Britain not the only country to fall short on care homes, Professor Chris Whitty says

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The UK is not the only country in the world to have mishandled coronavirus outbreaks in care homes, England’s chief medical officer has said.

Addressing the Health and Social Care Committee, Professor Chris Whitty told MPs that “it is clear that every country that has a care sector has not handled this well and the UK is one country that has not handled this well.”

“Across the board this has been a major problem,” he said, adding that some risks, such as care workers not being paid sick pay so they could self-isolate, clearly added to the high rates of transmission. But that these factors only became “obvious in retrospect”. 

It comes as Prof John Bell, Regius Professor at University of Oxford, told the Commons committee that one of the UK’s biggest failures was not being on the “front foot” in preparation for a pandemic.

“The fact that we were asleep to the concept that we were going to have a pandemic, I think, shame on us,” he said.

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Follow the latest updates below.

01:59 PM

Austria reintroduces face mask rules for supermarkets

Austria is reintroducing a requirement that face masks be worn in supermarkets, banks and post offices because of an increase in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday.

Austria went into lockdown early in its outbreak in mid-March and began loosening its restrictions a month later, even scrapping the requirement to wear face masks in shops and schools on June 15.

Face masks are still required on public transport, in hospitals and pharmacies and at hairdressers.

While the number of daily infections was regularly well under 50 in May and June, it has increased in the past three weeks, with more than 100 new cases logged almost every other day this month.

Clusters have recently emerged in and near Vienna as well as in the province of Upper Austria, which borders Germany and the Czech Republic. Several of those clusters are linked to churches, and Austria has reported an increase in cases imported from the Balkans, issuing travel warnings for countries there.

Kurz said tighter testing requirements would be introduced for arrivals from the Balkans, and restrictions would be introduced to reduce the size of religious services and force churches to close in the event of a positive coronavirus test.

01:57 PM

No deaths reported in Wales

There have been no further reported deaths of people who tested positive for coronavirus in Wales, health officials have said.

The total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic remains at 1,547.

Public Health Wales said the total number of cases in the country increased by 22, bringing the revised total of confirmed cases to 16,965.

01:53 PM

Further 15 die in England

A further 15 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in the country to 29,202, NHS England said.

Patients were aged between 46 and 90 years old and five, aged between 46 and 84, had no known underlying health conditions.

Another two deaths were reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

01:53 PM

Asymptomatic coronavirus testing in sheltered accommodation to begin next week

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that asymptomatic coronavirus testing in settings similar to care homes but not registered by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will begin this week.

“The systematic roll out of asymptomatic testing to environments that are essentially sheltered accommodation, that aren’t care homes, that roll out of the systematic testing will start this week,” he told MPs.

During the evidence session, chair Greg Clark said the Health Secretary had told him in the chamber three weeks ago that it was about to begin and would be completed “within three to four weeks”.

Mr Hancock replied:

“No, I said that it would be rolled out, and we couldn’t test all these settings in that period.

“It’s a challenge because there is a spectrum of what these settings are, because they’re not registered, if they were registered by the CQC, then they’d be care homes.

“And so we’re starting the roll-out of that this week.”

01:51 PM

Deaths fall below five-year average for fourth week in a row, ONS says

Despite the on-going pandemic, there were just a total of 8,690 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week of July 10, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

With the UK registering 560 fewer fatalities than the five-year average of 9,250, this marks the fourth week in a row that deaths have been below the five-year average.

The number of deaths in care homes and hospitals in the week to July 10 was also below the five-year average (283 and 901 deaths lower respectively), while the number of deaths in private homes was 706 higher than the five-year average.

01:49 PM

British cruise line collapses due to ‘seismic proportions’ of pandemic

UK cruise operator Cruise and Maritime Voyages has gone into administration, with the “global pandemic of seismic proportions” being blamed for its demise.

The line, which has six ships in its fleet and was founded in 2010, has “ceased trading with immediate effect”, according to administrators Duff & Phelps.

It comes after concerns were raised last month that the company was in desperate need of additional funding – which it said it was “confident” of securing.

Benjamin Parker has the latest here.

01:46 PM

The ‘perfect environment’: how FGM is set to surge during the pandemic

For centuries, girls have been forced by family members or cultural norms to undergo various forms of FGM, a non-medical practice where the genitals are cut. An estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone the procedure. 

Over the last three decades, significant progress has been made to stop FGM but now health workers and activists say that coronavirus lockdowns and school closures have triggered a resurgence of cutting in parts of Africa. 

“Covid has given the perfect opportunity and the perfect environment for FGM to come back in full swing,” says Domtila Chesang, an activist who has been working to end the practice in West Pokot for a decade. 

Ms Chesang estimates there were fewer than a dozen reports of FGM in her county from March to June last year. But since the schools closed to stop the spread of the virus in March, she has been “overwhelmed” by a staggering number of reports.   

