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Coronavirus updates: global infections outstrip China cases as US ramps up response

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11.03am GMT11:03 The numbers of passengers travelling on London’s Tube network has fallen by nearly a fifth, while the numbers on buses are down 10%, compared to the same time last year, according to a statement by Transport for London. It is significant that the Tube numbers are down more than the buses, as my…

The numbers of passengers travelling on London’s Tube network has fallen by nearly a fifth, while the numbers on buses are down 10%, compared to the same time last year, according to a statement by Transport for London.

It is significant that the Tube numbers are down more than the buses, as my colleague Jim Waterson, the Guardian media editor, pointed out as he sent in this information.

Commuters travelling on the Tube, which is more expensive and connects the city centre to the suburbs, tend to be drawn from higher socio-economic groups, who tend to work white-collar jobs and are more able to work from home.

A person on a London bus is seen wearing a protective face mask, as the number of coronavirus cases worldwide continues to grow

A person on a London bus is seen wearing a protective face mask, as the number of coronavirus cases worldwide continues to grow Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

In short, the figures suggest that more well-off Londoners are more likely to be staying at home to avoid the coronavirus outbreak, while those in less well-paid jobs are still travelling to work every day.

TfL estimates that it will take a hit of up to £500m to its revenue as a result of the fall in passenger numbers, which comes as Tube and bus revenues were already about 2% lower than the previous year.

Simon Kilonback, TfL’s Chief Finance Officer, said:


Our best forecast, based on government scenarios, is that the financial impact of the coronavirus could be up to £500m. We manage our finances prudently, and have reduced our deficit hugely in recent years. This means that we can manage the impacts on our passenger numbers and finances that are currently envisaged. But, given the nature of the situation, we will be looking to the Government to provide appropriate financial support.

We continue to follow and communicate Public Health England advice, including that there is no specific risk on public transport. We’ve also stepped up our cleaning regime from the already very high standards to give our customers and staff further reassurance.

The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has called for an “army of volunteers” to assist vulnerable and elderly people across the city during the coronavirus pandemic, Gregory Robinson reports for the Guardian.

Anderson will be setting up two city council specialist hotlines to coordinate the effort. He hopes volunteers will be able to help deliver food and medical supplies.

One of the hotlines will be used to recruit volunteers who are able to offer assistance to vulnerable people. The other number will allow those in need to contact the council for help with services like delivering food, supplies and medicine. The council will then work alongside volunteer groups and charities to distribute the supplies. This number will also aim to give those who feel isolated someone to contact.

The mayor hopes to launch the two hotlines today.

The plans for a hotline to help those who may not be able to support themselves in the event of isolation comes after the health secretary Matt Hancock warned that people over the age of 70 may be asked to self-isolate for up to four months as part of the government’s action plan against the pandemic.

Last week the mayor launched dedicated social media pages to give the city’s residents the latest news and guidance in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement seen by the Liverpool Echo, the mayor wrote:


Co-ordinating a response that helps with clear messages about what we can do is essential and also leading and uniting volunteers and groups to work alongside us is what we should be setting out to achieve.

Officials in Thailand have confirmed 33 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections to 147, Rebecca Ratcliffe, southeast Asia correspondent reports.

The government plans to postpone the traditional New Year celebration, Songkran, due to be held 13-15 April, to reduce transmission.

Cabinet will also be asked tomorrow to consider closing universities, schools, boxing arenas, bars and other entertainment venues across the country.

French president to address the nation tonight

Emmanuel Macron will address an anxious France on Monday night about the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reports.

According to the agency, Macron is to hold a meeting with his prime minister, top military adviser, intelligence coordinator and ministers of health, the interior and foreign affairs on the escalating health crisis, before giving a televised address at 8pm (7pm GMT).

So far the coronavirus has infected more than 5,000 people and killed 127 in France – with over 900 new cases confirmed Sunday in the preceding 24-hour period.

A woman wears a protective facemask she pushes a shopping trolley as she queues to enter in a supermarket in Hnheim, northeastern France on Monday

A woman wears a protective facemask she pushes a shopping trolley as she queues to enter in a supermarket in Hnheim, northeastern France on Monday Photograph: Patrick Hertzog/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Paris correspondent, Kim Willsher, reports that France has been gripped by rumours that the government is about to issue a decree stopping people from circulating and using the military to enforce it, that spread on social media on Sunday.

Willsher says that she received several emails and messages telling me that “a friend of a friend” had heard this would be enforced within 24 hours preventing non-essential workers from leaving their homes.

