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20 May 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Morning briefing: Way off-track

By Samuel Horti

Good morning.

The government is coming under mounting pressure to roll out a track and trace system that, clearly, isn’t yet fit for purpose. The Guardian reports that the system, which will involve more than 20,000 contact tracers as well as an NHS app, will not be ready until June – Health Secretary Matt Hancock initially said it would go live in mid-May. Multiple government scientific advisers warned last night that schools should not open until an effective system is in place and working well. With the first primary schools set to open on 1 June, ministers are up against it. Even disregarding the timing, the usefulness of the system itself is in question. One government scientific adviser told Sky News that the system might not be fast enough, while the BBC reported GCHQ was looking into security measures with the app. One contact tracer summed up the state of the system while telling the Guardian about the training they’d received. “We had a chat [box] where we could ask him questions, but the first hour and a half of the training was just people writing, ‘I can’t hear anything’.”

Even leaving track and trace aside, more and more councils are saying they intend to keep schools closed for the start of next month. The BBC says at least 11 councils have expressed opposition to the date – the Guardian reckons it’s 18, representing 1,500 primary schools. However, opposition from the British Medical Association appears to be softening. The organisation said schools can reopen on 1 June if it is “safe to do so”, and that there is “growing evidence that the risk to individual children from Covid-19 is extremely small”. Meanwhile, Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), admitted her union’s opposition to the 1 June opening was a “negotiating position”.

Lastly, a BBC Radio 4 documentary has told of the pressure care home managers came under to accept patients from hospitals who were potentially carrying Covid-19. A 2 April government directive called for a national effort to clear hospital beds, while two local councils wrote to care homes suggesting that extra funding was conditional on them taking patients from wards. Susan Mckinney, who runs 14 care homes in the north-east, recalled: “We had an incident on 10 April where twice we rang the hospital saying ‘we can’t accept this person back, we need them tested, we need a negative test so we know what we’re dealing with,’” she said. “They turned up at the door in an ambulance and refused to go away. There was a sort of stand-off at the door of the home… We were threatened with the police if we did not let this person in.”

Global updates:

US: President Donald Trump said that having the highest number of coronavirus cases worldwide was a “badge of honour” because it showed the US had the best testing system. He also called a US study showing that hydroxychloroquine had limited effectiveness against coronavirus a “Trump enemy statement” after he revealed he was taking the drug as a precaution.

Brazil: Brazil recorded its highest daily rise in both deaths and cases. It reported 17,408 new cases and 1,179 deaths in a 24-hour period, taking the official death toll to 17,971.

India: India recorded its biggest one-day spike in infections, with 5,200 new cases. It has begun to ease what was one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.

Singapore: A man has been sentenced to death via a Zoom call for his role in a drug deal – the first case where capital punishment has been delivered via a remote, virtual hearing. The country also set out a phased approach to ending its partial lockdown from 1 June.

World: The pandemic could undo three years of alleviating inequality and push 60 million people below the poverty line, the head of the World Bank has warned.

New Zealand: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged employers to consider a four-day working week to allow people to travel the country and achieve a better work-life balance.

Fiji: Fiji has asked to be included in the travel “bubble” between New Zealand and Australia, which is allowing free movement between the two countries.

South Korea: High schools in South Korea reopened today. It marks the beginning of a phased reopening of the country’s school system.

Netherlands: Bars and restaurants will reopen on 1 June provided customer numbers are limited and people follow social distancing measures, the government said.

Canada: Canada and the US have extended their border closure for non-essential travel until 21 June.

Read more on the New Statesman:

Reopening schools is a question of logistics, not of risks

Why the Covid-19 crisis will force the UK to rewrite the economic rulebook

Coronavirus is introducing the pitfalls of Universal Credit to many new claimants

Senior but still citizens: we should not disregard the contribution of elderly in this pandemic

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer stood up to Trump. Can she stand up to her own people?

(Image credit: OLI SCARFF / AFP)

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