Coronavirus latest news: No10 hints London’s lockdown will be lifted first – watch today’s briefing live

Downing Street has hinted that London could leave lockdown first, while playing down suggestions the Government has effectively taken over City Hall through the creation of a ‘London Transition Board’.

The body, announced today, will see the national Government and London Mayor working together to identify the best way to bring the capital out of lockdown, while controlling the spread of Covid-19.

City leaders and other experts will focus on infection control, phasing in and out of varying levels of lockdown, restarting the economy and the recovery of public services, such as transport.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted that the plan would not see the Government take over, but working with Sadiq Khan to help “provide London with the support it needs to deliver social and economic renewal”.

The Mayor will co-chair the transition board alongside Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary.

The Prime Ministers spokesman also hinted that London could leave lockdown before the rest of the country. Asked whether the creation of the body could see the city move at a faster pace, he said:

“Without talking of a specific part of the country, what is clear in the plans… is that as we are able to gather more data and have better surveillance in different parts of the country  then we will be able to potentially be able to lift measures quicker in some parts of the country than others. 

“And equally, we will be able to put the brakes on some parts of the country while not having to do so in other parts.”

 Follow the latest updates:

Inevitable that people will go out – but must follow advice

Asked about beauty spots, Priti Patel points to the beautiful weather as we head into a bank holiday. 

It is inevitable that the public will be out and about a lot more, she adds. Enjoy being outdoors but with a very clear caveat – follow the advice. She says local authorities have an enormous role to play. 

But “we have got to stick with this,” she says. “We do not want to go back to where we were before.”

Immunity passport talk ‘premature’

Asked by the Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner if this sends out the message that Britain is closed for business, Priti Patel stresses we are not shutting down completely we are not shutting our borders. We are seeking to control the spread of the virus.

Between now and June 8, Government will work with industries to have a plethora of tools to support the measures and help look at how we can open society. 

Asked why people are being put under house arrest instead of taking an antibody test, Sir Patrick Vallance says a negative test is not very predictive. If you have just caught the disease you may test negative for five days, then you “shed” a lot of the disease and then it declines again. 

On antibody tests, he says we are much more positive that people who get infections do get an antibody response and some of them are “neutralising” antibodies. 

What we don’t know how long it lasts for or how effective it is for reducing transmission or preventing infection. Work still needs to be done to understand the significance of a positive antibody test. To start talking about immunity passports is really very premature, he says. 

People may be removed from UK if they don’t have accommodation 

Asked where people will be put if they don’t have somewhere to stay, Priti Patel says the number of people travelling to the UK are at an all-time low. 

We are effectively working to communicate around the world what the processes are, so that if people do want to come to the UK they know they need accommodation. 

Paul Lincoln of Border Force says accommodation can be provided, at the person’s expense, in limited circumstances. If people can’t afford it, they may be removed from the country. 

Asked why the quarantine is being brought in now, Ms Patel says that as the rate of infection drops it is now about managing the risk of transmission being introduced from elsewhere to prevent a second wave “of this deadful virus”. 

Air bridges not for today – but might be in the future, says Patel

Asked about exemptions for France, and the wider air bridge idea put out by Grant Shapps, the Home Secretary says Government has been working closely with French counterparts. There are limited exemptions including frontier workers and critical supply workers. 

We will continue to engage with our French colleagues, while keeping the list under review, she says. There are “limited” exceptions to these new rules, details of which will be published later.

The nation wants to start getting back to living a normal life, and potentially travel, she says, But the fact of the matter is we are not advising anything but essential travel. 

However air bridges might not be for today, but that doesn’t mean it’s not for the future, she says. We will look at all options. We should be looking to lead the world when it comes to aviation.

But “it is important to emphasis that we have to do this in the right way” and that is going to take time, she says.

The pandemic is not a short term thing, agrees Vallance. 

On schools reopening…

Asked about reopening schools, Patel points to the fact many schools are already open.

“There are very many vulnerable children who are in schools and they are safer in schools,” she says.

Infection control has to be looked at a local level, following the advice from Government, she adds. The Department of Education are working on this.

Sir Patrick Vallance says the risks for children are much lower, but not zero. The broader risk is the pressure on R that comes from “any contact”. 

The judgement early on was that schools are a relatively low part of that risk, but there are other consequentials – people going to work – that come from that. 

He says it is worth reflecting that the overall risk is not something you would pick out about high risk, compared with dentistry.

‘Advice is not about booking holidays right now’

Turning to questions from journalists, the Home Secretary is asked whether it is safe to assume summer holidays are off for this year. 

Priti Patel says the advice is not about booking holidays right now. The measures are being brought in for very clear reasons. Advice is not to travel, so please follow advice, she adds. 

“This is absolutely not about booking holidays. We want to avoid a second wave,” she says. 

CMO considering how to open dentists

Asked about dentists reopening, Sir Patrick says that some professions like dentistry are more likely to be close to people for some periods.

It is being looked at by the Chief Medical Officer, he says, who are thinking about what the guidance should be. 

“This is a key thing that people want to see open,” he adds.

Weddings are still off the cards, it seems

A member of the public wants to know what hope there is for people who were intending to get married this autumn and whether policymakers will “put a number” on the size of gatherings.

Priti Patel says she knows people who have been in this situation and stresses the need for people to act responsibly, but says we want to get back to the point where weddings are possible. 

Sir Patrick Vallance says experts have been trying to break transmission between households, so as any decisions are made about that would need to be taken on a risk-based assessment. 

The Government would decide on a number for people allowed to attend small gatherings, he adds. 

‘Don’t relax yet’

Sir Vallance closes his segment by emphasising that the country should continue to maintain social distancing measurs.

“We need to keep on with it” and “make sure we don’t relax at the wrong time”, he adds.

This peak is ‘an artificial peak’

The UK has clearly past the peak of infection, however, it is an “artificial” peak, says Vallance pointing to the efforts of the British public to keep the R-value down through social distancing measures.

There is still a risk of a second peak if we move too fast, he says, and that is “what we have to avoid”.

London cases plummet but regional variations persist

Regional variations in the number of coronavirus cases continue with London showing the largest drop off, Sir Vallance says.

However, there is still a lot more that needs to be done to get these numbers down across the board, he stressed.

Hospital admissions and those on ventilators are coming down

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 and the number of people requiring a mechanical ventilator is coming down in line with the fall in cases, Vallance points out.

Cases falling ‘quite slowly’

Sir Patrick Vallance says the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is coming down, but “quite slowly”.

He adds that the number of people in hospital and on ventilators is falling too. But it’s not happening at the same rate across the country, Sir Patrick says.

Roughly one in a thousand infected every week

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, is now going through the slides.

The R-rate is 0.7 – 1, a figure that was published earlier today, saying the epidemic is either flat or declining.

The ONS surveillance programme shows that in the two weeks from May 4 to May 17, 0.25 per cent of people were infected. That is about 137,000 across the country. There are around 61,000 new infections per week, roughly one in a thousand. 

He says the epidemic is shrinking but the lower the numbers go the better. It also makes the test, track, trace programme easier to manage.  

People will be expected to give address upon arrival: Border Force boss

Border Force boss Paul Lincoln says people will be expected to give details of where they will be self isolating when they arrive in the UK. 

The full list of people who will be exempt will be published shortly but includes haulage and freight workers, medics, officials such as French police and all journeys from within the Common Travel Area. 

All those arriving will need to tell officials where they will be staying, whether it is with family, friends or in rented accommodation.

If this does not meet the “necessary requirements”, people will be required to self-isolate in facilities arranged by the government.

Mr Lincoln says this work will sit alongside the test, track and trace programme to be able to identify possible people who might be infected. 

People will be fined £100 for failing to complete the form properly, and £1,000 for breaking the quarantine, he adds. 

The advice is quite clear – if you have been with people who have had the virus, or are displaying symptoms, you should not travel, he adds. 

Border force has facilitated the vital import of equipment

Lincoln reminds the country of the role his force takes in ensuring that vital equipment, including PPE supplies and thousands of laptops which the Department of Education are distributing to disadvantaged children, end up where they need to be.

The force has also played a part in hundreds of repatriation flights for British citizens, he notes.

Border Force has stopped fake Covid tests entering UK

Border force continues to work hand in glove with Government throughout the pandemic to try and keep Britain safe, says Paul Lincoln, the boss of of UK Border Force

Last month alone, the border force seized more than 700kg of cocaine and heroin some of which were concealed inside shipments of facemasks, he says.

While in the last few days, the force has also seen significant amounts of contraband, including an AK-47 assault riffle, nearly half a million pounds worth of cash and 20 tonnes of smuggled tobacco. 

He also points to recent intercepts of thousands of counterfeit Covid tests and facemasks.

Those who break 14-day quarantine face £1,000 fine

The Government will enforce spot checks and fines to those who fail to comply with the new quarantine rules for all overseas arrivals into Britain from Mid-June, the Home Secretary has revealed. 

