Trump considers fast-tracking UK vaccine before US election

Trump is up for re-election in November - Reuters
Trump is up for re-election in November – Reuters

The Trump administration is considering bypassing normal US regulatory standards to fast-track an experimental coronavirus vaccine from the UK for use in America ahead of the presidential election, according to people briefed on the plan.

The Financial Times is reporting that one option being explored to speed up the availability of a vaccine would involve the US Food and Drug Administration awarding “emergency use authorisation” (EUA) in October to a vaccine being developed in partnership with AstraZeneca and Oxford University, based on results from a small UK study if it is successful.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca denied the company had discussed an emergency use authorization for its potential vaccine with the US Government and said it would be premature to speculate on that possibility.

The company said the late-stage Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials for its vaccine candidate are still ongoing in Britain and other markets globally and that it did not anticipate efficacy results until later this year.

There are no approved vaccines for Covid-19, but AstraZeneca’s shot, called AZD1222, is widely seen as one of the leading candidates.

However, critics will point out that the move risks the further politicisation of any future vaccine and could undermine trust in the process.

Follow the latest updates below.

11:05 AM

Dutch royals sorry for Greek holiday virus breach

The Dutch King and Queen have apologised after they were pictured breaking coronavirus social distancing rules while on holiday in Greece.

A photograph on the internet showed King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima up close to a man said to be a restaurant owner on the island of Mykonos.

“A photo appeared in the media in which we kept too little distance. In the spontaneity of the moment, we did not pay attention,” the King and Queen said on Twitter.

“Of course, we should have done. Because on holiday too, respecting rules for coronavirus is essential for beating the virus.”

The photo showed the King, 53, in a patterned shirt with a mask in one hand and his arm around the Queen, 49, while the man also had his arm around the queen.

The person who took the photo, quoted anonymously by Dutch broadcaster RTL Nieuws, said it was taken in a private capacity and that the failure to respect social distancing was a “mistake”.

10:57 AM

It may not start and it may not finish – prepare for a Tour de France like no other

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic means this year’s biggest road race is up in the air, but its unpredictability could make it thrilling, writes Tom Cary.

It promises to be a Tour de France like no other. When the 107th edition of cycling’s biggest race kicks off in Nice next Saturday, it will do so with bubbles and buffer zones, mobile testing labs and minimal media interaction. Pre-race press conferences will be conducted via Zoom. Journalist access to buses and team hotels forbidden. In a blow for fans of plastic keychains and Haribo sweets, there will be no Tour caravan throwing trinkets to crowds this year.

What there will be is regular Covid-19 testing for the travelling circus. Tour organisers ASO have confirmed a two-strikes-and-you’re-out policy, raising the possibility of a maillot jaune contender having to abandon the race within sight of the finishing line in Paris despite not actually testing positive for coronavirus himself.

Imagine if that contender was Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, about to become the first French winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985. It might trigger another French revolution.

Read the full piece here. 

10:44 AM

EU Trade Commissioner urged to resign after controversial golf event

Ireland’s housing minister said that the EU’s Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan should resign after he attended a controversial golf event in the west of the country which many claim broke Covid-19 rules.

Mr Hogan is a senior Irish politician with significant standing in Brussels who would be deeply involved in any deal with Britain after Brexit.

The country’s Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said this morning that Mr Hogan should take responsibility for his actions.

The commissioner has also been urged to consider his position by the leaders of Ireland’s coalition Government, Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar, after attending a dinner at a hotel in the west of Ireland with more than 80 people present.

Police are investigating whether coronavirus regulations were broken in holding the Irish parliament’s golf society event two days after the Government announced it intended to curb the numbers permitted to gather together.

Mr O’Brien also criticised the “drip feed” of information about Mr Hogan’s movements in Ireland.

“That’s unhelpful to say the least. The commissioner needs to realise how rightly people are so angry about this event and his participation in it,” he added.

10:33 AM

Japan running out of credit card numbers after online shopping surge

Japan is facing a shortage of 16-digit credit card numbers after the pandemic sparked an online shopping boom.

Card providers are reportedly mulling an increase in the number of digits after shoppers turned to e-commerce as Covid-19 kept them at home.

