The UK’s coronavirus test-and-trace system will not function unless ministers boost statutory sick pay (SSP) to ensure that workers can afford to stay at home, the head of the TUC has said.
Speaking shortly before the union movement’s first virtual annual congress, Frances O’Grady said that 4 in 10 workers would be plunged into financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks, according to a survey.
Millions of low-paid workers either do not qualify for the statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week or cannot afford to live on the allowance, leaving them unable to pay bills if they have to quarantine due to coronavirus.
Helen Sullivan here. UK readers who are just waking up and tuning into the blog, this is where I leave you.
My colleague Alexandra Topping is up next.
Japan plans to lift restrictions on bar and restaurant opening hours
Tokyo is reportedly planning to lift restrictions on opening hours for bars and restaurants, as new coronavirus cases in the city continued on a downward trend.
The capital has recorded far more cases than other parts of Japan, leading to its controversial exclusion from a domestic travel campaign in July.
But daily infections have gradually declined since reaching a peak of 472 in early August. On Wednesday it reported 149 infections, down from between 300 and 500 a day early last month.
Nationwide, Japan reported more than 500 new infections on Wednesday, down from the 1,300-1,500 level in early August.
Japanese media said a request for restaurants and bars to close at 10 pm could be lifted as early as next Tuesday, adding that the metropolitan government could lower its virus alert from the current “red” status, which means infections are spreading.
Tokyo’s nightlife districts have been blamed for driving up cases since a nationwide state of emergency was lifted in late May, prompting local authorities to call on establishments serving alcohol to voluntarily close early.
The national government is considering raising the upper limit on spectator numbers at some sports events following requests from the country’s professional baseball and football leagues.
The move, which could come ahead of a four-day weekend from 19 September, would raise the maximum number of spectators from 5,000 to 20,000, or up to 50% of capacity at smaller venues, the Kyodo news agency reported.
It was inevitable that the lifting of lockdown would throw up contradictions that make no sense. From next Monday, children in England will spend their days in classrooms of 30, but adults won’t be able to meet in groups of more than six. Earlier in the season, childcare was reinstated before people were allowed to visit their families, throwing up the absurdity that you could have your mum round, but only if she was prepared to look after your two-year-old.
Nowhere, though, has been more divisive than the pub: how was it more important to reopen pubs than swimming pools? Why should drinkers take precedence over gym-goers? Lately, a really cruel anomaly has surfaced. Pregnant women are still not allowed to take a partner with them for scans and appointments, or even have someone with them for early labour, so you can go for a pint with your beloved, but you will be on your own when you first hear your baby’s heartbeat.
Responses to this have varied by platform. Twitter was alive with helpful suggestions (“I have an idea – why don’t pregnant women get their scans done in pubs?”), while Mumsnet was alive with fury. Yet even while criticism was mostly aimed where it belonged, at the government, there was a top note of disapproval – why are people drinking in the first place, while other people are trying to grow a human?
Here are the key developments from the last few hours:
- The global coronavirus death toll has passed 900,000 – just over 10 weeks since passing 500,000. If global deaths continued at the current rate, the toll is likely to pass 1 million before 1 October, 10 months after the World Health Organization was first informed of the first cases in Wuhan, China. The number of cases worldwide is nearing 28 million.
- Donald Trump says he has done an “amazing” job with regard to the virus. Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity late on Wednesday, “If you look at our numbers, our fatality numbers compared to other countries, it’s amazing what we’ve done. We’ve been able to do something … that especially with the country the size we have, we’ve done an incredible job.” Coronavirus-related deaths in the US, which stand at more than 190,000, account for a fifth of the global total. The figure is equivalent to one death per 1,700 Americans. The US has one of the highest fatality rates per 100,000 population, at 57.97.
- Infections continue to rise rapidly across Europe. France has seen its second-highest one-day case total of the pandemic so far and hospitalisations are at a one-month high, as the Netherlands and Portugal both confirmed their highest daily infections since April.
