UK updates thread - virus related (Brit life style during crisis)

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UK clamps down to fight virus, but confusion still reigns

RELEASE: Confusion rippled through Britain on Tuesday, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all non-essential activity to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. Streets were empty but some subways were full. Hairdressers were closed but construction sites were open. Divorced parents wondered whether their children could continue to see them both.

The government has ordered most stores to close, banned gatherings of more than two people who don’t live together and told everyone apart from essential workers to leave home only to buy food and medicines or to exercise. “You must stay at home,” Johnson said in a somber address to the nation on Monday evening.

But even as the U.K. recorded its biggest single-day increase in COVID-19 deaths, photos showed crowded trains on some London subway lines on Tuesday, amid confusion about who was still allowed to go to work. As of Tuesday, Britain had 8,077 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 422 deaths, 87 more deaths than a day earlier.

Julia Harris, a London nurse, said her morning train to work was full. “I worry for my health more on my commute than actually being in the hospital,” she said.

Sporting goods chain Sports Direct said its shops would remain open, arguing that selling exercise equipment was an essential service. It reversed course after an outcry from the public and officials. Many building sites remained open, with construction workers among those crowding onto early-morning subways.

Electrician Dan Dobson said construction workers felt “angry and unprotected,” but felt they had to keep working. “None of them want to go to work, everyone is worried about taking it home to their families,” he said. “But they still have bills to pay, they still have rent to pay, they still have to buy food.”

Authorities sent mixed messages. British Treasury chief Rishi Sunak defended keeping construction sites open, insisting it could be done safely. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, however, said construction sites should close unless the building work was “essential.” Some closed voluntarily. Construction was halted on London’s huge Crossrail train project, and home builder Taylor Wimpey stopped work on all its sites. London Mayor Sadiq Khan implored employers: “Please support your staff to work from home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.”

Many families were also confused by the new rules. After Johnson said people should not mingle outside of their household units, separated parents asked whether their children could still travel between their homes. Cabinet minister Michael Gove initially said children should not move between households, before clarifying that it was permitted.

The restrictions are the most draconian ever imposed by a British government in peacetime. But they don’t go as far as lockdowns in Italy and France, where people need a document authorizing their movements. The government said police would have powers to break up illegal gatherings and fine people who flout the rules. But some expressed doubts about whether the lockdown could be enforced.

Britain has lost thousands of police officers during a decade of public spending cuts by Conservative-led governments. Johnson has promised to recruit 20,000 more police officers, but those efforts are still in the early stages. Unlike some other European countries, Britons do not carry ID cards, another factor complicating enforcement efforts.

“There is no way really that the police can enforce this using powers. It has got to be because the public hugely support it,” Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, told the BBC.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Hospitals in Italy and Spain have been overwhelmed by the critically ill. Intensive care departments in London, the hardest-hit city, are being inundated with COVID-19 patients. Johnson warned that the National Health Service could be overwhelmed within weeks unless people took the lockdown seriously.

Critics say British authorities have acted too slowly to avert an Italy-scale crisis. Schools were closed less than a week ago, and pubs and restaurants were only shuttered on Friday. Andrea Collins, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said the new restrictions were welcome but didn’t go far enough. “I think we need permits across controlled areas to go to a workplace,” she said. “Home working is hard for many but it is possible, we just need to adapt to a new way of being.”
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Can you use your garden or allotment during the coronavirus lockdown?

INTRO: As the UK adjusts to life in lockdown, many questions have arisen over the conditions of the government’s new draconian measures, aimed to curb the spread of coronavirus. For example, are we allowed to drive? Are MOT tests going ahead? Do you have to postpone your plans to move house?

And now that the sun is beginning to shine and we welcome the official start of spring, we have another question to add to the list: can we use our gardens or allotments during lockdown?

