Officials in Birmingham have warned that the city could be placed into lockdown in a matter of days if the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise.
Birmingham’s director of public health, Dr Justin Varney, said he expected the city to be placed on the national “watchlist” after the number of infections rose from 22.4 to 30 per 100,000. Birmingham city council said the increase was “extremely concerning” while its leader, Ian Ward, urged local residents to take immediate action.
This comes as the Royal College of Pathologists said it was “concerned” that Covid-19 antibody tests, intended solely for professional use, were being offered for sale to consumers “without the required reassurance of appropriate laboratory or professional back up”.
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Shoppers returned to high streets in increasing numbers last month but business at clothes and household goods stores remains below pre-pandemic levels, official figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said total retail sales volumes in July rose 3.6 per cent compared with June and are now 3 per cent above pre-pandemic levels.
But it said there is a distinct split emerging between food and online retailers, which have surpassed February’s sales figures, and non-food businesses, which have not.
Deputy national statistician for economic statistics Jonathan Athow said: “Retail sales have now regained all the ground lost during the height of the coronavirus restrictions as more stores open for trade and online sales remain at historically high levels.
“While still below their pre-pandemic levels, both fuel and clothing sales continued to recover.
“Meanwhile, food sales fell back from their recent peaks as people started to venture back into pubs and restaurants.”
With just 35 hours’ notice given to return to the UK to avoid the need to self-isolate for 14 days, holidaymakers in Austria and Croatia are seeing air fares soar while availability is increasingly scarce, reports travel correspondent Simon Calder.
At 5pm on Thursday, the transport secretary tweeted that the two central European nations – together with Trinidad & Tobago – had lost their quarantine exemption.
Anyone wishing to avoid two weeks at home must be back in the UK by 4am on Saturday. It is not sufficient to have crossed the border out of either of these countries.
Immediately, demand for the few flights out of Croatia on Friday surged. The two scheduled flights from the capital, Zagreb, to London Heathrow quickly sold out – even with Croatia Airlines charging £476 one way.
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China’s Sinovac Biotech has committed to provide up to 40 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Indonesia’s government between November and March, a minister said, as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to secure its supply as cases rise unabated.
During a visit to China, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi said a preliminary agreement had been signed with Sinovac for bulk purchase and supply of the vaccine, CoronaVac, from November to March, after which Indonesia’s state-owned Bio Farma would get priority access until end-2021.
Indonesia has recorded 147,211 coronavirus infections and 6,418 deaths and is keen to secure a vaccine for its 260 million people and develop its own, amid concern among some developing countries about competition for access.
“Indonesia sees a strong commitment from China’s industries to forge partnerships and a strong commitment from its government to foster those partnerships,” Ms Marsudi said late on Thursday via video.
Singing is no more risky than talking when it comes to the spread of coronavirus, new research indicates, reports Harry Cockburn.
Since the illness swept across the globe, one of the sectors badly affected by closures and lockdown rules has been the performing arts.
Live music has largely been cancelled for many months after singing was identified as a potential “higher risk activity” for spreading the virus.
The research project has been supported by Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and was carried out by a collaborative team of researchers including from Imperial College London, the University of Bristol and Royal Brompton Hospital.
Russia reported 4,870 new coronavirus cases on Friday, pushing its confirmed national tally to 946,976, the fourth largest in the world.
Authorities said 90 people had died over the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 16,189.
Ireland’s prime minister on Friday accepted the resignation of agriculture minister Dara Calleary after his attendance at a social event which may have breached Covid-19 regulations drew a wave of public anger.
“His attendance at this event was wrong and an error of judgment on his part. I have accepted his resignation,” prime minister Micheál Martin said in a statement.
“People all over the country have made very difficult, personal sacrifices in their family lives and in their businesses to comply with Covid regulations. This event should not have gone ahead in the manner it did.”
The UK’s information rights body must act to ensure the government stops “playing fast and loose” with people’s health, it has been claimed.
