Covid-19 news: Almost 20,000 care home deaths in England and Wales

By | July 4, 2020
A care worker wearing full Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) as she goes about her job

A care worker wearing full Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) as she goes about her job

Karwai Tang/Getty Images

Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 3 July

Almost 20,000 people in care homes died with covid-19 in England and Wales

19,394 people died with covid-19 in care homes across England and Wales between 2 March and 12 June, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS estimates that one in five people living in care homes in England became infected with covid-19 in the 56 per cent of care homes that had at least one confirmed case. The same analysis suggests that an estimated 7 per cent of care home staff have had coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. The estimates are based on a survey of more than 5000 care homes in England by the Department of Health and Social Care, conducted between 26 May and 20 June. From next week, care home residents over 65 and those with dementia will receive a coronavirus test every 28 days, and staff working in care homes will be tested weekly, the Department of Health and Social Care said today. 

Other coronavirus news


The UK government’s online dashboard for regional coronavirus cases now includes figures from tests carried out within communities, not just those performed in hospitals and clinics. Yesterday the dashboard was updated for the first time including figures from tests performed in people’s homes or in mobile centres within communities – known as pillar 2 tests – with a resulting increase in the number of confirmed cases. Earlier this week, local officials in Leicester complained that they hadn’t been provided with the full picture on the outbreak there due to the lack of pillar 2 data.

Government figures released today suggest the UK’s R number – the estimated number of people each coronavirus case infects – remains between 0.7 and 0.9, with the range for England between 0.8 and 0.9. There is a time lag in the data, however, because it can take two or three weeks for people to realise they are infected and get tested. In the UK as a whole, the number of new infections has remained relatively constant. There is variation between regions, with the data suggesting infections may be rising slightly in London and in the south-west of England. 

People arriving in England from more than 50 countries, including France, Spain, Germany and Italy, will no longer be required to quarantine upon arrival from 10 July, the Department for Transport announced today. Quarantine restrictions remain in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Ministers in Scotland and Wales have criticised the decision, with Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon describing it as “shambolic”

The US reported more than 55,000 coronavirus cases yesterday – a new daily global record for the coronavirus pandemic. Since the pandemic began there have been more than 2.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and more than 128,000 deaths from covid-19. 

The antiviral drug remdesivir has become the European Union’s first drug authorised to treat covid-19. The European Commission today conditionally approved the use of remdesivir in patients with severe covid-19, following an accelerated review process. 

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 522,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 10.9 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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Essential information about coronavirus

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What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

Covid-19 Fact Checkers, a podcast from Vice, pairs up young people with experts who can answer their questions relating to the pandemic. A recent episode focused on why people in the UK from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are being disproportionately affected by covid-19.

Can You Save The World? is a coronavirus social distancing game, where the player travels through a city and gains points for saving lives by practising social distancing correctly and collecting masks. 

What coronavirus looks like in every country on Earth is a 28-minute film from Channel 4 News showing what daily life looks like in every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

Coronavirus: The science of a pandemic.: As the death toll from covid-19 rises, discover how researchers around the world are racing to understand the virus and prevent future outbreaks in our free online panel discussion.

A day in the life of coronavirus Britain is an uplifting Channel 4 documentary shot over 24 hours which shows how the citizens of Britain are coping under lockdown.

New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.

The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.

Coronavirus trajectory tracker explained, a video by John Burn-Murdoch for the Financial Times, uses data visualisation to explain the daily graphs that show how coronavirus cases and deaths are growing around the world.

Contagion: The BBC Four Pandemic is a sober documentary about the progression of a hypothetical pandemic which the BBC simulated in 2017. Fronted by science journalist and TV presenter Hannah Fry, and made with the support of some of the country’s best epidemiologists and mathematical modelers, it’s very relevant to today’s covid-19 pandemic.

Previous updates

A police officer talks to a woman as he patrols along a street, following a local lockdown in Leicester

A police officer talks to a woman as he patrols along a street following a local lockdown in Leicester

Reuters/Phil Noble

2 July

An app identified Leicester as a coronavirus hotspot two weeks ago

A smartphone app developed by researchers at King’s College London could help predict covid-19 hotspots in the UK. The COVID Symptom Study app identified Leicester as a potential hotspot as early as 17 June. Public Health England data released yesterday for the week ending 21 June revealed Leicester had the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, with 135 cases per 100,000 people. The app also identified Barnsley and Rochdale as potential hotspots on 17 June. These areas were subsequently revealed to have the third and fourth highest number of cases in the country respectively in the week ending 21 June, according to the same Public Health England data. The latest data from the app, collected between 14 and 24 June, suggests the highest rates of new coronavirus cases in the UK are in The Midlands. 

