The Government’s strategy for fighting coronavirus is coming under scrutiny. While countries similar to our own are cancelling mass gatherings and closing schools, the UK’s response remains distinctly low key. On Thursday Boris Johnson announced new measures, including asking people with a cough or a temperature to stay at home, but some say it is not enough. Why are Ireland and Spain closing schools while we leave ours open? Why have France, Germany and now Scotland stopped gatherings of more than 500 people while we carry on? Some accuse the Government of complacency. Others suspect it is putting the economy before the nation’s health. And some say it has been seduced by new breed of behavioural scientists who are running a dangerous experiment in “nudge theory” that could go horribly wrong. The Prime Minister, the chief medical officer, and others insist they are simply following the science. They are not shying away from tough decisions but nor are they bending to political pressure as others have. Acting too early, they stress, poses as much risk as acting too late, and the Government will act but only at the right moment.
Boris Johnson today branded coronavirus the ‘worst public health crisis in a generation’ and warned that ‘many more’ people are going to die – but still held off drastic measures. The Prime Minister said it was clear the disease will continue to spread around the world and people should brace for the ‘reality’ of ‘severe disruption’ for many months. At a press conference in Westminster, Mr Johnson formally declared that the UK’s tactics have shifted from ‘containing’ the killer disease to merely ‘delaying’ its inevitable spread, after he chaired a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee.
Boris Johnson warned yesterday that “many more families” would lose relatives to coronavirus, declaring that it would be the worst public health crisis in a generation. In a solemn statement at Downing Street, the prime minister said millions of people would need to be mobilised to help each other. “It is going to spread further and I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time,” he said. Up to 10,000 people may already be infected, Mr Johnson said, as the government gave up on containing the spread of the virus. Anyone with a persistent cough or even a mild fever should stay at home for a week.
Dozens of British military planners are being deployed across the country to help local areas cope with the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. A combination of military personnel and Ministry of Defence officials will be stationed at 38 ‘local resilience forums’ to form emergency contingency plans. There are fears that communities could struggle to deal with the effects of a mass outbreak of the virus, including the need to isolate the elderly and the strain on medical services. A defence source said: ‘There will be one military planner in each local resilience forum. The military is used to dealing with a crisis more so than other agencies.’
UP TO 10,000 Brits could already be infected with undiagnosed coronavirus, experts warned today. Speaking after a COBRA meeting, Boris Johnson said the number of cases in the UK is expected to rise sharply – warning the peak is still weeks away. The PM announced the Government has moved to the second stage of a four-part plan to tackle coronavirus. The “delay” phase means steps will now be taken to slow the spread of the deadly bug, to reduce the number of people who fall ill. By pushing the peak of the crisis into warmer months – the hope is it will relieve pressure on an already stretched NHS. It comes as the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned the 590 reported cases in the UK could be the tip of the iceberg. He estimated the true number could be between 5,000 and 10,000 people already infected – most undiagnosed. “Currently we are on a trajectory that looks as though it is about four weeks or so behind Italy and some other countries in Europe,” he said.
Boris Johnson’s new measures to protect the British public from the coronavirus have come into full force, but some scientists are warning his approach does not go far enough. Yesterday, the prime minister confirmed the government is entering its second phase of the response to COVID-19 – moving from trying to contain the virus to delaying its spread. Anyone with a new persistent cough or a high temperature will now have to self-isolate and stay at home for seven days, and Mr Johnson has urged schools to cancel planned trips abroad. However, the UK has stopped short of deciding to close schools, with Mr Johnson warning that scientific advice suggests “this could do more harm than good”. Although ministers are “considering” a ban on major public events such as festivals and football matches, they are currently being allowed to go ahead as planned.
A lack of research could lead to even worse global pandemics than the current coronavirus outbreak, the Zoological Society of London has warned. Many of the recent outbreaks of deadly disease across the world – including Covid-19 as well as others such as Ebola – began as infections that moved from animals to humans. Some 75 per cent of new human diseases have come about through this route. And scientists at the ZSL, which runs the London Zoo and carries out conservation work, has said the UK needs to better invest in understanding how diseases function in wildlife populations. Such research needs to urgently identify how those diseases come into human populations, they warn, or the world risks other pandemics that could be even worse than the current Covid-19. While the government has committed £46 million to developing a vaccine for Covid-19, the scientists warn that only offers an short-term response to such an outbreak. The government also must look towards long-term research to avoid similar outbreaks in future, ZSL warned.