A cross-party group of MPs has written to the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, raising concerns over the government’s approach to data protection and privacy.
In a letter, the group accused ministers of paying “scant regard” to both privacy concerns and data protection duties during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It accused the government of engaging with private contractors that have “problematic reputations” to process personal data and said it had built a contact tracing proximity app that centralised and stored more data “than was necessary, without sufficient safeguards”.
On releasing the app for trial, the group noted, ministers failed to notify the Information Commissioner in advance of its data protection impact assessment.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said it is unlikely that Spain and France will be re-added to the government’s travel corridor list anytime soon.
He told LBC: “At the moment I’m afraid France and Spain have both been going the wrong way.
“So just to put numbers on this, we respond when there are about 20 cases per 100,000 of the population measured over a seven-day rolling average. So 20 is the figure to bear in mind.”
He added: “I think that the last that I saw of Spain it was up in the 40s and 50s so a long way off that, and France, who… quarantined from last weekend, I’m afraid to say we were right to do that because we’ve seen the cases continue to carry on up in France as well.
“And in order to put a country back in to the travel corridor, what we say is it needs to stay below that number for a couple of cycles. So a cycle is two weeks long for coronavirus.”
New research from Citizen’s Advice indicates that one in nine people – the equivalent of 6 million individuals across the UK – have reported falling behind on household bills because of coronavirus.
With protections against eviction for renters and the ban on face-to-face bailiff collection both ending this weekend, the charity warns that many of those struggling will now face the repercussions of “lockdown debt”.
The figures will intensify existing concerns about an impending “wave of homelessness” when the government’s moratorium on evictions for England and Wales ends on Sunday, despite pleas from charities to extend the suspension.
Social affairs correspondent May Bulman reports:
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,427 to 230,048, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday.
The reported death toll rose by 7 to 9,260, the tally showed.
Chinese mining company ‘immunises employees against Covid-19’
A Chinese mining company in Papua New Guinea claims to have immunised employees against Covid-19, it is reported.
The South Pacific island nation’s health minister Papua Jelta Wong said his department was investigating the claim by Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Ltd, The Australian reported.
National Pandemic Response Controller David Manning banned Covid-19 vaccine testing or trials in Papua New Guinea on Thursday and later noted the National Department of Health (NDoH) had not approved any trials.
He said: “Any vaccines imported into PNG must be approved by NDoH and must go through vigorous vaccine trials, protocols and procedures”.
They must also be pre-qualified by the World Health Organisation, Mr Manning added.
A document on company letterhead entitled Vaccination Statement said 48 Chinese employees “have been vaccinated with SARS-COV-2 vaccine” on 10 August.
Hong Kong leader announces mass Covid-19 testing to begin next month
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Friday that mass testing of residents for coronavirus in the Asian financial hub will begin on 1 September, as she warned people not to be complacent despite a steady fall in the number of new infections.
The testing, which will be done with the assistance of a 60 person team from the mainland, is the first time Chinese health officials have assisted the special administrative region in its battle to control the epidemic.
Australia headed for its lowest daily increase in coronavirus infections in five weeks on Friday as the hotspot state of Victoria neared the midway point of lockdown, prompting the prime minister to hail “a week of increased hope”.
While the rest of Australia eases restrictions, the home state of a quarter of its population is in a six-week lockdown due to a second wave of virus infections.
Victoria reported 179 new cases in the past 24 hours, from 240 a day earlier and down from over 700 a day two weeks ago. The state reported nine deaths.
The country’s most populous state, neighbouring New South Wales, reported just one new case as an emergency cabinet of state and federal leaders discussed the prospect of relaxing closures of state borders that have been in place for months.
“Today’s meeting of national cabinet came during what I would describe as a week of increased hope,” prime minister Scott Morrison told a news conference.
“We’re doing better than most and many of the developed world in this situation.”
South Korea added its most new virus cases in months on Friday, driven by a surge around the capital that appears to be spreading nationwide.
