UK looks to extend lockdown as ’death ship’ probe likely

 

The British government warned on Monday (local time) it would not be lifting a nationwide lockdown anytime soon as the country remains in the grip of a coronavirus outbreak that has claimed more than 11,000 lives.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from his own bout of COVID-19, said there were some "positive" signs of progress.

But he warned at a daily media briefing: "We're still not past the peak of this virus."

The government must decide by Thursday whether to maintain three-week-old rules to keep schools and shops shut and order people to stay in their homes to try to stop coronavirus spreading.

A deserted Trafalgar Square. The UK looks set to extend its lockdown. Picture: AP
A deserted Trafalgar Square. The UK looks set to extend its lockdown. Picture: AP

 

"We don't expect to make any changes to the measures currently in place at that point, and we won't until we're confident as we realistically can be that any such changes can be safely made," Mr Raab said.

He said that "if we eased up too early, we'd risk a second wave" of infections. New figures from the health ministry on Monday revealed that 11,329 people hospitalised with coronavirus have died in Britain, making it one of the worst-affected nations in the world.

This number is up 717 on the previous day, down from previous daily tolls. However, data on a Monday is often lower due to underreporting at weekends.

Mr Johnson, who is recuperating at Chequers, the British PM's traditional summer residence, became the most high-profile world leader to contract the virus last month and spent a week in hospital -- including three days in intensive care -- before being discharged on Sunday.

The 55-year-old issued a video thanking the medics who cared for him, and admitting that at one point, he believed it "could have gone either way".

 

'TERRIBLE' NEW YORK DEATH TOLL PASSES 10,000

More than 10,000 New Yorkers have now been lost to the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday (local time) - though he said that the "worst is over" if the state stays the course.

Another 671 deaths were reported in the 24-hour period ending at midnight on Monday (4pm AEST), running the overall toll to 10,056, said Gov. Cuomo, in what he called "the worst news I've ever had to deliver to the people of this state."

"The terrible news is as terrible as it gets," Gov. Cuomo said, referring to the tally surpassing the 10,000 mark.

"This is 671 people who passed away on Easter Sunday," the governor said. "To have this happen over this weekend is really, really especially tragic and they are all in our thoughts and prayers."

Even as New York passed one grim milestone, it neared another, closing in on 200,000 statewide diagnoses, with 195,031 now tallied, Gov. Cuomo said.

But amid the heartbreak, Gov. Cuomo pointed toward encouraging signs in hospitalisation and infection rates.

"The worst is over," he proclaimed - with the caveat that the state must not take its foot off the gas with regard to social distancing and other preventive practices.

Sunday saw 1958 new coronavirus hospitalisations statewide, the first time the daily figure has dipped below 2000 since March 29.

The total number of hospitalisations also remained roughly flat at 18,825, a 24-hour net increase of just 118, as the disease continued its apparent leveling off.

Gov. Cuomo admitted he won't feel able to take "a deep breath" until a vaccine for the bug is found, an estimated 12 to 18 months down the road.

But in the meantime, the governor urged New Yorkers to maintain the momentum won at so great a cost.

"We can control the spread. Feel good about that," he said. "Because, by the way, we could have gotten to a point where we said, 'We can't control this damn thing.'"

 

A woman looks at a coronavirus graffiti in Hamm, Germany. Picture: AP
A woman looks at a coronavirus graffiti in Hamm, Germany. Picture: AP

 

ITALY HITS 20,000 DEATHS BUT CURVE FLATTENS

 

The number of deaths related to the coronavirus has passed 20,000 in Italy but the country hardest hit by the outbreak in Europe has reported a slowing increase in new infections.

According to the Civil Protection Agency in Rome on Monday (local time), 566 new deaths were registered within the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 20,465 since February.

The previous day, 431 people had died in connection with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The number of reported infections increased by about 2.0 per cent to 159,516, a slightly lower rise than the day before.

The number of unreported cases however is likely to remain high. Experts in Italy have been talking about positive signals for days as the infection curve has flattened.

The pressure on intensive care units continues to ease, which is especially important to overcrowded hospitals in the hardest-hit north. Italy has measures in place to combat the coronavirus outbreak, including curfews and shutting down most of public life.

The government recently extended the lockdown measures until May 3.