The pandemic has helped with Tokyo’s push to boost cashless transactions with notes and coins still used for the vast majority of small purchases. Japan has lagged behind in the cashless shift but Shinzo Abe’s government plans to double usage to 40pc by 2025.

However, the industry fears the flurry of card issuance since the pandemic struck will cause a shortage of digit combinations, the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported. 

Tom Rees has more here. 

10:24 AM

Tesco to create 16,000 permanent jobs for online business

Tesco has said it is creating 16,000 new permanent jobs as it sees “exceptional growth” in its online business.

Most of the roles are expected to be filled by workers who joined on a temporary basis at the start of the pandemic but who now want to remain with the business for the longer term, the retail giant said.

They include 10,000 pickers to put together customer orders and 3,000 drivers to deliver them, plus a number of other roles in stores and distribution, said Tesco – which is Britain’s biggest supermarket chain.

It said the new permanent roles were in addition to 4,000 already created since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

10:15 AM

Russia reports over 4,700 new cases

Russia has reported 4,744 new coronavirus cases today, pushing its confirmed infection tally to 961,493, the fourth largest in the world.

Authorities said 65 people had died over the past 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 16,448.

10:00 AM

First pupils return to schools in Northern Ireland

Many pupils in years seven, 12 and 14 in Northern Ireland are back at school today for the first time since March.

However, three schools did not reopen following the detection of Covid-19 cases: Ballyclare Secondary School is set to reopen on Tuesday following a deep clean and 72-hour incubation period, while St Kevin’s Primary School and St Louise’s College have also delayed their reopening following positive cases among the school community.

Some parents have taken to social media to express concern at their children returning to school.

Trevor Dempster, a father of five from Bangor, Co Down, said he is worried as his wife had been shielding during the pandemic.

“As a family, for us coronavirus is a life or death situation. My wife who is 32, has been taking immunosuppressants to treat a long-term illness.

“Jayne has no immune system to fight coronavirus and falls into the highest at risk category, labelled as vulnerable,” he tweeted. “This week will see our five young children return to school, at a time when new daily cases are rising sharply.

“The spread across all council areas in Northern Ireland suggests community transfer, which vastly increases the risk to those most vulnerable within our society.

“I agree the risk to children themselves is low but that is being used as spin from politicians & school leaders to hide behind the fact that children are ‘spreaders’. The issue is not that of children dying but of whom they will pass the virus too and the long-term consequences.”

Ashleigh Clarke teacher at St Clare's Primary School in Belfast wearing a protective visor and gloves stands to greet pupils back to school - PA
Ashleigh Clarke teacher at St Clare’s Primary School in Belfast wearing a protective visor and gloves stands to greet pupils back to school – PA
Teacher Catherine McClean has her temperature checked by assistant teacher Hilary Brennan at St Clare's Primary School in Belfast - PA
Teacher Catherine McClean has her temperature checked by assistant teacher Hilary Brennan at St Clare’s Primary School in Belfast – PA

09:51 AM

England’s deputy chief medical officer calls for ‘fair distribution’ of any vaccine

England’s deputy chief medical officer has advocated for “fair distribution” of any Covid-19 vaccine after it was reported that Donald Trump is considering fast-tracking a UK Covid-19 vaccine candidate before the US election.

According to reports, the White House is considering granting emergency authorisation for a vaccine being developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

Commenting on the prospect of the vaccine being fast-tracked, England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said that everyone around the globe should have “fair and safe access to vaccine development”.

Dr Harries told Sky News: “We have a global crisis… It is really important that everyone around the world has fair and safe access to vaccine development.

“Obviously those countries which are more developed have the facilities to develop the vaccine and get it safely out to their populations. But I think all public health colleagues would be wanting fair distribution.”

09:46 AM

22 cases linked to school in Dundee

A total of 22 coronavirus cases, most of them adult staff, have now been linked to a school in Dundee.

Kingspark School was closed last Wednesday as pupils and staff were asked to self-isolate for 14 days, with NHS Tayside confirming in an update on Sunday that 17 staff, two pupils and three community contacts had tested positive.

Two other school sites in Dundee have also been identified as result of contact tracing connected to the Kingspark outbreak.

