UK coronavirus LIVE: 'Support bubble' system to begin in England as R rate flickers above one in parts of country

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  • June 12, 2020
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People living alone in England can today form “support bubbles” with other households , ending weeks of isolation under coronavirus lockdown.

The latest easing of the social-distancing rules paves the way for some grandparents to visit and hug their grandchildren again, while couples not living together will again be able to stay overnight at each others’ homes.

The move comes ahead of a further easing of restrictions in England, with the re-opening of non-essential shops on Monday . Face masks will also be compulsory while on public transport.

Meanwhile, a row has broken out after British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair launched legal action against the Government’s “flawed” 14-day quarantine policy for travellers to the UK. Globally, Brazil has overtaken the UK as the country with the second highest Covid-19 death toll.

Follow our live updates below…

Live Updates


‘Support bubbles’ introduced today

From today, single adult households in England will be able to form a “support bubble” with another household.

Here’s a reminder of what that means:

Who is covered by the new arrangements?

Adults living alone or single parents living with children under the age of 18.

What will they be able to do that they could not before?

They can form a bubble with one other household which means they will effectively be treated as a single household for the purpose of the lockdown rules.

That means they can visit each other indoors in their homes – staying overnight if they wish – and they will not have to observe the two-metre social-distancing rule.

Who might benefit?

Elderly people living alone could form a bubble with the household of an adult son or daughter enabling them to visit and even hug their grandchildren for the first time since lockdown.

Single parents could pair up with their own parents allowing them to share childcare duties and reuniting grandparents and grandchildren.

Couples who do not live together will be able to visit and to stay with each other.

If one half of a couple shares a flat or house with one or more other people, they can see their partner as long they live alone – if their partner also shares a home they cannot see each other.

And if several people share a flat or house and all have partners who live alone, only one will be able to see their partner, which could lead to some interesting conversations. This will affect large numbers of young people living in towns and cities.

What about households where both grandparents are still living – can they now visit their children and grandchildren?

At this stage only if their son or daughter is the only adult in the other household in the bubble. And if the grandparents have two or more children who live alone, they will have to choose between them.

Downing Street has acknowledged not everyone will benefit from the change although officials have hinted a further loosening of the rules if the coronavirus outbreak continues to decline.

Can households form more than one bubble?

No. The arrangement must be exclusive with no switching of bubble partners.

Will people have to formally register these bubble arrangements?

No, it will be taken on trust. No 10 says the public has shown “great responsibility” in following the social distancing rules so far.

Is there any limit on the distance between households in a bubble?

Again no, although officials are suggesting people should try to “stay local” where possible.

What about vulnerable people who are shielding due to their age or health problems?

At the moment, officials say it is too soon for them to be able to join support bubbles.

What about parents who are separated but who currently share childcare with the children moving between the two households?

That will continue. If the parents are the only adult in the household they can form a bubble with another household – meaning the children could potentially be in two bubbles, one for each parent.

What happens if someone in a bubble develops coronavirus symptoms?

All members of both households in the bubble must self-isolate for 14 days.

Does this apply only to England?

A scheme in Northern Ireland has also been brought in from Saturday. This is for a person who lives alone, and can visit someone else’s private dwelling, including staying one or more nights. If they have a child or children living with them they do not qualify. This will be be reviewed on Monday.


Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

Stay with us and we bring you the latest news from both in the UK and around the world.


For anyone planning to join London protests this weekend:

Police have imposed strict “conditions” ahead of planned protests in London this weekend, as officers fear clashes could take place between opposing groups.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) and far-right marches are expected on Saturday and Sunday, with the Democratic Football Lads Alliance calling on supporters to travel to the capital to protect monuments after they were vandalised during previous demonstrations.

Scotland Yard announced on Friday that measures, including a 5pm cut-off time for events, will be enforced to avoid violent scenes such as those seen last weekend.

