Related video: Sage advice meant ministers had to make incredibly difficult decisions, says Chris Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has warned that the chances of a “highly effective” vaccine being ready for distribution by Christmas are “very low”.

Giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee on Tuesday, Prof Whitty said although he was “cautiously optimistic” there would be a vaccine this side of Christmas, the chances of it being “actually highly effective is in my view very low.”

It comes as a Nobel Prize winning geneticist has warned the UK government risks sleepwalking into a “winter of discontent” unless clear governance structures are implemented for the remainder of the pandemic. Professor Sir Paul Nurse, a distinguished scientist and director of the Francis Crick Institute, criticised what he described as the government’s “pass the parcel” approach. Matt Hancock has since told MPs preparing for winter was a ‘priority’ for his department.

London bus lanes to operate 24/7 to stop ‘damaging car-led recovery’

Bus lanes in London are to be operational at all times under a plan to support passengers travelling outside peak hours.

Transport for London said extending their hours will “help guard against a damaging car-led recovery” by making bus journey times more reliable and improve safety for cyclists.

Bus lanes can be used by all vehicles when they are not operational, which is generally outside peak travel times.

A trial of the measure will take place in late summer.

Coronavirus could be ‘here forever’, top scientist warns MPs

One of the world’s leading immunologists has warned MPs that Covid-19 could be “here forever”.

Sir John Bell, a distinguished scientist and regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said that the pathogen underpinning the novel virus may never be eliminated.

Giving evidence at a session of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, Sir John, 68, added that any potential coronavirus vaccine “is unlikely to have a durable effect that’ll last for a very long time”.

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Netanyahu’s coalition partners seek more control over virus response in call to hand Covid-19 campaign to military

The military should take over responsibility for keeping Israel’s spreading coronavirus epidemic in check, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main coalition partner has said, in comments likely to fuel tensions within the government.

Israel lifted a partial lockdown in May, but a second surge of infections has seen cases rise above 50,000 and deaths above 400, while Netanyahu’s approval ratings have plunged to under 30% and employment soared to 21%.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, of the centrist Blue and White party, said he expected a decision “this week” to hand the running of anti-coronavirus containment measures from the health ministry to the armed forces’ Homefront Command.

“This virus will not leave us for an entire year. Therefore there needs to be a change in management,” Mr Ashkenazi told Ynet TV. “Put ego aside … I am saying this to Bibi (Netanyahu) … I am saying we need to shift responsibility to the defence establishment.”

Such a move would likely empower Defence Minister Benny Gantz – who is also the Blue and White leader and is at odds with Mr Netanyahu over proposed Israeli annexations in the occupied West Bank and budgets.

Uber launches new service to help health officials trace coronavirus cases among riders

Uber has launched a service to help public health officials trace riders and drivers who may have been exposed to Covid-19.

It comes as various US states struggle to stop the spread of the virus, with slow testing turnarounds and dwindling supplies making their efforts even harder.

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Uber, which has long been sharing data with US authorities in criminal cases and emergencies, is promoting the service to health officials in all countries where it operates.

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Airlines call for unity between US and EU

Major US and European Union airlines asked the EU and White House to consider adopting a joint US-EU COVID-19 testing program as a way to again allow people to travel between the United States and Europe.

In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, the chief executives of American Airlines, United Airlines, Lufthansa and International Airlines Group requested “the safe and swift restoration of air travel between the United States and Europe.”

Nearly all Europeans are currently barred from traveling to the US and similar restrictions are in place for Americans seeking to travel to most of the EU.

Sweden stands by lockdown-free strategy

Sweden’s top epidemiologist has taken a rapid decline in new critical Covid-19 cases alongside slowing death rates as a sign its strategy for slowing the epidemic, which has been widely questioned abroad, was working.

Sweden has foregone a hard lockdown throughout the outbreak, a strategy that set it apart from most of Europe.

Chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the public health agency said a rapid slowdown in the spread of the virus indicated very strongly that Sweden had reached relatively widespread immunity.

“The epidemic is now being slowed down, in a way that I think few of us would have believed a week or so ago,” he told a news conference.

Daily Covid-19 death rates as well as the number of infected in intensive care have been slowing gradually since April, with seven new deaths and no new ICU admissions reported by the health agency today. Reported daily deaths peaked mid-April at 115.

“It really is yet another sign that the Swedish strategy is working,” Mr Tegnell said. “It is possible to slow contagion fast with the measures we are taking in Sweden.”

More than one in five Delhi residents has been infected – study

More than one in five people in Delhi have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a study that indicates most cases in the Indian capital region have gone undetected.

India’s National Center for Disease Control tested 21,387 people selected randomly across Delhi, the state that includes New Delhi, and found that 23.48 per cent had antibodies to the virus.

Adjusting for false positives and negatives, it estimated that 22.86 per cent of the population had been infected by the virus, Dr. Sujeet Kumar Singh, who heads the institute, said in a news conference.