Yes, you can use your garden freely during lockdown, as long as it’s your own, and there’s no chance of coming into close contact with the public. Gardening can be a good way to de-stress during these difficult times, so if you’re lucky enough to have your own space, now might be the time to get green-fingered... (MORE )

Coronavirus creating ‘huge challenges’ compensating abuse victims

INTRO: Coronavirus is creating “huge challenges” for compensating victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland, officials said. Obtaining assessments from hard-pressed GPs, arranging meetings with solicitors and protecting administrative staff are among obstacles posed by the outbreak. Civil servant Mark Browne warned: “The virus is moving quicker than the law is at this point.”

Paying compensation to those who suffered harm when they were in homes run by church and state was among recommendations from the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) public inquiry. It examined allegations of physical, emotional and sexual harm of children in residential institutions between 1922 and 1995.

Stormont Executive Office officials Mr Browne and Gareth Johnston gave evidence to a scrutiny committee of the devolved Assembly about rules surrounding the redress scheme. They said restrictions linked to Covid-19 were changing and tightening day-by-day... (MORE)

UK woman, 21, dies from coronavirus despite no pre-existing health issues

A 21-year-old woman is believed to be the youngest person in the United Kingdom to die of the coronavirus without having any pre-existing health issues.

Trailer with BrewDog beer worth £150,000 stolen amid coronavirus demand

A trailer load of beer worth £150,000 from Aberdeenshire-based BrewDog was stolen as it headed to meet increased demand at an online distribution centre. The supplies from the company brewery in Ellon were stolen from the Moto Lymm services in Cheshire on Tuesday. Online demand has increased as the coronavirus restrictions affect shopping habits.
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Jews make up 5% of coronavirus deaths in the UK

INTRO: Nearly 5% of all coronavirus-related deaths in the United Kingdom are of Jewish people, who make up just 0.3% of the country’s population, The Jewish News of London reported. According to the paper’s report Thursday, at least 22 Jewish families have lost loved ones to the disease, which has killed 465 people in the United Kingdom. The U.K. has about 66 million residents and 250,000 Jews. Jewish community leaders in Antwerp, Belgium, last week predicted a significantly higher infection rate of 85% in their congregation than the 50-70% rate that scientists expect to find in the general population. The leaders cited the large social circles and interaction of the Jewish community... (MORE)

Chancellor to throw lifeline to self-employed amid coronavirus crisis

INTRO: A financial package aimed at helping self-employed workers get through the coronavirus crisis will be announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak with the Government under growing pressure to throw the sector a lifeline.

The move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament he wanted to achieve “parity of support” so the self-employed could have similar levels of protection to waged workers. The Chancellor will outline his measures on Thursday, on the day the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 is likely to pass 10,000.,, (MORE)

Famous landmarks deserted as coronavirus lockdown continues

INTRO: Britain’s busiest landmarks and beauty spots lie deserted in the beautiful spring sunshine as the nation stays indoors to try and contain the spread of coronavirus. The pavements outside Buckingham Palace, usually packed, were completely empty on Tuesday after the Government introduced the near total lockdown earlier this week.

The daily ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, popular with visitors to the city, has been suspended until further notice. The Millennium Bridge over the Thames was deserted as galleries, restaurants, pubs and cafes were told they must shut up shop until the worst of the virus has passed. (MORE)
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London hospitals facing 'tsunami' of coronavirus cases

INTRO: London hospitals are facing a "tsunami" of coronavirus cases and are beginning to run out of intensive care beds, a senior hospital figure has said. Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said while critical care capacity had been expanded hospitals in the capital had seen an "explosion" in demand.

A third of the UK cases have been diagnosed in the city. Mr Hopson said high staff absence rates were creating a "wicked combination".

"They are struggling with two things. The first is the explosion of demand they are seeing in seriously ill patients. They talk about wave after wave after wave - the word that's often used to me is a continuous tsunami. We are now seeing 30%, 40% and indeed in some places 50% sickness rates as staff catch the virus or are in vulnerable groups or have to self-isolate. That's unprecedented." (MORE)

Coronavirus: What are the new restrictions and why are they needed?

Coronavirus: Book sales surge as readers seek escapism and education

INTRO: People in the UK were stockpiling novels and home learning books last week as they prepared for a spell in isolation, sales figures suggest. Sales of fiction rose by a third, while children's education went up 234% to the third highest level on record.