Now, the French government spokesperson Sibeth N’diaye has dismissed the fast-spreading reports as fake news”.

“We are studying all hypotheses to reinforce measures…based on scientific indications,” she told BFMTV.

The Elysée Palace insisted it was planning no new restrictive measures “for the moment”. However, President Emmanuel Macron called on French citizens to show civic responsibility and respect the advice being given by the government and health authorities. He said it was important they realised the seriousness of the situation.

Health minister Olivier Véran also dismissed the rumours, that gathered momentum on social networks on Sunday evening following reports that many Parisians had ignored government advice to stay home and keep their distance from others.

“We hear lots of things, but if someone is going to sign such a decree, I would know about it,” Véran said.

He added: “The virus is invisible, it is spreading quickly and it threatens people’s lives. I beg the French to respect the restriction regarding socialising.”

Estyn, the schools inspectorate in Wales, has announced it has ended school inspections to relieve pressure on teachers, Richard Adams, the Guardian’s education editor, reports.

Meilyr Rowlands, the chief inspector of schools in Wales, said Estyn staff would be redeployed to support the education system:


I have made this decision to allow leaders and staff in all education and training providers, and those organisations who support them, to focus fully on the wellbeing of their learners, their staff and their families. Providers are likely to see increased staff absence during this time. The decision to suspend inspection work will help maintain staffing levels by ensuring that peer and other inspectors are not out of their institutions at this important time.

Authorities in Scotland have already made a similar announcement.

The move is likely to highlight the decision by Ofsted in England to continue with inspections, despite the impact of coronavirus on schools and calls from school leaders to suspend visits.

Martin Chulov

Lebanon and much of the Gulf began a virtual two week shut down on Monday, with restaurants, malls and all but essential services closed, and citizens urged to stay at home, except in “extreme circumstances”, Martin Chulov, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, reports.

Beirut’s International Airport will close on Wednesday until at least 29 March and foreigners were scrambling to find flights out. The capital’s streets were eerily quiet, with public mini buses kept off the roads – and the rest of the country was no different; small numbers of people walking on almost empty roads.

A Beirut municipality policeman ask a jogger to leave the area in the Lebanese capital on Monday, a day after the government urged people to stay at home for two weeks

A Beirut municipality policeman ask a jogger to leave the area in the Lebanese capital on Monday, a day after the government urged people to stay at home for two weeks Photograph: Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images

Lebanon has recorded 99 coronavirus cases, with some stemming from arrivals from Milan and the UK, and others from Iran, which has been a main source of a regional outbreak that has seen lockdowns in the Gulf States, and Saudi Arabia, and disruption to global aviation.

Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have closed their borders for the next fortnight and shut down restaurants and entertainment venues. The UAE has not yet followed suit, but will stop granting entry visas from Wednesday.

Bahrain has enhanced screening on arrival and requires all people who enter the country to self isolate for 14 days. It recorded it’s first corona-linked death on Monday.

Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha airports are linchpins of global aviation and their closure would drastically affect international travel. The Emirates hubs said on Sunday they are not suspending incoming or outgoing flights. Qatar meanwhile has closed it’s borders, but is still receiving transit passengers.

The Gulf states have collectively recorded more than 1,000 Covid-19 cases and say the majority of transmissions stem from returnees from Iran, where – with more than 14,000 confirmed cases and at least 724 deaths, the biggest cluster of the virus outside of China and Italy, continues to wreak havoc

Updated

Alex Hern

Here’s an update from our technology editor, Alex Hern, on how Microsoft’s team working app is suffering problems just as it faces perhaps its biggest-ever test.

Microsoft Teams, the company’s chat client for workplace collaboration, is suffering technical issues just as Europe wakes up to the first week of widespread remote working, the company confirmed in a tweet this morning.

Microsoft 365 Status
(@MSFT365Status)

We’re investigating messaging-related functionality problems within Microsoft Teams. Please refer to TM206544 in your admin center for further details. ^JP

March 16, 2020

Teams, and analogues including Slack and Google Chat, is at the core of many offices’ strategy for coping with the need for widespread social distancing, since the services allow employees to share knowledge and tasks more casually than email or phone calls.

But the significant usage spike appears to have caused mild issues for Microsoft, although users are now reporting services are back to normal.

Rebecca Ratcliffe

A further 125 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Malaysia, bringing the total number of cases to 553, Rebecca Ratcliffe, the Guardian’s south east Asia correspondent, reports.