Those who refuse to comply could be refused entry to the country, she says.

Public Health England will be charged with contacting people at random to make sure they understand the requirements and to ensure that they are self-isolating. While Police will be given new powers to enforce these measures, but only as “a last resort,” she says.

“Our outstanding police will continue to do as they have diligently done across the country to engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules.”

Anyone breaking their 14-day quarantine will face a fixed penalty notice of £1,000 with the potential for court-action and an unlimited fine for failure to comply with these sanctions. 

Patel: Quarantine to prevent devastating second wave

Opening the daily Government press briefing Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that the new 14-day quarantine rules are being imposed to “keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave”.

Announcing the measures, which will start from 8 June, the Home Secretary said:

“As the world begins to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must look to the future and protect the British public by reducing the risk of cases crossing our border…

“I fully expect the majority of people will do the right thing and abide by these measures. But we will take enforcement action against the minority of people who endanger the safety of others.”

This is the right time to enforce these new rules, she says, as the number of cases being imported into the country will pose a “significant threat” as the UK brings the virus under control within its borders. This is a different story to when domestic transmission was at its peak and international travel was at an all time low, she says.

The announcement will likely provoke fresh anger from the aviation industry, with airlines warning the measures could be disastrous for them.

South America has become the new epicentre of the disease, says WHO

South america has become a new epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic, says Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme.

At a the WHO’s Friday press conference, Mr Ryan noted how the organization is concerned by the “many South American countries with increasing numbers of cases.”

He also raised issue with Brazil’s Government which had approved the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine. So far there is no clinical evidence supporting the use of the drug to treat Covid-19.

Coming soon: Priti Patel to unveil new quarantine plans

More than 80 million children at risk of preventable diseases

Some 80 million children worldwide could be at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio due to disruption of routine immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.N. agencies and the GAVI vaccine alliance said on Friday.

Data shows that “provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries,” the World Health Organization, U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and GAVI said in a joint statement issued ahead of the Global Vaccine Summit set for June 4.

Travel restrictions, delays in vaccine deliveries, reluctance among some parents to leave their homes amid fear of exposure to coronavirus, and a lack of available health workers were behind what it said may be “unprecedented” disruption on a global scale since such expanded programmes began in the 1970s.

“We cannot let our fight against one disease come at the expense of long-term progress in our fight against other diseases,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.

“While circumstances may require us to temporarily pause some immunization efforts, these immunizations must restart as soon as possible, or we risk exchanging one deadly outbreak for another,” she said

Friday prayers resume in Gaza despite new virus fears

Gaza’s Hamas rulers allowed mosques to reopen for Friday prayers for the first time since March, despite a recent spike in new coronavirus cases within quarantine facilities in the isolated territory.

Worshippers were given hand sanitizer as they entered mosques. They brought their own prayer rugs, wore masks and kept space between themselves. The opening came ahead of Eid al-Fitr, a major holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Authorities in Gaza have reported 35 new cases in recent days, bringing the total number to 55. All the new cases were detected in quarantine facilities. But they have renewed concerns about a wider outbreak that could overwhelm the depleted health care system in the impoverished territory, which is home to 2 million people.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, an Islamic militant group, seized power from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Three wars between Israel and Hamas, as well as Palestinian infighting, have also taken a heavy toll on the health care system.

Coronavirus positive

Max Stephens has your daily dose of coronavirus good news. Here’s a snippet: 

  • NHS Charities Together has granted £355,500 to four hospital charities to help support frontline workers. Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which was one of the beneficiaries, has used the money to provide hand and face creams for employees, as well as provide outdoor relaxation areas. 
  • A campaign by city officials in San Antonio, Texas, has collected 16,925 cloth face cloth coverings from local businesses and members of the faith community.
  • A 95-year-old World War Two veteran from Ghana has set himself the challenge of walking two miles a day for a week to raise money for coronavirus charities. Private Joseph Hammond was inspired by the video of the UK’s Captain Tom Moore who raised millions by walking in his garden.
  • Up to 30 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine could be available to the UK by September if the vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University proves successful in human trials, the government has said. Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the first clinical trials were “progressing well” and that all phase one volunteers had received their vaccine dose “on schedule earlier this week”.

And there’s more where that came from. Read the round up in full here.

One-way systems, physios in hazmat suits and dubious hairstyles: Inside Liverpool’s first week back

A behind-the-scenes look at life inside Liverpool as they return to training with their sights set on the Premier League title

Credit:
 John Powell / Liverpool FC

After more than two months of being limited to online sessions and message-sending, table-toppers Liverpool, like the rest of the Premier League, returned to the training ground this week as part of Project Restart.

Chris Bascombe went behind the scenes to find out what’s changed. Read more here.

Malaria drug touted by Trump linked to increased risk of death

The Lancet journal has published some significant research this afternoon: Hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug which Donald Trump says he has been taking, is tied to increased risk of death in Covid-19 patients.

The study, which observed over 96,000 people hospitalised with Covid-19, showed that people treated with the drug, or the closely related drug chloroquine, had higher risk of death when compared to those who had not been given the medicine.

Demand for hydroxychloroquine, a drug approved decades ago, surged after the US President touted its use as a coronavirus treatment in early April. Earlier this week, he surprised the world by admitting he was taking the pill as a preventative medicine.

The Lancet study’s authors suggested these treatment regimens should not be used to treat Covid-19 outside of clinical trials until results from large “mega-trials” are available to confirm their safety and efficacy. 

The authors said they could not confirm if taking the drug resulted in any benefit in coronavirus patients.

South Korea to introduce exit permits and medical exams on re-entry

Foreign long-term residents of South Korea will need to obtain a re-entry permit before leaving the country, and a medical exam before returning, to help stem coronavirus infections, it has emerged.

The new policies were outlined in Korean on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and foreign embassies have started to issue notices highlighting the policy change. 

Asked about the notices, the presidential Blue House on Friday confirmed the changes but said the Ministry of Justice would make a formal announcement, possibly as soon as Sunday.

The new guidlines appear to suggest that, starting on June 1, South Korea will temporarily require re-entry permits, which are usually waived for long-term visa holders. If the permit is not obtained at a local immigration office before departing South Korea, the resident will lose their visa.

The provision does not apply to diplomatic or official visas or ‘overseas Korean’ visas – given to people with a foreign parent or grandparent who once held Korean nationality.

Shortly before returning to South Korea, the resident will need to undergo a medical examination, and then present a signed certificate to immigration officials upon arrival.

Should the 10th ‘Clap for Carers’ be the last?

Clap for carers has become a regular fixture on our weekly calendar during the UK’s lockdown. But Annemarie Plas, the architect of the gesture, has said next Thursday’s event, the tenth, should be the last.

The 36-year-old, from South London, told the PA news agency:

“I think it’s good to have the last of the series next Thursday, because to have the most impact I think it is good to stop it at its peak.

“Without getting too political, I share some of the opinions that some people have about it becoming politicised.

“I think the narrative is starting to change and I don’t want the clap to be negative. A clap is something normal people can do, showing our appreciation.

“But the power is not with us. We can give them respect but we are not signing the cheque – that falls on another desk.”

Ms Plas suggested resurrecting the clap in 2021 to mark a year since the coronavirus outbreak instead.

Here’s a quick reminder of the scenes across the country for this week’s clap, courtesy of our video team:

Portugal: No quarantine planned on international arrivals

In contrast to a growing number of countries across the globe, Portugal’s foreign minister has said that tourists are welcome and no quarantine will be imposed on people arriving by plane.

Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said today that “minimal health controls,” which he did not specify, will be enacted at airports.

Other European countries, including Spain and Italy have preferred a 14-day self-isolation rule for arrivals. In the UK, Priti Patel is due to reveal more details about quarantine measures at this afternoon’s Downing  Street briefing. 

But Santos Silva said in an interview with Observador radio station that Portugal’s public health system has coped well with the new coronavirus outbreak, though doctors and nurses have complained of shortcomings.

Portugal has also issued rules so that beaches, hotels, restaurants and national monuments can reopen, Santos Silva noted.

Tourism accounts for 15 per cent  of Portugal’s GDP and 9 per cent of the country’s jobs, and authorities are striving to salvage some part of the summer vacation season following a lockdown.

Lockdowns to ease in Madrid and Barcelona on Monday

Coronavirus lockdowns will be eased in Madrid and Barcelona from Monday to allow outdoor dining and gatherings of up to 10 people as infections have slowed sufficiently, the government has said.

Restrictions will be relaxed even further in other regions comprising about half of Spain’s population.

Spain started phasing out one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns earlier this month, but full restrictions had remained in both Madrid and Barcelona because their outbreaks were so severe.

In Barcelona, beaches were opened for walking this week, but public swimming and sunbathing will remain banned.

“Each step we make, must be a safe one,” Health Minister Salvador Illa said. “Since the phase-out process is complex, I want to call for individual responsibility.”