- In Vatican City, Pope Francis was seen on Wednesday wearing a face mask for the first time since the start of the pandemic but took it off to chat to the faithful. The pontiff quickly removed the mask as he emerged from a car carrying him to one of his traditional general audiences.
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson believes a mass testing programme is the UK’s “only hope for avoiding a second national lockdown before a vaccine”, according to leaked official documents.
New Zealand’s health minister has pleaded with people to stop spreading misinformation about the coronavirus, as the government struggles to contain a mini-cluster centred on an evangelical church in Auckland.
The mini-cluster started with four cases in the suburb of Mt Roskill last month, and has now grown to 45 cases.
Health authorities say they have struggled to isolate and lock down the cluster as some people have refused to co-operate, saying they do not believe in the virus, and will not share their close contacts
“Repeated, deliberate and malicious spread of misinformation” is also proliferating online, health minister Chris Hipkins said, prompting him to issue a stark warning that lives are at stake:
Podcast: what happens when flu season hits? (part 2)
As the northern hemisphere heads into autumn and winter, cold and flu are beginning to spread and more people find themselves with coughs, fevers and a runny nose. With Covid-19, this brings new challenges. Should we quarantine at the first sign of the sniffles? Could co-infections of flu and Covid-19 make your symptoms worse? Do we have the capacity to test for more than one virus?
‘Superbugs’ a far greater risk than Covid in Pacific, scientist warns
The emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), including drug-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs”, pose far greater risks to human health than Covid-19, threatening to put modern medicine “back into the dark ages”, an Australian scientist has warned, ahead of a three-year study into drug-resistant bacteria in Fiji.
“If you thought Covid was bad, you don’t want anti-microbial resistance,” Dr Paul De Barro, biosecurity research director at Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, told The Guardian.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say it’s the biggest human health threat, bar none. Covid is not anywhere near the potential impact of AMR.”
“We would go back into the dark ages of health.”
While AMR is an emerging public health threat across the globe, in the Pacific, where the risk of the problem is acute, drug-resistant bacteria could stretch the region’s fragile health systems beyond breaking point:
Former UK prime minister Gordon Brown has attacked the Bank of England for failing to place enough emphasis on jobs, as he called for a rethink of the model of independence he created for Threadneedle Street in the late 1990s.
Brown, who as chancellor in Tony Blair’s government was responsible for granting the Bank operational freedom to set interest rates, said the UK’s central bank should be more like the US Federal Reserve, which has to take employment as well as inflation into account when making policy decisions:
Although the four most populous US states – California, Florida, New York and Texas – account for about 40% of the 6.3 million US infections, the Midwest has been hardest hit in recent weeks.
Iowa currently has one of the highest US infection rates, with 15% of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19% and North Dakota is at 18%, according to a Reuters analysis.
A surge linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an August motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, are behind some of the recent spikes in cases.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice expressed concern about his state’s transmission rate and urged residents to “buckle down” and try harder to stop the spread of the virus.
On a per-capita basis, the United States ranks 12th in the world for Covid-19 fatalities, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1,933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.
New York City restaurants struggling to stay in business after months of closures imposed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic won a long-awaited approval on Wednesday to resume limited indoor dining.
But Los Angeles County health officials have prohibited Halloween parties and said children should not be allowed to trick or treat during the popular holiday on 31 October.
The contrasting moves on opposite coasts of the United States came as new coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row but the nationwide death toll since the pandemic broke out in March exceeded 190,000, according to a Reuters tally.
In New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said indoor dining could resume at thousands of restaurants as of 30 September, although capacity was limited to 25%.
Cuomo had previously said lifting the ban could lead to a resurgence of the virus in New York, which has seen 32,000 deaths, more than any other US state.
Restaurants will also be required to take the temperature of diners and collect information from one member of each party for contact tracing in case of an outbreak.
The state will establish a whistle-blowing system whereby patrons can anonymously report restaurants not in compliance.
New York City could raise the capacity to 50% after a reassessment conducted by 1 November, depending on infection rates, Cuomo said. Most of New York state is operating with indoor dining at 50% capacity.
