Health and Social Care Minister Helen Whately was drawn into a fiery row with Question Time host Fiona Bruce over the ‘loopholes’ in the Government’s new track and trace system.
The low-tech test, track and trace system launched on Thursday and could see healthy Brits forced to self-isolate for two weeks at home if they have been in contact with a confirmed case.
Call handlers will interview those in England who have tested positive and ask for details of anyone they have recently been near.
However, the app is not yet ready and a number of issues surround the scheme including what people will do about work and child care.
This sparked a heated exchange during which Ms Whately began tripping over her words as Ms Bruce said: “Follow the guidance, unless you can’t?” in relation to looking after a child if you have to suddenly self-isolate.
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The panelists and the 12 virtual audience members from Glasgow – taking part via video link – had been debating the lack of clarity in the latest proposals and whether Brits will continue to be so compliant in light of the Dominic Cummings scandal.
The test and track system is reliant on people being honest about who they have been in contact with, for example – which some on the show felt the Government can no longer necessarily expect.
While audience member Ginette, a cleaning firm owner, said the new system “could close me down every single week” because her self-employed staff may have to isolate repeatedly or look after children during working hours.
“Who’s going to pick up the pieces?” she added, with it also being pointed out the Government’s furlough support for the self employed runs out in a matter of days.
Ms Whatley said: “What we’ve seen so far is people consciously following the guidance and in fact the guidance has included recognising some situations will be more difficult, for instance, if you are looking after someone who is particularly vulnerable or a childcare situation.”
Ms Bruce said: “Just to be clear, if you have a childcare situation then, Helen, since you mentioned it – if you have a problem with childcare and you have to be identified as one of the people who has to stay at home for two weeks, you may not necessarily have to stay home?”
The minister responded: “You clearly have to ensure your child is safe as any parent should do so…”
But Ms Bruce cut in: “So if you have to leave home to do that, even if you have been told to self isolate, you can do that?”
Ms Whatley said: “If you are contacted because you are a contact of somebody who’s got symptoms and told to isolate at home, you should be able to do so with your child. Everyone will have their scenarios.”
Ms Bruce said: “But just to be clear, because it’s important, because we’re all going to have to adjust to this now, this new system – if you are told to self-isolate at home for two weeks either because you have symptoms or you’ve been in close contact with someone who has symptoms but you have problems with that – you find that difficult because of child care issues – you can behave otherwise?”
Ms Whately responded: “You should follow the guidance – I don’t think anyone is suggesting you should have a child in an unsafe situation…”
“So follow the guidance, unless you can’t?” Ms Bruce cut in.
The minister, who had began tripping over her words, said: “No, that’s not what I’m saying, actually, at all.
“You should absolutely follow the guidance and that’s been the case all the way through.”
“But you’re saying unless…” the host began to say.
But Ms Whately composed herself to add: “The guidance has always said that safety would be a factor, and you should clearly be a responsible parent.
“But I think what’s really important is that people follow the guidance.
“And through doing that, that’s how we manage to keep the infection rate under control and so life can get back to normal or closer to normal – which would be so much better for everybody.”
As part of the new scheme, call handlers will interview those in England who have tested positive and ask for details of anyone they have recently been near.
Recent contacts who do not have symptoms will be called and asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days.
Close contact is defined as being closer than 2metres to someone with symptoms for more than 15 minutes.
Data will be analysed to decide whether workplaces, schools, housing estates or blocks of flats need to be locked down to quell local outbreaks.
As the NHS test and trace app is not ready yet, all tracing will be performed manually.
During Thursday’s Question Time, Ms Bruce also brought up the apparent absurdity in the guidelines surrounding No10 allowing Brits to have BBQs with members of a different household.
Those in attendance must remain two metres apart and outside – leading the host to poke fun at the idea only people with huge gardens could comply – while those in England can have six attendees but Scots can have eight.
Medical workers in Indonesia are complaining of persistent delays to an increase in coronavirus testing promised by their president, Joko Widodo, Reuters reports.
The south east Asian nation, the world’s fourth most populous, has the highest coronavirus death toll in east Asia outside China, and one of the lowest global testing rates.