Most of the cases are linked to a religious gathering at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by 16,000 people. There is also growing concern that a Hindu gathering which attracted 30,000 people in Penang state on 8 March, could have fuelled transmission.

There are calls for the government to take tougher action and place key areas under lockdown.

Lee Boon Chye, the country’s former deputy health minister, said in a statement that “the number of cases and contacts is enormous and it is unlikely MOH (Ministry of Health) is able to track and isolate all”.

Containment is no longer possible, he said.

A school in Muswell Hill, London, has closed for a “deep clean” after a member of staff tested positive for coronavirus.

Fortismere School
(@Fortismere_Sch)

Parents: School closed on Monday 16th March for deep clean. Please see parentmail 16th March for further details.

March 15, 2020

A reader of this blog has forwarded a copy of the letter sent to parents of pupils. It says:


Further to our message on Friday we have learnt this weekend that a member of staff has Covid-19.

In order to ensure that our site is safe for students and staff we are closing the school tomorrow to undertake a deep clean of the buildings. This is following advice from Public Health England. We will be open as normal on Tuesday.

We are therefore initiating remote learning for Monday. Your child’s teachers will be putting work on google classroom for them to complete at home so they should have plenty to be getting on with and can of course also access the normal sites used for learning at home (Kerboodle, My Maths etc..)

We acknowledge the inconvenience of the situation which is why we are letting you know now so that parents who need to, have the opportunity to put plans in place for tomorrow.

Some interesting news from southern California, sent in by Mark Elliot of the Beverley Hills Renters Alliance, which advocates for renters.

He says the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has made an executive order to halt residential evictions for non-payment of rent. Writes Elliot:


There is no official order posted yet; the measure was announced by the mayor with other emergency measures but arguably is among the most significant.

Santa Monica has also imposed a similar measure, details of which were published on the city’s website. Elliot adds:


The California state legislature is also reportedly considering a moratorium on evictions statewide, which follows the recent adoption of rent control statewide (in most areas). This proposal, to be introduced by Phil Ting (who has backed many rent control measures) may struggle to find the super-majority support necessary.

Updated

Coronavirus death toll passes 6,500 worldwide – Reuters

Almost 170,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus across the world and 6,509 have died, with cases and deaths outside China overtaking those in the country where the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections outside China have been reported by 156 countries. Mayotte, a French Indian Ocean island, and Uzbekistan reported their first cases, while Slovenia had its first fatality.

Donald Trump has urged Americans to refrain from panic-buying basic supplies during the coronavirus pandemic, as the administration announced plans to expand testing for the virus.

“You don’t have to buy so much,” the US president said during a press briefing at the White House on Sunday evening, adding that people should “take it easy. Just relax.”

Here is a Guardian video of some of his comments.

Donald Trump speaks to the media about the coronavirus outbreak

Thousand sign petition to test NHS staff

A petition for doctors and nurses in the UK to be tested for coronavirus if they show symptoms has gained thousands of signatures, my colleague, Sarah Marsh, reports.

Currently, tests are only being done on patients who require a hospital admission but those working in the NHS have expressed concern about this Public Health England policy. Writing in the petition, shared widely online, Rebecca McCauley said:


I’m a junior doctor, currently working in an emergency assessment unit. My cough is minor, and it’s March, so quite common to get a cough… but how do I know it’s not Covid? The truth is I don’t. So now I have to ask… do I stay off work for seven days, leaving a shortfall of staff and putting further strain on the already strained NHS, when the likelihood is that I don’t actually have COVID-19? Or, do I go to work with my minor cough (as I would normally) and risk potentially spreading COVID-19 to all of the sicker patients I see on a daily basis?

McCauley said it was a dilemma that all NHS workers were facing due to the current rules around testing.


This virus will cause minor symptoms for most people, and relatively young and healthy staff are most likely to fall into that category. The issue is the patients we treat are not healthy, they are frail and vulnerable. Ask yourself this – if your loved one needs hospital care for a condition not related to Covid-19, would you want them to be treated by staff who are likely infected with it? If not, please help us out here.

