Southampton, and some airports in Scotland are in a more precarious position because of the recent collapse of Flybe.

11:21 Iran temporarily releases 85,000 prisoners

The number of prisoners released temporarily in Iran as the country grapples with the coronavirus outbreak has now reached 85,000, a judiciary spokesman said.

“So far, some 85,000 prisoners have been released … Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,” Gholamhossein Esmaili told the Reuters news agency. Political prisoners were among those freed. He did not say when those released would have to return to prison.

A total of 853 people have died and 14,991 have been confirmed infected across the country.


Dixons is closing its 531 standalone Carphone Warehouse stores in the UK on 3 April, with 2,900 jobs at risk.

The retail giant said the move is not related to the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, but is because of the changing mobile phone market.

Carphone Warehouse shops inside 305 PC World and Curry’s stores will not be affected by these changes.

11:12 BREAKING: Laura Ashley

Laura Ashley has announced it is entering administration and is suspending trading after reviewing the impact of the #Covid19 outbreak on its cashflow.

Laura Ashley was in trouble before the latest emergency but this added pressure has pushed the brand over the edge.

11:03 Troubled airline Alitalia to be nationalised

Alitalia has been endlessly haemorrhaging money – it’s only had one year of profit since its foundation in 1946 – but the economic turmoil caused by coronavirus has finished off any hope of privatisation.

Governments around the world have banned flights to Italy and the country is in virtual lockdown. And so the flag carrier, once a national pride, is to become a national burden with a rescue package reportedly costing the taxpayer some $670m (£550m).

The global airline industry is being crippled by the pandemic. But Alitalia, with a bloated workforce and years of mismanagement, was already in serious trouble.

Recent attempts to sell the airline to Germany’s Lufthansa, America’s Delta or even the Italian state railway company failed. It has been outpriced by low-cost carriers, its market share even in Italy slipping to just 14%.

And now Alitalia is yet another casualty of an outbreak predicted to plunge this country into deep recession.

11:01 More borders close across Europe

EU leaders meet via videoconference later on Tuesday with plans to stop all non-essential travel within the 27 member states. Europe’s Schengen borders – which are usually border-free – could be closed for 30 days.

Spanish police have begun stopping cars crossing its borders from France and Portugal. Only Spanish nationals, residents and cross-border workers are being allowed in. Train services are also affected.

Spain has just announced a dramatic rise in cases with 491 deaths. Cadena Ser radio reports that contingency plans are being drawn up for a potential closure of air and sea traffic.

A number of EU countries have already closed their borders to non-residents and foreigners:

  • Germany has in effect now done that with most of its neighbours and issued a travel warning against all holiday trips abroad
  • The Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, and Cyprus have closed their borders to foreigners but Slovakia is allowing in Poles for work and ski holidays

Outside of the EU, Russia is planning to close its borders to most foreigners from Wednesday until 1 May, and Ukraine has already done so.

10:43 ‘Rising sense of panic’ in UK schools

A lack of advice for schools is creating “chaos and confusion” and placing “intolerable pressure” on staff and families, a UK teachers’ union is warning.

The NASUWT, which represents teachers and head teachers, said a lack of “specific information” was creating “a rising sense of panic”.

It says it wants a definitive decision on how to protect staff and pupils, and on school closures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stopped short of announcing school closures as he unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures to try to control the spread of Covid-19 on Monday.

10:40 The form the French must fill in to justify leaving home

Under the new French decree to stay at home, coming into effect shortly at 12:00 local time (11:00 GMT) on Tuesday, citizens will need to justify their movements.

A form has been created which they should carry when out and about, and on which the reasons for travel can be ticked. They are:

  • Commuting to work where working at home is not possible
  • Trips to authorised shops for necessities
  • Travel for health reasons
  • Travel for urgent family reasons, to help the vulnerable or for childcare
  • Brief trips close to home for exercise on an individual basis and/or to exercise pets

The form can be downloaded from this interior ministry site.

Reasons can also be set out on plain paper, but it will be regarded as a sworn statement.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the fine for transgressors would soon be set at €135 ($150; £123).

