17th April 2020 – United Kingdom
# Cases $
Source: Public Health England and news reports. (Public Health England Web Site)
*=Interim Figures / Key: UK USA Other
** A new process for collecting numbers of recovered patients is in development: the figure shown is for 22/03/2020. The figure shown is an estimate based on a three week recovery time line.
$ Cases now include Pillar 2 cases as of 11th April 2020
More information coming soon.
23:23 White House Press Briefing
Donald Trump is now hosting the White House coronavirus taskforce daily briefing. He is joined by taskforce co-ordinator Deborah Birx, top US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue is also on stage.
Trump begins by saying he has been speaking with faith leaders about the plan he outlined yesterday, which calls for a “phased, safe and gradual reopening of America”. He says the guidelines provide governors with the “fact-driven and science based metrics they will need” to end lockdowns in their states. Trump also announces a new $19bn (£15bn) relief programme for farmers and ranchers. It’s called the Coronavirus Food Assistance Programme, and includes $16bn in direct payments, says Trump. The US government also plans to purchase $3bn in food products to distribute to food banks and Americans in need. Trump had already announced $28bn in aid for farmers affected by tariffs, as of the end of last year.
Trump complains that “very partisan and misleading voices in the media and politics” have voiced concerns about how quickly the US has scaled up testing. Without naming New York state’s governor, who said earlier today that the federal government must move quicker to provide testing, he says that some people have been “demonstrating a complete failure to imagine the scope of the testing abilities we have brought online.” The US got off to the difficult start with testing for coronavirus – initially it tested far fewer people than other countries, and Dr Fauci said in March that the US was “failing” on testing. It has since massively ramped up its testing numbers, although some business leaders have said that “vastly more testing capacity” is needed to help get the economy back up and running.
Trump notes that the federal government made available 2,900 extra hospital beds for New York City, but they did not end needing the capacity at the Javits Center or the US Navy hospital ship that was sent to Manhattan. He says “we wanted to err on the side of caution – this is what the governors wanted”. “We did a spectacular job,” Trump says. “I think I’d rather tell you that we were over-prepared, than we were under-prepared, and that was a good faith effort by New York,” he says. These appear to be gracious comments about Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo – the two were feuding just earlier today. Trump has been accused by critics of being under-prepared for the pandemic. While the government took action in late January by limiting travel from China, Mr Trump downplayed the virus for weeks, and did not advise all Americans to socially distance themselves until mid March.
Vice-President Mike Pence says states have enough test kits in supply to begin moving to phase one of the plan that the White House outlined on Thursday. He says that 120,000 tests are being done each day in hospitals around the US. But some experts have said the US will need to test millions of people daily before the nation can start returning to economic normality. Phase one calls for schools to remain shut and social distancing measure to stay in place. Businesses should continue teleworking and groups of 10 should remain banned.
Dr Anthony Fauci says people may require as many as one test every other day to be sure they have not recently become infected. He says he himself was tested negative today. “We’ve been hearing testing is everything and it isn’t,” he says, stressing that mitigation strategies tamp down outbreaks. Dr Fauci, the top US disease expert, points out it is not necessarily testing that contained the spread of other viruses like HIV/AIDS, but rather strict mitigation practices.
After President Trump steps out of the briefing room, top US infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci says totally unprompted that the government made mistakes in the early days of the pandemic. “No doubt, no doubt that early on we had a problem,” he says referring to the initial US inability to conduct mass testing. He adds: “It was a problem that was a technical problem from within. “It was an issue of embracing, the way we have now and should have, the private sector, who clearly has the capability of making and providing tests at the level that we will need them.” This is uncomfortable because the official who has been widely blamed for the testing setback – Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control – was also on stage at the briefing. Dr Fauci’s comment is, yet again, unlikely to endear him to the president, who never likes to admit error. Trump recently shared a retweet with the hashtag “#FireFauci”. Dr Fauci’s lack of harmony with White House talking points has triggered attacks from some Trump supporters who see him as a disloyal globalist infiltrator.
Trump is asked about an accusation by Washington Governor Jay Inslee that the president was fomenting rebellion by encouraging states to liberate themselves from lockdowns. He is asked how that squares with the “sober and methodical guidance” he issued yesterday. Trump says of certain stay-at-home orders: “Elements of what they’ve done is too much.” He specifically mentions Virginia, which has closed firing ranges after designating them non-essential businesses. Asked if he is concerned that protesters will spread the disease, Trump says: “No, these are people expressing their views. “I see where they are and I see the way they are working. They seem to be very responsible to me. They’ve been treated a little bit rough.”
A conservative reporter asks why the Obama administration gave a $3.7m grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where unnamed US officials have speculated in US media that the coronavirus may have leaked. “Why would the US have a grant like that to China?” asks the One America News Network journalist. Trump says: “We will end that grant very quickly.” “Who was president then, I wonder?” says Trump, noting the grant was made in 2015. The Washington Post reported this week that US diplomats were concerned about safety protocols at the Wuhan lab and asked for more help. The French president said today there was no evidence for the Wuhan lab coronavirus origin theory.
Trump disputes figures suggesting the US is leading the world in coronavirus-related deaths. “We don’t have the most-in-the-world deaths. The most in the world has to be China,” he says. Numbers released by Johns Hopkins University say the US is leading the world in total deaths. But on Friday China said it had recalculated the Wuhan death toll to be 4,000 higher, after changing its counting technique.
Trump says he is pleased with the US response so far. He cites his decision to trust his vice-president and “listening to my gut”. Trump repeats his assertion that if not for his administration’s actions, at least two million Americans would have died, and maybe “much more than that”. The president’s critics accuse him of trying to spin tens of thousands of US deaths as a win.
Trump says he hopes to get back on the campaign trail soon, and that social mitigation measures won’t be required as they are in the White House press briefing room. Having half as many journalists in the room means his news conferences, “loses, to me, a lot of flavour”, he says. “I certainly hope we can have rallies,” he adds, saying they are “a tremendous way of getting the word out”. He ends by calling campaign rallies, “an important part of politics actually”.
