Coronavirus latest news: UK deaths rise by 181 in 24 hours as Boris Johnson tests positive

Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus and is exhibiting “mild symptoms”. 

In a video posted on his Twitter feed, Mr Johnson said he had experienced “a temperature and persistent cough” over the last 24 hours and, on the advice of the chief medical officer, took a test which confirmed he had contracted Covid-19. 

According to Downing Street, the Prime Minister is continuing to lead the Government’s coronavirus response.

It comes as overall death toll in the UK has risen to 759 – another 181 people have died in the last 24 hours, the biggest daily rise. More than 14,500 people have now been infected.

That figure includes the Health Secretary as well as Mr Johnson. Matt Hancock also announced on Twitter today that he has tested positive for Covid-19. 

Follow the latest updates below:

Meme-loving Russians are breaking the internet

Russia’s biggest telecoms provider has pleaded with clients to stop sending coronavirus memes and viral videos, as networks began to overload as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Memes and keeping in good spirits are important, but it is important to be responsible about using content online,” MTS president Alexei Kornya said in a statement on the company’s website.

“I’m not saying you should stop watching films online or participate in video conferences for work,” he said.

But he called on Russians to “refrain from sending around funny but ‘heavy’ videos via messengers to dozens of contacts,” straining the telecoms infrastructure.

MTS has 80 million clients in Russia and has seen a “considerable increase in the load on the network,” mostly in large cities, particularly Moscow, Kornya said.

Russia has not ordered a mandatory lockdown, but many companies switched to telecommuting earlier this month to lower the risk of coronavirus infection.

Foreign Office to fly Britons out of Peru

Three more repatriation flights for British travellers stuck in Peru have been chartered by the Foreign Office.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said:

“The Foreign Office has chartered three more flights for British travellers in Peru – as well as domestic flights to help those in Cusco.

“We continue to work around the clock to help British travellers struggling to get back to the UK and thank the Peruvian government for all their support in making this happen.

“British nationals in urgent distress and who need immediate consular assistance can call +442070081500. This number is available 24/7.”

Breaking: New York cases rise to 44,653

The number of coronavirus cases in New York has risen by more than 7,000 to a new total of 44,653, Andrew Cuomo,  the state’s governor, has announced. 

Deaths have risen to 519 – an increase of 161 over 24 hours.

“We will keep fighting to save every life we can,” Mr Cuomo said. 

We mourn the 519 New Yorkers lost to this vicious virus.

This is the worst news I can give New Yorkers. It is heartbreaking.

Sadly, we expect this number to rise as patients who have been on ventilators for weeks succumb.

We will keep fighting to save every life we can.

— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 27, 2020

Police beat women as chaos erupts in Kenya ahead of coronavirus curfew  

Adrian Blomfield has this update from Nairobi:

Police in Kenya have been filmed firing teargas and beating unarmed women after chaos erupted in the port city of Mombasa as commuters desperately tried to beat a new curfew called to control the coronavirus epidemic.

Workers formed vast queues outside the ferry terminal on Mombasa island in the hours before a 7pm (16:00 GMT) curfew comes into force for the first time tonight, but chaos erupted as the deadline neared.

Distressing footage has emerged showing police beating defenceless women, some with their arms raised, who are then forced to sit or lie on the ground in close proximity – presumably defeating the point of what the government is trying to achieve.

The scenes come hours after police in neighbouring Uganda shot and wounded two men on a motorcycle after officers accused them of breaching a ban on public transport imposed as part of measures to combat the epidemic.

Kenya’s police force has a reputation for extortion and brutality, including extra-judicial executions. Previous curfews in Kenya’s history have been marred by the killing of civilians by police. With journalists barred from going out onto the streets tonight, many in Kenya will be more afraid of their police force than of Covid-19, which has infected 31 people in the country, killing one of them.

Gatwick airport to close north terminal

London’s second-busiest airport, Gatwick, has revealed plans to shut one of its two terminals next week following a collapse in flight numbers and government restrictions on unnecessary trips.

The north terminal, used by carriers including EasyJet, will shut from April 1, Reuters reports. The airport’s Chief Executive Stewart Wingate said:

“Gatwick is a resilient but also responsible business and during these extraordinary times we need to take unprecedented measures to protect the health and wellbeing of our staff and passengers, while also shielding the business from the impact of coronavirus.”

The terminal will stay shut for at least a month, the airport said, with the situation being kept under regular review.

A decision will be taken on reopening the terminal when airline traffic increases and government public health advice – including on social distancing – is relaxed, the airport said.

Scheduled flights at the south terminal will run between 2pm and 10pm BST, with the runway only open for emergency landings and diversions outside those hours.

27 inmates in prisons test positive

Some 27 inmates have now tested positive for coronavirus in 14 different prisons in the UK.

The number of cases, which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said was accurate as of 1pm on Thursday, jumped up by eight in 24 hours.

Earlier this week, the department confirmed two prisoners who had the virus had died.

Jails in England and Wales were put on immediate lockdown on Tuesday with all visits cancelled as it emerged thousands of staff were in self-isolation.

Jo Farrar, chief executive of the Prison and Probation Service, told the Commons Justice Committee that around 4,300 prison and probation staff overall were self-isolating. Some 3,500 were prison staff – representing about 10 per cent of the workforce.

Coronavirus could become a seasonal illness, new research suggests

Analysis finds the virus spreads best in cold, dry conditions and could wax and wane with the seasons, Ben Farmer reports.

The arrival of warmer, drier weather may slow the spread of Covid-19 in temperate climates like Europe and America, according to new research which suggests the illness will wax and wane with the seasons.

The new coronavirus which by Friday had killed more than 24,000 people worldwide spreads best in cold, dry conditions an analysis of the first three months of cases found.

Researchers behind the study said their findings joined a growing body of work suggesting the illness could be seasonal like other viruses including flu and polio.

Read the full story here

Banks offer safety net for customers with interest free overdrafts  

Major UK banks are now offering interest free overdrafts as the impact of the coronavirus is felt across the country, Verity Bowman reports.

HSBC, Lloyd’s and Halifax are all offering a £300 interest-free overdraft from 6th April until 6th July 2020 for overdraft customers.

Meanwhile, Nationwide customers can apply for an interest holiday on arranged overdrafts starting on the 20th of April, or when their application is processed, if that is later. 

Contactless payment limits have also been increased to £45 in an effort to help prevent the potential spread of the virus via cash. 

An email to HSBC customers said:

“As the effects of the coronavirus outbreak are felt more acutely across the UK, I want you to know that we are listening to your feedback and developing solutions to continually support you during this difficult time.

“The impact of the outbreak is making it increasingly difficult to maintain normal service levels across our call centres and branches right now, however, we remain committed to being there for you.”

Case count in Italy set to surpass China

The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in the northern region of Lombardy, which has borne the brunt of Italy’s contagion, has risen by around 541 in a day to some 5,402, Reuters has reported.

The figure is up steeply compared with 387 deaths on Thursday and is Lombardy’s second highest daily tally so far.

The number of cases in the region, which includes Italy’s financial capital Milan, increased by some 2,409 to roughly 37,298 the source said. On Thursday, 2,543 new cases were registered.

The new cases in Lombardy takes Italy’s total number of infections past those recorded in China, where the coronavirus epidemic came to light at the end of last year. Italy’s nationwide tally will be released around 6pm. 

The United States already overtook China’s tally on Thursday.

Italian mafia profits set to grow

Italy’s mafia organisations are set to boost their profits from the country’s coronavirus pandemic, experts say, as mob bosses seize new business opportunities and adapt their drug networks.

As it struggles to confront the world’s most deadly coronavirus crisis, Italy now also has to come to terms with the influence of the criminal organisations and a soaring death toll.

“The market sectors the Italian mafia organisations control are expanding with the pandemic,” Roberto Saviano, the author of bestselling Gomorrah – which details the dealings of the Naples crime gang the Camorra – told the Daily Telegraph.

“The mafias will triple their profits from all this, because the sectors in which they have invested, and which they now control in many areas, are growing.” 

Biagio Simonetta has the full story

Britain’s first ‘coronavirus injunction’

Britain’s first “coronavirus injunction” has been imposed after an unruly tenant on a Manchester housing estate was throwing noisy parties with 20 guests during the lockdown, the Press Association has reported. 

The housing association, Mosscare St Vincent’s, went to court on Friday to get the legal order preventing further disruption after receiving complaints from worried neighbours.