A medical firm has claimed a cure for coronavirus will be ready to test on humans in just a matter of weeks. The potential vaccine was developed by Medicago, a biopharmaceutical company based in Quebec City, Canada. Its CEO Bruce Clark said once the drug has been approved, they could produce up to 10 million doses a month. Medicago said it received the coronavirus’ genetic sequence 20 days ago and has set about developing a cure for the flu-like disease. So far, almost 135,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, and a total of 4,983 patients have died.
NHS workers battling coronavirus are facing a “national shortage” of protective clothing, HuffPost UK has been told. Labour MP Rosenna Allin-Khan, a working doctor who still works shifts in A&E, said scientists had told her that there were not enough body suits in the right sizes, while some doctors were only now starting to receive protective clothing. It came amid new official estimates suggesting 5,000 to 10,000 people in the UK have coronavirus, leaving many doctors, nurses and other health workers at risk of infection. Last month, the World Health Organisation also warned that there was a global shortage of protective masks and body suits. One NHS source who worked at a hospital where coronavirus patients were being treated told HuffPost UK: “There were staff forced to wear oversized suits because that’s all they had.
Britain’s stock market suffered its worst day since the 1987 financial crisis as it shed £160billion and tanked 11 per cent in what has been dubbed the New Black Monday. Investors in London continued to be rattled by the World Health Organization’s upgrade of the coronavirus outbreak to a global pandemic as markets plunged. The index of Britain’s biggest companies was trading down 639 points – 10.9 per cent – at 5,237 yesterday after another week of falls prompted by the infection’s spread. Global markets were ‘spooked’ yesterday after President Donald Trump dramatically announced he was shutting the US border to travelers from mainland Europe. As Prime Minister Boris Johnson followed suit by calling the coronavirus outbreak the ‘worst public health crisis in a generation’, the FTSE tanked.
It has been another extraordinary day. Stock markets in Europe opened in a state of high anxiety, which gave way to panic. Investors are in the dark. They don’t know how many people will fall ill, how long it will take for them to recover or when a coronavirus vaccine will be discovered. An economic shock of unknowable scale is upon us and shares in companies are being sold-off. The FTSE closed down more than 10 per cent, the second largest fall in its history This was not a flight to safety, it is an exodus. Financial markets are showing early signs of dysfunction. Investors are hording the few assets they have faith in. They are sitting on US government debt in particular. This is causing stress. In extremis, there’s the risk liquidity will dry up.
Local elections in May should be postponed until the autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s Electoral Commission has said. The independent body said there were “growing risks to the delivery of the polls”, which are scheduled to take place on 7 May. “We’ve written to the UK government to recommend that the May polls be postponed until the autumn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” the Commission wrote on Twitter. “This is due to growing risks to the delivery of the polls and to mitigate the impact on voters, campaigners & electoral administrators.” Mayoral, council and police and crime commissioner candidates are all due to contest elections in May.
BORIS JOHNSON has been urged to scrap the May elections, including London’s mayoral elections, in a bid to halt the spread of the outbreak. The Electoral Commission said today the “risk” of holding a series of votes across Britain would still be high in May. In a letter to the Cabinet Office, Bob Posner, Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission, has called on the government to delay the May 7 2020 elections following its announcement to enter the delay phase of its strategy to control the spread of COVID-19. The Mayor of London and London Assembly elections will see voters in London boroughs cast their votes for who they want to be mayor and their constituency member as well as 11 London-wide Assembly Members. But Londoners are among the most at risk of catching the virus with the highest number of cases in a concentrated area, with 104 to date.
The England and Wales polling watchdog has recommended delaying May’s local elections until the autumn to “mitigate” the impact of coronavirus. The Electoral Commission said there were “growing risks to the delivery of the polls”, with the number of infections in the outbreak rising. Mayoral and local elections are due to take place on 7 May in England. Constitution Minister Chloe Smith said the government was still “working to facilitate” them. She added: “We continue to work closely with those delivering the elections, while being guided by the evidence and latest advice from medical experts.” Voting is also due to take place on 7 May in England and Wales for police and crime commissioners. So far, 10 people in the UK have died after testing positive for coronavirus, with 596 cases confirmed.
Trade talks between the EU and UK scheduled for London next week have been cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis. The face-to-face meetings in Whitehall offices may now be replaced with discussions via video conference-call. The meeting between Boris Johnson‘s envoy David Frost and chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier was the second round of negotiations on a proposed free trade deal which is intended to be completed by the end of this year. The cancellation puts additional pressure on the prime minister, who has so far insisted he will not budge from his ultra-tight self-imposed deadline of 31 December to end the transition period to a new post-Brexit relationship with the EU. He has already threatened to walk out of talks and take the nation to a no-deal Brexit if sufficient progress is not made by June, leaving Britain with the prospects of new trade barriers and tariffs under World Trade Organisation rules.