Meanwhile, the force urged protesters to reconsider attending entirely, stressing: “We remain in a health pandemic and people are asked not to gather in large groups.”

Read more…


Ukraine President’s wife tests positive for coronavirus

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was forced to cancel face-to-face meetings after his wife, Olena Zelenska tested positive for coronavirus

The President’s press service said in a statement: “Face-to-face meetings… are excluded in the coming days. Participation in mass events is also excluded, working trips outside the capital of Ukraine are cancelled.”

Mrs Zelenska said on Facebook: “Today I received a positive test for coronavirus. Unexpected news. Especially considering that I and my family continue to follow all the rules – masks, gloves, a minimum of contacts.”


Chile’s military track down those breaking the lockdown curfew

Army members arrive in an area where locals placed a barricade in a neighborhood on the outskirts during a nightly curfew (REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado)

Soldiers and police are working together to ensure citizens follow the coronavirus lockdown rules.

Captain Nicolas Zamora told the Reuters news agency he and his men are mindful of the growing poverty and hunger also caused by the pandemic, and the risk it could exacerbate simmering tensions that remain from the October 2019 social protests.

He said:

You can tell the difference between the ones who just don’t care and the ones who are going out because they really need to.

We take it on a case-by-case basis.”


US CDC urges Americans to stick to social distancing measures or risk coronavirus cases spike

Officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged Americans on Friday to continue following social distancing measures.

Experts have recently raised concerns that the reopening of the US economy could lead to a second wave of Covid-19.

“If cases begin to go up again, particularly if they go up dramatically, it is important to recognize that more mitigation efforts such as what were implemented back in March may be needed again,” said Jay Butler, the deputy director of infectious diseases at the CDC, who spoke to reporters along with CDC Director Robert Redfield.


South America is now the hardest-hit continent by the coronavirus pandemic, says WHO

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) top emergency expert Mike Ryan said Covid-19 is “highly active” in Central and South America.

Mexico meanwhile has nearly 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 15,000 deaths, the WHO said.

Brazil is the second worst hit country in the world, with more than 800,000 cases and 41,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

“We are very much in the upswing of this pandemic, particularly in the global South,” Ryan said. “Some countries are having trouble exiting of the so-called lockdowns as they are seeing an increase in cases.”


WHO issues guidance for breastfeeding mothers and those providing newborn care during pandemic

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is concerned about the impact of the pandemic on women, children and adolescent’s access to healthcare

It also issued new guidance after evidence suggested breastfeeding mothers are not passing on Covid-19 to their infants.

“We know that children are at relatively low risk of COVID-19, but are at high risk of numerous other diseases and conditions that breastfeeding prevents,” Tedros told a news conference.

“Based on the available evidence, WHO’s advice is that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of COVID-19,” he said.


France’s coronavirus death toll is under 30 for third day in a row

The death toll in France rose by 28 on Friday to bring the country’s total number of fatalities to 29,374.

On Thursday and Wednesday the toll stood at 27 and 23, after averaging over 50 in the previous seven days and 91 in the 33 days since the end of lockdown on May 11, Reuters reports.

The health ministry also said the number of people in hospital dropped by 341 to 11,124 and the number of people in intensive care units fell by 24 to 879.


Grant Shapps at Friday’s Downing Street press briefing (PA)

Air bridges which could allow Britons to holiday abroad this summer is something the Government is “actively working on,” the Transport Secretary has confirmed.

Grant Shapps said officials are talking to airlines about the possibility of opening up the so-called “travel corridors”.

People flying into the country – tourists and those living in the UK – currently have to self-isolate for 14 days as part of the Government’s strategy to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking at today’s Downing Street briefing, Mr Shapps said the quarantine measures were put in place to stop increasing the Covid-19 R-rate in the UK, but added: “Then we would look at if we could open up air bridges, which might be better described as travel corridors, and that’s something that we’re actively working on.

“The first review of this takes place on June 29.

