Coronavirus news: Cautious hope for 'flatline' in UK cases, as possible outbreak at contact tracing centre investigated

Coronavirus news: Cautious hope for 'flatline' in UK cases, as possible outbreak at contact tracing centre investigated

The UK’s National Statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond said the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 has ‘flatlined’ in recent weeks despite the easing of the nationwide lockdown. However he urged the public to be “ever vigilant” amid warnings of the potential for a second wave in the autumn and winter.

Meanwhile health officials are investigating a possible cluster of coronavirus cases at an NHS contact tracing centre in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

It came after the Independent revealed England’s “world beating” test and trace service is failing to reach more than half the contacts named by infected residents in Blackburn with Darwen.

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Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


England’s “world beating” coronavirus test and trace service is failing to reach more than half the contacts named by infected residents in Blackburn with Darwen – where health chiefs are battling a major outbreak, reports health correspondent Shaun Lintern.

Leaked analysis obtained by The Independent shows that across northwest England, the national tracing service is reaching only 52 per cent of all close contacts, leading one senior source to say: “The contact tracing service is now part of the problem we are trying to solve, not the solution.”

The data also shows that less than half of close contacts are being reached in Oldham, St Helens, Manchester and Rochdale. The best performance for the region is in Cheshire East, where a third are still being missed.

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WHO reports record single-day rise in cases

The World Health Organisation has reported a record single-day rise in new coronavirus cases, with a total of 259,848 infections confirmed on Saturday.

The WHO on Friday posted more than 237,000 confirmed cases around the world. The back-to-back records come as many nations struggle with new waves of infections after loosening lockdown restrictions.

Countries including the US, South Africa and India are struggling to hold down rising rates of coronavirus as global deaths from Covid-19 surged past 600,000.

While the US leads global infections, South Africa now ranks as the fifth worst-hit country in the pandemic with 350,879 cases – roughly half of all those confirmed on the African continent.

Its struggles are a sign of trouble to come for nations with even fewer healthcare resources.


South Africa fifth highest coronavirus caseload

South Africa now ranks fifth in the world for confirmed coronavirus cases caseload as the African continent faces the pandemic’s first wave head-on.

South Africa on Saturday reported 13,285 new confirmed cases for a total of 350,879. That puts the country ahead of Peru and makes up roughly half the cases in Africa.

The only four countries with more confirmed cases — the US, Brazil, India, and Russia — all have far more people than South Africa’s 57 million.

The virus arrived on the continent a little later than elsewhere, giving officials more time to prepare, but Africa has fewer health care resources than any other region and South Africa’s public hospitals struggle to handle the growing number of patients.

Gauteng province, home to Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, is now Africa’s epicentre for the virus. It has one-quarter of the country’s population and many of the poor are crowded in township areas with inadequate access to clean water and sanitation.

South Africa has seen 4,948 reported virus deaths, but the South African Medical Research Council in its most recent report shows the country had 10,944 “excess deaths” between 6 May and 7 July.


Boris Johnson has said the UK will not need another nationwide lockdown despite expert warnings of up to 120,000 extra deaths during a second wave this winter, reports Peter Stubley.

The prime minister described the coronavirus restrictions he imposed on 23 March as a “nuclear deterrent” that he did not think he would ever have to use again.

However his attempt to rule out a further UK lockdown in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph is likely to bring him into conflict with the government’s scientific advisors.

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, has warned that there was a risk “national measures” might be needed in the event of resurgence of the virus.

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Government ‘to allow local councils greater access to Covid-19 patient data’

The government is reportedly set to allow local councils to access the names and data of people in their areas who have returned positive Covid-19 tests.

Local authorities have been calling for full access to “named patient data” in order to properly tackle local outbreaks, according to The Observer.

The paper reports Health Secretary Matt Hancock is set to announce local authorities will be able to access the named data as long as they abide by strict rules on data protection.

An unnamed government source reportedly told the paper: “Subject to necessary data safeguards, we will enhance the level of this detail to ensure that local public health teams on the ground have the information they need to fight this virus.”

A spokesman from Public Health England said The Observer’s report was “accurate”, adding: “We have been routinely sharing test data with local authorities and are continually increasing the level of detail.”


New China outbreak continues to grow

China on Sunday said another 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in the northwestern city of Urumqi, raising the total in the country’s most recent local outbreak to at least 30.