A primary two class at St Peter and Paul’s School has been asked to self-isolate until September 2 after an individual tested positive.

Children who attended the Happy Times out-of-school club at Downfield Primary School are also being asked to self-isolate until the same date following a positive test result.

09:40 AM

Latest Covid rates in key UK risk areas

Below  is a summary of the latest rates of new Covid-19 cases in key areas of England from PA news agency:

Oldham

There were 149 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in Oldham in the seven days to August 20. This is the equivalent of 62.8 cases per 100,000 people – down from 102.5 per 100,000 in the previous week. Oldham continues to record the highest rate of new cases in England, but the rolling rate has fallen steadily since a peak of 112.2 in the seven days to August 11.

Further restrictions were introduced in Oldham from midnight on Saturday August 22, with people told not to socialise with anyone outside their household and to use public transport only if it is essential.

Pendle

Pendle is currently recording the second highest rate in England, but here too the numbers are falling. Some 55 new cases were recorded in the seven days to August 20 – the equivalent of 59.7 cases per 100,000 people. This is down from 90.1 cases per 100,000 in the seven days to August 13.

Blackburn with Darwen

A total of 76 new cases were recorded in Blackburn with Darwen in the seven days to August 20, or 50.8 per 100,000 people. This is down from 94.9 in the previous seven days. Both Blackburn with Darwen and Pendle have had the same additional restrictions imposed as in Oldham.

Leicester

Cases continue to fall in Leicester. The latest figures show 167 new cases were recorded in the seven days to August 20, or 47.1 per 100,000 people. This is down from 60.7 in the previous seven days. At the peak of the recent outbreak in the city, the rolling rate was as high as 159.5 cases per 100,000 for the seven days to June 24.

Birmingham

The city of Birmingham was placed on the Government’s national watchlist on August 21 as an “area of enhanced support”, meaning it will be provided with extra resources and support to help increase testing and manage outbreaks if necessary.

No new restrictions have been placed on residents, however, and the number of new cases is falling.

Birmingham currently has the 17th highest rate in England, with 23.6 cases per 100,000 people recorded in the seven days to August 20 – down from 30.4 in the previous seven days.

09:30 AM

Residents in locked down China region complain about harsh restrictions

Residents in China’s north-western Xinjiang region have complained on social media about the harsh coronavirus lockdown measures in the region after a local outbreak.

Officials said earlier this month that they had “effectively contained” the spread of the Urumqi cluster, and there have been no new cases reported in the last eight days.

But hundreds of local residents flooded local social media forums in recent days to complain about harsh conditions, including many being forced to stay home.

After some of these comments were removed – China’s internet is heavily censored – users tried to flood local forums on the Twitter-like Weibo platform in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Social media users shared photos of front doors sealed with steel crowbars, and locks installed by community workers.

“Why can’t prefectures with no cases remove the lockdown? Why do you need to lock down the whole of Xinjiang?” read one comment on Weibo, which received thousands of likes.

09:23 AM

Johnson: Transport should be ‘no obstacle’ to pupils returning

Boris Johnson said that transport should be “no obstacle” to pupils returning to school in September.

He said: “We’ve also got to face the fact that lockdown, kids being out of school as so many of them have, has been I think a risk for them physically because they haven’t been able to exercise, perhaps in the way that they should.

“But also there’s been pressure on their mental health as well and that’s why we’re putting another £8 million now into helping teachers to cope with some of the mental health problems that kids and young people may experience.

“But the best way to tackle any mental health problems is to get our kids into school in September.”

Mr Johnson added: “Whether your child, whether your pupil is going by bus or by cycle, or by train, or by car, or walking, whatever mode of transport your kid needs to get to school, we’ll do everything we can to help.

“We’re putting another £40 million in to support councils and we want to make sure that transport is no obstacle and it won’t be. Transport should be no obstacle to kids, to pupils, getting back into school in September.”

09:10 AM

Boris Johnson: Risk of children getting Covid is very small

Boris Johnson has sought to assure parents that the risk of children getting Covid-19 as they return to school is “very, very, very small”.

In a video posted on Twitter, the Prime Minister said: “It’s absolutely vital that pupils get back into school in September.

