Quarter of world’s population under lockdown

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By Joshua Cheetham, Katie Wright, George Bowden, Yaroslav Lukov, Gareth Evans, Emlyn Begley, Alex Bysouth, Mal Siret and Claudia Allen

Israel launches apps to help fight virus

Yolande Knell

BBC Middle East correspondent, Jerusalem

In line with its reputation as the “Start-Up Nation”, Israel’s high-tech sector is coming up with new applications to help in the fight against Covid-19.

From this week, a start-up called Vocalis Health is working with hospitals and the defence ministry to sample the voices of people who have tested positive – through a mobile app – to see if these samples show a “vocal fingerprint” that would help detect the virus in others. Artificial intelligence will be used to analyse the samples.

Another new app that has come online, called “The Shield” (“Hamagen” in Hebrew), can instantly tell people if they have crossed paths with someone known to have contracted the coronavirus. It was launched by the health ministry and takes location data from the user’s phone to compare it to data on the known movements of confirmed cases in the two weeks before their diagnosis. If there is an overlap, the user is told and asked if they want to report their exposure.

The ministry promises that information shared is secure. But computer-privacy experts warn that the terms of use for the Shield app are far-reaching and allow the sharing of information with “the proper authorities”.

Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service was controversially instructed to track the phones of infected people and send messages to those who had been in contact with them, ordering them to self-quarantine.

UN pleas for $2bn in aid for vulnerable countries

A Palestinian child in the Gaza Strip. Photo: 24 March 2020
Image caption: A Palestinian child in the Gaza Strip, where the UN has warned that a Covid-19 outbreak could be disastrous

The United Nations has launched a huge humanitarian funding drive to help fight Covid-19 in the most vulnerable countries.

It is asking all states that can, to contribute to $2bn (£1.7bn) in cash for nations that will struggle to contain the outbreak.

The world body says a number of those countries are already devastated by conflict or natural disasters.

“To leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries to their fate would be both cruel and unwise,” warned the UN’s Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock.

“If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe.”

It is hoped that the extra funds raised will provide vulnerable countries with laboratory test equipment, handwashing facilities in refugee camps and an airbridge for humanitarian workers to get to the worst affected areas.

‘We’re asking the country to help us’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Here are some more updates from Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York state – which has almost half of all cases in the US.

  • Crowds forming in New York City’s parks has been a problem – as a result, the city is going to pilot closing certain streets to cars, so that pedestrians can use them.
  • Mr Cuomo said he had spoken to President Donald Trump, and White House officials, several times. He has asked the White House for more essential equipment and personnel, as “our apex is first and our numbers are the highest”, and pledged to redeploy equipment and personnel to the next hot spot “as soon as we get past our critical moment… we’re asking the country to help us – we will return the favour”.
  • He reminded young people to stay cautious. “I’ve been as blunt as I can… you may think you’re a superhero, but you can catch it and you can transfer it.”
  • He also asked mental health professionals to sign up to provide services online, saying: “No one’s really talking about that. Don’t underestimate the emotional trauma people are feeling.”
  • Mr Cuomo said the $2tn (£1.7tn) stimulus bill agreed in the Senate would be “terrible” for New York, as the state had already spent $3.8bn combating the outbreak, and would only receive $1.3bn from the bill.

    Are food deliveries and takeaways safe?

    Victoria Gill

    Science reporter, BBC News

    Takeaway food being delivered

    Many of us are wondering about the risk of catching coronavirus from anything we touch – including food and packaging.

    However, there is no evidence of Covid-19 being transmitted through food.

    And while there is no such thing as “zero risk”, says Prof Sally Bloomfield from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it is only the packaging – handled by other people – that would be of concern for potential transmission of the virus.

    For takeaway food, you can minimise that risk, Prof Bloomfield advises, by: “Emptying the contents, disposing of the packaging into a refuse bag and washing your hands – thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water – before you eat.”

    How safe are delivered groceries?

    Deliveries are far less risky than a trip to the supermarket, because the risk of transmission comes from surfaces – when a person with contaminated hands touches a surface, they can transfer the virus onto it.

    So shopping for a vulnerable neighbour and delivering food to them would mean they could avoid that risky environment.