The tenant, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, lives on an estate in Manchester and was flouting social distancing guidance of keeping two metres apart and avoiding large gatherings of family and friends.

The parties, involving around 20 guests, were causing distress and harassment for neighbours who were trying to keep safe during the Covid-19 outbreak, lawyers said.

The injunction, secured at Preston Combined Court, now prohibits any visitors to the tenant’s property during the lockdown, save for their children, until the Government lifts current guidance about social and physical distancing.

Matt Jones, director of customers at Mosscare St Vincent’s, said:

“Residents must realise that the restrictions put in place by the Government are to minimise the spread of the virus and must be adhered to.

“We will continue to take appropriate action to ensure that residents living in our communities are kept safe during this time of unprecedented risk.”

If the tenant breaks the injunction then they can be brought to court and face a possible jail sentence for contempt of court.

‘We can expect’ UK death toll to surpass 1,000 this weekend

Experts are reacting the the news that the number of coronavirus fatalities in the UK has risen by 181 in the last 24 hours. 

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at University of Reading, said it is likely we will pass the grim milestone of 1,000 deaths this weekend:

“The news of a further 181 Covid-19 deaths, while very sad, is unsurprising. Over the coming weekend we can expect to see the UK’s toll of the disease pass the 1000 threshold and that over the coming weeks, we will see the daily increases in the numbers of deaths, grow ever larger.

“It’s essential that people observe social distancing rules in order to start to turn the tide on the coronavirus.”

Dr Mike Tildesley, an associate professor at the University of Warwick, added that it is “too soon” to see the impacts of the lockdown, which was imposed on Monday. 

“The increase in the number of cases and deaths as a result of Covid-19 is unfortunately what we might expect during this phase of the outbreak in the UK.

“It is important to state that, whilst the UK entered lockdown on Monday night, it is too soon for us to observe the effect of that intervention policy.

“Owing to the relatively long incubation period of the disease, most of those confirmed cases will have been infected prior to the introduction of the most severe social distancing measures and therefore over the next few days, we may expect to see the number of daily confirmed cases continue to climb, before starting to decline once the current social distancing measures start to have an effect.”

The Royal Mint to manufacture medical visors for the NHS 

  • Engineers at the Royal Mint have created an approved medical design in 48 hours
  • The first visors are already in use in hospitals in South Wales

The Royal Mint is to begin mass manufacturing medical visors for the NHS next week to provide critical protection for frontline staff, LaToya Harding reports.

Dr Sharon Hopkins, chief executive of Cwm Taf Morgannwg UHB, said:

“We are incredibly grateful to the Royal Mint for this work. This equipment will be vitally important for our frontline staff to protect themselves and others as they work to respond to the COVID19 pandemic.

“It is also an excellent example of teams working collaboratively to provide safer environments for our staff and patients.

“The generosity of organisations such as the Royal Mint as well as our communities has been humbling and I would like to thank everyone for their continued support for our staff and the NHS.”

Follow our markets liveblog for more business updates.

Spain’s cabinet blocks employers using coronavirus as a pretext for layoffs

Spain’s cabinet has approved measures to prevent employers from taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to lay off workers, labour minister Yolanda Diaz said on Friday.

“In our country nobody can take advantage of this health crisis, you can’t use Covid-19 to fire people,” Diaz said after an extraordinary cabinet meeting held on Friday, according to Reuters.

7,510 former nurses and midwives sign up to help Covid response

More than 7,000 former nurses and midwives have signed up to support health and social care services across the UK, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Nurses and midwives who left the profession in the last three years can sign onto the Covid-19 temporary register, which enables them to practise during the coronavirus outbreak.

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive of the NMC, said: 

“We’re living in the most extraordinary of times. To see thousands of former nursing and midwifery professionals make the decision so quickly to sign up to our temporary emergency register and join the Covid-19 response is simply incredible.

“To former nurses and midwives who left their professions within the last three years who haven’t already applied to join the NMC Covid-19 temporary register but would like to, it’s not too late. We need you.”

‘At this rate I am going to be watching the birth on FaceTime’

A former Royal Marine stranded in Saudi Arabia says he has received no assistance from the British government in getting back home to witness the birth of his first child, James Rothwell reports.

Christopher Smith, a 34-year-old from Glasgow who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been trapped in Saudi Arabia since the country cancelled all flights on March 15 due to the coronavirus. 

His wife, Pamela, also 34, is eight and a half months pregnant and expecting the baby to arrive any time soon.

Mr Smith, a safety inspector for an oil gas company, told the Telegraph:

“People are getting more and more frustrated. The waiting time [on the FCO helpline] is about two to three hours and you are just told to watch for updates on the website.

“I tried to cross into Bahrain and leave from there but it did not work, though the Bahraini ambassador in London was incredibly helpful, he contacted the ministry of foreign affairs in Bahrain.

“To date I have still not managed to enter Bahrain and am still stranded in my hotel room. The British Embassy in Riyadh have been absolute useless to British citizens in this time of need. I waited 2 hours on Skype to get through to a UK Consulate in Riyadh, to be asked how can they help, only then to be hung up on. 

” I do not want to imagine what the stress is doing to our unborn baby. Our parents are all in the high risk category and are currently self isolating as well, so are not able to help Pamela. At this rate I am going to be watching the birth on FaceTime.” 

Breaking: 181 more people die in the UK

The Department for Health and Social Care has published the latest numbers on cases and fatalities in the UK. 

The death toll now stands at 759 – rising by 31 per cent in 24 hours, or 181 fatalities. This is the largest daily jump in deaths that the UK has seen so far.

Total infections have risen to 14,579.

UPDATE on coronavirus (#COVID19) testing in the UK:

As of 9am 27 March, a total of 113,777 have been tested:

99,198 negative.

14,579 positive.

As of 5pm on 26 March, of those hospitalised in the UK, 759 have sadly died.

— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 27, 2020

40,000 in quarantine after ‘super spreader’ ignored advice

40,000 Indians in the northern state of the Punjab have been quarantined after a ‘super spreader’ unwittingly exposed thousands to the coronavirus, Joe Wallen reports.

Baldev Singh, 70, a Sikh preacher from the town of Nawanshahr, allegedly ignored government advice to self-quarantine after visiting Italy and Germany.

Italy has recorded over 80,000 cases of the deadly virus and Germany has also been badly affected.

After landing back in New Delhi, Mr. Singh traveled by car to his native Punjab and attended the Sikh festival of Hola Mohalla in the city of Anandpur Sahib between March 8-10.

The six-day Hola Mohalla attracts around 10,000 devotees every day. The following week Mr. Singh felt seriously unwell and was taken to a hospital in the town of Banga. He died on March 18. After his death, test results came back from the hospital to say he had contracted coronavirus, likely while he was in Europe.

The Indian Government believes there has been no community transmission so far and its 724 confirmed cases have travel history to a country battling a severe outbreak.

400 million Indians could contract coronavirus if community transmission takes hold, according to a new report by Johns Hopkins University and Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.

One week after his death, 19 of Mr. Singh’s relatives have tested positive for the virus.

Health department officials in the Punjab have scrambled to trace 550 people who came in direct contact with Mr. Singh while 20 villages have been closed-off under quarantine.

Queen’s Birthday Parade ‘will not go ahead in its traditional form’

The Trooping the Colour will not go ahead as normal, Buckingham Palace has announced. In a statement the Palace said:

“In line with Government advice, it has been agreed that The Queen’s Birthday Parade, also known as Trooping the Colour, will not go ahead in its traditional form.

“A number of other options are being considered, in line with relevant guidance.”

It’s not all bad news…

Some more positive news stories from Harriet Barber to brighten up your afternoon:

  • Graffiti artists in Senegal are using their spray cans to spread public health awareness messages and encourage people to protect themselves. Many read “Together against Covid-19,” while other messages, which were spray-painted next to a health hotline number, said “A big thank you to the caregivers.”
  • A sportswear factory in Northern Ireland has changed tack to produce scrubs and facemasks for healthcare workers. Around 150 staff are working to meet an order of 5,000 scrubs.
  • Dogs are being trained by scientists to see if they can detect coronavirus through their sense of smell. It follows earlier research that showed that dogs can detect malaria. If successful, the dogs could be stationed at airports after the epidemic to prevent the disease returning.
  • A group of nine friends have set up a non-profit called Meals for the NHS, which after receiving donations from the public, provide front line workers at London’s NHS hospitals with free meals. A £30 donation feeds six NHS workers – cooked by restaurants suffering financially during the lockdown. So far over £100,000 has been raised.

