One of the UK’s top disease experts has suggested the government should “maybe pause at the headlong rush to get everybody back into offices”, as a government minister admitted there was not yet a certified on-the-spot Covid test available.
Prof Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, warned there had been “uptick” in Covid-related hospital admissions in the UK in recent days, with infections increasing across all areas and geographies.
He said that it was still too soon to see if reopening England’s schools last week had contributed to a significant spread of the disease. If it has, there may be a case to “reduce contacts in other settings”, he told Radio 4’s Today programme. He said:
I’m still working from home, many people I know are still working from home and I think we should hesitate and maybe pause at the headlong rush to get everybody back into offices. But some people have to [go to] work and I completely understand the concerns in many quarters that everybody working at home has an economic impact, particularly on city centres.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said the government had pinned its hopes on the development of on-the-spot tests that can produce results in “20 or 90 minutes” without being sent to a lab. But he admitted it was as yet unproven, which is why Boris Johnson had billed it a “moonshot”. He told Sky News:
This technology, to be perfectly blunt, requires further development. There isn’t a certified test in the world, though people are working on prototypes of this sort of thing. So it’s not immediate but it is something that we want to develop.
We want to do what we are calling a moonshot. In other words, we know it is difficult and isn’t simple to achieve, but we hope that it will be possible through new technology and new tests to have a test which works by not having to return the sample to a lab, that it can work in-line and in a much shorter period of time. The prime minister has talked of 20 minutes or 90 minutes.
Of course the absolute panacea would be to have a vaccine.
On Wednesday the Oxford vaccine trial was put on hold due to a possible adverse reaction in a trial participant.
From Monday, people in England will not be allowed to gather in groups of more than six.
Shapps rejected the suggestion that young people should be exempt, despite most of the new Coronavirus infections in the UK being among young people, very few of whom die or need hospital care. He said:
Though unlikely to die, [young people] can be ill for a very long time – we have a lot of evidence that young people can suffer from coronavirus for months, it can be quite debilitating. I think it would be quite wrong as a society to let this virus run rampant in part of society and everyone else has to run away and hide like hermits. That’s not a way to run a society.
Ferguson warned that the virus was now spreading across the country again, “not just in hotspots” and was affecting all age groups. He said:
I should say in the last week we have seen a rise across the country, not just in hotspots. We are starting to now see now an uptick in hospitalisations. The data is early and all the analysis both we have been doing and other groups across the country suggests we will see an uptick in coming weeks. So now is the time to respond to get on top of that.
It will take two or three weeks to see if the new “rule of six” brings down infections, Ferguson told the BBC:
The measures just announced will take some weeks to take effect so we will have to see how much we manage to flatten the curve and if that’s not sufficient to reduce the reproduction number below 1 then yes we may need to clamp down in other areas.
The Japan Sumo Association said on Thursday that a major tournament due to start in Tokyo on Sunday would go ahead as planned after 19 wrestlers from the same stable tested positive for Covid-19.
All 27 rikishi belonging to the Tamanoi stable, as well as their stablemaster, will sit out the tournament. The association imposed measures to prevent transmission between stables – where wrestlers live and train together – after several athletes tested positive in April. The following month, a 28-year-old wrestler died of complications from the virus.
The pandemic forced sumo authorities to hold the March tournament in Osaka behind closed doors, while the May tournament was cancelled. The most recent competition, in July, went ahead, with spectator numbers capped at 2,500. Fans were asked to wear masks and to refrain from cheering.
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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.
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?