Coronavirus live news: Angela Merkel heckled in parliament; UK job retention scheme to end

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: Angela Merkel heckled in parliament; UK job retention scheme to end” was written by Damien Gayle (now) and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 29th October 2020 10.16 UTC

As the row over the discharge of Covid-positive patients into Scotland’s care homes during the early days of the pandemic deepens, health secretary Jeane Freeman has insisted that a new report does not diminish government accountability, writes Libby Brookes, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent.

The report – which concluded the risk of an outbreak linked to discharge of positive or untested patients was “not statistically significant” – prompted anger from opposition parties, care chiefs and unions, who argued that it failed to properly explain why dozens of patients who tested positive for coronavirus, along with thousands who went untested, were discharged from Scottish hospitals into care homes in April and May.

Deaths in care homes account for about half of Covid-related deaths in Scotland, with about 2,000 residents having died.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Freeman said:

For relatives and families of people who have died in care homes during this pandemic, I want them to know really clearly that I am not saying that this report says there is no accountability here or that I think that report in any way offers them comfort. It’s a very technical report and it comes to a statistical conclusion but that doesn’t take away from the human impact of this virus…

Speaking on the same programme, Professor June Andrews, advisor to Dementia Services Development Trust at Stirling University, called into question the “statistical conclusion” that there was no significant risk posed by the discharges, saying that the data had been “cobbled together from a variety of sources” and that the conclusion appeared “defensive”.

She warned that the report – which also suggested that smaller care homes had dealt better with outbreaks – should not be used to blame staff. Others within the care sector have pointed out that larger homes tend to involve more elderly residents and more nursing care, which requires closer contact.

Andrews said that it made more sense to wait for a public inquiry – which the Scottish government has already agreed to – where the quality of data would be much better.

Angela Merkel faced shouts and heckles in Germany’s parliament this morning as she outlined her government’s plans for a “soft” second lockdown, writes Philip Oltermann, the Guardian’s Berlin bureau chief.

From Monday, bars, restaurants, theatres, swimming pools and fitness studios will close for a month, and public gatherings be limited to two households or up to ten people. Unnecessary travel is discouraged and hotels advised not to host tourists. Schools, nurseries and shops will stay open, however.

Merkel said on Thursday morning that Germany was in a “dramatic situation” as it entered the cold season. With the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care having doubled in the last ten days, the chancellor said, hospitals would be overwhelmed “within weeks” unless further steps were taken to curb the spread of the virus.

But Merkel’s “wavebreaker” lockdown has been met with cries of despair especially from the gastronomy sectors. In spite of guarantees for further state subsidies, restaurants, bars and hotels will be hit hard by the new closures, in spite of many owners saying they have willingly complied with requests for new hygiene measures so far. There is little data to suggest that restaurants and bars where guests wear masks have driven the recent spike in infections.

Angela Merkel wears a face mask as she walks past finance minister and vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz to take her seat at the Bundestag.
Angela Merkel wears a face mask as she walks past finance minister and vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz to take her seat at the Bundestag.
Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

The far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) led the charge against Merkel’s second lockdown in the Bundestag. “We consider Ms Merkel’s paralysation of the culture and gastronomy sector, practically the entire leisure life of our citizens, to be excessive and inappropriate”, said AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland.

Neither Gauland nor FDP leader Christian Lindner offered concrete proposals for an alternative plan, such as a closure of schools. Merkel justified keeping open nurseries and schools “with view to the supreme significance of education”.

Germany’s disease control agency on Thursday recorded a record new 16,774 new infections in the last 24 hours, though for now the infection rate in Germany is still considerably lower than in neighbouring countries such as France or Belgium.

Children age six to wear masks in class in France

Schoolchildren aged six and over in France will be required to wear face masks in class, the French prime minister, Jean Castex, has said.

Castex told lawmakers in the national assembly that the new measure was needed “to protect all our children, teachers and parents.” Face masks were already mandatory for children aged 11 and over.

France is preparing to enter a new lockdown from midnight. The president, Emmanuel Macron, said on Wednesday, that unlike during France’s two-month virus lockdown last spring, schools would remain open.

The French prime minister, Jean Castex, speaks at the national assembly at the Palais Bourbon in Paris.
The French prime minister, Jean Castex, speaks at the national assembly at the Palais Bourbon in Paris.
Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Restaurants, bars and non-essential businesses will be closed until at least 1 December. Castex said companies would be urged to have employees work from home “five days a week.”

“We have to keep working as much as possible, but of course under strict sanitary conditions that stop the virus from spreading,” he was quoting as saying by AFP, the French state-backed news agency, warning that “unemployment and poverty can also kill.”

China’s largest coronavirus outbreak in months appears to have emerged in a factory in Xinjiang linked to forced labour and the government’s controversial policies towards Uighur residents.

More than 180 cases of Covid-19 documented in the past week in Shufu county, in southern Xinjiang, can be traced back to a factory that was built in 2018 as part of government “poverty alleviation” efforts, a campaign that researchers and rights advocates describe as coercive.

Under the initiative, Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region are tracked and given work placements that they have little choice but to take up.