The app models data from 3.7 million users in the UK, including their self-reported symptoms and any swab test results. Future hotspots are identified as locations that are recording more cases than their surrounding areas, are consistently in the top 10 per cent for UK case numbers, and where case numbers are accelerating.

Other coronavirus news

The UK’s education minister Gavin Williamson today outlined the government’s plan for getting pupils in England back to school in September. Government guidance suggests pupils in different year groups be kept apart in “bubbles”, with teachers who teach multiple year groups asked to maintain physical distance from pupils. Schools will also be given a small number of coronavirus home testing kits for children who develop symptoms. If there are two or more confirmed cases within a two week period, schools could be asked to ensure small groups of pupils and staff self-isolate. 

As many as 75 countries are expected to be on the UK’s first quarantine exemption list for travellers – an arrangement where travellers between the UK and the countries in question wouldn’t be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. This replaces the government’s previous plan to arrange “air bridges” between the UK and selected countries. The list of exempt countries is expected to be announced this week. But Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon today suggested Scotland wouldn’t sign up to the deal, which may delay the scheme.

The UK government’s contact tracing scheme, NHS Test and Trace, didn’t reach a quarter of people who tested positive for coronavirus in England between 18 and 25 June, according to the latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care. Overall, the figures reveal that of the 27,125 people referred to the contact tracing scheme since it started at the end of May, only about 74 per cent have been reached and asked to provide details of their contacts so far. 

A review published in the BMJ has identified “major weaknesses” in the existing evidence supporting the use of antibody tests for coronavirus. The tests, which aim to identify the presence of coronavirus-specific antibodies that may remain in the blood after a person has recovered from the infection, failed to detect coronavirus antibodies in between 2.2 and 34 per cent of all those tested who had been infected. The World Health Organization has previously dismissed the notion of “immunity passports” for coronavirus through antibody testing, since it still isn’t clear how long any immunity against the coronavirus might last.

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 517,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 10.7 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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Medical staff at a drive-through NHS coronavirus testing facility at Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale, Greater Manchetser.


1 July

Covid-19 news: UK’s local coronavirus hotspots revealed

Leicester, Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale are the areas with the highest rates of coronavirus infections in the UK, according to data that has been published by Public Health England. Leicester, which has been put into a localised lockdown, had the highest infection rate in the UK during the week ending 21 June, with 135 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Bradford with 69 cases per 100,000, Barnsley with 55 and Rochdale with 54. Local public health officials have complained about the lack of detailed information from the government on local infections in UK regions and cities, which they say is limiting their capacity to stem new outbreaks. At issue is the fact that Public Health England’s online coronavirus dashboard only includes tests carried out in hospital settings, meaning that the majority of cases aren’t included in this data.

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Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association council, told journalists today that the “whack-a-mole” strategy to contain local outbreaks previously described by UK prime minister Boris Johnson is of “no use” if the people leading local responses aren’t given the most accurate, up-to-date data. In parliament today, Johnson insisted that local authorities had in fact been sent all of the data.

Other coronavirus news

The US has bought almost all the stocks of remdesivir for the next three months leading to concerns about access to the drug in the UK, Europe and other parts of the world, according to The Guardian. Remdesivir is one of only two drugs found to be beneficial to covid-19 patients.“We have enough stock [of remdesivir] to treat every patient that needs the drug,” a spokesperson for the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care told New Scientist today. They also emphasised that the steroid dexamethasone, which is the first drug shown to reduce deaths in critically ill covid-19 patients, is already widely available for NHS patients. 

US government health adviser Anthony Fauci told the US senate yesterday that he wouldn’t be surprised if new coronavirus cases in the country reach 100,000 per day. Yesterday, daily new cases in the US surpassed 40,000 for the fourth time in the last five days, with the majority of the new cases coming from southern and western states. Fauci said half of all new cases came from Florida, Arizona, Texas and California.

