Coronavirus news UK: Latest updates as government says ‘public duty’ to get tested

Health secretary Matt Hancock has vowed to “get to the bottom” of the reason BAME people are disproportionately likely to die as a result of Covid-19 following the release of a report which showed high ethnic minority deaths from the virus in the UK.

It comes as the official UK death toll rose by 324 to almost 40,000 in the latest set of figures from the Department of Health and Social Care – with the total fatality figure likely to exceed 40,000 in the coming days.

Elsewhere, lockdown measures are being lifted in many countries, with restaurants and bars able to open today in France for the first time since March, while Nigeria is to reopen places of worship and Slovakia is to open indoor sports centres and pools. Around the world, there have been more than 6.3m known cases and more than 377,000 deaths as a result of the virus – according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

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Good morning. Welcome to The Independent’s coronavirus live blog.

In the UK the number of deaths due to the virus stand at 39,045, and there are 276,332 known cases.

Around the world, there are 6,373,456 known cases and so far there have been 377,579 deaths.

British government ministers are mulling options to replace quarantines for people arriving at airports by the end of June, one being the idea of “air bridges”, the Telegraph newspaper reported.

The policy of air bridges is meant to enable people from other countries who have achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to Britain. The quarantine policy, which requires all international arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days, goes into effect from June 8, Interior Minister Priti Patel said in May.

With the number of new infections from the virus declining, France’s government ruled that from June 2, restaurants and bars could re-open, sunbathing on beaches can resume, and a ban on travel over 100 km (62 miles) can be lifted.

French restaurants, bars and cafes have been shut since March 16 to contain the spread of the outbreak.

Colombia has issued new measures to control the spread in three of its most affected cities, including capital Bogota, as the rest of the country prepares for quarantine rules to start lifting.

Wildlife advocates are pushing drugmakers to curb the use of prized horseshoe crab blood by switching to a synthetic alternative called recombinant Factor C (rFC) for safety tests that detect bacterial contamination in intravenous drugs or implants, including those needed before a Covid-19 vaccine can be used on humans.

This shift could save 100,000 horseshoe crabs annually on the US East Coast alone and help threatened migratory birds that depend on crab eggs for survival, say the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and other groups.

Professor Alberto Zangrillo, head of intensive care at Italy’s San Raffaele Hospital in Lombardy, the area hardest hit during Italy’s epidemic said provoked furore on Monday by saying “the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy”, adding: “The swabs performed over the past 10 days have showed a viral load that is absolutely infinitesimal in quantitative terms compared to those carried out a month or two months ago.

But the claim was refuted by WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove and several other experts on viruses and infectious diseases, who said his comments were not supported by scientific evidence.

Ms Van Kerkhove told reporters: “In terms of transmissibility, that has not changed, in terms of severity, that has not changed.”

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The Japanese Health Ministry said on Tuesday it will now allow saliva-based coronavirus tests, to help boost the number of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. Currently, nasal swabs are mainly used for tests in Japan, and sneezes at the time of collecting samples expose medical workers to the risk of potential infection.

Berlin has lifted more restrictions put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus. Pubs, fitness studios and cinemas can reopen and protests with an unlimited number of participants are allowed again, starting as early as today.

In pubs all customers are required to sit at tables 1.5 metres apart instead of standing at the bar. 

High schools in the Netherlands are set to begin reopening from today as the country eases some lockdown measures.

Primary school children were allowed to return to school 11 May and will return to full schedules 8 June. Large scale events such as festivals and professional sporting events remain prohibited until at least 1 September, the government has said.

Africa’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 150,000 and the World Health Organisation has said the continent of 1.3 billion people is still the region which appears to be least affected.

Concerns remain high as some of Africa’s 54 countries struggle with when to reopen schools and parts of their economies.

Rwanda, the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown, this week slowed the easing of it after reporting its first Covid-19 death.

More than 4,300 deaths have been confirmed across the continent as local transmission of the virus increases and testing materials and medical equipment remain in short supply in many places.

In the US, following another night of violent unrest there are concerns protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man pinned at the neck by a white police officer, could cause new outbreaks in a nation where the virus has disproportionately affected racial minorities.

A new estimate by the Congressional Budget Office cautioned the damage to the world’s largest economy could amount to nearly $16 trillion over the next decade if Congress doesn’t work to mitigate the fallout.

This chart indicates where the UK’s confirmed cases of coronavirus are:

The ONS figures show that 147,863 deaths were registered in England and Wales between March 21 and May 22 2020.

This was 56,308 more than the average deaths for this period in the previous five years.

Covid-19 was responsible for 77 per cent of these excess deaths.

The ONS said it is continuing to investigate the number of non-Covid-19-related deaths and is planning to publish detailed analysis around this on June 5.

P&O Cruises has extended the suspension of its sailings until at least October 15.

The firm said it is “working in close co-ordination with all relevant public health bodies to approve further enhancement of the company’s already stringent health and safety protocols”.

Hong Kong will extend restrictions on foreign visitors by another three months and an eight-person limit on group gatherings by two weeks, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Tuesday.

Both measures were due to expire later in June.

Travellers to Hong Kong need to undergo a mandatory 14 day quarantine period.

More on the P&O situation from The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder:

The calamitous impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the cruise industry continues. P&O Cruises has cancelled all sailings up to and including 15 October 2020.
Paul Ludlow, president of the Southampton-based firm, said: “We are so sorry for the disappointment this will cause to so many of our guests.
“We have always taken such pride in our standards of cleanliness and hygiene before Covid-19, but when we return there will be enhanced protocols approved by hospitality and national public health authorities.”
Under the Package Travel Regulations, passengers whose voyages are cancelled are entitled to a full cash refund within 14 days. In practice, however, they are likely to have to wait many weeks for their money back.
P&O is offering a 25 per cent bonus for customers who are prepared to take a voucher for future travel.

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