UK coronavirus deaths rise by 27% to 1,789

UK coronavirus deaths rise by 27% to 1,789
LONDON (Reuters) – The number of deaths from coronavirus in the United Kingdom rose by 27% in the space of a day to 1,789 as of Monday at 1600 GMT, the government said.

The number of confirmed cases rose by 14% to 25,150 as of Tuesday at 0800 GMT, the Department for Health and Social Care said.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by Stephen Addison)

UK coronavirus death toll rises to 1,408

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus in the United Kingdom rose to 1,408, according to figures released on Monday, an increase of 180, a smaller rise than the previous set of numbers.

The figures are accurate up to 17:00 local time on March 29.

The previous increase saw the death toll rise by 209.

There are a total of 22,141 positive cases as of 0900 local time on March 30, the health ministry said.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Paul Sandle; editing by Stephen Addison)

Lockdown, what lockdown? UK begins tougher action against those ignoring shutdown

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain brought in tough measures on Thursday to curb the spread of coronavirus and ensure people obey the government’s virtual lockdown which many thousands are feared to have so far ignored.

The new powers allow police to issue instant fines those who leave their homes without good reason or gather in groups of more than two people.

In northern England, one police force has begun introducing random vehicle checkpoints to ensure the new rules are enforced while the head of the Church of England told Britons who were flouting the instructions to “get your act together”.

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs, restaurants and nearly all shops to close, banned social gatherings and told people to stay at home unless they needed to buy food, go out to essential work or to exercise once a day.

While millions have respected the measures, roads and parks have remained busy, and the authorities across the country have repeatedly reported that people have not respected the 2 metre (6 foot) guidance on social distancing while others have continued to mingle.

On Thursday, a new regulations came into effect which give the authorities the power to impose a 30-pound fixed penalty on those who breach the rules. Repeat offenders could ultimately receive a fine of up to 960 pounds and might be arrested.

Those who did not pay up could be taken to court, where magistrates could impose unlimited fines, the government said.

“The prime minister has been clear on what we need to do: stay at home to protect our NHS and save lives,” said Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel.

PARKS CLOSED

Some Britons have continued their daily routine and risked spreading the virus which the government fears could overwhelm the National Health Service if large numbers contract COVID-19.

In east London, police and the Tower Hamlets local authority said they had been forced to close Victoria Park, one of the largest and most popular open public spaces in the area, because people were failing to abide by the guidance.

The Royal Parks, a charity which looks after eight major parks across the capital, said it too was considering shutting its gates.

“It is up to all of us collectively to adhere to the latest guidance, otherwise we will have to consider closing the parks. We will keep the situation under constant review,” said Tom Jarvis, its Director of Parks.

Other cities have already closed some parks and facilities to meet the guidance on social distancing while Greater Manchester firefighters said they had received reports of lots of people having barbecues on moorlands.

Meanwhile police in Devon, southwest England, said when they has asked a young cyclist why he was four miles from his home and not following the rules, he had replied: “It only kills old people”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual head of the Church of England, said people should not act selfishly.

“Get your act together,” he said to those who have been ignoring the strict government social distancing instructions.

“If you are not complying, you are risking other people’s lives, not just your own,” he told ITV News.

To ensure compliance, police in northern England said they would bring in vehicle checkpoints from Thursday, along with foot patrols to disperse any groups.

“We sincerely hope that we won’t have to resort to enforcement action, but if people do not comply, we will,” said Mike Walker, Assistant Chief Constable of North Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill said anyone who claimed they had the virus and deliberately coughed at police or other emergency workers could be charged with common assault and face up to two years in jail.

“Let me be very clear: this is a crime and needs to stop.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

UK puts military on standby as coronavirus shuts down swathes of London

Reuters
By Guy Faulconbridge and Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom put 20,000 military personnel on standby, closed dozens of underground train stations across London and Queen Elizabeth left the city for Windsor Castle as the coronavirus crisis shut down whole swathes of the economy.

As the coronavirus outbreak sweeps across the world, governments, companies and investors are grappling with the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic, panicked populations and imploding financial markets.

Against a background of panic buying in supermarkets and the biggest fall in sterling for decades, the British government moved to quash rumors that travel in and out of London would be restricted.

“There is zero prospect of any restriction being placed on traveling in or out of London,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters.

He said police were responsible for maintaining law and order and there were no plans to use the military for this purpose, though the government put military reservists on formal notification.

