Top story: UK hospital chiefs accuse ministers of tests ‘red herring’
Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories this Thursday.
Donald Trump has accused the Chinese government of doing “anything they can” to see him lose the presidential election this year, in what marks a serious escalation of the war of words between the two superpowers over the coronavirus pandemic. In an Oval Office interview with Reuters, the US president said he was looking into different options for the consequences China might face for its handling of the pandemic. “I can do a lot,” he said, before adding that Beijing’s actions had “upset very badly” the much-vaunted trade deal between the countries. Trump also said he would not extend federal social distancing guidelines when they expire today, despite US deaths from Covid-19 passing 60,000. And he told business leaders earlier in the day that the virus would soon be “gone”.
At home, the cabinet will meet today to discuss when to start easing the lockdown as the government deadline for testing 100,000 people per day looks like passing without the target being reached. Despite a record 52,000 tests being carried out on Wednesday, 19,000 were re-tests and hospital leaders criticised ministers for “a series of frequent tactical announcements” about testing targets. They said it was a “red herring” that had distracted from wider policy failures. Just days after Matt Hancock pledged to meet the 100,000 target by the end of April, the government turned down an offer of 10,000 testing kits a day from a US company. The chief coroner has issued guidelines that inquests into the death of NHS staff should not examine the impact of lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) on wards.
A study led by researchers at Liverpool university says one third of patients admitted to hospital in the UK with Covid-19 are dying. It comes as deaths in care homes and the wider community were added to the UK total, bringing the number of fatalities to 26,097 and leaving the country’s toll behind only those of the US and Italy. South Korea today recorded no new cases for the first time since February. Worldwide, almost 220,000 have died and there are 3.2m cases. You can catch up on all the key developments overnight at a glance and read more details on our live blog.
There’s more in our Coronavirus Extra section further down … and here’s where you can find all our coverage of the outbreak – from breaking news to factchecks and advice.
Windrush return – The Windrush scandal has come back to dog the government after Home Office figures revealed that 3,720 people who believe they were wrongly categorised as immigration offenders have yet to have their cases resolved. A taskforce was set up to sort out the mess that saw thousands of people facing deportation to the West Indies. More than 12,000 have had their cases resolved but two years after Amber Rudd was forced to quit as home secretary over the fiasco, lawyers and campaigners have expressed concern about the large backlog.
Power play – Experts believe renewable electricity will be the only energy that can survive the economic shock triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The International Energy Agency said the outbreak would cause demand for oil, gas and coal to slump to multi-decade lows but renewable power would grow its share of the market.
Biden pressure – Joe Biden is under increasing pressure to publicly address allegations of sexual assault made by a former employee in his Senate office. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has remained silent about the alleged assault that Tara Reade said took place in 1993. But women’s organisations are said to be privately urging Biden to address the matter and the Washington Post has called on him to make a statement.
Noir pioneer dies – Maj Sjöwall, the Swedish author credited with co-inventing the Nordic noir genre, has died aged 84. Along with her late husband, Per Wahloo, Sjöwall penned a 10-book series based on the dour, middle-aged Martin Beck and his team of detectives. They inspired a generation of other writers such as Henning Mankell who said the couple “broke with the previous trends in crime fiction”.
There was some evidence for Trump’s optimistic forecast after positive early results in the US yesterday from a trial of remdesivir. The results showed that patients recovered 31% faster than those treated with a placebo, sending stock markets soaring. White House adviser Dr Anthony Fauci called the trials “quite good news”, while his colleague Dr Deborah Birx is also in the news because her collection of scarves has turned her into a social media celebrity.
Despite a fall in the death rates in Italy, life is still extremely tough in many parts of the country. Our reporter Lorenzo Tondo has spoken to residents in the poor Zen district of the Sicilian capital, Palermo, where they fear the mafia will reassert control and where the grim lockdown days “never end”.
In Sweden, authorities in the town of Lund have dumped a tonne of chicken manure in the local park to deter people from gathering there for traditional Walpurgis Night celebrations tonight. Captain Tom Moore, the second world war veteran whose fundraising walk has captured the nation’s hearts and imagination, has been appointed an honorary colonel to mark his 100th birthday today.
Today in Focus podcast
Our wealth correspondent, Rupert Neate, looks at why billionaire Sir Richard Branson is asking the UK government to give his Virgin Atlantic airline a £500m bailout to help it survive the economic fallout of the lockdown.
Lunchtime read: The yoga teacher who won the lockdown
With gyms and studios worldwide off limits, online exercise classes are booming – and one teacher from Texas, Adriene Mishler, has become the “patron saint of quarantine”. Find out how in today’s long read.
Consideration should be given to playing high-stakes matches at neutral venues if football returns this season to minimise the impact on the emergency services, the national football policing unit has said. The prospects of sport being given approval on Friday to restart behind closed doors when representative bodies meet the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Public Health England have been heavily played down. The former England defender Trevor Cherry has died at the age of 72, his former club Leeds has announced. More than half of the world’s top female footballers believe their clubs do not have enough backroom staff to support them, according to the 2020 women’s football report by the global players’ union, Fifpro. UK Athletics has finally handed over to the UK Anti-Doping Agency its full internal 2015 review into Mo Farah’s relationship with Alberto Salazar. Bill Beaumont has received a significant boost in his bid to be re-elected as World Rugby chairman after the Welsh union announced it is backing the former England captain. And Andy Cole, the former Manchester United striker, has told the Guardian of his struggles during the coronavirus lockdown as he deals with the continuing problems of a kidney transplant in 2017.
UK car production dropped by more than a third in March to its lowest since 2009 as the pandemic forced factories to close. But hopes of a virus treatment have continued to boost stocks overnight and there was a bounce this morning despite the wave of desperate economic news. The pound is buying $1.247 and €1.146.
The smiling face of Boris Johnson features on most front pages this morning after news that he has become a father again. Only the Sun actually leads with the story though, combining it with Tom Moore’s promotion to honorary colonel on his 100th birthday. “Happy birthdays”, the headline reads. The Express has a “rousing message” from the centenarian: “‘Together we will beat this enemy’”.
The Telegraph leads with “Johnson to dash lockdown hopes” while the Guardian has “Hospital chiefs condemn testing failures amid growing frustration”. The Times says “Drugs trial gives hope for treatment of virus” and the FT goes with “Ministers draw up blueprint for safe working to reopen economy”.
The Mail boasts that its campaign to ship in PPE for health workers has been a success, picturing a nurse donning the gear with a headline saying: “She’s safe … thanks to Mail’s £1m airlift”. The Mirror says the UK death toll is “A national tragedy” and the i says: “Care homes: the new front line”.
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