Sarah Newey and Will Brown have more on this here.

01:44 PM

Kenya’s flower industry rebounds as lockdowns ease

Workers sort roses on the packing line while wearing protective equipment at the Maridadi flower farm in Naivasha, Kenya
Workers sort roses on the packing line while wearing protective equipment at the Maridadi flower farm in Naivasha, Kenya

Demand for Kenya’s flowers has recovered to around 85 per cent of pre-coronavirus levels as European markets open up after lockdowns, an industry body said.

Kenyan farmers were forced to throw away millions of roses in March as Europe sealed borders and residents put weddings and funerals on hold.

But demand is coming back as restrictions ease and growers are hoping it will recover fully by next year, said Clement Tulezi, chief executive of the Kenya Flower Council.

“We are better than we were two months ago, demand is almost at 85 per cent,” Tulezi told Reuters news agency. “From our major markets in Europe and elsewhere, we are seeing orders.”

Europe accounts for nearly 70 per cent of Kenya’s cut flower exports and coronavirus restrictions had slashed daily orders by half, threatening thousands of jobs in East Africa’s richest economy.

01:40 PM

Nepal to resume international flights after long halt due to coronavirus

Nepal will allow regular international airline flights from August 17, a minister said on Tuesday, nearly four months after suspending them to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wedged between China and India, Nepal enforced a nationwide lockdown, halting scheduled flights, in March, when reported its first confirmed cases of Covid-19.

So far, Nepal has reported 17,844 infections with 40 deaths from the disease.

01:39 PM

Scotland records 22 new cases 

Scotland has recorded 22 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in a day, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, she said 18,474 people have tested positive for Covid-19 north of the border.

She said the majority of the new cases are in Lanarkshire and at least some are likely to be connected to the outbreak at the Sitel call centre at Eurocentral business park north of Bellshill.

No deaths of people who tested positive for the virus were recorded between Monday and Tuesday, meaning the toll remains at 2,941.

There were 618 people with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 in hospital as of Monday evening, up 51 in 24 hours.

Of these, 20 were in intensive care, up 10 from the previous day.

01:38 PM

PM warns of ‘bumpy months ahead’

The UK faces more “bumpy months” as it copes with the impact of coronavirus on the nation’s health and finances, Boris Johnson warned.

As the Cabinet gathered for a face-to-face meeting for the first time since March, the Prime Minister stressed the need to “get our economy moving”.

The symbolic meeting is an attempt by Downing Street to show that it is safe to return to workplaces.

But in a sign of the changes forced on the country by the virus, the meeting took place in the Foreign Office’s grand Locarno Suite rather than the smaller Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street.

Ministers were required to remain at least a metre apart, there was hand sanitiser available on entry and exit and they were all given individual water bottles rather than sharing jugs.

Opening the meeting, Mr Johnson said there will be “difficult months ahead for our people and our country, but no-one will be without hope.

“We will build back better and come through this crisis more strongly than ever before,” the Prime Minister said.

“And for the next few months we have to strike a balance – we have to continue to push down on this virus and keep it under control in the heroic way the British people have managed so far.

“But we must also cautiously, while observing the rules on social distancing, get our economy moving again and get our people back into work.”

01:20 PM

No country has handled Covid-19 in carehomes well, claims Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty has said he is reluctant to point blame at what went wrong with the UK’s handling of coronavirus outbreaks in care homes, adding that other countries have done just as badly. 

Speaking at the Health and Social Care Committee Proff Whitty said: 

“My enthusiasm for blaming anyone for anything is zero. That is absolutely not the way that you deal with anything in health care or social care and that’s across the board. 

“It is clear that every country that has a care sector has not handled this well and the UK is one country that has not handled this well. Across the board this has been a major problem. 

“Some of this comes from what we had not recognised, which in retrospect seems obvious. For example, people working in multiple homes, people not paid sick leave that was a clear risk, etc.

“There are a lot of things that we have learnt that we can now do a lot better in social care and I don’t think any of us would look back at what has happened in social care and say this was the ideal advice was given and this was the fault of anyone. I would shy away from that.”

12:34 PM

Mandatory mask rules down to policy makers, but science is clear, says Whitty

Questioned on why there has been so much delay and confusion around the rules on mandatory mask wearing in certain public spaces, Professor Chris Whitty said that the science has never been more “consistent”.

Addressing MPs, he said: 

“Masks is probably the clearest example of where the scientific consensus shifted, not just in the UK but with the WHO [World Health Organization] and many other countries as well.

“First point is that there are many other examples where the scientific advice was consistent throughout the epidemic. This is actually an area where the scientific advice shifted from a more cautious to a more positive stance.

