NEWS
21/03/2020 07:57 GMT | Updated 21/03/2020 19:54 GMT

Eight Things You Need To Know About Coronavirus Today

Pubs, restaurants and gyms across the country have closed, and Trump has publicly clashed with a leading health expert. Here's the latest:

See the latest stories on the coronavirus outbreak.

All pubs, theatres, gyms and restaurants have now closed their doors indefinitely as tougher social distancing measures set in across the UK to tackle Covid-19

As of 9am on Saturday, a total of 72,818 people had been tested for the virus in the UK, the Department of Health said. 

Of those, 67,800 were negative and 5,018 positive – a 26% increase on the previous 24 hours – and 233 people have died.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Lombardy, the northern region of Italy, has risen by 546 in a single day to 3,095, with 793 fatalities across the country.

Here’s the latest on coronavirus today: 

Pubs, restaurants, theatres and gyms close across the country 

Henry Nicholls / Reuters
The venues have been ordered to close indefinitely. 

 

Tens of thousands of pubs, bars, theatres and restaurants across the country are staying shut in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. 

Boris Johnson ordered the dramatic closing down of the hospitality and entertainment sectors amid fears of the NHS being overwhelmed.

With scientists warning “social distancing” measures will have to stay in place for months to come, cinemas, nightclubs, gyms and betting shops were left wondering they would be able to open their doors again.

John Lewis Partnership announced on Saturday it had taken the “difficult decision” to temporarily close all 50 John Lewis shops at close of business on Monday due to the impact of the virus.

The retailer said Johnlewis.com will continue to operate, as will Waitrose shops and waitrose.com.

Announcing the move – the first time in the 155-year history of the business that it will not open its shop doors for customers – chairman Sharon White said: “The welfare of our customers, communities and partners is always our absolute priority.

“While it is with a heavy heart that we temporarily close our John Lewis shops, our partners will, where possible, be taking on important roles in supporting their fellow partners, providing critical services in Waitrose shops and ensuring our customers can get what they need through johnlewis.com, which is seeing extremely strong demand.”

The National Trust also announced it would be closing its parks and gardens from midnight on Saturday “to help restrict the spread” of the virus.

Meanwhile, economists have said the bill to taxpayers for the government’s unprecedented scheme to cover most of the wages of workers whose jobs are under threat from the outbreak could run to billions of pounds a month.

The PM announced the closures at a Downing Street news conference on Friday, following reports that many people had ignored earlier appeals to stay away.

While he acknowledged the ban went against the “freedom-loving instincts” of the British people, he said it was essential to achieve the 75% reduction in “unnecessary” social contacts required to reduce the rate of infection.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon also appealed to establishments who had not yet closed their doors to “do the right thing”. 

 

More vital equipment for NHS

Thousands more beds, ventilators and extra healthcare staff will be available from next week to aid the fight against coronavirus thanks to a deal between NHS England and independent hospitals, the NHS has announced.

The extra resources, including nearly 20,000 staff, will also help the NHS deliver other urgent operations and cancer treatments.

The deal – the first of its kind – includes the provision of 8,000 hospital beds across England, nearly 1,200 more ventilators, more than 10,000 nurses, over 700 doctors and over 8,000 other clinical staff.

New guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have also been published to help doctors and nurses know the best course of treatment for patients.

The new guidelines say all patients admitted to hospital should still be assessed as usual for frailty “irrespective of Covid-19 status”.

For those who test positive for the virus, decisions about them being admitted to critical care should consider the medical benefit, taking into account the likelihood of the person’s recovery.

For cancer patients, medics will need to balance the risks of the patient not being treated in the usual way against the risk of them becoming seriously ill through coronavirus due to a weakened immune system, the guidelines state.

Workarounds could include treatment being offered at different locations, patients having longer breaks between treatments, and delivering treatments in different forms, the document adds.

Treasury chief secretary admits income protection for self-employed people could be ‘difficult’ to deliver

TOLGA AKMEN via Getty Images
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay arrives at number 10 Downng Street in central London on March 17, 2020, ahead of a meeting of the Cabinet. - Britain stepped up its response to coronavirus, recommending household isolation, home-working and an end to mass gatherings to try to stem an accelerating outbreak. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Treasury chief secretary Stephen Barclay has said that providing protection for the incomes of the self-employed during the coronavirus outbreak would be “operationally” difficult to deliver.

The government has faced criticism that it plan to underwrite the wages of millions of workers did not cover the freelancers, contractors and the self-employed.

However, Barclay said they would benefit from measures as the deferral of self-assessment tax requirements, the holidays for mortgage payers and the strengthening of the welfare “safety net”.

“We are looking at operationally what we can roll out to people,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“The main thing we have done is twofold: it is to support the economy as a whole, because the best thing for people who are self-employed as for all people is to sustain the economy and ensure that we can return with those viable businesses, and alongside that strengthen the safety net.