Taiwan reaches 200 days without domestic transmission

Taiwan has reached 200 days without any officially confirmed domestically transmitted cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control last reported a domestic case on 12 April. CDC officials noted the milestone and thanked the public for playing a role, while urging people to continue to wear masks and to wash their hands often.

Since the pandemic began, Taiwan has recorded 553 cases of Covid-19, and just seven deaths. While it has stopped domestic transmission, it continues to record new cases in people arriving from abroad.

Taiwan has been pointed to as a success story in how to respond to the pandemic, especially considering its close business and tourism ties with China, where the virus first emerged late last year.

Questions remain, however, as to whether the island is truly free of the coronavirus. Local media has been paying close attention to reports of people who tested positive for coronavirus after leaving Taiwan.

Angela Merkel speaks at the Bundestag.
Angela Merkel speaks at the Bundestag.
Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

Angela Merkel was heckled in the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s parliament, on Thursday morning, according to Reuters, as she said populists who purport the coronavirus is harmless are dangerous and irresponsible.

“Lies and disinformation, conspiracy theories and hatred damage not only the democratic debate but also the fight against the virus,” she said, adding this put human lives in danger.

“It is only with solidarity and transparency that we will be able to confront the pandemic,” she told the Bundestag. She sought to defend a circuit break lockdown announced on Wednesday, including the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres, that is aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Merkel said German intensive care units risked being overwhelmed in a few weeks. “We are in a dramatic situation,” she said.

Preparations for coronavirus vaccinations in Germany are underway and the government is working on ethical guidelines on who vaccines should be available for, said Merkel.

“The winter will be hard,” she said. “Four long, hard months. But it will end.”

Updated

Record increases in cases and deaths in Russia

Russia has recorded a new record high increase in new cases of coronavirus and deaths from Covid-19.

Health authorities announced 17,717 new cases on Thursday, including 4,906 in Moscow, taking the national total to 1,581,693 since the pandemic began, Reuters reports.

Authorities also reported a record high of 366 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 27,301.

UK police “could break up Christmas family gatherings”

Police could break up large family gatherings at Christmas, Britain’s housing minister Robert Jenrick warned, as he said it was right that they enforce coronavirus rules on socialising.

“Well that’s not something that anyone would want to see but it’s right that everybody follows the law and obviously the police have to do what’s necessary to enforce it,” he said on Times Radio when asked about Christmas celebrations.

The debate continues to rage in England over whether a national lockdown is required to curb the spread of coronavirus, as infection rates increase in some areas and the country reports large increase in infections.

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said the data from a nationwide study of coronavirus prevalence suggests “we need to think about changing the approach”.

I think what our study shows is there would be genuine benefits to some kind of national policy.

In that we could prevent the pattern in the South turning into the current pattern in the North and bring about a reversal in the North as quickly as possible.

If we’re going to end up using those restrictions that have been brought in elsewhere in Europe today and yesterday… we should think about timing. And sooner is better than later for these.

There has to be a change. The rate of growth that we’re seeing in these data is really quite rapid, so one way or another there has to be a change before Christmas.

We’ve fairly reliably measured a slight decrease in R (reproduction number) in our interim round five, now we have measured a slight increase in R, and the slight increase in R means that current measures are not sufficient.

Dr David Strain, clinical senior lecturer and honorary consultant at University of Exeter Medical School, questioned the rule of six.

The rule of six is fundamentally flawed – it allows people to spread the virus around multiple households completely legitimately.

Yet this is permitted indoors in Tier 1 and outdoors in Tier 2. All of these mean the virus is still growing.

But Strain said a national lockdown or circuit-breaker can only be effective if there is a “sensible exit strategy”, adding:

I do believe the local approach is likely to be a better way forward. Currently the focus is very much on controlling the outbreaks in Tier 3.

More focus should be placed on maintaining Tier 1 regions in Tier 1. These areas, after all, are currently maintaining the economy.

The British government’s coronavirus job retention scheme closes on Saturday, ending the first phase of the UK’s economic response to the pandemic.

When the scheme was announced in March it was hailed as an unprecedented intervention by the government, which committed to paying 80% of the wages of any furloughed worker (up to a monthly limit of £2,500). As large parts of the economy were forced to shut down, economists said the policy had been the main factor in preventing a dramatic rise in unemployment.

However, almost 32 weeks later, employment data suggests businesses and workers around the country are still relying on government support, even as the generosity of the support has been reduced. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, last week updated the furlough programme’s more limited replacement, the job support scheme.

Jasper Jolly looks at six different ways UK jobs market has fared during the pandemic.

In London, ambulance crews are dealing with another kind of epidemic.

The number of suicides and attempted suicides attended by ambulance crews has doubled compared to five years ago.

The Philippines’ health ministry on Thursday recorded 1,761 new coronavirus infections and 33 more deaths.

In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed infections had risen to 376,935, while deaths had reached 7,147. New Covid-19 cases in the Philippines increased by fewer than 2,000 in seven of the last 10 days.

The Czech Republic has reported 12,977 new coronavirus cases, health ministry data showed on Thursday.