Negotiations with EU to go ahead on Monday

British and EU negotiators will hold the first meeting of a joint committee as planned on Monday, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, after trade talks were put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The spokesman said the meeting would be co-chaired by senior British minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic and would take place remotely rather than in person due to coronavirus.

Video conference and conference calls were among the options being considered, he added.

The joint committee will oversee the implementation, application and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement divorce deal agreed by Britain and the EU last year, and will seek to resolve any issues that arise from it.

Meanwhile Michael Barnier – European Commission’s head of task force for relations with the UK, who has also tested positive for coronavirus – has  tweeted wishing Boris Johnson a “speedy recovery”.

Staff in New York forced to wear bin bags to protect against Covid

A nurse working at the New York hospital where staff were forced to use bin bags as protective equipment has spoken of the panic and despair among nursing staff, after one of their colleagues died from coronavirus.

Melissa Thompson (not her real name) has worked at Mount Sinai West hospital, near Central Park in Manhattan, for the last five years, Harriet Alexander reports. 

Three of her colleagues were photographed on Saturday wearing black bin bags over their scrubs for protection, in an image which has now gone viral.

“The photo was taken on Saturday night after one of the nurses purchased bags before she came in, when she found out on her way to work that the hospital was out of gowns,” Miss Thompson told The Telegraph.

Asked if the medics wore the bin bags to treat patients, she replied:  “Yes. They really used trash bags that night… Things are really, really not good here.”

On Wednesday night it was confirmed that assistant nursing manager Kious Kelly, 48, had died from the virus.

“We are paranoid,” the nurse said. “I don’t know what we have to do or say so they believe us – so they hear our cry for help.

“We all have the assumption that we all have it, and we’re just waiting to become symptomatic enough so that we can finally get tested. We’re all isolating from our families to protect them.”

The 33-year-old said she was sleeping in the attic, which fortunately in her home had a separate bathroom. Some of her colleagues were paying, with their own money, to stay in hotels.

Pygmy goats miss the general public

Pygmy goats at locked down London Zoo are being given extra attention from keepers after they realised the animals were missing being petted by visitors, the Press Association reports.

The goats are used to interacting with guests in the children’s section of the zoo, and have been waiting at the gate every morning anticipating the arrival of a stream of people.

But because the zoo is currently closed to visitors during the coronavirus pandemic, no guests are arriving and their ears were being left unscratched.

Senior keeper Tara Humphrey told the PA news agency:

“We’ve all been taking it in turns to regularly visit the zoo’s pygmy goats at our children’s zoo, Animal Adventure, to give them some extra attention.

“They’ve been waiting patiently at the gate every day for their usual ear scratches from visitors so we’re doing our bit to make it up to them.”

While the zoo is closed to visitors, 50 keepers – around half the total keeper staff – are on site every day to ensure all the animals are well looked after.

Pygmy goats are counted during the annual stocktake at London Zoo in Central London in January 2019

Yui Mok/PA Wire

Today’s key developments

It’s been an incredibly hectic morning of coronavirus news – here’s a run down of everything you need to know.

In the UK:

  • The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has tested positive for the coronavirus – as has the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock.
  • A 76 year old doctor with “textbook” coronavirus symptoms has died – if test results confirm he had the virus then he would be the first doctor in the UK to die from the virus.
  • Talks have been held about setting up a temporary mortuary at Birmingham Airport with space for up to 12,000 bodies in a worst-case scenario.
  • Tesco will limit the number of items customers can order in an online shop to 80.
  • The government has asked all local authorities to find housing for rough sleepers by the weekend.
  • Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the Government is offering “the right response” for self-employed workers amid controversy that support will not kick in until June.
  • The London Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan Police have appealed for former staff to return.
  • Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has apologised for “ill-judged and poorly timed” emails to Government and poor communications to employees and the public in an open later.

And elsewhere across the globe:

  • Total cases in the US have overtaken the overall tally in China – Donald Trump has said this is because the country has tested a “tremendous” number of people.
  • Spain’s health emergency chief has said that 9,444 health workers have tested positive for the coronavirus in the country. 769 people in the country have died of Covid-19 since Thursday’s mid-morning bulletin – the largest daily increase. 
  • Coronavirus infections in Italy have not reached their peak, the head of the country’s national health institute has said.
  • A 16-year-old Parisian schoolgirl, Julie, has become the country’s youngest victim of the coronavirus. The head of the French Hospital Federation has said hospitals in and around Paris will reach saturation point within 48 hours.
  • Tokyo has urged people not to congregate in parks for the famed traditional viewing of springtime cherry blossoms and urged against non-essential, non-urgent outings until April 12.
  • South Africa and Kenya have both recorded their first coronavirus deaths today – sases in sub-Saharan Africa have risen by 4,500 per cent in a fortnight.
  • Iranian media reports nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1,000 sickened so far by ingesting methanol – fake coronavirus remedies have been widely circulated.
  • Hungary has imposed a two-week lockdown while Russia’s prime minister has ordered all hotels, restaurants, bars and shops other than grocery stores and pharmacies to shut tomorrow. 
  • The Swedish government has decided to ban all public gatherings of more than 50 people.

Birmingham Airport could become coronavirus mortuary 

Talks have been held about setting up a temporary mortuary at Birmingham Airport with space for up to 12,000 bodies in a worst-case scenario amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The airport is next to Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, which has already been mooted as a possible location for a temporary field hospital.

It is understood that any airport facility could initially have space for 2,500 bodies, increasing to up to 12,000, if needed.

Read the full story here

More on Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock

In  the video posted on his twitter page, Matt Hancock said he has been working from home for the last few days “because everyone who can work from home should work from home”. 

He added: 

“I’ve also had some mild symptoms of coronavirus and upon medical advice I was tested and that test was positive, so I’ll be self isolating here until next Thursday. Fortunately for me the symptoms have been very mild so far so I’ve been able to continue to work.”

Mr Hancock also said  the clap for carers moment last night was “unbelievable, and so wonderful to see the whole country uniting”. 

On the Prime Minister’s diagnosis, our chief political correspondent Christopher Hope has this update:

  • Boris Johnson felt ill with mild cough and temperature yesterday and was tested late afternoon; he got the results at midnight
  • PM is in 11 Downing Street and has now been sealed off for seven days effectively “making it a house”, says the PM’s official spokesman
  • PM will run the UK’s approach to tackling coronavirus by videophone from 11 Downing St
  • The PM’s meals are left at doors between 10 and 11 Downing Street
  • Number 10 is not doing contact tracing but has advised that if anyone feels ill after seeing the PM they should self-isolate
  • PM was deliberately standing apart from Rishi Sunak when he led the applause for NHS workers at 8pm on Thursday night
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak is now working from his office in HM Treasury on Whitehhall – It is understood that the Chancellor has not yet moved his family into the flat that he is entitled to above 10 Downing Street

Breaking: Matt Hancock tests positive

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also tested positive for coronavirus. 

He wrote on Twitter: “I‘ve tested positive. Thankfully my symptoms are mild and I’m working from home & self-isolating.”

Belgium’s death toll jumps

A further 69 people in Belgium have died from coronavirus in the last 24-hours, James Crisp reports. The death toll now stands at 289 people since the crisis began.

In other news from the country – a spokesman for Belgium’s crisis centre confirmed that someone had transmitted coronavirus to their pet cat.

The spokesman said it was an isolated case and there was no reason to think pets could help spread the disease.

Sweden introduces tougher restrictions

The Swedish government has decided to ban all public gatherings of more than 50 people to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reports.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference:

“Our resilience is being tested. The aim of the government is of course to limit the spread as much as possible.

“The government has decided to ban public gatherings of more than 50 people.”

The new rule will come into force on Sunday and those who break it risk fines or up to 6 months in prison. The government had previously banned all gatherings of more than 500 people.

One town and four villages quarantined in Turkey 

One town and four villages in Turkey’s Black Sea province of Rize have been quarantined due to the coronavirus outbreak, the local mayor said on Friday, in the first case of a lockdown in the country.

Alaettin Serdar, the mayor of the Kandirli town, said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT Haber that the move was a precautionary measure to prevent the further spread of illness after a patient in the town died of the virus on Thursday.