“It’s vital for their education, it’s vital for their welfare, it’s vital for their physical, and indeed, their mental wellbeing. So let’s make sure that all kids, all pupils, get back to school at the beginning of September.”

Mr Johnson continued: “I think parents are genuinely still a bit worried about their children contracting coronavirus. All I can say is the risks are very, very, very small that they’ll even get it, but then the risk that they’ll suffer from it badly are very, very, very, very small indeed.

“I think it’s vital that parents understand that schools are safe and that teachers have gone to great lengths to get schools ready. They’ve been doing it all throughout the pandemic, by the way.

“Lots of schools have been open and looking after kids very, very successfully and will take steps to ensure that groups aren’t mixed up, that we have washing of hands and all the other disciplines you need to prevent spread of the virus.”

09:08 AM

Five-mile limit lifted as Aberdeen lockdown begins to ease

A number of lockdown measures have now been lifted in Aberdeen, including the five-mile travel limit and restrictions on indoor meetings.

People can now travel further than five miles for non-essential or leisure purposes, while restrictions on gatherings and hospital and care home visits have been eased.

However, people will have to wait until Wednesday before they can visit pubs or restaurants, which will reopen once they have undergone an environmental health check.

Aberdeen was put back on lockdown following a spike in Covid cases almost three weeks ago, with the hospitality sector ordered to close after an outbreak linked to pubs and restaurants.

08:52 AM

Bali bans foreign tourists for rest of 2020 over virus

Foreign tourists won’t be allowed to visit Bali for the rest of 2020 due to coronavirus concerns, its governor said, scrapping a plan to open up the Indonesian island from next month.

The holiday hotspot re-opened beaches, temples and other tourism spots for domestic visitors at the end of July and had said it would let foreign tourists return on September 11.

But the plan has now been cancelled over concerns about Indonesia’s mounting virus cases, with many foreign nationals subject to travel bans in their home countries.

Jakarta is also yet to lift its ban on foreign tourists entering Indonesia.

“The situation in Indonesia is not conducive to allow international tourists to visit Indonesia, including…Bali,” the island’s governor I Wayan Koster said in an official letter.

“The central government supports (Bali’s) plans to recover tourism by opening the doors for international tourists. However, this requires care, prudence, not to be rushed, and requires careful preparation,” it added.

He did not give a new date for allowing foreign tourists to visit.

08:41 AM

Closing schools ‘last resort’ in terms of tackling local increase in infections

Minister for school standards Nick Gibb said the Prime Minister “has made very clear that closing schools will be the last resort in terms of tackling a local increase in the infection rate”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “So I think we are confident that it is safe for children to attend schools and we’re confident that we can identify at a local level where there is an increase in the infection rate.

“The Prime Minister has made very clear that closing schools will be the last resort in terms of tackling a local increase in the infection rate, but we will take swift action, advised by the local health protection teams when we identify a rise in the infection rate in local areas around the country. That’s the only way we can sort of suffocate this virus, to deal with it, to stop it spreading more widely in the community.”

Asked about having a helpline for headteachers to call, he said: “There are all kinds of methods by which we contact schools, we will look at all these issues… My understanding is that there’s always been a helpline available, but better than that is that our regional teams are in continual contact with schools around the country, and where there are concerns then help and support will be given to those schools.”

08:33 AM

France to reciprocate Britain’s quarantine rule in coming days 

French authorities will in coming days reciprocate Britain’s decision to impose a 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from France, the junior minister for European affairs said today.

Britain said on Friday that travellers from the United Kingdom to France are required to self-certify that they are not suffering coronavirus symptoms or have been in contact with a confirmed case within 14 days preceding travel.

Since August 15 British authorities have also required travellers returning from France to self-isolate upon their return due to high Covid-19 infection rates in France.

“We will have a measure called reciprocity so that our British friends do not close the border in one single way,” French Junior European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told French TV France 2.

“For travellers returning from the United Kingdom, there will probably be restrictive measures decided in the next few days by the Prime Minister and by the Defence Council.”

