Covid-19 news: Health experts say UK contact tracing not robust enough


By Conrad Quilty-Harper and Layal Liverpool Furniture store Ikea in Belfast opened for the first time since the lockdown began today.Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA ImagesLatest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 1 June Restrictions eased in England despite warnings from public health directors The NHS Test and Trace programme is not robust enough to support…

By Conrad Quilty-Harper
and Layal Liverpool

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Furniture store Ikea in Belfast opened for the first time since the lockdown began today.

Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA Images

Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 1 June

Restrictions eased in England despite warnings from public health directors

The NHS Test and Trace programme is not robust enough to support the UK government’s easing of coronavirus restrictions and prevent a resurgence of virus cases, according to an article published yesterday by the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), a body that represents public health directors, specialists who oversee public health activities in UK local authorities. The ADPH says restrictions should not be eased because the daily death toll is not consistently falling, particularly in care homes. They also say that easing restrictions too quickly will make it hard to calculate the R number for the disease, a measure of how fast coronavirus infections are spreading.

The easing of restrictions in England from today includes people being allowed to meet outdoors in groups of up to six, while maintaining a two metre distance between people from different households, as well as the reopening of car showrooms and outdoor markets.


Pupils in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England were allowed to return to school today, but 46 per cent of parents and carers may have kept their children at home, a survey of primary school leaders by the National Foundation for Educational Research suggests.

Other coronavirus developments

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world has passed 6.2 million, and more than 373,000 people are confirmed to have died from the disease.

The UK government has not released data about how many people are tested for coronavirus since 22 May. The official numbers, which say there were 115,275 tests performed on 30 May with a capacity for 205,634 tests, also “double count” by including nasal swabs and saliva tests on the same person.

Only 197 cases of influenza virus were confirmed in Australia this May, compared to 30,567 in the same month last year, according to Australia’s Department of Health. This huge decrease in flu cases may be due to social distancing measures introduced to limit the spread of coronavirus. Australia’s flu season usually peaks during its winter months, from June to August.

There is only one person with active covid-19 in New Zealand, according to the latest figures from New Zealand’s health ministry.

Coronavirus numbers

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Matthew Rowett

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

UK contact tracing plans criticised: The UK government has been criticised for lifting some coronavirus lockdown restrictions without contact tracing measures fully in place to deal with any resulting covid-19 outbreaks.

Essential information about coronavirus

What is covid-19?

What are the worst symptoms and how deadly is covid-19?

You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it

What does evidence say about schools reopening?

What does the latest research suggest about the coronavirus in pregnancy?

What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

Covid-19 Fact Checkers, a podcast from Vice, pairs up young people with experts who can answer their questions relating to the pandemic. A recent episode focused on why people in the UK from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are being disproportionately affected by covid-19.

Can You Save The World? is a coronavirus social distancing game, where the player travels through a city and gains points for saving lives by practising social distancing correctly and collecting masks.

What coronavirus looks like in every country on Earth is a 28-minute film from Channel 4 News showing what daily life looks like in every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

Coronavirus: The science of a pandemic: As the death toll from covid-19 rises, discover how researchers around the world are racing to understand the virus and prevent future outbreaks in our free online panel discussion.

A day in the life of coronavirus Britain is an uplifting Channel 4 documentary shot over 24 hours which shows how the citizens of Britain are coping under lockdown.

New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.

The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.

Coronavirus trajectory tracker explained, a video by John Burn-Murdoch for the Financial Times, uses data visualisation to explain the daily graphs that show how coronavirus cases and deaths are growing around the world.

Contagion: The BBC Four Pandemic is a sober documentary about the progression of a hypothetical pandemic which the BBC simulated in 2017. Fronted by science journalist and TV presenter Hannah Fry, and made with the support of some of the country’s best epidemiologists and mathematical modelers, it’s very relevant to today’s covid-19 pandemic.

Previous updates

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29 May

14 per cent of people in the UK said they have had friends or family visit them at home, according to a survey conducted between 20 and 22 May by researchers at King’s College London and Ipsos MORI. Only 5 per cent of people reported having broken lockdown restrictions in this way in a similar survey done between 1 and 3 April.

The poll surveyed 2254 people in the UK aged 16 to 75. Of these, 92 per cent of people said they are maintaining a two metre distance from other people in public spaces in accordance with government guidelines and 38 per cent are wearing a face mask or covering outside. 