Le Monde reports that some 100,000 civil servants and soldiers will be deployed nationwide to carry out checks.


10:37 Ukraine halts trains, flights and buses

Attempting to curb the outbreak, Ukraine’s government has announced a ban on all inter-city rail, air and bus services around the country. Subway services in three cities, including the capital Kiev, have also been closed.

In addition, within city transport services will only be allow to take a maximum of 10 passengers aboard any bus and or tram car service.

The new restrictions will be in place from 18 March until 3 April.

From today, the government has also banned gatherings of more than 10 people, and ordered the closure of restaurants, shopping centres and other large public buildings.

Ukraine has reported seven cases of coronavirus, one of the lowest figures of any European country.

10:30 Thailand shuts schools and delays New Year holiday

On Tuesday Thailand decided to shut schools and postpone the Thai New Year celebration, Songkran, which is coming up next month.

Authorities are also discussing whether to close bars, movie theatres, cockfighting areas and all other entertainment venues.

Thailand currently has 147 confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Thai New Year holiday, or Songkran, falls between April 13 to 15 but it’s expected that by then the numbers will be a lot higher.

Songkran usually involves a lot of outdoor celebrations and water splashing and is a major tourist draw.

10:22 Uber suspends pooled rides in North America

Uber has suspended shared rides in the US and Canada to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The pooled option allows users to save money by travelling with other passengers.

Uber users seeking solo rides in North America will also now see a message asking them to consider if the journey is essential and to “travel only when necessary.”

At least 83 people have died of the virus in the US.

09:56 Sweden closes high schools and universities

Sweden’s government has advised all high schools (for students aged over 16) and universities to close from Wednesday, with teachers urged to arrange online lessons so that students can keep up with their work.

Schools for younger children have not yet been asked to shut, but the Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has told a press conference he will monitor the situation.

Bus passengers in Stockholm have been advised by the city’s transport operator to get on board using side doors, rather than at the front, to reduce contact between the public and drivers.

New guidelines from Sweden’s Public Health Agency on Monday urged workers in the Swedish capital to stay at home and work remotely if they can, with evidence that the virus is spreading more rapidly in Stockholm than elsewhere in the country.

Sweden has not taken the decision to close pubs, cafes or restaurants.

09:09 VW to shut down some production plants temporarily

The Chief Executive of the Volkswagen Group has confirmed that the company plans to shut down production temporarily at a number of its European plants before the end of the week.

Herbert Diess said the move had been prompted by problems obtaining parts and a fall in sales due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Among those closing are several Seat facilities in Spain, a factory in Portugal, and a major facility near the Slovak capital Bratislava. The company will also begin preparations to shut down other factories in Germany and elsewhere in Europe over the next two weeks. Mr Diess did not say whether this would include the group’s flagship plant in its home town of Wolfsburg.

However, he added, production in China had resumed with the exception of two factories. On Monday, two other major car groups, PSA and Fiat Chrysler, also announced extensive short-term factory closures.

08:51 London Mayor suspects school advice will change

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been speaking about the measures introduced across the UK on Monday.

Speaking to Good Morning Britain, he said while the current advice was that there was little gain in closing schools, he said he thought that may change fairly soon. “What we do know is some teachers may be pregnant, others may have underlying health issues, a child may have a persistent cough or temperature which means mum, dad, carer decides to withdraw the child. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, over the course of the two weeks before Easter, government advice changes.”

07:40 UK pubs demand clarity over closures

In the UK, a group representing the pub industry has warned that thousands of pubs and jobs could go if the government does not take “immediate and decisive” action.

On Monday, PM Boris Johnson advised people to stay away from pubs, clubs and theatres, but did not order businesses to close.

The British Beer and Pub Association says this is the worst possible compromise, as it leaves the industry facing an “existential crisis” as they will not be entitled to insurance payouts. They say they want a “meaningful support package” – tax breaks, to keep them afloat.

The government is set to announce more financial measures to help the economy later today.

