Coronavirus news – live: UK to ban mass gatherings after 208 new cases confirmed, as Trump declares state of emergency

Coronavirus news – live: UK to ban mass gatherings after 208 new cases confirmed, as Trump declares state of emergency

The government has defended its response to coronavirus after Jeremy Hunt said he did not understand why large gatherings had not been cancelled. The former health secretary said: “I think it is surprising and concerning that we’re not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks before we get to the stage that Italy is at.”

Ministers anticipate that up to 60 per cent of people will become infected, it is understood, but the hope is that – by delaying the peak to ease pressure on the NHS and protecting the old and vulnerable – the numbers of deaths can be reduced. There are now 798 official positive cases in the UK, and British Army personnel have now been drafted in to help with logistical planning.

Elsewhere, Nepal has shuttered its side of Mount Everest, curtailing climbing season because of coronavirus, and Madrid has ordered bars, restaurants and shops to close. An Australian minister has now caught the illness, and the German state of Bavaria is reportedly closing all schools and kindergartens until 6 April.

Here are the day’s events as they happened. Please allow a moment for the blog to load

Good morning. The Independent is covering coronavirus live again today.

Hunt criticism

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary, has described Britain’s response to coronavirus as “concerning” after Boris Johnson resisted calls to close schools and clamp down on large public gatherings.

He said: “I think it is surprising and concerning that we’re not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks before we get to the stage that Italy is at.

“You would have thought that every single thing we do in that four weeks would be designed to slow the spread of people catching the virus.”

He added that he is “personally surprised that we’re still allowing external visits to care homes”.

Mr Hunt said the UK is in a “national emergency” and that many people “will be surprised and concerned” that the UK is not moving sooner.


Nepal has joined China in curtailing access to Mount Everest over coronavirus fears.

Tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai said expeditions to all peaks in the March-May spring season had been suspended.

Festival cancellations – and maybe Cannes

Film and TV festivals are falling like flies. Across the world, as the coronavirus outbreak continues, event after event is being cancelled or delayed, writes Geoffrey Macnab.

This year’s South by Southwest festival in the US, due to start at the weekend in Texas, has been scrapped; the inaugural Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia has been stopped in its tracks; MIPTV, one of the major television markets, has likewise been abandoned.

All over the world, from Europe to Hong Kong and Qatar, movie events are being shelved, postponed or downsized. The talk now is that the queen bee itself, Cannes (12-23 May), the biggest, most prestigious festival of them all, might not happen.

PGA cancellation

The PGA Tour’s Players Championship at Sawgrass was cancelled on Thursday night after the completion of the first round, owing to the coronavirus, writes Jack deMenezes.

Organisers had already announced that the remaining three rounds across the weekend would take place without fans in attendance, in an effort to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Lockdown questions

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, has been questioned about putting Britain on a more stringent lockdown.

Aked about the lockdown measures deployed by Italy, Sir Patrick said it was “impossible” for a country to attempt to self-isolate its entire population.

He added: “It is impossible, I think. “And also, when you’ve got it inside the country, it would be difficult to stop that spread.”

Australia clamps down

Australian’s prime minister has urged people not gather in groups of more than 500 but said he would still go to a weekend rugby game, as health officials warned millions of residents will contract coronavirus within months.

Australia has recorded 156 infections – including a government minister – and three deaths from the flu-like disease, figures that authorities expect to increase rapidly in the coming weeks.

Scott Morrison said his government would advise against non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, though this does not include schools, airports or public transport.

“This is an early-stage action that we are undertaking to make sure we get ahead of this,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney, adding Australians should also reconsider their need for any overseas travel.

Markets fluctuating

The FTSE 100 has has risen by 3.75 per cent on opening, after the worst day on the markets since 1987’s Black Monday, where the index fell by one-tenth over coronavirus fears.

Vallance defends measures

Sir Patrick Vallance has defended the government’s response to coronavirus, telling LBC that “this isn’t an epidemic that is going to last a couple of weeks, it is going to go on for months”. Being forced to stay at home for a week is not “trivial”, he said.

He added: “We need to make sure we do the right thing at the right stage to have the biggest impact.

“The measures that were announced yesterday, which were that anybody with mild symptoms, which are a fever, a raised temperature or a cough, should stay at home. That’s not a trivial change.

“That is going to have a big impact of many people staying at home for a week.

Australian minister infected

Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, has announced that he has coronavirus.

He is in isolation in hospital, he said.

School closures

Last night, Boris Johnson and his officials were asked why schools are not being closed to curb coronavirus.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, explained that schools would have to close for many weeks, causing massive disruption for what he said would not be a correspondingly significant gain in terms of virus prevention.