Total cases rose to 297,013 while deaths climbed by 128 to 2,675.

Hospitals in the country have been looking for volunteers, as the country struggles with one of Europe’s fastest growing infection rates.

An empty Wenceslas square is seen during the curfew in Prague.
An empty Wenceslas square is seen during the curfew in Prague.
Photograph: Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images

According to the Associated Press, the government is deploying thousands of medical students to hospitals and other students to testing sites.

The mayor of Prague, Zdenek Hrib, who has a degree in medicine, volunteered to help do initial exams of possible coronavirus patients at a university hospital.

And 28 medical personnel from the US national guards are expected to arrive to help treat patients at Prague’s military hospital and a new field hospital at the city’s exhibition ground.

Time for some UK national papers now, where the divisions in attitudes towards the coronavirus pandemic are being played out.

The Guardian reports on a plan to test 10% of the population for coronavirus every week.

Up to 10% of England’s population could be tested for coronavirus every week after government officials asked local health chiefs to deploy 30-minute saliva kits in an acceleration of Boris Johnson’s controversial “Operation Moonshot” mass screening plan.

In a letter seen by the Guardian, NHS test and trace claims it is embarking on an “important new front in our fight against coronavirus” and asks all directors of public health to sign up to receive rapid-result test kits for up to a tenth of their populations every week, to contain outbreaks and preserve freedoms.

In The Times they are once again talking of a vaccine by Christmas.

The government believes that a German vaccine backed by Pfizer could be ready to distribute before Christmas, with the first doses earmarked for the elderly and vulnerable.

Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, said that the vaccine was in the “last mile” and that the pharmaceutical company expected results within a matter of weeks.

Britain has already bought enough doses for 20 million people and is anticipating that some will be available for use immediately if the drug is shown to be successful.

The Telegraph has one for all its readers worried about travelling to their second homes in the Dordogne.

France will be plunged into a second lockdown tomorrow after Emmanuel Macron said Europe was being “overrun” by a second wave of coronavirus which would be “harder, more deadly than the first”.

The French president ordered the closure of non-essential shops, along with bars and restaurants, and told people to stay at home unless they had documentation showing why they needed to go to work or make other journeys.

Britons will be banned from entering France unless they have a signed certificate stating why they need to travel.

The Daily Mail rails against the prospect of a second national lockdown.

Business leaders, campaigners and MPs last night pleaded with Boris Johnson to resist a devastating new lockdown.

They warned that it would wreak economic carnage and devastate thousands of businesses.

It came as scientists said up to 85,000 could die in a second virus wave.

And the Daily Express warns of a Covid cancer time bomb.

Deadly delays in cancer testing due to the pandemic mean 50,000 people have the disease but are campaigners warned yesterday.

Experts claim this number could double in the next 12 months if referrals and screening do not catch up, with urgent action essential.

The toll, described by one of the world’s leading experts as “colossal”, relates to the number affected during the eight-month Covid crisis.

England should act sooner rather than later if it is going to follow Germany and France and take nationwide steps to slow a second wave of the coronavirus, said Steven Riley, author of an Imperial College study into the spread of the disease.

“I think we need decide if we’re going to end up using those restrictions that have been brought in elsewhere in Europe today and yesterday. And if we’re if we’re going to do that, then we should think about timing. And sooner is better than later for these,” Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics, told the BBC.

The spread of the coronavirus continues to increase across all parts of England with cases doubling every nine days, according to the new study by Imperial College.

However, the UK’s ruling Conservative party is facing opposition among its own MPs and prominent supporters against a second lockdown.

The hotelier Rocco Forte, a Tory donor who hosted a party for the prime minister after the Conservative election victory in December, told the BBC he was sceptical that the government was taking the correct approach.

I don’t think they got the balance right. I think they have overreacted, they have panicked in the first instance on the basis of a forecast of 500,000 deaths. We are now seeing new forecasts done by the same people who made the mistakes last time … forecasting armageddon and they have started to panic again.

The reality of the virus is that it is not the killer it was thought to be. At the beginning, I mean, they were talking about a bubonic type plague, where a third of the population dies. Deaths are terrible in any circumstances, but we are looking at a very very small proportion at the moment. Now we have more people dying of influenza and pneumonia than we have of Covid, and yet the concentration is solely on Covid. It doesn’t matter what you die of, if you die of a heart attack or cancer or anything that’s irrelevant. The only thing that matters is if you die of Covid, and it’s quite ridiculous.

The UK government is doing everything it can to avoid a second national lockdown in England, and it believes it can control the virus with local measures, Robert Jenrick, the housing minister, has said.

Speaking on breakfast television, Jenrick said that the government kept everything under review but it wanted to avoid a second full national shutdown because of the damage it creates to livelihoods and the economy.

“The very clear policy of the government is to do everything we can to avoid a full national lockdown,” he told Sky News. Jenrick added:

We will continue with our localised but proportionate approach on taking action where the virus is strongest but you can see from those figures that the virus is in a bad place in all parts of the country.

The approach of trying to bear down on it where it is most concentrated I think continues to be the best way forward because despite the fact the virus is rising across the country it is very concentrated in some places nonetheless.