Coronavirus deaths

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Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 512,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 10.5 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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Carbon offsetting delayed: The UN has approved a plan to delay carbon offsetting of flights, after pressure from airlines impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Previous updates

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A new covid-19 testing Site has been set up in Spinney Hill Park in East Leicester after a new outbreak of cases

Alex Hannam/EMPICS Entertainment

30 June

UK deaths fall below five-year average for first time in 14 weeks

In England and Wales, the number of weekly deaths fell below the five-year average for the first time in 14 weeks, according to the Office for National Statistics. There were 65 fewer deaths compared to the five-year average in the week ending 19 June. The number of deaths involving covid-19 reached a 12-week low, with 783 deaths mentioning coronavirus on the death certificate in the week ending 19 June.

Other coronavirus news

The UK city of Leicester has become the first part of the country to be put under a local lockdown. Shops and schools, which were reopened across England earlier this month, will close again in Leicester from Thursday. Bars, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, which are due to re-open across the rest of England on 4 July, will remain closed in the city.  

Official daily coronavirus case numbers for UK cities and regions, including Leicester, only reveal a fraction of the real total in those areas, according to an analysis by the Financial Times. Although the government publishes a UK-wide number for all confirmed covid-19 cases every day – including from tests conducted at home or in commercial labs – at a regional level the new daily cases only contain those recorded in hospitals. More than 90 per cent of new coronavirus cases recorded in Leicester are now being detected through community labs and home testing kits, and were therefore missing from the publicly released data. Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester asked why it took 11 days for health minister Matt Hancock to impose a new lockdown on Monday after saying he feared a new outbreak in the city nearly two weeks earlier. According to the FT, “hundreds of local authorities in the rest of the country are unable to see a timely picture of what is happening in their communities.” 

The World Health Organization  (WHO) has warned that the worst of the covid-19 pandemic “is yet to come” because of “the lack of national unity and lack of global solidarity.” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists yesterday that despite many countries making progress, the pandemic is still accelerating globally as more than 10.4 million coronavirus cases and 509,000 deaths have been confirmed worldwide. “Some countries are now experiencing a resurgence in cases as they start to reopen their economies and societies,” he said. He urged governments to “test, trace, isolate and quarantine,” and warned that the virus would infect many more people if countries did not start implementing the right policies.

A combination of antiviral drugs commonly used to treat HIV does not reduce the death rate among patients hospitalised with covid-19, a randomised trial has found. The trial compared 1596 patients given the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir to 3376 patients who did not receive the drugs and received usual care. After 28 days, there was no significant difference in death rates, length of hospital stay or the need for ventilation between the two groups. However, the study did not include large numbers of people on ventilators because of the difficulty administering the drugs to them. This study was part of the larger RECOVERY trial initiative, which has been testing the effectiveness of six potential covid-19 treatments and recently found that the steroid dexamethasone reduces death rates among severely ill covid-19 patients.

The WHO is sending a team to China next week to investigate the origins of the covid-19 pandemic, it revealed yesterday. It isn’t yet clear who will be included in the WHO team or what the focus of their investigation will be. Evidence so far suggests the virus jumped from bats into humans, possibly through an intermediate animal

Australia is reimposing coronavirus restrictions in 10 postcodes across the city of Melbourne after new clusters of cases were detected in the last few days. Starting on Thursday, people living in these areas will only be allowed to leave home for essential reasons. Gyms, swimming pools and cinemas will also be closed.

Coronavirus deaths

New Scientist Default Image

Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 509,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 10.4 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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Lockdown measures return: Local outbreaks around the world trigger fears of a second wave of covid-19 and are forcing countries to reintroduce lockdown measures.

First drug shown to save lives: Dexamethasone is the first medicine shown to reduce deaths from covid-19. It belongs to a class of drugs called steroids, which damp down the immune system.

Scotland could eliminate the coronavirus: Scotland may be only weeks away from no new daily cases of coronavirus. As the nation gets close, cases from over the border will become a big problem.

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Lockdown in Leicester in the UK could be extended for two weeks after a new outbreak.

BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

29 June

Leicester mayor frustrated with government’s handling of outbreak

Following a recent spike in coronavirus cases, the UK city of Leicester could remain in extended lockdown while the rest of England sees restrictions eased later this week. The city’s mayor Peter Soulsby says that the government is recommending a local lockdown in the city, which would mark the first time such measures are taken. Soulsby also says he is frustrated by the government’s lack of communication about the outbreak in the area. “It was only last Thursday that we finally got some of the data we need but we’re still not getting all of it,” Soulsby said, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. The extension to the lockdown in Leicester would last at least two weeks. In the meantime, bars, pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers are set to reopen in England on 4 July. The latest figures from Public Health England show that 866 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the city in the two weeks up to 23 June, making up almost a third of the 2987 people who have tested positive for the virus in Leicester since the start of the pandemic.

Other coronavirus news

The spread of coronavirus in Texas has taken a “swift and very dangerous turn,” the state’s governor Greg Abbott told journalists on Sunday. The statement came as restrictions are being reintroduced across the US amid a rise in cases, and concerns that hospitals could become overwhelmed. Bars in Texas closed again last week and restaurants’ indoor seating capacity was again limited to 50 per cent. Since early June, all businesses had been allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity, and restaurants at 75 per cent. In Florida, bars have been ordered to stop serving alcohol and in the state of California, bars in Los Angeles and six other counties were closed again yesterday. The number of new weekly coronavirus cases are rising in 36 US states, including Texas, Florida and California. Only two US states – Connecticut and Rhode Island – reported a decline in coronavirus cases last week compared to the previous week. 

A coronavirus vaccine candidate jointly developed by China’s military research unit and Chinese company CanSino Biologics has been approved for military use, the company said in a filing to the stock exchange today. On 25 June, China’s Central Military Commission approved the use of the vaccine candidate by the military for a period of one year. The vaccine candidate, called Ad5-nCov, isn’t approved for commercial use. More than 100 coronavirus vaccines are currently in development.

400,000 people are under a strict new lockdown in China’s Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing. More than 300 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Beijing since a new outbreak emerged there in mid June.  

A new scientific journal aims to rapidly flag misinformation and highlight credible research about covid-19. Rapid Reviews: Covid-19, published by MIT Press, will provide reviews of covid-19 pre-prints – online repositories of preliminary findings that haven’t yet been independently peer reviewed

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The worldwide death toll has passed 502,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 10.1 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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A two metre social distancing sign on Regent Street in London

Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

26 June

Plan to relax 2-metre rule in England was announced just weeks after advisers said it should stay

Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that the distance people should stay apart will be dropped from two metres to at least one metre in England from 4 July. But we now know that less than three weeks before the UK prime minister’s announcement, his scientific advisers were still recommending the rule should not be relaxed.

Minutes of a 4 June meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, released today, said the group “continues to advise at least two metre separation where possible, given the significant reduction in risk compared to shorter distances.” The scientists said mitigation measures, such as plexiglass screens in shops, were possible in some places. Without such steps, SAGE estimates the risk of transmission at shorter distances to be 2 to 10 times greater.

The UK hospitality sector is among those lobbying for a relaxation of the two-metre guidance, and Johnson acknowledged the new step was partly to help pubs, cafes and restaurants operate. He also promised the review of the two-metre rule, including the scientific basis for changing it, would be released in the House of Commons library this week.

Concerns over adequate social distancing have come to the fore in the UK this week after incidents of public disorder in south London drew large gatherings, and hot weather led to crowded beaches in the south of England. After several weeks of declining covid-19 transmission, SAGE believes the UK’s covid-19 case numbers are levelling off, which is thought by the government’s science advisers to be partly down to restrictions being eased.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics published today show that between 18 and 21 June, there was a doubling in the number of people meeting up with others in a personal space, such as a garden. The wearing of face coverings on public transport – which became mandatory in England on 15 June – also jumped from 62 per cent before the rule change, to 86 per cent.

Other coronavirus news

Elsewhere in the UK, statistics out today show that men affected worst by the virus are construction workers and those in other “elementary occupations”, at nearly 40 deaths per 100,000 men in those jobs. For women, the hardest-hit group were those in caring occupations, with around 15 deaths per 100,000 women.

Jeremy Hunt, chair of the UK’s health and social care committee, wrote to Johnson today to note the government has still not provided answers on how many covid-19 tests are being turned around in 24 hours, seen as vital for contact tracing to be effective.

