Government Extends Isolation Rules
What’s the latest?
The chief medical officers of all four UK nations have announced changes to self-isolation rules after scientists warned people with Covid-19 may be infectious for up to nine days after catching the virus. Under the new rules, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 or experiences symptoms should isolate for ten days. Officials previously recommended a quarantine period of seven days. The change in advice was followed by the imposition of additional lockdown restrictions in Greater Manchester and parts of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Leicester from midnight. Under the new rules, which cover millions of homes, people from different households are not permitted to meet each other indoors or in private gardens. In an announcement late on Thursday, health secretary Matt Hancock said the restrictions had been imposed in response to a surge in infections largely caused by people "not abiding to social distancing".
Meanwhile, new data from the Office for National Statistics has shown England suffered the highest levels of excess deaths of any European country over the first half of 2020. The ONS report stated that, while England did not have the highest peak mortality, it did have the longest continuous spell of excess mortality – resulting in its having Europe’s highest levels of excess mortality over the period as a whole. Comparing peaks in excess mortality, England came second to Spain, where some central areas recorded excess mortality peaks as high as 847.7% of the average. Responding on Thursday, the prime minister said the country had had “a massive success” in reducing deaths and owed it to those who had lost their lives to Covid-19 “to continue our work in driving the virus down”.
How is the crisis impacting the economy?
On Thursday, a new law protecting furloughed workers from reduced redundancy payouts came into force. Ministers said the new legislation would entitle employees to full statutory redundancy pay based on their normal wage. Meanwhile, holiday firm Tui has announced plans to shut 166 of its high street stores in the UK and Ireland, affecting up to 900 jobs. The UK’s largest tour operator said the closures were a response to changes in customer behaviour that had been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic – including a shift to online bookings. Tui said it hoped to keep on more than 600 workers from the affected stores in a mix of sales and home-working positions.
Elsewhere, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has suggested the growing move towards home-working could revive the country’s high streets. RICS’s latest commercial property survey found 93% of members expected to scale back office space in the next two years. Hew Edgar, head of UK government relations for RICS, suggested a properly managed move away from urban hubs could revitalise neighbourhoods and local shops. The RICS report follows a separate survey of 94 of Britain’s biggest employers by the Chartered Governance Institute, which found found half of employers planned to keep all staff working remotely for the next few months, while one-fifth planned to bring staff back full time. Another fifth said they planned to bring some workers back to the office part-time.
And what are the international developments?
The Australian state of Victoria has reported a record rise in coronavirus infections and deaths, prompting concerns that the lockdown in state capital Melbourne is not stemming the spread of the disease. State officials announced more than 700 new cases and 13 deaths on Thursday, marking the 25th consecutive day of triple-digit case increases in Victoria. The rise in infections comes in spite of strict lockdown measures which were introduced in the Melbourne metropolitan area on 7th July. Victoria premier Daniel Andrews extended the restrictions on Thursday, mandating the wearing of face coverings outside homes across the entire state from Sunday.
In Vietnam, officials are bracing for a spike in cases after outbreaks were reported in several major cities. According to local media, infections have been detected in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Highlands. Prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc warned that every province in the country remains at risk, saying the latest infections appeared to be different from the first wave seen in Vietnam earlier this year. Meanwhile, the French government has ruled out a second nationwide lockdown despite a growing number of new cases. Prime minister Jean Castex said a fresh lockdown would be “catastrophic” on both “an economic and social level”. More than 1,300 new cases were reported in France on Wednesday, bringing the country's rolling seven-day average above the 1,000 threshold for the first time since May.
Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, discusses new figures showing prosecutions and convictions for rape have fallen to their lowest level since records began. The new statistics published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Thursday revealed prosecutions and convictions have more than halved in the past three years, while rapes increased. Of 55,130 rapes recorded by police in England and Wales, only 2,102 led to prosecution and just 1,439 resulted in convictions. The victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said there was “no complexity” behind why rape prosecutions and convictions have plummeted, blaming a CPS policy to pursue “only rock-solid prosecutions” as the reason for the crash.