22:38 UK prison release scheme suspended after six freed by mistake
A UK government scheme to release prisoners early in order to help jails cope with coronavirus has been suspended after six offenders were freed by mistake. The inmates were mistakenly let out of two “open” prisons – Leyhill in Gloucestershire and Sudbury, Derbyshire. A spokesperson for the prisons service said they were “low-risk” offenders who “returned compliantly to prison when asked to do so”.
However, the mistake is deeply embarrassing for Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who has emphasised the rigorous checks that would take place before inmates are let out. The prison service attributed the release to “human error” and said processes were being changed to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.
Up to 4,000 prisoners, who are due to be freed within two months, are eligible for the early release programme across England and Wales. On Tuesday officials said four had been released with “hundreds” more due to be freed this week. Fourteen pregnant prisoners and mothers with babies had also been freed early, by Tuesday.
21:59 California’s deadliest day
Ninety-five people died with coronavirus in California in the latest 24-hour period, making it the state’s deadliest day so far. Governor Gavin Newsom said that the spike was due to a few hotspots around the state, including at a nursing home in Tulare County south-east of Fresno. Local media reported that the state’s total death toll was expected to surpass 1,000 by the end of day on Friday. All of the losses are, of course, tragic. However, so far the death toll in California – a state of 40 million people – is a fraction of what experts predicted, the BBC’s Regan Morris reports. Here she looks at how California kept ahead of the curve.
21:31 IMF head: Dire economic forecasts may be too optimistic
How do you co-ordinate economic policy across the globe, when an invisible enemy that behaves in unknown ways systematically erodes the very way economies function? That is the tricky challenge facing the relatively new managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva. The IMF is now a fire fighting service battling multiple infernos, almost everywhere.
Just three months ago, the IMF’s January economic forecast update projected that the base unit of living standards – the per person size of the economy or GDP per capita – would be going up in 160 countries. That would have meant 82% of nations becoming better off in 2020. Now, in April, because of Covid-19, she says: “We are projecting 170 countries to see income per capita shrinking during 2020” – 87% of the atlas of the world. And yet this detail – which is part of a broader forecast that sees world GDP dive 3% in 2020, creating “a global recession we have not seen in our lifetimes” – may not be the end of it. “I want to stress this may be actually a more optimistic picture than reality produces,” Ms Georgieva told the BBC
21:20 Duchess of Cornwall sends support to Manchester’s Nightingale hospital
The Duchess of Cornwall has sent a message of support to those involved in the construction of Nightingale Hospital North West, in Manchester, which opened earlier today. The hospital is located in Manchester Central Convention Complex and has capacity for 750 beds. It will accommodate those who no longer need to be in a critical care environment. “In creating this hospital, you have truly brought light at a dark time,” the duchess said. “It’s almost impossible to express the pride that our country feels in all the people who have been involved in this vast project.” NHS Nightingale hospitals in London and Birmingham have already opened. Other hospitals are being built in Glasgow, Bristol and Harrogate.
20:29 How a South Dakota pork processing plant became a virus hotspot
On 26 March, a coronavirus case was confirmed at the Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The plant did not shut down and the virus ripped through the employee ranks like wildfire. By 15 April, 644 cases of the virus were connected to the Smithfield plant, making it the largest coronavirus hotspot in the US. This week also saw the first confirmed death of a factory worker.
The BBC spoke to a half dozen Smithfield workers and their families. They say that early requests for personal protective equipment were ignored, that sick workers were incentivised to continue working, and that information regarding the spread of the virus was kept from them, even when they were at risk of exposing family and the broader public. The company told the BBC the safety of its employees was a priority and, from February, it had followed protocols and processes in line with Centers for Disease Control guidance.
20:18 WHO casts doubt on usefulness of antibody tests
The World Health Organization has cast doubt on the usefulness of antibody tests for Covid-19. Many countries have indicated an intention to purchase millions of antibody tests, suggesting that people who are proven to have had the virus could be given “immunity passports” and would be able to return to work. The UK government has bought 3.5 million antibody tests, but has not yet found one that is reliable enough to use.
But the WHO cautioned against investing too much in these tests. Speaking in Geneva, the WHO’s Dr Maria van Kerkhove said there was “no evidence” that having had the virus would guarantee immunity. She said initial evidence did not suggest large numbers of people were developing antibodies after having the virus, meaning the chances of creating “herd immunity” were not high. We’ll hear more over the weekend as the WHO issues guidance about the use of antibody tests.
The first problem with antibody tests is there aren’t any that work, but even if they did there are potential issues. There are no guarantees that if you have antibodies against the coronavirus that you are completely immune. And even if your antibodies do protect you from becoming sick, then you may be able to harbour the virus in your body and pass it to others. There will be many challenges before immunity passports, allowing you to resume life as normal if you pass an antibody test, will be practical. This is the problem with a virus that has only been around for a couple of months – there is still too much we do not understand.
However, the main appeal of antibody testing is to find out how many people have really been infected with the virus.
19:58 UK care home provider reports 377 deaths
A UK care home provider has told the BBC that 377 of its residents have sadly died with suspected or confirmed Covid-19. HC-One says nearly 3,000 are now suspected or confirmed as having the virus. One member of staff has also died. The provider, whose headquarters are in Darlington in north-east England, operates 328 care homes with 17,000 residents. Earlier this week HC-One said there had been outbreaks in two thirds of its homes.
On Wednesday, the government promised to step up testing for coronavirus in care homes where symptoms of the virus have been found. The pledge followed complaints from charities that older people were being “airbrushed” out of coronavirus death figures. A spokesperson from HC-One said their thoughts and sympathies were with all those who had lost a loved one, adding: “We are proud of our colleagues and how they have risen to the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak by showing huge dedication and commitment to our residents.”
19:50 Trudeau sending military to help in care homes
Canada is sending 125 members of the military to help with the coronavirus crisis in Quebec’s long-term care homes. Last weekend, 31 people died in one home, amid reports that staff had walked out leaving many patients unattended. The events prompted a public outcry and several official inquiries. Justin Trudeau said on Monday this use of the military was “unprecedented” but necessary. He also announced long-awaited support for the country’s energy sector, which has been hit by a double whammy of coronavirus and a Saudi-Russian oil price war.