Updated

A national lockdown in France may have to be extended beyond 1 December, the initial deadline, according to Prof Jean-François Delfraissy, a government scientific adviser.

The president, Emmanuel Macron, said on Wednesday that France might start to ease back lockdown measures once coronavirus infections fell back to about 5,000 per day, from around 40,000 per day at present.

But Delfraissy said he did not think that could be achieved by 1 December, according to Reuters.

“By 1 December, we will not be at 5,000 contaminations per day. I can tell that to you straight away today. We will need more time,” said Delfraissy, who heads the scientific council that advises the French government on the pandemic.

Updated

Good morning from London. This is Damien Gayle and I’ll be bringing you the latest updates in coronavirus news from the UK and around the world for the next few hours.

If you have any comments, tips or suggestions for coverage from your part of the world, please send them my way, either via email to damien.gayle@theguardian.com or via Twitter direct message to @damiengayle.

‘Turning pain into purpose’: why the Covid crisis is driving Arizonans to the polls

Maanvi Singh and Lauren Gambino in Phoenix

The coronavirus crisis, which has dominated the election cycle, looms especially large over Arizona. The virus has killed more than 227,000 people in the US, including nearly 6,000 Arizonans, and forced hundreds of thousands more to file for unemployment. It has taken a disproportionate toll on Latino, Black and Native American populations.

Maricopa county was especially hard hit, and remains the fifth worst affected in the US. With election day less than a week away, a traumatized electorate is weighing the failures of Republican leaders to control the pandemic in Arizona, and across the country.

More than 500 scout troops are facing closure after fundraising activities from jumble sales to supermarket bag packing were cancelled because of Covid, the movement has warned.

It means the 113-year-old institution faces the possible loss of at least 7% of its 7,300 groups.

Many of those in the severest financial difficulty are in the highest areas of deprivation. One, in Willesden, west London, only opened last May as part of a drive by the scouts to set up packs, troops and colonies in the UK’s poorest areas. It attracted children looking to avoid gang life:

Taiwan celebrates 200 days with no new local cases

Taiwan celebrated 200 days without a single locally transmitted case on Wednesday.

Despite being incredibly close to China and with high volumes of travel and trade, Taiwan has recorded just 550 cases and seven deaths so far this year. Since January it has not seen more than 30 daily cases, and most have been imported.

People wear face masks at a Mass Rapid Transit train station in Taipei, Taiwan, 24 October 2020.
People wear face masks at a Mass Rapid Transit train station in Taipei, Taiwan, 24 October 2020.
Photograph: David Chang/EPA

Experts credit Taiwan’s very early response as a key factor in it having one of the world’s most successful responses to the outbreak. Health authorities acted on informal reports of a new severe pneumonia outbreak on 31 December and began immediately quarantining flights and then enforcing border restrictions and quarantine on arrival.

The systems were largely in place: After the Sars epidemic killed 73 people including many healthcare workers in 2003, and its isolation from international healthcare networks limited access to resources, Taiwan strengthened and centralised its disease control framework and pandemic preparations.

Taiwan’s former vice president Chen Chien-jen also happens to be an epidemiologist. About 340,000 people quarantined in Taiwan at some point this year, Chen told Bloomberg today.

“We sacrificed 14 days of 340,000 people in exchange for normal lives for 23 million people,” he said.

Initially closed to all non-residents, Taiwan has begun slowly re-opening to some, including those on work visas and business travellers. But all arrivals must complete a quarantine either in a hotel, government facility or at home, during which they are closely monitored via phone tracking apps and staff in the police and centres for disease control.

Covid has hit ‘critical’ stage in England, research finds

Sarah Boseley, Simon Murphy and Josh Halliday report:

The Covid pandemic has reached a “critical” stage in England, with prevalence doubling since last month with the fastest increases in the south where the R number has risen above 2, research has found.

While cases remain highest in northern England, a dramatic increase in infections has been recorded across all areas, according to the latest interim findings from the React-1 study from Imperial College London.

It triggered warnings from scientists that current measures – including bans for millions on households mixing and the closure of pubs – were not working and urgent action is needed to avoid a sharp rise in hospitalisations and deaths.

The React-1 study found that infections are still highest among 18- to 24-year-olds (2.2%) but are spreading into older and more vulnerable age groups. The percentage of people infected aged 55-64 increased more than threefold from 0.37% to 1.2%.

There has been a downturn in infections among young people in the north-east, where the strictest tier 3 restrictions were first imposed, the scientists said, but a large increase in the numbers among over-65s which is likely to translate to hospital admissions and deaths:

This El Pais guide showing how quickly coronavirus spreads in enclosed spaces is well worth your time – what is particularly striking about it is the significant difference ventilation makes.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, has praised Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying he ‘would like to say the same for the United States’.

Speaking during a discussion with the University of Melbourne, Fauci celebrated Victoria’s approach to wearing masks, lamenting that ‘masks in the United States have almost become a political statement’:

 

The dollar held gains against a basket of major currencies on Thursday as escalating coronavirus cases in Europe stoked investor fears that fresh lockdowns would further hit the already fragile economic recovery, Reuters reports.

