The Coronavirus Outbreak: An Update
What’s the latest?
Cabinet office minister Michael Gove has said thousands of new ventilators are to be delivered to the NHS next week. Speaking during the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, Gove said there were more than 8,000 ventilators deployed in NHS hospitals at present, with new devices expected to roll off UK production lines by next week. The extra ventilators are to be manufactured by a group of businesses including Formula One teams Mercedes and McLaren. Gove also said the number of virus tests available to NHS staff was increasing but claimed capacity had been constrained by the limited supply of chemicals needed to manufacture reliable testing kits.
Attending the briefing alongside Gove, NHS England national medical director Dr Stephen Powis said there was a "bit of a plateau" in the number of new virus cases as the public continued to comply with social distancing instructions. However, Dr Powis insisted the UK was "not out of the woods," warning: "We must not be complacent and we must not take our foot off the pedal." It follows the news that 381 people died of the virus in the UK on Tuesday, including a 13-year-old boy with no underlying health conditions. The latest fatalities represent a significant rise on the day before and bring Britain’s total death toll to 1,789.
How is the government responding?
The prime minister is facing increasing pressure to ensure the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers amid reports some nurses are treating coronavirus patients “without any protection at all”. Despite government claims that millions of gloves, aprons and face masks have been delivered to hospitals, NHS staff on the ground have reported a dangerous lack of supplies. On Tuesday, the British Medical Association warned many healthcare facilities were facing “life-threatening shortages” of PPE.
Meanwhile, 50 MPs have written to Johnson to call for compensation for the families of frontline medics who lose their lives fighting the pandemic. The letter argues that doctors and other key workers should be granted compensation similar to that offered to the armed forces, such as a lump sum and guaranteed income for their family. On Tuesday, the government announced a free, year-long extension to the visas of migrants working as doctors, nurses and paramedics in the UK. The Home Office said the extension had been implemented to allow migrant workers to focus on fighting the virus.
What are the international developments?
In the US, around three in four people are now subject to lockdown rules after states tightened restrictions aimed at slowing the virus’s spread. The US has confirmed more than 3,000 deaths so far and recorded more than 164,000 cases of the infection – double those in China. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the pandemic is “far from over” in the Asia-Pacific region. WHO told the region it must not “let down [its] guard,” and said current measures to curb the virus’s spread could buy some countries time to prepare for large-scale outbreaks.
In Ireland, health authorities said the country’s daily growth rate in confirmed cases had halved in recent days. Officials said Ireland’s quarantine measures appear to have had an “enormous” impact on the number of new cases and may have helped the country avoid an unmitigated epidemic. Meanwhile, several airlines around the world are facing financial difficulties as a result of the crisis. American Airlines has said it plans to request a $12bn US government bailout to cover its payroll costs over the next six months. In the UK, British Airways has suspended all its flights to and from Gatwick airport due to a collapse in demand.
Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Neil Basu responds to criticism of officers’ attempts to enforce the government’s coronavirus lockdown. It follows reports of “over-zealous” policing, including claims some people faced prosecution for driving "due to boredom" or "going to the shops" with other members of their household. The action of police in Warrington was even labelled "dystopian" by legal experts after officers handed out court summons for alleged offences such as "returning from parties".
Under new police powers, officers can arrest or issue fines to people in breach of the government’s lockdown rules. However, the assistant commissioner has urged officers to preserve the trust of the public "by policing by consent". He admitted that "not every police response will be surefooted" and said people should "not judge too harshly" while officers readjust to their new responsibilities. Police guidance on enforcing the lockdown states that officers should keep an "inquisitive mindset" when questioning people on why they are outside.
In other news
SUPERMARKET SALES 'BUSIER THAN CHRISTMAS'
Supermarket sales reached higher levels last month than those seen during the Christmas period, according to new data from Kantar. The consumer analyst firm showed significant increases in shopping during March, with year-on-year supermarket sales growing 20% in the last four weeks. From 16th-19th March, 88% of households visited a food store – amounting to around 42m extra trips over the four days. The average household spent an additional £62.92, equivalent to around five extra days’ worth of groceries. On Tuesday, Aldi, Morrisons and Waitrose confirmed they would now be easing shopping restrictions introduced earlier this month to prevent stockpiling.
NEW TEST CAN DETECT 50 CANCERS
A new blood test capable of detecting more than 50 different types of cancer has been unveiled by researchers. Developed by scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the test is based on DNA from tumours which can be identified circulating in the blood. Researchers said the test would be able to detect the presence of cancer as well as indicating which type of the disease a person has. Detection improved depending on how advanced the disease was. It was correctly detected in 18% of those with stage I cancer – but this rose to 93% among those with stage IV cancer. The test is now being developed further in clinical trials.
NUS CALLS FOR EXAM CANCELLATIONS
The National Union of Students (NUS) has called for the cancellation of this summer’s exams amid ongoing disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The NUS has warned that disabled, international and poor students are at risk of being significantly disadvantaged if institutions opt to press forward with online exams next term. Instead, the union said examinations should be cancelled for students in their first or second year. It also advised that those in their final year should be offered alternatives for completing their degrees, such as online assessments, exam postponements or estimated grades based on prior attainment. “In the current climate, student welfare must come first,” the union said.
VAN GOGH WORK STOLEN FROM MUSEUM
A painting by Vincent van Gogh has been stolen from a Dutch museum currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Van Gogh’s 'Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring' was taken from the Singer Laren museum in Laren at around 3:15am on Sunday. Thieves triggered alarms at the museum, which is closed under lockdown measures, but had fled by the time police arrived. The painting has an estimated value of up to £5m and was on loan from the Groninger Museum. The gallery’s director, Jan Rudolph de Lorm, said he was “incredibly pissed off” about the theft. “This is exactly what you don’t want as a museum that has a painting on loan,” he added. Dutch police are investigating the burglary with the help of art robbery experts.
DRINKS FIRMS LEAVE ‘MASSIVE POLLUTION FOOTPRINT’
A new report from Tearfund has revealed four global drinks giants are responsible for more than half a million tonnes of plastic pollution in six developing countries each year. The NGO’s analysis of plastic pollution in China, India, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria found Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever produced enough waste bottles to cover 83 football pitches every day. Plastic bottles are often disposed of through open burning in these countries, adding approximately 4.6m tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere each year. The report said it was “morally indefensible” that the four drinks giants continued to sell billions of single-use bottles despite being aware of their polluting impact on the environment and people’s health in developing countries.
The value of the reward offered by the owner of Houseparty for evidence proving the company has been the victim of a paid smear campaign. The video chat app has been beset with online rumours alleging that downloading it can lead to the hacking of users’ other services, such as Spotify and Netflix. The company has refuted the claims and offered a $1m reward to the first person who can provide evidence of a smear campaign. Houseparty has quickly become one of the most downloaded apps in several countries as people use video chat to contact friends and family during the coronavirus pandemic.