The UK and the EU have agreed to “dial down the rhetoric” over Brexit in an effort to open up space for a deal, it has emerged. Brussels and London are expected to produce legal texts of their negotiating positions next week, with diplomatic sources claiming both sides have agreed to “lower the temperature” to enable the texts to be considered in detail to assess the scale of the divergence. “The moment you see the legal texts, that’s when you see how good or bad things really are,” one insider said. Next week’s Brexit talks in London have been cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak, but in a joint statement both sides said they were looking at alternative options, such as teleconferencing.
Post-Brexit trade talks are disarray after the second round of face-to-face negotiations between London and Brussels was cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis. Around 100 European Union negotiators had been due to travel to Whitehall next week for renewed talks with their British counterparts. The session was scrapped on Thursday night and, although the two sides said conference calls could be set up, the cancellation is an early setback to efforts to find common ground. Even without a global health emergency, the UK and the EU face a daunting timetable to reach a trade agreement. Britain has said it wants to see firm progress by June with the aim of completing a deal by September. It insists it will not extend the post-Brexit transition period which expires on 31 December. The EU and UK negotiating teams said in a statement: “Given the latest Covid-19 developments, UK and EU negotiators have today jointly decided not to hold next week’s round of negotiations in London, in the form originally scheduled.
THE first week of Brexit trade talks has officially come to a close and little progress has been made as the EU continue to demand a “level playing field” and that the UK abides by the ECHR. The unproductive talks have seen the EU ramp up their demands to keep the UK abiding by the ECHR despite it being a major factor in many people’s decision to vote leave in the 2016 referendum. Now, new figures have shown exactly why the EU is no shining example when it comes to human rights. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said “very serious divergences” had emerged in this week’s talks. Divisions occurred after the UK’s negotiators refused to commit to applying the ECHR formally in the future. This is as well as seeking to restrict the role of the European Court of Justice.
The effectiveness of Britain’s £14 billion annual aid budget is to be investigated by parliament. MPs on the international development committee have begun an inquiry into spending on overseas development, which is ringfenced at 0.7 per cent of gross national income. Some aid projects funded by British taxpayers have been criticised, with doubts voiced about their lasting impact. Downing Street is leading a review of foreign, defence and security policy, which is due to conclude by July. Sarah Champion, the Labour chairwoman of the select committee, said: “We cannot ignore the controversy that has surrounded UK aid for some years, with reports of wasteful spending and a lack of transparency on certain projects.
Most state school head teachers think that GCSEs should be overhauled or scrapped, a survey suggests. Those questioned said that the exams did not work for all pupils, particularly as they had been made harder in recent years and this had led to more anxiety and mental health problems. This week The Times reported that some private schools wanted the sector to consider getting rid of GCSEs or reducing the number of exams pupils sat. Today’s survey of 800 heads, by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), reveals dissatisfaction with GCSEs. More than 85 per cent said that they should be reformed or abolished, adding that they left too many pupils demoralised, particularly those with special needs.
The £1.6billion smart motorway programme will be given a major overhaul after ministers admitted they are not as safe as they should be. The 18-point ‘action plan’ recommending sweeping changes was slipped out yesterday on a tumultuous day for coronavirus-related news. Since they were first introduced in 2006 road bosses have insisted the routes – where the ‘hard shoulder’ is repurposed to ease congestion – are safer because they have regularly spaced emergency laybys. But MPs, motoring groups and victims’ families have raised serious concerns following a spate of fatal accidents resulting from drivers becoming stranded in ‘live lanes’ of traffic. Yesterday’s report revealed there had been 44 smart motorway-related deaths since 2015.
The government has revealed an 18-point action plan to improve “smart” motorways following concerns about their safety. The aim of smart motorways is to keep traffic moving by converting the existing hard shoulder into an “active” fourth lane and controlling speed limits. But they have been branded “death traps” after a number of high-profile cases. Five people were killed in just 10 months on a 16-mile stretch of the M1. Due to the lack of a hard shoulder, drivers who break down on a smart motorway can be trapped in speeding traffic. There are currently sections of smart motorway on parts of the M1, M4, M5, M6, M42 and M62.
The BBC director-general has admitted that some people in their 80s and 90s could be hauled to court after free TV licences for the over-75s are abolished. From June, only people above the age of 75 who claim pension credit will be entitled to a free licence. Older pensioners who are unable or unwilling to pay £157.50 a year face the prospect of criminal prosecution if they continue to watch their televisions. Up to 3.75 million viewers will be affected. Appearing before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee yesterday, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director-general, acknowledged it was “conceivable” that octogenarians could end up in court, but that the focus would be on helping them to pay.