“Second point is that the question is not about giving advice about whether masks should be used. It is in which environments is this going to be mandatory, which is an issue for the state. And which environments is it going to be advisory, and that is really where ministers have to make policy choices. 

“Our advice on whether you should wear them is absolutely consistent.

“And in my view can be understood by everybody, which is: in any situation indoors, where you’re not going to be able to maintain social distancing, wearing masks reduces the probability that if you’re asymptomatic with Covid-19 you will pass it on. Therefore it is good to do.”

12:09 PM

Routine testing of health care workers should be limited to local outbreaks, says Whitty

Addressing questions from chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee Jeremy Hunt, Prof Whitty said that reserving routine tests of frontline staff to if and when localised outbreaks occur is the best option, because Britain’s capacity for testing is still limited. 

He said: 

“Again I’m very clear on the advice I’ve given. It is the advice I believe to be right.

“You have to think about testing as concentric circles, right out from the absolutely most essential through to what you do as you get more and more capacity. 

“With infinite capacity, the amount you can do obviously increases.”

“This is a huge logistical and operational and indeed economic thing to do, we should get it right when we do it.

“When there is a surge, if there is a surge in winter, which is a really serious concern and looking forward, which is where I spend most of my thinking time, looking forward that’s what I’m really worried about.

With cases such as Leicester, it is best to reserve routine testing for when the outbreak occurs, but if the frequency of localised outbreaks increase that policy may change, he admitted:

“We certainly will need asymptomatic testing among healthcare staff, the question is, who and what’s the frequency and under what circumstances? And we should be basing that on data.

“I’m not against it, and I want to reassure you chair, because you’ve made a strong point on this, I do not actually disagree with you that asymptomatic testing is going to be needed, it’s just under what circumstances with what frequency?,” he added.

11:49 AM

UK did not have the infrastructure to run test and trace, Whitty admits

In a heated exchange with former health secretary and chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee Jeremy Hunt, Professor Chris Whitty told MPs that widespread community testing earlier on in the pandemic required “an infrastructure we did not have”.

Asked by Mr Hunt why he had not advised that testing be ramped up quickly in January or February, as had been done in “four weeks” recently, Prof Whitty said:

“I respectfully differ. You are going to say I suspect at some point … why is test, trace and isolate not brilliant now?

“This is after we’ve had huge investment and many months of preparation.

“The idea that you can suddenly switch this on, I’m afraid, is incorrect.

“The way you run emergencies badly is to try and run them based on a theory of what you could do rather than with the tools you have at your disposal.

“That is the way we had to run it and that is the way we did run it.”

Prof Whitty told Mr Hunt that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had consistently said that more testing capacity was needed.

But he agreed that, given the capacity, it was the correct advice to stop widespread community testing on March 12.

11:43 AM

UK had no capacity to find all cases at start of pandemic, says Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, told the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee that there was an “incredibly limited testing capacity” at the start of the pandemic.

“Remember that this virus has symptoms which can range from almost no symptoms or some symptoms, through to a variety of things as previous witnesses have said, and I think this is well known,” he told MPs.

“And at that stage we had incredibly limited testing capacity and we were at the tail-end of the winter respiratory illness system.

“We therefore had no capacity to find all the cases and do the kind of isolation that you would need to do.”

He added: “It was clearly at a certain point impractical for us to continue to do this as a strategy, it was going to pick up such a small proportion, and the testing we had had to be deployed to the higher risk areas.”

11:26 AM

Did we lockdown a little too late? No, says Prof Whitty

Giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said ministers followed advice with a “delay that was no more than you would reasonably expect”.

Asked by chairman Jeremy Hunt if he was “content” the Government followed his advice on staging different elements of the lockdown, Prof Whitty said:

“Ministers at the time, who were put in an incredibly difficult position, in my view, followed the advice given by Sage, which are clearly signposted through the minutes of Sage, with a delay that was no more than you would reasonably expect for what are really very difficult things to operationalise and decide.

“And I think I’d make a slightly further comment, which is obviously to be able to do this, there was a bit of signposting sometimes we may have to go further. And ministers were aware of that and they said that at the time.

“So, for example on the 16th (of March), my memory is that the Prime Minister did not announce schools closing, but I think he did say at that time, ‘and we might need to consider schools closing’.”

Prof Whitty added: “But I do not think, I’m not saying now and I’m not going to say at any point, to be clear, that in my view there was huge delay between the advice that ministers received given the enormity of the difficulties that we were asking of people and the practical implications of what was being done.”

11:16 AM

Covid-19 will not be done by Christmas, says Farrar

Wellcome Trust director Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar told the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee that the world will be living with Covid-19 for “very many, many years to come”.

“Things will not be done by Christmas. This infection is not going away, it’s now a human endemic infection,” he told MPs.