08:26 AM

Schools minister ‘confident’ all schools will open at start of September

Nick Gibb also said he was “confident” that all schools will be open at the beginning of September.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Fines are something that headteachers are very reluctant to use, they use them only as a last resort. It’s about reassuring parents that may have a particular concern about the measures that the school has taken to make sure that their young people are safe, and they are going to extraordinary lengths to make sure that children are safe.

“Ninety per cent of parents have said that it’s likely or very likely that their children will attend school. I’m confident that all schools will be open at the beginning of September.”

Asked about masks, he said: “What the current advice is, is that if a school puts in place the measures that are in the guidance that we issued in early July, all the hygiene measures that I’ve been talking about, then masks are not necessary for staff or pupils …

“Well, we always listen to whatever the current advice is from PHE, the chief medical officers, we always adhere to that advice, and it’s that advice that drives the content of the guidance that we give to schools.”

08:18 AM

Measures schools taking to minimise virus risk ‘very effective’, says schools minister

Minister for school standards Nick Gibb has insisted the measures schools were taking to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus are “very effective”.

Asked about fines for parents, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, look, fines for non-attendance have always been a last resort for headteachers and schools. What matters is that young people are attending school.

“We live in a country where education is compulsory and I think parents can be reassured that the measures that schools are taking to make sure that we minimise the risk of the transmission of the virus are very effective.”

He added: “If they’ve (parents) got extra concerns, that is a matter between the headteacher and the family to make sure that their concerns are taken into account, but it is important – it’s a moral imperative – that young people are back in school, because what the chief medical officers are saying now is that the risk of not being in school outweigh the very small risk of children being in school, particularly given all the control measures, the hygiene, the cleaning that’s taking place in our schools … there’s an absolute determination to make sure that schools are safe for the children and children want to be back.”

08:13 AM

Face masks compulsory in Seoul as South Korea battles surge in cases

 South Korea’s capital has ordered the wearing of masks in both indoor and outdoor public places for the first time, as it battles a surge in coronavirus cases centred in the densely populated metropolitan area.

“If we fail to flatten the curve this week we believe we will be faced with a very important crisis, that the virus will spread to the entire nation,” health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho told a briefing.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 266 new cases as of midnight on Sunday, down from 397 a day earlier but another in more than a week of triple-digit daily increases. Overall, South Korea has reported 17,665 coronavirus cases and 309 deaths.

South Korea has been widely praised for its success in tackling the virus, with extensive testing and aggressive contact-tracing, but Yoon said health investigators had been unable to determine the transmission routes of about 20 per cent of the recent cases, raising concerns over so-called silent spreaders.

He called on people to avoid leaving home and to cancel any unnecessary trips out.

The Government has also extended second-tier social-distancing rules, which had been in place in Seoul, to other areas of the country, banning in-person church meetings and closing nightclubs, buffets and cyber cafes.

Health authorities say they are considering imposing the toughest stage 3 social-distancing rules, under which schools and business are urged to close, if the spread of new cases can not be slowed.

08:07 AM

Trump considers fast-tracking UK vaccine before US election 

The Trump administration is considering bypassing normal US regulatory standards to fast-track an experimental coronavirus vaccine from the UK for use in America ahead of the presidential election, according to people briefed on the plan.

The Financial Times is reporting that one option being explored to speed up the availability of a vaccine would involve the US Food and Drug Administration awarding “emergency use authorisation” (EUA) in October to a vaccine being developed in partnership with AstraZeneca and Oxford University, based on results from a small UK study if it is successful.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca denied the company had discussed an emergency use authorization for its potential vaccine with the US Government and said it would be premature to speculate on that possibility.

The company said the late-stage Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials for its vaccine candidate are still ongoing in Britain and other markets globally and that it did not anticipate efficacy results until later this year.

There are no approved vaccines for Covid-19, but AstraZeneca’s shot, called AZD1222, is widely seen as one of the leading candidates.

07:13 AM

Children more at risk from road accident on way to school than coronavirus

Children are more likely to be involved in a car accident or catch flu than coronavirus, the deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries has said. 

“Every time a parent sends their children to school, pre-Covid, they may have been involved in a road traffic accident – there are all sorts of things.

“That risk, or the risk of seasonal flu, we think is probably higher than the current risk of coronavirus,” she told Sky News.