 

Italian police talk to a cyclist in Rome. The country remains in complete lockdown. Picture: AP
Italian police talk to a cyclist in Rome. The country remains in complete lockdown. Picture: AP

 

'DEATH SHIP' PROBE LIKELY

Meanwhile, a powerful independent inquiry into the handling of the Ruby Princess could run alongside a criminal investigation into how 2700 potentially infected passengers were allowed to disembark from the vessel and scatter across the country and around the world.

It is understood Premier Gladys Berejiklian may decide to instigate a commission of inquiry into the matter, running concurrently with the police probe, based on advice from Mick Fuller on how long his investigation will take.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian may decide to instigate a commission of inquiry into the handling of the Ruby Princess cruise ship. Picture: AAP Image
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian may decide to instigate a commission of inquiry into the handling of the Ruby Princess cruise ship. Picture: AAP Image

Authorities confirmed yesterday that two more Ruby Princess passengers have died from COVID-19, a 74-year-old woman and a 79-year-old man, bringing the death toll from the ship to 18.

It comes as Tasmanian authorities declared infected passengers from the ship were one of the "strongest leads" in identifying what caused an outbreak of the killer virus in the state's northwest that has seen 60 people infected.

Meanwhile, a crew member has been identified as the likely source of the deadly outbreak on-board the ship.

 

"At this stage we would think that it was probably a crew member working in, probably the galley, someone who's serving food," Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.

Mr Fuller will brief Ms Berejiklian today on how long a criminal investigation into the handling of the ship will take.

Yesterday, Mr Fuller said a plea for information had yielded more than 220 leads which could take detectives months to work through.

Ms Berejiklian might instigate a commission of inquiry into the handling of the debacle if she thinks the police probe will take too long.

That comes after state Labor threatened to establish a parliamentary inquiry if Ms Berejiklian does not set up a powerful independent probe before parliament next sits.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydne. Picture: AAP.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydne. Picture: AAP.

"The preference would be that a special commission of inquiry … that could be transparent and independent," Opposition leader Jodi McKay said. "That would be our preference, but if we can't get that, then we want to use the parliament."

Meanwhile, crew on the coronavirus-riddled vessel could be flown to their home countries on charter flights as early as this week.

"Potentially charter flights that would be paid for by Carnival, absolutely in the first instance," Mr Fuller said. "Consulates like the British the American, the Canadian consulate, are keen to get their people home. If someone is clear of the virus they could certainly fly with normal ­restrictions."

 

TASMANIA REPORTS SIX NEW CASES

Six new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the past 24 hours in a hotspot in Tasmania's northwest, bringing the state's total number of cases to 150.

Director of public health Dr. Mark Veitch said in a statement that three of the cases were health care workers, one was an inpatient and two cases were close contacts of confirmed cases.

"Four cases are male, two are female; their ages range from the 20s to 70s," Dr Veitch said.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein during the COVID-19 update. Picture: Chris Kidd
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein during the COVID-19 update. Picture: Chris Kidd

The Tasmanian Government also confirmed it had called in assistance from the Federal Government and the Australian Defence Force to help contain the outbreak in the region, which is currently under increased restrictions.

Two hospitals on the state's northwest coast, Burnie's North West Regional Hospital and North West Private Hospital, were shut down at 7pm on Monday night and 4000 to 5000 Tasmanians have been forced into two weeks of quarantine in the region.

"I don't think any Premier ever, in the history of this state, has had to ask so many people to do so much to help us to get on top of this outbreak," said state premier Peter Gutwein, while urging people to follow the strict quarantine measures.

"The measures we put in place now, I hope, will be supported by the northwest community.

"We need you to work with us, we need you to follow the rules, to do as we ask, to stay home, to save lives.

Health Minister Sarah Courtney during the COVID-19 update. Picture Chris Kidd
Health Minister Sarah Courtney during the COVID-19 update. Picture Chris Kidd

"We will get through this but the only way that we will get through this is together."

Health Minister Sarah Courtney said that extra PPE (personal protective equipment) was being sent to the Mersey Community Hospital, where at least four new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the past couple of days.

And she stressed that emergency medical care was still available on the northwest coast.

"I'd like to reassure all Tasmanians that if you're on the northwest coast and you experience a medical emergency, please do not hesitate to call triple-0,' she said.

"We have plans in place to make sure that you get the highest quality care."

ADF medics would be deployed to reopen the emergency department at the NWRH once it had been thoroughly cleaned, Ms. Courtney said.