“Even, actually, if we have a vaccine or very good treatments, humanity will still be living with this virus for very many, many years to come.

“We need to keep the urgency in place in June, July and August, but we need to move now to a consistent long-term approach to this.

“Because humanity will be living with this infection for decades to come.”

11:10 AM

Strong leadership key to beating virus, expert says

Strong, clear leadership over the next key weeks is the key to getting to zero new Covid-19 cases, Professor Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at University of Edinburgh has told MPs. 

Addressing a committee today, she said:

“If you want the economy to recover, if you want London full again with people, the way to do that is to fully suppress the virus and get to a zero Covid reading, meaning the virus is out of community transmission and just having imported cases. 

“To get there, what you’d need is to use the next 8-12 weeks. You’d need clear leadership, a game plan. You need to carry people through with that messaging and say: look we’re going to have a push in the next 8 weeks to really knock this down.

“You need aggressive testing, going to door to door. Figuring out who has the infection and locking them down. 

“The cost of that strategy is your borders. Free easy international movement of people and that is the difficult choices. 

“But in the pandemic you cannot have it all,” she said.

11:02 AM

Covid-19 is here to stay

Professor Sir John Bell, of the University of Oxford, told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee it is unlikely that Covid-19 will be eliminated.

“The reality is that this pathogen is here forever, it isn’t going anywhere,” he told MPs.

“Look at how much trouble they’ve had in eliminating, for example, polio, that eradication programme has been going on for 15 years and they’re still not there.

“So this is going to come and go, and we’re going to get winters where we get a lot of this virus back in action.

“The vaccine is unlikely to have a durable effect that’ll last for a very long time, so we’re going to have to have a continual cycle of vaccinations, and then more disease, and more vaccinations and more disease.

“So I think the idea that we’re going to eliminate it across the population, that’s just not realistic.”

10:55 AM

UK went into lockdown during a ‘critical week’, says Farrar

Wellcome Trust director Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar told the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee that the week the UK went into lockdown was a “critical week” for the subsequent events of the coronavirus crisis.

Asked about mortality being avoided, he said:

“I don’t think any country can escape having some impacts of this infection, it’s a question of the level of that impact.

“I do believe that the decisions, as I said, in January and February, to not ramp up testing faster, to not make sure there was enough PPE for healthcare workers, increasingly known by the middle at the end of February of the most vulnerable senior people, people with other disabilities.

“Later, the vulnerability of people from BAME communities became obvious, but the elderly and the more vulnerable were known in February. And I think the January and February period was critical to that.”

On the timings of the lockdown in March, he told MPs: “Yes, I believe lockdown was too late, I believe lockdown should have come in earlier.

“And indeed, in the weekend following that Sage meeting, there were pressure and urgency to lock down immediately, within the next 24 hours of that weekend, in the coming week.

“And I think that delay did lead to the epidemic expanding faster than would have been needed if the lockdown had been imposed earlier, and that week was a critical week for the subsequent events in the epidemic.”

10:40 AM

Herd immunity is not the way to deal with a pandemic, says Farrar

Pursuing herd immunity should never be a public health approach to dealing with a pandemic, Prof Jeremy Farrar has said.

“I don’t believe that [herd immunity] could ever be a public health approach to dealing with a pandemic, which you know is already killing a lot of people in China, it is transmitting asymptomatically between people and has led to draconian measures in much of Asia, even before it arrived in the UK. 

“Allowing an infection like that, which we have no knowledge of, no immunity, no treatment and no vaccines, to spread through a community and just sacrifice tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, in what is known as herd immunity. That is not something that any public health individual or clinician could argue for. “

10:30 AM

June, July, August are crucial for getting ahead of the virus, says Farrar 

The next three months will be crucial in getting a handle of the virus to beat back a second wave, Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar has said.

Addressing MPs, he said:

“If we don’t use these three months wisely, then we will undoubtedly have a second wave and we could easily be in the same situation again. 

“The lockdowns have made an enormous difference to community transmission. They have done nothing to the fundamentals of the virus. It remains as infectious. It has the same clinical syndrome. It kills the same number of people.

“As soon as lockdowns ease and we don’t have the tools to change the fundamentals, that means diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, then this will come back. 

“June, July and August are absolutely critical. And if we don’t have things in place by September when schools restart we will face a very very difficult winter. “

10:23 AM

UK’s biggest failures was not being on the ‘front foot’ in pandemic preparedness.

Prof John Bell, Regius Professor at University of Oxford, has told MPs that one of the UK’s biggest failures was not being on the “front foot” in preparation for a pandemic:

“The fact that we were asleep to the concept that we were going to have a pandemic, I think, shame on us.

“Since the year 2000 we’ve had eight close calls of emerging infectious diseases, any one of which could have swept the globe as a pandemic.

