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UK health leaders have called for the country’s political parties to work together to contain the coronavirus.

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 24 June

UK health leaders warn there is a “real risk” of a second wave

A second wave of coronavirus infections in the UK is a “real risk” and all political parties should work together to ensure the country is ready for it, warned a group of health leaders including presidents of the Royal College of Physicians, Surgeons, GPs and Nursing and the chair of the British Medical Association. In a letter addressed to leaders of UK political parties published on the British Medical Journal’s website, they say, “the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk. Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.” 

The letter calls for a “cross party commission” including all four nations of the UK, “that could rapidly produce practical recommendations for action.” They highlight several areas needing attention, including parliamentary scrutiny of national and local governance, procurement of goods and services, better public health coordination and the “disproportionate burden on black, Asian, and minority ethnic individuals and communities.”


In parliament today, Labour leader Keir Starmer asked UK prime minister Boris Johnson why the NHS Test and Trace system was only able to reach just over 10,000 people in England when Office for National Statistics figures estimated that 33,000 people were infected. Johnson said the Labour leader’s numbers were misleading, prompting an intervention from the Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who asked Johnson to take back his comment.

Other coronavirus news

The UK government is not certain that the R number in England is below 1, according to leaked documents from Public Health England seen by Huffington Post UK. The document, dated last Thursday, says, “we cannot preclude [the R number] being above 1” and “there is some evidence that [the R number] has recently risen in all regions and we believe that this is likely to be due to increasing mobility and mixing between households.” 

The European Union is considering blocking US visitors from travelling to EU nations. People in countries with severe outbreaks of coronavirus “where the virus is circulating most actively,” would not be allowed to enter, according to an EU diplomat quoted by CNN. The list of blocked nations could include the US, Brazil, Russia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Saudi Arabia.

People in Scotland will be able to meet indoors with up to two other households from 10 July, and pubs and restaurants will be allowed to re-open from 15 July.

Mothers with suspected or confirmed covid-19 should be encouraged to breastfeed as the “benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks for transmission”, says a scientific briefing from the World Health Organization

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 478,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 9.2 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

UK town tests entire population: Southampton is about to start testing thousands of people for the coronavirus each week, using easily collected saliva and a cheap, quick way of detecting the virus.

Pubs and data protection: Customers in UK pubs will have to provide personal information upon entry to help coronavirus contact tracing, but there are concerns about how the data will be handled. 

Essential information about coronavirus

What is covid-19?

What are the worst symptoms and how deadly is covid-19?

You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it

How many people have been infected with the coronavirus?

What does evidence say about schools reopening?

What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

Covid-19 Fact Checkers, a podcast from Vice, pairs up young people with experts who can answer their questions relating to the pandemic. A recent episode focused on why people in the UK from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are being disproportionately affected by covid-19.

Can You Save The World? is a coronavirus social distancing game, where the player travels through a city and gains points for saving lives by practising social distancing correctly and collecting masks. 

What coronavirus looks like in every country on Earth is a 28-minute film from Channel 4 News showing what daily life looks like in every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

Coronavirus: The science of a pandemic: As the death toll from covid-19 rises, discover how researchers around the world are racing to understand the virus and prevent future outbreaks in our free online panel discussion.

A day in the life of coronavirus Britain is an uplifting Channel 4 documentary shot over 24 hours which shows how the citizens of Britain are coping under lockdown.

New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.

The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.

Coronavirus trajectory tracker explained, a video by John Burn-Murdoch for the Financial Times, uses data visualisation to explain the daily graphs that show how coronavirus cases and deaths are growing around the world.

Contagion: The BBC Four Pandemic is a sober documentary about the progression of a hypothetical pandemic which the BBC simulated in 2017. Fronted by science journalist and TV presenter Hannah Fry, and made with the support of some of the country’s best epidemiologists and mathematical modelers, it’s very relevant to today’s covid-19 pandemic.

Previous updates

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Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open in England as of 4 July

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23 June

UK government to relax two-metre distancing rule amid warnings from scientists

The UK government is relaxing the current two-metre distancing rule to “one-metre plus” in England, despite the warnings of some scientists that coronavirus cases remain too high to loosen restrictions. The new guidance comes into effect as of 4 July, when some other restrictions will also be eased.

“Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should,” prime minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons earlier today. “But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one-metre-plus.” This means keeping a metre apart, while taking other precautions, such as avoiding face-to-face seating, wearing face coverings and using hand sanitiser, Johnson went on to explain. Businesses will be encouraged to implement the use of protective screens, change office layouts and shift patterns and improve ventilation, for example.

At the same time, numerous venues will be allowed to reopen in England, including pubs, museums, cinemas, hotels, campsites and hairdressers. And members of two separate households will be allowed to meet in any setting, including indoors.

The announcement came a day after warnings were published by Independent SAGE – a group of scientists operating independently of the government. Reducing distancing to one metre, indoors, will “effectively end” social distancing, say the researchers, who also point out that 97 per cent of super-spreading events occur in indoor spaces. The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that some countries are “seeing an upswing in cases as they reopen their societies and economies”.

Other coronavirus news

The number of excess deaths in the UK since mid-March now stands at 65,700, according to an analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics by the Financial Times. Excess deaths are a calculation of how many more deaths have occurred than would normally be expected, and include deaths from any cause.

An ongoing survey by the WHO suggests routine healthcare has been diminished in many countries as a result of the pandemic. Of the 82 countries that have responded so far, almost three-quarters report that dental and rehabilitation services have been disrupted, while two-thirds report disruptions to immunisation programmes and treatment for non-infectious diseases, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing yesterday. Mental health services, antenatal care, cancer diagnosis and treatment and services for children have also been disrupted in more than half of the countries.

Saudi Arabia is scaling back the Hajj pilgrimage. Typically, 2.5 million pilgrims make the journey from abroad. This year, no overseas visitors will be allowed. The total number of attendees will be limited to around 1000 people.

Novak Djokovic, world number one tennis player, has tested positive for coronavirus. The announcement comes amid criticism of Djokovic’s decision to plan a tennis competition in Serbia. The Adria Tour has since been cancelled, but not before other players, including Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki, all tested positive for the virus after participating in it.

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 472,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 9 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

New Zealand’s success: Michael Baker, the doctor who devised New Zealand’s aggressive coronavirus response, explains what inspired his successful strategy.

Green covid-19 recovery: Around four-fifths of a citizens’ assembly on climate change in the UK wants the government’s coronavirus economic recovery measures to also help the country meet its target of slashing carbon emissions to net zero.

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.


22 June

Lack of global leadership is the ‘greatest threat’ in fighting the pandemic, says WHO 

The greatest threat in fighting the pandemic is the lack of global political leadership and unity between different governments, World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today at a virtual health forum organised by the World Government Summit in Dubai. “The world is in desperate need of national unity and global solidarity. The politicisation of the pandemic has exacerbated it,” he said. He also called for more countries to adopt universal healthcare, which he said was “the foundation of global health security and of social and economic development.” 

Other coronavirus news  

US president Donald Trump said he asked US public health officials to “slow down” testing for coronavirus. Speaking at a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he said, “testing is a double-edged sword … when you do testing to that extent, you will find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘slow the testing down’.” Senior advisers to the White House later said the president was joking. The rally in Tulsa could have been a “super-spreader” event, Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, said yesterday. More than 6000 people attended the indoor event, the first party political rally in the US since the start of the pandemic.

The WHO reported another record for the largest daily increase in confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide yesterday. 183,020 new cases were recorded within 24 hours on Sunday, with most occurring in the Americas including 54,771 in the US and 36,617 in Brazil.

Several large local outbreaks of coronavirus in Germany, including at the one of the largest meat processing facilities in Europe, caused a jump in the country’s estimated R number from 1.06 on Friday to 2.88 today. 1331 people, more than 20 per cent of those who work at the Tönnies slaughterhouse in Gütersloh, have now tested positive for coronavirus. In response, authorities have closed the slaughterhouse, quarantined employees and their families and closed schools in the local area. Lars Schaade, vice president of Robert Koch Institute, a government public health agency, said, “since case numbers in Germany are generally low, these local outbreaks have a relatively strong influence on the value of the reproduction number.” 

The UK government is expected to announce tomorrow whether or not it will relax the rule requiring people to stay at least two metres away from one another, and whether pubs and restaurants can reopen from 4 July.

Coronavirus deaths

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Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Should you pay for a coronavirus test?: There are many antibody tests available that can reveal if you have had and recovered from the coronavirus. Is it worth paying for one?

