Morning briefing: 25,000 to join government Covid-19 study

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Good morning. The government is asking 25,000 people to self-administer a nose and throat swab coronavirus test and answer questions during a home visit by a health worker as part of the first wave of a major new study to track coronavirus among the public. The cohort, which will be representative of the UK population by age and geography, will be asked to provide swabs regardless of whether they have symptoms of coronavirus. They will take a test every week for the first five weeks of the study, and then once a month for 12 months. Eventually, the study will be extended to around 300,000 people, and the result will help the government to decide how and when to ease the lockdown.

The Times reports that council staff, civil servants and volunteers will be among a group of thousands of coronavirus contact trainers to be trained within the next few weeks to help slow the spread of infection. Anyone who feels ill will enter their symptoms into a phone app, which will automatically alert those who have been in close contact with the person. The newly trained contact tracers will then advise the symptomatic person on self-isolation, take details of their recent movements and contacts, and follow-up with those recent contacts to ask about possible symptoms.

Senior Tory MPs have warned that the coronavirus lockdown was putting tens of thousands of businesses at risk and called for the government to begin a “gradual, step-by-step” lifting of restrictions within the next three weeks. Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, which met last night, said that lifting measures would mean more coronavirus cases, but “we just have to accept that. If we keep the lockdown going, it will be much more difficult for the economy to recover.”

Lastly, the government’s scientific advisory group will meet today to discuss the use of face masks among the general public. The government is not expected to make face masks mandatory, but many experts, including the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, say that it makes sense for people to wear masks in public if they have a cough.

Global updates:

China: The number of people that were infected during the first wave of coronavirus in mainland China might have been four times the official figure, according to research at Hong Kong University’s school of public health, published in the Lancet. China reported 55,000 cases up to 20 February – the researchers say the true number is around 232,000.

US: Rick Bright, the director in charge of US efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine, says he was ousted by President Donald Trump because he resisted widespread use of chloroquine, the anti-malarial drug championed as a coronavirus treatment by Trump. Meanwhile, an autopsy revealed the first US coronavirus death occurred in early February, weeks earlier than previously thought.

Europe: EU leaders meeting today are set to agree the broad outline of a financial plan for recovering from the coronavirus, but agreement on detail – such as the size of the fund and whether it should be made available as grants or loans – looks unlikely.

South Korea: GDP shrank 1.4 per cent in the first quarter of the year, the largest quarterly contraction since 2008.

Vietnam: Vietnam will today ease social distancing measures in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as the spread of the virus slows. Non-essential services and businesses will be allowed to re-open, subject to conditions.

Lebanon: The United Nations confirmed the first case of coronavirus in a Palestinian refugee camp, prompting fears the virus could spread through one of the world’s most vulnerable groups.

Read more on the New Statesman:

Coronavirus hits the Global South

Why coronavirus has deepened the crisis of the conservative mind

Senior Tory backbenchers are increasingly alarmed by their own government’s response to the crisis

Why the UK cannot get its PPE supply chain to work

The lack of global political order is making an unprecedented economic shock even greater

Is it too early for an inquiry into the government’s failings? Only if you think they can’t be fixed

In lockdown, children are more powerless than ever. But they have a secret weapon: imagination

Image credit: MOHD RASFAN / GETTY IMAGES
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