The death toll in Turkey due to the coronavirus jumped by 16 to 75 on Thursday, while the number of confirmed cases surged to a total of 3,629 since the first case was reported on March 11.

Breaking: Eight more deaths in Scotland

Another eight coronavirus patients in Scotland have died, bringing the total there to 33, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

She added that the number of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in Scotland had risen by 165 from Thursday’s total, from 894 to 1059.

The First Minister said that 72 patients with coronavirus symptoms are in intensive care units.

Toyko: ‘Cherry blossoms must wait’

Residents of the Japanese capital formed long queues at supermarkets and stores on Friday, in preparation for a weekend at home, after Tokyo’s governor urged them to stay indoors in a bid to keep a coronavirus from spreading, Reuters reports.

The governor’s plea to avoid non-essential, non-urgent outings until April 12, and particularly this weekend, prompted a rush for supplies, despite warnings against hoarding.

A surge in infections this week, with 40 new cases on Friday, has carried Tokyo’s tally to 299. While the figure is not high for a city of nearly 14 million, experts have warned of a high risk of an “overshoot”, or explosive rise, since authorities have not been able to track all the contacts of more than half the newest cases.

Tokyo has also urged people not to congregate in parks for the famed traditional viewing of springtime cherry blossoms, and plans to shut zoos and aquariums for two weeks.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said asked people to wait until next year to glimpse the flowers, adding, “The cherry blossoms will bloom again next year.”

Parts of three of the city’s parks will be closed to the public until after the flower-viewing season, a Tokyo government official told Reuters, without specifying the dates.

A security person stands guard at the famed street of cherry blossoms which is closed as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus at Ueno Park in Tokyo Friday

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Reaction to Boris’ coronavirus diagnosis

Politicians and experts have been quick to react to the news that Boris Johnson has contracted the coronavirus, 

Labour leader  Jeremy Corbyn said on Twitter that he wishes the Prime Minister “a speedy recovery and hope his family are safe and healthy”. 

“Coronavirus can and does affect anyone,” Mr Corbyn added. 

The Labour leadership contender, Sir Keir Starmer, also wished Mr Johnson a “speedy recovery”, adding that “together we can and will come through this”. 

 Experts have also commented on the news. Jonathan Ball, Professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said:

“A virus does not respect authority or position. From lowly virologists to powerful prime ministers, all of us are susceptible to infection. This news highlights just how easy it is for this virus to pass under the radar and spread through our communities.”

Devi Sridhar, professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, added:

“I fear the PM news today will swamp headlines and distract from core issues: We need governments to present clear strategy with deadlines attached for next few weeks. What is the concrete plan for testing?

“What will the next 6 months look like and what is the medium-term planning taking place? These are the questions to keep asking.”

Cases in sub-Saharan Africa soar 4,500 percent in a fortnight

South Africa and Kenya have both recorded their first coronavirus deaths today as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Africa continue to soar, Adrian Blomfield reports. 

Two patients died in South Africa’s Western Cape province, while a 66-year-old man with underlying health conditions died in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. A night-time curfew will begin in Kenya this evening.

South Africa, officially the worst affected country on the continent with more than 1,000 cases, has begun enforcing a three-week lockdown. Police in Johannesburg fired into the air to clear streets in the city’s townships but some homeless people said they had nowhere to go.

At least 93 people have died from the coronavirus across Africa, with the number of confirmed cases standing at 3,579 – a 1,957 percent increase from the figure a fortnight ago.

The rise over the same period has been even starker in sub-Saharan Africa, with cases soaring by more than 4,500 percent.

COVID-19 : UPDATE IN AFRICA, 27 MARCH 2020 – 9:00 am EAT

Countries (46) reporting a total #COVID19 3,243 cases, 83 deaths, 254 recoveries by region.#COVID19 #FactsNotFear #AfricaPrepares #AfricaRespond

— Africa CDC (@AfricaCDC)

COVID-19 : UPDATE IN AFRICA, 27 MARCH 2020 – 9:00 am EAT

Countries (46) reporting a total
#COVID19 3,243 cases, 83 deaths, 254 recoveries by region.#COVID19 #FactsNotFear #AfricaPrepares #AfricaRespond

— Africa CDC (@AfricaCDC) March 27, 2020

href=””>March 27, 2020

Over 9,000 health workers infected in Spain

Spain’s health emergency chief has said that 9,444 health workers have tested positive for the coronavirus in the country, Reuters reports. 

Italy: ‘We haven’t reached the peak’

Coronavirus infections in Italy have not reached their peak, the head of the country’s national health institute has said, the day after more than 6,150 people tested positive and 712 died in single 24-hour period.

“We haven’t reached the peak and we haven’t passed it,” the chief of the Superior Health Institute Silvio Brusaferro told a news conference, Reuters reports.

However, Brusaferro said there were “signs of a slowdown” in the numbers of people becoming infected, suggesting the peak may not be far away, after which new cases will show a visible downward trend.

“When the descent begins, how steep it is will depend on our behaviour,” Brusaferro said, referring to how strictly Italians will continue to respect restrictions on movement imposed by a government lockdown.

The Queen ‘remains in good health’

Asked about wellbeing of the Queen following the Prime Minister’s diagnosis, a spokesman for Buckingham Palace said:  

“Her Majesty the Queen remains in good health. The Queen last saw the Prime Minister on the 11th March and is following all the appropriate advice with regards to her welfare.”

The Queen last saw Boris Johnson on March 11, our Associate Editor Camilla Tominey reports:

Have other world leaders tested positive?

Boris Johnson is not the first world leader to test positive for coronavirus, Tony Diver reports.

The first was thought to be Prince Albert of Monaco, who met Prince Charles at an event in London around two weeks before the Prince of Wales announced he had symptoms.

In Iran, Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and two government ministers have tested positive for the virus. 

President Bolsorano of Brazil claimed he had been tested for the virus and it had come back negative earlier this month, although the Brazilian government is in the throes of denying the scale of the problem, despite already recording its first death.

Donald Trump, the US president, has also been tested and found not to carry the virus, although White House officials including a staffer of the Vice President, Mike Pence, have been diagnosed.

Sophie Trudeau, the wife of Canadian president Justin Trudeau, has tested positive for the virus, following an event she attended with British actor Idris Elba, who was also diagnosed. The pair are self-isolating. 

Carrie Symonds self-isolating in South London

The Telegraph understands that the Prime Minister’s pregnant partner Carrie Symonds is isolating alone in South London with the couples dog, Dilyn.    

Carrie posted on Instagram that “self isolating isn’t so bad with this one”.

Carrie Symonds/Instagram

PM the first senior UK Government minister to test positive

Boris Johnson is the first senior Government minister to test positive for the coronavirus, following a scare earlier this month that his DFID secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, had caught the virus from her mother, Tony Diver reports.

Ms Trevelyan self-isolated but tested negative for the virus, while her mother recovered. 

Nadine Dorries, a junior health minister, tested positive for the virus and was quarantined, prompting other ministers to self-isolate, including Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden.

Mr Johnson’s diagnosis prompts fears senior members of the Governmment’s coronavirus response team, including Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, have been exposed.

The pair were seen with Mr Johnson at a press conference in person earlier this week, while cabinet meetings have been held with the use of Zoom video conferencing software. Mr Johnson’s weekly meeting with the Queen was held over the phone.

Will other Ministers have to self isolate?

There is some speculation that other Government ministers, including the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, will have to self-isolate after Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus. 

Last night the pair were pictured together on the steps of Downing Street joining in the nationwide ‘clap for carers’.

PM took coronavirus test on advice of CMO

In a two minute video posted on his Twitter page (see post below), the Prime Minister said he had been tested for the coronavirus “on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer”. 

He said he is “working from home” after the test came back positive. He said that “thanks to the wizardry of modern technology” he would be able to continue to communicate with his “top team” to lead the “fight back against coronavirus”. 

“Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus. I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.”

He went on to “thank everyone who is working to keep our country together through this epidemic” and said “we will get through it”. 

“The more effectively we all comply with those measures, the faster our country will get through the epidemic and the faster we will bounce back…

“We’re going to beat it, and we’re going to beat it together.”

A Downing Street spokesperson added that “the test was carried out in No 10 by NHS staff.”

Boris Johnson self-isolating after testing positive

Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus.

I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.

Together we will beat this. #StayHomeSaveLives

— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 27, 2020

Breaking: Boris Johnson tests positive

Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus and is exhibiting “mild symptoms”, the BBC has reported.    

