The Coronavirus Outbreak: An Update
What’s the latest?
The prime minister has insisted the government has ordered "huge numbers" of coronavirus testing kits amid concern a shortage of tests is hampering the UK's response to the outbreak. Speaking during the government's daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said further supplies allowing 250,000 tests to be carried out each day were expected to arrive "very soon". The prime minister also reiterated his request for people to remain at home after chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the virus peak could be manageable if the public complied with social distancing measures. The latest briefing came as parliament closed for Easter a week early on Wednesday over concerns the virus may be spreading through Westminster.
Meanwhile, Clarence House has confirmed that the Prince of Wales has tested positive for the virus. Prince Charles, 71, is reportedly displaying mild symptoms but “remains in good health”. Charles and his wife Camilla, who tested negative for the virus, are now self-isolating at Balmoral in Scotland. Foreign secretary Dominic Raab also confirmed the death of a British diplomat on Wednesday. The UK's deputy ambassador to Hungary, 37-year-old Steven Dick, died in hospital in Budapest on Tuesday after contracting the virus. In the UK, 465 people have died from the infection so far.
How are the vulnerable being supported?
In more positive news, more than 500,000 people have signed up to volunteer with the NHS in a single day. Health secretary Matt Hancock announced a recruitment drive for the new NHS Volunteer Responders scheme during the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, the target of 250,000 recruits had already been exceeded. The volunteers will help deliver food and medicine and support vulnerable people who are self-isolating. The NHS has also received offers of support from touring company Vans for Bands, which has volunteered to hand over its entire fleet of vehicles to be used as sleep and rest spaces for medics facing extended shifts.
Meanwhile, Dyson has designed a new type of medical ventilator. The company, which is led by British inventor Sir James Dyson, said it had received a government order for 10,000 of the devices, which are expected to pass stringent medical tests quickly. Another team of engineers, anaesthetists and surgeons from the University of Oxford and King's College London have also collaborated to create an alternative ventilator. The model is less advanced than existing devices but is relatively quick to construct – a feature which could prove vital as the number of people requiring ventilator treatment accelerates in UK hospitals.
And what are the international developments?
Around a quarter of the world’s population are now living under some form of lockdown as authorities battle to contain the virus’s spread. The number of people facing quarantine restrictions increased by 1.3bn on Wednesday, when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi announced a “total ban” on citizens leaving their homes. National lockdowns and border closures have left many British nationals stuck overseas despite Foreign Office advice urging them to return home. The foreign secretary has insisted the government is working “night and day” to help repatriate Britons abroad.
In Europe, deaths from the virus have continued to rise. In Spain, 738 further fatalities were reported on Wednesday. The increase amounts to the country’s highest toll in one day and has seen Spain record a total of 3,647 deaths – overtaking China to become the country with the second-highest tally of coronavirus deaths worldwide. Italy remains the worst-affected country with 7,503 deaths recorded in total. In the US, senators have reached a deal with Trump agreeing to provide an emergency relief package worth $2.2tn to help bolster the US economy. It is the largest economic stimulus in US history.
London mayor Sadiq Khan defends Transport for London’s (TfL) decision to reduce underground services. Khan has hit back at criticism from the prime minister after photos showed commuters packing onto tube trains despite advice regarding social distancing. After Johnson called on TfL to run more services to reduce overcrowding, Khan defended the transport system and claimed further trains could not safely be run due to staff illness.
The underground is currently operating at 50% of its usual peak time capacity, with almost a third of TfL staff off work due to illness or self-isolation. While measures such as queuing systems have been introduced to improve social distancing on the tube, the mayor has insisted the problem cannot be resolved without stronger support from the government. He has urged ministers to ban non-essential construction work and provide the self-employed with “proper financial support” so they are able to stay at home.
In other news
SAUDIS CHARGED OVER KHASHOGGI KILLING
Prosecutors in Turkey have charged 20 suspects over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi journalist was murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate in October 2018. While western intelligence agencies believe the killing was ordered by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi authorities have blamed it on “rogue operatives”. Prosecutors have now indicted 18 people for carrying out the “deliberate and monstrous killing”, while former Saudi deputy intelligence chief Ahmad Asiri and former royal aide Saud al-Qahtani have been charged with instigating the murder. The charges are based on witness statements, official records and information from Khashoggi’s digital devices.
BICYCLE BUSINESS BOOMS
The Association of Cycle Traders (ACT) said its members had reported a boom in bicycle repair requests and strong bike sales as the public attempt to avoid public transport during the coronavirus outbreak. The government has labelled bicycle retailers and repair shops an essential service, meaning they can continue trading during the virus lockdown. Jonathan Harrison of ACT said: “In the last ten days there has been a surge in the number of people getting bikes out of sheds and garages, dusting them off and thinking ‘I might need this.’” Several bicycle shops have also offered to service NHS workers’ bikes for free or at discounted prices, while the Brompton Bicycle company has lent 200 bikes to staff at hospitals in London to help them travel to work.
UK BROKE LAW IN ISIS CASE
The supreme court has ruled that the UK acted unlawfully by passing evidence to the US which could lead to the execution of British terror suspects. The case was brought against the Home Office by the mother of suspect Shafee Elsheikh. Maha Elgizouli challenged the decision to share the information on the grounds it left Elsheikh at risk of the death penalty – which is illegal in the UK but not in the US. Ruling in Elgizouli’s favour on Wednesday, Lord Kerr said the court found the decision to share the information was in breach of UK data protection laws and based on "political expediency, rather than strict necessity". The two British suspects are currently in US custody in Iraq after being linked with 27 IS murders. US officials insist they will prosecute the men if the UK does not put them on trial in London.
REEF SUFFERS MASS CORAL BLEACHING
The Great Barrier Reef has suffered its third mass coral bleaching event in five years. Scientists carrying out aerial surveys of the reef have discovered evidence of mass bleaching just three days into a nine-day survey. “We know this is a mass bleaching event and it’s a severe one,” Professor Terry Hughes of James Cook University said. Hughes warned the latest surveys suggested the bleaching could be comparable to that recorded in 2017, when approximately 22% of the Great Barrier Reef’s shallow water coral died. Bleaching occurs when corals sit in usually hot waters for too long. It can result in the death of coral – meaning global heating poses a major threat to reef ecosystems.
TRAVELODGE KICKS OUT HOMELESS RESIDENTS
Hundreds of Travelodge residents have been turned out onto the street after the hotel chain closed its sites. The company issued letters to all residents on Tuesday asking that they leave as soon as possible. Those kicked out of the hotels include homeless families temporarily housed there by local councils. Travelodge claimed the closures were implemented in light of official social distancing guidelines. However, government guidance for hotels housing homeless families has made clear that such accommodation should not close. One anonymous local authority housing officer described the loss of Travelodge accommodation as “devasting” for the homeless. “Housing Advice Services were drowning before coronavirus, now it is actually critical,” they said.
The increase in group calls on Facebook during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown. According to the social media giant, group calls of three or more users surged 1,000% in Italy last month, as those quarantined at home reached out to friends and family. With schools closed and millions of people now working from home, social media platforms are facing unprecedented traffic. "We are experiencing new records in usage almost every day," Facebook said.