“This is not new and I think we should not be proud of the fact that we ended up with a system which had no resilience to pandemics.” 

10:16 AM

Second national lockdown possible, says professor, warning against PM’s optimism

Without effective cluster busting a second national lockdown is entirely possible, Professor Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at University of Edinburgh, has said as she warns against the Prime Minister’s optimism. 

Prof Sridhar said:

“If you have existing community transmission, where England is at now, you’re going to see spikes.

“It is inevitable. As we’ve seen with Australia in Melbourne, you’re going to have to tip into a local lockdown.

“Then if the local lockdown gets too stretched then you’re going to have to go into a national lockdown and that’s what’s happened in other places.”

So you cannot say that the UK will never have another lockdown, Prof Sridhar  suggested.

In fact, “the only place on the planet who can possibly say that is New Zealand, because they’re out in the pacific and they’re an island, and they’re checking everyone coming out there on flights.”

10:06 AM

East Asia provided a virus ‘playbook’ which world did not heed, expert suggests

Professor Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at University of Edinburgh, has said the world did not take advantage of the lessons learnt in the East Asian Covid-19 outbreak.

Speaking at the  Health and Social Care Government Committee, Prof Sridhar said: 

“We could see it playing out in east Asia. That was one of the benefits that European and North America countries and the whole world had. 

“We could see what had happened in China, in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and you could start to figure out that there was a playbook for how to control this virus. It was not uncontrollable. It was not like flu. There were measures you could put in place.”

However the UK put too much emphasis on trying to “treat” its way out of the epidemic. Money was invested in increasing NHS capacity, rather than expanding Test and Trace which, as other countries demonstrated, would have eased the pressure on the health care service, she said.

09:54 AM

This is the year to vaccinate everyone against flu, urges professor

A winter flu outbreak could prove devastating for the health care system, which is already struggling to handle the Covid-19 pandemic, however, increasing flu vaccination  programmes may go someway to lessening the load, Professor John Bell, Regius Professor at University of Oxford, has said.

“This is a year to get everyone vaccinated. Why would we not?” Prof Bell told the Government committee: 

“Distinguishing clinically between severe flu and Covid-19 will be difficult.

“There will be a big problem in sorting out the two populations and they will also put enormous pressure on our health care systems because they will definitely fill intensive care units pretty quickly. 

“The solution to that of course is to try get the flu vaccine even more widely distributed. “

“Flu vaccines are cheap, they’re pretty effective. That should be on our radar.”

09:43 AM

Failure to test health care a major oversight, says Oxford professor 

The UK’s failure to aggressively test health care workers has been labelled a “major oversight” by Professor John Bell, Regius Professor at University of Oxford. 

“The failure to aggressively approach health care testing was a major oversight and one where I am not entirely sure what the motives were,” he told the Health and Social Care Government Committee today.

 “It was well documented in Italy that the problem was hospital testing. So it wasn’t a novelty to think: ‘oh gosh, we should test health care workers’. It was a fact that we knew about from other places,” he said.

Prof Bell also said NHS trusts may have been scared to test workers should they discover high levels of infection, which would have sent masses of workers home, affecting staffing levels:

“There was a suspicion, which I suspect was correct, that NHS institutions and the NHS were avoiding testing their hospital workers,  because they were afraid of finding the levels that [Sir Paul Nurse] has described and they would have to send everyone home and as a result not have a workforce,” he said.

09:30 AM

‘Following the science’ message was not nuanced enough, says professor

Early Government messaging was not nuanced enough to communicate the ever evolving situation and failure to address the limits of understanding damaged public trust, Professor Sir Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, has said.

“We’ve heard constantly that politicians are following the science. That’s good, of course, but you have the fully communicated that, especially at the beginning, science is tentative, it changes, it’s evolving fast, it’s uncertain,” he said.  

“You can’t just have a single top line saying we’re following science. It has to be more nuanced. It has to be more dealing with what we know about the science and what we don’t.”

Instead of facing up to the reality of what the world did and didn’t know about the virus, Sir Nurse said the Government tried to save face.

“Trying to put on a good face, rather than facing the problem, has damaged the way that we have responded,” he said.

“When you have a pandemic, knowledge is uncertain,” he added.

09:19 AM

Leading scientist accuses Government of lack of transparency

Professor Sir Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute, has accused the Government of not being transparent enough over who was making the decisions at the height of the UK’s coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking at the  Health and Social Care Government Committee Sir Nurse said: 

“It’s not always clear to me and my colleagues who is in charge and who is making decisions. 

“I’ve never found it too easy to find out who is responsible for who is responsible for the different parts of the strategy and tactics that are being put in place. 

I have the sense that it’s been too much pass the parcel.”

Moving forward we have to have greater clarity on who is making the decisions or we may face a “winter of discontent” in the coming months, he said.

09:08 AM

Mistakes were made, SAGE member admits

Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and member of the Scientific Advisory Group (SAGE), has admitted that mistakes were made in the early days of the pandemic and that he regrets that SAGE did not take a harder line in handing out advice. 

Addressing a Government committee, Mr Farrar said: “There was not enough urgency. If I look back at my time in the SAGE committee, I regret that SAGE was not more blunt in its advice, but it didn’t have a job of holding people to account for interventions that were made.”

The Wellcome Trust director also said that the choice to stop community testing right at the start of the outbreak, when there was a limited number of coronavirus tests available, was a “mistake”. He said:

“There was no surge capacity in Public Health England.

“Testing capacity – of going up to potentially 10,000 a week – was nowhere near enough to cope with a growing epidemic, that by the middle of / end of March was doubling every 2-3 days.

“The Chief medical officer at that phase faced a choice. He either continued testing in the community, which was the optimal choice, or he either tested on patients and health care workers in hospitals, Inevitably that choice was made to test patients in hospitals with the limited capacity that was available.”

“In retrospect, I think that was a mistake. If it was possible to ramp up testing in place throughput January and February – as was the advice of World Health Organization at that time and was what Germany and Korea and Singapore, and Vietnam were able to do – that would have been a better option. “

08:46 AM

‘We let our guard down’, says top disease expert

Wellcome Trust Director Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar has said the world let its guard down and did not appropriately prepare for the potential devastation emerging infections could reap. 

Speaking at a Health and Social Care Government Committee on management of the coronavirus outbreak, Mr Farrar said: 

“You can’t just turn on and off public health and the response to it. You have to invest in it over many many years. 

“I think, frankly, since SARS-1, public health around the world, including the UK, has been neglected.

“We’ve underestimated the warning calls – through SARS-1, through Ebola, through Zika, the pandemic of 2009.

“Maybe the world became a little bit cynical, emerging infections were not going to cause the devastation that some people said they would and we let down our guard, we didn’t realise the power of infectious diseases.”

08:28 AM

Pay rise for NHS doctors and dentists but nurses miss out

Nurses and other frontline NHS staff are set to miss out on public sector salary increases set to award doctors and dentists a 2.8 per cent pay rise, the Health Secretary has confirmed today.

Nearly 900,000 public sector workers will benefit from the rise, but nurses and other frontline workers will not be included in the uplift as they are paid under the three-year Agenda for Change pay deal agreed with NHS trade unions. 

In an announcement made today, Matt Hancock said:

“These past few months have been an incredibly challenging time for our NHS, and the resolve, professionalism and dedication of staff has been on show throughout. 

“We are able to accept the recommendations of the independent pay review body for dentists and doctors. 

“I am committed to supporting the entire NHS and social care workforce through improved recruitment and retention and delivering 50,000 more nurses and 6,000 more doctors in general practice.”

The pay rise, which could see consultants earn an additional £3,000, will be backdated until April. 

Care workers were also missing from the list of public sector workers due a payrise. In the post below, delivered at 9:00am, we covered comments made by Policing minister Kit Malthouse, who said they would instead have to rely on increases in the minimum wage to improve their pay levels.

08:13 AM

UK borrows record £128bn in battle to save economy

The Government borrowed £127.9bn in the first three months of this financial year as surging spending combined with slumping tax revenues to force an extraordinary budget deficit on the Treasury.

This is the biggest quarterly deficit since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics said, and is double the entire level of borrowing for the entire previous financial year.

In June alone the Treasury borrowed £35.5bn, making it the third-biggest month of borrowing on record.

The two bigger months were April, at £46.9bn, and May, at £45.5bn.

It means borrowing in recent months far outweighs even the worst days of the financial crisis, when the Government borrowed £21.3bn in December 2009.

Tim Wallace has more here.

08:00 AM

Many care workers reliant on minimum wage increases, minister says

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said social care workers would have to rely on increases in the minimum wage to improve their pay levels.

As almost a million public sector workers were awarded pay rises, Mr Malthouse said: “The vast majority of social care workers are paid in the private sector so our ability to influence pay rates there is limited.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that – apart from “nationalising the entire thing” – the minimum wage rate was the best tool the Government had to recognise the efforts of care workers:

“What we have done is raise the level of the minimum wage very significantly over the last few years to get it up towards the £10.50 mark. That, we hope, will push through into these private sector jobs.

“Everybody looks at people who work in social care during coronavirus and thinks they have done a fantastic job in very, very difficult circumstances.

“But that’s the mechanism by which we think we can increase pay in that sector.”

07:51 AM

China requires negative Covid-19 tests for arriving air passengers

Passengers of China-bound flights must provide negative Covid-19 test results before boarding, China’s aviation authority said on Tuesday, as the government looks to further reduce the risk of imported coronavirus cases amid increased international travel.