More details to follow.

Royal Mail delays turnaround plan, suspends dividend and scraps guidance 

Royal Mail has delayed its turnaround plan, suspended its dividend and scrapped its guidance for next year due the “significant uncertainty” caused by the Covid-19 crisis, sending its shares plunging.

The group said the outbreak will negatively impact profits in its UK and international businesses this year, with “key markets” such as Italy, France and Spain being hit particularly hard. 

Royal Mail continues to expect underlying operating profits of £300 to £340m for the current financial year,  however the group has suspended guidance for 2020-2021 and all future periods, with delays to its turnaround “Journey 2024” plan.

The former monopoly and one of the world’s oldest postal companies last May pledged to invest £1.8bn to transform itself into a sustainable, profitable operation by 2024. 

The company said it will now take longer than expected to achieve the targets laid out in its Journey 2024 plan. The group has access to over £800m in cash plus £925m in credit facilities.

Rico Back, Royal Mail’s chief executive, said:

We are putting the health and wellbeing of colleagues and customers first. At the same time, we are delivering the parcels and letters that are a lifeline for those who cannot leave their homes.

We are entering a period of significant uncertainty in a good financial position. We have a strong balance sheet. We have substantial levels of liquidity and low levels of debt. We are taking immediate steps to further reduce our costs and protect our cash flow.

Shares fell 14.1pc to 139p. The stock has lost almost a quarter of its value in the last month. 

Simon Foy has all the latest markets reports over on our business liveblog.

On the bright side…

Harriet Barber has a (much needed) round up of today’s good news:

  • A World War II veteran, Jack Bowden, is believed to be the oldest person in the UK to survive coronavirus. The former Royal Navy petty officer is 98 and was discharged from the hospital three days after testing positive.
  • A number of Norwich City football players have been calling season ticket holders over 80 years old to check in and see if they require any help during their isolation (On The Ball City!)
  • Adrian Blomfield reports that an Anglophone rebel group in Cameroon has agreed to stop fighting for a fortnight. This was in response to UN’s call on warring parties around the world to declare ceasefires in order to aid the global fight against the new coronavirus. The armed wing of the Communist Party in the Philippines has done the same. 
  • Within a couple of weeks, one million members of the public could be sent antibody testing kits to check if they have had coronavirus, health officials have said. 

Every day we publish a compendium of positive coronavirus news stories from around the world at 12:30pm. You can read yesterday’s here

Watch: Cressida Dick appeals for retired police officers to re-join the MET

Breaking: New record 24-hour death toll in Spain

According to figures just released by Spain’s Health Ministry, 769 people have died of Covid-19 since Thursday’s mid-morning bulletin, James Badcock reports.

This is the largest daily rise in fatalities since the crisis began and takes the total death toll to 4,858.

The total caseload of positive cases in Spain has now reached 64,059, a rise of 14 per cent on yesterday’s figure.

Two week lockdown in Hungary

Hungary is imposing a two-week lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, which is expected to peak in the country in June or July, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

Citizens will be allowed to go to work, shop and take limited exercise outside during the lockdown, which starts on Saturday, but should keep distance from each other, Orban said on public radio, adding that restrictions would be enforced by police.

Hungary has recorded around 300 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths. Orban has said the actual number of cases is probably much higher, Reuters reports. He added:

“Restrictions put in place so far have been efficient. Hungarians reduced the magnitude of social contact (but) … the decline has stopped, so we had to impose the movement restrictions.”

Pope Francis to host a live-streamed prayer service tonight

Andrea Vogthas the latest from Italy:

Pope Francis has invited the world to join him in a live-streamed prayer service tonight at 6pm Rome time (5pm GMT), in which he will give the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing while presiding alone over an entirely empty St. Peter’s Square, a historical first.

The pope is expected to offer prayers for the sick, suffering and their caregivers and others responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vatican officials said he will speak from a platform in front of the steps of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, where a special 15th-century crucifix from Rome’s Church of San Marcello will also be on display.

The cross was carried in procession through Rome for 15 days in 1522 when the city was praying to be saved from the Great Plague. The special “Urbit et Orbi” blessing, which translated from Latin means “to the city (of Rome) and to the world, is usually only given at Christmas and Easter.

Friday’s blessing, expected to last about an hour, will include a plenary indulgence for those who follow by television, internet or radio. 

Pope Francis speaking to a general audience via live stream on Wednesday


‘No one is invincible’, sister of 16-year-old Covid victim says

In France newspapers and websites are dominated by the smiling face of a 16-year-old Parisian schoolgirl, Julie A, who has become the country’s youngest victim of the coronavirus.

Her sister, Manon, has warned that her death shows that everyone is at risk from Covid-19. She told  Le Parisien:

“Julie just had a light cough last week and it got worse with mucus at the weekend. On Monday they went to see the doctor and that’s when she was diagnosed with respiratory distress. She’s had no particular illnesses before.

“We’ve got to stop thinking this only affects the elderly. No-one is invincible.”

The newspaper reports that Julie was first taken to hospital on Monday, before being transferred to the Necker hospital in Paris where she was put on a respirator on Tuesday night. However it was too late – her lungs had already failed. 

“The doctors did everything they could,” Manon said. 

Prague brothel converted to Covid centre for homeless

The largest brothel in Prague is to be converted into a quarantine centre for the city’s homeless, Matthew Day reports.

ShowPark, which normally operates under the slogan “You may do everything but do not have to do anything”, has been given 72 hours to gear up for the arrival of the Czech capital’s homeless people.

Just what to do with the city’s homeless has given the Prague authorities a headache. They have no place to quarantine themselves and are unable to abide to the strict regulations limiting public movement.  

Earlier today in the UK, it emerged  that government has asked all local authorities to find housing for rough sleepers by the weekend in a bid to protect people during the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Covid Deniers: How shadowy social media groups spread coronavirus myths

Two weeks ago an anti-vaccine Facebook group called ‘We Brought Vaxxed to the UK’ started to disseminate a new and dangerous contagion: misinformation about Covid-19.

It’s posts promote xenophobia, conspiracy theories and erroneous medical information about the disease and how it might be treated. One post claimed China was using the outbreak to cull the elderly, another suggested hand sanitiser causes cancer and a “probiotic yogurt suppository” was recommended as a cure.

The group is just one of some 50 social media accounts being tracked by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a charity dedicated to preventing false and divisive lies and myths spreading across the web.

“We are dealing with two viral contagions, both of which reinforce each other,” says CCDH chief executive Imran Ahmed. “One is biological – Covid-19. The other is social – misinformation.”

The Global Health Security team have the full story here

Tesco to limit online shop to 80 items

Tesco will limit the number of items customers can order in an online shop to 80 during the coronavirus emergency, it has announced.

It said a typical online order before recent weeks would contain fewer than 60 items, but the average has notably increased due over 100 items in the last few weeks. 

Tesco said the threshold of 80 has been set so that it does not restrict customers doing a normal weekly shop.

Paris hospitals will overwhelmed within 48 hours

A spike in coronavirus patients means hospitals in and around Paris will reach saturation point within 48 hours, the head of the French Hospital Federation has said, with the peak not expected until April, Reuters reports. 

Paris and its suburbs now account for over a quarter of the 29,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in French hospitals, with almost 1,300 now in intensive care. The death toll nationwide as of Thursday evening stood at 1,696.

“We will clearly need help in the Ile-de-France (Greater Paris region) because what happened in the east is coming here,” Frederic Valletoux, the federation’s president told BFM TV.

He was referring to the Grand East region, where the first major cluster took hold in France and where hospitals are already overwhelmed, with the army helping to transfer some critically ill patients to other cities. Valletoux added:

“We will be at the limit of our capacities in 24 or 48 hours. We will need to show real solidarity between regions, hospitals and increase the numbers of patient transfers.

“If we let hospitals cope by themselves, and let every territory that has been taken by the epidemic cope alone, then we shall head towards a catastrophe.”

Iran: 2,378 deaths amid 32,332 cases

Iran has just announced 144 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the official number of fatalities to 2,378.

In a televised news conference health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said:

“In the past 24 hours, we’ve had 2,926 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections across the country.

“This brings the overall confirmed cases to at least 32,332.”

He added that 11,133 of those hospitalised so far have recovered.