The safe-haven greenback steadied against a basket of six currencies at 93.39, taking a pause after its 0.3% gains in early trade.

Concerns of further damage to the economy grew as France and Germany went back into lockdown on Wednesday, as a massive second wave of coronavirus cases threatened to overwhelm Europe.

More than 300,000 migrant workers who have spent months mostly confined to dormitories in Singapore will soon be allowed to visit recreation centres on their days off, as coronavirus measures are relaxed.

Singapore was initially lauded for its response to Covid-19, but later faced criticism over an explosion in case numbers among low-wage migrant workers living in overcrowded facilities on the outskirts of town. Activists had warned about the risk of infection among the workers, who were sleeping in rooms with up to 20 people, and travelling to and from construction sites on crowded trucks.

View of a dormitory room for migrant workers who have recovered from coronavirus amid the outbreak in Singapore on 15 May 2020.
View of a dormitory room for migrant workers who have recovered from coronavirus amid the outbreak in Singapore on 15 May 2020.
Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Singapore has recorded almost 58,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, the vast majority of which involve migrant workers.

While disease prevention measures have been relaxed for most residents, workers have remained under tighter controls since April, when the dormitories were sealed off. Over recent months they have been allowed to travel to work and run errands, with social distancing and regular testing in place as a precaution.

From 31 October, people who test negative for Covid-19, and come from a dormitory with no active cases, will be allowed to visit recreation centres on their days off, where they will be able to shop for food, remit money, go to restaurants or get a haircut.

More now on US hospitals facing increases threats of cybercrime.

Federal agencies have warned that the US healthcare system is facing an “increased and imminent” threat of cybercrime, and that cybercriminals are unleashing a wave of extortion attempts designed to lock up hospital information systems, which could hurt patient care just as nationwide cases of Covid-19 are spiking.

In a joint alert Wednesday, the FBI and two federal agencies warned that they had “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to US hospitals and healthcare providers”. The alert said malicious groups are targeting the sector with attacks that produce “data theft and disruption of healthcare services”.

The cyberattacks involve ransomware, which scrambles data into gibberish that can only be unlocked with software keys provided once targets pay up. Independent security experts say it has already hobbled at least five US hospitals this week, and could potentially impact hundreds more:

India crossing 8m cases comes amod concerns grew over a major Hindu festival season and winter setting in, AP reports.

Life in India is edging back to pre-virus levels with shops, businesses, subway trains and movie theaters reopening and the country’s third-largest state of Bihar with a population of about 122 million people holding elections.

But health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections.

People wait to be tested at the Municipal Corporation dispensary Coronavirus Testing centre in Delhi, India, 28 Oct 2020.
People wait to be tested at the Municipal Corporation dispensary Coronavirus Testing centre in Delhi, India, 28 Oct 2020.
Photograph: Pradeep Gaur/REX/Shutterstock

India saw a steep rise in cases in July and added more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when daily infections touched a record of 97,894 and the highest number of deaths at 1,275.

Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist, said that in most parts of India the infection curve was never flattened and the number of people who are now susceptible to the virus had decreased.

He warned that the ongoing festival season was likely to increase the speed of the viral spread, resulting in localized outbreaks where people gathered without masks and didn’t adhere to social distancing.

Germany reports record 16,774 new cases

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 16,774 to 481,013, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

The reported death toll rose by 89 to 10,272, the tally showed.

The new case figure is the highest ever recorded in Germany. The previous record, reported the day before, was 14,964.

India becomes second country worldwide to pass 8m cases

India’s Covid-19 tally surpassed the 8-million mark on Thursday, according to the health ministry, after 49,881 new cases were confirmed.

The ministry on Thursday also reported 517 additional deaths, taking total fatalities to 120,527.

The Johns Hopkins tracker doesn’t yet reflect the new data (it currently shows 7,990,322), but with the new cases, the total stands at 80,40,526, according to the Times of India.

The only other country worldwide with more than 8m cases is the United States, with 8.8m cases.

Updated

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have published an alert warning that hospitals and healthcare providers accross the country are facing an “increased and imminent cybercrime threat”.

Among these threats are ransomware attacks – where an institution’s systems are encrypted and held for ransom: the attacker will release the encrypted information only once money is paid.

The report’s key findings include:

CISA, FBI, and HHS assess malicious cyber actors are targeting the HPH Sector with Trickbot malware, often leading to ransomware attacks, data theft, and the disruption of healthcare services.

These issues will be particularly challenging for organizations within the COVID-19 pandemic; therefore, administrators will need to balance this risk when determining their cybersecurity investments.

America’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has praised Melbourne, Australia’s response to the coronavirus, saying he “wished” the US could adopt the same mentality.

In an interview hosted by the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne-based Doherty Institute, Fauci said Australia was “one of the countries that has done actually quite well” in handling the virus.

“I really wish that we could transplant that kind of mentality here,” he said. “Because masks in the United States have almost become a political statement”:

Fauci, who is the most senior member of the White House’s coronavirus taskforce, said that Melbourne’s lockdown and mandatory mask-wearing had struck the right balance between public health and opening up the economy.