Indonesia reported 568 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, taking the total to 16,006, with 1,043 deaths. It has so far conducted around 50 tests per 100,000 people, compared with 2,500 per 100,000 in neighbouring Singapore.
Widodo promised in April that 10,000 tests would be performed each day, but the goal is yet to be reached, with testing rates on average hovering at less than half that figure. Health experts have urged Jakarta to rapidly increase its testing rate to determine the true spread of the virus across the Indonesian archipelago, saying that without sufficient data the full extent of the outbreak will remain unknown.
“We can’t even get the results after two weeks,” Meneldi Rasmin, a consulting doctor at Persahabatan Hospital in Jakarta, told Reuters.
“So we cannot determine whether it’s COVID-19 or not. We can only judge them (the patients) from clinical symptoms,” he said, attributing the delay to limited equipment capacity.
In between his rounds at Persahabatan Hospital where medical staff move about in white protective gear, Rasmin called for testing capacities to be scaled up not only in the capital, but across the sprawling country.
“Early detection by rapid testing should take place in every small district. Local clinics should take control, instead of (centralized) rapid testing,” he said. “It should be organized at the community level, working together with the district authority.”
The number of coronavirus deaths has risen by 917 to 9,875 across the UK in 24 hours, as NHS medics beg the public to stay home and save lives.
The youngest victim was an 11-year-old child, Public Health England said.
There were 823 deaths in England and 47 in Scotland.
NHS England said the patients who died were aged between 11 and 102 years old.
They said 33 of the 823 patients, aged between 29 and 94 years old, had no known underlying health condition.
The tragic figure rose from yesterday’s UK-wide figure of 8,958.
Earlier today it was announced that nineteen NHS workers have died during the coronavirus outbreak.
Brits were urged to resist the temptation to go out as temperatures soared in order to prevent the killer bug spreading still further.
Medics have voiced their frustration as people defy calls to stay home.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has today come under fire after suggesting NHS staff are “overusing” protective equipment, leading to shortages.
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Unions have blasted Mr Hancock, while Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has labeled the claim “insulting”.
Britons yearning for a return to normal life may have to wait until a vaccine is ready as government advisers have said social distancing measures may need to stay in place “indefinitely” to prevent new waves of infections.
British scientists are hopeful that a vaccine could be ready as soon as September, with Oxford University Professor Sarah Gilbert saying she is “80% confident” a jab developed by her team will be proved effective by the autumn.
NHS staff on the frontline of the fight against Covid-19 still don’t have the personal protective gear they need when treating infected patients as exclusive pictures obtained by the Mirror show desperate medics cutting up hospital curtains to make gowns and using bits of plastic as makeshift masks due to kit shortages.
France has suggested extending a two-week lockdown to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk, AFP reports.
President Emmanuel Macron has ordered French residents to stay at home except for essential excursions such as going to the doctor, walking the dog, or going for a solitary run, and banned any gatherings.
For a two-week period that began Tuesday, people can go to work only if their employer cannot make tele-commuting possible.
But news reports have shown groups of friends and families strolling in parks despite the clampdown, prompting calls from some officials for even stricter limits.
Many have been observed ignoring the one-metre (three feet) safe inter-personal distance in queues at the essential businesses that were allowed to stay open.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said people ignoring the measures were “idiots”.
“There are people who underestimate the risk… There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots,” he told Europe 1 radio.
Macron on Thursday urged companies and workers to continue their activities “in compliance with the health safety rules”.
Genevieve Chene, who heads France’s public health agency, said between two and four weeks are needed for the outbreak to be adequately contained.
“Within two to three weeks we should be able to observe a slightly different dynamic” to the outbreak’s momentum, she told Franceinfo radio, and “a significant braking” within two to four weeks.
“It is likely that it is indeed necessary to extend (the containment measures) in order for the braking to be sufficient,” Chene said.
Meanwhile, the French government has started requisitioning hotel rooms for homeless people to occupy during the confinement period, Housing Minister Julien Denormandie announced.
More than 170 rooms will be made available in Paris by the end of the week, and the government has identified 80 sites elsewhere across the country to accomodate the country’s estimated 250,000 homeless people.
Cabinet received an update from the health secretary and the prime minister on the coronavirus outbreak. The PM wished Nadine Dorries a speedy recovery, noting that she was following official advice to self-isolate.
