Coronavirus news you may have missed overnight: Jeremy Hunt attacks advice given to ministers as unions warn businesses need fortnight to prepare for return to work

Kate Ng
Tuesday 12 May 2020 08:36
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Jeremy Hunt criticises government's approach to coronavirus

As the British public continue life under lockdown and tries to come to grips with the government’s new rules and advice, the coronavirus has infected 223,060 people in the UK, with 32,065 deaths as of Monday.

This is your daily briefing on coronavirus news you may have missed overnight.

Coronavirus guidance to government ‘one of the biggest failures of scientific advice in our lifetime,’ Jeremy Hunt says

The former health secretary has slammed scientific advice given to the government on how to tackle the coronavirus crisis as “one of the biggest failures… in our lifetimes”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Jeremy Hunt said the “secrecy that shrouds” the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) hindered the UK’s response.

He argued that it was clear there had been a “major blindspot” in the approach to the virus taken in Europe and America, as both continents prepared for pandemic flu, not pandemic coronaviruses such as Sars or Mers.

Asian countries, such as South Korea and Singapore, focused on the latter and have seen lower death tolls since the start of the outbreak.

Mr Hunt told MPs: “The failure to look at what these countries were doing at the outset will rank, I am afraid, as one of the biggest failures of scientific advice to ministers in our lifetimes.”

He added that there was a “systematic failure caused by the secrecy that shrouds everything Sage does” and the group’s advice could not be challenged as it is not published.

Had Sage’s advice been published in January when the pandemic started in full swing, he said: “An army of scientists from our universities could have challenged why testing and contact tracing was not being modelled. They could have demanded a rap up of testing and challenged the behavioural assumptions that delayed lockdown.”

Businesses may need up to two weeks to prepare for staff to return to work safely, warns union

A senior trade union official has warned that employers may need up to two weeks to prepare for workers to return safely and called advice from Boris Johnson for employees to return this week “reckless”.

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Dan Shears, national health, safety and environment director at the GMB union, said many workplaces will need to install screens, barriers and floor markings for social distancing, as well as hand sanitiser and face masks for staff.

Britain’s largest unions – Unison, Unite, the GMB, Usdaw and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) – said they would not advise their 3 million members to return to work until health and safety measures were in place.

Mr Shears, whose union represents around 600,000 workers, told The Independent: “There’s no legislation around this, but employers have to assess the risk of workers bring exposed to Covid-19, and implement ways of reducing that risk to the lowest level that they can achieve.

“In practice, that will require screens, barriers, floor marking, signage, hand sanitiser, face masks and potentially a whole range of other interventions.

“All of this will take time to procure and set up, so I would suggest at least a week and more likely two weeks, unless the employer had this equipment already in the workplace.”

Sewage systems could be tested for Covid-19 to identify new hotspots

Downing Street has said tests could be carried out on sewage systems to find local outbreaks of the coronavirus and allow lockdown measures to be laid down in new hotspots.

But the prime minister caused confusion in the House of Commons when he suggested the tests would be carried out on water supplies, raising the prospect of water contaminated with Covid-19.

Boris Johnson told MPs the government would have no hesitation in “putting on the brakes and delaying or reintroducing measures locally, regionally, or nationally” if there were signs of a fresh spike of cases.

He said: “The intention is the Covid alert system in time will be sufficiently sensitive and flexible as to detect local flare-ups, so that, for instance, if Covid is detected in the water supply of a certain town or in a school, in an area, then steps can be taken on the spot to deal with that flare-up.”

However, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman later clarified the PM had intended to refer to sewage systems, not water supplies.

“Some studies have been carried out overseas on this and I think it is something we are looking at as a possible way of seeing if you could track the rate of infections locally.”

Trump staff and visitors to wear face masks in West Wing following coronavirus scares

White House officials, staff and visitors are now required to wear face masks when entering the West Wing after two members of staff close to the president tested positive for coronavirus last week.

However, Donald Trump himself will not be required to follow the new guidelines on facial coverings, reported The Financial Times, despite the Oval Office being situated within the west wing of the White House.

The two cases of coronavirus were identified in Mr Trump’s personal valet and Katie Miller, communications director for Mike Pence, the vice-president.

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Following this, several more staff have tested positive over the past few days and a number of staff, including senior health officials, have undertaken self-quarantine.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Stephen Hahn, and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Robert Redfield, have begun self-quarantining and working virtually.

The US government’s top infectious diseases official, Anthony Fauci, will also be working from home sometimes as a precaution after he reportedly came into contact with an unnamed person who tested positive.

72 people in Wisconsin test positive after attending ‘large gathering’

Seventy-two individuals who tested positive for coronavirus in Wisconsin had recently attended a “large gathering”, said a report.

According to The Progressive, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) confirmed they had gathered tracing data on a number of people who had been infected.

The figure comes after hundreds of people in the state attended a mass protest at the governor’s stay-at-home order – but it is not possible to say if any of the 72 cases trace back to the rally.

DHS spokesperson Jennifer Miller was quoted as saying in an email to The Progressive: “Possible exposures during protests haven’t been specifically added to the database because we already ask about large gatherings.

“Contact tracers do ask if patients attended mass gatherings, but not specifically about protests, so there’s really no data on who may have contracted Covid-19 at a protest.”

Wisconsin Capitol Police said about 1,500 people attended the mass protest and there were no arrests and no citations issued.

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