But dozens of underground train stations across the capital were due to be closed and an industry source said supermarkets were expecting police support amid the fears that London was facing a virtual shutdown.

After ordering the closure of schools across a country that casts itself as a pillar of Western stability, Johnson on Wednesday said the government was ruling nothing out when asked whether he would bring in measures to lock down London.

Johnson has asked the government to come up with plans for a so-called lockdown which would see businesses closed, transport services reduced, gatherings limited and more stringent controls imposed on the city.

Queen Elizabeth on Thursday left the capital for her ancient castle at Windsor. The monarch has also agreed to postpone the planned state visit by Japanese Emperor Naruhito in June.

LONDON CLOSING?

London’s transport authority said it would close up to 40 underground train stations until further notice and reduce other services including buses and trains. The line between Waterloo station and the City of London financial district would be closed.

“People should not be traveling, by any means, unless they really, really have to,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

Britain has so far reported 104 deaths from coronavirus and 2,626 confirmed cases, but UK scientific advisers say more than 50,000 people might have already been infected.

Britain faces a “massive shortage” of ventilators that will be needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus, after it failed to invest enough in intensive care equipment, a leading ventilator manufacturer said.

With the world’s fifth largest economy coming to a standstill, the pound on Wednesday plunged to its lowest since March 1985, barring a freak “flash crash” in October 2016. On Thursday the pound was down 0.5% at $1.1570.

British shoppers were queuing around the block early on Thursday morning to buy basic supplies such as bottled water and tinned goods ahead of an expected toughening of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Supermarkets have been forced to limit purchases after frantic shoppers stripped shelves. Outside one Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London on Thursday, a huge queue had formed ahead of opening, with people standing calmly in the rain.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Dylan Martinez, Kate Holton and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Michael Holden and Giles Elgood)

Exclusive: UK faces ‘massive shortage’ of ventilators – Swiss manufacturer

By John Miller

EMS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Britain faces a “massive shortage” of ventilators that will be needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus, after it failed to invest enough in intensive care equipment, a leading ventilator manufacturer said on Wednesday.

“England is very poorly equipped,” said Andreas Wieland, chief executive of Hamilton Medical in Switzerland, which says it is the world’s largest ventilator maker.

“They’re going to have a massive shortage, once the virus really arrives there,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Ventilators, running in the thousands of dollars per unit, are used to help people with respiratory difficulties to breathe. They are high-tech versions of the “iron lungs” that kept people alive into the 1950s during fierce polio epidemics.

Worldwide, the devices have become shorthand for the rapid advance of the disease — and the desperation of officials who fear their stocks are inadequate. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the 3,000 devices in his state where 20 people have died are a fraction of what he’d like to have.

“The entire world is trying to buy ventilators,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript published on Wednesday, adding he is hoping to tap a U.S. federal government stockpile.

Germany’s Draegerwerk  last week got a government order for 10,000, equal to a typical year’s production.

Wieland’s company in the Swiss Alps has boosted normal production of some 15,000 ventilators annually by 30-40% and now can produce about 80 ventilators daily.

He has shifted his 1,400 employees to seven-day work weeks as well as borrowed workers from other companies in the Rhine River valley where his two-year-old ventilator plant is located.

Last week, Hamilton Medical shipped 400 ventilators to Italy, whose intensive care units have been overwhelmed by more than 35,000 cases of the rapidly spreading virus and almost 3,000 deaths.

About 50% of those with coronavirus in Italy accepted into intensive care units are dying, compared with typical mortality rates of 12% to 16% in such units.

Wieland said a similar outbreak in Britain, now with more than 2,600 cases and about 100 deaths, would swamp the system there, too.

“They are not well equipped with ventilators and intensive care stations,” he said. “They invested very little, and I think now they will pay the price.”

UK health minister Matt Hancock has acknowledged the existing stock of 5,000 ventilators is inadequate.

“NO NUMBER TOO HIGH”

“We think we need many times more than that and we are saying if you produce a ventilator then we will buy it,” he said earlier this week. “No number is too high.”

Wieland said he was in “close contact” with UK medical leaders and aimed to prioritize shipments there soon, though for now Italy was taking precedence.

But he also has orders from the United States, Turkey, France and China, where in January he stocked up on components in anticipation of rising demand as the virus spread from its origins in Wuhan.