Puzzle books, handicrafts and true crime also saw sharp rises. "The sales data suggests that the UK population has indeed been preparing for long periods of isolation," said Nielsen Book, which keeps track. "We've seen significant jumps in sales of puzzle books, adult colouring titles, home-learning titles for children, study guides, and we have seen been a big increase in sales of paperback novels."

The rise for paperbacks may have been down to an increased footfall in supermarkets, Nielsen said. (MORE)
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UK says it won't take part in EU drive for ventilators because of Brexit

INTRO: Boris Johnson has been accused of prioritising "Brexit over breathing" - after the UK failed to take part in an EU drive for extra ventilators, initially blaming the opt-out on Brexit. The Prime Minister has been accused of putting Brexit ideology before demand for the essential, life-saving equipment.

Asked why the UK would not be taking part in the scheme the PM's official spokesman said: "Well, we are no longer members of the EU" and pointed towards other efforts to secure ventilators. Pressed if the decision was related to Brexit ideology, the spokesman said: "No, as I say, this is an area where we're making our own efforts."

The government later said they hadn't opted out because of Brexit, but because they had not received the email inviting the UK to take part... (MORE)

North Yorkshire Police begin road checkpoints

INTRO: Road checkpoints are to be used in North Yorkshire to determine if drivers' journeys are essential. It comes after people across the UK were urged to stay at home unless absolutely necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus. The move is being introduced to ensure motorists are complying with government restrictions, North Yorkshire Police said. The checkpoints will be in place at different locations across the county. [...] Earlier this week, the force said some motorists in the county were exploiting quieter than usual roads to drive at "highly excessive speeds", potentially taking up valuable NHS resources in the event of a crash... (MORE - details)

Nearly 250,000 UK students call for a refund of tuition fees after coronavirus shut universities while thousands face rent demands on their vacant lodgings

INTRO: Almost 250,000 UK students have called for a refund of their tuition fees after universities were forced to close down due to the coronavirus while thousands face rent demands on accommodation they are unable to use. The online petition, which had been signed by 270,000 UK students on Thursday evening, demands a refund of all tuition fees from this academic year due to overall dissatisfaction with university experience amid the coronavirus outbreak.

'University quality is poor this year and certainly not worth up to £9,250,' reads the petition, posted by Sophie Quinn, 21, a geography undergraduate at the University of Liverpool. 'Universities are now online only due to COVID-19, with only powerpoints online for learning materials which is not worthy of up to £9,250.' (MORE)

Nurse has car and medical equipment stolen

INTRO: A community nurse in Manchester providing essential care for patients has had her car and nurse’s kit containing medical equipment stolen. Victoria Roberts, 33, was about to go to work from her home in Longsight on Thursday morning when it dawned on her her car was missing from the driveway. Her car, a Peugeot 208, contained her nurse’s kit in the boot. Basic nurse kits usually contain a blood pressure cuff, a resuscitation shield, dressing scissors, a tourniquet, hand sanitiser and a thermometer, among other items. (MORE)
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UK urgently needs 90,000 labourers to pick crops that will otherwise die in the fields, warns charity

INTRO: Charter flights to bring in agricultural workers from eastern Europe are needed as a matter of urgency, otherwise fruit and vegetables will be left unpicked in Britain’s fields, the government is being warned.

Some large farms have already been chartering planes to bring in labour from eastern Europe. But farming organisations and recruitment agencies say that, in the face of massive disruption to the agricultural sector caused by the spread of the coronavirus, the government needs to step in and help organise more flights.

Some 90,000 positions need to be filled, many in just a few weeks’ time. One leading supplier, the charity Concordia, was looking to bring in around 10,000 labourers – half from the EU and the rest from Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Barbados. But all of the non-EU countries are closed. On Wednesday, in a big setback, Ukraine extended its lockdown from 2 April until 23 April.