The 324 new infections was its highest single day total since early March and the eighth consecutive triple-digit daily increase.
Most of the people recently infected live in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region, where health workers are scrambling to track transmissions from various sources, including churches, restaurants, schools and workers.
But the new infections reported on Friday were from practically all of South Korea’s major cities, including Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon, Sejong and Daegu, the southeastern city that was the epicentre of a massive outbreak in late February and March.
The newest figures reported by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the nation’s caseload to 16,670, including 309 deaths.
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday deferred a decision on whether to ease a lockdown on the city of Auckland as 11 new coronavirus infections were reported, including nine cases of community transmission.
New Zealand’s biggest city was placed in lockdown earlier this month until 26 August amid a spike in new cases, forcing businesses to close and schools to shut.
Ms Ardern said after a review of the lockdown that there was no need to change any settings at this stage, and promised to review them again on Monday.
“We have made good progress. Unlike our first lockdown we are not dealing with multiple outbreaks,” she said at a news conference.
“There is nothing to suggest we need change our course and certainly nothing that suggests that we need to escalate our response.”
The latest cases brought the total in New Zealand to 1,315, including 105 active cases. The country of 5 million people has reported 22 deaths from Covid-19.
India hurtled toward the 3 million mark for coronavirus cases on Friday, reporting 68,898 new infections in the last 24 hours, data from the federal health ministry showed.
The total number of cases in the country now stands at 2.9 million.
Deaths in the same period jumped by 983, with the total now at 54,849. India is the worst-hit country in Asia, and third behind the United States and Brazil in terms of total caseload.
Health authorities in China’s capital Beijing have removed a requirement for people to wear masks outdoors, further relaxing rules aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus after the city reported 13 consecutive days without new cases.
Despite the relaxed guidelines, a large proportion of people continued to wear masks in Beijing on Friday.
It’s the second time Beijing’s health authorities have relaxed guidelines on mask wearing in the capital, which has largely returned to normal after two rounds of lockdowns brought it to a standstill.
Beijing’s municipal Centers for Disease Control first said residents could go without masks in outdoor areas in late April, though the rules were swiftly reversed in June after a new outbreak in a large wholesale market in the city’s south.
China has reported no new locally transmitted cases on the mainland for five days after successfully controlling flare ups in the capital, Xinjiang and elsewhere.
Croatia’s ambassador to the UK has said it is “a regret” that the British government did not implement regional quarantine rules rather than removing the entire country from its quarantine exemption list.
Igor Pokaz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we are trying to do in our constant dialogue with the British government on this particular measure of quarantine is to somehow see whether it would be possible, something that other countries do, to have a more nuanced approach.
“So we regret that it was not possible for the UK government to consider a regional approach, because in Croatia we have, as I said, witnessed these spikes in certain areas – for example in Zagreb in the capital and maybe among the young population.
“But in Dubrovnik, its surroundings and the islands there were very, very few cases. And I deliberately mention Dubrovnik and the islands as that is where most of the British tourists go.
“And Dubrovnik has its own international airport and is naturally secluded from the rest of the country.
“Germany, as I said, has introduced this model, and has introduced measures for only two of the Croatian counties and we have 20 counties in Croatia.”
Hungary will tighten border crossing rules from 1 September to prevent the spread of Covid-19 as the number of new infections continues to rise in neighbouring countries, prime minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.
“As the school year starts, we will no longer be able to work with the border crossing system that was used during the summer,” Mr Orban said.
Under current regulations, those returning from countries with higher infection rates need to self-quarantine for 14 days unless they produce two negative virus tests.
However, Croatia, a popular holiday destination for Hungarians, is still listed as “green”, which means no special rules apply. On Thursday it registered 255 new infections, bringing the total number of cases to 7,329.
Mr Orban did not provide details about the new restrictions.
As of Friday, Hungary had reported 5,046 coronavirus cases, with 609 deaths.