19:36 Legal action over virus in UK prisons
The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, is facing legal action over his alleged “failure” to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in prisons across England and Wales. Two charities claim measures Mr Buckland is taking to limit the spread of infection are “unlawful” because they won’t lead to a sufficient reduction in the prison population. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have joined forces to issue a formal legal letter, the first step in judicial review proceedings. The government says up to 4,000 prisoners could be let out up to two months early to create more space in jails, but by Tuesday only 18 had been released. The campaigners say the justice secretary must take more drastic steps to prevent a “public health catastrophe” in prisons. By Wednesday, 232 prisoners had tested positive for Covid-19 across 60 jails, over half the total, with 96 staff infected.
19:15 US trace detectives on the case
The US government is hiring tens of thousands of people to become contact tracers, workers who track the movements of patients infected with the virus. The campaign has been compared to a Depression-era programme, Works Progress Administration (WPA), which created jobs for people in fields from dam-building to mural-painting in the 1930s.
The contact-tracing programme of today is designed to slow the spread of the virus. “We call it shoe-leather epidemiology,” says Daniel Daltry, a progamme chief with the health department for the US state of Vermont. More than 20 contact tracers have been speaking to Vermont patients to find out whom they recently spent time with. Individuals who have been exposed to the virus are warned about a possible infection so they self-isolate. Says Daltry: “It’s humans responding to humans, trying to work directly with each other to flatten the curve.”
19:01 France distances itself from Wuhan lab claims
France has distanced itself from US allegations that coronavirus originated in a Chinese research laboratory. President Emmanuel Macron’s office said there was no evidence so far that this is the case. A spokesperson said: “We would like to make it clear that there is to this day no factual evidence corroborating the information recently circulating in the United States press that establishes a link between the origins of Covid19 and the work of the P4 laboratory of Wuhan, China.”
President Trump said his government was trying to determine if Covid-19 came from a Chinese lab. China says the claims have no scientific basis. The virus is thought to have been passed on to humans at a wet market in Wuhan. Earlier Macron had questioned China’s handling of the outbreak, saying it was “naive” to suggest Beijing had dealt better with the crisis than Western democracies.
18:56 Trump calls for ‘liberation’ of lockdown states
On Friday morning, Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets calling for the “liberation” of three states with Democratic governors, as though they were enemy-controlled territory. The message seems apparent. The governor of one, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, recently was the target of a mass protest at the state capital against her sweeping lockdown orders. A mixed crowd of conservatives, white nationalists and anti-government militias waved Confederate and pro-Trump flags, and signs accusing Whitmer of dictatorial overreach.
Another of the states, Virginia, had its own capital protests earlier in the year from gun-rights activists. The president’s social media fusillade suggests his goal is to reward – or encourage – such shows of force from his political base, as opinion polls indicate Trump’s approval rating is sagging after a boost during the early weeks of the outbreak.
Just a day after Trump reportedly told governors in a conference call they would “call the shots” on when to begin easing restrictions, it appears the president wants to up the pressure – and the political risk – for Democrats by other means at his disposal. Trump has benefitted in the past from a finely tuned sense of the sentiments – and resentments – of his supporters. Friday morning could be an indication that he’s positioning himself to again stand in their midst.
18:35 Trump-Cuomo feud escalates with live attacks
US President Donald Trump has been tweeting attacks against Andrew Cuomo as the New York governor was speaking at his daily news conference. “If he’s sitting home watching TV, maybe he should get up and go to work,” Cuomo, a Democrat, responded after the president accused him of “complaining”. “We have given New York far more money, help and equipment than any other state, by far, & these great men & women who did the job never hear you say thanks,” Trump tweeted. Cuomo said that Trump “didn’t announce anything” in Thursday’s White House briefing on how states should plan to re-open. “He said it’s up to the states…He’s doing nothing. “It’s up to the governors. Which is what it always was,” he continued.
Most legal experts agree that the authority to police states is up to governors and not the federal government. Earlier, Trump had claimed “total” authority, but later reversed course, saying it was up to governors to “call the shots”. Mocking Trump’s comment yesterday calling the US a “50-piece puzzle”, Cuomo said: “No it’s a map of the United States, it’s not a puzzle. And those lines are called states.”
18:31 Grammy-winning performer ‘optimistic’ over his health
US singer Christopher Cross says he is optimistic about his health improving after being “sick for weeks” with coronavirus. In a post on Twitter the Grammy-winning performer told fans he is currently unable to walk but has been told by doctors that he will recover. Cross, 68, won five Grammy Awards for his eponymous 1979 debut album. He went on to win an Oscar in 1982 for Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), featured in the Dudley Moore comedy Arthur. Only Billie Eilish has so far equalled his 1981 triumph in all of the Grammys’ “big four” categories – song of the year, record of the year, album of the year and best new artist.
17:34 Cool jazz legend Lee Konitz dies
Celebrated jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz has died at the age of 92, after contracting Covid-19. He was best known for his work on the seminal Miles Davis album Birth of the Cool, which inspired the “cool jazz” style of the 1950s. Konitz continued to play and tour into his 90s, saying he had been fortunate to spend his entire life creating music. His death was confirmed by his niece, who said he had also contracted pneumonia.
17:32 New York: States need federal help with testing
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the federal government in Washington DC must do more to help states scale up their testing capacity. “Don’t ask the states to do this massive undertaking that’s never been done before and then not give them any resources to do it,” he said in his daily briefing. He called the current system “mayhem” because states are not able to source testing chemicals, which are sold by companies in China. “Supply chain issues pose international challenges” he says, adding that gowns, face masks, ventilators and other needed items are all “made in China”. Yesterday, Trump said it was up to state governors to handle their own testing, and make their own determinations in terms of how and when to re-open. As Cuomo’s news conference was ongoing, Trump tweeted: “Governor Cuomo should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining’. Get out there and get the job done. Stop talking!” Trump added that the federal government had been helping New York with “testing that you should be doing”. Overall, hospital and death rates in New York are going down, Cuomo says.