Bars and restaurants in Madrid and Barcelona will be allowed to reopen on pavements and terraces at half capacity from Monday, churches can also throw open their doors again, and people will be free to travel outside the cities.

Other areas of Spain will move to another phase of the return to normality, with theatres, cinemas, art galleries, museums can reopen there from Monday at no more than a third of capacity. Some schools will restart, and some outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing will be allowed again.

Trips between provinces are still banned, however.

Coronavirus does not spread easily on surfaces, say US experts 

Coronavirus mainly spreads from person-to-person and cannot be easily caught from a contaminated surface, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention .

New guidance published on the organisation’s website says the “virus that causes Covid-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people”, but it “does not spread easily in other ways”. 

This means that touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the coronavirus poses a low risk for transmission.

The revelation could have big implications for schools and the workplace, both of which are grappling with how to resume following lockdown, by lowering the risk of transmission.

Contact with animals is also not a significant mode of spreading the virus, according to the CDC guidance. 

Verity Bowman has more on this story here

In photographs – Britain in lockdown

Here are some of our picture editor’s favourite images from across the UK this week (more here):

Temperature screening equipment trialed at Heathrow airport. Priti Patel is due to unveil more measures about a potential quarantine of incoming travellers this afternoon

Credit:
LHR Airports Ltd

A couple take no chances, using a plastic wind breaker to surround their seating area as they enjoy the freedom of going out to Avon Beach at Mudeford

Credit:
Jeff Gilbert

Commuters take precautions aboard a Bakerloo Line line during  rush hour 

Credit:
 Martyn Wheatley / i-Image

Coffee barista Anthoney De Sinone serves a nice cup of coffee from his doorway in Cambridge while in PPE 

Credit:
David Rose

No outbreaks in schools and link to obesity – more from Sage documents

Our reporters have been delving further into the Sage papers just published. Here are some more of the key snippets to be aware of:

  • The papers make clear that although evidence is still inconclusive, there have been no reported outbreaks in schools or nurseries, with most infections taking place through “family clustered cases” and in hospitals. 
  • There has also been no confirmed evidence of children as “the main source of infection”, however Sage says there is “risk of transmission by infected children”, particularly in “faecal-oral tranmission” which may have “substantial implications for community spread in day care centres, schools and homes”. 
  • Modelling also suggests that the Government’s plans to reopen schools for transition years – reception, years one and six in primary and key exam years 10 and 12 in secondary – would have a relatively small impact on the country’s R-rate. 

  • Splitting school terms so half the class is taught at one time has a variable impact. Modelling has considered teaching classes split by day, week and fortnight, with the latter having the lowest impact on transmission, although this modelling is not considered robust yet. 

  • Within the papers there’s also some more worrying data on the role of comorbidities, suggesting that factors such as obesity have a significant impact on the outcome of an infection.
  • Our Global Health Security editor, Paul Nuki, tweeted this graph from the Sage papers which illustrates the changing risk levels:

R-rate remains stable for second week in a row

The UK’s R-rate has remained steady for a second week in a row, scientific advisers have said.

The figure – the average number of people that will contract coronavirus from an infected person – was between 0.7 and 1 across the UK, reporters were told during a briefing on Friday. 

This is the same as last week, and higher than the previous week, when the R-rate was between 0.5 and 0.9.

The continued spread within care homes appears to be keeping the rate from falling. 

Keeping the R number below one – which suggests the number of infections are dropping overall – is a key goal Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set to allow the continued gradual releasing of the lockdown in the coming months.

UK death toll rises 351 to 36,393

A further 351 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community across the UK as of 5pm yesterday, the Government has confirmed. 

That takes the total death count for the UK to 36,393, up from 36,042 the day before.

In the 24-hour period up to 9am on Friday, 140,497 tests were carried out or dispatched, with a total of 80,297 people tested with 3,287 positive results.

Overall a total of 3,231,921 tests have been carried out on 2,144,626 people, and 254,195 cases have been confirmed positive.

Ikea to reopen 19 stores on June 1 in England and Northern Ireland

Ikea is set to reopen 19 stores across England and Northern Ireland on June 1, the company has announced. In line with Government guidelines, stores in Scotland, Wales and the Ireland will remain closed.  

The store will be introducing a number of social distancing measures when reopening, including limiting the numbers of customers inside shops at any one time and additional hand sanitiser on offer.  

Restaurants and play areas will remain closed but the food market will reopen for customers to make food like Swedish meatballs at home, the retailer added.

Peter Jelkeby, the country CEO, said in a statement:

“We’re looking forward to warmly welcoming customers and co-workers back into our stores from 1st June. Their health and safety remains our top priority, and that’s why we’ve put in place extensive measures to ensure the safety and comfort of customers and co-workers.”

Government advice on schools published

This afternoon a tranche of advice given to the Government by the Sage has been published – including  details on schools. 

According to the advice, used to inform proposals to reopen schools in England next month, evidence on how likely children are to transmit Covid-19 remains “inconclusive”. 

Wider contextual issues – including whether families have black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) members – must be taken into account when assessing the impact of relaxing school closures on transmission, according to papers.

Teachers do not appear to be at a greater risk of catching Covid-19 than other professions – but there is still some risk if schools reopen, scientific advisers added.

The Sage papers suggest that younger teachers’ attendance in schools could be prioritised in order to decrease the likelihood of infection for school staff in more vulnerable groups.

The publication of the advice comes after education unions and council leaders called for the evidence underpinning the proposal to reopen schools in England to be released.

“Evidence remains inconclusive on both the susceptibility and infectivity of children, but the balance of evidence suggests that both may be lower than in adults,” according to the scientific modelling.

Children far less likely to contract Covid-19, study suggests

Earlier today research was published suggesting that children and young people could be half as likely to catch coronavirus than adults.

In a scientific review of studies from around the world – published as a preprint – researchers found those aged under 20 had 56 per cent lower odds of catching Sars-CoV-2 from an infected person (More on this here via Laura Donnelly).

Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, has called the research useful – but said it doesn’t answer all of the unknowns:

“This is a good quality systematic review, and a useful addition to the evidence base regarding the views that that children are typically less likely to be infected than adults.

“However, there is still a key question that we do not fully understand, and that is the role of children in transmission.  It’s a key topic in the UK, with some children returning to school on 1 June.  

“For example, many care home and domiciliary care staff will have school-age children, and it is vital that we can be sure there will be no significant chain of transmission between children and then onto parents who work close to vulnerable populations.”

Watch: Six year old’s songs for care homes

Here’s some more positive news to brighten up your Friday afternoon. 

Six-year-old Noah Owens has been cheering up residents at a care home in East Sussex by singing to them.

Noah usually visits Mais House every week with this dad who works there. But the coronavirus lockdown means Noah is unable to visit the care home.

Instead he records himself singing songs which are then played to the residents. Take a look here:

Blair: Africa could use antibody tests to track virus

African nations could use antibody tests to find out whether the slower spread and lower mortality rate of the new coronavirus on the continent is due to patchy data or a more resilient population, former British prime minister Tony Blair has said.

That information would guide leaders in deciding whether to extend lockdowns or other restrictions that are damaging economies, exacerbating hunger and slowing the fight against other deadly diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, he added.

Africa has cumulatively reported close to 100,000 Covid-19 cases so far and just over 3,000 deaths – far fewer than in many European nations. Some people have suggested that this is in part because Africa has a much younger population – the median age is around 20 years old – and most Covid-19 fatalities are among the elderly.

But low rates of testing and patchy reporting of deaths have also raised concerns that outbreaks may be spreading undetected. 

Blair said that antibody tests could help offer answers to these questions and inform policy makers about whether stringent lockdowns were necessary. 

“Antibody tests … shows what percentage of the population has likely been affected,” Blair told Reuters. “The biggest risk Africa has is the cure turns out to be worse than the disease.”

Zuckerberg touts pay-cuts for Facebook employees working from home

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg predicted that within a decade, half of Facebook’s employees will be working from home.

The social network became the biggest company to announce a mass-scale, permanent, remote working plan, leading to predictions that many other companies will be forced to follow.

But for Facebook staff that planned to take their six-figure salaries, move out of their expensive Silicon Valley lodgings and bank the difference in rural America, Zuckerberg had news: Move to somewhere cheaper, and your salary will be cut.

As of Jan 1, Facebook employees working remotely will have their compensation adjusted depending on where they live, with those in cities where living and labour costs are higher receiving more.

In reality, this will mean pay cuts for most who move. Facebook’s headquarters are located in San Mateo, America’s sixth-wealthiest county, so moving almost anywhere would mean pay reductions. “We’ll adjust salary to your location,” Zuckerberg said.

“If you live in a location where cost of living is dramatically lower, cost of labour is lower, salaries tend to be somewhat lower in those places, even though you can have a better quality of life than some of the bigger cities.”