In the United States, Texas chose to pause plans to relax restrictions yesterday as figures showed rising case numbers. The US Centres for Disease Control told journalists it estimated 20 million Americans could have had the coronavirus, ten times more than previously thought.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday called for $ 31.3 billion of investment over a year to help an international effort to end the pandemic. The plan involves funding hundreds of millions of tests and rapid development of a vaccine.

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 490,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 9.6 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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A worker with the German Red Cross takes a throat swab sample from a local resident in the village of St. Vit following a Covid-19 outbreak at a nearby meat packaging centre

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

25 June

Coronavirus cases rising in Europe following eased lockdowns, says WHO

New cases of the coronavirus rose in Europe last week, for the first time in months. The increase was driven by 11 countries that have had a “very significant resurgence”, Hans Kluge, head of the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, said today. If left unchecked, such outbreaks will “push health systems to the brink once again”.

The countries and territories with notable increases in cases are Sweden, Armenia, Republic of Moldova, North Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Kosovo, according to a WHO spokesperson.

Kluge said there had also been outbreaks in Poland, Germany, Spain and Israel in schools, coal mines and food production settings, but authorities there had responded quickly. “Where new clusters of cases appeared, these have been controlled through rapid and targeted interventions,” said Kluge. 

Germany, for instance, saw new daily cases rise from around 300 to over 600 last week, after an outbreak in a slaughterhouse. In response, the Guetersloh area reimposed lockdown conditions.

“There is no effective treatment yet and no effective vaccine yet, hence it’s so important we are not complacent,” said Kluge.


Other coronavirus news

Several US states have also seen increases in the number of new coronavirus cases. California, Florida and Texas, the three states with the biggest populations in the US, are seeing rising numbers of covid-19 infections, with several thousand new cases a day.

The first medicine found to speed recovery from coronavirus, remdesivir, has been recommended for official approval in the European Union. The drug, which works by blocking virus replication, is already being used in hospitals “off-label”.

Fourteen doctors and researchers have said antibody testing for a past infection with coronavirus is uninformative and a waste of health care staff’s time, in a letter to the British Medical Journal. Hospitals in England were told to provide antibody testing four weeks ago, but a positive test result doesn’t mean someone is immune to the virus, so people still have to take the recommended safety precautions, the authors said.

Pregnant women in the US are more likely to develop severe covid-19, according to new figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency has found that 32 per cent of pregnant women with the virus were hospitalised, compared with 6 per cent of women in the same age group who were not pregnant. 

The UK contact tracing system has asked more than 100,000 people to self-isolate since it began three weeks ago. But staff were unable to contact one quarter of those who tested positive.

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 483,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 9.4 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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UK health leaders have called for the country’s political parties to work together to contain the coronavirus.

James Veysey/Shutterstock

24 June

UK health leaders warn there is a “real risk” of a second wave

A second wave of coronavirus infections in the UK is a “real risk” and all political parties should work together to ensure the country is ready for it, warned a group of health leaders including presidents of the Royal College of Physicians, Surgeons, GPs and Nursing and the chair of the British Medical Association. In a letter addressed to leaders of UK political parties published on the British Medical Journal’s website, they say, “the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk. Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.” 

The letter calls for a “cross party commission” including all four nations of the UK, “that could rapidly produce practical recommendations for action.” They highlight several areas needing attention, including parliamentary scrutiny of national and local governance, procurement of goods and services, better public health coordination and the “disproportionate burden on black, Asian, and minority ethnic individuals and communities.”

In parliament today, Labour leader Keir Starmer asked UK prime minister Boris Johnson why the NHS Test and Trace system was only able to reach just over 10,000 people in England when Office for National Statistics figures estimated that 33,000 people were infected. Johnson said the Labour leader’s numbers were misleading, prompting an intervention from the Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who asked Johnson to take back his comment.

Other coronavirus news

The UK government is not certain that the R number in England is below 1, according to leaked documents from Public Health England seen by Huffington Post UK. The document, dated last Thursday, says, “we cannot preclude [the R number] being above 1” and “there is some evidence that [the R number] has recently risen in all regions and we believe that this is likely to be due to increasing mobility and mixing between households.” 

The European Union is considering blocking US visitors from travelling to EU nations. People in countries with severe outbreaks of coronavirus “where the virus is circulating most actively,” would not be allowed to enter, according to an EU diplomat quoted by CNN. The list of blocked nations could include the US, Brazil, Russia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Saudi Arabia.