The survey found that 40 per cent of people think they will catch the coronavirus by the end of the year. 35 per cent of people said they had delayed seeking medical advice or treatment for non-coronavirus conditions and 17 per cent said they’d had to delay or cancel treatment due to disruptions caused by the pandemic. Almost half of those surveyed – 48 per cent – reported feeling more anxious and depressed than usual.

Other coronavirus developments

The UK government’s coronavirus alert level remains at 4, which corresponds to high or rising virus transmission, a Downing Street spokesperson told journalists today. Further easing of restrictions in England is set to begin on Monday, despite the government’s own guidelines suggesting that an alert level of 4 warrants continuation of “current social distancing measures and restrictions.” There were 1887 positive tests for coronavirus in the UK on 27 May.

More than 200 schools which had reopened in South Korea on Wednesday were forced to close again today due to a new outbreak of coronavirus. The country reported 79 new cases on Thursday, the highest number in two months.

Brazil reported a new daily record of 26,417 confirmed new coronavirus cases on Thursday, according to the country’s health ministry. There have been more than 438,000 coronavirus cases confirmed in Brazil so far, the second-highest number of any country, after the US.

The covid-19 death toll for Moscow, Russia, has been revised from 639 to 1561. The revised figure includes 169 cases where tests had initially been negative but where post-mortem examinations confirmed coronavirus as the cause of death. It also includes more than 700 people who died of other causes that were made worse by a confirmed coronavirus infection.

Coronavirus numbers

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The worldwide death toll has passed 361,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 5.8 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Coronavirus in the brain: From loss of smell to stroke, people with covid-19 are reporting strange neurological issues that challenge our understanding of the disease – and how to treat it.

How to lower your coronavirus risk: The coronavirus is still circulating yet many countries are taking steps to relax restrictions. If you have been asked to return to work or send your children back to school, how can you minimise the risk of infection to yourself and your family?

woman standing at lectern

Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding in No 10 Downing Street.

Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street

28 May

England’s test and trace system won’t be fully operational until end of June

England’s test and trace system, which is designed to identify people who might have been exposed to people who have tested positive for coronavirus, won’t be fully operational until the end of June, Dido Harding, who is leading the NHS Test and Trace scheme, told MPs today. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said last week that the system would be in place and able to track 10,000 people a day using text, phone and email by 1 June. Harding also described the NHS covid-19 contact tracing app, which was meant to launch on 15 May but was delayed until 1 June, as “the cherry on the cake rather than the cake itself.”

In England, people will be allowed to meet in public places and private gardens in groups of up to six starting on Monday, and in Scotland, groups of up to eight people from two different households will be allowed to meet outdoors from tomorrow. Northern Ireland allowed groups of up to six people to meet outside from 18 May. People from different households will still be required to keep a distance of two metres.

Other coronavirus developments

There have been more than 100,000 deaths from covid-19 in the US since the outbreak began, according to Johns Hopkins University, the largest number of any country. The number of daily new confirmed cases has been rising over the last week in 18 states, including California, Florida and Louisiana. In New York, the country’s worst-hit state with more than 369,000 cases in total, the number of daily new cases has fallen to around 1,200, down from a peak in early April of over 10,000 a day.

An analysis by the Financial Times suggests the UK had the second highest rate of coronavirus deaths among 19 countries with comparable data. The UK registered 59,537 more deaths than would normally be expected to occur since the week ending 20 March, a death rate of 891 per million people, higher than Italy and the US, and second only to Spain. The FT analysis also found a link between countries that locked down earlier in their outbreaks and lower death tolls.

Boris Johnson’s senior aide Dominic Cummings might have breached the UK’s coronavirus restrictions when he drove to Barnard Castle in April, but the incident does not warrant further action, Durham police said in a statement today.

An estimated 133,000 people in England outside hospitals and care homes had covid-19 between 11 and 24 May, according to results from a random swab testing survey in England by the Office for National Statistics. The figure is down slightly from 148,000 between 27 April and 10 May.

UK health minister Matt Hancock responded today to a letter from the UK Statistics Authority to clarify that the government’s target of 200,000 coronavirus tests per day by Sunday doesn’t refer to the number of tests actually performed. Instead it refers to the testing capacity.

The number of passengers arriving in the UK by plane in April was 99 per cent lower than it was in the same month last year, according to a Home Office report published today. 112,300 passengers arrived in the UK by air in April this year, down from about 3.8 million in March and 7.1 million in January. 

Coronavirus numbers

graph of coronavirus deaths

Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 356,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 5.7 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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