The Mersey Community Hospital. Patients were transferred from the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie to the Mersey Community Hospital in Latrobe. Picture: PATRICK GEE
The Mersey Community Hospital. Patients were transferred from the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie to the Mersey Community Hospital in Latrobe. Picture: PATRICK GEE

"We are going to deploy these clean staff that have been provided from the ADF and from AusMAT (Australian Medical Assistance Teams) to Burnie to enable emergency department presentations within 72 hours," she said.

"That is our aim - to make sure that that community has a health care service as they need."

Police patrols have continued heavily in the state, with officers issuing six summonses and arrests for breaches of coronavirus laws in the past 24 hours, along with 20 advice notices and warnings.

At least 23 people were charged with failing to comply with social-distancing laws over the weekend.

On Sunday the Premier said police would be paying "special attention" to areas in the northwest.

WA HOSPITAL WORKERS TO GET VACCINE

Around 1000 of WA's frontline hospital workers will be given a tuberculous vaccine in an experimental bid to boost their resistance to COVID-19, as well as reduce the severity of their symptoms should they contract the deadly virus.

And if the results of the world-leading trial are promising, the drug could emerge as a possible preventive measure for the general population.

Mining magnate Andrew Forrest's charitable Minderoo Foundation will bankroll the $1.5 million trial, which is being led by the Telethon Kids Institute and is now recruiting 2000 volunteers from Perth Children's Hospital, Fiona Stanley Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest will bankroll a tuberculosis vaccine trial. Picture: AAP
Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest will bankroll a tuberculosis vaccine trial. Picture: AAP

At the same time they receive their standard influenza vaccination, half of the participants will also be given the Bacillus Calmette - Guérin (BCG) jab.

First developed in the early 1900s, BCG is no longer part of the routine Australian program but is still commonly given to babies in parts of the world where the risk of contracting tuberculous is high such as Africa and South East Asia.

The other half of participants will receive only the flu jab and act as a control for the study, which is part of a national research effort named the BRACE trial.

It seeks to establish whether BCG - which is already known to boost immunity against infections other than TB - has a similar effect on COVID-19.

Telethon Kids Institute Head of Vaccine Trials Peter Richmond said BCG's long history of clinical use meant it was already known to be safe for humans.

"There have (previously) been a number of studies that came out of Africa that demonstrated that children who had received BCG actually were less likely to die of other respiratory infections, specifically pneumonia," Dr Richmond said.

"Interestingly, the other place that it's been used, which has also provided some supportive evidence, is as a treatment for bladder cancer.

"So in older people, it's actually instilled into the bladder when they have a certain type and stage of bladder cancer and actually seems to stimulate the immune system to get rid of their cancer.

"And those individuals who receive that therapy have also appeared to have a reduction in infections such as pneumonia."

The BCG vaccine in Adelaide, April 11, 2020. Picture: AAP
The BCG vaccine in Adelaide, April 11, 2020. Picture: AAP

Dr Richmond said while it was still early days, some countries where the BCG vaccine was no longer in regular use - such as most of Europe and the US - appeared to be grappling with larger and faster COVID-19 outbreaks.

The study has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and its results are being keenly tracked by countries across the globe because of the potential implications for frontline health care workers, hundreds of whom have already died after contracting the virus from their patients.

Over the next year, trial participants will be closely monitored to see whether they develop COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses and, if they do, how severe their symptoms are.

Dr Richmond said BCG would then be considered for wider distribution.

"That certainly would be something that you'd want to think about if it was successful," he said.

Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation is chartering three aircraft from China to deliver more than 90 tonnes of medical supplies to Perth this week. Picture: AAP
Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation is chartering three aircraft from China to deliver more than 90 tonnes of medical supplies to Perth this week. Picture: AAP

"We're waiting for a specific vaccine but this is something that that may be of use to the broader population."

The Forrest family, through the Minderoo Foundation, have already spent $160 million sourcing scare personal protective equipment and flying it into WA from China but Dr Forrest said supporting clinical trials was another important front in COVID-19 war.

"While BCG is not a vaccine specific to COVID-19, it could be a vehicle to reduce the spread and severity of the virus among hospital staff and limit the strain on our healthcare system," Dr Forrest said.

"If BCG is proven to be effective the global significance will be substantial. This has the potential to be a readily available and inexpensive intervention that could be used in future pandemics until a specific vaccine is developed."

AIRLINES TO CONTINUE WITH DOMESTIC SERVICES

Australian airlines will continue to operate affordable services on key domestic routes for passengers and freight during the coronavirus crisis despite plunging demand.