James Titcomb has more on this story here – including detail on how Facebook will track the location of workers using their IP addresses. 

Downing St: ‘Continue to abide by social distancing’ over the bank holiday

At the lobby briefing this lunchtime, Downing Street urged the public to “continue to abide by the social distancing rules” ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend.

It follows reports that beaches and beauty spots have been packed as the temperature has increased – as the below video of Southend beach earlier this week demonstrates. 

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said today:

“All of the anecdotal evidence suggests that the vast majority of the public are still following the rules.

“And by doing so are helping to save lives and we thank them for that.

“We recognise the sacrifices which the public are making but as we head into the long weekend we must all renew our efforts and continue to abide by the social distancing rules.”

Acting earlier would have had ‘big difference’ to UK death rate, says Sage member

Bringing the lockdown in a week or two earlier would have made “quite a big difference” to the UK’s death rate, according to one of the Government’s scientific advisers.

Sir Ian Boyd, a member of the Sage scientific advisory group, told the BBC that “the number one issue” was whether ministers could have acted earlier, noting that while some “would have loved” to, they thought it would not be feasible. He said:

“Acting very early was really important and I would have loved to have seen us acting a week or two weeks earlier and it would have made quite a big difference to the steepness of the curve of infection and therefore the death rate.

“And I think that’s really the number one issue, could we have acted earlier?

“One could point the finger at ministers and politicians for not being willing to listen to scientific advice. You could point the finger at scientists for not actually being explicit enough.

“But at the end of the day all these interact with public opinion as well.

“And I think some politicians would have loved to have reacted earlier but in their political opinion it probably wasn’t feasible because people wouldn’t have perhaps responded in the way they eventually did.”

Related: Earlier lockdown could have prevented three-quarters of UK coronavirus deaths, modelling suggests

Scotland: Death toll rises by 24

A total of 2,245 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 24 from 2,221 yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said.

The First Minister is currently giving her daily coronavirus briefing (find live updates here), and says that a total of 14,856 people have now tested positive in Scotland. 

She has also said that the country’s roadmap to reopen, which was published yesterday, has been viewed by 100,000 already. 

Sturgeon stressed that none of the changes are yet in place – the country is still in lockdown – but that there plans to bring them into force set for May 28, if cases continue to decline in Scotland.

She also added that schools will remain closed until 11 August.

Global lunchtime update

Following on from our previous post, here’s a roundup of all of today’s the international news (it’s been a busy morning…):

  • Australia has said it is seeking an exemption from a requirement that travellers arriving in the UK quarantine for 14 days.
  • A senior Olympics official has warned that holding the postponed Tokyo Games next year faces “real problems”, with even a vaccine unlikely to stave off the threat of the coronavirus.
  • India has reported it’s largest spike in cases to date – more than 118,000 have now been reported.
  • There are concerns that Cyclone Amphan, one of the most powerful storms to hit south Asia, will lead to a surge in coronavirus cases in east India and Bangladesh as people are forced to leave their homes.
  • The coronavirus death toll in Brazil surpassed 20,000, after a record number of fatalities in a 24-hour period. But far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has continued his calls to scrap lockdown measures to revive a flagging economy.
  • New Zealand’s conservative opposition switched leaders in a last-gasp bid to counter the record support Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is enjoying for containing the coronavirus.
  • China’s communist rulers avoided setting an annual growth target for the first time in decades, as they struggle to deal with the “immense” economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The country has also announced plans to strengthen its disease control centers, admitting that the pandemic has exposed “shortcomings” in its health system.
  • Bulgaria, which has started to ease its lockdown, has scrapped a ban on the entry of visitors from the European Union and Schengen visa zone countries.
  • The UN has warned that the virus is spreading throughout Yemen and the country’s healthcare system “has in effect collapsed”.
  • A global call for peace has fallen on deaf ears – new figures show a catastrophic rise in the number of displaced people in recent months, with 660,000 people forced to leave their homes due to armed conflicts in 19 countries since March.
  • And finally Donald Trump has once again refused to wear a face mask in public. During a visit to a Ford plant in Michigan the President opted not to wear the face mask – even though Ford on Tuesday reiterated its policy that all visitors must wear the protective gear.

UK lunchtime update

If you’re just joining us this Friday lunchtime, here’s a quick update with everything you need to know in UK news this morning:

  • Researchers have started to recruit volunteers for the next two phases of clinical trials for the Oxford vaccine, after the first trial – involving 160 health volunteers – found the vaccine to be safe. Phase II and III will see a significant rise in volunteers, with hopes to recruit more than 10,000, and an expansion in the age range. 
  • Government borrowing surged to £62.1 billion in April – the highest figure for any month on record – after heavy spending in the face of coronavirus, new ONS figures show. And there was a record breaking drop in retail sales last month.
  • International travellers could face spot checks and £1,000 fines if they fail to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the UK under measures to guard against a second wave of coronavirus. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is due to unveil the plans at the Downing Street press conference this afternoon.
  • There are no plans yet for the weekly testing of care home residents and staff, the Government’s ‘testing tsar’, Prof John Newton, has said. During evidence to a select committee today he also said that the Government decided to stop mass testing in March because it’s unfeasible to contact trace amid widespread community transmission.
  • At the same committee Prof Yvone Doyle from PHE said that schools should decide for themselves when to reopen and that the 2m social distancing rule was “precautionary”.
  • Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, has said this morning that the Government has been “too much on the back foot” throughout the Covid-19 outbreak – a Cabinet Minister has countered that this is not correct.
  • Research has suggested that patients from BAME groups admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are on average a decade younger than white patients.
  • TfL has announced it will begin reintroducing the requirement for passengers to pay for bus travel from Saturday.
  • There have been reports that Boris Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • There’s been another spitting incident on public transport – which unions have called “disgusting and frightening”. This time it was at Mile End Tube and saw staff and a passenger spat at by a man.

India and Bangladesh await surge in coronavirus infections after ‘super cyclone’ 

A “super cyclone” has killed more than 80 people and forced three million from their homes in Bangladesh and India, leaving authorities struggling to respond amid soaring coronavirus outbreaks.

One of the most powerful storms ever to hit South Asia, cyclone Amphan, made landfall on Wednesday afternoon and has already destroyed thousands of houses, caused severe flooding and left millions without electricity across Bangladesh and the east Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal.

Almost all of the 14 million residents in the West Bengal capital of Kolkata have been left without power and many without phone networks for the last 24 hours, while the city’s airport is submerged under water.

It is “a bigger disaster than Covid-19”, chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, told local news reporters, adding that West Bengal is “ruined”.

Susannah Savage has more on the devastating impacts – and why the region is concerned that it trigger a surge in coronavirus cases.

A woman clears her house that was demolished by the cyclone Amphan in Satkhira, Bangladesh

Credit:
REUTERS/Km Asad

BAME people admitted to hospital a decade younger than white patients on average

Patients from the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are on average a decade younger than white patients, preliminary research has suggested.

A study led by King’s College London has found those from BAME communities admitted to hospital with coronavirus have an average age of 63 – 10 years lower than the average for Caucasian patients.

However, the researchers said they found the ethnicity of patients did not affect the risk of death associated with Covid-19.

The results of the study are published in the pre-print server medRxiv and are yet to be peer reviewed. Lead author Ajay Shah, professor of medicine at King’s College Hospital, said:

“Our study shows that people of black and minority ethnic backgrounds have a disproportionately high rate of requiring hospitalisation for Covid-19.

“People of BAME background are on average much younger than our white patients and have health inequalities such as higher levels of diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Doyle: 2m rule ‘precautionary’ but ‘appears to be correct’

Back to the Science and Technology select committee, where Prof Yvonne Doyle has said that the UK is taking a “precautionary” approach to introducing a 2 meter social distancing rule – other countries are using small distances.

“We are still obviously learning about this virus and how it transmits itself so on a precautionary basis 2m appears to be correct.

“I know other countries use slightly less than that but until we know more, particularly about where the virus might transmit environmentally, 2m is important.”

Prof Doyle, the medical director and director for health protection at Public Health England, added that the 2m rule will be the “subject of continued investigation” on whether it can be reduced.

And said she was aware that the guidelines would have significant implications for releasing lockdown measures and allowing businesses to reopen:

“On one side we are aware of the requirements of the economy and business and on the other side we are aware of the concerns and anxieties of the population.

“This is a trade-off, it is a balance, but you are quite right the science should inform the measures as we go forward.”

Malaysian Prime Minister in home qurantine

Malaysia’s prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, is going to quarantine at home for 14 days after an officer who attending meetings with him this week tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement this morning the prime minister’s office said that Muhyiddin has tested negative, butthat “all members of the meeting have been instructed to undergo screening and 14 days’ home quarantine.”

Tube workers and passengers spat at in ‘disgusting and frightening’ incident

There’s been another report of a people being spat at this morning – this time on the Tube – in an incident that union leaders have condemned as “disgusting and frightening”.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said a man approached staff at the Mile End London underground station yesterday and demanded they open the gate as he did not have a ticket for the barriers.