People in Scotland will be able to meet indoors with up to two other households from 10 July, and pubs and restaurants will be allowed to re-open from 15 July.

Mothers with suspected or confirmed covid-19 should be encouraged to breastfeed as the “benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission”, says a scientific briefing from the World Health Organization

Coronavirus deaths

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Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 478,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 9.2 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open in England as of 4 July

Tinpixels/Getty Images

23 June

UK government to relax two-metre distancing rule amid warnings from scientists

The UK government is relaxing the current two-metre distancing rule to “one-metre plus” in England, despite the warnings of some scientists that coronavirus cases remain too high to loosen restrictions. The new guidance comes into effect as of 4 July, when some other restrictions will also be eased.

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“Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should,” prime minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons earlier today. “But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one-metre-plus.” This means keeping a metre apart, while taking other precautions, such as avoiding face-to-face seating, wearing face coverings and using hand sanitiser, Johnson went on to explain. Businesses will be encouraged to implement the use of protective screens, change office layouts and shift patterns and improve ventilation, for example.

At the same time, numerous venues will be allowed to reopen in England, including pubs, museums, cinemas, hotels, campsites and hairdressers. And members of two separate households will be allowed to meet in any setting, including indoors.

The announcement came a day after warnings were published by Independent SAGE – a group of scientists operating independently of the government. Reducing distancing to one metre, indoors, will “effectively end” social distancing, say the researchers, who also point out that 97 per cent of super-spreading events occur in indoor spaces. The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that some countries are “seeing an upswing in cases as they reopen their societies and economies”.

Other coronavirus news

The number of excess deaths in the UK since mid-March now stands at 65,700, according to an analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics by the Financial Times. Excess deaths are a calculation of how many more deaths have occurred than would normally be expected, and include deaths from any cause.

An ongoing survey by the WHO suggests routine healthcare has been diminished in many countries as a result of the pandemic. Of the 82 countries that have responded so far, almost three-quarters report that dental and rehabilitation services have been disrupted, while two-thirds report disruptions to immunisation programmes and treatment for non-infectious diseases, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing yesterday. Mental health services, antenatal care, cancer diagnosis and treatment and services for children have also been disrupted in more than half of the countries.

Saudi Arabia is scaling back the Hajj pilgrimage. Typically, 2.5 million pilgrims make the journey from abroad. This year, no overseas visitors will be allowed. The total number of attendees will be limited to around 1000 people.

Novak Djokovic, world number one tennis player, has tested positive for coronavirus. The announcement comes amid criticism of Djokovic’s decision to plan a tennis competition in Serbia. The Adria Tour has since been cancelled, but not before other players, including Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki, all tested positive for the virus after participating in it.

Coronavirus deaths

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Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 472,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 9 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.


22 June

Lack of global leadership is the ‘greatest threat’ in fighting the pandemic, says WHO 

The greatest threat in fighting the pandemic is the lack of global political leadership and unity between different governments, World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today at a virtual health forum organised by the World Government Summit in Dubai. “The world is in desperate need of national unity and global solidarity. The politicisation of the pandemic has exacerbated it,” he said. He also called for more countries to adopt universal healthcare, which he said was “the foundation of global health security and of social and economic development.” 

Other coronavirus news  

US president Donald Trump said he asked US public health officials to “slow down” testing for coronavirus. Speaking at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he said, “testing is a double-edged sword … when you do testing to that extent, you will find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘slow the testing down’.” Senior advisers to the White House later said the president was joking. The rally in Tulsa could have been a “super-spreader” event, Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, said yesterday. More than 6000 people attended the indoor event, the first party political rally in the US since the start of the pandemic.

The WHO reported another record for the largest daily increase in confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide yesterday. 183,020 new cases were recorded within 24 hours on Sunday, with most occurring in the Americas including 54,771 in the US and 36,617 in Brazil.

Several large local outbreaks of coronavirus in Germany, including at the one of the largest meat processing facilities in Europe, caused a jump in the country’s estimated R number from 1.06 on Friday to 2.88 today. 1331 people, more than 20 per cent of those who work at the Tönnies slaughterhouse in Gütersloh, have now tested positive for coronavirus. In response, authorities have closed the slaughterhouse, quarantined employees and their families and closed schools in the local area. Lars Schaade, vice president of Robert Koch Institute, a government public health agency, said, “since case numbers in Germany are generally low, these local outbreaks have a relatively strong influence on the value of the reproduction number.” 

