Coronavirus

No prizes for guessing what today’s main story is.  The Times warns that the danger is spreading fast.

Boris Johnson ordered fresh action against the coronavirus last night amid fears that the pandemic is spreading faster than anticipated.
As the death toll in Britain hit 21 yesterday, after doubling in four hours, the prime minister ordered the government to accelerate plans to make the  elderly and vulnerable stay at home possibly for several months and force whole families to self-isolate where one member has symptoms of the disease.
Johnson will chair a meeting today that is expected to impose the new rules this week — two weeks earlier than medics and scientists had expected last week.

Private hospital beds could be used, says the Mail.

Boris Johnson will issue a Churchillian plea to business this week – asking for their help in defeating coronavirus.
The Prime Minister will go to private hospital groups asking them to free up beds for NHS use, and urge manufacturers of medical equipment to ramp up production of ventilators and other life-saving machinery.
His request will mirror that of wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, who in 1938 went to captains of industry seeking their assistance in re-arming Britain to prepare the country for the looming threat of war.

The Sun also says this could happen.

PATIENTS stricken by the coronavirus will be treated for free in private hospitals if the NHS is over-run, the PM vowed last night.
Boris Johnson has ordered officials to buy up private clinic beds to boost capacity if the killer virus quickly spreads.
And he will appeal to suppliers to step up production of medical kit — including life-support machines.
The two-pronged action came as NHS beds across the country filled up with coronavirus sufferers and the UK death toll hit 21.

Labour and the unions have demanded that private beds be made available, says Sky News.

Private hospital beds should be made available to treat people with coronavirus, Labour and the GMB union have demanded.
They say there are around 8,000 beds in at least 570 private sector hospitals in the UK.
The call comes as Labour and the GMB say the NHS is now expected to “deal with a national health emergency despite being under strain from years of privatisation and cuts”.

And business will be asked to play its part, reports the Telegraph.

Boris Johnson is putting British industry on a war footing to help deliver the equipment that the NHS needs to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an unprecedented peacetime call to arms, the Prime Minister is asking manufacturers including Rolls Royce and JCB to transform their current production lines to help produce ventilators as part of a “national effort” to tackle the virus.
As ten more patients in the UK died from Covid-19, doubling the current death toll, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, declares in an article for The Sunday Telegraph that “our generation has never been tested like this”.

But those who are too ill to save may not be treated, reports the Times.

The chronic shortage of intensive-care beds and kit could soon force hospitals to introduce a triage system, where some patients are denied specialised care because their chances of survival are deemed too low, doctors have warned.
The UK has just 6.6 intensive care beds per 100,000 people, half the number in Italy and about a fifth of that in Germany.
If the rate of infections keeps growing, the NHS could run short of intensive-care places and equipment by the end of March. This weekend the NHS was aiming to expand many units to roughly double the current 4,250 beds to more than 8,000.

Older people could be told to self-isolate, reports ITV News.

People over 70 will be instructed by the government to stay in strict isolation at home or in care homes for four months, under a “wartime-style” mobilisation effort by the government likely to be enforced within the next 20 days.
It is part of a series of measures being prepared by the prime minister, health secretary, chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser to prevent the health service from “falling over” and to save lives as Covid-19 becomes an epidemic in the UK.
Other measures already being planned include the forced requisitioning of hotels and other buildings as temporary hospitals; the requisitioning of private hospitals as emergency hospitals;

The Mail claims we’ll be on a war footing.

Britain’s over-70s will be told to stay at home for four months while the government goes on a war footing to firefight the coronavirus crisis, it was revealed last night.
Mass isolating of the elderly – even if they are not ill – will begin within the next 20 days as Boris Johnson ratchets up efforts to tackle the UK’s ballooning outbreak.
Although the drastic measures have been drawn up to protect those most vulnerable to the killer COVID-19 infection, it brings serious concerns about the wellbeing of pensioners cooped-up for such a long time.

The Times also compares the situation to war.

The NHS is on a war footing with internal coronavirus guidance issued by health chiefs this weekend warning doctors to prepare for a “significant epidemic”.
Health chiefs are drawing up plans to postpone up to one million routine operations to free up staff and equipment for the seriously ill.
Private hospitals have been asked to step in to relieve some of the strain on the NHS, by treating the least sick patients who still require urgent hospital care.
In an effort to curb the virus’s spread, some hospitals have banned visitors and non-clinical staff from intensive care, A&E and neonatal units.

Jails could be a breeding ground for the virus, says the Mail.

Ministers have been warned coronavirus could rip through Britain’s jails – because inmates drink hand sanitiser.
The alcohol-based germ-killing gel cannot be placed in prisons after previous attempts to distribute it were blighted by dangerous levels of intoxication.+2
The Ministry of Justice is also working to avoid the jail riots sparked in Italy last week over health moves to suspend family visits.