Watch: Clap for our carers

In case you missed it last night, here’s a round up of some of the emotional scenes across the UK yesterday as people joined in ‘clap for our carers’ to thank NHS staff. 

Russia tells citizens to stay at home

Russia’s prime minister has ordered a partial lockdown across the country of 145 million and urged the nation to stay home, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports. 

All hotels, restaurants, bars and shops other than grocery stores and pharmacies will have to shut down on Saturday, Mikhail Mishustin, the Russian prime minister, told the Covid-19 taskforce on Friday.

Mr Mishustin’s decree came after Moscow authorities imposed a lockdown for those under 65, ordered businesses to shut down and urged residents to self-isolate.

“We were able to buy some time thanks to our early response to the spread of the new virus,” Mr Mishustin said, urging Russians to stay at home so that authorities would not have to introduce a full lockdown.

“These restrictions are not too grave compared to people’s lives and health.”

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in the past weeks has shunned the role of a bearer of bad news, leaving it to the prime minister or the Moscow mayor, to announce fresh restrictions.

In his address to the nation on Wednesday, President Putin did not use any strong language to talk about the danger of coronavirus and stopped short of ordering a full lockdown, announcing a “week off work” next week.

The mayor of Moscow and other officials then had to come out with strong warnings for Russians not to treat it as a “long holiday” as Mr Putin described it in his speech and avoid socialising.

Rihanna donates PPE to New York medical staff

Rihanna has donated personal protective equipment to medical staff fighting the coronavirus outbreak in New York, where more than 38,000 Covid-19 cases have been detected.

The singer received a message of appreciation from the state’s Governor Andrew Cuomo on Twitter:

I want to thank @rihanna and the Rihanna Foundation for donating Personal Protective Equipment to New York State.

We’re so appreciative of your help and that of so many others who have stepped up.


— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 26, 2020

Rihanna is one of a number of stars providing equipment to doctors and nurses on the frontline in the battle against the pandemic.

UFC fighter Conor McGregor is spending one million euros (£914,000) on protective equipment for staff at hospitals in Leinster treating patients with coronavirus.

Fashion designer Christian Siriano also offered to make masks for workers in New York, saying he had a full sewing team still on staff working from home who were ready to help.

He later tweeted a photo of his studio showing his employees at work on the masks:

Recap: Donald Trump’s press conference

At his daily press conference Donald Trump said rumours that the US took the coronavirus into China were false. 

“I didn’t like it when they… made a statement that our soldiers brought it into China,” he said, adding that the claim came from a lower level Chinese official. 

The US President also insisted that the rapidly rising case count in America was “a tribute to testing… we’re testing a tremendous number of people.” 

He claimed that, by contrast, “you don’t know what the numbers are coming from China.”

Overnight coronavirus infections in the US surpassed the total in China – America has almost 86,000, while China’s tally stands at 81,800.

Watch the highlights below:

Tube travel drops another 7 per cent

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said on Twitter than early-morning tube use is down another seven per cent compared to yesterday, while bus use has dropped a further five per cent. 

At the start of this week there was controversy after images of packed London Underground carriages emerged. Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed there was “no good reason” why timetables had been cut – meaning there were fewer trains to transport key workers.

But Mr Khan’s spokesman insisted ministers were told “countless times” that Tube frequencies reflect high levels of staff sickness and self-isolation.

Today, Sadiq Khan has said thank you to “every Londoner who is following the rules and staying home” to ease pressure on public transport. 

✅ To every Londoner who is following the rules and staying home: thank you.

✅ Early-morning tube use is down another 7% compared to yesterday, bus use by a further 5%.

✅ The more we stay at home, the more we protect our NHS and key workers, and save lives. #StayAtHome

— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 27, 2020

House all rough sleepers by the weekend, Government says

The government has asked all local authorities to find housing for rough sleepers by the weekend in a bid to protect people during the Covid-19 outbreak, according to a letter released by the charity Crisis. 

The letter was sent out to homelessness managers and rough sleeping coordinators from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It said:

“As you know this is a public health emergency, we are redoubling our efforts to do what we possibly can at this stage to ensure that everybody is inside and safe by this weekend and we stand with you by this.” 

John Sparks Chief Executive of Crisis said the decision was a “landmark moment”.  But he added: “The question remains how local councils will be supported to do this”.

Save Pub Life: gift card campaign launched

A new scheme to support coronavirus-hit pubs and save them from closure is launching today. 

Over the last week, almost 40,000 pubs and bars have been forced to close their doors to help stop the spread of the illness with no clear idea when they might be able to re-open. As a result many now face an uncertain future, with some on the brink of permanent closure.

But today the Save Pub Life campaign, devised by Budweiser, is launching to try and ensure pubs can carry on serving when the ban is eventually lifted.

Pub-goers will be encouraged to buy a gift card to spend at their local pub at a future date, upon reopening. All funds will go directly to pubs and bars now, generating critical financial support during the period of closure.

The scheme is open to all pubs in England, Wales and Scotland and pub-goers can purchase a gift card for participating venues from today.

Budweiser Brewing Group will match the value of the gift card up to a combined total of £1 million, Paula Lindenberg, president of Budweiser Brewing Group said. She added:

“Pubs are a beloved part of our national culture and sit at the heart of our local communities. Yet, along with many businesses, these establishments are facing an incredibly difficult period.

“Although it’s absolutely the right thing to do at this time, closing doors to customers for weeks, or months, will see many pubs struggle to survive, risking lasting damage to the industry and those who work within it.”

People will be able to purchase gift cards and pubs can sign up from today at

Join the Telegraph coronavirus appeal

The true cost of Covid-19 will, in all likelihood, never be fully counted. We will, of course, know the eventual death toll as the numbers continue to rise each evening. And as testing increases we should eventually have a rough idea of the number of infections across the country.

But what of the wider societal impact? The collapsed businesses, the families forced on to a welfare state they had always paid into but never dreamed they themselves might one day depend on, the children suddenly plunged into poverty, and elderly and vulnerable left with nowhere to turn.

Today, The Telegraph launches a special appeal to help protect those who will be left most in need by the coronavirus pandemic.

Find out about the appeal here – please join us in helping those who’ve been hit the hardest by the pandemic.  

Hong Kong’s coronavirus tally accelerates

Hong Kong reported 65 new coronavirus infections on Friday, its biggest daily rise so far, taking the total number of cases in the Chinese-ruled city to 518, health officials said.

Of the latest cases, 41 had recently returned from travelling abroad.

Worldwide, 537,042 cases have now been confirmed. You can see a full breakdown in our interactive map:

Asda extends support for vulnerable staff

As well as giving full pay to employees who have been identified as needing to self-isolate for 12 weeks, Asda has announced it will offer fully paid leave to anyone who is vulnerable, such as over 70-year-olds or those who are pregnant, as well as the carers of vulnerable people.

Hayley Tatum, Asda’s chief people officer, said:

“Protecting our customers and colleagues has always been our main priority throughout these uncertain times and we want to do everything we can to help keep them and their families safe.

“We don’t want any of our colleagues worrying about being paid if they need to self-isolate as a result of coronavirus which is why we’ve take the decision to pay them for the next 12 weeks.

“I am so incredibly proud of our colleagues and all of their hard work through this difficult time, as they continue to support our customers and their community.”

Customer queues build up waiting for an Asda superstore to open at 6am Watford

David Rose

Government is offering ‘the right response for self-employed worker, says Business Secretary Alok Sharma

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the Government is offering “the right response” for self-employed workers.

Mr Sharma told BBC Breakfast: “The Chancellor was very clear that we want to do this as quickly as possible, we’ve set a date of June, if we can do it faster we will, but it is a complicated system that we are designing and we want to make sure we get it absolutely right.”

Responding to shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s calls for former HMRC staff to return, Mr Sharma added: “I don’t think the block right now is the number of people within HMRC, the issue here is building the system and that is what we’re doing.”

On the £50,000 cap, he added: “For those who are achieving profits of over £50,000 a year, their earnings on average is around £200,000 and the aim of this is to make sure we target those who are most in need, and I think our assessment is that if you have earnings that are on average around £200,000 you may well have other support, other savings that are available to you.”

On those who have been self-employed for less than a year not being eligible for the package, Mr Sharma said: “The reality is if HMRC has had no contact from those people during the time they’ve been self-employed then of course it’s very difficult to make an assessment on that.”