Staff asked him to step back so they could safely social distance, but he became aggressive and swore at an older female customer who intervened, and spat at her, said the union.

British Transport Police (BTP) were called and spit samples were taken from female customer’s face and arms. It is not clear whether the assailant had coronavirus, said the TSSA.

The incident follows the death of ticket office worker Belly Mujinga from coronavirus following an incident at London Victoria station. Lorraine Ward, TSSA official for London Underground, said:

“We strongly condemn this disgusting and frightening incident.

“Spitting has always been considered an assault, but following the tragic story of Belly Mujinga and heightened fears over the highly contagious coronavirus, more must be done to prevent such horrendous acts of violence against transport workers and passengers.”

Greece extends migrant camp lockdown

The Greek government has announced this morning that it is extended a coronavirus lockdown on overcrowded migrant camps until until June 7. 

“Measures against the propagation of the Covid-19 virus are extended for residents of the reception and identification centers across the country,” the migration ministry said in a statement. They did not say exactly why the lockdown was being extended.

On March 17, the government imposed the lockdown on the migrant camps both on the islands and the mainland. That was a week after a more general lockdown in the country, which was eased early this month after the apparent success in keeping the outbreak in check.

On May 10, it extended the measure for the camps until May 21, before announcing today that it will remain in place until June 7.

As in the rest of the country, the coronavirus outbreak appears to have had little impact on the camps. Among the 168 dead in Greece, there are no known deaths so far due to Covid-19 among the migrants, according to authorities.

And among the 2,853 cases of coronavirus reported in the country, only a few dozen have been recorded in three facilities on the mainland, but none in the sordid camps of the Aegean islands. But mass screening tests in the camps only started in early May – so these figures may be underestimates.

Conflicts displace more than 660,000 people in less than two months

A global call for peace has fallen on deaf ears – new figures show a catastrophic rise in the number of displaced people in recent months. 

On 23 March the UN’s secretary-general, António Guterres, begged the world to come to an immediate ceasefire to fight the coronavirus pandemic together.

But analysis by the Norwegian Refugee Council shows that between the day Mr Guterres made the call and May 15, armed conflicts in 19 countries forced at least 661,000 to flee their homes.

“At a time when health experts tell us to stay at home, men with guns are forcing hundreds of thousands out of their homes and into extreme vulnerability,” Jan Egeland, NRC’s secretary general said. 

The NGO warns that many of these recently displaced will be forced to “live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, which are fertile environments for viruses to spread”.

Will Brown has more on this story here

‘I took a Superdrug coronavirus antibody test – this is what it’s actually like’

Jack Leather, our senior video producer, has taken one of the antibody tests that Superdrug has started to sell for £69:

The instructions were clear and the process seemed straightforward but providing enough blood was a real challenge.

I needed all three lancets, the devices that prick your finger for blood, that were provided in the kit.

I also had to take pauses to let the dizzy spells pass – I’ve never been great with blood – but I got there in the end.

I’ve now posted my sample to the laboratory and Superdrug promise results to be sent within two days of the lab receiving it.

He recorded his experience in this video:

Doyle: Schools should decide whether to reopen

Back to the Science and Technology select committee, where Prof Yvonne Doyle has said that it should be for schools to decide when to reopen.

Boris Johnson has said that schools should start opening for more pupils as of June 1, but the plans have been criticised by teaching unions and many local authorities say they will not be reopening institutions in their areas.

Prof Doyle, medical director and director for health protection at Public Health England, said this morning:

“Ultimately, it will be for the schools to decide whether they are ready for this and whether parents have confidence that they will send the children back,”

“I am confident that some schools may already feel they are ready to open, others may not.”

Those schools that are planning to open their doors to more pupils have started to make some drastic changes – as these images from a school in north London show:

Plastic bags containing school materials are distributed for each individual pupil at La Petite Ecole Bilingue, north London

Credit:
ISABEL INFANTES/AFP

Desk areas are rearranged to ensure appropriate distancing 

Credit:
ISABEL INFANTES/AFP

Watch: Homeless tent camps finally allowed on the streets of San Francisco

San Francisco has finally allowed a tent encampment for homeless people living on the streets of the city. 

Officials initially resisted the idea, but have followed other US cities in providing a safer space for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Around 80 tents have been erected outside City Hall. The camp is enclosed by fencing and the residents have access to food, showers and clean water.

Despite the encampment, many homeless residents are still extremely concerned for their wellbeing.

Yemen’s health system ‘has in effect collapsed’

More worrying news about the unfolding situation in Yemen. The UN has said this morning that the virus is believed to be spreading throughout the country and that the health care system “has in effect collapsed”.

Referring to aid agencies, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told a Geneva briefing:

“We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming, they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed.”

“They are talking about having to turn people away because they do not have enough (medical) oxygen, they do not have enough personal protective equipment.”

Yemen authorities have reported 184 cases including 30 deaths to the World Health Organization. But “the actual incidence is almost certainly much higher,” Laerke said.

The UN also appealed for urgent funding -Learke said that it will seek $2 billion for Yemen to maintain aid programmes through year-end.

Newton: Public should not rely on Superdrug antibody tests 

Heading back over to the Science and Technology select committee for a moment – where John Newton, the UK’s ‘testing tzar’, has cautioned the public that the antibody tests on sale at Superdrug for £69 are not the same as the Government-acquired ones. 

The lab based tests do have a much higher standard of accuracy, he said, adding: “We wouldn’t recommend at the moment that people rely on the tests which are now becoming widely available.”

Other key exchanges from the select committee so far (more on the politics liveblog):

  • Prof Newton was unable to say exactly how many of the home testing kits have been returned so far. He said “more than half”, and that the Government wants that figure to increase.
  • Asked about the new 200,000 test target, Prof Newton said that it is “the number of tests, not the number of people” that is being tracked because there is always a challenge about getting the right test first time. 
  • There have also been some reports that private labs who have offered to help with testing have been ignored. Prof Newton said that all requests from these labs were passed to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which set a series of three tests they had to pass before they could take part.
  • Prof Yvonne Doyle, from Public Health England, has continued to defend the decision to move away from mass contact tracing in mid March – saying that the “sheer scale of cases in the UK” made the approach unrealistic at that point in time.

‘Very difficult to know when we will have proof vaccine works’

A scientist leading the development of a coronavirus vaccine said it is “not possible to predict” when it will be ready for the wider population.

The Government said that if the Covid-19 vaccine candidate being developed by Oxford University proved successful in human trials, then up to 30 million doses could be available for the UK by September.

But Professor Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, has now said it was “very difficult” to know when scientists will have proof that it is effective.

Work began in January on the vaccine, which uses a virus taken from chimpanzees, and the first phase of  trial involved 160 healthy volunteers between 18 and 55 started in April has deemed the vaccine safe.

Now scientists have started to recruit up to 10,260 people across the country for phases two and three, which involve vastly increasing the number of volunteers and expanding the age range to include older adults and children.

But Prof Pollard called for cautious optimism this morning, though he said that clinical studies were progressing “very well”.

“It is a very difficult question to know exactly when we will have proof that the vaccine works because we need, within our population of 10,000 people, to have enough of those who have been exposed to the virus over that time, who are hopefully in the controlled group, who are getting the control vaccine, and to see whether the coronavirus vaccine protects them.

“Now, there is uncertainty about how many cases there will be over the next three months.

“If there are cases then it is certainly possible by the autumn to have a result, and that is what we are hoping for, but it is not possible to predict.”

Why won’t Donald Trump wear a face mask in public?

It’s a question that has reared its head again overnight, after Donald Trump refused to wear a face mask during a visit to a Ford plant in Michigan.

So why won’t the President wear a face mask in public? Nick Allen considers Trump’s mindset in this piece – here’s an extract.

According to aides there are several reasons, including that he thinks doing so makes him look “ridiculous” and doesn’t want to give Democrats an opportunity to use the images in election adverts.

Mr Trump also believes that wearing a mask would “send the wrong message,” and by not using one he signals that he is fighting to reopen the country.

It is a political statement that has resonated with many Americans who object to being told to wear masks themselves.

As big cats go hungry, Indonesia zoo considers ‘worst-case’ deer cull

Here’s a slightly bleak story about the challenges facing zoos in Indonesia, via Reuters:

A zoo in Indonesia may slaughter some of its animals to feed others, such as a Sumatran tiger and a Javan leopard, if it runs out of food in coming months after the pandemic forced it to shut it doors.

While its 850 animals are being fed smaller portions than usual, the zoo is contemplating a “worst-case scenario” of culling some animals to feed others as it expects to run out of food in July.

The Bandung zoo, which usually earns about 1.2 billion rupiah ($81,744) a month from visitors, shut on March 23 as part of a wider country lockdown to try to contain the outbreak.