Stephanie Maurel, Concordia’s chief executive, said: “Our recruitment outside the EU is stalled which leaves us with Lithuania, which has closed borders, Romania with no airplanes, and Bulgaria which is our little beacon.”

Although Bulgaria is on countrywide lockdown, farm workers are classed as key workers and can move around the country. But most airlines that operate in Bulgaria – including EasyJet – are grounded. A Wizz Air flight bringing in 450 people landed a week ago on Saturday.

“We’re talking about chartering planes to bring workers in,” Maurel said. “It costs around £10,000 for an hour’s flight carrying 229 people – that’s €45,000 Sofia to London, or around €250 per person.”

Maurel, who said the plan was being actively discussed by both the National Farmers’ Union and the Association of Labour Providers, called on the government to help provide urgent clarity. (MORE)
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UK could stay in partial coronavirus lockdown for six months, senior medical officer says

INTRO: It will be six months or even longer before Britain “can get back to normal”, the deputy chief medical officer has warned. Dr Jenny Harries said a review of the lockdown would be carried out within three weeks, but suggested many restrictions would stay in place much longer – even if it is judged to be working.

The UK would “need to keep that lid on”, she told the Downing Street press conference, saying people must accept they could only “gradually adjust”. “This is a moving target,” Dr Harries said, pointing to huge uncertainty and bracing Britain for the number of deaths not being “on the way down” for a few weeks at least.

Although the “complete lockdown” would not last for six months, the country would only “gradually come back to a normal way of living”. (MORE)

Mortality rate of those admitted to intensive care with coronavirus close to 50%

RELEASE: THE mortality rate of patients admitted to intensive care with coronavirus is close to 50 per cent, according to an early study of critical care outcomes. The Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre (ICNARC) report today shows that out of 165 admissions to critical care units, 79 patients have died and 86 were discharged. A further 609 patients were last reported as still being in intensive care.

The study includes data on all confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported to the centre up to midnight on March 26 from 285 critical care units in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking part in an ICNARC programme. Of those admitted to critical care with the virus, 70.5 per cent were men and 29.5 per cent were women. The average age was 60.2 years.

The data also shows that the mortality rate is currently higher for men than women, and increases with age. Of the 79 who have died, 21 were women and 58 were men, with nine aged between 16-49, 29 aged 50-69 and 41 aged 70 or older.

Critical care units involved in the initiative are asked to notify ICNARC as soon as they have an admission with Covid-19 and provide data at different points of their treatment.

Michael Gove appears to blame China over lack of UK coronavirus testing

INTRO: Michael Gove has appeared to lay the blame for the UK’s lack of mass testing on China, raising the prospect of increased diplomatic tension between the two countries. Some of China’s reports on the virus were unclear about the “scale, nature and infectiousness” of the disease, the cabinet minister told the BBC.

Asked on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show why Britain did not have sufficient testing, despite the first case in China being known about in December, Gove said: “We’ve been increasing the number of tests over the course of the last month. It was the case … [that] the first case of coronavirus in China was established in December of last year, but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this.”

The Mail on Sunday reported that senior Downing Street officials and ministers expect a “reckoning” with China over misinformation in relation to the outbreak. It also claimed there was anger over perceived attempts by China to exploit the crisis for economic gain. (MORE)

Two men charged with assaulting emergency worker "after stealing NHS medics’ bicycles from hospital"

EXCERPT: Two men have been charged with assaulting an emergency worker while allegedly stealing bicycles belonging to NHS staff.  At least two medics treating patients with coronavirus reported having their bicycles stolen from Queen’s Medical Centre on Thursday. [...] Both men have been charged with five counts of burglary, theft and assaulting an emergency worker, Nottinghamshire Police said on Sunday. The burglaries took place on Wednesday at the University of Nottingham’s largest campus, situated 650 metres from the hospital. (MORE)
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Lockdown working

LONDON — The British government’s chief scientific adviser says there is evidence nationwide lockdown measures are working to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Patrick Vallance says the number of hospital admissions for COVID-19 is rising steadily, “suggesting we’re not on a fast acceleration at the moment.”