The UK government is expected to announce tomorrow whether or not it will relax the rule requiring people to stay at least two metres away from one another, and whether pubs and restaurants can reopen from 4 July.

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19 June

UK coronavirus alert level lowered from four to three

The UK’s chief medical officers today said the country’s coronavirus alert level has reduced from four to three. This level of the alert system corresponds to the virus being in general circulation, but at a level where it’s possible to gradually relax some restrictions. However, restrictions in England have already been progressively relaxed throughout June, even while the alert level remained at four – which corresponds to high or exponentially rising levels of the virus and warrants continued social distancing.

For the first time, the government today published the daily rate at which coronavirus infections are growing, alongside the UK’s R number, which remains unchanged at around 0.7 to 0.9. For the UK as a whole, the growth rate is believed to be anywhere between -2 per cent and -4 per cent, meaning that infection numbers are declining slightly. At a regional level there is a chance that new cases may be growing in London. However, the government’s science advisers believe that growth in infection numbers is unlikely.

Other coronavirus news  

People from South Asian backgrounds in the UK are 20 per cent more likely to die from covid-19 in hospital than white people, according to a preliminary study that analysed data on patients at 260 hospitals. This disparity was partly explained by higher levels of diabetes, the researchers who did the study told the BBC

China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that genetic analysis suggests that the coronavirus causing a new outbreak in the capital Beijing probably came from Europe. Earlier this week, CDC director Gao Fu said the virus may have been spreading in Beijing as early as the start of May.

Microbiologists at University College London, UK, are calling for widespread surveillance of pets, livestock and wild animals to measure the prevalence of coronavirus. There have been limited studies on animal susceptibility to the virus, they wrote in a commentary published in The Lancet Microbe on Thursday, with conflicting data on some animals, such as pigs.

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The worldwide death toll has passed 454,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 8.5 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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Threat to Amazon’s indigenous communities: Members of indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon have contracted covid-19, fuelling concerns that the disease could devastate indigenous groups throughout South America – including uncontacted tribes in the region. Many fear whole communities could be killed if they contract the virus.

middle aged young looking white female sits at home reading through Covid19 home testing kit supplied by UK government

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18 June

NHS Test and Trace still not reaching enough contacts of coronavirus cases

The UK government’s contact tracing scheme for England only reached 73 per cent of people diagnosed with coronavirus between 4 and 10 June, government figures revealed today. This falls short of the 80 per cent target recommended by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for the second week in a row. Of the 5949 people who tested positive for coronavirus during this time, NHS Test and Trace only managed to contact 4366. Yesterday, Independent SAGE – an alternative group of scientists – published a report saying the 80 per cent target is currently “impossible” to meet.

In addition, not everyone contacted by NHS Test and Trace was reached quickly enough. Only 75 per cent of people who were contacted were reached within the government’s target of 24 hours. 8.6 per cent of people were only contacted after 72 hours, when the chance that an infected person has already spread the virus is high

The BBC revealed today that the government’s covid-19 contact tracing smartphone app will now use the decentralised system supported by Apple and Google, after trials on the Isle of Wight found the government’s centralised system could only detect 4 per cent of iPhones and 75 per cent of Android phones. The app won’t be ready before winter, according to the minister responsible for it.

Other coronavirus news

350,000 people in Beijing, China have been contacted to arrange testing and 22 million people in the city are now under lockdown conditions after a new outbreak of coronavirus cases linked to the Xinfadi food market. The new outbreak may have started a month earlier than first thought, due to some people not experiencing symptoms, said Gao Fu, the director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention at a seminar on Tuesday. Officials in Beijing reported 21 new coronavirus cases today, down from 31 on Wednesday and bringing the new outbreak’s total to 158 cases.

An estimated 33,000 people in England outside of hospitals and care homes had covid-19 between 31 May and 13 June, according to preliminary results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is lower than the 149,000 people thought to have been infected between 3 and 16 May and is consistent with ONS modelling that suggests the number of people testing positive in England has been falling since 26 April.

An American Airlines passenger was removed from a flight on Wednesday after refusing to wear a face covering in accordance with the airline’s new covid-19 safety policy, introduced earlier this week.  

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 449,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 8.3 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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