    “We know that coronavirus does not ‘breed’ outside the body, so by the time [food] is delivered, any chance of infectivity is already lower because the virus starts to lose its infectivity as soon as it leaves the infected person,” says Prof Bloomfield.

    She suggests spraying or wiping plastic or glass containers with carefully diluted household bleach.

    “For fresh goods – which were unwrapped when you brought them and could be handled by anyone – wash thoroughly under running water and leave to dry,” she adds.

    “It may be better for the moment, if possible, to stick to freshly cooked rather than raw foods, which will destroy any residual virus.”

    Video content

    Video caption: Coronavirus: How to wash your hands – in 20 seconds

    New York governor: Social distancing seems to be working

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is now giving a press conference. The state is the worst-affected in the US, with more than 25,600 cases – almost half of all the cases in the US.

    Mr Cuomo says that the number of patients being admitted to hospitals has moved at a higher rate than projected – currently, they predict 140,000 people could require hospital treatment, although the state’s hospital capacity is 52,000 – meaning that they need to rapidly increase capacity.

    However, there’s also positive news – Mr Cuomo said that evidence suggests that the state’s density control plan was working – while hospital admissions are still increasing, the rate of increase has slowed. He cautions that projections are not always watertight – but “the arrows are headed in the right direction”.

    Photo of Cuomo's presentation showing projections of hospitalisations

    Prince Charles ‘in good health’ despite infection

    Earlier today, we reported that the Prince of Wales had tested positive for coronavirus.

    Prince Charles, 71, is displaying mild symptoms, but is otherwise “in good health”, according to a spokesperson. No other member of the Royal Family is believed to be affected.

    Our Royal Correspondent Jonny Dymond gives an update on what we know so far:

    Street comes together for birthday sing-song

    Eight-year-old Sophia is having to spend her birthday at home because of the current restrictions, but that did not stop the other residents of her street in Southampton joining forces to give her a special rendition of “Happy Birthday”…

    Social embed from twitter

    BBC Radio Solent

    @BBCRadioSolent

    🥳 Happy Birthday Sophia! 🎂

    A street on lockdown in Southampton joined together to wish Sophia a happy 8th birthday 👏

    Embedded video

    Air pollution plummets in Europe

    Car exhaust pipe

    Europe’s major cities have turned into ghost towns over the past few weeks amid efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus. The European Environment Agency (EEA) says this has had one major health benefit – air pollution rates are plummeting.

    Over the past week, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the Italian city of Milan have dropped 21% compared to the same week in 2019. Rome’s average NO2 levels over the last four weeks were up to 35% lower than the same period last year.

    It’s not just Italy. In the week 16-22 March, Madrid’s NO2 levels were down 41% compared with 2019, and Lisbon’s rates were down 51%.

    The EEA says the drop in levels is down to reduced traffic. But societies will need “ambitious policies and forward-looking investments” if they want to keep air clean after this crisis finally ends.

    UK PM to hold press briefing

    UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

    Boris Johnson will host a press conference later today, his spokesman has confirmed.

    The UK government has been holding daily briefings throughout the crisis, but they are now done virtually – with journalists asking questions online.

    We will bring you all the updates from the conference when it happens.

    UK not part of EU effort to secure equipment

    Man wearing personal protective equipment on the Tube in London

    The UK government has confirmed it is not working with the European Union (EU) to secure more personal protective equipment and ventilators for the NHS.

    Asked whether the UK was taking part in the Brussels scheme, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “I think the short answer to that is no.”

    The EU has been working for weeks to acquire crucial equipment – like face masks and other medical products – since the coronavirus epidemic spread to the continent earlier this year.

    Deaths rise in the UK

    A further six people with coronavirus in Scotland have died, taking the total number of deaths there to 22.

    There have also been five more deaths in Wales, raising the toll there to 22, and a further two in Northern Ireland – which has now recorded seven deaths in total.

    The figures for England, and the UK as a whole, will be released later. On Tuesday, the number of deaths in the UK stood at 433.

    Coronavirus antibody test ‘available within days’

    A vial with a potential coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine, 20 March 2020

    The public will soon be able to conduct coronavirus antibody tests at home, the director of the national infection service at Public Health England says.

    Prof Sharon Peacock told the science and technology MPs’ committee that 3.5 million tests had been bought and would be available in the “near future”.