“We are talking to airlines and talking to airports and will talk to other countries about it, but the basic principle must be that we don’t end up in a second wave situation.”

The minister explained: “We will only open up air bridges when it is safe to do so and there will be more on that on the review period on June 29.”

Addressing the blanket nature of the current restrictions, Mr Shapps added: “What we don’t want to do is re-import it and the idea of the quarantine is the right thing to do and it has broad public support.”

His comments come on the same day British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair announced they have launched legal action against the Government’s “flawed” 14-day quarantine policy, claiming it will “have a devastating effect on British tourism and the wider economy, and destroy thousands of jobs”.


Here’s more on what we learnt at today’s Downing Street press briefing: 

England’s top medical director has said the NHS is working hard to prepare for a possible second wave of coronavirus in the winter.

Downing Street said on Thursday that the temporary Nightingale hospitals will remain on standby “for the months ahead” due to fears of a renewed coronavirus outbreak later this year.

In total seven temporary hospitals were set up in response to the Covid-19 crisis amid fears there would be a shortage of critical care beds.

When asked about the use of the Nightingale hospitals going forward, Professor Stephen Powis spoke of the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus.


Government scientific advisers previously warned that social bubbles should not be introduced alongside the easing of other restrictions, it has emerged.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said last month that bubbles could create “significant unwanted effects” and should not be introduced in the short term.

In a report of its meeting on May 14, published on Friday, Sage advised “strong caution” to introducing social bubbling and said it could not be seen as a “universal good”.

The report was published a day before adults living alone or single parents in England will be allowed to mix with one other household.

The Sage report said that while larger households social bubbling together posed a “significant potential risk”, bubbling may be “appropriate in limited circumstances”.

It added: “Sage advised that social bubbles have the potential to create significant unwanted effects and advised against their introduction in the short term, when other distancing measures have only just been lifted or in conjunction with release of other measures.

“Sage advised strong caution concerning the introduction of social bubbling – particularly in the short term, when other distancing measures have only just been lifted or in conjunction with release of other measures.

“Sage has advised previously against making too many changes at once.

“Sage concluded that bubbling may be appropriate in limited circumstances.”

From tomorrow, “support bubbles” will allow the two households to interact as though they were one household, spending time together indoors, not having to follow the two-metre rule and would be allowed to stay overnight.

Mr Johnson said: “We are making this change to support those who are particularly lonely as a result of lockdown measures.

“It is a targeted intervention to limit the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions.

“It is emphatically not designed for people who don’t qualify to start meeting inside other people’s homes because that remains against the law.”

Further reports to Sage, also published on Friday, warned that breaching support bubbles could lead to a “significant risk of increasing transmission”.

Two reports by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) dated May 6 and May 13 said that clear messaging was needed to make sure people understood what was allowed.

It added: “In order to be effective, no person can be a member of more than one bubble, all individuals in one household must belong to the same bubble, and the bubble must contain the same individuals for the foreseeable future.

“Even small breaches of bubbles are likely to prevent their effect on slowing transmission and come with a significant risk of increasing transmission.”

A report by the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), dated May 14, it said bubbling should only be phased in starting on a small scale once epidemiological conditions were right.

It added: “‘Bubbles’ or the creation of household connections should be approached with a high degree of caution and only phased in very gradually starting with the smallest size of connections.”


Scientists have revealed exciting developments in the search for the ultimate virus test:

A new test that can diagnose coronavirus in just half an hour by analysing urine, blood or saliva samples has been identified by scientists.

The method, known as reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP), involves looking for genetic material, or RNA, of the Covid-19 virus in test samples.

RT-LAMP is a well-known technique that has been previously used to detect diseases including Zika and Ebola.

Read more…


World update: Deeply concerning news from Nigeria here

A protester outside the Nigerian Police Headquarters in Abuja during a demonstration to raise awareness about sexual violence (Getty Images)

Nigeria has declared a state of emergency after officials said rapes have tripled during the country’s lockdown.