News Corp Australia understands the Morrison government is in the final stages of negotiations with Qantas and Virgin make sure flights continue to operate between Australia's capital cities.

Tens of millions of dollars are expected to flow from government coffers to guarantee people can still fly between Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Darwin, Alice Springs, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Virgin and Qantas will operate some flights between Australia's capital cities. Picture: AAP
Virgin and Qantas will operate some flights between Australia's capital cities. Picture: AAP

The plan will enable repatriated Australians to return to their home states after they complete their two week quarantine in hotels across the country.

More than $1 billion has already been forked out by the government in the Regional Air Network Assistance Package to help smaller airlines.

Thousands of jobs have already been lost across the Australian aviation sector following service reductions when non-essential domestic travel was banned.

SPAIN GETS BACK TO WORK

Hundreds of thousands of people have been allowed to return to work for the first time in Spain since the government-imposed coronavirus lockdown.

People in regions of Spain where Easter Monday is not a national holiday were allowed to leave their homes to go to work in a slight relaxation of a lockdown that has been in place since last month.

 

According to media estimates, around 300,000 people returned to work in the capital Madrid.

Prior to Monday, only people employed in positions considered essential have been allowed to work at their job sites. Many factory and construction workers can now resume their activities.

Spain's Health Ministry on Monday recorded 3477 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, taking the total to 169,496 and offering more evidence the hard-hit country could be on the road to recovery. At its height, Spain saw more than 8000 new infections in a day.

Spain reported 517 new deaths, bringing the total to 17,489.

 

Despite the encouraging figures, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Sunday in an address to the nation that the restrictions would only be loosened in a significant way "in two weeks at the earliest, and they will be incremental and careful."

WORKING FROM HOME MAY BE PERMANENT

Many Australians and their bosses are discovering just how much work can be done outside of an office as social distancing rules are in effect to stop the coronavirus.

Researchers say workplaces are unlikely to look the same after this major upheaval, even if the economy does "snap back" in the way politicians want it to.

But there are warnings that working from home is not all positive. The Centre for Future Work, part of progressive think tank The Australia Institute, estimates about three in 10 Australian workers - or four million people - can do their jobs from home.

These are largely people in office settings who work on computers or by telephone.

Centre director Jim Stanford says there are probably half this number working at home right now, in the midst of the crisis.

 

 

"It is likely that much of the increase in at-home work will become permanent, even after the immediate health emergency passes, so it is crucial policymakers pay top-priority attention to ensuring the safety and fairness of work from home arrangements," he said on Monday.

"Normal employment patterns won't suddenly reappear, even once the health emergency has passed and people are able to go back to their workplaces."

In a paper he has written with the centre's senior economist Alison Pennington, he says there will likely be a mix of people who want to return to their offices and those who want to continue to work from home.

 

 

 

They note the right to request flexible work arrangements is already enshrined in law, but there might need to be a "mirror-image entitlement" - the right to work at a formal employer-provided workplace - added to this. And they caution that at-home working could turn out to be "baptism by fire" with bosses tempted to use cyber-surveillance to make sure their employees are working.

 

THREE ELEMENTS NEEDED BEFORE LOCKDOWN LIFTED

 

Health Minister Greg Hunt has outlined the three key elements that must be in place for Australia to come out of lockdown.

Mr Hunt told reporters this afternoon the focus was on consolidating the containment phase and working toward "effective eradication of the virus".

It was "too soon to make changes" to social distancing, he said.

Mr Hunt said lifting the lockdown would involve "three elements".

 

 

 

"One is clear indication that we are suppressing the case numbers in Australia - it could be case numbers, the retransmission rate, that's all being developed into an assessment protocol," he said.

"Two is ensuring we have rapid response capability - testing, tracing. Thirdly, once those things are achieved, is planning the steps out, which will always be gradual."

Mr Hunt said "really sophisticated" countries including South Korea, Singapore and Japan had eased restrictions only to have to raise them again.

"We want to ensure the more we do now, the greater our ability to manage in the future," he said.

More than half of the 6335 Australians who have contracted COVID-19 have fully recovered, Mr Hunt confirmed.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as UK looks to extend lockdown as 'death ship' probe likely

A makeshift morgue on Wanstead Flats in London. Picture: Getty Images
A makeshift morgue on Wanstead Flats in London. Picture: Getty Images


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