Children are less affected by coronavirus.

On Friday Sir Patrick Vallance again defended the government’s response. He told LBC: “Schools would need to be shut for a very prolonged period. Children, of course, aren’t going to separate for long periods, they are going to go and do other things together.”

Meanwhile, Berlin has said it willl gradually close its schools and reduce public transport over the next week.

More detail from government

Last night officials said that up to 10,000 may have the virus, meaning that the official figure – just short of 600 – does not reflect the true spread of Covid-19.

Our deputy political editor Rob Merrick has more from the major announcement last night, in a story which also reveals the government’s thinking on more stringent public measures to tackle coronavirus.

Brexit trade talks cancelled, as politics disrupted

Among the great swathes of events getting cancelled, next week’s post-Brexit trade talks are off. A joint statement from the UK and EU officials said they were “currently exploring alternative ways to continue discussions, including if possible the use of video conferences”.

The special conference event at which Labour will finally announce Jeremy Corbyn’s successor has also been cancelled. The party is looking at a “scaled-back” result announcement on 4 April.

The Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru have scrapped their spring conferences. And the Electoral Commission has recommended postponing 7 May local elections until the autumn.

Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy called for end to public tours of parliament on Thursday, after several MPs began self-isolating over contact with Covid-19-stricken minister Nadine Dorries. “We are giving out tours, PMQ tickets, we’re having receptions – and I just don’t think that’s responsible,” she said.

More details here:

St Patrick’s Day events cancelled

St Patrick’s Day celebrations have been cancelled in London due to the coronavirus threat, Sadiq Khan has announced.

The Labour mayor tweeted: “London’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations are an annual highlight for many, so I’m incredibly disappointed that this year’s event has had to be cancelled as key performers and parade participants are no longer able to participate due to the ongoing threat of coronavirus.

“London’s Irish community makes a huge contribution to our great city. I recognise that the unavailability of key performers and parade participants leaves no choice but to cancel.

“I know this will be extremely disappointing news for so many Londoners and visitors to our capital.”

Election plea

Local elections in May should be postponed until the autumn due to the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s Electoral Commission has said, writes Conrad Duncan.

The independent body said there were “growing risks to the delivery of the polls”, which are scheduled to take place on 7 May.

Seasonal infection

Sir Patrick Vallance has said he thinks coronavirus is likely to become an annual virus.

The chief scientific adviser told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the government’s approach wass about lowering and extending the peak of the epidemic and developing immunity among the population.

“What we don’t want is everybody to end up getting it in a short period of time so we swamp and overwhelm NHS services – that’s the flattening of the peak,” he said.

“You can’t stop it, so you should end up with a broader peak during which time you’d anticipate that more people would get immunity to this. That in itself becomes a protective part of this process.

“This is quite likely, I think, to become an annual virus, an annual seasonal infection.”

Indonesia death

Joko Widodo, the president of Indonesia, has said the country has recorded its second death from coronavirus.

Japan powers

Japan’s prime minister has been given emergency powers to tackle coronavirus.

The country’s parliament approved a bill giving Shinzo Abe emergency powers that will let him close schools, halt large gatherings and requisition medical supplies as Japan tries to slow the coronavirus outbreak on Friday.

The bill, which amends a 2012 law drawn up after a flu epidemic in 2009, was approved by upper house lawmakers after the lower house passed the legislation on Thursday. Mr Abe would have to declare a state of emergency in order to use the new powers.

So far he has requested schools to close and organisers of events to cancel large gatherings but has not previously had the power to make them comply.

Trudeau self-isolates after his wife tests positive

The Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and his wife will be in self-isolation for two weeks after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau recently returned to Canada from London and was experiencing flu-like symptoms, so was tested for Covid-19 infection. She was now feeling well but would remain in isolation.

There are currently no plans to test Trudeau himself, his office said. “The prime minister is in good health with no symptoms. As a precautionary measure and following the advice of doctors, he will be in isolation for a planned period of 14 days,” a statement read.

Sturgeon tells those with symptoms to stay at home

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has tweeted the latest health advice following the UK-wide move into the “delay” phase of efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, telling people: “From today, if you have a fever or persistent cough, stay at home for at least 7 days.

“It’s the best way for us all to protect others, particularly those most at risk of serious illness.”

Sturgeon dialled into the Cobra emergency committee meeting on Thursday – but came to a different conclusion than Boris Johnson, by deciding to cancel gatherings of more than 500 people across Scotland.

Downing Street officials are reportedly angry about Sturgeon’s Scottish-only measures. “She is a total disgrace,” one source told BuzzFeed News. “This is a nationalist politician playing populist politics with a global crisis.”

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