UK coronavirus LIVE: Death toll 'passes 44,000' as Government 'hopeful' pubs will reopen in July

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  • May 19, 2020
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Out-of-work Brits are being urged to help pick fruit and crops this summer amid concerns over a shortage of workers.

Environment Secretary George Eustice today acknowledged that due to the coronavirus crisis only about a third of workers from countries including Romania and Bulgaria who would normally come to the UK were here already and only “small numbers” would continue to travel.

It comes as Office for National Statistics figures showed the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK had surged past 44,000, with more than 10,000 victims in care homes.

The weekly ONS update has added almost 10,000 extra Covid-19 fatalities to the Department of Health’s official count, which now stands at 35,341.

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2020-05-19T17:51:37.146Z

Pandemic ‘could close one in eight museums worldwide’

While museums are starting to reopen in some countries as governments ease coronavirus restrictions, experts are warning that one in eight worldwide could face permanent closure due to the pandemic.

Studies by Unesco and the International Council of Museums show 90 per cent of the planet’s museums, some 85,000 institutions, have had to shut at least temporarily.

“It is alarming data that we are giving,” Ernesto Ottone, assistant director general for culture at Unesco told the Associated Press.

He said the problem cuts across the board, affecting museums big and small, new and established, featuring art or science.

Museums that indicated they might well not reopen, he said, “have been closed for months and they have no revenues. And they don’t know how they’re going to get their revenues.”


2020-05-19T17:22:54.833Z

Labour’s annual party conference cancelled due to coronavirus

Labour’s annual party conference has been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis and will be replaced with online events, it has been announced.

Some 13,000 people were due to attend the conference in Liverpool this September, which would have been Sir Keir Starmer’s first as Labour leader.

A party spokeswoman said: 

Our priority is the safety of members, staff and visitors to our events and the need to protect the public’s health.

In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we have therefore decided to postpone this year’s annual and women’s conferences.


2020-05-19T17:20:10.116Z

Call for furloughed Brits to pick fruit

The British government has called for people who have lost work during the coronavirus crisis to “play their part” by helping pick fruit and vegetables this year.

Environment secretary George Eustice said it was “clear” that more British people would need to help with the harvest, as most of the people from eastern Europe who usually travel to the UK in summer to pick crops are stuck in their own countries due to the coronavirus.

Read more below:


2020-05-19T17:18:13.383Z

Virus death in Ireland rises but less than 100 new cases

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland has risen to 1,561 after a further 16 deaths were announced by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

There were another 51 confirmed cases of Covid-19, bringing the total since the outbreak began in Ireland to 24,251.

It is the fourth day in a row the daily tally of new cases is below 100.


2020-05-19T16:59:29.800Z

Councils should spend from their emergency reserves to get through crisis – Eustice suggests

Councils should spend from their reserves earmarked for emergencies, the Environment Secretary has suggested, as a way of getting through the current crisis.

Asked about councils struggling financially during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Eustice said:

We recognise there are new burdens on local authorities as a result of this and we have put in place some additional funding to recognise that.

I greatly appreciate that local authorities will always say they need further funding and in situations like this they will have funds set aside for events of this sort.

We think the approach we have taken, with that £3.2 billion injection, is the appropriate intervention from Government to support them in the really important work they are doing.


2020-05-19T16:57:47.770Z

Prof McLean acknowledges claim over lack of transparency with scientific advice as ‘big issue’ for future inquiry

Deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean acknowledged that claims of a lack of transparency over the advice given to ministers would be a “big issue” in a future inquiry into the handling of the crisis.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said further transparency is needed over the provision of scientific advice, providing clear distinction between scientific advice and policy decisions.

Dame Angela told the Downing Street briefing: “We have been very focused on trying to give really high quality advice, completely rooted in evidence.”

She said she “hadn’t spent much time worrying about how secretive or not secretive it is”.

“I can see that is going to be a big issue when we have a big look back.

“I would be more inclined to address that then.”


2020-05-19T16:53:12.143Z

Mr Eustice admitted some people were needing to be tested for coronavirus twice to deliver a correct result.

The confirmation came following a media question, citing that some people in Portsmouth had waited two weeks after being tested only to be told the result was inconclusive.

He said: “We do recognise that there have been a few reports of people not getting the results of their test as quickly as they would expect.

“It is also the case that there are instances where a test result comes back inconclusive and sometimes second tests have to take place.”

Dame Angela added that the UK’s testing system was “getting better”.

She added that other countries had proven that it “clearly is possible to set up testing systems with a 48-hour turnaround”.


2020-05-19T16:52:24.270Z

Location is a huge focus of ours at the moment – McLean

Asked whether lockdown could be lifted entirely in remote island or isolated communities which do not have any recorded cases of Covid-19, Professor Dame Angela McLean said: “I can tell you for sure location is a huge focus of ours at the moment.

“Islands are a very special case which is, of course, particularly interesting but there are also other parts of the country that have… you know, the spread of the infection across the country is really quite diverse, quite heterogeneous and that does, of course, raise interesting questions, particularly as we get incidents right, right down about what should we do about that.”


2020-05-19T16:51:55.700Z

Dame Angela said that the testing system is “getting better” when asked if we have a rapid and reliable system. 


2020-05-19T16:51:29.346Z

The UK prioritised the testing of hospital patients earlier in the Covid-19 outbreak when testing capacity was limited.

Asked why community testing ended on March 12 when the World Health Organisation had encouraged as much testing as possible, Professor Dame Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific adviser, said:

The advice that we gave certainly took account of what testing was available.

It was the best thing to do with the tests that we had. We could not have people in hospital with Covid symptoms not knowing whether or not they had Covid.

Asked then if the advice given was based on the capacity at the time, Dame Angela said: “I think that’s what I just said, yes.”