But not all suspected victims are being tested, reports the Independent.

The World Health Organisation has repeated calls for all countries to find and test every coronavirus  case after the British government claimed the practice was “no longer necessary”.
Announcing the next stage of the UK’s strategy, the chief medical officer for England said on Thursday that only hospital patients would now be formally checked for the virus.
“It is no longer necessary for us to identify every case and we will move from having testing mainly done in homes and outpatients and walk-in centres, to a situation where people who are remaining at home do not need testing,” Professor Chris Whitty added.

The Sun reports that troops could be brought in.

TROOPS could guard hospitals and supermarkets in drastic new measures set to be rolled out in a bid to tackle the coronavirus.
It comes as the death toll in the UK soars to 21 and plans were announced to isolate people over the age of 70 for four months.
Shoppers have stripped supermarket shelves of essentials including toilet paper and dried pasta as officials say they’ve moved into the second phase of plans to contain the deadly bug.
As a result, it is understood the government will deploy the armed forces.

Even non-uniformed staff could be used, says the Mirror.

Dozens of non-uniformed members of Army have been drafted in to help with the coronavirus response.
Some 38 members of the Royal Logistics Corp have been deployed to local planning forums to boost resilience, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
They are Ministry of Defence planners “who will be helping local areas draw up their plans as to how they support public services and emergency services throughout the outbreak”, he added.
Downing Street’s comments come after the Times reports troops could be deployed to guard Downing Street and Parliament under MOD contingency plans.

Soldiers could be used on the streets, says the Mail.

Ministers have drawn up plans to put troops on the streets to help deal with the coronavirus crisis after the number of deaths almost doubled within 24 hours.
With the death toll jumping from 11 to 21 and the number of confirmed UK cases leaping by almost 40 per cent, Downing Street accelerated plans to ban large public events and implement the self-isolation of entire households where any member has succumbed to the illness.
In a bid to ‘shield’ the most vulnerable, the Government is also expected to tell people over 70 to stay in strict isolation at home or in care homes for four months.

The Mirror reports a call for the PM to plan in case he is affected.

A Tory MP has called on Boris Johnson to set out a formal procedure for what happens if the Prime Minister is incapacitated or killed.
Peter Bone has been trying to have a line of succession laid out in law for almost a decade without success.
He called on the government to back his Bill so it could be in place in case the PM falls ill with coronavirus.
“Nobody seems to be able to tell me what happens if the Prime Minister is incapacitated,” Mr Bone told the Mirror.
“Maybe there’s a letter somewhere that says who’s in charge.”

Meanwhile, the travel ban imposed by the US has been extended to the UK, reports the Telegraph.

Tens of thousands of travellers’ flights to the US will be cancelled today after Donald Trump extended his travel ban to the UK and Ireland, causing chaos for British families and businesses, whose plans are torn up at short notice.
The US president, who said yesterday he was awaiting the result of a coronavirus test, acted after the World Health Organisation designated Europe the epicentre of the pandemic.
Mike Pence, the vice-president, said there had been a “unanimous recommendation” from health experts to extend the ban, adding: “Americans in the UK can come home, legal residents can come home, funnelled through specific airports, and processed.”

The ban will start tomorrow, reports the Mail.

Donald Trump has extended the United States’ coronavirus travel ban to people from the UK and Ireland.
The flight freeze will kick in at midnight Monday, scuppering work and holiday plans for Britons preparing to make trans-Atlantic trips.
The President had initially excluded the UK and Ireland from the European ban of 26 countries, but added it to the blacklist this afternoon as infection rates soared overnight.

But how will this all end?  The Telegraph reports a comment by a top scientist.

The UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser has said a degree of herd immunity will help the UK population as Covid-19 spreads.
Sir Patrick Vallance acknowledged there are fears that clamping down too hard on the spread of the virus through tight social distancing measures could see it return in the future.
He said the aim is to “reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission”.
In Sir Patrick’s opinion, almost two thirds of Britain’s population would need to contract  coronavirus in order for herd immunity to stave off the disease in future.

But there is hope of a vaccine, says the Mail.

Two top doctors believe an experimental drug has helped save the lives of American  coronavirus  patients.
George Thompson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California Davis Medical Center, was part of the team that administered the drug, remdesivir, to a sickly American woman who tested positive for the virus on February 26.
‘We thought they were going to pass away,’ Thompson told Science magazine Friday about the patient – who was the first known ‘community spread’ case in the United States.

The Sun also has the story.