“A couple of hours before I came to my home here to pick up this Zoom, I was at a meeting virtually in the situation room in the White House,” he said. “If I were to use the word ‘shutdown’ the country or ‘lockdown’, I would be in serious trouble. They would probably be throwing tomatoes at me or something”:

Nicola Sturgeon is due to outline how each area in Scotland will be impacted by the tiered lockdown restrictions, PA media reports.

The new graded system is to come into effect on Monday after the proposals were backed by the Scottish Parliament.

It will be a five-tier system, ranging from the baseline Level 0 to the highest Level 4. The First Minister is expected to announce how local authorities will fall into each category at FMQs on Thursday.

Local leaders in Lanarkshire have pleaded with the Scottish Government not to impose the toughest coronavirus restrictions in the area – warning they could have “potentially catastrophic impacts” on local businesses.

North and South Lanarkshire are the only two authorities where the First Minister has been considering imposing the toughest restrictions straight away.

Much of central Scotland, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Dundee, could be placed straight into Level 3 when the tiers are introduced from Monday.

In Level 3, bars and restaurants are not permitted to sell alcohol either indoors or outside, and must close by 6pm.

Updated

Five Spanish regions close their borders

Five more Spanish regions, including Madrid, said Wednesday they would close their borders ahead of the All Saints’ Day long weekend to try to halt a surge in coronavirus infections, AFP reports.

Spanish families traditionally visit the graves of loved ones on the November 1 holiday to leave flowers. As this year the holiday falls on a Sunday, Monday has been declared a holiday to create a three-day weekend.

Some six million people traditionally travel to other parts of Spain during the All Saints’ Day holiday weekend and as a result the regional government of Madrid plans to close the region’s borders from Friday until November 2, said the head of the region’s government, Isabel Diaz Ayuso.

“We are aware that we must continue to reduce social contacts,” she told a joint news conference with the heads of the neighbouring regions of Castilla and Leon and Castilla-La Mancha who said they would shut their borders until Monday November 9, a bank holiday in Madrid.

A pharmacy in Mostoles, Spain.
A pharmacy in Mostoles, Spain.
Photograph: May Robledo/Alfa Images/REX/Shutterstock

Separately, the coastal regions of Murcia in the southeast and Andalusia in the southwest, popular destinations for residents of inland cities like Madrid during long weekends, said they would also shut their borders from Friday until November 9.

The move means no one will be able to enter or leave the regions during this period except for essential reasons such as seeking medical care or going to work.

Three of Spain’s 17 regions – Navarra, La Rioja and the Basque Country – have already closed their borders earlier this month.

Since exiting a strict national lockdown in June, coronavirus cases in Spain have soared, with thousands of infections diagnosed every day. Hospitalisations, though lower than their March-April peak, are also on the rise.

Spain last week became the first European Union nation to surpass one million confirmed Covid-19 infections, with the virus claiming more than 35,000 lives.

Updated

In other Australian news – not coronavirus related – a bull has escaped from an enclosure at a private all-boys school in Sydney and has been on the run for more than 24 hours.

The one-year-old steer – a castrated bull – was brought to St Ignatius College Riverview in Sydney’s Lane Cove as part of the school’s agricultural education program.

But the animal broke through a fence at the school on Tuesday night and escaped.

On Thursday, the school said the bull was still at large, and was concerned about it “roaming in a highly urbanised area”. It was last sighted in Lane Cove, a spokeswoman said.

New South Wales police confirmed they had received a report about the missing bull.

“It was reported yesterday that a cow was not in its place,” a spokeswoman told Guardian Australia:

Updated

Australia’s Covid-19 hotspot state Victoria reported only one new infection on Thursday, a day after it lifted a four month lockdown in the city of Melbourne.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said that while there were three positive cases of Covid-19 detected in the past 24 hours, two may be old infections.

“This is another good day,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

Victoria, which accounts for more than 90% of the 905 deaths nationally, did not record any new deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours.

People are seen enjoying eased covid19 restrictions at the Melbourne Zoo in Melbourne, Thursday, 29 October 2020.
People are seen enjoying eased covid19 restrictions at the Melbourne Zoo in Melbourne, Thursday, 29 October 2020.
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Melbourne, a city of some five million people, on Wednesday emerged from a stringent lockdown credited with ending a Covid second wave, allowing restaurants, cafes and shops to reopen.

Australia’s most populous state New South Wales said it detected three locally acquired infections in the past 24 hours.

Australia has recorded just over 27,500 novel coronavirus infections, far fewer than many other developed countries.

Updated

Coronavirus has had a “devastating” impact on the UK’s pubs and will exacerbate the decline in the number of independent breweries – for the first time in nearly two decades – an influential consumer guide has warned.