 

06:42 AM

Back-to-school campaign must engage with parents

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the Government needs to engage with families to help parents send pupils back to school.

Noting the anxiety many parents have about the return to school, he told BBC Breakfast: “The Government’s back-to-school campaign has really got to engage with parents, let parents know what to do, and to make sure that parents know what to do around the school as well to make sure all of the measures being taken in school are as secure as they can be.”

Mr Whiteman said there were worries about the impact on the R-rate and transmission of coronavirus in schools.

Boris Johnson in a classroom - Lucy Young/Pool via AP, File
Boris Johnson in a classroom – Lucy Young/Pool via AP, File

He added: “We want to engage with Government, we want some more advice from Government about what to do if the pressure on R comes and what to do if we do need a plan B.

“It seems to be an act of heresy at the moment if you talk about wanting a plan B. It’s not defeatist to prepare for the worst whilst hoping for the best.

“If we do have to experience some form of shutdown going forward, we want to learn from what happened before when we had no time to prepare, and be prepared if it comes again.”

06:25 AM

Prime Minister must galvanise his inner Churchill, says Sir Iain Duncan Smith

Writing in today’s Telegraph, former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith says: ” We have to make it clear to the Unions and others that there are no if’s or buts, schools must re-open and children must go back in September.

“Ministers even now should be explaining, forcefully, to parents that their children’s future will be blighted if this does not happen. They also need to explain again and again to parents that there is no risk. Also if children don’t go back to school, large swathes of the economy will lose the input of parents and be further damaged.

“This battle over schools returning must see the Prime Minister in the lead, galvanising his inner Churchill for this issue has the capacity either to scar the government or alternatively to re-invigorate the government.

“It is a fight that, if the government wins, will see the start of an uplift in its fortunes and win it must.”

​Read it in full here

05:30 AM

The oil and gas sector allowed to bypass environmental rules 

Thousands of oil and gas operations, government facilities and other sites have won permission to stop monitoring for hazardous emissions or otherwise bypass rules intended to protect health and the environment because of the coronavirus outbreak, The Associated Press has found.

The result: approval for less environmental monitoring at some Texas refineries and at an army depot dismantling warheads armed with nerve gas in Kentucky, manure piling up and the mass disposal of livestock carcasses at farms in Iowa and Minnesota, and other increased risks to communities as governments eased enforcement over smokestacks, medical waste shipments, sewage plants, oilfields and chemical plants.

The Trump administration paved the way for the reduced monitoring on March 26 after being pressured by the oil and gas industry, which said lockdowns and social distancing during the pandemic made it difficult to comply with pollution rules. States are responsible for much of the oversight of federal environmental laws, and many followed with their own policies.

05:06 AM

India’s coronavirus cases surge to 3.1 million

Indian devotees wearing a protective face mask, carry Hindu god Lord Ganesha for immersion as part of a ritual in India. - Shutterstock
Indian devotees wearing a protective face mask, carry Hindu god Lord Ganesha for immersion as part of a ritual in India. – Shutterstock

India reported 61,408 coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, taking its total caseload past 3.1 million, data from the federal health ministry showed.

India crossed the 3 million cases milestone on Sunday, 17 days after it crossed the 2 million mark. It is the worst-affected country in Asia, and third behind Brazil and the United States globally.

The number of deaths in the last 24 hours was 836, taking the total to 57,542.

04:56 AM

New Zealand extends Auckland lockdown

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. - Getty Images AsiaPac
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand. – Getty Images AsiaPac

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today extended a coronavirus lockdown in the country’s largest city until the end of the week and introduced mandatory mask wearing on public transport across the nation.

Ardern said the four-day extension in the city of Auckland was critical to enable the country to step down its scale of emergency restrictions – and remain at less restrictive levels.

“We want both confidence, and certainty for everyone,” Ardern said during a televised media conference.

The Auckland lockdown, imposed on August 11 after officials detected the country’s first locally acquired cases of Covid-19 in more than three months, had been scheduled to end on Wednesday.

It will now end on Sunday night. The city’s step down from Level 3 to Level 2 restrictions will be made gradually from today.