17:00 UK PRESS BRIEFING
Business Secretary Alok Sharma is stepping up to the podium for the UK government’s daily briefing. He’s joined by the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the medical director of Public Health England, Professor Yvonne Doyle.
Alok Sharma begins the press conference saying the government’s “step by step action plan” followed scientific and medical advice. The business secretary says the government has been “deliberate” in its moves, “taking the right steps at the right time”. He confirms the number of deaths across the UK has risen to 14,576 and pays tribute to the lives lost. “We must never forget that behind every statistic is a family member or a friend, and all our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of all who have lost their lives,” he adds.
Alok Sharma repeats that the lockdown measures will continue for at least another three weeks, protecting the NHS. He says they need to see “a sustained and consistent” fall in infections and deaths before they can be changed. And the government needs to be “confident” testing and PPE challenges are in hand. “The worst thing we could do now is ease up too soon and allow a second peak of the virus to hit the NHS and the British people,” he adds.
“Now is not the time to let up,” says Mr Sharma. “We must stay vigilant”. But he says the point they hope to get to, to defeat the virus is finding a vaccine. He announces a new government-led “vaccine taskforce”, which he says will accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines in the UK to fight the coronavirus outbreak. He says it is up and running, and will report to him and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock. It will be led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan van Tam, and made up of experts from across government, academia and industry.
Mr Sharma says the taskforce will co-ordinate with regulators for “rapid” trials. He says the government has “greenlighted” 21 projects to be carried out with a £14m pot of funding from the government. And he says it will add to the existing pledge of £250m from the government to develop a vaccine for coronavirus. “We are looking forward,” says Mr Sharma. “When we make a breakthrough, we will be able to manufacture millions.” But he also urges caution, saying: “Be under no illusions. A vaccine is a colossal undertaking and a complex process which will take many months. “There are no guarantees, but we are backing scientists [and] betting big.”
Chief scientific adviser to the government, Sir Patrick Vallance, says there is a little bit of “unevenness” in transport usage across the country, especially where cases of the virus are lower than other areas. “Don’t think just because you haven’t seen it near where you are, it may not be there,” he tells the public.
Referencing the graph below, Sir Patrick says the number of new cases reported in hospital has “become flat” over the last few days. “We would expect this to start decreasing in terms of total number of cases,” he says.
Chief scientific adviser to the government, Sir Patrick Vallance, says there is a gradual decrease in the number of people in hospital beds in London, and a flattening and decrease in some areas. “That is exactly what you’d expect from the social distancing measures that we’ve all taken beginning to feed through,” he says. He adds that while these numbers are changing, it will take time to see a change in the number of deaths, and therefore the social distancing measures need to continue.
The BBC’s Fergus Walsh asks how the government is going to get to 100,000 tests in England done by the end of the month – a target set by the health secretary – when they are only at a capacity of 38,000 today. Alok Sharma says they are “continuing to work” and “doing everything we can” to reach the target, listing 26 drive-through centres now up and running. The medical director of Public Health England, Professor Yvonne Doyle, says the numbers are being “closely tracked” and the government is “on track”. She says there is currently more capacity than is being used and the earlier announcement that more key workers will be able to access tests will be a positive step. “Getting that organised and acceptable locally is the next key,” she says. The testing target includes swab tests, which are already in use, and blood tests, which are yet to be launched. And asked about who will get a vaccine first, Sir Patrick says it will roll out “in the normal way” with the most vulnerable getting it before the wider public. But, he adds: “That is some way off.”
“We are not through this yet; we are headed in the right direction,” the chief scientific adviser says. He says the number of deaths is a “tragedy”, adding: “I expect unfortunately this number to continue at a plateau for a little while and then to start coming down slowly after that.”
Scientists in Oxford behind vaccine trials say they are so confident in their attempt, they will manufacture one million doses while their trial is under way and they hope to be ready for September. So, a reporter asks, how can the UK be sure to be front of the queue? Alok Sharma says he has spoken to that team in recent days and the government was “continuing to support” the work. But Sir Patrick Vallance again errs on the side of caution. He says the researchers have done “a great job to get to where they are”. But while there are over 100 vaccine projects, he says the reality is that “each single project does not have a high probability of success”. Sir Patrick adds: “Everyone goes out with great enthusiasm… but it is never the case we know we have a vaccine that works.” He says once one is found, “safety is incredibly important” before the roll-out. The vaccine may not come from the UK, however, and the government must “back lots of horses”.
After warning about a “new normal” for businesses because of coronavirus, another reporter asks the business secretary what he means by that phrase. The minister says the guidance has been “very clear” about asking people to stay at home, but he says there are “certain settings” where workers will need to go in – like manufacturing and construction. “In these circumstances, people can go into work but it is incumbent on employers to follow the Public Health England guidance for working safely,” he adds. “We have to adapt the way that we are working, so we do that in a safe way and keep employees safe.” Mr Sharma says as the measures were renewed yesterday for at least another three weeks, employers must continue on that path.
The panel is asked whether there have been any findings from the investigations into deaths of NHS workers who contracted coronavirus. The investigations have started and are ongoing, says Business Secretary Alok Sharma. Medical director of Public Health England Yvonne Doyle says work on looking at how black and ethnic minority people may be more at risk from the virus is also under way. “There will be a lot of speculation as to why people die, and what may be the factors, but actually some of these factors are quite complex and they’re being investigated correctly,” she says. Asked for a timescale, Prof Doyle says: “It’s much more important to get this right than to rush it. But it’s seen as very important.”
A reporter has asked why the government had previously branded care workers and NHS staff “low-skilled labour” and if it was a mistake. Alok Sharma doesn’t answer the question directly, but chooses to pay tribute to the “selfless work” they carry out. The reporter also asks about statutory sick pay – it is around £96 a week – and he says some care staff are going into work, despite being ill. Professor Yvonne Doyle says the frontline workers are “health heroes” and they should follow guidance and not go to work if they are unwell. “I understand what you are saying about economic reasons, but it is not in their interests to go to work. “It will delay their recovery and put those around them at risk as well.” She said it was important for them to accept testing now there is more capacity.
