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Leading scientists advising the government on lockdown strategy have warned that the virus is spreading “too fast” to lift restrictions, days before strict rules start to ease.
According to the most recent data published by the Department of Health and Social Care, 38,161 people have now died in the UK after contracting coronavirus and more than 270,000 people have tested positive.
Here’s the latest.
Scientists say virus spreading ‘too fast’ to lift lockdown
Government advisers have warned that the easing of lockdown measures could cause a new spike in the spread of coronavirus.
Scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, both members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – which advises the government on the Covid-19 – said ministers were taking risks by following their current plans.
They expressed concern at allowing the gradual reopening of shops and schools and larger gatherings to meet in private while the number of new cases each day remains “relatively high”.
Farrar also said the newly-introduced NHS test-and-trace system needed to be “fully working” before measures were eased.
Meanwhile, a tranche of papers released by Sage revealed advice given to the government in April said it was “likely” the R-value – the average number of people that will contract coronavirus from an infected person – would increase if non-essential shops reopened.
The comments come as Britain settles into a weekend of high temperatures, with the police urging the public to follow current safeguards about social contact ahead of the lessening of restrictions, which will allow up to six people to meet outside if social distancing is observed from Monday.
In a Twitter post, Farrar said: “Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England. Agree with John & clear science advice.
“TTI (test, trace and isolate) has to be in place, fully working, capable dealing any surge immediately, locally responsive, rapid results & infection rates have to be lower. And trusted.”
A document on a Sage meeting from April 13, released on Friday, showed the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) that advises the government warned against reopening shops and leisure facilities.
The document said: “There is limited evidence on the effect of closing of non-essential retail, libraries, bars, restaurants, etc, but it is likely that R would return to above 1 and a subsequent exponential growth in cases.”
Downing Street warned the public that meet-ups remain prohibited until after the weekend.
Supermarket-style queues expected outside school gates as some pupils return to class
Headteachers have said they expect supermarket-style queues outside the school gates and divided playground areas as some pupils return to the classroom in the coming days.
The government has given the green light for reception, year one and year six pupils to return to school from Monday as the five key tests required for the easing of the lockdown have been met.
Schools preparing to welcome more children back have implemented a range of measures to help keep them safe, from new rules for parents at drop-off times to one-way systems in the corridors.
Meanwhile, a National Association of Head Teachers poll found nine out of 10 headteachers will open their schools from Monday, according to The Times, although three in four will not follow government guidance on how many pupils to bring back
Donald Trump pulls WHO funding and condemns China
Donald Trump has announced he will withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation (WHO), end Hong Kong’s special trade status and suspend visas of Chinese graduate students suspected of conducting research on behalf of their government.
Trump has expressed anger towards the WHO for weeks over what he has deemed an inadequate response to the initial outbreak of coronavirus in China’s Wuhan province late last year.
In a White House announcement on Friday he claimed Chinese officials had “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the body to mislead the public about an outbreak that has now killed more than 100,000 Americans.
The US is the largest source of financial support for the WHO, and its exit is expected to significantly weaken the organisation.
In April when the president first proposed withholding money from the WHO, Democrats said such a move would be illegal without approval from Congress and that they would challenge it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday called the move “an act of extraordinary senselessness”.
Trump also said his administration will now begin eliminating the “full range” of agreements that had given Hong Kong a relationship with the US that mainland China lacks, including exemptions from controls on certain exports, adding that the State Department will begin warning US citizens of the threat of surveillance and arrest when visiting the city.
“China has replaced its promised formula of one country, two systems, with one country, one system,” he said.
The president also added that the US will be suspending entry of Chinese graduate students who are suspected of taking part in an extensive government campaign to acquire trade knowledge and academic research for the country’s military and industrial development.
Meanwhile in China, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party claimed US moves to end some trading privileges for Hong Kong “grossly interfere” in China’s internal affairs and are “doomed to fail”.
Saturday’s editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper said: “This hegemonic act of attempting to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs will not frighten the Chinese people and is doomed to fail.”
Cricket West Indies approves proposed Test tour of England in July
Cricket West Indies has granted approval in principle for the proposed Test tour of England in July as the return of international cricket moves closer.
Plans have been drawn up to create “bio-secure” environments around each Test match, which are tentatively scheduled to start on July 8, 16 and 24 and are to be held behind closed doors at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford.
The Cricket West Indies board has given the green light to step up planning for the series after reviewing the latest medical information during an online meeting on Thursday.
“The board… gave approval in principle for the proposed upcoming West Indies Test tour of England,” a statement read.
“The decision comes only after CWI medical and cricket-related representatives and advisers have been involved in detailed discussions with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and its own medical and public health advisers.”
The Test series must still be given approval by the UK government.
A number of West Indies players emerged from lockdown this week and resumed training, and Cricket West Indies said it would now work with national governments in the Caribbean to secure permission for the safe movement of players and staff ahead of the Tour.
The board said it would use private charter planes and conduct medical screenings and tests for coronavirus to minimise risk.
The status of quarantine restrictions, along with any other governmental clearance, is subject to change at all times and is likely to be one of the final issues settled.
England stepped up their own preparations for the return of international cricket on Friday, with the ECB naming a bumper 55-man training group to prepare not only for the West Indies, but also a planned full Pakistan tour and limited-overs matches against Australia.
In addition to granting approval for the tour, the CWI board announced a number of financial measures in response to what it called the “debilitating economic challenges which have resulted from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
CWI will impose a temporary 50 per cent reduction in salaries and cricket funding across the region from the start of July.
India records record jump in cases a day before lockdown set to end
The Health Ministry put the total number of confirmed cases at 173,763 with 4,971 deaths. The infections include 82,369 people who have recovered.
More than 70% of the cases are concentrated in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, New Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan states.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an open letter marking the first year of his government’s second term, said India is on the path to victory in its battle against the virus. He said India will set “an example in economic revival” and asked the nation to show a “firm resolve”.
India started easing lockdown restrictions earlier this month, allowing the reopening of shops and manufacturing and the resumption of some train links and domestic flights.
But the government is expected to issue a new set of guidelines this weekend, possibly extending the lockdown in worst-hit areas.