An additional three cases were brought into the country from overseas, increasing China’s total number of confirmed cases to 83,660 with 4,634 reported deaths.
Despite the Urumqi outbreak, China has just 251 people remaining in treatment for Covid-19, according to the National Health Commission.

Another 151 people were being monitored in isolation for showing signs of having the virus or for testing positive without showing symptoms. At least 23 of those asymptomatic cases were in Urumqi, although China does not include those in the numbers of confirmed cases.

Urumqi has responded by reducing subway, bus and taxi service, closed off some residential communities and is now conducting tests on people city-wide, beginning with those in communities where cases had been reported, according to state media. Some restrictions on people leaving the city have also been imposed, with the number of flights from the city reduced.

The Urumqi outbreak is the latest to pop up since China largely contained the domestic spread of the virus in March. The largest was a recent outbreak in Beijing that infected more than 330 people, but local authorities on Saturday said commercial operations in the city have largely recovered.

The Chinese capital has gone 13 days without a domestically transmitted case, although business at many restaurants and shops remains poor.


South Korea struggles with uptick in local infections

South Korea has reported less than 40 additional cases of the coronavirus for a second straight day, as authorities struggle to suppress an uptick in local infections.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday it has reported 34 additional cases, raising the country’s total to 13,745 with 295 deaths.

The agency says 21 of the newly confirmed cases were domestically infected patients, all of them found in the densely populated Seoul area or two central cities. It says the rest 13 cases were from overseas.

Health authorities have said imported case of Covid-19 are less threatening than local transmissions because South Korea is mandating testing and enforcing two-week quarantines on all people arriving from abroad.

South Korea on Saturday recorded 39 new cases.


‘Many people aren’t coming out of their houses’

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has said that people are nervous about spending again, despite many shops, restaurants and pubs reopening.

She told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge programme: “There are great, gaping holes in the plan that the prime minister announced on Friday.

“You only have to go down to the local high street to see what the problem is. Some of the shops and restaurants have now opened up, pubs as well.

“But many people aren’t coming out of their houses, they aren’t spending again in the economy because they’re nervous about what this means, whether there’s going to be a second wave, whether the NHS is going to be overwhelmed.

“And we really do need to get to grips with the test, trace and isolate system which the Government accepts is not fully functional.”


‘We’re basically flat over the last few weeks’

The UK’s National Statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond has said the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 has flatlined in recent weeks.

When asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday if authorities had seen an increase in confirmed cases, Sir Ian replied: “No we haven’t, we’re basically flat over the last few weeks.

“If we are really super careful and if we are able to follow all the rules, it does seem to me that we should expect there to be a relative flatline at the moment.

“Clearly over the autumn we will need to be ever vigilant.”

He also said that a V-shaped economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis is still possible. However, he warned it was too early to make any predictions.

When asked if the V-shaped recovery was “for the birds” he added: “Certainly not, but equally it’s too early to tell.

“That 1.8 per cent [UK GDP growth in May], which is 24.5 per cent lower than February, was lower than many analysts were expecting and hoping for.

“Certainly we did see some indication, with manufacturing up 8 per cent and construction up 8 per cent, of a return but clearly there is much to do in places like hospitality and in accommodation.

“Our data are showing that week on week people are saying they are more more likely to go to a restaurant for example, so we will see the economy pick up, but how fast it will pick up with that V-shaped recovery, it’s too early to tell.”


Australia’s Victoria requires masks for Melbourne

People in Melbourne must now wear masks when leaving their homes as Victoria, Australia’s second most-populous state, marked two weeks of triple-digit increases in new coronavirus infections on Sunday.

Melbournians not wearing face coverings will be fined A$200 ($140), said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.

Victoria, which has forced nearly 5 million people into a partial six-week lockdown on 9 July, reported 363 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, after 217 cases the previous day.

“We’re going to be wearing masks in Victoria and potentially in other parts of the country for a very long time,” Mr Andrews told a televised briefing.

“There’s no vaccine to this wildly infectious virus,” he said. Masks are “a simple thing, but it’s about changing habits, it’s about becoming a simple part of your routine.”


Amsterdam tells people not to visit red light district due to rising numbers

Authorities in Amsterdam are urging people not to visit the city’s famous red light district and have closed off some of the historic district’s narrow streets because they are too busy.

After months of coronavirus lockdown measures, sex workers in the Netherlands were allowed to resume work on 1 July and as other restrictions also have eased, the red light district has gotten busier again.