There are currently 9,000 coronavirus patients in hospitals in England, a number increasing by about 1,000 a day. Vallance says the number of deaths among people with the virus is tracking the rise seen in France but is below the trajectories of Spain and Italy, the hardest-hit European countries. The U.K. has confirmed 22,141 cases of COVID-19, and 1,408 people with the virus have died. That is an increase of 180 on the previous 24 hours, a smaller rise than in the two previous days.

Boris Johnson won't delay Brexit despite 'double whammy' coronavirus warning

INTRO: Boris Johnson is adamant that he won't extend the Brexit transition period, despite MEPs calling for more time in the wake of coronavirus. The European People’s Party (EPP), the largest bloc in the EU Parliament, warned the UK will face a "double whammy" if the PM insists on sticking to the timetable of leaving at the end of the year. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The transition period ends on December 31 2020. This is enshrined in UK law.”

Coronavirus: 'Overzealous' police officers tell shops to stop selling Easter eggs

INTRO: Police and council officials have been accused of being overzealous in their handling of the coronavirus lockdown after shopkeepers were told to stop selling Easter eggs. The Association of Convenience stores has been forced to reassure its members of the “vital role” they play in supporting local communities and to keep stocking seasonal goods after environmental health officers tried to stop some stores from selling chocolate eggs.

Coronavirus: Sadiq Khan asks for more immigrants to be eligible for Universal Credit

RELEASE: Sadiq Khan has urged the Prime Minister to allow more immigrants to access Universal Credit during the coronavirus crisis. The London mayor wrote to Boris Johnson yesterday to ask for those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), such as most non-EU immigrants, to be allowed to claim benefits while the UK is dealing with the economic fallout from Covid-19. Khan said there were “tens of thousands of residents with NRPF”, including “delivery drivers, cleaners and NHS staff” who have already been laid-off and cannot access the government’s wage subsidy scheme.

The government will pay 80 per cent of peoples’ wages, up to £2500 a month, if they have been furloughed by their company during the crisis, however those who have been laid off are not eligible. “Londoners with NRPF are at real risk of homelessness, have no way to access Universal Credit support when they lose their income, and their children are not eligible for support through free school meals,” Khan said.

A Home Office spokesperson said the government was “committed to doing whatever it takes to support people” and said there was some financial support available for people with NRPF. “Measures we have brought forward such as rent and mortgage protections, and food vouchers are not considered public funds and can be accessed by migrants with leave to remain,” they said.

UK announces £75m airlift plan to rescue Britons stranded abroad

INTRO: The government has announced a £75m airlift operation to rescue hundreds of thousands of British nationals stranded abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic. The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, announced a mixture of charter flights to “priority countries” and affordable seats on commercial airlines from countries where they are still running.

After mounting criticism of the Foreign Office approach, Raab announced the government had signed memorandums of understanding with Virgin, easyJet, Jet2 and Titan to help with the “unprecedented” operation to repatriate people in countries where commercial airlines were no longer flying.

“Under the arrangements we are putting in place, we will target flights from a range of priority countries starting this week,” he said at the daily Downing Street press briefing. He told travellers not to wait and to book their tickets now even if it meant changing carrier, suggesting the government would subsidise flights.

“Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home. That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled,” he said. “That means allowing passengers to change tickets including between carriers. So for those still in those countries where commercial flights are still available, don’t wait, don’t run the risk of getting stranded. The airlines are standing by to help you. Please book your tickets as soon as possible. “Where commercial flights are no longer running the government will provide financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back at home.”

The rescue operation will come as a major comfort to stranded Britons and their families who were despairing about loved ones, including some with medical needs. “I was massively relieved to hear that at last our government have listened to the concerns of the thousands of people and their families stranded abroad. It’s been a very worrying week thinking that we may never see our loved ones again,” said Jacqui Phipps from Suffolk, whose daughter is stranded in India.

The announcement will also infuriate Britons who have already spent thousands to get home after their return flights were cancelled forcing them to switch flights or carriers... (MORE)

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