The petition calls for the prioritisation of testing for NHS staff and has now had over 15,000 signatures of support

NHS nurses speak to the media as they wait for the next patient at a drive through Coronavirus testing site in Wolverhampton, England, last week

NHS nurses speak to the media as they wait for the next patient at a drive through Coronavirus testing site in Wolverhampton, England, last week Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A nurse, speaking anonymously, told the Guardian that the debate about testing was causing great concern among health workers. She said:


I have just had a cold, and it could be coronavirus. I feel worried about at risk people in my family, and I’ve had to keep kids off school and it’s affecting earnings. I said to my trust, can I come in to a mobile screening and be screened? I was told ‘no’ as it is not Public Health England guidance, they are not swabbing staff. But I have been in contact with patients who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Updated

Many of you who were out at the weekend would have seen scenes of chaos in supermarkets across the world, where people stripped shelves as they stocked up in anticipation of lockdowns.

Many people also shared pictures online of elderly and vulnerable people, who often cannot move as quickly as the young, staring forlornly at the empty shelves. This was posted by my Guardian colleague Sarah Marsh.

In Australia, the Woolworths supermarket chain has decided to act by launching a dedicated shopping hour for elderly and vulnerable people. See their tweet below.

Woolworths
(@woolworths)

We’re launching a dedicated shopping hour in our stores to help support the needs of the elderly & people with disability in the community. From tomorrow until at least friday, we’ll be opening exclusively for them to shop from 7-8am, where permitted.

March 15, 2020

A similar move has been made in France, according to information sent in by a Guardian live blog reader this morning. Michelle Stevenson wrote:


I read on Le Monde live blog the following thing taking place in France: Big supermarkets such as Carrefour and Intermarche have decided this week to open their doors half an hour earlier in the morning and let in only customers over 70 (on showing of their ID cards) during that time, thereby allowing those people potentially more at risk to shop, away from the crowds (and possibly away from younger people elbowing them to get to pasta and toilet paper more quickly!).

I think it’s such a good idea that it was worth sharing in the UK in case the UK shops wanted to copy this, after all a good publicity for them.

The Old Vic and a number of other theatres in London have suspended productions because of the coronavirus.

Endgame, the Old Vic’s major Beckett revival starring Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming, has closed two weeks early. In an email to Endgame ticket holders, the theatre stated that offering a full refund would be “financially devastating” and asked customers to consider donating the cost of the ticket rather than requesting a refund.

For those who donate, the theatre will provide a video link to see a full recording of the production, captured earlier in the run for archive purposes, and a “friends” membership enabling priority booking for one year.

Unlike other European capitals, such as Paris and Berlin, where major theatres closed last week under government orders, the vast majority of the UK’s theatres are still welcoming visitors. However, on Sunday night, several other venues joined the Old Vic in announcing cancellations.

The number of cases of coronavirus detected in Hungary has increased from 32 to 39, according to the data published on the country’s official coronavirus website.

The cases include nine Iranians, one Briton and 29 Hungarian citizens.


In accordance with the procedures issued by the National Chief Medical Officer, an epidemiological inquiry and contact investigation shall also be started immediately in their case, which shall be carried out by the epidemiological authority in cooperation with the police.

People were queuing outside Dutch coffee shops on Sunday to stockpile cannabis ahead of the closure of most public places in the Netherlands, Jennifer Rankin, the Guardian’s Brussels correspondent, reports.

When it became known that Dutch coffee shops would be closing along with cafes and restaurants until 6 April, people rushed to stockpile cannabis. The daily newspaper Volkskrant reported that people were queuing outside coffee shops in cities across the Netherlands.

One student in Amsterdam, Juan, 21, told the paper he had bought nine slices of space cake for him and his eight roommates.


At least then it will be a bit more fun in the coming weeks. We have connected two Playstations. That space cake is for later. Tonight we will start with the Harry Potter marathon.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson
(@cmcdonaldgibson)

Dutch stockpiling: The queue at the local cannabis coffee shop in The Hague after Netherlands announced they would be shut for 3 weeks over Coronavirus pic.twitter.com/gU5aqflsuE

March 15, 2020

Dutch ministers decided in a crisis meeting on Sunday to close schools and daycare centres until at least 6 April, reversing their earlier position to keep them open to allow key workers to do their jobs. Shops, restaurants, sex clubs, cannabis cafes and sports clubs will also be closed.

Health minister Bruno Bruins said the decision to close restaurants and shops had been taken to discourage “undesirable” tourism from Belgium, which introduced restrictions on Saturday on shops and restaurants.

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutt is expected to make a televised address to the nation this evening, the first such broadcast since the oil crisis of the early 1970s.

As of Sunday morning, the Netherlands had seen 959 cases and 12 deaths from coronavirus, according to the latest available data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

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