The governors of all 36 states committed to imposing tougher measures against sex offenders following several days of nationwide protests by women’s rights activists and others with the social media hashtag #WeAreTired.

“I know we have always had rape in this country, but with the lockdown of people in homes because of Covid-19, women and children are locked down with their abusers,” said the minister of women’s affairs, Pauline Tallen.

Officials did not say how many rapes have occurred during the lockdown that was declared in late March for major cities and has since begun to loosen.

Justice minister Abubakar Malami said an inter-ministerial committee will be inaugurated immediately to propose legislative changes to ensure that sexual violence is dealt with in line with international best practices.

In an address to the nation on Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari said he is “upset at recent incidents of rape, especially of very young girls” and assured Nigerian women of his administration’s determination to fight gender-based violence.

Nigerians were shocked when a university student in Benin city was raped and killed last month in a church where she had gone to read.

On Thursday in Benue state, police announced the arrest of four men accused of raping minors aged between six and 15. One of the suspects was accused of raping a seven-year-old in a church.


For all our readers gearing up to hit the high street on Monday:

Primark has revealed the new health and safety measures it is introducing in stores ahead of reopening on Monday.

The clothing chain will reopen all of its 153 stores in England on June 15, while stores in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are expected to follow in late June.

Primark’s stores were shuttered on March 22 after the Government ordered all non-essential shops to close in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Read more…


Tens of thousands fewer students could start university this year owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ucas has predicted.

In a worst-case scenario, up to 46,000 fewer domestic students will start courses this autumn compared to last year, a blog from the admissions service estimates.

The warning came as Ucas data showed the number of students who have already decided to defer their places this year has increased by two per cent.

The figures reveal 31,380 applicants have at least one deferred choice as of earlier this week, compared to 30,760 at the same point last year.

Students who have applied through Ucas have until June 18 to make a final decision on their university offers.

In a blog on the Wonkhe website, Sander Kristel, Ucas’ chief operations officer, said its modelling estimates “a best-case scenario” of just two per cent fewer home students starting in the autumn compared to last year – but “the most pessimistic outcome is likely to be around 10 per cent fewer”.

Last year, 464,335 students from the UK were accepted on to courses at universities at home.

The prediction should also be seen in the context of a demographic dip among school-leavers in the UK, Ucas has stressed.

Mr Kristel added: “It is natural that applicants’ feelings towards starting courses as planned in the autumn have changed over time, taking a more pessimistic turn in recent weeks.

“However, there are still three months or more until doors were due to open, and as lockdown continues to ease, we are all hoping (safety permitting) that campuses will be able to welcome students in some form.”

The Ucas analysis also suggests a cohort of applicants, who were planning to start in September 2021, are now opting to study this autumn.

“It seems that the traditional gap year is falling by the wayside in 2020,” Mr Kristel said.

“Students who initially wanted to take a year away from education are finding their options are increasingly limited.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the current data from Ucas shows there is “not a significant change in deferrals” compared to previous years.

He said: “This is an uncertain time, particularly for those making decisions about university this autumn.

“Applicants should not feel they need to defer, unless they wish to, and I encourage them to use all the advice and information out there to make an informed decision which will work best for their future.

“Universities must be clear about how courses will be delivered in the next academic year, and I hope this will reassure the thousands of students who are ready to take that next exciting step this autumn.”


Will women be forced to stay at home even after the pandemic subsides?

There is a “real danger” many women may not return to the workforce following the pandemic, Cherie Blair warned today.

Mrs Blair said businesses had to make sure “the new normal” does not become women staying at home after lockdown restrictions are further eased and workers start returning to their jobs.

The prominent QC and wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair was speaking ahead of her slot at London Tech Week, where she hosted an online conversation with former US senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Read more…


(Photo credit: AFP)

Top Government scientific advisers were told that people should continue to follow the two-metre social distancing rule.