In Los Angeles, health officials said children should not be allowed to trick or treat because maintaining proper social distancing on porches and at front doors would be difficult and “because sharing food is risky”.
“Halloween gatherings, events or parties with non-household members are not permitted even if they are conducted outdoors,” the department said in statement entitled “Guidance for Celebrating Halloween”.
County health officials also banned Halloween carnivals, festivals, live entertainment and haunted houses.
Here is what that looks like in terms of the global deaths confirmed each day:
A reminder that Trump is boasting about having done an “amazing” job when it comes to deaths as the global toll passes 900,000. Not only that, but one in five of these – 190,000 – is in the United states.
There will soon be a million dead worldwide. Here is how long it took for another 100,000 people to die since 29 June, when the toll passed half a million – the days below are those that passed between the dates. These figures are based on the Johns Hopkins University tracker, which relies on official government data (I’m counting the days between dates when these numbers were passed):
- We passed 600,000 on 19 July. 19 days
- We passed 700,000 on 5 August. 16 days.
- We passed 800,000 on 24 August. 18 days.
- We passed 900,000 on 10 September. 16 days.
Looking at the above, if the rate continues to be similar to the last few months, it looks likely that the death toll will pass 1 million before 1 October. (20 days).
US President Donald Trump spoke to Fox News’s Sean Hannity about the Woodward book revelations. He repeated that his response to the pandemic was intended to avoid panic.
“I said don’t panic (over the virus)… I’m a cheerleader for this country and I don’t want to see panic,” Trump said.
Trump also said the US had done an amazing job with regards to deaths.
“If you look at our numbers, our fatality numbers compared to other countries, it’s amazing what we’ve done. We’ve been able to do something…that especially with the country the size we have, we’ve done an incredible job.”
The US has recorded more than 190,000 deaths. It has the 7th highest deaths per 100,000 in the world at 57.97.
According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, only countries with higher deaths per 100,000 are Peru (93.71), Spain (63.34), Bolivia (62.51),Chile (62.37), Ecuador (62.20), Brazil (60.85).
Eleanor Ainge Roy
New Zealanders are experiencing more depression and anxiety since the coronavirus lockdown, doctors say, despite the country leading the world in its battle against the pandemic.
New Zealand has been lauded for its effective management of the virus, with most Kiwis returning to their normal routines following a strict seven-week lockdown in April and May. A recent outbreak in Auckland has now largely been contained.
But GPs working on the front line say “generalised anxiety” is proliferating in the community, and putting a strain on mental health services that are already overburdened:
Natalie Grover reports for the Guardian:
A risk calculator that takes seconds to produce a score indicating a Covid-19 patient’s risk of death could help clinicians make care decisions soon after patients arrive in hospital, according to a large study conducted by a consortium of researchers across the UK.
As UK Covid-19 cases rise, schools reopen and the weather gets colder, doctors at UK hospitals are expected to see an influx of coronavirus patients.
Patients with Covid-19 behave very differently to patients with other conditions such as flu and bacterial pneumonia, said Dr Antonia Ho of the University of Glasgow, one of the study’s authors, and it is very challenging for doctors managing this unfamiliar disease to accurately identify those who are at high risk of deterioration or who can ride out their illness at home:
CoronaVac has however gotten caught up in a political battle in Brazil, according to AFP.
President Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration has tense relations with China, has criticized the vaccine, and lashed out at Doria, a leading opponent, for supposedly backing it.
The far-right president has instead allocated 1.9bn reals ($360m) to purchase another vaccine candidate, developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.
Trials of that vaccine, which is also being tested partly in Brazil, were suspended Tuesday after a volunteer recipient developed an unexplained illness – a move the company described as “routine.”
In the latest development, Brazilian medical diagnostics company Dasa and US vaccine-maker COVAXX announced a deal Wednesday to conduct Phase 2 and 3 trials of the latter’s Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil.
COVAXX, a subsidiary of US firm United Biomedical, plans to test the vaccine on at least 3,000 volunteers in Brazil.