The chancellor set out the measures being taken to manage the impact of coronavirus, laying out details of his economic action plan that will be announced at budget.
He outlined how this plan – combined with the measures announced by the governor of the Bank of England this morning – will make the UK one of the best placed economies in the world to manage the potential impact of the virus. The chancellor added the budget will ensure businesses, the public and those in public services working on the front line against the virus get the support they need.
He said despite the impacts of the outbreak being uncertain, we have the economic tools to overcome the disruption caused by the virus and move the country forwards.
The chancellor also said that despite coronavirus being “front and centre in our minds”, the budget will implement the manifesto on which the government had been elected. He said it was vital that people know this is a budget that delivers on the promises made to the British people – investing in public services and cutting taxes for millions of hardworking people – and that there could be no delay in laying the foundations for a decade of growth where opportunity was spread equally across the UK.
The PM said that this budget starts to tackle head on the challenges facing our economy and country – addressing productivity and regional imbalances – and showing that the government is responding to the public’s desire for change. It will set the path for further action through the year.
Reporting for journalism is not an excuse for breaking laws, lawyers acting for the US government have said on the first day of a legal battle over whether the Wikileaks founder can be extradited from the UK.
The US case was opened on Monday at Woolwich crown court in south-east London by James Lewis QC, who said that by disseminating material in an unredacted form he knowingly put human rights activists, dissidents, journalists and their families at risk of serious harm in states operated by oppressive regimes.
“The defence seek to suggest that the risk to these individuals who, by having the individuals revealed as informants, is somehow overstated. I would remind the court that these were individuals who were passing on information on regimes such as Iran and organisations such as al-Qaida.”
Assange, 48, is wanted in the US to face 18 charges of attempted hacking and breaches of the Espionage Act. They relate to the publication a decade ago of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and files covering areas including US activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. He could face a 175-year prison sentence if found guilty
The Australian is accused of working with the former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to leak classified documents.
Assange’s case has drawn widespread support , including from the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, who said last week that he should not be extradited because of the potential impact on press freedom and concerns about “the real risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment”.
His father, John Shipton, has said Assange would face what was effectively a “death sentence” if sent to the US.
The first week of the extradition trial is expected to focus on legal argument before the case is adjourned until 18 May.
Assange’s lawyers will open the defence case on Tuesday, which is expected to expand on claims that emerged last week that Donald Trump had offered Assange a pardon if he would say Russia was not involved in Wikileaks’ publication of US Democratic party emails that had an impact on the Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The defence will outline a number of “abuse of power” arguments and is expected to argue that Assange’s extradition should not take place on the the basis of a clause in the 2003 UK-US extradition treaty, which prohibits extraditions for political offences.
Hearings at the end of this week will focus on whether a number of witnesses can be allowed to give evidence anonymously.
Assange has been held on remand in Belmarsh prison since last September after serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching bail conditions. Assange sought refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden where he was accused of sexual offences.
However, Swedish prosecutors said last November they were discontinuing an investigation into a rape allegation, explaining that although the complainant’s evidence was deemed credible and reliable, witnesses’ memories had faded over the decade since the allegations were first made. Assange has always denied the allegations.
He was removed from the embassy last April and was arrested for failing to surrender to the court.
A high-profile housing scheme offering first-time buyers discounted homes will be unaffordable to the vast majority of workers on average or low incomes, it has emerged.
The First Homes scheme has been described by ministers as “genuinely life-changing for people all over the country”. However, new analysis suggests it will be out of the reach of average earners in 96% of England. The fresh concerns follow claims that the scheme will exacerbate the housing crisis by cutting the amount of scarce, more affordable social housing.
The scheme, which would see successful applicants given 30% off new-build homes, is aimed at military veterans and key workers such as nurses, police officers and firefighters, who will be given priority access to the properties.
But research by the charity Shelter found that, in almost all parts of England, someone on an average salary or lower could not afford to buy one of these new-build homes. It also shows that almost two-thirds (63%) of private renters in England have no savings at all for a deposit. New-build properties in England cost £314,000 on average. A 30% discount would offer a saving of £94,000, but would still require a significant deposit.