“We have around thirty dotted deer, and we have identified the old and unproductive ones (who can no longer breed) to be slaughtered to save the carnivores, such as the Sumatran tiger and Javan leopard,” said zoo spokesman Sulhan Syafi’i.

Some birds including geese may also be culled, he said.

Big cats, including a critically endangered Sumatran tiger named Fitri, now get 8 kg (18 lb) of meat every two days, down from 10 kg previously. The zoo needs more than 400 kg of fruit per day and 120 kg of meat every other day, Syafi’i said, noting it is now relying on donations to keep its animals alive.

A Sumatran tiger

Credit:
MACIEJ KULCZYNSKI/EPA-EFE/

Testing tzar: South Korea model dropped due to widespread community transmission

The UK’s ‘testing tzar’ John Newton and the medical director of Public Health England, Yvonne Doyle, are giving evidence to the Science and Technology select committee this morning. 

So far the discussion – or rather, forensic questioning – has focused on why the UK abandoned a widespread “track and trace” style testing system in mid March.

Since then countries such as South Korea which continued this model appear to have been most successful at containing the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bu Prof Doyle has insisted that the decision to drop contact testing and tracing was a Government decision, and came down to capacity and the extent of cases in the UK.

“We did not reject the South Korean model, in fact we were very interested in what was happening internationally from the get-go.

“The testing capacity and testing profile of PHE’s approach in the contain phase – which is between January and March – was very close to the one of South Korea for quite a long time, into early March.”

Prof Newton added that as the outbreak in the UK grew and community transmission widespread, contact tracing became less significant – or feasible. He said that if there had been a relatively limited outbreak, we would have done the same as South Korea.

Prof Newton added that PHE has always done everything it can to increase testing capacity, but says the strategy is Department for Health. PHE’s role is important, but strategic coordination is for Government. 

Cat Neilan is following all the latest twists and turns of the committee over on our politics live blog – here we’ll bring you some of the key highlights and a roundup after the event.

Minister rejects claim Government on the back foot with coronavirus 

Earlier this morning  Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, said that it was “unclear” who is currently in charge of the UK’s coronavirus response (see post from 8:57am).

But Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, has wholeheartedly rejected the claims. 

The Cabinet Minister told BBC Radio Four this morning that “I just wouldn’t agree with that”, adding that the Government has been “very clear with people.” 

“The Prime Minister himself has been very clear – the Prime Minister ultimately is responsible.

“We do follow the best advice that is out there from both the scientific advisers, our chief medical advisers and the teams there but ultimately it is the ministers who make decisions.

“And I think that is one of the things we have seen throughout this process, is our working to ensure we get as much information to people as we can to ensure that people understand what we can all do to play our part in keeping the R-level down.”

Mr Lewis also said that the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has done a “phenomenal job” in reaching the testing target. 

But a caveat to this – tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests have been double-counted in the Government’s official tally, public health officials have admitted. And so far the target of 100,000 tests per day nine times in the 20 days since its introduction. 

Mason Boycott-Owen and Paul Nuki have more on this story here – including the problem with focusing on numbers alone when it comes to testing. 

Pressure builds on lockdown after record breaking drop in sales in April

Further economic pressure is building on the Government to loosen the lockdown after April saw record-breaking falls in retail sales. 

The total volume of retail sales fell by 18.1 per cent in April compared to the previous months, the Office or National Statistics reported this morning.

Clothing sales were the hardest hit, falling by 50.2 per cent compared to March, while sales from household goods stores fell 45.4 per cent.

Supermarkets also saw a fall of 2.8 per cent, having seen sales increase 10.4 per cent in March.

Louis Ashworth has more details on this story over on the business liveblog.

Pandemic prompts surge in interest in prayer

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a 50 per cent surge in online searches for prayer as people turn to religion to cope with feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, new research has found.

In March 2020, the share of Google searches for prayer surged to the highest level ever recorded, surpassing all other major events that otherwise call for prayer, such as Christmas, Easter and Ramadan, analysis has revealed.

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen, associate professor of economics at the University of Copenhagen, who led the research, found that the level of prayer searches in March 2020 was more than 50 per cent higher than the average during February 2020. 

Using daily data on Google searches for prayer across 95 countries with free and unrestricted access to the internet, Prof Bentzen found that the increase in the number of inquiries for ‘coronavirus prayer’ was a global phenomenon.

The surge in search activity appeared to coincide with the World Health Organization’sdescribing the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic on 11 March, she said.

Jordan Kelly-Linden has the full story here.

Bus fares reintroduced in London

Transport for London has announced it will begin reintroducing the requirement for passengers to pay for bus travel on Saturday.

Customers on 85 routes served by more than 1,200 buses will initially need to touch in with their contactless, Oyster or concessionary card when they board.

This requirement was dropped earlier during the pandemic so that doors could be closed near bus drivers to reduce contact with passengers. 

So far during the pandemic 33 London bus workers have died after contracting Covid-19, including 29 drivers.

Sadiq Khan, The Mayor of London, said in a statement:

“TfL is seeking independent advice from UCL Institute of Health Equity to make sure we better understand the impact of coronavirus on our bus workers and to ensure we are taking every possible measure to protect our heroic staff. As the son of a bus driver, this is deeply personal to me.

“I urge all Londoners to do their bit to keep our transport workers safe by only using public transport if you have no other alternative. It is crucial that the demand on services is as low as possible to enable social distancing for the safety of both staff and passengers.”

This morning’s global headlines

Let’s take a quick look at what’s taking place across the globe this morning:

  • A senior Olympics official has warned that holding the postponed Tokyo Games next year faces “real problems”, with even a vaccine unlikely to stave off the threat of the coronavirus. John Coates, the International Olympic Committee’s pointman for Tokyo 2020, indicated that officials would start deciding in October if and how the pandemic-hit Games could go ahead in July 2021.
  • Australia extended its ban on most international cruise ships for three months until mid-September, making no mention of a hoped-for exemption for travel to neighbouring New Zealand. The ban applies to any cruise liner that carries more than 100 passengers.
  • India’s central bank slashed interest rates in an effort to contain the economic fallout of the world’s largest coronavirus lockdown and warned the economy could contract this year. The country today reported it’s largest spike in cases to date – more than 118,000 have now been reported.
  • The coronavirus death toll in Brazil surpassed 20,000, after a record number of fatalities in a 24-hour period. But far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has continued his calls to scrap lockdown measures to revive a flagging economy.
  • New Zealand’s conservative opposition switched leaders in a last-gasp bid to counter the record support Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is enjoying for containing the coronavirus.
  • China’s communist rulers avoided setting an annual growth target for the first time in decades, as they struggle to deal with the “immense” economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The country has also announced plans to strengthen its disease control centers, admitting that the pandemic has exposed “shortcomings” in its health system.
  • Bulgaria, which has started to ease its lockdown, has scrapped a ban on the entry of visitors from the European Union and Schengen visa zone countries.
  • Thailand has reported no new coronavirus infections and no new deaths, bringing the total to 3,037 confirmed cases and 56 fatalities since the outbreak started in January.
  • And finally Donald Trump has once again refused to wear a face mask in public. During a visit to a Ford plant in Michigan the President opted not to wear the face mask – even though Ford on Tuesday reiterated its policy that all visitors must wear the protective gear.

China plans overhaul of health system after coronavirus ‘exposed shortcomings’

China’s state planning agency has announced it will strengthen its disease control centers and improve the deployment of resources to resolve “shortcomings” in its health system, which have been exposed by the coronavirus outbreak.

The National Development and Reform Commission said great progress had been made in the “people’s war” against the Covid-19, but it had “also exposed a large number of shortcomings and systemic problems in the prevention and control of major epidemics”.

National- and provincial-level Centres for Disease Control (CDCs) will therefore be told to focus on building up their capacity to detect epidemics, and will also be entrusted to draw up rapid response plans to tackle outbreaks, the commission said.

The agency also promised to upgrade biosafety labs run by the CDCs and build labs in more cities. It would also provide better equipped hospitals in rural regions, it said. 

But though the commission said it would “adjust” the deployment of existing medical resources, it did not mention additional funding.

Related: China sticks to ‘wartime mode’ amid fears of second wave

UK ‘firefighting successive crises’, says Nobel Prize-winning scientist

Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, has said this morning that the Government has been “too much on the back foot” throughout the Covid-19 outbreak.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist said:

“I’m not quite sure we are getting it right, and I think you’re quite right to say that everybody involved – not just the politicians, the scientists and the doctors – we’re all making mistakes.

“I get a sense the UK has been rather too much on the back foot, increasingly playing catch-up, firefighting us through successive crises.”

He added that he believed that one sensible way forward would be to “get a much clearer publicly-presented strategy as to what we’re actually trying to do, and the evidence upon which it is based.” This is not currently evident in communications, he said. 

Sir Paul also added that a lack of testing  in hospitals has made them “potentially unsafe places to be”. 