He added: “Very many of your viewers will appreciate that at the end of the day, this is taxpayers’ money, and we want to make sure that we have the right checks and balances in place and that we get money to those who are most in need where we have their details and we know that they have had a trading history.”

‘Healthy people’ should use stores, says managing director of Iceland supermarket 

The managing director of Iceland supermarket said “healthy people” should be using stores to free up delivery slots for the elderly and the vulnerable.

Richard Walker told BBC’s Today programme: “I’d actually urge the opposite of the Prime Minister, in that if you are healthy, not in a vulnerable category and adhere to social distancing guidelines, please do shop in store, but make sure you shop responsibly.”

He added: “That will enhance priority online for those who need it most.”

When asked about customers panic buying, Mr Walker said he totally understood “why people are fearful given the endless images they are confronted with,” referring to pictures and video footage of empty shelves in food stores.

“By stripping the shelves and not shopping responsibly it means others go without,” he added.

South Africa reports first two deaths  

South Africa on Friday reported its first two deaths from the novel coronavirus outbreak as the number of confirmed cases breached the 1,000 mark, the government said.

“This morning we wake South Africans up with sad news that we now have our first deaths resulting from COVID-19,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

He said the two people died in the Western Cape province, as the country went under a nationwide 21-day lockdown that took effect at midnight.

The minister promised to release more details later “when we announce the latest confirmed COVID-19 cases, which have increased from yesterday’s number and have tipped the 1,000 mark”.

On Friday, the country reported 927 confirmed cases, a more than 30 percent jump from the previous day.

In a bid to halt the spread, some 57 million people have been ordered to stay at home during the three-week total lockdown.

London Ambulance Service asks former staff to return  

London Ambulance Service has also appealed for former staff to return.

The service tweeted: “We are asking former members of our team to consider returning, if they can, to support us in helping Londoners in need.

“We’re particularly keen to hear from former 111 and 999 control room team staff.”

We are asking former members of our team to consider returning, if they can, to support us in helping Londoners in need.

We’re particularly keen to hear from former 111 and 999 control room team staff.#YourNHSNeedsYou #TeamLAS

— London Ambulance Service #StayHomeSaveLives (@Ldn_Ambulance) March 27, 2020

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley apologises and offers Frasers Group fleet of lorries to NHS  

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has apologised for “ill-judged and poorly timed” emails to Government and poor communications to employees and the public in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter, the majority owner of Frasers Group also said he has offered the company’s “entire fleet of lorries” to the NHS to help deliver medical supplies and equipment.

It comes after the businessman faced fierce criticism from MPs after he tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit, before performing a U-turn to close his stores.

In the letter, Mr Ashley said: “Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the Government as to whether we should keep some of our stores open; we would never have acted against their advice.

“In hindsight, our emails to the Government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with.

“On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public on this was poor.

“To reiterate, I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future.”

Firefighters to take on additional roles 

Firefighters will be able to deliver food and medicines, drive ambulances, and retrieve bodies during the coronavirus outbreak as part of an agreement between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the National Fire Chiefs Council and Fire and Rescue Service National Employers.

Firefighters will continue responding to emergencies such as fires and collisions, but can now provide additional services to help the UK tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack said it would be “quite a serious challenge” for firefighters to take on more work to help deliver food and medicine and drive ambulances.

Mr Wrack told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “Well, training is a key element of a document that we will be releasing today. Firefighters are clearly keen to do whatever they can to help in the situation.”

Firefighters to take on additional roles 


He added: “We have been approached on a number of issues and this next step will be discussions at a local level about what firefighters can do and what firefighters are able to use their skills for and that includes issues like assisting ambulance staff and so on.”

Mr Wrack added that there is a “need to protect core functions” of the fire service while firefighters may be asked to take on additional roles, including driving ambulances. 

He said: “I think this is a huge challenge across public services and also clearly we need to ensure that firefighters and others are protected in terms of personal protective equipment because no one can do their job if their own safety is compromised.”

The Metropolitan Police issues appeal to retired officers to return to the force

The Telegraph’s Charles Hymas reports 

Dame Cressida Dick, the Met Police commissioner is writing to all former Met officers who retired within the last five years, to ask them to re-join the Met either in a paid or voluntary capacity. 

It follows the announcement yesterday by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, that tax and pension rules are to be changed so that they are no longer a financial disincentive.

The Met is targeting all officers who retired from the Met as police constables or sergeants within the last five years to re-join either on a full or part-time basis. Senior officers may also be able to re-join where they bring specific skills and experience.  

The Metropolitan Police Service is calling for former officers who retired within past five years to rejoin force 

Kirsty O’Connor

Those who may not be able to make such a commitment are being invited to join as a special constable to contribute 16 hours a week.

In addition, the Commissioner is asking serving Met officers who are nearing 30 years’ pensionable service, to delay their retirement and stay on.

Ms Dick said: “On behalf of London, and all the men and women of the Met, it is important that we take all reasonable steps to bolster our numbers.

“Demands on us will grow and vary over the coming weeks but I want people to know and see that the Met is here for them. We must maintain our operational resilience and continue to provide the best possible service to London.”

Doctor dies in the UK from suspected coronavirus

Dr Habib Zaidi, 76, died in intensive care at Southend Hospital, Essex, 24 hours after being taken ill on Tuesday

His daughter Dr Sarah Zaidi, also a GP, said he showed “text book symptoms” of Covid-19. 

If test results confirm he had the virus then he would be the first doctor in the UK to die from the virus.

Dr Sarah Zaidi told the BBC: “For that to be the thing that took him is too much to bear. It is reflective of his sacrifice. He had a vocational attitude to service.

“He was treated as a definitive case. There is little clinical doubt it is coronavirus, the test result is academic.”

Dr Habib Zaidi, 76, died in intensive care at Southend Hospital, Essex

Dr Habib Zaidi, a GP in Leigh-on-Sea for more than 45 years, had been self-isolating and had not seen patients in person for about a week.

He was a managing partner of Eastwood Group Practice with his wife Dr Talat Zaidi.

All their four children work in the medical profession.

Patients and former staff have been paying tribute to a “well respected and loved GP” on social media.

Dr Zaidi’s widow has gone into quarantine away from the rest of the family.

Dr Sarah Zaidi said: “We can’t mourn in the normal way. We can’t have a normal funeral.”

Confirmed coronavirus deaths are announced by NHS England.

Iran reports hundreds killed from fake remedy 

Iranian media reports nearly 300 people have been killed and more than 1,000 sickened so far by ingesting methanol across the Islamic Republic, where drinking alcohol is banned and where those who do rely on bootleggers.

It comes as fake remedies spread across social media in Iran, where people remain deeply suspicious of the government after it downplayed the crisis for days before it overwhelmed the country.

Prince Charles seen for the first time since testing positive for coronavirus

 The Prince of Wales has been seen for the first time since testing positive for coronavirus.

Clarence House posted a video in their Instagram Stories of heir to throne Charles joining in with the round of applause for the NHS from Birkhall, his private home on the Balmoral estate in Scotland.

The prince, 71, clapped along as he stood indoors smartly dressed in an open necked shirt, and jacket with a handkerchief in his pocket.

Camilla, who is isolating from Charles because she does not have the Covid-19 illness, was also seen in separate footage clapping on her own as she looked out of an open window.

Charles had been at his desk working on Thursday.

He was said to be “enormously touched” by well-wishers’ kind words after receiving hundreds of get-well messages, the day after it was revealed he had contracted the disease.

He was not the only royal taking part in the country-wide Clap for Carers.

His grandchildren Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis were filmed by the Cambridges applauding, while the tribute was also observed at Windsor Castle where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are staying.

Toll rises in Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has risen to 42,288 with 253 confirmed deaths, according to The Robert Koch Institute, the German federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention.

US and China ‘working together’

Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020

China and the United States should “unite to fight” the deadly coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the globe, said President Xi Jinping in a call with his US counterpart on Friday, according to state media.

The two countries have clashed in recent weeks over the virus, but Xi told President Donald Trump that China “wishes to continue sharing all information and experience with the US,” said state broadcaster CCTV.

The two leaders appeared to strike a conciliatory tone after Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo angered Beijing this month by repeatedly referring to “the Chinese virus” when discussing the COVID-19 outbreak first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Friday’s call also took place as the US overtook China as the country with the most coronavirus cases – the pathogen has now infected more than 82,400 people in the world’s largest economy.

