Infection survey numbers to increase five fold by October

Workers are nervous about returning to work – GETTY IMAGES Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Workers are nervous about returning to work - GETTY IMAGES
Workers are nervous about returning to work – GETTY IMAGES
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

The coronavirus infection survey will increase from regularly testing 28,000 people per fortnight in England to 150,000 to help “curb the spread ahead of winter”, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

The expansion will take place by October, and the survey will be extended to cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Hancock said: “We are developing the capacity to test for coronavirus on an unprecedented scale and undertaking one of the biggest expansions of surveillance testing we have ever seen.

“This will allow us to further narrow down the areas potentially affected by local outbreaks and continue our fight to curb the spread ahead of winter.”

It comes as Heathrow Airport unveiled a new coronavirus testing facility which it hopes will lead to the end of the mandatory 14-day quarantine for those returning from certain countries and “protect the economy”.

Follow the latest updates below.

Table of Contents

09:00 AM

New Zealand Covid cases increase sees troops deployed to guard quarantine centres

More than 500 troops will be deployed to guard quarantine centres in New Zealand as Jacinda Ardern tries to stamp out the coronavirus resurgence, reports Verity Bowman.

New Zealand said it would increase the number of defence personnel at its quarantine facilities and border to beat any further spread of Covid-19, as it reported five new cases in the community on Wednesday. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces a new date for national elections, during a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 - Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces a new date for national elections, during a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 – Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald

Around 500 more defence personnel will be deployed, taking the total defence force personnel supporting the Covid-19 response to around 1,200.

This represents the largest military contingent since New Zealand sent peacekeepers to Timor-Leste during unrest there in the early 2000s, the government said in a statement.

08:46 AM

GCSE grades 2020: GCSE results day confirmed as Blunkett calls for ‘Nightingale’ sixth form drive

Gavin Williamson was on Tuesday night urged to draw up emergency plans to deal with a surge in pupils meeting entry requirements for sixth forms as a result of the Government’s U-turn on results, my colleague Harry Yorke reports.

As the Department for Education finally confirmed results would be available on Thursday, Lord Blunkett said that an “enormous expansion” was needed to prevent students being left on the scrapheap due to a lack of Key Stage 5 places or alternative options.

Lord Blunkett said that plans should be put in place for an “enormous expansion” in light of the fact that apprenticeships will be in short supply amid the coronavirus.

While pupils who do not make the grade for A-levels are usually able to enroll at further education (FE) colleges or take up apprenticeships and traineeships, the Covid-19 pandemic has left many businesses unable to provide opportunities for school leavers.

08:40 AM

Wuhan water park pool party sees thousands gather amid Covid-19 pandemic

Wuhan’s Maya Beach Water Park has started seeing large numbers of people attending after it began a free ticket giveaway in July.

The park reopened on June 25 following the national lifting of China’s lockdown. Once the epicentre of the outbreak, Wuhan lifted its own quarantine measures in April after a stringent 76-day lockdown.

Footage taken by an attendee on August 3 shows dense crowds together in the pool, with electronic music playing. But in spite of the crowds, entry requirements are strict.

Attendees must reserve tickets online up to a week in advance with national ID numbers, and when they arrive they must present their “health code” generated from a mobile app that tracks movements.

08:33 AM

Quarantine rules: Greece and Croatia travel advice decision expected tomorrow

Greece and Croatia both recorded their second highest number of daily coronavirus infections yesterday, adding to fears that returning Britons could be subject to new quarantine restrictions.

Finland has today added Greece to a list of countries to which only essential travel will be permitted from next week onwards.

A decision is expected to be made by the British Government tomorrow, with any new prospective measures being introduced on Saturday morning, as with France last weekend.

Here is the latest coronavirus data for Croatia and Greece:

Coronavirus Croatia Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Croatia Spotlight Chart – cases default
Coronavirus Greece Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Greece Spotlight Chart – cases default

 

08:23 AM

Coronavirus vaccine: Australia orders 25 million dose of Oxford vaccine candidate on ‘day of hope’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that today is “a day of hope” following the news that the country has ordered 25 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University in partnership with AstraZeneca.

Mr Morrison promised to make the vaccine “as mandatory as you can” during an interview with Melbourne’s 3AW radio station before he toured AstraZeneca’s laboratory in Sydney.

“Today is a day of hope and Australia needs hope, the world needs hope, when it comes to this coronavirus,” he told reporters.

Scorecard: The Oxford Vaccine
Scorecard: The Oxford Vaccine

“And should we be in a position for the trials to be successful, we would hope that this would be made available early next year. If it can be done sooner than that, great.”

08:08 AM

Oldham lockdown requires ‘localised approach’ and increased Covid testing, Health Secretary says

The recent rise in coronavirus cases in Oldham will require “localised measures”, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast.

Refuting concerns that people have “stopped listening” to Government guidance after being shown footage from a party of more than 100 people in Greater Manchester, which is under broad regional measures, Mr Hancock said that more testing in the area would be crucial.

“We’re putting more testing into places like Oldham which have measures in place,” he said. “The example of Leicester is an illustrative one – we took this local lockdown approach and I’m really pleased the people of Leicester responded positively. Then places like Oldham, we have to take the same localised approach working very closely with the local council.

Shopkeepers prepare to open a grocery shop in Oldham town centre on August 13, 2020 in Oldham, England. - Anthony Devlin/Getty Images Europe
Shopkeepers prepare to open a grocery shop in Oldham town centre on August 13, 2020 in Oldham, England. – Anthony Devlin/Getty Images Europe

“We have to make sure that we get both the messages to the public and the right rules in place, like the testing resources that we’re talking about to get a grip on it in all the areas where there’s an outbreak, including Oldham.”

It comes after Labour councillor Sean Fielding, the leader of Oldham Council, warned that a lockdown would be both “premature” and “catastrophic” in terms of already rising youth unemployment.

07:55 AM

5G phones and the ‘deep state’: Why coronavirus conspiracies are gaining ground

High-profile figures including the boxer Amir Khan, actor John Cusack and numerous basketball players have all shared coronavirus conspiracies in recent months, including the belief that 5G internet is somehow responsible for Covid-19. This led to multiple phone towers being vandalised in the UK.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new in many concerns of Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere on the internet. However researchers are now concerned that such thinking is becoming more mainstream, and could go on to have sinister public health consequences.

Social psychology professor Karen Douglas, of the University of Kent, said conspiracies normally thrive in times of crisis, including the current pandemic, when people’s psychological needs are frustrated.

“During times of crisis and when difficult decisions need to be made based on often conflicting pieces of information, these psychological needs are particularly threatened, and people are looking for ways to deal with the challenges,” she said.

Our US technology reporter Olivia Rudgard has the story.

07:40 AM

Councils need extra £2 billion cash injection after Covid hits funding, says IFS

Councils in the UK will require at least £2 billion more to avoid deep cuts to social care and other key services after the pandemic slashed income and increased costs, according to a new report.

Councils are expecting an extra £4.4 billion in service costs as a result of Covid-19 with social care accounting for £1.8 billion of the increased bill, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said.

This comes on top of £2.8 billion in lost revenue during the course of the pandemic so far. The extra £5.2 billion that the Government has promised councils will still leave a shortfall of at least £2 billion, the report said, with five councils at risk of bankruptcy if they do not receive additional funds. 

Charles Hymas has the story.

07:28 AM

Public Health England scrapped as response ‘needs to be brought together’

Asked by BBC News about why he is axing Public Health England now, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that combining three organisations into the new National Institute for Health Protection will “strengthen the public health response” as the pandemic goes on.

“The people who have worked in Public Health England have done unbelievable work in very difficult circumstances,” he said.

“But one of the things I’ve learned is having several different organisations responsible for different parts of the pandemic response, that all needs to be brought together. That’s why we’re making the change now.”

07:15 AM

Health Secretary defends head of new National Institute for Health Protection

Asked if Tory peer Dido Harding is qualified for the role, Matt Hancock told BBC News: “Absolutely, she’s simply the best person who could be doing this job now.

She has enormous experience both in the private sector running very large organisations and this is a very large organisation now with a budget of over £10 billion.

“Also in the NHS she’s been the chair of NHS Improvement for the last over three years, she’s been expanding and building that testing capacity, the test and trace system that is so effective in finding people now and asking them to self-isolate, so we’re very lucky to have her giving this public service at this critical time.”

07:10 AM

Brits unlikely to be ordered to wear face coverings at work

Britain is unlikely to follow France in ordering people to wear face coverings at work because its test and trace scheme shows most people catch Covid-19 in house-to-house transmission, said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

When asked if Britain would impose masks at work places as in France, he said: “We are not currently considering doing that.

“The reason is that the evidence from NHS Test and Trace for where people catch the disease is that, very largely, they catch it from one household meeting another household, usually in one of their homes.

“The amount of people who have caught it in work places is relatively low we think from the evidence that we have got.”

07:03 AM

Public health shake up brings ‘uncertainty’

Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), said any reorganisation of public health organisations risked bringing “uncertainty” into the system.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We know that any reorganisation does bring uncertainty into the system.

“It does risk distracting efforts, it throws different roles, functions, leadership into some uncertainty so that’s really of concern.”

06:47 AM

Ministers working with Heathrow to reduce quarantine period

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News: “We’re working with Heathrow and with other airports on this project.

“The challenge is because the virus can incubate inside your body without coming forward and without therefore a test being positive even if you’ve got it. The challenge is how to do that testing in a way that we can have confidence enough in to release the quarantine.

“But absolutely it’s a project we’re working with Heathrow on because clearly I understand the impact of quarantine in so many people’s lives it’s not something anybody would want to do so I hope this project can bear fruit.”

06:40 AM

Health Secretary defends timing of axing Public Health England for National Institute for Health Protection

Matt Hancock told Sky News: “My responsibility is to make sure that the pandemic response is the best it possibly can be and that’s why I’ve taken this decision now.

“Actually one of the lessons from the crisis I think for me is that if something is the right thing to do then delaying doing it is the wrong thing.

“We’ve now got Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace, we’ve got a new Joint Biosecurity Centre, working separately so in order to keep people safe, in order to have the very best response, we need to bring these organisations together now.

“I hope this gives a long-term future for all those working on the pandemic response.”

06:37 AM

Test & Trace unlikely to reduce R number below one, Imperial study finds

Quick and effective testing and tracing could reduce the reproduction number (R number) by up to 26%, but testing alone is unlikely to bring it below one at current levels of immunity, Imperial College London researchers have warned.

Therefore other interventions such as continuing physical distancing will be needed, they say.

The R number represents how many people someone infected with Covid-19 is likely to go on to infect.

In the study, researchers from Imperial’s Covid-19 Response Team looked at the potential impact of different testing and isolation strategies on transmission of the coronavirus.

They found that if 80% of cases and contacts are identified and there is immediate testing following symptom onset and quarantine of contacts within 24 hours, then the R number could potentially be reduced by up to 26%.

06:28 AM

South Korea closes churches after spike in new cases

South Korea has re-imposed strict social distancing measures in its capital region after a surge in Covid-19 cases linked to mass church meetings provoked fears that the country could be heading for its worst outbreak of the pandemic. 

In a nationally televised announcement on Tuesday, Chung Sye-kyun, the prime minister, announced that from Wednesday, nightclubs, karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants and computer gaming cafes will be shut, while churches will be required to switch to online worship services. Indoor gatherings of more than 50 people will be banned. 

Mr Chung said the partial lockdown was unavoidable in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to around half of the country’s 51 million people, in order to stop the virus spreading nationwide.

Read the full story here.

06:22 AM

Oldham council leader warns local lockdown would be ‘catastrophic’

Sean Fielding, the Labour councillor, has warned that a local lockdown in the town would be “really catastrophic” as he urged ministers not to impose one.

He said that the “raw numbers” may suggest the town is similar to Leicester at the point it was put into local lockdown.

“However we’re strongly making the case up here in Oldham that would not be the right solution for the wave of the pandemic that we’re seeing in Oldham,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We already have youth unemployment of 9.5% and 15% of unemployment generally so it would be really, really catastrophic for businesses and for the working age population in Oldham if there were to be a local lockdown.”

06:19 AM

Coronavirus tests for passengers set to replace blanket quarantine measures 

Testing travellers for coronavirus is set to replace the imposition of blanket quarantines under plans to be discussed by Cabinet ministers next week, with the news coming as Heathrow unveiled a purpose-built testing centre.

Ministers are due to meet on Monday to consider options including testing passengers between five and 10 days after their arrival to enable them to shorten their 14-day self-isolation if the results are negative.

Airports, airline bosses and travel industry chiefs have warned that testing is the only way to open up travel to and from “high-risk” countries such as the US and end uncertainty for holidaymakers hit by quarantines reimposed at short notice on countries including France and Spain.

Read the full story here.

05:46 AM

Police officers tested in South Korea

Police officers wait to be tested for Covid-19 while maintaining social distancing at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in South Korea.

Seoul, South Korea - Ahn Young-joon/AP
Seoul, South Korea – Ahn Young-joon/AP

05:41 AM

Coronavirus infection survey to increase testing

The coronavirus infection survey will increase from regularly testing 28,000 people per fortnight in England to 150,000 by October, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey ultimately aims to increase to include 400,000 individuals.

“We are developing the capacity to test for coronavirus on an unprecedented scale and undertaking one of the biggest expansions of surveillance testing we have ever seen,” said Mr Hancock.

“This ONS survey will be a crucial part of this work – improving our understanding of the rate of infection in the population and how many people have antibodies.”

04:38 AM

India records deadliest day

India reported 1,092 new fatalities on Wednesday, its highest single-day total.

The country has the fourth-most deaths in the world and the third-most cases, with over 2.7 million – including more than 64,000 new infections reported on Wednesday.

The actual numbers, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher due to limited testing.

Four of India’s 28 states now account for 63 per cent of total fatalities and 54.6 per cent of the caseload. The western state of Maharashtra and the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are the country’s worst-hit regions.

Read more: India’s Covid-19 death toll passes 50,000

Indian migrant workers wait in a queue to register for COVID-19 Rapid Antigen detection testing as they arrive in Delhi in search of work - RAJAT GUPTA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Indian migrant workers wait in a queue to register for COVID-19 Rapid Antigen detection testing as they arrive in Delhi in search of work – RAJAT GUPTA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

04:22 AM

Baby boom expected as result of pandemic

Millions of women and girls globally have lost access to contraceptives and abortion services because of the  pandemic. 

Across 37 countries, nearly 2 million fewer women received services between January and June than in the same period last year, Marie Stopes International says in a new report – 1.3 million in India alone. The organisation expects 900,000 unintended pregnancies worldwide as a result, along with 1.5 million unsafe abortions and more than 3,000 maternal deaths.

Those numbers “will likely be greatly amplified” if services falter elsewhere in Latin America, Africa and Asia, Marie Stopes’ director of global evidence, Kathryn Church, has said.

The World Health Organisation this month said two-thirds of 103 countries surveyed between mid-May and early July reported disruptions to family planning and contraception services. The UN Population Fund warns of up to 7 million unintended pregnancies worldwide.

Read more: Teen pregnancies soar as Kenya’s girls fall victim to ‘shadow pandemic’

02:55 AM

Virus forces M&S into digital revolution

Marks & Spencer has bet the house on a digital revolution after it laid off 7,000 workers, freeing up vital cash to help build an online retail empire.

The embattled chain slashed jobs across shop floors to save an estimated £100m a year, amid a scramble to boost internet sales as part of the fight to revive its fortunes.

Insiders have said they do not want the company to return to the “old system” pre-coronavirus, where only a fraction of the firm’s clothes were sold over the internet and none of its food. Instead, they are seeking radical upheaval as part of a programme dubbed Never the Same Again.

Bosses warned that there has been a lasting change in shoppers’ behaviour since the pandemic hit, with droves of consumers abandoning the high street as fears of Covid linger and internet buying becomes a habit after lockdown.

Marks & Spencer is hoping that selling more online will assist its recovery - GETTY IMAGES
Marks & Spencer is hoping that selling more online will assist its recovery – GETTY IMAGES

Read more: M&S bets on digital revolution as it slashes 7,000 jobs

02:14 AM

Outbreak in South Korea intensifies

South Korea reported the highest daily rise in cases since early March on Wednesday as an outbreak in the capital Seoul appeared to intensify.

The 297 new infections mark the sixth straight day of triple-digit increases in a country that has managed to blunt several previous outbreaks, bringing South Korea’s total to 16,058 infections with 306 deaths, health officials said.

Most of the new cases appeared in Seoul and the surrounding areas, raising concerns of a broader outbreak in a metropolitan area of more than 25 million people that has only seen small clusters so far.

Read more: South Korea closes churches after spike in new cases

A health official sprays disinfectant on the street near the Sarang Jeil Church, a new coronavirus infection cluster, in Seoul - AFP
A health official sprays disinfectant on the street near the Sarang Jeil Church, a new coronavirus infection cluster, in Seoul – AFP

01:55 AM

Australia secures vaccine deal

A fresh outbreak of infections in Australia’s coronavirus hot zone of Victoria appeared to have eased on Wednesday, as the country signed a deal to secure a potential vaccine that it intends to roll out free of cost to its citizens.

Australia has signed a deal with British drugmaker AstraZeneca to produce and distribute enough doses of a potential vaccine for its population of 25 million, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said late on Tuesday.

All Australians will be offered doses but a medical panel will determine the priority list of vaccine recipients, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“Naturally you would be focusing on the most vulnerable, the elderly, health workers, people with disabilities in terms of the speed of roll out, but I think there would be widespread uptake in Australia,” Mr Hunt told Sky News on Wednesday.

AstraZeneca last month said good data was coming in so far on its vaccine, already in large-scale human trials and widely seen as the front-runner in the race.

The vaccine, called AZD1222, was developed by Britain’s University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca.

Victoria reported 216 new daily cases in the last 24 hours compared with 222 a day earlier. It reported 12 deaths compared with 17 on Tuesday.

Read more: When will a Covid-19 vaccine be ready in the UK?