ITV asks the business secretary if he can offer any hope to the tourism industry that there will be “some kind of summer season” this year. Earlier today the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested people should not book summer holidays for later this year. Alok Sharma says “this is a very tough time for very many businesses” and the government has put in place help, including today extending the furlough scheme. He says the government aims to support businesses so they can “bounce back” when the UK comes out the other side of the pandemic.
Medical director of Public Health England Prof Yvonne Doyle says the areas of the UK that are being hit hardest by the virus has changed over time. “Initially, we saw cases coming from travel and that has changed now to very widespread distribution of this virus. So it has hit the cities. “We would’ve expected London to be earlier on in this and indeed that’s what happened. And then the Midlands as well, because of the concentrations of populations.” There are other factors, she says, that may drive it at this point. She says because community transmissions are now beginning to decrease, location of care homes or transmission within the healthcare system have become an important factor. She says the location of the “hot-spots” is being monitored very closely every day.
Alok Sharma concluded the press conference, saying he understood the lockdown measures were “very difficult for families and individuals”, but added: “Ultimately it is about people’s individual safety.” He thanked the public for what they have been doing and appealed to them to continue to follow government advice. “Stay home and protect the NHS, because ultimately, this is about saving your life and the lives of those you love.”
16:20 UK government furlough scheme extended until June
The government payment scheme for furloughed workers has been extended into June. More than nine million workers are expected to be furloughed, or put on state-paid leave, under the government’s job retention scheme. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed the wage subsidy will continue for another month. He added it could be extended further “if necessary”. “With the extension of the coronavirus lockdown measures yesterday, it is the right decision to extend the furlough scheme for a month to the end of June to provide clarity,” Sunak said.
15:32 Sweden ‘is taking this seriously’
The head of the Swedish public health agency, Johan Carlson has defended Sweden’s approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no formal lockdown in Sweden, with schools, restaurants and shopping malls still open – an approach that has placed the country under intense scrutiny. However, at a news conference, Carlson insisted his country was taking the virus seriously, with a mixture of social distancing recommendations and laws including a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.
He also raised concerns about the impact of stricter lockdowns on mental and physical health as well as domestic violence levels – saying he couldn’t see any rationale for people sitting indoors listening to radio announcements asking them not to go out. The scientist said Sweden’s strategy was designed for the longer term – even until 2022 if necessary – but he hoped any restrictions could be eased before the start of the summer holidays, which usually begin in late June. (Curious how the county’s position has been going down with Swedes? We asked a few back in March…)
15:24 ‘When we get out of this… people will no longer accept breathing dirty air’
Earlier we brought you details of French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of China’s handling of the outbreak during a new interview with the Financial Times. He also told the newspaper how the unprecedented action nations have taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic could lead to pressure to take more radical action on climate change. Pollution levels have plummeted as a result of social distancing and lockdown measures. “When we get out of this crisis people will no longer accept breathing dirty air,” Macron told the newspaper. “People will say . . . ‘I do not agree with the choices of societies where I’ll breathe such air, where my baby will have bronchitis because of it. And remember you stopped everything for this Covid thing but now you want to make me breathe bad air!’”
15:18 Tunisians held over plot to infect police officers
The interior ministry in Tunisia says that two men, including a suspected jihadist, have been arrested over an alleged plot to infect members of the security forces with coronavirus. The ministry says that the suspected jihadist – recently released from prison – had tried to encourage those who might have the virus to cough on police and security officials. The other man says that he was told to deliberately cough everywhere when he reported to his local police station – as part of the surveillance he was under. He is being tested to see if he has coronavirus.
15:11 6,000 extra deaths in two weeks in Ecuador province
Ecuador’s official coronavirus death toll is 403, but new figures from just one province suggest many thousands have died in the country. The government said 6,700 people had died in the Guayas province alone in the first two weeks of April, far more than the usual 1,000 deaths there in the same period. Guayas is home to the nation’s largest city Guayaquil – the worst affected part of the country.
Footage obtained by the BBC earlier this week showed residents of the city forced to store bodies of relatives in their homes for up to five days. They said authorities had been unable to keep up with rate of death, leaving corpses wrapped in sheets in family homes and even on the street. City authorities last week began distributing thousands of cardboard coffins and set up a dedicated helpline for families that needed a body removed from their home.
15:01 Japanese PM says WHO needs inspection after pandemic
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the World Health Organization (WHO) has issues that need to be inspected when the pandemic is over. But he said his government was not planning to withdraw funding for the WHO. “Now is time to support the WHO,” he said. “But the truth is, there are issues and challenges. We need to inspect this after this situation is contained.” His comments come just days after US President Donald Trump announced he would be withdrawing funding for the WHO. Mr Trump accused the WHO of making deadly mistakes and overly trusting China.
14:46 Start mass testing now to avoid further lockdowns – Hunt
Former UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said it is “not the moment for pointing fingers” in relation to a prediction that the UK’s death toll could end up being the worst in Europe. He said it was instead important to look at international best practice, including mass community testing to trace where the virus was spreading, as has been done in South Korea and Germany. Mr Hunt, who now chairs the Common’s health select committee, said that while testing was “not a cure” it gives “vital information…that means you don’t have to lock down”. South Korea’s intensive testing regime has meant it has avoided a lockdown, despite having cases of the virus as early as January.
Mr Hunt, whose committee heard from the Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier today, said that in some parts of Britain infection rates were low enough that mass testing could be started immediately, citing parts of Yorkshire and Cornwall as examples. Considering the possibility that coronavirus outbreaks could come in waves, Mr Hunt said if a mass testing regime was started then “the next time it comes back we won’t have to have this kind of lockdown”.