The UK’s Intensive Care Society, an organization of medical professionals, did not immediately return emails and phone calls from Reuters seeking comment on the nation’s readiness for a possible explosion of coronavirus cases.

“We are likely to need more,” a National Health Service spokesman told Reuters. “Engineers have already been tasked with developing plans to produce more ventilators in the UK, at speed.”

Hamilton CEO Wieland is skeptical, however, of the British government’s recent call for manufacturers from other industries including Ford, Honda and Rolls Royce to help make equipment including ventilators.

“I wish them the best of luck,” Wieland said. “I do not believe anything will come of it. These devices are very complex. It takes us four to five years” to develop a new product.

(Reporting by John Miller in Ems, Andrew MacAskill in London; Editing by Mark Potter and Chizu Nomiyama)

UK police under fire over children trafficked into drug trade

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Police efforts to crack down on drug gangs that traffic children in Britain are being hampered by a lack of coordination and inconsistent treatment of victims, a watchdog said on Friday.

Thousands of children in Britain are estimated to be used by gangs to carry drugs from cities to rural areas, according to police who consider the crime a growing form of modern slavery.

Yet investigations into the drug trade are disjointed and often “less effective than they should be” due to limited police cooperation and competing priorities, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said.

The number of suspected British child slaves referred to the government in 2018 for support more than doubled to 1,421 from 676 in 2017, with many feared to be victims of the so-called county lines trade. Such data for last year was not available.

“Our inspection revealed that policing is currently too fragmented to best tackle county lines offending,” Phil Gormley, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said in a statement.

Children caught with drugs who are arrested then released from policy custody often do not have ready access to support services, and in some cases are put on train journeys home unsupervised after their release, according to the report.

Responding to the watchdog, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for county lines Graham McNulty said there was room to improve, but the police could not solve the issue alone.

“Schools, health and social care services, charities and others have a critical role in ending this evil practice and we will continue to work closely with them,” McNulty said.

Britain’s interior ministry said it was investing 20 million pounds ($26 million) to tackle the crime, and that a national coordination centre established in 2018 had made at least 2,500 arrests and protected more than 3,000 vulnerable people.

Phil Brewer, the ex-head of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-slavery squad, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in October that police faced a challenge in trying to judge whether a child found dealing drugs should be treated as a suspect or a victim. [L5N26O4PA]

Gangs are luring some children into selling drugs by telling them they will not be punished if they say they were coerced, citing a defence intended for trafficking victims in Britain’s 2015 anti-slavery law, prosecutors told lawmakers last year.

The HMICFRS report said the government should launch a review into the legal defence and establish whether the legislation should be amended, a recommendation supported by Britain’s independent anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton.

“It is essential that police and prosecutors recognise county lines offenders who force their victims to carry drugs – often under the threat of extreme violence and intimidation – as perpetrators of modern slavery,” Thornton said in a statement.

($1 = 0.7652 pounds)

(Writing by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Wanted: Weirdos and misfits – aide to UK’s Johnson is hiring

LONDON (Reuters) – The senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who plotted Brexit and steered his boss to last month’s election triumph, is on the lookout for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to help bring new ideas to Britain’s government.

“We want to improve performance and make me much less important — and within a year largely redundant,” Dominic Cummings said in a post on his blog on Thursday.

“We do not have the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed. This must change fast so we can properly serve the public.”

Cummings, who has made no secret of his disdain for much of the way Britain’s civil service operates, said he had been lucky to have worked with some fantastic officials in recent months.

“But there are also some profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions,” he said.

Cummings was one of the senior campaigners behind the Vote Leave victory in the 2016 Brexit referendum and was described by former Prime Minister John Major as “political anarchist.”

In his blog, Cummings said rapid progress could now be made on long-term problems thanks to the combination of policy upheaval after Brexit, an appetite for risk among some officials in the new government and Johnson’s big majority in parliament.

The government was looking to hire data scientists and software developers, economists, policy experts, project managers, communication experts and junior researchers as well as “weirdos and misfits with odd skills,” he said.

“We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole,” Cummings said.

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

UK prosecutors to charge U.S. diplomat’s wife over fatal car crash

By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) – British prosecutors said on Friday they had decided to charge the wife of a U.S. diplomat over a fatal car crash in England and to seek her extradition, a decision that “disappointed” Washington.