02:19 AM

Mexico posts lowest weekly death toll in 2 months

Mexico reported 226 more deaths from coronavirus on Sunday, finishing the week with 3,723 fatalities, the lowest total in over two months and lending weight to government assertions it is beating back the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the government’s coronavirus czar, Deputy Health Minster Hugo Lopez-Gatell, declared the virus was in “sustained decline” in Mexico, barely two weeks after the country posted its highest daily new infections.

Low testing rates have fed concerns that the published data may understate the true extent of the pandemic, and ministry officials also caution that cases could surge again.

Mexico has the third highest death toll globally standing at 60,480, after the United States and Brazil.

12:44 AM

Australia’s Victoria state reports lowest rise in cases in seven weeks

The Australian state of Victoria reported its lowest daily rise in new infections in seven weeks on Monday, fuelling optimism that a deadly second wave there is subsiding.

Victoria today reported 116 cases and 15 deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours, down from a peak of more than 700 cases early this month.

Australia saw a surge in infections in the past month in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital and the country’s second-largest city, but cases have been trending downward in recent days helped by a total lockdown.

While the Melbourne lockdown has curtailed the spread of infections, it has wreaked havoc on the economy with Australia’s effective unemployment rate expected to climb above 13pc by the end of September, according to government estimates.

Nearly half a million people could lose their jobs due to the full lockdown in Melbourne, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Sunday.

11:32 PM

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe to visit hospital again

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is rumoured to have health issues - Reuters
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is rumoured to have health issues – Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is planning to visit a Tokyo hospital today, Yomiuri daily said, amid mounting concerns about his ability to continue as premier due to health issues and fatigue from handling the coronavirus crisis.

Citing several government and coalition sources, Yomiuri said Abe would receive the results of a medical check-up from a week ago, when he underwent an examination that lasted seven-and-a-half hours, adding to worries about his health.

Abe, already the country’s longest-serving prime minister, was set to surpass a half-century-old record set by his great-uncle Eisaku Sato for the longest consecutive tenure as premier on Monday.

Abe, in office since 2012 in his second stint as prime minister, resigned from his first term in 2007 because of struggles with ulcerative colitis, which he now keeps under control with medication that was not previously available.

Akira Amari, an Abe confidante and chairman of the LDP’s tax panel, said that Abe, 65, could be suffering from fatigue because of his continuous work over the response to the virus.

10:41 PM

US announces approval of plasma treatment against virus

American authorities announced an emergency approval of blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients as a treatment against the disease that has killed over 176,000 in the US.

The Food and Drug Administration’s authorisation comes as President Donald Trump faces intense pressure to curb the contagion that has crippled the world’s largest economy and clouded his once-promising prospects for re-election in November.

The plasma is believed to contain powerful antibodies that can help fight off the disease faster and help protect people from being seriously hurt by it.

“This product may be effective in treating Covid-19 and… the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product,” FDA said in a statement.

While the treatment has already been used on patients in the United States and other nations, the extent of its effectiveness is still debated by experts and some have warned that it could carry side effects.

For more read Donald Trump gives emergency authorisation for use of plasma to treat coronavirus  by US correspondent David Millward.

10:31 PM

Boris Johnson urges parents to send their kids back to school

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits St Joseph's Catholic Primary School in London encouraging children to return to the classroom - Lucy Young/Pool Evening Standard
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in London encouraging children to return to the classroom – Lucy Young/Pool Evening Standard

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on parents to send their children back to school next month after the summer holidays, which he views as a key step to helping the country and its economy recover from the lockdown.

Mr Johnson followed up on a warning over the weekend from medical advisers who said that students faced bigger risks from missing out on their education than from catching the virus.

“The risk of contracting Covid-19 in school is very small and it is far more damaging for a child’s development and their health and well-being to be away from school any longer,” Johnson said in a statement.

“This is why it’s vitally important that we get our children back into the classroom to learn and to be with their friends. Nothing will have a greater effect on the life chances of our children than returning to school.”

Schools shut their doors in March, except for the children of key workers, and reopened in June for only a small number of pupils.

For more read Julia Hartley-Brewer ‘s  article entitled  Schools crisis is Boris Johnson’s do-or-die moment.

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