A CORONAVIRUS patient believed to be on the brink of death has recovered after being given an experimental drug.
The woman, who contracted the illness in the US, was a test subject for ‘remdesivir’ and is said to be “doing well”.
George Thompson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, who helped to provide care to the patient told the Science journal: “We thought she was going to pass away.
“The day after the infusion of the drug, she consistently got better.”
The woman, who had not travelled to an infected country and is not known to have any contact with a COVID-19 patient, was given her first dose 36 hours after her diagnosis.

And the new vaccine could skip the animal testing stage, says the Mail.

The first human trials of a coronavirus vaccine are to be launched within days, scientists in the US have said.
The ‘genetic hack’ was accelerated past the animal testing stage and will be used on healthy volunteers, then patients if it deemed safe.
It comes as scientists in Britain said a vaccine could be tested on humans by June after encouraging results on mice.
Massachusetts-based Moderna created the candidate cure but have taken a different route to traditional techniques.

Trade talks

Away from the virus, there are a few other pieces of news.  The Express reports on the trade talks with the EU.

BORIS JOHNSON has been warned one crucial aspect that has exploded into a war of words between the UK and European Union will ultimately be the “deal breaker” in negotiations over a post-Brexit free trade agreement (FTA).
The UK and Europea Union opened talks over their future relationship after Brexit – just weeks after Britain finally officially left the bloc on January 31 after several months of delays. Boris Johnson wants an FTA agreed with the EU before the end of the transition period in December 2020, which he is refusing to extend. The Prime Minister is also threatening to walk away from the negotiating table in June if there is little chance of achieving the FTA the UK desires.
Leading EU figureheads, including chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron, have reacted furiously to what they see as extremely hardline tactics from Mr Johnson and his negotiating team.

ECHR

And the EU’s human rights court is still throwing its weight around, reports Breitbart.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has dismissed the case of two Christian midwives who were denied jobs in Sweden for refusing to perform abortions, ruling that the violation of the women’s consciences was “justified”.
After losing several court battles in Sweden, the two women — Ellinor Grimmark and Linda Steen — took their plight to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which announced this week it will not take up the case.
Swedish law obliges all midwives to perform abortions and makes no allowance for conscientious objection based on religious faith.

Child grooming

Another grooming gang has been sentenced, says the Sun.

MEMBERS of a sick grooming gang who raped an “extremely vulnerable” teenage girl have been jailed for a total of 74 years.
The gang had been plying their victim with drink and drugs since she was 15 and treated her like a “piece of meat”, a court has heard.
The young woman told Sheffield Crown Court she’s been “scarred for life” by the abuse, which has left her suicidal.
Blundering police failed to investigate her claims for five years, it was heard.
Now vile sex predators Jasim Mohammed, 38, Kawan Ahmed, 32, Nzar Anwar, 41, and Shangar Ibrahimi, 30, have each been jailed for between 12 and 25 years after they were convicted of rape.
A fifth man, Saba Mohammed, 41, was also jailed for four years after being convicted on conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Education

And if a pupil is caught with a knife in school, they may just get away with it, reports the Mail.

Pupils who bring knives to schools will not automatically be expelled under controversial plans to scrap a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the deadly weapons in class.
MPs have criticised the proposals – which have been floated in some areas of the UK worst hit by knife crime – saying the only message should be that blades have no place in school.
The suggestion comes as head teachers try to reduce the number of pupils they exclude – which some experts say leads to more involvement in knife crime and other illegal activity.
Now Wandsworth Council in South-West London has circulated guidelines saying that permanently and immediately excluding any child who has carried or used a knife against others ‘is not appropriate’.

HS2

More talk about the high speed train line is in the Times.

Boris Johnson is being warned not to “delay or dilute” plans for the HS2 line to Leeds, which the region’s political leaders say represents the “golden thread” to level up the Tories’ new heartlands.
Civic leaders along the eastern leg of HS2, which runs from Birmingham to Leeds, are growing increasingly concerned that the government intends to prioritise the high-speed line to Manchester, known as the western leg.
Writing below, Labour’s Judith Blake, leader of Leeds city council, and the Conservative leader of Nottingham county council, Kay Cutts, who also chairs the East Midlands HS2 board, warn it should not become a competition between “Manchester and Leeds”.
In a recent speech, Andrew Stephenson, the new HS2 minister, made no mention of Leeds.

Rail travel

Lack of electric train lines has forced a load of carriages to sit and rot, says the Sun.

THOUSANDS of “ghost trains” are standing idle in railway sidings despite years of chronic overcrowding, a probe found.
Carriages with a combined length exceeding 20 miles are rotting away — yet passengers paying top dollar often cannot get a seat.
Researchers found that the unused trains, being held in at least six depots, contain more than 110,000 seats.
Many are sent to scrap to avoid storage costs.
Investigators say the electric-only trains have been rendered useless by the failure to electrify lines across the country.
Fewer than 40 per cent of lines in Britain are electrified — among the lowest level in Europe.

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