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19 June

UK coronavirus alert level lowered from four to three

The UK’s chief medical officers today said the country’s coronavirus alert level has reduced from four to three. This level of the alert system corresponds to the virus being in general circulation, but at a level where it’s possible to gradually relax some restrictions. However, restrictions in England have already been progressively relaxed throughout June, even while the alert level remained at four – which corresponds to high or exponentially rising levels of the virus and warrants continued social distancing.

For the first time, the government today published the daily rate at which coronavirus infections are growing, alongside the UK’s R number, which remains unchanged at around 0.7 to 0.9. For the UK as a whole, the growth rate is believed to be anywhere between -2 per cent and -4 per cent, meaning that infection numbers are declining slightly. At a regional level there is a chance that new cases may be growing in London. However, the government’s science advisers believe that growth in infection numbers is unlikely.

Other coronavirus news  

People from South Asian backgrounds in the UK are 20 per cent more likely to die from covid-19 in hospital than white people, according to a preliminary study that analysed data on patients at 260 hospitals. This disparity was partly explained by higher levels of diabetes, the researchers who did the study told the BBC

China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that genetic analysis suggests that the coronavirus causing a new outbreak in the capital Beijing probably came from Europe. Earlier this week, CDC director Gao Fu said the virus may have been spreading in Beijing as early as the start of May.

Microbiologists at University College London, UK, are calling for widespread surveillance of pets, livestock and wild animals to measure the prevalence of coronavirus. There have been limited studies on animal susceptibility to the virus, they wrote in a commentary published in The Lancet Microbe on Thursday, with conflicting data on some animals, such as pigs.

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 454,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 8.5 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Threat to Amazon’s indigenous communities: Members of indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon have contracted covid-19, fuelling concerns that the disease could devastate indigenous groups throughout South America – including uncontacted tribes in the region. Many fear whole communities could be killed if they contract the virus.

middle aged young looking white female sits at home reading through Covid19 home testing kit supplied by UK government

18 June

NHS Test and Trace still not reaching enough contacts of coronavirus cases

The UK government’s contact tracing scheme for England only reached 73 per cent of people diagnosed with coronavirus between 4 and 10 June, government figures revealed today. This falls short of the 80 per cent target recommended by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for the second week in a row. Of the 5949 people who tested positive for coronavirus during this time, NHS Test and Trace only managed to contact 4366. Yesterday, Independent SAGE – an alternative group of scientists – published a report saying the 80 per cent target is currently “impossible” to meet.

In addition, not everyone contacted by NHS Test and Trace was reached quickly enough. Only 75 per cent of people who were contacted were reached within the government’s target of 24 hours. 8.6 per cent of people were only contacted after 72 hours, when the chance that an infected person has already spread the virus is high

The BBC revealed today that the government’s covid-19 contact tracing smartphone app will now use the decentralised system supported by Apple and Google, after trials on the Isle of Wight found the government’s centralised system could only detect 4 per cent of iPhones and 75 per cent of Android phones. The app won’t be ready before winter, according to the minister responsible for it.

Other coronavirus news

350,000 people in Beijing, China have been contacted to arrange testing and 22 million people in the city are now under lockdown conditions after a new outbreak of coronavirus cases linked to the Xinfadi food market. The new outbreak may have started a month earlier than first thought, due to some people not experiencing symptoms, said Gao Fu, the director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention at a seminar on Tuesday. Officials in Beijing reported 21 new coronavirus cases today, down from 31 on Wednesday and bringing the new outbreak’s total to 158 cases.

An estimated 33,000 people in England outside of hospitals and care homes had covid-19 between 31 May and 13 June, according to preliminary results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is lower than the 149,000 people thought to have been infected between 3 and 16 May and is consistent with ONS modelling that suggests the number of people testing positive in England has been falling since 26 April.

An American Airlines passenger was removed from a flight on Wednesday after refusing to wear a face covering in accordance with the airline’s new covid-19 safety policy, introduced earlier this week.  

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 449,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 8.3 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

How many people have had coronavirus?: Statistics are trickling in from cities and countries around the world, but the figures vary hugely from 1 per cent of the population to more than half. How are these figures calculated, and which can we trust?

Viruses to watch out for: Several types of viruses could pose a global threat, not just the coronavirus that causes covid-19.

Four major global public health threats: Viral pandemics aren’t the only worry: antibiotic resistance, a drop in vaccination and other issues could rapidly put the world’s health in peril.

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