Thousands of pubs and breweries that survived the first lockdown are now fighting to stay afloat amid a slump in business following ongoing restrictions and curfews that could “make or break” the industry, according to the 2021 Good Beer Guide, published on Thursday by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

The annual guide reveals that the total number of independent UK breweries has dipped to 1,816 from 1,823 last year – the first time it has recorded a decline in numbers since the explosion in UK breweries started in 2008. While 163 breweries have opened this year and are newly listed, many more have closed their doors, cutting the net figure:

Stock markets in Asia Pacific have followed Wall Street and Europe into the red on Thursday led by hefty losses in Australia, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Concerns about the continuing rise in coronavirus infections across the northern hemisphere has been driving the selloff in stocks, which had made a strong recovery after big falls in March and April.

The ASX200 in Sydney is down 1.4%, as is the Kospi in Seoul and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong. The Nikkei has not suffered so much and is off 0.7%.

Despite having a much better record on containing the virus than the US and Europe, the weak sentiment has nevertheless spread to Asia Pacific markets, said Jingyi Pan, senior market strategist at IG Markets in Singapore.

“With US and Europe under pressure, Asia will not be totally immune to a slowdown either though it remains a wait-and-see situation. As such, we are looking at Asia markets broadly sliding on Thursda,” she said.

There is some better news in the futures market where the S&P500 and the Dow Jones are seen bouncing back by 1% later on Thursday.

Mexico’s health ministry reported on Wednesday 5,595 additional cases of the novel coronavirus and 495 more deaths in the country, bringing the official number of cases to 906,863 and the death toll to 90,309.

Health officials have said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases. On Sunday, the ministry said the true death toll from Covid-19 may be around 50,000 higher.

Germany meanwhile will shut bars, restaurants and theatres from 2-30 November under measures agreed between Merkel and heads of regional governments. Schools will stay open, and shops will be allowed to operate with strict limits on access.

“We need to take action now,” Merkel said. “Our health system can still cope with this challenge today, but at this speed of infections it will reach the limits of its capacity within weeks.”

Her finance minister, Olaf Scholz, posted on Twitter: “November will be a month of truth. The increasing numbers of infections are forcing us to take tough countermeasures in order to break the second wave.”

Here is what we know so far about France’s new national lockdown.

French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the country back into lockdown on Wednesday, as a massive second wave of coronavirus infections threatened to overwhelm Europe before the winter.

World stock markets went into a dive in response to the news that Europe’s biggest economies – Germany has also ordered lockdown – were imposing nationwide restrictions almost as severe as the ones that drove the global economy this year into its deepest recession in generations.

“The virus is circulating at a speed that not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated,” Macron said in a televised address.

“Like all our neighbours, we are submerged by the sudden acceleration of the virus.”

“We are all in the same position: overrun by a second wave which we know will be harder, more deadly than the first,” he said. “I have decided that we need to return to the lockdown which stopped the virus.”

Under the new French measures, which come into force at midnight on Thursday, people will be required to stay in their homes except to buy essential goods, seek medical attention, or exercise for up to one hour a day. They will be permitted to go to work if their employer deems it impossible for them to do the job from home. Schools will stay open.

As in the darkest days of spring, anyone leaving their home in France will now have to carry a document justifying being outside, which can be checked by police.

Updated

Iran reports record new deaths

Iran declared “full-scale war” with coronavirus as it reported a record death toll Wednesday for a second straight day and surging infections overload a health care system struggling with US sanctions.

The Middle East’s worst-hit country recorded 415 deaths in 24 hours.

AFP:

“This is the result of an unprecedented rise in infections and hospitalisations in recent weeks,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in a televised address, visibly moved as she gave the grim figures.

“We are now in a full-scale war with the coronavirus,” she said.

Iranian women wearing face masks walk past next to the Saleh shrine in Tehran, Iran, 26 October 2020.
Iranian women wearing face masks walk past next to the Saleh shrine in Tehran, Iran, 26 October 2020.
Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

The latest fatalities, 69 above Tuesday’s toll which was also a daily record, raised the total virus deaths to 33,714 in the country of 80 million. Lari said 6,824 people had tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing Iran’s declared cases to 558,648.

President Hassan Rouhani warned last week that his country was now faced with “a larger wave of this virus and we have to fight it”.

Figures have kept rising since September. Tehran province accounts for more than half of Iran’s daily Covid-19 deaths, according to its crisis management chief, Reza Karami.

The burgeoning cases have overloaded Iran’s already stretched hospitals, as renewed US sanctions since its withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran hit all sectors of the Iranian economy.

Phil Taylor reports for the Guardian:

New Zealand house prices have defied the Covid-19 recession and soared to record levels, prompting warnings that the hot property market will damage the country’s long-term economic wellbeing and widen inequality.

New Zealand, which already had some of the most unaffordable housing in the world, saw median prices rise 11.1 % in the year to September, while the median price in Auckland reached nearly $1m (US$660,000). Prices rose 2.5% across the country just in September.

But while cheap loans and looser lending requirements designed to stimulate the economy during the pandemic have attracted investors back into the market, many fear that first-time buyers and lower-income groups will be increasingly left behind by the rise in prices:

(yes, this article is by that Cate Blanchett)

The other day I had to go into town for a dental appointment. I put on all sorts of lovely clothes as if I were going out to dinner and an opening night. The prospect of being out and about was both exhilarating and daunting. I so desperately wanted to be among people and in the city, but I’d also completely forgotten what an event was. The dentist did not seem surprised by my sartorial over-commitment – but then, I was not the first patient he had seen since lockdown.