Late Saturday night, amid fears that visitors could not maintain social distancing, Amsterdam Municipality took action, closing roads in the area and tweeting in Dutch and English: “Don’t come to the red light district. It is too busy.”


US deaths rise past 140,000

US deaths from Covid-19 exceeded 140,000 on Saturday as cases continued to rise in 43 out of 50 states over the past two weeks.

Since late June, the United States has seen a resurgence in new cases and now, six weeks later, deaths have also begun rising, according to a weekly Reuters analysis of state and county data.

America is losing about 5,000 people to the virus every week. By contrast, neighbouring Canada has reported total deaths of 8,800 since the pandemic started.

In just one week, the US recorded about as many deaths as the 5,600 lives Sweden has lost since the pandemic began earlier this year.

In the hardest-hit US counties, officials are running out of places to store bodies as their morgues fill up.


Mexico continues to report near-record levels of cases

Mexico continues to register near-record levels of confirmed coronavirus infections, frustrating plans to reopen the economy.

The Health Department reported 7,615 more cases Saturday and 578 more deaths. That brings Mexico to a total of 38,888 confirmed Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began and 338, 913 cases.

Those numbers are widely considered significant undercounts because Mexico has done so little testing. Government labs have administered slightly more than 800,000 tests so far, or about one out of every 150 people in the country with a population of nearly 130 million.

Mexico had hoped to begin a gradual reopening starting in June, but several states have had to reverse course, closing beaches and hotels again.


Opinion: The prime minister confirmed this week that there would be a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak – but don’t take its findings for granted, writes chief political commentator John Rentoul.


​Pakistan reports lowest number of new cases in more than a month

Pakistani authorities reported 1,579 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, the lowest number in more than a month, as health officials plan to resume a much-awaited nationwide anti-polio campaign next week.

Authorities conducted 22,559 tests in the past 24 hours. The additional cases bring to 263,500 the total number of confirmed infections, out of which 53,652 are active. Pakistan has reported 5,568 deaths.

The improvement in infections coincides with Monday’s three-day anti-polio drive that aims to reach 800,000 children.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic.


EU leaders extend summit as they haggle over budget and virus

European Union leaders have extended their summit by an extra day in the hope they are finally closing in on a deal for an unprecedented 1.85 trillion euro (£1.68 trillion) EU budget and coronavirus recovery fund.

A deal is still far off but several key nations said negotiations were at least heading in the right direction despite anxieties that were running high after months of battling the pandemic.

Heading into a balmy summer night, those tensions were showing when German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron got up and walked out of a meeting with the so-called Frugal Four group of wealthy northern nations that want to limit grants and impose strict conditions on mostly southern nations that have suffered most from the pandemic.

“A few people ran off,” acknowledged Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is considered the leader of the Frugals.

When asked if it was Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron, he said: “Yes, precisely. So we didn’t get a breakthrough tonight.”

The Franco-German alliance is seen as key to any major deal within the 27-nation EU.


Russia caseload continues to rise

Russia on Sunday reported 6,109 new cases and 95 more deaths from the coronavirus.

The nationwide tally of infections has risen to 771,546 cases, Russia’s coronavirus crisis response centre said.

The death toll now stands at 12,342, and 550,344 people have recovered.


Use of face coverings increasing in England, says ONS chief

Professor Sir Ian Diamond said that 61 per cent of the population had used face coverings in the last week and he expected this to continue to increase.

The head of the Office for National Statistic told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “What we are showing is that week on week there is an increase in the number of people who are using face coverings.

“So last week the data would show that 61 per cent of the population had used a face mask in the last week and that’s up from 50 per cent the week before.

“In Scotland 77 per cent of the population were using it for shopping and that I think will continue to go up as it’s become mandatory, in England 40 per cent but of course as that becomes mandatory next Saturday we will see that increase as well.

“But certainly people using face covering and it becoming the norm in many parts of society.”


Thousands of rape and murder cases were waiting to be dealt with as courts closed because of to the coronavirus lockdown, according to new figures, reports Peter Stubley.

Ministry of Justice data shows that in England and Wales on 31 March – a week after nationwide restrictions were imposed – a total of 430 murder cases were outstanding, with 354 in crown courts and 76 in magistrates’ courts.

In relation to rape cases, 1,159 were awaiting trial in the crown court system, with another 1,911 before magistrates.

Meanwhile a total of 2,424 cases of robbery were outstanding across the criminal justice system.

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