Environment Secretary George Eustice added: “At the beginning of this where there an issue of capacity on tests then, of course, we needed to prioritise where those tests were most needed and that was in our NHS.”


2020-05-19T16:50:27.840Z

Eustice rejects assertion that Government has made mistakes over care homes

Cabinet minister George Eustice rejected the assertion that the Government had made mistakes over its handling of care homes during the crisis but acknowledged some residents with asymptomatic coronavirus may have been discharged from hospital.

Around 15,000 elderly residents have died with the virus in England and Wales.

But Mr Eustice told the Downing Street press conference:

We don’t accept the caricature that we took an approach that was wrong.

Very early on in this epidemic we had protocols in place for care homes, there was guidance as to how they should approach things.

As the situation developed then more stringent policies were introduced by way of policy around discharge and we got to the point where everybody was tested before discharge.

But in those early weeks there will have been some instances where people may have been discharged who were asymptomatic, there may have been some – a small number of instances – where they may have been showing symptoms but would have been isolating.

That was the guidance at the time that was in place but we have strengthened that very much ever since then, we now have testing and a rigorous discharge policy that’s in place and that is getting stronger all the time.


2020-05-19T16:48:50.126Z

Labour’s annual party conference has been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis and will be replaced with online events.

A Labour Party spokeswoman said: “Our priority is the safety of members, staff and visitors to our events and the need to protect the public’s health.

“In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we have therefore decided to postpone this year’s annual and women’s conferences.”

The conference was due to be held in Liverpool from September 19 to 23.


2020-05-19T16:48:37.263Z

Mr Eustice said schools returning formed a part of the country attempting to live with coronavirus.

He said:

It is absolutely the case that all of us are going to have to live alongside this virus for some time to come and we do need to try to live our lives and identify ways of returning to work as far as possible and put into place those social distancing measures.

That’s what’s happened from day one in supermarkets, as people will have seen.

That is what has happened from day one in the NHS, which has obviously been dealing with people affected by the virus, and it is the case, as other walks of life get back to something close to normality, we do have to identify ways of doing that while observing the social distancing.


2020-05-19T16:44:46.626Z

Eustice says that it was right to prioritise testing for NHS.

“We had to prioritise where our tests were needed, which was rightly the NHS,” he said. 


2020-05-19T16:43:08.323Z

Dame Angela defends decision to scale back community testing on March 12.

She said:

The advice that we gave certainly took account of what testing was available.

It was what was the best thing to do with the tests we had.

We could not have people in hospital with Covid symptoms not knowing whether or not they had Covid.


2020-05-19T16:40:32.353Z

Eustice denies political motivation behind reopening schools

Mr Eustice denied that the Government has a political motivation for calling for some school years to return next month and said ministers were following the science and the lead of other European neighbours.

He said:

We do believe it is important that initially we get the year ones and Year sixs back into a school environment to help prepare them for the move up to secondary school, in the case of the latter, and to also help settle in the younger children in the former.

We do believe that other countries, like Denmark, have demonstrated how it is possible in fact to bring schools back into opening, albeit in a socially distanced way, albeit with fewer pupils initially and staggering the times that year groups arrive and so on.

Other countries have demonstrated ways that this can be done. I think it is important we learn from those other countries and that’s exactly what we are trying to do.

Following a question from the media, the Cabinet minister said he did “not accept” that the Government had “put the science to one side” in order to call for schools to return from June 1.


2020-05-19T16:36:57.773Z

The Environment Secretary says “we do not accept the caricature that we got things wrong”.


2020-05-19T16:35:29.896Z

Eustice dodges question on whether he regrets Government’s decision to stop community tracing in March

Asked if he regretted that the Government stopped tracing in the community in March, Mr Eustice said that testing and tracing capacity is being “ramped up”.

He said:

The point that I would make on the testing and tracing is we’ve been expanding, ramping up that testing capacity over the last couple of months.

We got it to 100,000 capacity by the end of April, we’re continuing to build that. This week, Matt Hancock has made clear that anybody over the age of five with symptoms can get a test.

I think it’s the case that early on in this epidemic, clearly there was a priority to make sure that people showing symptoms who worked in the NHS because of their close proximity with patients had those tests so there was priority given to those.

But we are now in the position where we’re able to offer testing to anybody over the age of five with symptoms and that’s going to be quite crucial to developing our track and trace capabilities in the months ahead.


2020-05-19T16:33:43.843Z

UK to try emulate South Korea’s successful contact tracing system

Professor Dame Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific adviser, said the UK will try to emulate South Korea’s successful contact tracing system.

Kuljit, a member of the public from Solihull in the West Midlands, asked what lessons the UK has learnt from overseas.

Dame Angela said:

It’s a very good point that we need to look to our near neighbours and also countries further away to learn what works and how long it takes to see if something is working or not working.

The two I would draw particular lessons from would be South Korea, where I feel they’ve made inspiring use of all kinds of different contact tracing in order to control infection to an extent that they are now down to a handful of new cases every day, and when they say new cases they mean people they have found in the community because of their contact tracing efforts.

I think that is an experience that we are aiming to emulate.

The other country I would look to is Germany, where the importance of testing has always been so clear and that is a place from where we have learned that we need to grow our testing facility, and have grown our testing facility.


2020-05-19T16:23:42.793Z

The UK has seen a “sustained decline across all four nations”

Professor Dame Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific adviser, said there was a “sustained decline across all four of our nations” in the numbers of Covid-19 hospital patients requiring mechanical ventilation – a marker of those who have been worst affected after contracting the virus.

Talking viewers through the presentation slides at the daily Downing Street briefing, Dame Angela also said there was a continued “steady decline” in the number of coronavirus-associated deaths demonstrated in the published data.