India reports largest single day spike in cases

India has reported 6,088 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours – its biggest single-day spike – bringing the country’s total number of infections to 118,447. This is roughly a five per cent increase compared to yesterday.

The national death toll now stands at 3,583.

The current lockdown, which began on March 25, has been extended by prime minister Narendra Modi until May 31. But rules have been relaxed in some ares with lower case numbers – including New Delhi. There are also plans to reopen domestic flights on Monday.

Maharashtra remains the worst-affected state in the country with more than 41,000 cases. Today more  than 2,000 new infections for the fourth consecutive day. 

Telegraph poll: Support for lockdown waning 

At the beginning of April, we asked the Telegraph readers “Are you still following the coronavirus lockdown rules?”

More than 2,200 responded.

Results:

  • Yes – to the letter (76%)
  • No – it’s impossible (4%)
  • Partly – as much as I can (20%)

Fifty days later, we asked again, and more than 2,000 people responded again.

Of those, only 61% said they were following the rules to the letter, 12% said they had made up their own rules and 27% admitted they were not following the rules as closely as they were at the beginning of the lockdown.

You can still have your say below.

No plans for weekly care home testing

There are no plans yet for the weekly testing of care home residents and staff, the Government’s testing chief has said.

Professor John Newton, from Public Health England, who is leading the Government’s Covid-19 testing response, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are rolling out testing to everybody in care homes and the value of that is to understand how the infection has spread.

“It’s a very dynamic infection, the numbers are in fact falling. So before you decide whether you need to test every member of staff every week, we need to understand how the infection has spread already.”

He added: “We need to know how to protect people best, how to support care homes and that information is still coming in and I think it would be premature to decide exactly what is required now.”

Professor Newton continued: “We need to design our testing programme for the future not for the past and that’s where the antibody tests are important because they will tell us who has had it, where the risk lies and how we can support care homes best.”

£1,000 fines for international travellers who fail to self-isolate

International travellers could face spot checks and £1,000 fines if they fail to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the UK under measures to guard against a second wave of coronavirus.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to outline the plans – which will be introduced early next month – at the daily Downing Street briefing on Friday, a senior Government official confirmed.

Exemptions for road hauliers and medical officials will apply, while the common travel area with Ireland will be unaffected. Arrivals from France will not be exempt, the official confirmed, following confusion earlier this week.

Travellers will be asked to fill in a form with their contact information, and health officials will perform spot checks to ensure compliance with the measures.

The move will anger some sectors, with Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary earlier this week branding the plan “idiotic” and “unimplementable”, while trade body Airlines UK has previously said a quarantine “would effectively kill” international travel to and from Britain.

Government borrowing £62.1bn in April – highest figure for any month on record

Government borrowing surged to £62.1 billion to April – the highest figure for any month on record – after heavy spending in the face of coronavirus, according to new figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said public sector borrowing – excluding banks owned by the state – was £51.1 billion higher than the same month last year.

The figure is significantly higher than analysts had predicted, with a consensus of economists predicting £30.7 billion for the month.

Meanwhile, borrowing by the state in March 2020 has been revised up by £11.7 billion to £14.7 billion by the ONS.

It said this was driven by a reduction in previous estimates of tax receipts and National Insurance contributions.

Follow the reaction live in our business liveblog.

Next vaccine phase to focus on older adults

The next phase of coronavirus vaccine testing will focus on the immune response in older adults, the director of the Oxford University vaccine group said.

Professor Andrew Pollard told BBC Breakfast on Friday the first phase of the testing looked at the vaccine’s safety in people aged under 55.

Speaking about the next steps in the trials, he said: “Now we are looking at whether older adults have a similar immune response, then looking at those in the front line.

“There are two groups, the first are those over the age of 55, and they are divided into those being 55 and 70, and those who are over 70.

“And in that group we are looking very closely at immune responses, particularly in the oldest adults where often immune responses are a bit weaker (than) in younger adults.”

He said a second group of 10,000 frontline workers will also participate in the study.

Asked who should come forward to take part, Prof Pollard said “very healthy individuals” will be initially selected.

Leading scientist urges faster exit from UK’s lockdown

A prominent Oxford epidemiologist has called for a more rapid exit from Britain’s lockdown, saying the coronavirus pandemic is “on its way out” of Britain after infecting as much as half the population.

Professor Sunetra Gupta says there would be a “strong possibility” that pubs, nightclubs and restaurants in Britain could reopen without serious risk from Covid-19.

The professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford said the UK had most likely erred on the side of over-reaction in its handling of the crisis, suggesting imposing the lockdown itself was one such misstep.

Prof Gupta told unherd.com the Government had brought in the lockdown based on the worst-case scenario modelling of the Imperial College London.

Prof Gupta said the epidemic had “largely come and is on its way out in this country” and she said the Government’s defence of the lockdown was that it was based on a plausible, “or at least a possible”, worst case scenario.

“The question is, should we act on a possible worst case scenario, given the costs of lockdown?

“It seems to me that given that the costs of lockdown are mounting, that case is becoming more and more fragile,” she said.

Prof Gupta called for a “more rapid exits from lockdown” based on factors such as “who is dying and what is happening to the death rates”.

“Remaining in a state of lockdown is extremely dangerous from the point of view of the vulnerability of the entire population to new pathogens,” she added.

Weekly testing needed in care homes to ease outbreaks, says provider

Weekly testing of all residents and staff could help ease the Covid-19 outbreak in care homes, the boss of one of the UK’s largest care providers said.

Sam Monaghan, chief executive of MHA, which took part in a Government pilot of whole-home testing, said asymptomatic cases meant the virus could spread without being noticed.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “What we’re saying is either once a week or once a fortnight. Some of the research that seems to have been done would suggest that weekly would be the most effective way.”

He added: “Just two weeks ago we had a home where there had been no infections throughout the whole of the pandemic. We had a case develop in one of our residents, they started to show symptoms, they were tested and found to be positive.

“None of the residents had been in or out of hospital, there was no other way that it could have come in and yet none of the staff were presenting any symptoms and at that point it was before the whole home-testing procedure was in.

“There was a real reluctance to test staff, they were going to test the residents but they were not going to test the staff. But that was the most highly likely way the infection could have come into the home.”

Donald Trump tests ‘very positively’ to coronavirus…meaning negative

Here’s one from the President of the United States for you to untangle this morning. 

Next phases to begin in vaccine trial

Researchers have begun recruiting volunteers for the next two phases in clinical trials they hope could bring a coronavirus vaccine this year.

Scientists at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) and the University of Southampton want to recruit up to 10,260 people from the area to trial the vaccine, the university said in a statement.

Work began in January on the vaccine, which uses a virus taken from chimpanzees and has been developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group.

The first phase of trialling involved 160 health volunteers between 18 and 55.

Phases II and III involve vastly increasing the number of volunteers while expanding the age range to include older adults and children.

Matt of the day

Here is Matt’s take on the day.

 You can see all of Matt’s cartoons for May here.

Could this sound like a job for you?

A heritage charity is looking for homes for thousands of chocolate eggs left over after its Easter egg hunts were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 30,000 boxed eggs were delivered to National Trust for Scotland (NTS) by Cadbury for its egg hunts before the lockdown began.

Staff have donated around half the eggs to hospitals, food banks and community groups around Scotland and they now want other groups to contact them if they can use the treats – which have a use-by date of July.

NTS estimates that if stacked on top of each other, the original 30,000 eggs would have been three times the height of the tallest trust peak, Ben Lawers, which is a 3,984ft Munro.

Suggestions of organisations which could take the chocolate can be made through the NTS social media pages.

Eggs have already been donated to hospitals around the country including paediatric wards in NHS Lanarkshire, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, Perth Royal Infirmary, Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, and Borders General Hospital.

Today’s front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Friday, May 22.

Bulgaria to allow entry of citizens from EU, Schengen countries

Bulgaria, which has started to ease its lockdown, has scrapped a ban on the entry of visitors from the European Union and Schengen visa zone countries, the health ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

In mid-March European Union member Bulgaria banned entry to its territory to travellers from many countries in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The health ministry said that the lifting of the ban also covers San Marino, Andorra, Monaco and Vatican City.

The ministry said that people arriving in Bulgaria would continue to spend 14 days in quarantine.

But the 14-day period will no longer apply to Bulgarian citizens and citizens of other EU countries who are travelling for humanitarian reasons and those who are “representatives of the trade, economic and investment activities”.

As of Thursday, Bulgaria had 2,331 confirmed coronavirus cases and 120 deaths, a relatively low number in Europe.

Delegates at China’s virus-delayed congress tested and masked

Chinese president Xi Jinping, centre, and top members of government and delegates, observe one minute of silence for victims of the Covid-19 outbreak, at the opening of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, China. 

Credit:
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images AsiaPac

China’s top leaders took to the stage in front of a sea of masked delegates for the opening of parliament on Friday, the culmination of intensive planning at a time when gatherings around the world have been curtailed by the virus.