Writing for the Observer online, Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, warned the scheme was “a comfort blanket only, providing nothing for the people at the sharp end of the national emergency our housing crisis has become.
“At a time when we desperately need properly affordable housing, policymakers are looking to give a lucky few a 30% discount on what are still going to be incredibly expensive homes. And let’s be clear about who the lucky few are. Not those facing a monthly struggle to afford their rent.
She adds: “For those earning above the average, or with a helpful inheritance – people already on the cusp of home ownership in other words – this may get them over the line. There is nothing wrong with that, but it becomes a massive problem if it comes at the expense of social homes.”
The outline of the scheme was first announced during the election campaign. The Conservatives pledged that the discount would apply to about 19,000 homes by the mid-2020s. About 240,000 new homes are currently being built each year. However, a recent consultation on the programme did not contain any targets for the scheme.
Charities and unions have already raised concerns that it will end up reducing the amount of more affordable types of housing. The programme will be paid for through “Section 106” agreements, which require developers to build certain types of affordable housing as part of their building plans. Building more new-build homes for sale through this method could cut the amount of affordable homes for rent.
The supply of social housing, which is more secure than private rented accommodation and has rents on average 50% of the market rate linked to local wages, is already very low. Just 6,287 were delivered last year, with Section 106 agreements accounting for 57% of them. More than 1.15 million households are currently waiting for a social home in England.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “First Homes will give tens of thousands of people the opportunity to buy a home in their local area with a saving of up to £100,000, turning the dial on affordability. The government has invested £9bn in affordable housing through our Affordable Homes Programme, which we are committed to renewing, and since 2010 has delivered over 464,000 new affordable homes.”
Coronavirus has been declared notifiable disease in Queensland, Australia
We’re just hearing a news conference in Queensland that as of Thursday, coronavirus has been declared notifiable disease.
“That means on clinical suspicion, any doctor or hospital that sees a patient that they think might have this novel coronavirus is obliged to let me know. They let my staff know,” says Queensland’s chief medical officer, Dr Jeanette Young.
As I wrote in the blog a short time ago, Queensland authorities have been trying to track down passengers on a plane that flew from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on 27 January, as there was a tourist from Wuhan onboard who was later diagnoses with coronavirus. He was travelling with a party of eight other people.
“We are contact tracing of course the people immediately adjacent to these people on the plane, on that Tiger flight and then we’re giving information to everyone else who was on the plane and the Tiger people have been extremely supportive and cooperative, so that we could do that, plus we need to go through in detail everyone who’s been at the hotel these people were staying at,” Young said.
I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who sent in information, it’s been extremely helpful.
Here’s a summary of some key updates before I hand over to the Australia team, who’ll continue the coverage from Sydney:
The virus has spread to at least 9,320 people around the world, surpassing that of the SARS epidemic over a year long period (2002-2003).
212 people have died, all in China.
There are 98 confirmed cases of infection outside mainland China in at least 18 countries.
The United States reported its first case of person-to-person transmission, joining Germany, Vietnam and Japan in recording similar incidents.
BA has suspended all flights to and from mainstream China until the end of February. Other countries have also implemented a flight ban, most recently Italy.
Almost 200 US citizens have been evacuated and have arrived at a military base in California. They will be isolated for a minimum of 72 hours. The US is said to be planning another airlift in the coming days.
France have evacuated 200 citizens who are currently flying back to southern France where there’ll be quarantined for 14 days. The European Commission has said it is planning a flight to evacuate more European nationals.
The Chinese Football Association has postponed its domestic games in 2020, and the World Athletics Indoors Championships, due to take place in the Chinese city of Nanjing in March, have been moved to 2021.
Google and IKEA became the latest franchises to shut their Chinese shops and offices.
In Australia, confirmed cases of the virus have climbed to 9, but two people have been released and are “post-viral” according to the country’s health minister, Greg Hunt.
Authorities have been tracking down passengers that were on a plane with a Chinese tourist who flew from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on 27 January.
The 44-year-old man, from Wuhan, was diagnosed with coronavirus and was being treated in isolation in hospital on the Gold Coast.
The Guardian understands that at least one passenger who was on that plane to the Gold Coast has been asked to stay home from work. The passenger is not believed to be at high risk but as a precaution has been asked to remain at home for the time being.