In light of the new figures, the CPS has unveiled a new strategy to tackle the problem. Working alongside police, it has drawn up a five-year ‘blueprint’ for prosecuting rape and serious sexual assault that puts a greater focus on training specialist prosecutors to understand technological advances, as well as offender and victim behaviour. The prosecutors will also receive guidance on dealing with same-sex sexual violence and incidents involving a transgender complainant or defendant. Sarah Green welcomed the blueprint but warned it was likely to feel “too little, too late for the thousands of rape survivors failed by the criminal justice system”.
In other news
TRUMP SUGGESTS ELECTION DELAY
Donald Trump has suggested the upcoming presidential election be delayed. In a Twitter post on Thursday, the US president repeated his false claim that widespread postal voting would lead to “the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history” and raised the prospect of postponement, tweeting: “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote?” There is little evidence to support Trump’s claims, with most US states operating mail-in voting for decades without any significant incidence of fraud. Under the US constitution, any delay would need to be approved by Congress. Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy have both dismissed the proposal.
EX-MP CONVICTED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
A former Conservative MP has been found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against two women. Charlie Elphicke represented the Kent constituency of Dover and Deal from 2010 until last year. The father-of-two had denied the three charges against him, two of which related to an assault against a young parliamentary worker in 2016. A third charge was brought in relation to an assault on another woman at his family’s home in London in 2007. Elphicke admitted during the trial that he had not been honest with police when they questioned him about one of the women, claiming he feared it would destroy his marriage. Elphicke will be sentenced on 15th September and may face “an immediate custodial sentence”, according to judge Philippa Whipple.
BLACK PUPILS FACE TREBLED EXCLUSION RATE
New analysis from the House of Commons library has shown black pupils in England are disproportionately subject to fixed-term exclusions. Data from 2017-18 has revealed that in some areas – including Warrington, Kingston-upon-Thames, Harrow, Bath and North East Somerset – black pupils were around three times more likely to face fixed exclusions. Nationwide data from the Department of Education has also shown that black pupils from a Caribbean background were subject to short-term exclusions at almost twice the average rate in England in 2018-19. Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran, who obtained the Commons data, labelled the exclusion rates "a glaring injustice". She has called for the government to establish a universal code with clear criteria for exclusions to prevent any bias or discrimination.
QUARTER OF NATIVE MAMMALS FACE EXTINCTION
A quarter of native mammals in Britain are at imminent risk of extinction, according to the first official Red List of endangered species. The list has been approved by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature using the internationally agreed rules for Red Lists of threatened species. In Britain, it has identified 11 mammals – including wildcats, red squirrels, water voles and hedgehogs – that are threatened with extinction. The mammals’ decline has been put down to the destruction of natural habits, as well as the impact of invasive species and historic persecution. Natural England chair Tony Juniper has described the Red List as “a wake-up call”, saying the protection and restoration of large areas of habitat would be vital to the species’ recovery.
PM PLEDGES MAJOR PUBLIC SECTOR RECRUITMENT
The prime minister has promised there will be a major public sector recruitment campaign in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Announcing the plans on Thursday, the government said the campaign would aim to recruit 1,000 probation officers and create thousands of extra university places, including 1,300 for engineers and 3,800 for nurses. Boris Johnson said public sector workers were "the pride of the nation" and would help the country "build back better". Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds criticised the plan, saying: "Let's not forget that the reason the prime minister needs to launch a recruitment drive is because Conservative governments have cut our public services to the bone."
Archaeologists from Brighton University have uncovered the origins of the giant sarsen stones at Stonehenge. The discovery was made after a sample of one of the 20-tonne megaliths taken in 1958 was returned by a former maintenance worker last year. Professor David Nash, who led the research, said analysis of the sample’s chemical composition had revealed the stones originate just 15 miles north of the ancient monument near Marlborough in Wiltshire. He added: "It has been really exciting to harness 21st-century science to understand the Neolithic past, and finally answer a question that archaeologists have been debating for centuries."