Rescheduling Wimbledon ‘difficult’

Britain’s Jamie Murray says organisers might find it difficult to reschedule Wimbledon for later in the season if the Grand Slam is postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A decision regarding the June 29-July 12 grasscourt event will be made next week but organisers have already ruled out staging the tournament without spectators.

“I don’t know how long they could push it back,” Murray, a two-time Wimbledon mixed doubles champion, told BBC Scotland’s The Nine.

Uzbekistan widens restrictions

Uzbekistan locked down more cities and districts on Friday, and announced large bonus payments for medical workers, in its effort to slow the spread of a coronavirus, as it reported the country’s first death and the number of cases climbed to 83.

A 72-year old woman in the city of Namangan died on Friday morning, having suffered from a host of other diseases in addition to the coronavirus, the healthcare ministry said.

South Koreans urged to stay inside

Medical staff members arrive for a duty shift at Dongsan Hospital in Daegu, South Korea


Authorities in South Korea pleaded with residents on Friday to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings as new coronavirus cases hovered close to 100 per day, including multiple people working on an American military base in the country.

South Korea reported 91 new coronavirus cases on Friday, taking the national tally to 9,332, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

IMF approves disbursement for Kyrgyzstan

A worker disinfects in front of the Kyrgyz Parliament in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan


The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday its board has approved a $120.9 million disbursement for Kyrgyzstan to help the Central Asian country fight coronavirus, the first emergency loan approved by the Fund since the outbreak started.

Kyrgyzstan has confirmed 44 cases of the disease, prompting the government to close borders, lock down several cities and districts and impose a curfew in the capital, Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan’s economy relies heavily on remittances from hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers working in Russia whose incomes will be affected by the drop in the price of oil and rouble’s exchange rate.

US cancels military exercises with Philippines

The US has cancelled annual military exercises with treaty ally the Philippines, it said on Friday, as a precaution against a coronavirus pandemic.

The exercises, set to run from May 4 to May 15, have taken place in the south-east Asian nation for decades, involving thousands of troops from both countries. The alliance with the Philippines is one of Washington’s most important in Asia.

Australia tightens quarantine rules

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds up a coronavirus Isolation Declaration Card 


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday tightened enforcement on self isolation for thousands of citizens returning from overseas, saying states and territories would quarantine all arrivals in hotels.

The Australian Defence Force would also be deployed to help enforce the self-isolation rules, Mr Morrison said.

The number of cases in Australia surpassed 3,000 on Friday from less than 100 at the start of March, according to health authorities, raising fears about a wider spread in the community. The country has reported 13 deaths from the pandemic so far.

China reports locally transmitted case

People wait in a queue to be screened at a fever clinic at Huanggang Zhongxin Hospital in Huanggang, in China’s central Hubei province


Mainland China reported its first locally transmitted coronavirus case in three days and 54 new imported cases, as Beijing ordered airlines to sharply cut international flights fearing travellers could reignite the  outbreak.

The 55 new cases reported on Thursday was down from 67 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Friday. There are now 81,340 confirmed cases in mainland China.

The death toll stands at 3,292 with five new deaths.

Sportswear factory switches to scrubs

A worker makes scrubs for front-line NHS staff in O’Neills sportswear factory in Strabane


As other factories fall silent due to the coronavirus, the din of production continues at O’Neills sportswear factory in Northern Ireland, where staff have pivoted to making scrubs and facemasks for besieged healthcare workers.

Around 750 staff at the factory in Strabane, which makes kits and leisurewear primarily for Gaelic Athletic Association  sports, were temporarily laid off as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded.

Teams and groups playing GAA sports – such as hurling and Gaelic football – began to postpone events and matches as the British and Irish governments restricted gatherings in a bid to stem infections.

But with the factory switching to produce scrubs for local operations of Britain’s National Health Service, 150 staff have been able to return to work.

Panic buying hits Tokyo

Queues formed at supermarkets and stores in Tokyo on Friday as residents in the Japanese capital prepared for a weekend at home after the city’s governor called on them to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus.

After Governor Yuriko Koike’s plea on Wednesday to refrain from non-essential, non-urgent outings through April 12, and especially this weekend, residents were stocking up on everything from instant noodles and rice to toiletries and fresh produce, despite public-service warnings against hoarding.

US Open postponed

The US Open, originally scheduled to be played June 18-21 at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York has been postponed over coronavirus concerns, the New York Post reported on Thursday.

The event will instead take place “later in the summer” but the location will not change, the newspaper said, citing sources with knowledge of the USGA’s plans.

Thousands in N. Korea quarantined

North Korea has about 2,280 people in quarantine for “medical observation” over coronavirus concerns, state media Korean Central News Agency reported.

One foreigner was released from quarantine, while two remain in isolation. KCNA didn’t mention whether there were any infections.

North Korea has so far reported no confirmed cases.

Trump won’t cancel Republican convention

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he would not cancel the Republican National Convention in August in Charlotte, North Carolina, because of the coronavirus.

In an interview on Fox News, Mr Trump said he believed the country will have rebounded from the coronavirus outbreak by then. “We’re not going to cancel,” Mr Trump said. “I think we’re going to be in great shape long before then.”

US states introduce travel restrictions as coronavirus cases soar

Singapore jail threat

Anyone caught breaking Singapore’s social distancing rules can land themselves in prison from Friday after the city-state made it an offence for a person to intentionally stand close to another person as part of its coronavirus defence.

Under updates to its powerful infectious diseases law, anyone who intentionally sits less than 1 metre away from another person in a public place or on a fixed seat demarcated as not to be occupied, or who stands in a queue less than a metre away from another, will be guilty of an offence.

Offenders can be fined up to S$10,000 ($6,990), jailed for up to six months, or both.

The rules, in place until April 30, can be applied to individuals and businesses.

Clap for Our Carers lights up the night

Across the UK, people took to their windows and front porches to applaud everyone in the National Health Service for their work in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The Clap For Carers initiative, which took place at 8pm on Thursday, echoed expressions of support elsewhere, notably Italy, which has seen the most deaths related to the COVID-19 disease.

See more 

Around the world at a glance

  • China‘s National Health Commission on Friday reported 55 new cases – it says 54 are imported infections in recent arrivals from overseas
  • The Mexican border state of Chihuahua said on Thursday it will set up a shelter to house deported migrants for a two-week quarantine
  • The former prime minister of Libya has contracted the coronavirus, according to the Facebook page of his political party
  • The US territory of Puerto Rico has extended its curfew to April 12 and warned of new restrictions
  • US President Donald Trump says he will travel to Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday to see off a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship that will relieve the pressure on New York hospitals 
  • The UN Security Council is expressing concern at the possible impact of the pandemic in war-torn Libya and is calling on the warring parties to stop fighting “urgently” and allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid 
  • Eight countries under unilateral sanctions urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to request the immediate and complete lifting of these measures to enable the nations to respond to the pandemic
  • South Africa‘s president has appeared in full military uniform for the first time since the end of apartheid and urged troops to be a “force of kindness” as they enforce a lockdown that begins on Friday

French and US presidents join forces

Very good discussion with @realDonaldTrump. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we are preparing with other countries a new strong initiative in the coming days.

— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) March 26, 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that he had a “very good discussion” with US President Donald Trump over the coronavirus crisis and that the two were preparing a new initiative to combat the pandemic.

“In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we are preparing with other countries a new strong initiative in the coming days,” the French president said on Twitter.

 Evangeline Lilly apologises

 Hollywood actress Evangeline Lilly has apologised for her “arrogant” coronavirus comments.

The Avengers: Endgame star dismissed self-isolating and suggested the government was exploiting the pandemic to “grab more power”.

Lilly said it was “business as usual” for her and told worried fans to “look at the facts we are being presented with”.

Following a backlash, Lilly has now apologised in a lengthy post on Instagram and said her comments on March 16 came before official advice in her area changed dramatically.

First death reported in Venezuela

A health worker stands guard, at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia, in La Guaira, Caracas, Venezuela


Venezuela reported its first coronavirus death on Thursday after a 47-year-old man with a pre-existing lung disease died, the government said.

The man from the northern Aragua state had previously suffered from an “occupational disease in the lungs,” Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez said in a television address.

The patient had been admitted to a private clinic suffering from pneumonia and three days later tested positive for COVID-19, Mr Rodriguez said.

The South American country has now reported 107 coronavirus cases.

What happened yesterday

Here are Thursday’s most important developments: