Coronavirus latest: British Airways suspends all flights at Gatwick

By | April 1, 2020
planes parked at gatwick airport

British Airways planes parked up in a row at Gatwick airport.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Latest coronavirus news as of 5PM on 31 March

Planes grounded as flight demand continues to fall

British Airways will suspend all flights to and from London’s Gatwick airport. The airline will continue operating limited flights from London Heathrow on a significantly reduced timetable. This comes after EasyJet’s entire fleet of aircraft was grounded.

American Airlines announced it will seek $ 12 billion in financial aid from the US government because of the impact of the pandemic.


With flights grounded and energy consumption slashed, global carbon dioxide emissions are likely to drop by at least 0.3 per cent in 2020, and perhaps as much as 2.2 per cent. But no credible environmentalists say the response forced by the pandemic is a solution for climate change, Adam Vaughan reports.

Other coronavirus developments

China will release daily numbers of asymptomatic covid-19 cases starting tomorrow, according to the head of the national disease control bureau. There is evidence that the virus is mostly being spread by people with mild or no symptoms.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reviewing advice to the public about covering their mouths and noses with cloth face masks. Current guidance is that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings. Any new advice would make it clear that the general public should not wear medical masks, including surgical and N95 masks, as they are in short supply and needed by healthcare workers.

A century-old vaccine against tuberculosis is being tested to see if it protects people against the coronavirus. Healthcare workers in Melbourne, Australia, will receive the vaccine as part of a trial. The BCG vaccine is known for its ability to boost immune responses to other infections and has also been used to treat early-stage bladder cancer.

Popular video chat and game app Houseparty has claimed it is a victim of corporate sabotage after rumours circulated that downloading the app leaves users vulnerable to hacking.

For the first time since the second world war, the Wimbledon tennis tournament will be cancelled.

Latest coronavirus numbers

New Scientist Default Image

Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 40,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 820,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Antibodies and antibody testing: Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins produced as part of the body’s immune response to infection. Antibody tests take advantage of the microbe-specific antibodies that remain in the blood after a person has recovered from an infection.

Pandemics and our fascination with dying: Pandemics of the past can teach us about the current one, says John Troyer, who studies how we use technology to alter the experience of death.

Essential information about coronavirus

What is covid-19?

What is social distancing?

What are the worst symptoms and how deadly is covid-19?

What we know so far about risks to pregnancy and babies?

You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it

What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

New Scientist The Big Interview features New Scientist’s chief reporter Adam Vaughan speaking to Greta Thunberg about coronavirus and moving her activism online.

Coronavirus trajectory tracker explained, a video by John Burn-Murdoch for the Financial Times, uses data-visualisation to explain the daily graphs that show how coronavirus cases and deaths are growing around the world.

This is the bleak heart of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, a long-read by Jason Horowitz for the New York Times, tells the story of the coronavirus outbreak as experienced in Bergamo, Italy – one of the centres of the pandemic – with scenes captured by photographer Fabio Bucciarelli.

Contagion: The BBC Four Pandemic is a sober documentary about the progression of a hypothetical pandemic which the BBC simulated in 2017. Fronted by science journalist and TV presenter Hannah Fry, and made with the support of some of the country’s best epidemiologists and mathematical modelers, it’s very relevant to today’s covid-19 pandemic.

Previous updates

Park avenue in New York during the pandemic

Park Avenue in New York has been closed to vehicle traffic to allow more space for pedestrians )

Noam Galai/Getty Images

30 March

Government interventions ‘averted 59,000 deaths’ in 11 countries

Government interventions across 11 European countries have already saved 59,000 lives, according to a new report from scientists at Imperial College London which includes Neil Ferguson, whose modelling has informed the UK’s coronavirus strategy. The researchers modelled the impact of social distancing, school closures, lockdowns and the banning of large gatherings in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

New breathing aid developed for covid-19 patients

A new breathing aid to help keep covid-19 patients out of intensive care will soon undergo clinical trials in several London hospitals. The device can deliver oxygen to the lungs without the need for a ventilator. It was designed and built in under a week as part of a collaboration between engineers and doctors at University College London and Mercedes Formula One.

The new device has already been approved by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and, if trials are successful, up to 1000 could be produced per day.

Restrictions extended

US president Donald Trump has said restrictions in the country will be extended until at least 30 April. This follows a warning from the US government’s leading infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, over the weekend that the coronavirus could kill as many as 200,000 people in the US

It could be six months before life in the UK returns to “normal”, according to the UK’s deputy chief medical officer. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that 20,000 former UK National Health Service (NHS) staff have returned to work to help in the fight against the virus.

Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet flight attendants are being offered work at the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in east London. EasyJet’s entire fleet of aircrafts has been grounded due to the pandemic.

Other coronavirus developments

Hungary’s parliament has granted the country’s prime minister Viktor Orban new powers that some argue amount to a suspension of the country’s democracy. Elections will be stopped, parliament will not sit and the government will be able to imprison people for charges such as “spreading fake news.”

As a result of India’s lockdown, thousands of migrant workers have been facing day-long walks to get back home from cities like Delhi and Mumbai, and at least 22 people are reported to have died. At the weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the nation’s forgiveness for imposing the sweeping lockdown.

New dates for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games have been set for 23 July to 8 August 2021, while the Paralympics will happen from 24 August to 5 September 2021.

Latest coronavirus cases and deaths

The worldwide death toll has passed 35,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 740,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

What you can do to help: The new coronavirus is upending our lives, but simple actions can slow its spread, help our neighbours, foster a sense of togetherness and rejuvenate our immune systems.

A message from Greta Thunberg: We must fight the climate crisis and pandemic simultaneously, Thunberg told New Scientist.

Previous updates

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New York has been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic

Marcus Santos/ZUMA Wire/Shutterstock

27 March

US overtakes China with highest number of cases

The US now has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases of any country with 86,000 positive tests, overtaking China. Worldwide confirmed cases passed half a million yesterday.

China will ban entry of non-nationals including those with valid Chinese visas and residence permits from tomorrow in an effort to limit the import of new coronavirus cases.

In Italy, there are fears that the south could become the country’s next hotspot. The most recent numbers from the northern region of Lombardy indicate that the epidemic there may be slowing down.

Other coronavirus developments

The G20 has pledged to inject over $ 5 trillion into the global economy

The UK department of health is reported to have previously rejected high-level medical advice about providing healthcare workers with certain protective equipment during a flu pandemic, because of the cost of stockpiling it.

The UK’s privacy watchdog approved the use of data from people’s mobile phones to track and monitor behaviour to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The world’s top condom producer has expressed concerns about a potential global shortage after a lockdown in Malaysia, where the company’s factories are based. Malaysia is South East Asia’s worst affected country.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now self-isolating. He says he will continue to lead the government’s response remotely. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has also tested positive for the virus, while Chris Witty, the chief medical adviser, also says he has experienced symptoms and is now self-isolating at home.

Coronavirus cases

Read More:  Britain has become MORE lazy as the number of people who spend hours sitting around leaps by 22.5%

The worldwide death toll has passed 25,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 560,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Antibody test: The UK has ordered 3.5 million antibody tests designed to reveal whether people have been infected with the new coronavirus, but will a home antibody test for covid-19 really be a game changer?

Does a high dose of virus make covid-19 worse?: Emerging research indicates that the relationship between infection and covid-19 severity may be complex and perhaps different from that of other respiratory illnesses.

UK epidemic expected to peak in a month: UK science advisers expect that the coronavirus epidemic will reach its peak in a month’s time, according to their most recent analysis.

Coronavirus and weather forecasting: The coronavirus pandemic could make weather forecasts less accurate, due to the reduction in flights by commercial airliners, which carry meteorological instruments.

Previous updates

men in front of stock ticker

The impact of the pandemic on the global economy is unprecedented in modern times


26 March

Covid-19 impact will be “worse than the global financial crisis”

The impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the global economy will be worse than the 2008 recession, according to the World Trade Organization’s director general, Roberto Azevêdo.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, has asked G20 leaders to support an increase of its emergency financing capacity to boost its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Singapore’s economy has experienced its largest contraction in a decade in the first quarter of this year, according to data released on 26 March. The country is planning for a deep recession.

Numbers released from the US Labor Department today revealed that a record 3.3 million US citizens filed for unemployment last week. The US Senate recently passed a stimulus bill of approximately $ 2 trillion.

In India, the government announced a $ 22 billion bailout for people in urgent need of financial support. This comes amid concerns about the prospects for the millions of daily-wage earners in the country, after it went into lockdown earlier this week.

The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, says self-employed people will have up to 80 per cent of their wages covered by the government during the pandemic.

Other coronavirus developments

A study of 33 newborns born to mothers with covid-19 in Wuhan, China, found that 9 per cent of the infants had covid-19 symptoms but no deaths were reported. It remains unclear whether the virus can transmit from a mother to a fetus during pregnancy.

China’s Civil Aviation Administration has announced they will significantly reduce the number of flights in and out of the country to prevent a second coronavirus outbreak.

The UN’s food body has warned that protectionist measures brought in by national governments during the pandemic could lead to food shortages around the world.

This year’s Tour de France may go ahead without spectators, according to France’s sports minister. The race is due to start on 27 June.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 23,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 510,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

How long does the coronavirus stay on surfaces?: Research conducted on the new coronavirus and others similar to it, such as SARS, suggest the virus can spread through particles in the air and via contaminated surfaces. How does this happen?

Life-or-death choices: If there’s a shortage of ventilators, how will doctors decide which covid-19 patients get one? This is the grim question doctors around the world are currently grappling with.

man with lancelet test

A test could be available within days in the UK to see if people had covid-19

IPG Gutenberg UK/Getty Images

25 March

Coronavirus antibody test could be available within days

The UK government has ordered more than 3 million finger prick antibody tests that could be ready in a matter of days. The tests could reveal whether someone had covid-19, but they are being checked first to show that they work properly. It is also still not known whether it’s possible to develop long-lasting immunity to the coronavirus.

Travel restrictions lifted in Hubei province

China’s Hubei province lifted all travel restrictions today, with the exception of Wuhan, where restrictions won’t be eased until 8 April.

In Malaysia, which is currently the worst-hit country in South East Asia, the lockdown has been extended for two more weeks.

Other coronavirus developments

Facebook usage has surged in countries under lockdowns. It’s estimated that a quarter of the world’s population is currently under lockdown and, although Facebook usage is up, the tech giant’s advertising revenue is falling.

The White House and the Senate have agreed a stimulus package worth more than $ 1.8 trillion to help ease the economic impact of coronavirus in the US.

Some prisoners could be temporarily released in several countries, including England and Wales, to ease pressure on jails caused by more staff taking sick leave and self-isolating, the BBC reports.

Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson gave evidence to the UK’s parliamentary select committee on science and technology today as part of an inquiry into the nation’s response to the pandemic. He said that he is “reasonably confident” that the health service will be able to cope during the predicted peak of the epidemic in two or three weeks, because of expected increases in National Health Service capacity and on-going travel restrictions.

This comes as the UK government has confirmed that it is not participating in European Union efforts to secure more personal protective equipment and ventilators for the NHS.

Prince Charles has tested positive for covid-19. He has mild symptoms but is otherwise in good health, according to a spokesperson.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 19,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 440,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

A factory worker in Wuhan eating lunch

Employees eat their lunch while staying 2 meters away from each other at a factory in Wuhan

Stringer/Getty Images

24 March

Plans to lift lockdown in Wuhan

Residents of Wuhan in Hubei province will be allowed to leave the city from 8 April if they are given the all-clear from a health app issued by Chinese authorities. The city has been under complete lockdown since 23 January. People in other areas of Hubei will be able to travel from tomorrow.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the US may become the next centre of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump has controversially suggested that the US could soon re-open for business.

Olympics postponed to 2021

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be postponed to summer 2021. Many other major sporting events, including Six Nations Rugby, the UEFA European Football Championship and the London Marathon have also been postponed.

Other coronavirus developments

India has announced a total lockdown of its 1.3 billion citizens for 21 days. This comes after the WHO warned yesterday that the pandemic is accelerating.

Ivory Coast and Senegal have both declared states of emergency. Ivory Coast has begun to introduce confinement measures, while Senegal will introduce a curfew from dusk to dawn.

A modelling study of a simulated Singapore published in The Lancet has estimated that a combination of physical distancing interventions, including quarantine for infected individuals and their families, school closures, and workplace distancing is most effective at reducing the number of coronavirus cases.

Researchers are inventing new types of masks and ventilators to help tackle the pandemic. A new ventilator has already been used to treat a person in the UK.

In the UK, the government said a decision to temporarily allow early medical abortions to be carried out at home was published in error.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 17,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 390,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Spread without symptoms: You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it. Studies suggest peak infectiousness may occur before people even realise they are sick.

Why the US is so vulnerable: The economic and healthcare policies pursued by the US in recent years have failed to prioritise public health and made it vulnerable to a pandemic.

Greta Thunberg may have had covid-19: Climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg says she may have had covid-19 and has self-isolated. “I don’t want to put anyone else at risk,” she told New Scientist.

What is a virus?: For something so small, viruses have a huge impact on the world. They are the most abundant organisms on Earth, and probably played a pivotal role in the origin of life.

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO


23 March

“The pandemic is accelerating”

Read More:  Ways the coronavirus outbreak could end, according to experts

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today in a press briefing as the number of deaths from covid-19 passed 15,000.

Stricter lockdowns

The UK government is considering firmer policies to force people to distance themselves from others, while the lockdown in Italy has already been ramped up further with all non-essential businesses now closed.

100 million people are now under lockdown in India and more than 1000 people have been arrested in Sri Lanka for breaking a nationwide curfew declared on Friday.

The world’s busiest international airport in Dubai will suspend all passenger flights for two weeks from 25 March. All domestic flights in India will be grounded from 25 March onwards.

Other coronavirus developments

There are early signs that the rise in new infections in Germany may be plateauing, according to the head of the country’s public health institute, Lothar Wieler. South Korea today reported the fewest new covid-19 cases since the peak on 29 February.

The first two cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, where about two million people live in overcrowded cities and refugee camps. Syria is bracing for lockdown after the Health Ministry reported the first case of coronavirus on Sunday.

A prominent member of the International Olympic Committee says the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be postponed. Australia and Canada have already announced they won’t be sending teams to compete.

Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook has donated 720,000 masks to healthcare workers in the US. Over the weekend, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, donated millions of face masks, testing kits and other equipment to countries in Africa.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 15,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 360,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Cause for concern in the UK: The UK guidance on coronavirus seems to rely heavily on a single model of the outbreak, which some scientists suggest contains systematic errors. 

David Attenborough on coronavirus: Attenborough shares his thoughts on everything from climate change to coronavirus. “I don’t think that we can draw a big moral lesson about how we are treating nature so badly that she’s kicking back,” he says. “I think it’s just part of life.”

How hand sanitiser works: Alcohol-based hand sanitisers, with at least 60 per cent alcohol, destroy the coronavirus by damaging its fatty outer layer.

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak

The UK Chancellor said wages would be covered for employees at companies affected by the virus


20 March

UK government to cover affected workers’ wages

The UK government has announced that it will pay 80 per cent of wages up to £2,500 a month for employees who are not working during the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme will last at least three months, backdated to 1 March, and it could be extended for longer if necessary. UK pubs and restaurants will also close, mirroring moves in other countries around the world.

Coronavirus vaccine trials get underway 

Researchers at the University of Oxford in the UK are planning a safety trial for a vaccine against coronavirus in humans. Normally vaccines are tested in animals first, but the trial has been accelerated due to the speed of the coronavirus outbreak.

The first human trial of a vaccine to protect against the covid-19 coronavirus began in the US earlier this week. Other vaccines are in development in Germany and China. Development of an antibody test will also be important to confirm whether people have acquired immunity to the coronavirus.

Other coronavirus developments

China reported no new local coronavirus cases on Wednesday and Thursday. All new cases reported on those two days were from returning travellers who are thought to have contracted the virus while outside China. Nasa’s pollution monitoring satellites have detected a drop in nitrogen dioxide over China which is thought to be partly due to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Schools are to reopen in Singapore but with strict social isolation rules for teachers and children who have recently been abroad. Singapore was one of the first countries to be hit by the virus, in late January.

More lockdowns, border closures and travel restrictions came into effect around the world today. Argentina has imposed a nationwide lockdown and The Philippines has closed borders to non-nationals. Curfew has been imposed in Sri Lanka and a stay-at-home order has been announced in the US state of California.

Police on the Isle of Man arrested a man for allegedly failing to self-isolate, and he could face a fine of up to £10,000 or a three month prison sentence. In the UK, more than 65,000 retired medics are being asked to return to work to help fight the virus.

Documents from the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggest that policies to limit the spread of coronavirus would need to be in place for “at least most of a year” in order to prevent healthcare services from becoming overwhelmed.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 10,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 240,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Fighting the pandemic: To fight the coronavirus pandemic effectively we need lots more data. Evidence from China so far suggests the way to get on top of the covid-19 outbreak is through rapid testing, isolation and quarantine rather than lockdowns and big travel restrictions. 

medics in Jiangsu province

Medics in Jiangsu province mark their departure after helping with the COVID-19 coronavirus recovery effort, in Wuhan.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

19 March

China reports no new local cases 

For the first time since the outbreak began in late December, China reported that yesterday there were no new local cases of the coronavirus. The lockdown could be lifted in Wuhan, China, once there are no new cases for 14 days, according to the China Daily newspaper. In Italy, the number of people who have died has overtaken China.

The probability of dying after developing symptoms of covid-19 in Wuhan, where the new coronavirus was first detected, was 1.4 per cent as of 29 February, according to a new study. This is lower than was previously thought.

Other coronavirus developments

The European Central Bank has launched an emergency €750 billion package to ease the economic impact of the pandemic, and the Bank of England cut the base interest rate from 0.25% to 0.1%, a record low.

More travel restrictions have been put into place around the world to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Australia and New Zealand have completely closed their borders to foreigners and, in the UK, up to 40 London Underground stations are to be shut. 

On-going lockdowns in France and Italy may be extended into April. India’s population of 1.3 billion have been asked to observe a curfew on Sunday to test the country’s ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis.

At a press briefing, Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said it is now highly improbable that the virus can be made to “go away”. Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said it was not possible to put a timeline on when the country will be able to relax its measures for controlling the virus.

In the world of sports, there is still no sign of the Tokyo Olympics being postponed or cancelled, but all English football will be suspended until at least 30 April. 

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 9000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 220,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Understanding the virus: Scientists are working around the clock to understand the biology of the covid-19 virus and how it infects human cells, which will help us design treatments to stop it.

Comment: UK politicians are invoking science to defend their policies but even the ‘best science’ doesn’t have the final word on covid-19.

Coronavirus origin: No, the covid-19 virus is not a bioweapon and it was not made in a lab.

Who is the WHO: Find out more about the organisation guiding global responses to the pandemic.

spanish policeman at the border with France

Spanish policemen control the border crossing between Spain and France


18 March

Travel bans come into effect around the world

Read More:  Medical News Today: What does period blood smell like and why?

Germany joined France, Spain and Italy in closing schools, closing non-essential shops and urging its citizens to stay at home as much as possible. As the EU’s new 30-day travel ban came into effect today, thousands of passengers were stopped at Germany’s largest airport, Frankfurt Am Main. Traffic was backed up for more than 60 kilometres on the motorway at the German-Polish border as Poland introduced border controls. The FT reports that London could be “locked down” imminently with similarly strict rules on being outdoors to that seen in Spain and Italy.

Several countries in Africa have also announced travel bans, including Nigeria, and, in South America, Brazil has closed its border to Venezuela. The US-Canada border will also close temporarily.

Governments around the world, including in Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Norway and the United Arab Emirates, are now urging their citizens to return home as the coronavirus spreads. 

Other coronavirus developments

The UK has announced that it is closing schools from Friday, except for the children of key workers in the NHS, police and supermarkets. Schools will be asked to make provisions for the children of these key workers and to look after the most vulnerable children. Exams have also been cancelled for the year.

The Trump administration has outlined a $ 1 trillion package to support the US economy. This follows the UK government announcement of a £330 billion stimulus package yesterday. Despite this, share prices in Europe, the US and Asia continue to fall.

Several foreign countries have cancelled or postponed their national team training camps for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games which are still scheduled to take place in July. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) told the BBC they are committed to finding a solution with the least negative impact for the athletes, while protecting the integrity of the competition and the athletes’ health.

A drug used in Japan to treat new strains of influenza appears to be effective at treating the coronavirus, but it doesn’t appear to be effective in more severe cases, medical authorities in China have said.

Following confusion over the use of ibuprofen by people with suspected or confirmed covid-19, the UK’s National Health Service has now advised people to take paracetamol to treat coronavirus symptoms, unless their doctor has told them otherwise. In a statement, they said “there is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (covid-19) worse.” 

Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College London scientist who led research that is reported to have influenced changes to the UK’s coronavirus policy, has developed covid-19 symptoms and is self isolating.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 8000. The number of confirmed cases is now over 200,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Coronavirus vaccine: Researchers are racing to develop a vaccine against covid-19 within 12 to 18 months. This will mean relying on untested techniques – and that comes with its own risks.

Travel restrictions: Australia has announced major restrictions on overseas travel, large gatherings, and visits to aged care homes in an effort to limit the spread of covid-19. The country is still in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Regent Street in London without people

A quiet Regent Street in London.

Rick Findler/PA Wire/PA Images

17 March

WHO on how countries can beat coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) said today a combination of actions by governments including more testing and contact tracing could save lives. “The experience of China and others shows testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilisation, when put in place quickly and effectively, can prevent infections and can save lives,” said Hans Kluge at the WHO, during an update on the situation in Europe.

He said the virus could be beaten back by solidarity within communities and between countries. “These are unprecedented times. It is important that countries work together, learn from each other and harmonise the efforts.” Asked by New Scientist about the new measures announced by the UK yesterday, he said he applauded them. “We are pleased to see the UK is getting into the mainstream and stepping up its efforts.”

UK health service under pressure

The UK’s chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance said today there were probably around 55,000 cases in the country, as official cases jumped to 1950, up 407 on yesterday. By comparison to the roughly 8000 annual deaths from the flu he said it would be a “good outcome” if the UK’s new measures kept coronavirus deaths to below 20,000.

“But I mean it is still horrible; that’s still an enormous number of deaths and an enormous pressure on the health service,” Vallance told MPs on the health and social care committee. Asked why schools had not closed yet as they have in other countries, he said it did not have as much impact as other measures at slowing the virus’s spread, and it had “complicating effects”, including children mixing with grandparents, and the impact on the National Health Service workforce. But he said: “It’s absolutely still on the table.”

The chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, said in response to the crisis the health service was freeing up 30,000 of 100,000 acute care beds for coronavirus patients. He also announced the NHS was stopping all non-urgent surgery from 15 April for three months. Stevens added the UK had access to more than 8000 ventilators for intensive care now, and would soon have around 12,000. But he would not be drawn on whether that would be enough to cope with the peak of the epidemic.

Other coronavirus developments

A strict travel lockdown came into force in France at midday, requiring anyone leaving their home to sign a document declaring that they are doing so for a permitted purpose, including exercise or buying food. 

Human volunteers have been injected with an experimental covid-19 vaccine for the first time as a clinical trial in Seattle gets under way, and the first commercial tests for the virus have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, which should greatly increase testing capacity. 

Amazon says it will hire an extra 100,000 workers to respond to a surge in demand for online services. 

France’s health ministry has suggested that popular anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen could worsen the effects of the coronavirus. Experts say more evidence is needed. 

The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has promised £330 billion worth of government-backed loans and guarantees and additional measures to support businesses and households including small cash grants and mortgage holidays. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK government must act like a war-time government.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 7500. Keep up with the best data on the global cases with this map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Analysis suggests UK still not doing enough: The UK is introducing stronger measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, but some of the science that helped inform this approach suggests it still won’t be enough to avoid a large number of deaths.

Social distancing: Governments around the world are responding to the covid-19 pandemic and social distancing is a central aspect of plans to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But what is social distancing and how do you do it? 

German police at French border

German Federal police officers stand at the closed border to France due the Coronovirus Epidemic in Kehl, German


16 March

The UK government has announced that everyone in the country should avoid “non-essential” travel and should voluntarily avoid pubs, clubs and theatres.

Governments around the world continued to limit travel and close borders. In Europe, Germany partially closed its borders with five countries. The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has proposed that there should be a ban on all non-essential travel from outside the European Union for 30 days with exemptions for long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats.

South Africa and Kenya have imposed strict bans on travel from the worst affected countries.

In the US, flight bans that were extended to the UK and Ireland came into effect. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut forced the closure of restaurants, bars and cinemas. Australia’s prime minister said all travellers arriving in the country would have to self-isolate for 14 days, or risk prison and fines.

In Italy, Lombardy’s governor says the growth of new cases has slowed slightly, but cases in Italy and Spain are still increasing much more rapidly than they did in China, as this (log scale) chart from the Financial Times shows.

Coronavirus cases

The worldwide death toll has passed 6500. Keep up with the best data on the global cases with this map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Testing is key: The WHO’s assistant director general Bruce Aylward tells New Scientist that effective quarantine is essential for tackling the coronavirus, but this cannot happen without extensive testing for covid-19. Read our full interview with Bruce Aylward.

Pregnancy and babies: According to initial reports based on small numbers of people, pregnant women and their babies do not seem to be more vulnerable to covid-19 than other groups of people, but doctors warn that it is too early to know for sure. Early reports suggest the virus doesn’t pass from mother to baby via breast milk, but health bodies are advising new mothers who are infected with the virus to take precautions while breastfeeding, such as washing their hands and wearing a facemask.

Psychological responses: When facing uncertainty, we are motivated to take actions that increase our sense of control over the situation, explains psychologist Rachel McCloy. Unfortunately, this can lead to behaviours such as panic buying, which do not actually help to control the virus and may make the situation worse.

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New Scientist – Health