07:14 Vietnam to halt issue of all visas

Vietnam will stop issuing visas to foreign nationals in its effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, state media has reported. Vietnam has confirmed 61 infections, but no deaths.

06:21 India confirms third death from coronavirus

A 64-year-old man in the western state of Maharashtra is the third person in India to die from the coronavirus.

Maharashtra has reported the highest number of cases in the country – 39 – but this is the first virus-related death in the state.

The Indian government says 125 Indians have tested positive for the virus so far. But public health experts are worried that India is not testing widely enough to reduce the risk of the virus spreading locally. It has conducted some 6,000 tests until now based on people’s travel history and who they have interacted with.

India’s first fatality from the disease was confirmed on 12 March – a 76-year-old man from the southern state of Karnataka died after returning from a month-long visit to Saudi Arabia. The second death -of a 68-year-old woman – was reported the following day in the national capital, Delhi.

05:28 South Korea to postpone school term

South Korea will postpone the start of the school term for another two weeks to prevent the spread of the virus. Schools were initially meant to re-open on 23 March, but this will now be pushed to 6 April.

04:29 Brazil prison run

Hundreds of prisoners broke out of prison in Brazil on Monday, the day before new measures were to kick in which would have cut their day-release privileges. According to Reuters, local media report that more than 1,000 inmates fled from four different prisons ahead of lockdown.

04:14 India shuts down Taj Mahal amid coronavirus fears

India’s iconic monument Taj Mahal has shut down to halt the spread of the coronavirus, officials say. The culture ministry said tens of thousands visit the “monument of love” every day and it was “imperative to shut it down”. The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s leading tourist attractions, and draws as many as 70,000 people every day. India has 114 cases of Covid-19 and two related deaths. It has tested 6,000 people so far for the infection.

03:50 Philippines shuts down stock market

It’s not just European countries enforcing stricter measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Malaysia and the Philippines have announced unprecedented lockdowns. Under new rules in place from Wednesday, Malaysian citizens will be banned from travelling abroad while foreigners will not be permitted to enter the country.

Schools, shops and places of worship will be closed and large gatherings prohibited. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered most of the 55 million people on the main island of Luzon to stay at home for the next month. The Philippines is also the first country to shut down its stock market, suspending trade on Tuesday.

03:28 South Korea tightens borders

South Korea is to tighten border checks on all international arrivals from Thursday. The checks involve a temperature check, the confirmation of contact details during their stay in the country and the use of a phone application to record any symptoms for 14 days. For the third day in a row the number of newly reported coronavirus infections in the country was below 100. Only 84 new infections were confirmed in the last 24 hours bringing the total number of cases to 8,320. The death toll stands at 81. Health officials are urging against complacency after two recent clusters of infection in the highly populated areas of Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province. 40 people from a Church in Seongnam south of Seoul were diagnosed with the virus earlier this week. It’s been revealed that the group passed around a saltwater spray bottle in the hope of protecting themselves from coronavirus, which they inserted in their mouths without disinfecting the nozzle. The pastor, identified only as Kim, told the Yonhap news agency that he was deeply sorry about what happened.

03:07 Sydney Opera House goes silent

Australia’s iconic Sydney Opera House will cancel all public performances, until the end of March, the venue announced on Tuesday. The move kicks in today and come April there will be a re-evaluation of whether it’s safe to allow performances again. Tours of the venue will continue for now though and its food outlets will also remain open.

03:02 NZ stimulus: ‘Cashflow and confidence’

New Zealand launches a massive stimulus package to deal with the expected impact the coronavirus will have on the country. It’s a sum of 12.1bn New Zealand dollars (£6bn, $7.3bn), a staggering 4% of the country’s GDP. The largest chunk will be used to help the economy, helping companies cushion their losses, or those unable to work because they are in quarantine. Some NZ$500 million are to boost the health services to improve testing and contact tracing. Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the package was about “cashflow and confidence”. “We will fight this virus. We will cushion the blow for business and workers. We have been and we will be swift, decisive and compassionate.” New Zealand currently has eight confirmed coronavirus cases.