Thursday briefing: Care bosses predicted pandemic crisis

·8 min read
<span>Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images

Top story: Antibody test gets PHE approval

Hello, Warren Murray with Thursday’s opening delivery.

Council social care directors in England warned the government two years ago in a series of detailed reports about care homes’ vulnerability to a pandemic, the Guardian has learned. They said “demand for PPE could rapidly outstrip supply” and called for improved infection control and a system to enlist volunteers to bolster overstretched services. Boris Johnson has been accused of downplaying the threat to care homes as recently as March. A study from the London School of Economics (LSE) has put the death toll for care home residents in England and Wales at 22,000 or more than double the official estimate.

Public Health England has approved an antibody test made by Roche that may now be used to determine how much of the population has been infected by Covid-19. Roche says it is 99.8% specific – so not confused by antibodies for other coronaviruses – and 100% sensitive, picking up any antibodies present. Analysers in some hospitals could process 300 tests an hour depending on the set-up, with a positive or negative result determined in 18 minutes, Roche said.

The FBI and US homeland security have warned of potential hacking by China of organisations researching Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and testing. “China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to Covid-19,” said the US cybersecurity agency. China has issued one of its customarily bridling responses. It comes amid heightened tensions between the US and China over the source of the outbreak and whether China adequately alerted the world.

Doctors in Italy have reported the first clear evidence of a link between Covid-19 and symptoms of Kawasaki disease in children. Since the pandemic began at least one child in the UK has died while showing Kawasaki-like symptoms. Doctors in Bergamo say cases of Kawasaki-like disease have risen to about 10 a month, compared with one every three months in the past five years. Writing in the Lancet they warn that the “strong association” between the virus and the condition should be taken into account as governments ease lockdown restrictions. They stress, however, that the disorder seems to affect no more than one in 1,000 children exposed to the virus, with a further fraction of these requiring intensive care.

The World Health Organization has said coronavirus may never fully go away, instead becoming another “endemic” virus like HIV for humanity to deal with. Follow our live blog to stay fully apprised and here is a summary of the big developments.

There’s more in our Coronavirus Extra section further down … and here’s where you can find all our coverage of the outbreak – from breaking news to factchecks and advice.

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Brexit means Irish Sea checks – The government has privately conceded there will be post-Brexit checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea, months after Boris Johnson ruled it out. A letter to the executive office in Stormont confirmed there would be border control posts in three ports: Belfast, Warrenpoint and Larne. A Northern Ireland minister confirmed the news to members of the Stormont assembly on Tuesday. The prime minister agreed checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain in a breakthrough meeting in Wirral with his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, in October 2019 but was accused of misleading the public after he was recorded telling local businesses afterwards that there would be no checks.

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Obamagate squeaks – Republicans and Donald Trump have sought to draw Joe Biden into their conspiracy theory about alleged attempts to discredit Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, who ended up pleading guilty for lying to the FBI. After Trump’s election Flynn was under scrutiny because of his conversations with Russia’s ambassador about sanctions. Biden has been named among officials who applied to have Flynn “unmasked” – a routine practice used to identify a person anonymously referred to in an intelligence document. A statement from Biden’s campaign said Trump was trying to divert attention from his poor response to coronavirus: “These documents simply indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government – including among career officials – over intelligence reports of Michael Flynn’s attempts to undermine … national security policy.”

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A few people arrived early – Modern humans arrived in Europe at least 46,000 years ago and overlapped with Neanderthals potentially for thousands more years than previously thought, archaeologists have said. Remains and tools found at a cave called Bacho Kiro reveal they were present at the same time in Europe for long enough to have ample cultural interaction and interbreeding. Neanderthal jewellery made of cave bear teeth suggested these earlier hominids adopted techniques used by early modern humans.

The latest research is published in the journals Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution. Neanderthals disappeared about 40,000 years ago – one theory is that the two existed side by side for so long because modern humans’ early forays in Europe were made by small bands that were insufficient at first to overrun the Neanderthal population.

Coronavirus Extra

Amid the Covid-19 disaster we have seen countless acts of kindness and solidarity. It is this spirit of generosity and the rise of “mutual aid” that will help guide us out of this crisis and into a better future, argues Rebecca Solnit.

And from New Zealand … the latest weapon in flattening the curve might be an earworm, in the form of this song, Moist Breath Zone, penned by schoolteacher Shirley Șerban as a health and safety message for students returning to school.

Today in Focus podcast: Trump v Biden in the Covid election

The US election campaign is usually in full swing by this stage of the political cycle, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a halt to rallies and fundraising events. David Smith in Washington looks at how the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is playing out.

Lunchtime read: ‘Not a victim in any shape or form’

The BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty talks to Emine Saner about transforming the way the BBC deals with racism, her successful campaign for equal pay – and why she respects Piers Morgan.

Naga Munchetty photographed at her home
Naga Munchetty photographed at her home. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Guardian


Dele Alli has been injured during a robbery at his home in north London. The Tottenham midfielder was held at knifepoint and punched after burglars broke in during the early hours of Wednesday morning. The Premier League is facing the possibility of having to delay its Project Restart after a pair of crucial meetings with players and managers provoked a series of robust exchanges and diverging views. Golf courses were packed and tennis clubs fully booked across the country on Wednesday as the Covid-19 lockdown guidance was relaxed to allow singles tennis and two-balls in golf.

Players and caddies hoping to travel from the UK for the restart of the PGA Tour season face 14 days in quarantine on both sides of the Atlantic, officials have confirmed. Ferrari are shortly expected to conclude a deal to sign Carlos Sainz from McLaren to replace Sebastian Vettel for the 2021 Formula One season. Premiership players are poised to seek clarification over whether their 25% pay cuts will be stopped as well as what the Covid-19 testing procedures are before agreeing to return to training following approval from the government. And Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has implored Newcastle United supporters to mobilise against the prospective Saudi Arabia-funded takeover of the club.


Asian shares have declined with the Nikkei, S&P/ASX 200, Kospi, Hang Seng and Shanghai Composite all down. Australia reported an unemployment rate of 6.2%, which was lower than expected. The FTSE trends downward by 0.9% as we publish the Briefing while sterling is worth $1.221 and €1.129.

The papers

“Collared!” The Metro plays on a picture of Boris Johnson taking his pet dog Dilyn for a walk after the PM was “challenged in the Commons over 10,000 unexplained care deaths”. The splash in the Guardian’s print edition is “Ministers face new claim of failing to prepare care homes for outbreak”. The i is on a related angle: “Care homes cash pledge after PM is accused of misleading MPs”.

The Telegraph has “First tests for virus antibodies approved” and says the government wants “as many as we can get our hands on to get people back to work”. The Express reverberates with “Britain’s £130bn tax bombshell” saying Covid-19 is to leave a “black hole” in Treasury finances.

“PM told: don’t raise taxes” – the Times says Johnson has been warned by “senior Tories” not to go for soak. The Mirror decries “A betrayal of our NHS heroes” as a public sector pay freeze threatens. The FT is out on its own with “Fed chief insists extra fiscal stimulus ‘worth it’ as OECD warns on debt load”. The Sun takes a break from coronavirus news with “Ace Dele beaten by knife raiders”.

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