Nucleic acid tests must be completed within five days of travel, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on its website. Tests should be conducted at facilities designated or recognised by Chinese embassies in host countries, it said.

In the past month, CAAC has allowed more foreign airlines to resume services in China and add flights to the country as the economy recovers. Deutsche Lufthansa AG on Friday said it would double the number of flights to and from mainland China in coming weeks, and Air France KLM SA said it has received approval to add more China flights.

However, a number of airlines have been suspended from operating China routes after more than five passengers tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival.

07:44 AM

Chief nursing officer was not silenced by No 10, says policing minister

Policing minister Kit Malthouse has denied that chief nursing officer Ruth May had been silenced by Number 10.

She was dropped from a Downing Street press conference in the wake of the Dominic Cummings row after saying that lockdown rules should apply to all. Mr Malthouse told BBC Radio 4’s Today:

“The Prime Minister and ministers are responsible for the decisions that have been taken and the science is meant to inform their decisions.

“Who or who doesn’t appear at a podium at a particular press conference seems to me less relevant than this hard-working and dedicated public servant can speak when she wishes and she has done, obviously, before and since.

“I don’t think there’s any intention to restrict that.”

07:35 AM

Why the first round of Covid cuts are falling on women

Marks & Spencer, Boots the Chemist, and John Lewis: the last bastions of the high street which, in normal times, most of us still relied on being able to pop into regularly, despite the shift to online shopping. Now, after four months of lockdown, they are under serious threat – as is their predominantly female workforce.

Wholesale and retail trade is the second most common sector of employment for women in the UK (the first is health and social care), accounting for 14 per cent of all working women.

Research by think-tank the Resolution Foundation has shown women are more likely to be employed in industries that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, with almost 20 per cent working in sectors that have suffered major job losses and pay cuts, compared to 13 per cent of men.

However, this isn’t only a “women’s issue” – where women are unequally impacted there is always a knock-on effect on the economy.

Eleanor Steafel explains more here.

05:32 AM

Bailout deal finally reached at marathon EU summit

European Union leaders reached a deal on a massive stimulus plan for their coronavirus-blighted economies at a pre-dawn meeting on Tuesday after a fractious summit that went through the night and into its fifth day.

Summit chairman Charles Michel tweeted “Deal” shortly after the 27 leaders reached agreement at a 5.15 am (0315 GMT) plenary session.

“This agreement sends a concrete signal that Europe is a force for action,” Mr Michel said at a dawn news conference

“It is about a lot more than money. It is about workers and families, their jobs, their health and their well-being. I believe this agreement will be seen as a pivotal moment in Europe’s journey, but it will also launch us into the future.”

Read the full story

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron arrive for a joint press conference at the end of the European summit - Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron arrive for a joint press conference at the end of the European summit – Reuters

04:43 AM

Cases from China’s latest outbreak fall

Numbers of new cases in China’s latest outbreak fell on Tuesday, with just eight reported in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Another three cases were brought from outside the country, according to the National Health Commission, bringing China’s total to 83,693 with 4,634 deaths.

Xinjiang cases have been concentrated in the regional capital and largest city of Urumqi, where around 50 people and possibly more have been infected. 

04:25 AM

How Fergie’s lockdown reinvention has won over a new legion of fans

Under the circumstances, you’d imagine someone in the Duchess of York’s predicament would have used the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to lay low for a while. The ongoing scandal surrounding her ex-husband’s links to convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein can’t have been easy. But fading into the background has never been for Sarah Ferguson.

No, this flame-haired Royal has long proved she is made of much stronger stuff than that. The Major’s daughter  has never strayed far from controversy, and proved, once again, at the weekend just how thick her Teflon coating is.

Within hours of executing a hastily re-arranged wedding for her firstborn at Royal Lodge, the Windsor home she still shares with Prince Andrew, if being absent from the first pictures from the happy day was upsetting, she wasn’t going to let it show. Instead, the quirky 60-year-old was seen flapping around in a floral garland headband, imitating donkey noises on her new YouTube show ‘Fergie and Friends’.

Read the full story

02:39 AM

California reports record increase in cases

California reported a record increase of more than 11,800 new cases on Monday, according to a Reuters tally of county data, as the Trump administration pushes for schools to reopen to help businesses return to normal.

If California were a country, it would be rank fifth in the world for total cases at nearly 400,000, behind the United States, Brazil, India and Russia.

This is the first time California has reported over 10,000 new infections since setting a record with 10,861 cases on July 14.

Florida has reported over 10,000 new cases a day for the last six days in a row and Texas has reported over 10,000 cases for five out of the last seven days.

California’s daily increases have already surpassed the highest daily tally reported by any European country during the height of the pandemic there.

Read more: Donald Trump to resume coronavirus briefings

Coronavirus Live Tracker promo embed
Coronavirus Live Tracker promo embed

01:35 AM

Three deaths and rising cases in Melbourne

Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria has reported three deaths from the coronavirus and logged 374 daily cases of infections, compared with 275 cases a day earlier.

A woman, believed to be more than 100, a woman in her 90s and a woman in her 80s have died from the virus, Premier Daniel Andrews said.

The state has recorded just under 6,300 total confirmed cases of Covid-19, which is nearly half of the total infections in Australia.

Victoria’s government has enforced a six-week partial lockdown in the city of Melbourne and asked residents to wear face masks when they step outside their houses or risk fines to contain a flare-up in infections.

Melbourne is in partial lockdown - GETTY IMAGES
Melbourne is in partial lockdown – GETTY IMAGES

12:49 AM

Summary of news from around the world

  • Two more ministers in the Cabinet of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro say they have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

  • Navajo Nation lawmakers are considering overturning a presidential veto of a bill that cancels the tribe’s primary election in early August over concerns about the coronavirus. 

  • A Russian court has ordered a coronavirus-denying monk to pay a fine for “inciting hatred” through his sermons. 

  • The US Department of Health and Human Services is issuing guidance on preventing discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in the country’s response to the pandemic. 

  • The release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” has been postponed yet again but unlike previous postponements a new release date was not announced.

  • In the US, the White House is reviving its public coronavirus task force briefings, and President Donald Trump will again take on a starring role.

  • The head of emergencies at the World Health Organisation is hailing “good news” in results shown by two vaccine candidates in early trials, but warns “there’s a long way to go”. 

  • South Africa’s health minister says “no one should be turned (away) at the gate” for coronavirus care as public hospitals come under growing pressure from the pandemic. 

  • Face masks are now required in France’s supermarkets, shopping malls, banks, stores and indoor markets to curb worrisome signs that the coronavirus is making inroads again. 

  • India reported more than 40,000 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, a record high for the country.

Health workers wait for instructions to conduct a door-to-door medical screening drive for coronavirus at a residential area in Mumbai - AFP
Health workers wait for instructions to conduct a door-to-door medical screening drive for coronavirus at a residential area in Mumbai – AFP

12:13 AM

Murders in Mexico increase during pandemic

The number of homicides in Mexico has grown during the pandemic, including a 9.2 per cent spike in killings of women, according to government figures released Monday.

The data for the first half of 2020 showed homicides increased 1.9 per cent to 17,982, as compared to 17,653 in the same period of 2019.

Activists have long worried that the increased confinement of families to their homes would increase killings of women, and they indeed grew from 448 in the first half of 2019 to 489 in the same period of 2020.

Some experts, meanwhile, had hoped the lockdown would limit the drug gang activity that is a major cause of the violencue, but on Monday the Defense Department released an analysis saying that a disturbing video of massed drug cartel gunmen posted online last week was indeed genuine and had received about 16 million views in a few days.

Police pass near the drug rehabilitation center that was attacked ton July 1 in Irapuato, Mexico, where at least 27 people were killed according to authorities - AP
Police pass near the drug rehabilitation center that was attacked ton July 1 in Irapuato, Mexico, where at least 27 people were killed according to authorities – AP

11:32 PM

Brazil’s death toll quadruples in two months

Brazil’s death toll surpassed 80,000 on Monday, according to health ministry figures, as the country hit second-hardest in the world continued struggling to control the pandemic.

The figure, second only to the death toll in the US, quadrupled in two months. Brazil passed the mark of 20,000 Covid-19 deaths on May 21.

Recently, the Latin American country of 212 million people has regularly registered more than 1,000 new deaths a day – though the figure for Monday was lower, at 632, bringing its overall death toll to 80,120.

The country has confirmed 2.1 million total infections.

Experts say under-testing means the real numbers are probably much higher.

An aerial view showing graves in the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil - AFP
An aerial view showing graves in the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil – AFP

11:26 PM

Get ready for a post-lockdown trip

For anyone planning a holiday right now, the potential to forget an essential item feels even more worrying than before.

A lost toothbrush is easily replaced, but forget your mask and you might find yourself charged with a hefty fine at your destination – if they let you board your flight without one, that is.

Find out what items that should be on you packing list before you head off for any post-lockdown trip.

The ultimate holiday packing guide: from face masks to factor 30

11:00 PM

Today’s top stories

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Provide everyone with an autonomous electric vehicle, dig high-speed tunnels to beat traffic, conquer outer space and send a man to Mars, Elon Musk has no lack of wildly ambitious projects, among them Starlink, an internet access provider that will have its own network of satellites. Starlink is a key […]
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