Harry Dunn, 19, died after his motorcycle was in a collision with a car driven by Anne Sacoolas near RAF Croughton, an air force base in the English county of Northamptonshire that is used by the U.S. military.

Sacoolas, 42, was given diplomatic immunity and left Britain shortly after the accident, setting off a dispute between London and Washington over whether she should return to face investigation.

She said she would not return voluntarily to face a potential jail sentence.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said on Friday it would charge Sacoolas with causing death by dangerous driving and had started legal proceedings.

But it said it was up to the Home Office (interior ministry) to decide whether to seek Sacoolas’ extradition formally through diplomatic channels.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab welcomed the charging decision, adding in a statement: “I hope that Anne Sacoolas will now realize the right thing to do is to come back to the UK and cooperate with the criminal justice process.”

The U.S. State department expressed disappointment.

“We are disappointed by today’s announcement and fear that it will not bring a resolution closer,” a State Department spokesperson said.

“The United States has been clear that, at the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the UK, the driver in this case had status that conferred diplomatic immunities.”

Sacoolas’ lawyer Amy Jeffress said her would not be going back to Britain to face trial.

“Anne will not return voluntarily to the United Kingdom to face a potential jail sentence for what was a terrible but unintentional accident,” Jeffress said in a statement.

‘BEAUTIFUL’ BUT ‘SAD’

Dunn’s case gained international prominence when his parents met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in October, an occasion he described as “beautiful” but “sad”.

Trump hoped to persuade them meet Sacoolas, who was in the building at the same time, but they declined.

Sacoolas initially cooperated with local police after the crash, but later said she had diplomatic immunity.

The White House and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The maximum jail sentence in Britain for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, broke down in tears after finding out charges had been brought, saying it meant she had kept a promise to her son to get him justice.

“We had no idea it was going to be this hard and it would take this long, but we really do feel it is a huge step towards that promise to Harry,” she told reporters.

Edward Grange, a partner at the criminal law firm Corker Binning, said Sacoolas could voluntarily attend a hearing in Britain and that if she failed to appear, it could lead to an extradition request.

“The prospect of an extradition request succeeding remains to be seen, particularly in light of comment from the Trump Administration that it is very reluctant to allow its citizens to be tried abroad,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Sarah Young; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

UK truck deaths cast spotlight on global trade in humans

UK truck deaths cast spotlight on global trade in humans
By K. Sophie Will

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The discovery of 39 bodies in a truck in London last week cast a spotlight on the global trade in human beings and sparked debate about Britain’s approach to tackling smugglers and traffickers.

A British court heard on Monday that a global crime ring had been involved in smuggling the dead – many of whom appear to have come from Vietnam – as the driver of the truck faced charges of manslaughter and human trafficking.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Saturday told authorities to establish whether Vietnamese citizens were among the dead, and to probe allegations of trafficking.

Unlike trafficking, which is control over a person for the purpose of exploitation, smuggling is merely illegal entry into another country – although the latter can turn into the former.

About 10% of the suspected 7,000 slavery victims found in Britain last year were Vietnamese. Most are trafficked for labour such as cannabis cultivation and work in nail salons.

Globally, more than 40 million people are estimated by the United Nations to be trapped in modern slavery as poverty, conflict and climate change fuel the $150-billion-a-year trade.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked six anti-slavery experts about how to prevent such deaths from happening again.

SARA THORNTON, BRITAIN’S INDEPENDENT ANTI-SLAVERY COMMISSIONER

“This is a shocking illustration of the cruel and complex issue that is human trafficking in Britain today.

“Whilst we do not yet know the full details of the journeys that these individuals made, this case bears all the hallmarks of human trafficking.

“As we rethink our migration policies, it is essential that the needs of vulnerable migrants are front and centre.

“We need to ensure that new migration policies are stress-tested to ensure that they do not provide opportunities for the traffickers to exploit very vulnerable people.”

MIMI VU, INDEPENDENT ANTI-TRAFFICKING EXPERT IN VIETNAM

“The government and businesses must look at what the root causes are, realising that people that are less educated are more likely to take these risks because they are poor.

“All the work on this has to be done before anyone leaves, as this all has to be done in-country.

“When you address the root causes, you will convince the Vietnamese that this is not worth the risk.

“They have to believe in very concrete meaningful ways that they have a future in Vietnam.

“But we are losing our people to trafficking and slavery.”