President Xi Jinping and other top leaders appeared without masks in front of about 5,000 delegates from parliament, known as the National People’s Congress (NPC), and a government advisory body, for the top annual political assembly in the Great Hall of the People.

This year, delegates travelling from across the country had to have multiple coronavirus tests and have been sequestered in hotels, while media events and speeches have been moved online.

Originally scheduled for early March, the NPC was delayed by more than two months because of a nationwide lockdown to block the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown remained in place in the capital until late April.

Thailand reports no new cases and no new deaths

Thailand on Friday reported no new coronavirus infections and no new deaths, bringing the total to 3,037 confirmed cases and 56 fatalities since the outbreak started in January.

Pedestrians in Bangkok after the Thai government relaxed measures to combat the spread of coronavirus,

Credit:
AFP

US jury charges Florida man with threatening to spread virus

A Florida man accused of coughing on and spitting at police officers while claiming to be infected with the coronavirus was indicted on a federal terrorism charge.

A federal grand jury in Tampa returned an indictment on Wednesday charging James Jamal Curry, 31, with perpetrating a biological weapon hoax, according to court records. He had previously been charged by criminal complaint last month. He faces up to 5 years in federal prison if convicted.

Curry’s attorney, Samuel Landes, said in an email, “The United States Attorney’s position in this case would make each of the millions of Covid-19 patients ‘in possession’ of a biological weapon”.

St. Petersburg police officers responded to a domestic violence call involving Curry on March 27, according to court documents. During his arrest, Curry declared that he was infected with Covid-19 and coughed on an officer’s arm, police said.

During a second arrest the next day, Curry spat on an officer multiple times, hitting the inside of her mouth with blood-filled saliva, prosecutors said. 

Law enforcement obtained a warrant to test Curry for COVID-19, and the result was negative.

Philippine lawmaker proposes tax targeting tech giants to fund virus fight

A Philippine lawmaker has introduced a bill in parliament aimed at taxing big tech firms such as Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and Youtube, Netflix and Spotify, to raise funds to battle the coronavirus.

A bill has been introduced to Philippine’s parliament aimed at taxing big tech firms such as Facebook and Alphabet’s Google

Credit:
Denis Charlet/AFP

The bill looks to raise 29 billion pesos (£460.57 million) by imposing a value added tax on digital services provided in the Philippines, a key growth area for e-commerce transactions as its people are among the world’s heaviest users of social media.

Starting next year, Congressman Joey Salceda said, funds raised from new taxes would also be used to finance digital programs such as a national broadband project and digital learning, to fill the education gap caused by school closures.

But it may take a while before the proposal is scheduled for debate, as lawmakers are busy deliberating on an economic stimulus package to jumpstart the Philippine economy, ravaged by pandemic-induced lockdowns.

Google, Netflix, and Spotify were not immediately available for comment. Facebook declined to comment.

Boris Johnson flags shift for reliance on China imports

Boris Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus outbreak, according to reports.

The plans, which have been code named “Project Defend”, include identifying Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments as part of a broader new approach to national security, The Times reported, adding that the efforts are being led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

For more details on this story,  read here. 

Nearly 39 million have lost jobs in the US since the virus took hold

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits in the two months since the coronavirus took hold in the US has climbed to almost 39 million, the government reported on Thursday.

The figure comes even as states from coast to coast gradually reopen their economies and let people go back to work.

More than 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the business shutdowns that have brought the economy to its knees, the Labor Department said.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said over the weekend that US unemployment could peak in May or June at 20 per cent to 25 per cent, a level last seen during the depths of the Great Depression almost 90 years ago.

Unemployment in April stood at 14.7 per cent, a figure also unmatched since the 1930s.

Uruguay and Costa Rica: beacons of Latin American virus success

In Latin America, a region experiencing ever-increasing growth in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths, Uruguay and Costa Rica stand out as success stories.

Despite never declaring a general lockdown, Uruguay had recorded 749 cases and 20 deaths by Thursday among a population of 3.4 million.

In Costa Rica there have been just 903 cases and 10 deaths in a country of five million.

The same day that Uruguay recorded its first four cases, March 13, the government declared a health emergency, shuttering schools and closing borders.

The government also encouraged voluntary isolation, which was widely adopted in a country with low population density.

On Thursday, President Luis Lacalle Pou announced schools will resume classes in June, saying “we are convinced that the risk is minimal.”

China says illegal trading of wild animals will be severely punished

China will severely punish the illegal hunting and trading of wild animals, it said in its government work report issued on Friday, as it tries to implement a ban imposed in January as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The pandemic has been blamed on a seafood market in Wuhan that is believed to have sold wild animals such as bats and pangolins, and China has promised new legislation to make the ban permanent.

The endangered pangolin has been linked to the Wuhan markets that reportedly facilitated the spread of the coronavirus across China

Credit:
Roslan Rahman/AFP

Wuhan, Shanghai and other big cities have already banned wild animal consumption, and several provinces have also issued action plans to curb hunting, breeding and trafficking. 

Brazil passes 20,000 virus deaths after record 24-hour toll

The coronavirus death toll in Brazil surpassed 20,000 on Thursday, after a record number of fatalities in a 24-hour period, the health ministry said.

The country is the epicentre of the outbreak in Latin America, and its highest one-day toll of 1,188 pushed the overall death tally to 20,047.

Brazil has now recorded more than 310,000 cases, with experts saying a lack of testing means the real figures are probably much higher.

With its curve of infections and deaths rising sharply, the country of 210 million ranks third in the world in terms of total cases, behind the United States and Russia.

The death toll – the sixth highest in the world – has doubled in just 11 days, according to ministry data.

Despite the worrying spread of the disease, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday continued his calls to scrap lockdown measures to revive a flagging economy.

County Councils demand extra funding to cope with  impact on children

Councils have warned they face a funding crisis due to the costs of providing support to vulnerable children and troubled families during the coronavirus outbreak.

The County Councils Network said the 36 authorities it represents in England are estimating a further £132 million of costs will be added to children’s social care budgets this year.

The network is calling for the Government to cover all additional costs faced by council children’s services departments as a result of the pandemic, including the increased expense of delivering support while complying with coronavirus restrictions including social distancing.

The councils also demanded that payments of £165 million from the Government’s Troubled Families Programme should be brought forward to help authorities cope with an expected rise in demand as the lockdown eases.

The call for extra cash came as analysis by the network showed core Government funding for children’s services in the 36 authorities had reduced by 35 per cent, some £354 million, since 2015/16.

Australia seeks exemption from UK quarantine as cases slow

Australia, after bringing its coronavirus outbreak largely under control, said on Friday it is seeking an exemption from a requirement that travellers arriving in the UK quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The British government is planning a 14-day quarantine for most people arriving in the country in the coming weeks to try to prevent a second peak of the pandemic, with details to be finalised next month.

Heathrow Airport has proposed Britain should set up ‘travel bubbles’ with low-risk countries exempt from the requirement.

“Australia has led the world in the successful containment of Covid-19, which clearly means that travellers coming from Australia would pose a low risk to the rest of the world,” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement.

Birmingham said Australia has no plans to open its borders to non-citizens, while all returning locals will still have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.

Australia has recorded just over 7,000 cases, with the death toll at 101. 

With fewer than 20 new coronavirus cases each day, Australia has committed to removing most social distancing restrictions by July to revive an ailing economy.

Guinean Ebola hospital reopens to fight virus

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has reopened its Ebola-era hospital in Guinea, only four years since that epidemic ended, as coronavirus cases soar in the West African state.

The country is struggling to curb the virus, despite enacting imposing travel restrictions and a night-time curfew, raising fears about its capacity to contain a growing outbreak.

Guinea’s weak healthcare system is now straining under the pressure, with authorities having recorded some 3,000 coronavirus cases to date, and 30 fatalities.

The main hospital in the capital Conakry has already been overwhelmed, for example.

A medical staff member tends to a coronavirus patient at the Donka hospital in Conakry where hospitals have been overwhelmed 

Credit:
AFP

Coronavirus also comes on the heels of the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic, which killed around 2,500 people in the nation of some 13 million people.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) – once a common sight during the Ebola crisis – have now returned to the country.

59% of people in England believe the Government is misleading the public in some way

People who believe coronavirus conspiracies are less likely to comply with social-distancing guidelines or take up future vaccines, new research suggests.

Almost three fifths (59%) of adults in England believe to some extent that the Government is misleading the public about the cause of the virus.

More than a fifth (21%) believe the virus is a hoax, and 62% agree to some extent that the virus is man-made, scientists say.

The research, led by clinical psychologists at the University of Oxford and published in the journal Psychological Medicine, indicates the number of adults in England do not agree with the scientific and governmental consensus on the Covid-19 pandemic.

From May 4-11, 2,500 adults took part in the Oxford Coronavirus Explanations, Attitudes, and Narratives Survey (Oceans) online.

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