14:20 UK government rejects claims lockdown plans ‘in limbo’
Claims by the UK opposition Labour party that the government’s plans for ending the lockdown are “in limbo” are “wrong”, a government official has said. Labour’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said on Thursday’s BBC coronavirus podcast: “I think that throughout this they’ve struggled with taking decisions quickly enough”. He added: “We’ve all been pleased to see that [Boris Johnson]’s come out [of hospital] and is feeling better. And it feels as though they’ve been in a position probably for a week or 10 days now where it’s been difficult for the government to make big decisions.” A Downing St spokesman said: “We have set out five tests which we believe need to be met for us to be able to consider relaxing some of the social distancing measures in place. “We are at a critical point in our response and we do want people to remain focussed on that core message to stay at home to reduce the transmission of this disease and to save lives.”
14:10 UK reports 847 more virus deaths
The UK has reported 847 more virus-related deaths in hospitals, taking the total to 14,576.
13:48 More flights to get Brits home from India
The government has announced it is arranging an extra 17 charter flights to bring a further 4,000 British nationals back home from India. Jan Thompson, the acting high commissioner in Delhi, said the flights would leave from Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Goa, Mumbai and Bangalore next week. The Foreign Office said the most vulnerable would be given priority for the flights, which would cost up to £591. So far the UK has arranged the repatriation of about 5,000 Britons on 19 chartered flights.
Officials estimate there are still a further 15,000 Britons in India seeking to return after the country was subject to severe transport restrictions to combat Covid-19. Ms Thompson said the existing waiting list was “large” and only those travellers who had previously registered with the High Commission were likely to get a seat on these latest charters. But she acknowledged there would have to be future flights to continue returning one of the largest groups of UK nationals still stranded overseas. Many UK travellers in India have expressed their frustration at the Foreign Office’s handling of the repatriation effort, which some have said was slow and lacking transparency compared with other countries.
13:36 UK government: Do not book summer holidays
Downing St has said that government guidelines and official foreign office advice “do not allow for people going on holiday”. The prime minister’s spokesman said that travelling within the UK for holidays was “not something which the current guidelines allow for” and Foreign Office advice “continues to be that you should go abroad for essential travel only”. Earlier Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested people should not book summer holidays for later this year.
12:59 Parole Board struggling to release prisoners
The Parole Board for England and Wales has said it is struggling to safely release some of Britain’s most serious criminals during the pandemic. Normally the board conducts face-to-face hearings in prison to determine whether inmates can be safely released but this has stopped. Of the 2,500 hearings which were due to happen between March and June, only 350 have gone ahead remotely. Martin Jones, chief executive of the Parole Board, admitted increasing prisoners’ time in incarceration could lead to legal challenges at a later point.
There are significant challenges in assessing serious criminals via phone or video. Around 1,000 decisions on parole were made in March, roughly half the normal figure, with only 150 prisoners released. A major problem for the Probation and Prison Service as well as the Parole Board, is that it is challenging under lockdown to conduct normal risk assessments and make sure prisoners have a safe address to move to. The government recently announced that 4,000 low risk prisoners, who would not need to be assessed by the parole board, were being released early, to ease the pressure on prisons.
12:16 Singapore battles migrant worker infections
It was once praised for its success in containing the virus – but Singapore is now struggling to deal with a wave of infections linked to its foreign worker dormitories. Around 300,000 low-wage workers, mostly from South Asia, work in Singapore in jobs like construction and maintenance. They often live in huge dormitory complexes, where up to 17 men could be sharing a room. But many of these dormitories have now become virus hotspots. No one can enter or leave these buildings, leaving thousands of workers confined to their rooms.
11:34 Former Leeds and England defender Norman Hunter dies
Former Leeds United and England footballer Norman Hunter has died in hospital after contracting coronavirus. The 76-year-old, who was a tough-tackling defender, was a key player in Leeds’ most successful era. He won two league titles during a 14-year career at Elland Road, and was a non-playing member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad. Hunter was admitted to hospital on 10 April after testing positive for coronavirus. A statement issued by Leeds said they were “devastated” by the passing of Hunter, whose “legacy will never be forgotten”.
11:25 Duterte threatens martial law over lockdown breaches
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to send the military and police onto the streets of the capital, Manila, after the number of cars on the roads increased. The president, speaking on television, said he was “just asking for a little discipline”, before adding: “If not, if you do not believe me, then the military and police will take over… It’s like martial law. You choose.” According to news agency AP, police have already caught 120,000 people flouting the lockdown, which was brought in a month ago. Police say they were involved in a range of activities – including cock fighting and amateur boxing matches.
The Philippines has so far recorded 5,660 confirmed coronavirus cases, and 362 deaths, but it is thought the number will climb as testing increases. Human rights groups have warned that thousands are being put at risk in the country’s overcrowded jails – which have the highest occupancy in the world, according to the World Prison Brief. Some 18 cases were found in one prison alone. Human Rights Watch has called for the government to release certain groups – including the elderly and those accused of low-level offences – to reduce overcrowding.
10:59 Police respond to ‘clapping crowd’ on Westminster Bridge
London’s Metropolitan Police says officers are reminded regularly of “the importance of social distancing” after some appeared not to follow the government guidance during a clap for carers on Westminster Bridge. People in the UK have been applauding at 20:00 each Thursday to show their appreciation for the country’s key workers during lockdown. But videos on social media show members of the public and officers standing close together while taking part on Westminster Bridge. “Officers, along with other emergency service workers, came together last night on Westminster Bridge to celebrate the work of all key workers,” a Met spokesperson said. “A large number of members of the public also gathered to express their gratitude. “While many people adhered to social distancing guidance, it appears that some did not. “We regularly remind our officers of the importance of social distancing where practical, and will continue do so.”
10:46 UK warned of ‘further waves’ of infections
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is facing questions from the UK’s Health and Social Care Committee about the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier, Prof Anthony Costello of University College London’s Institute for Global Health warned that the UK was “going to face further waves” of infections. “If we’re going to suppress the chain of transmission of this virus in the next stage we all hope that the national lockdown and social distancing will bring about a large suppression of the epidemic so far – but we’re going to face further waves,” he told the committee at a virtual session. He added that “the harsh reality” is that “we were too slow with a number of things” which may have led the UK to have “probably the highest death rates in Europe”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock addresses the issue of deaths being reported long after they actually happened. He says there have been efforts to bring data up to speed, knowing it was taking two weeks to get ONS data at the start of the epidemic. The lag is now five days, he says. But there is still confusion because hospital deaths are reported before deaths in the community, as in care homes. It may be that we can only see the true numbers of people who died each day by looking back at the end of this pandemic.
10:19 Muslim clerics vow to hold Friday prayers in Pakistan’s mosques
Some Islamic clerics in Pakistan have said they will hold Friday prayers across the country, despite a ban on big gatherings to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Earlier this week, a group of religious scholars said the lockdown was not applicable to mosques. They said elderly people had been advised to pray at home, and mosques would follow social distancing guidelines. “In the present conditions, five daily prayers along with precautionary measures are essential,” religious scholar Mufti Taqi Usmani said on Tuesday. Pakistan’s ban on gatherings has been in place for the past few weeks, but a large number have still been coming out to pray. Nearly 7,000 people have tested positive for the virus in the country, which has recorded at least 120 deaths so far.
10:02 German outbreak ‘under control’
Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn has said the country’s coronavirus outbreak is “again under control” following lockdown measures. “The infection numbers have sunk significantly, especially the relative day-by-day number,” AFP quoted him as saying on Friday. Spahn also said a new coronavirus contact tracing app will be ready within “weeks” for Germans to use. Germany has been praised for its aggressive testing efforts. It has almost 138,000 positive cases, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking, and 3,868 people have died nationally with the virus, which is a relatively low number. The country is contemplating easing some restrictions, with smaller shops expected to re-open as early as next week and some schools set to resume teaching at the start of May.
09:24 London buses change boarding system to protect drivers
London buses will temporarily become middle-door only boarding from Monday in a bid to improve social distancing and protect drivers, says Transport for London (TfL). Passengers will also not be required to “touch in” and have been told not to approach the card reader near the driver. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “I will continue to do whatever it takes to keep our heroic transport workers as safe as possible. “But I would like to remind Londoners that you shouldn’t be travelling by any mode of transport unless it is absolutely necessary, and public transport is only open for critical workers.” TfL said the measure will “add another layer of protection on top of the other robust safeguards in place”.
08:01 Leading scientists to begin unprecedented investigation
The Royal Society is to begin an urgent scientific investigation into ways of ending the coronavirus pandemic. An expert panel will assess all the available science and lessons learned from other countries to provide advice in the next few days and weeks on how the current lockdown measures might be eased. This is an unprecedented investigation for an unprecedented crisis.
Normally these kinds of analyses take months, if not years. This one will publish its findings to the public online shortly after the experts come to their conclusions. In the coming weeks, they will aim to provide an assessment on the use of masks, whether the virus is less dangerous in the summer, and also to attempt to determine the impact of allowing children to go back to school. It will also look into the various options for safely easing social distancing measures. The publication of its findings in the days and weeks to come means that there will be a public discussion about how lockdown measures might be lifted – even if the government isn’t yet ready to set out its ideas.
07:52 UK to send flights for stranded citizens in Pakistan
The British government has arranged chartered flights to bring back citizens in Pakistan after repeated calls for it amid the coronavirus outbreak. The British High Commissioner in Pakistan said flights would begin next week, with “at least five daily flights from Islamabad and three from Lahore”. Pakistan has confirmed nearly 7,000 Covid-19 cases so far. As we reported last month, the UK government pledged £75m ($93m) to charter special flights to bring home citizens from countries where commercial flights are unavailable.
07:43 Macron labels China virus praise ‘naive’
French President Emmanuel Macron has added his voice to growing sceptism of China’s handling of the outbreak of coronavirus. Asked if China’s authoritarian response to bring the outbreak under control had exposed the weakness of Western democracies, Mr Macron said that there was no comparison between open societies and those where truth was suppressed. “Given these differences, the choices made and what China is today, which I respect, let’s not be so naive as to say it’s been much better at handling this,” he told the Financial Times. “We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.” His comments came as China revised its death toll from the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started, up by 50% on Friday.
07:20 Trump’s ex-lawyer ‘to be released from prison’
US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is reportedly set for an early release from prison due to the coronavirus. Cohen is serving a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to multiple offences, including violating campaign finance laws and lying to Congress. He is currently in a minimum-security prison at Otisville, New York where cases of Covid-19 have been reported among inmates and staff.
The Bureau of Prisons has faced criticsm for its handling of outbreaks and is under pressure to release some non-violent inmates. A number of other high-profile figures, including R Kelly and Bill Cosby, have also appealled for release due to the virus. Last month a federal judge denied an earlier request by Cohen to be freed because of the pandemic, telling him to “accept the consequences of his criminal convictions”.
06:39 Denmark will further ease lockdown
Denmark will allow some small businesses like hairdressers, beauty salons and driving schools to open on 20 April, the government said on Friday. “No one wants to keep Denmark closed a day longer than is absolutely necessary,” Prime Minister Mette Frederikse said. The move comes after several other European countries, including Austria and Germany, announced a similar easing of their lockdown measures.
On Wednesday, Denmark already allowed some nurseries and primary schools to reopen after infection rates steadied. The country will keep its borders shut though and other curbs on restaurants, bars and gyms remain in place, as does a ban on large public gatherings. Denmark has around 7,000 confirmed infections and 321 deaths.
06:33 Khartoum governor sacked in prayer ban row
The Sudanese prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, has sacked the governor of the capital Khartoum after he opposed a ban on religious gatherings imposed to try to curb the spread of Covid-19. General Ahmed Abdun Hammad Mohammed refused to implement a decision to ban prayers in mosques and churches due to come into force on Saturday.
06:10 Germany’s infection rate continues to drop
Germany’s infection rate continues to go down, health officials said on Friday. Ten people who carry the virus now pass it on to only seven new people. In early March, those 10 people would have infected 30 new people, in early April, they would pass the virus to 13 people. According to the official numbers, there have been 3,380 new positive tests in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 133,830. More than half of those have already recovered though. The number of deaths linked to Covid-19 rose by just under 300 to 3,868. The country’s relative success in dealing with the virus is mainly attributed to its widespread testing from early on.
06:01 ‘To India our lives are worth less than $1’
Some 900,000 female community health workers are on the frontline as part of India’s battle against Covid-19. But they are poorly paid, ill-prepared and vulnerable to attacks and social stigma. “The value of our life is just 30 rupees [less than $1], according to the government,” says Alka Nalawade, a community health worker in the western state of Maharashtra. “The government is paying us 1,000 rupees ($13; £10) a month for corona-related work,” she adds. “That is 30 rupees daily for putting our life in danger.” Ms Nalawade is among the state’s 70,000 Ashas, short for Accredited Social Health Activists. Ashas are drawn from local and largely rural communities, and are a crucial element in India’s primary and community health programmes.
05:27 Australia’s virus app concerns
When the Australian government announced it was developing a contact-tracing app that would essentially monitor people’s movements, a heated debate about privacy was inevitable. The app is modelled on a similar one in Singapore called TraceTogether. It uses Bluetooth to record contact you’ve had with other people, even if you do not know them. If you’ve tested positive for Covid-19, health authorities could monitor your movements through the app and trace who you were near – if that person has the app they’d be informed they were near an infected person. Signing up is voluntary. But to be effective, the app needs 40% of the population to consent to using it.
There’s still a great deal of scepticism. Even in Singapore, only 20% of the population are using it. It’s unclear what kind of information the government will have, for how long and what exactly people will be consenting to. The attorney general is looking into privacy implications. Many are asking if federal privacy laws will be changed to accommodate the app. The health minister Greg Hunt said he’ll be downloading it. But for people to buy into it, it’s crucial the government guarantees they’re not trading their privacy for better health information.
04:59 Concern over crowded Philippine prisons
There is growing concern about the potential for a major outbreak inside the overcrowded prisons of the Philippines. Prisons are operating at an average capacity of 350% – the BBC visited one in Manila in 2018 and saw prisoners without beds having to sleep on the floor or on tables. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has told the BBC that if the coronavirus gets into a prison – despite prevention measures from officials – it would be disastrous. The Supreme Court is meeting on Friday to discuss a petition from human rights groups calling for sick and elderly prisoners to be released, to free up space.
04:49 Australia-New Zealand ‘bubble’ proposed
The Pacific neighbours have both been hailed for their success in flattening the curve so far. That’s led to New Zealand’s deputy leader suggesting they could open up their borders to each other to create a “trans-Tasman [Sea] bubble” – if their virus declines continue. In response, Australia has been less enthused – saying it was aware of the Kiwis’ interest but hadn’t pursued it further yet. Last month, the two nations announced border closures at the same time -which initially maintained exemptions for each other’s citizens. And while their success rate has been similar, their lockdowns have varied – with New Zealand enacting a full shutdown, while Australia has kept takeaway shops and public transport open. NZ has indicated it may relax some of its restrictions next week.
04:31 Spitting in public to get costlier in India
India’s home ministry has banned spitting in public, saying it poses a “serious threat” of spreading of Covid-19. To be clear, various municipal laws in cities had already banned it, but it was hardly enforced or taken seriously. But now the home ministry has banned it under a federal act, which is likely to have a bigger impact. States and cities have already hiked their fines. In Mumbai, officials will charge 1,000 rupees (£10.40; $13) to those caught and in the national capital, Delhi, violators will have to pay up 2,000 rupees. An official from South Delhi Municipal Corporation said they would form teams dedicated to catching culprits. “They will carry out raids in markets and public areas when the lockdown is lifted,” he told the Times of India newspaper. India is under lockdown until 3 May.
04:19 Wuhan increases death toll figures by 50%
The Chinese city of Wuhan – where the virus emerged – has revised its Covid-19 death toll up by 1,290, to 3,869 – an increase of 50% The BBC’s Robin Brant said the total was increased to include some of those who died outside hospital, and because of some delayed reports. “Obviously it will add to suspicion about China’s coronavirus figures,” our correspondent says.
China’s death toll had been steady at around 3,300 for weeks – until today, when it jumped to more 4,600. That’s because the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, raised its death toll by 50% – that’s 1,290 cases – attributing it to updated reporting, and more deaths from outside hospitals being counted. There has been doubt over China’s figures for some time, with US President Donald Trump suggesting they “seem to be a little bit on the light side”. Releasing the corrected toll, Wuhan city officials insisted there had been no cover-up of the real figures. Wuhan’s 11 million residents spent 11 weeks in strict lockdown conditions, which have only recently been eased.
China has denied there has been a cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian came hours after the death toll in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, was revised upwards by 1,290 people. He said this was the result of a statistical review to ensure accuracy and that revisions are a common international practice, Reuters news agency reports.
04:10 Handout keeps Virgin Australia in the air
Australia’s government is giving a helping hand to the country’s two major airlines – paying Qantas and Virgin Australia to operate some key routes for the next couple of months. Both carriers had all but stopped domestic flights as demand dried up and restrictions limited passenger movement between states. On the face of it, the A$165m (£84m; $105m) hand-out is to help quarantined travellers get home and allow medical and military personnel to move more easily. And with plans to resume parliament in May – it’ll be handy for some politicians to get to Canberra too. But really this is a short-term lifeline for debt-laden Virgin – allowing it to reinstate a couple of hundred staff and get aircraft back in the air.
Virgin has been asking for a government loan of about A$1.4bn to ensure survival, but Canberra maintains that any rescue package will be industry-wide. So this buys some time. Few people want to see Virgin Australia go bust in a nation as vast as Australia where air travel is crucial. That would cost thousands of jobs, make it even harder for the tourism industry to recover and give Qantas a monopoly on many routes. But handing over money when the airline’s owners (which include Etihad, Singapore Airlines, China’s HNA and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group) are not willing to come to its aid would be a bad look. Especially when Australia looks set to head into its first recession in almost 30 years.
Sources: Various news sources including but not limited to BBC News, Fox News, CNN.
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