As a person working in the arts sector, the lockdown was strangely familiar on one level – a lot of actors get stuck in a kind of limbo waiting for someone else to give them permission to do what they are good at. It was as if we were all waiting by the phone for our agent to call. It was also strangely unfamiliar because the community that holds us together, the audiences, as well as the changing of the shows and the new releases, were all put on hold too. The flow between us all was severely affected, and I was both heartened and horrified when it began to surface online. Heartened because the urge to express ourselves and the desire to communicate seems undaunted by anything. Horrified because the worst place to rehearse and perform is alone in the mirror, and sometimes the phone is just a mirror:

China reports 47 new cases – highest in two months

Mainland China reported 47 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on 28 October, up from 42 a day earlier and marking the highest daily increase in more than two months, the country’s national health authority said on Thursday.

Of the new cases, 23 were local infections in Xinjiang involving previously asymptomatic patients following a mass infection reported in Kashgar. The rest were imported infections originating from overseas.

Commuters wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus look out from a traveling bus during the morning rush hour in Beijing, Monday, 26 October, 2020.
Commuters wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus look out from a traveling bus during the morning rush hour in Beijing, Monday, 26 October, 2020.
Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

The increase in confirmed Covid-19 infections marks the highest since 49 cases were reported for 9 August, but still at a small fraction of what the country saw at the height of the epidemic in February. The total number of new asymptomatic cases fell to 16 from 38 a day earlier.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 85,915, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

Updated

Remote Marshall Islands records its first coronavirus cases

One of the last coronavirus-free sanctuaries in the world has been breached, with the US military importing two cases of Covid-19 into the remote Marshall Islands.

The Marshalls had been one of the last nations on Earth – most of which are in the Pacific – without a single confirmed case of Covid-19.

But the country’s chief secretary issued an alert on Wednesday night saying the country’s first border cases of the novel coronavirus had been identified in two workers on the US military base on Kwajalein Atoll:

A generation of babies born during the Covid-19 pandemic may be at risk because they and their parents are not being fully supported by health visitors in the weeks and months after birth, a coalition of children’s charities has said.

The NSPCC and nine other early-years charities say restrictions to the service and redeployment of health visitors could mean thousands of families do not receive checks they are entitled to.

Only one in 10 parents with children under the age of two saw a health visitor face to face during lockdown, according to a study published in August:

Global daily cases pass 500,000

A total of 516,898 new infections were registered worldwide on Tuesday, according to an AFP tally from health authorities around the globe – a record figure, although experts caution that most coronavirus cases were undiagnosed during the first wave.

The Johns Hopkins University tracker shows that the world has twice so far recorded a total of over 500,000 – and both in the last week. 23 October saw 506,713 new infections, while 26 October had a total of 525,164.

Many epidemiologists have been warning for weeks that European governments have lost control of the latest outbreaks, AFP ereports, making lockdowns almost inevitable as a last resort in what has become the global epicentre of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

New cases in Europe have been doubling every week or so, while track-and-trace and mass-testing systems that were promised after the first wave have been quickly overwhelmed.

Reflecting the bleak outlook, and with the seasonal winter flu season still ahead in the northern hemisphere, European and US stock markets tumbled as investors fretted over how the new measures will further hurt the economy.

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan.

Shortly before he announced a new national lockdown, French president, Emmanuel Macron, said Covid-19 is circulating more quickly than forecast and new measures are needed.

He said it is predicted that by mid-November all intensive care beds will be filled with Covid-19 cases and that France needs a sudden “brutal brake” on the transmission of the virus so doctors don’t have to make choices between Covid cases and car accident cases, for example.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron imposed a new nationwide lockdown as Covid-19 cases continue to surge. The new measures echo the eight-week lockdown that France enforced in the spring, when hospitalisations and deaths caused by Covid-19 reached a peak. But unlike the previous lockdown, most schools are to remain open, Macron said, while universities will revert to online teaching and working from home will be generalised.
  • The number of new cases recorded across Europe and beyond continued to grow, with new highs in cases or deaths in many countries, including Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, Iran, and Russia.
  • AFP said that Tuesday’s daily toll of more than 500,000 infections was a new high – a figure that is likely to be overshadowed by Wednesday’s once the total is known.
  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen set out a raft of new measures. Her key coronavirus advisor Peter Piot said that the new resurgence in the virus had come back because “we kind of relaxed too much”.
  • Germany will impose an emergency month-long lockdown that includes the closure of restaurants, gyms and theatres to reverse a rise in coronavirus cases that risks overwhelming hospitals, chancellor Angela Merkel said.
  • South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa went into self-isolation after a guest at a dinner he attended on Saturday tested positive. He is showing no symptoms, according to the government.
  • The death tolls in Canada and Turkey rose to over 10,000. In Argentina, it went past 30,000. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau said: “This is going to be a tough winter”.

Updated

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