The Environmental and Modelling Group (EMG) said that while the risk of outdoor transmission was low people should maintain the distance to avoid contracting coronavirus from face-to-face contact.

In a paper to the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on June 4, the EMG said that a one-metre distance could carry up to 10 times the risk of two metres.

It added that countries which have a social distancing rule below two metres often required other mitigation measures such as face masks or coverings.

The paper, published on Friday, comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would keep the rule under review amid calls for it to be reduced to help businesses to reopen.

It said: “Given the uncertainties about transmission and dose-response it is not possible to say with certainty what a safe distance of separation is but best current evidence suggests that one metre carries between two and 10 times the risk of two metres of separation.

“Countries that specify a separation distance below two metres generally mandate other mitigation measures, usually face masks or face coverings as a minimum.

“Outdoor transmission remains low risk through aerosol and indirect contact routes, but face-to-face exposure should still be considered a potential risk for transmission via respiratory droplets

“However we remain of the view that face-to-face transmission could be possible and the ability for wind to keep droplets airborne means that we recommend that people continue to observe a distance of two metres when face to face and avoid prolonged exposure to other people.”

It said that in situations where social distancing cannot be achieved additional measures including masks and minimising the duration of exposure were required.

The paper comes after the Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Johnson was looking at following World Health Organisation advice and cutting the distance, mirroring guidance already followed by countries including France, Denmark and Singapore.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, he promised to “keep that two-metre rule under constant review”.

Slashing the social distancing restriction could help pubs and restaurants to start up again, and Business Secretary Alok Sharma said this week that “for economic reasons, businesses will want to take a look at this two-metre rule”.

There have been calls from industry leaders and MPs to halve the distance to help businesses such as pubs and restaurants reopen, and allow more children to return to school.

But a snap poll by YouGov found that 58 per cent of people want the rules to be kept at the current distance, while just under a quarter (24 per cent) want it dropped to one metre.

Support for the shorter social limit increased with older generations, with 32 per cent of those over 65 preferring the one-metre rule, compared to 17 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds.

Meanwhile, eight per cent of respondents said the restrictions should be scrapped altogether.


What about support for BAME communities?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said work from equalities minister Kemi Badenoch on coronavirus and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people would recommend greater testing for people in high-risk settings.

Asked about making nursing safe for BAME nurses, he told the Downing Street briefing: “My colleague, who’s the equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, is in the process of working with that report (from PHE) to make a series of recommendations.

“But I can give you an early sneak preview when I say that we consider it doubly important to make sure some of those higher-risk environments which coincidentally are environments that black, Asian, minority and ethnic people might be working in get additional support in terms of testing and tracking and tracing.”


Rejecting extension of transition period is what’s best for business – Shapps

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Government’s decision not to extend the transition period provides more certainty to businesses.

He said: “We leave the transition period at the end of the year and it is this Government’s judgment that the best possible thing we can do for business is to provide it with absolute certainty that we will not be stretching out or extending the transition period in any way, shape or form.

“And that is absolutely the case, the transition period will end at the end of this year.”

Mr Shapps added: “As an independent coastal nation we’re here to represent the interests of businesses and the population in the UK and we’ll make sure that we do that.

“And actually I think by saying now that we’ll have the border… what we’ll be doing on the border, in other words that we’ll be sensible about the way that we introduce this, makes perfect sense.”

He added that “we’re absolutely confident that we’ll have great systems in place, there’s no reason not to”.

Mr Shapps denied that medicines will be in short supply if the UK does not reach a deal with the EU.

He said: “We’ve been challenged probably more than anything else since the war in this country with regards to freight supply, goods supply, medicine supply and it is the case that we have been able to pass that test and never have a shortage of medicines with everything that has been going on and the international demand through Covid.

“So I am absolutely confident we’ll be able to do the same through the end of the transition period.”