01:49 AM

Summary of news from around the world

  • Argentina confirmed 6,840 new cases and 172 new deaths on Tuesday, taking it simultaneously over the 300,000 case and 6,000 death threshold.  

  • Mexico‘s health ministry reported on Tuesday 5,506 new cases and 751 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 531,239 cases and 57,774 deaths. 

  • Indigenous cultures in the Caribbean, struggling as their tourism-dependent economies are ravaged by the pandemic, are returning to traditional farming and fishing roots for their livelihoods, local experts said on Tuesday. 

  • Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Caracas on Tuesday as his country delivered medical equipment to help crisis-stricken Venezuela deal with the pandemic. 

  • Brazil has now registered 3,407,354 cases of the virus while the official death toll has risen to 109,888, according to ministry data. 

  • Australia‘s second most populous state of Victoria on Wednesday said 12 people had died from Covid-19 in the last 24 hours and reported 216 new cases.

Doctor Luciana Haddad poses for a picture near a graffiti made in tribute to health workers at Hospital das Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Reuters
Doctor Luciana Haddad poses for a picture near a graffiti made in tribute to health workers at Hospital das Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil – Reuters

01:19 AM

Airport tests to replace quarantine measures  

Testing travellers for coronavirus is set to replace the imposition of blanket quarantines under plans to be discussed by Cabinet ministers next week, with the news coming as Heathrow unveiled a purpose-built testing centre.

Ministers are due to meet on Monday to consider options including testing passengers between five and 10 days after their arrival to enable them to shorten their 14-day self-isolation if the results are negative.

On Tuesday, Heathrow announced that an airside Covid-19 testing centre in Terminal Two was ready to swab its first passengers, for £150 a time, once the Government gives the green light to a trial. It plans a second centre in Terminal Five next month.

Airports, airline bosses and travel industry chiefs have warned that testing is the only way to open up travel to and from “high-risk” countries such as the US and end uncertainty for holidaymakers hit by quarantines reimposed at short notice on countries including France and Spain.

Read more: Coronavirus tests for passengers set to replace blanket quarantine measures 

Heathrow announced an airside Covid-19 testing centre in Terminal Two, which will charge passengers £150 a test - EPA
Heathrow announced an airside Covid-19 testing centre in Terminal Two, which will charge passengers £150 a test – EPA

11:54 PM

US Postal Service cuts suspended over mail-in voting anger

The US postmaster general on Tuesday night said he was suspending controversial cuts until after the presidential election following allegations from Democrats that the vote was being manipulated in favour of Donald Trump.

Louis DeJoy, who has donated more than $2 million to Mr Trump and the Republican party since 2016, had been introducing reductions in service and overtime, and removing mail sorting machines and collection boxes, as he sought to overhaul the loss-making Postal Service .

It had caused a political firestorm with postal unions across the country warning they would be unable to cope with an expected surge in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats claimed the White House was attempting to sabotage the postal service to undermine the legitimacy of the election and suppress the vote. Mr Trump has denied trying to slow down postal voting.

Read more: Trump’s postmaster general halts cuts amid outcry over mail-in voting

11:45 PM

Homeless Britons get smartphones to access support

Several thousand homeless people will be given smartphones and laptops to help them stay informed, connected and access support during the coronavirus outbreak.

A two-year partnership, between Tesco Mobile and the homelessness charity Crisis, will see homeless people given £700,000 worth of phones, devices and internet data.

In the first year, they aim to provide 2,500 homeless people with phones, laptops and tablets, while the public are being urged to hand in their old smartphones or donate to help connect more people.

This will make it easier for them to look into housing options, keep in touch with friends and family and access information, services and support.

It will also help homeless people stay aware of public health guidance and updates as the country adapts to the threat of coronavirus.

£700,000 worth of phones will be handed out by charities - PA
£700,000 worth of phones will be handed out by charities – PA

11:07 PM

Experts fear winter resurgence of coronavirus

There is growing evidence that seasonal factors could influence the evolution of the current Covid‐19 pandemic, with experts predicting human-to-human transmission of the virus will become more widespread in winter.

The science comes from climatic, behavioural, medical and historic sources and, unfortunately, most point to the same conclusion: we face a long hard winter ahead.

The latest study, published on Tuesday in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases journal, found an association between low relative humidity and an increase in community transmission of Sars-CoV-2 in the Greater Sydney area during the early stages of the pandemic. It estimated that for every one per cent drop in relative humidity, confirmed Covid-19 cases increased by seven to eight per cent.

Read more: Winter surge of Covid-19 predicted as experts warn of hard times ahead

11:01 PM

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