LUCILA GRANADA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF FOCUS ON LABOUR EXPLOITATION

“We must, of course, investigate and punish those who profit from the desperation of people, but to effectively prevent this from happening again we must recognise the role of Britain in driving people into these dangerous routes.

“It is important to recognise that British immigration policies and border control approach have played a key part in restricting their options.

“With no available regular immigration pathways and the constant threat of detention and deportation in transit and upon arrival, those seeking survival in Britain become easy prey.

“This tragedy exposed one more time that prosecuting individual traffickers is not enough. We need to open safe routes of regular migration and end the hostile environment.”

JUSTINE CURRELL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UNSEEN

“Whether people get into the back of a lorry through their own volition or from having been forced or coerced, the ultimate penalty is death.

“Even when trafficking and exploitation is not the primary factor of movement, those entering the country illegally and who lack status become increasingly vulnerable and susceptible to abuse and exploitation.

“Awareness-raising in communities and specific source countries to deter people from putting their lives at risk would help to highlight the pitfalls of taking this dangerous course of action.

“Increased targeted checks at the border may also help to root out such movement and any intervention subsequently made before another disaster occurs.”

PHILIPPA SOUTHWELL, LAWYER AT BIRDS SOLICITORS

“Solving this is not simple, but obviously it’s down to the manning of ports. I know it’s difficult to check each vehicle, and it really is impossible to do one-to-one checking on these vehicles, but we can improve the manning of particular ports.

“Particularly in Asia, people living in poverty are promised a better life and are coming to Britain to work and send money back to their families.

“We need to be looking to build better relationships with these countries, realising what the root problems are there and what can be done.”

NAZIR AFZAL, FORMER CHIEF PROSECUTOR IN NORTHERN ENGLAND

“Human trafficking is organised crime from which criminals benefit.

“Demand has to be reduced through deterrence, the closing down of businesses that engage trafficked people. Simultaneously, authorities need to follow the money and identify it, confiscate it, whilst punishing the offenders.

“Trafficked people need to be seen as victims first and last. They need to be supported to give their best evidence against the traffickers, not threatened with deportation.”

(Reporting by K. Sophie Will, Writing by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

From archaeologists to vets, UK widens list of desired immigrants

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain needs a wider range of immigrants to tackle shortages of workers ranging from archaeologists and architects to vets and web developers, government advisors said on Wednesday, just days after figures showed immigration had fallen to a five-year low.

Britain is reviewing its immigration system as it prepares to leave the European Union, which allows almost unrestricted free movement of workers between its 28 member states.

More than 3 million foreigners have moved permanently to Britain since 2009, despite the government’s aim to reduce net migration to 100,000 a year, and this was a top worry for voters at the time of 2016’s referendum to leave the EU.

However, in its first full review of job shortages in five years, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said shortages of workers in Britain’s economy had increased since 2013, as unemployment had fallen to its lowest since 1975.

The body, made up mostly of academic labor market economists, recommended that jobs similar to those done by 9% of workers in Britain should be put on an immigration shortage list, up from less than 1% in 2013.

“The expansion comes mainly from the wider set of health and IT sector jobs included,” the report said.

The MAC’s recommendations are not binding, but the government has generally followed previous suggestions.

Inclusion on the ‘shortage occupation list’ would mean employers no longer needed to prove they were unable to hire a British worker to do the job, and shortage workers would have priority over some other immigrants if quotas applied.

Businesses welcomed the recommendation from the body, which has already urged the government to lift a cap on high-skilled immigrants, but had upset some firms by opposing a new category of post-Brexit visa for low-skilled EU workers.

“Our research shows that three-quarters of firms are currently unable to find the talent they need, and vacancies are being left unfilled,” the British Chambers of Commerce said.

However Migration Watch UK, a body that wants less immigration, called the new job shortage list “astonishing”.

“The MAC seems to have turned 180 degrees from its previous emphasis on encouraging employers to recruit domestically through improved wages, better conditions and boosted training,” Migration Watch’s vice-chairman, Alp Mehmet, said.

Stricter border controls were Britons’ top concern at the time of the 2016 referendum, but this has now fallen to third place, behind funding public healthcare and education, according to recent polling by market research company Kantar.

Nonetheless, some 42% of Britons still want to restrict EU citizens’ future rights to live in Britain after Brexit, while only 33% wanted to preserve them.

(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)