    She said the tests would allow key workers, such as doctors and nurses, to return to work if they have developed antibodies.

    “Once we are assured that they do work, they will be rolled out into the community. Testing the test is a small matter, and I anticipate that it will be done by the end of this week,” Prof Peacock said.

    “In the near future, people will be able to order a test that they can test themselves, or go to Boots, or somewhere similar to have their finger prick test done.”

    Asked if tests would be available in days, rather than weeks or months, she added: “Absolutely.”

    Antibodies are produced by the body to fight off infection, and tests could indicate whether someone has had the disease in the past.

    These tests could also help work out how widespread the disease has been.

    Quarter of the world now under lockdown

    India’s decision to enforce a lockdown on its 1.3 billion people means that at least a quarter of the world’s population of 7.8 billion is now living under tough restrictions on movement and social contact.

    From Rwanda to California and New York to New Zealand, the coronavirus has shut down large parts of our planet – leaving normally heaving streets deserted and towering office blocks empty.

    And there’s more to come – about half the US population are believed to be living under stay at home orders and measures are expected in further states. From midnight on Thursday, all South Africans will have to stay at home for a 21-day period.

    Over the last few weeks, you will have kept hearing that the coronavirus crisis has changed the world. The fact that so many of you reading this will be doing so from home, because you’ve been told to stay inside, is perhaps the starkest illustration of how this has affected all of us.

    People cross empty streets in Sydney's CBD
    Image caption: Streets in Sydney’s Central Business District are largely empty
    A cat walks across a street blocked with fruit crates and makeshift barricades to protect a neighborhood from the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manila, Philippines, March 24, 2020.
    Image caption: The entire region around Manila, the Philippine capital, is under strict quarantine

    Russians ordered off work to ‘slow spread’

    A Russian family near Moscow watch President Vladimir Putin’s address. Photo: 25 March 2020
    Image caption: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation on Wednesday

    More news on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to postpone a vote on constitutional amendments that would allow him to stay in power until 2036.

    In a televised address to the nation, Mr Putin – who has ruled the country since 2000 – announced that the public vote due on 22 April was now delayed until a “later date”.

    He did not elaborate.

    Separately, the president said that Russians would not work next week in an effort “to slow the speed” of the new coronavirus.

    Russia has officially confirmed 658 cases, but no deaths.

    Mr Putin’s critics have said the authorities may be underreporting the true scale of the outbreak.

    Video caption: Coronavirus: Prince of Wales tests positive

    Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has sent her best wishes to Prince Charles, who tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland.

    She declined to comment on the specifics, when questioned on the fact that Prince Charles, 71, had tested positive at what some people have described as a second home – the prince is currently staying at Balmoral in Scotland.

    Ms Sturgeon repeated the advice she gave on Sunday – that she didn’t want people to see the Highland and Islands as places where they can outrun the virus.

    She added that remote areas were under pressure at the best of times and she didn’t want health services in these areas to be put under additional pressure.

    Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said she had discussed the situation with the team at NHS Grampian and, from the information she had been given, it was clear Prince Charles had been tested for clinical reasons.

    Separately, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wished Prince Charles a “speedy recovery”, a Downing Street spokesman told reporters.

    Commuters walk outside a train station

    Dutch authorities have confirmed 80 more virus-related deaths in the country during the last 24 hours. They also confirmed 852 additional cases.

    This latest figures bring the total to 6,412 cases and 356 deaths in the country of 17 million.

    The Netherlands’ health ministry stressed the actual number of infections will be higher because not everyone has been tested.

    A ban on public gatherings has been extended until 1 June to help fight the Netherlands’ outbreak.

    What’s the latest in the US?

    As the US wakes up, here’s a quick summary of the latest headlines from around the country:

    • And after 802 deaths and 55,225 confirmed infections, America is more than midway through a 15-day attempt to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing
    • Earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that it could become the new epicentre of the virus
    A view of a person wearing mask in Grand Central Terminal in New York

    New measures have been brought in to stop non-essential London Underground journeys, as passengers posted pictures of crowded carriages again this morning.

    Queues are being introduced at ticket gates and some escalators are being turned off to slow the flow of passengers to platforms.

    British Transport Police is also deploying 500 officers to patrol the network and remind the public that they should only be making essential journeys for work. Read more here

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