“So we have increased the allowance on Universal Credit, we have made it available from day one, we have removed the minimum income floor so if people who are self-employed are working less than 35 hours in a week they are not penalised within the benefits system.”

Pressed on whether the government would come forward with measures specifically for the self-employed, he said: “I come back to this underlying point about operationally what is difficult to do and what can be delivered to the timescales were are working to.”

Donald Trump publicly clashes with public health expert over drug claim 

Alex Wong via Getty Images
Donald Trump looks on as Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a press conference.

Donald Trump and the US government’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci publicly clashed on Friday over whether a malaria drug would work to treat people with the coronavirus.

The extraordinary scene played out on national television during the daily White House briefing on the outbreak, in which Americans heard conflicting answers from the scientist and the president.

Reporters asked both men — first Fauci then Trump — if a malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine could be used to prevent Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

On Thursday, when Fauci was not present, Trump had called attention to the drug, but on Friday Fauci – who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH – told the reporter that was not the case. 

“The information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal,” Fauci added firmly. “It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.”

But Trump stuck to his guns, stating he disagreed with the notion that there is no magic drug for the coronavirus disease.

“Maybe and maybe not,” he said. “Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see.”

“I think without seeing too much, I’m probably more of a fan of that,” he said, referring to the malaria drug. “And we all understand what the doctor said is 100% correct.”

Then the president added: “It’s a strong drug. So, we’ll see.”

Hotel chain blames ‘administrative error’ after staff sacked without warning

Cameron Bell via Getty Images
Coylumbridge Hotel on the outskirts of Aviemore in the Scottish highlands. highlands of Scotland. 

A hotel chain has blamed an “administrative error” after it sacked staff at one of its Scotland properties, leaving some without accommodation amid the pandemic. 

A letter to workers at the Coylumbridge Hotel in Aviemore – owned by Britannia Hotels, which runs 61 hotels and Pontins holiday parks – emerged on Thursday night, terminating employment and instructing affected staff to leave their accommodation immediately.

The firm was heavily criticised, including by Nicola Sturgeon who said she “unreservedly condemns” the decision.

In response, Britannia’s spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, the communication sent to these employees was an administrative error.

“All affected employees are being immediately contacted. We apologise for any upset caused,” she added, in comments reported by the Liverpool Echo.

The spokeswoman could not say if the staff would be returned to their former positions, or if sackings would take place at other Britannia properties.

One in five Americans in lockdown 

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Times Square seen nearly empty in New York City on Friday. 

Three major American states have locked down residents in the face of coronavirus.  

Officials in New York and Illinois announced they would largely restrict residents to their homes from this weekend, after California – America’s largest state – did so on Friday.

The three states have a combined population of more than 70m people.

With American hospitals already under pressure, officials are desperate to prevent – or at least limit – a repeat of what has happened in parts of China, Italy and Spain where the outbreak has overwhelmed medical services.

Authorities in New York said all workers in non-essential businesses will be required to stay at home as much as possible, and gatherings of any size will be banned. But residents are allowed out to buy food, medicine and to exercise.

The lock-downs in California and other states sent stock markets tumbling again. Wall Street had its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than 900 points and down 17% for the week.

Bondi Beach closed as thousands ignore social distancing rules  

PETER PARKS via Getty Images
Lifeguards were forced to ask people to leave the beach on Saturday.  

Australian officials closed Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach on Saturday after thousands of people flocked there in recent days, defying social distancing orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Health minister Greg Hunt said the crowds on the country’s most famous strip of sand were “unacceptable” as he reported the number of infections across Australia had risen sharply – exceeding 1,000 at the most recent count conducted by Australian media. 

Seven people have died in the country so far. 

New South Wales state police minister David Elliott announced Bondi’s closure, warning “this is going to become the new norm” if people did not comply with regulations that prohibit more than 500 people gathering at a non-essential event.

“This is not something we are doing because we are the fun police,” Elliott said in a televised news conference. “This is about saving lives.”

“We will be closing down the type of iconic activities that unfortunately we’ve come ... to love and adore about our lifestyle.”

Elliott said lifeguards who patrol the state’s many beaches will conduct head counts and, if there are more than 500 people at any one location, the beach will be closed and people ordered to move on.

Couple get engaged in supermarket after romantic trip cancelled 

A couple in Tonbridge, Kent, are engaged after a romantic proposal in front of the tills in an Iceland supermarket. 

The unnamed couple were supposed to have been flying to the Nordic destination, where the proposal should have taken place, but were unable to set off as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. 

A spokesperson for the supermarket shared a picture of the happy couple on Twitter, congratulating them on their engagement. 

“As their holiday was cancelled, he chose the next best thing. Enjoy your honeymoon on us,” the tweet added.