Delhi, with a population of 29 million, has officially reported 123,747 cases and 3,663 deaths. The study, however, indicates more than 6.6 million likely cases, with most not identified or tested.

Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist at the Christian Medical College in the southern city of Vellore who is advising the government on virus surveillance, noted that the survey results are an average and the percentage of people infected could be much higher in certain areas, such as slums.

“You need to look at different clusters,” he said.

Florida death rate higher than any other US state

Florida’s skyrocketing coronavirus death rate is now higher than any other state, edging out Texas, which has about 25 per cent more people.

Florida recorded another 134 deaths Tuesday, bringing its daily average for the past week to 115, topping the 112 deaths a day Texas has reported during that time, according to news agency the Associated Press.

A month prior, Florida was averaging 33 coronavirus deaths a day.

Overall, 5,317 people have died in Florida from Covid-19 since 1 March and nearly 370,000 have tested positive for the disease. About 19 per cent of tests have returned positive in Florida over the last week, compared to 10 per cent a month ago and 2.3 per cent in late May.

The state reported that an additional 517 people have been admitted to hospitals with the disease.

US coronavirus infections up to 13 times higher than initially reported, CDC finds

Coronavirus infections across the US likely much higher than initially reported, according to newly released report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency’s report suggests that people who did not present any Covid-19 symptoms unknowingly transmitted the virus in their communities, underscoring health officials’ early warnings that testing is only capturing a fraction of the scale of infections.

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For most areas, “it is likely that greater than 10 times more” infections occurred than there were cases reported, though most residents were not symptomatic, the report says.

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Coronavirus: US Justice Department accuses Chinese hackers of stealing Covid-19 vaccine research

The United States has charged two hackers and accused the Chinese government of sponsoring criminal breaches of international biotech firms developing treatments and vaccinations for the novel coronavirus.

Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi were both charged in an 11-count indictment that alleges the former engineering students hacked computers and attempted to steal terabytes of data surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The indictment said the two hackers “researched vulnerabilities in the networks of biotech and other firms publicly known for work on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and testing technology”.

Pandemic showing ‘no signs of slowing’ in the Americas

The novel coronavirus pandemic is showing “no signs of slowing down” in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization director has said, with the virus landing in Guianese shield countries on the continent`s northeastern coast and surges in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.

Carissa Etienne told a virtual briefing from PAHO’s Washington base that some central American nations were seeing their highest weekly increase of cases since the virus landed, and that because of the high burden of infectious diseases and chronic conditions in the Americas, three out of ten people – 325 million – were at “increased risk” of developing complications from COVID-19.

Matt Hancock – preparing for winter a ‘priority’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that his priority is “controlling the virus and preparing for winter”.

When asked if he was engaged in reforming Public Health England (PHE), Mr Hancock said: “Well there will be a time for that, my priority now is on controlling the virus and preparing for winter.

“For now, my focus is on getting the virus down, controlling the level of the virus and preparing for winter.

“So for instance, PHE is doing incredibly important work right now in local lockdowns, in local action.

“There are PHE boots on the ground in Leicester and they’re working with Blackburn and Bradford and all of the other areas where we’ve got a much higher prevalence than elsewhere.”

US accuses Chinese hackers of targeting firms working on coronavirus vaccine

The US Justice Department has accused two Chinese hackers of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of trade secrets from companies across the world and targeting firms developing a vaccine for coronavirus.

The indictment says the hackers in recent months had researched vulnerabilities in the computer networks of companies publicly known for their work in developing vaccines and treatments.

The indictment includes charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy against the hackers, who federal prosecutors say stole information they knew would be of interest to the Chinese government.

There was no immediate indication from the indictment that the hackers had obtained any Covid-19 research, despite efforts to snoop on the companies.

The case was filed earlier this month in federal court in Washington state and was unsealed on Tuesday.

Sage advice meant ministers had to make incredibly difficult decisions, says Chris Whitty

UK’s hospital death toll rises by 110 over 24 hours

The Government said 45,422 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Monday, up by 110 from the day before.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 56,100 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The Government also said in the 24-hour period up to 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 445 lab-confirmed cases. Overall, a total of 295,817 cases have been confirmed.


Death toll methodology ‘to be published very shortly’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Public Health England (PHE) will “very, very shortly” publish a “revised methodology” on accurately measuring Covid-19 deaths.

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“At the start it was perfectly reasonable to say that if somebody had ever registered positive with Covid and died, they died from Covid,” he told the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

“For the first few weeks of the crisis and indeed in the peak, that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. However, that is no longer reasonable.

“Because if you have Covid in March and fully recovered, or even were asymptomatic and now die of something completely different, then the way it was being measured until last week counted that as a death with Covid, that clearly is no longer appropriate and PHE are currently reviewing that time series.”

Asked if the review by PHE was in place already, Mr Hancock said: “They’ll publish very, very shortly a revised methodology for how to get an accurate measure of deaths with Covid.”

‘Rate-limiting factor’ on delivery of vaccine is its manufacture, says Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the “rate-limiting factor” on delivery of a vaccine is its manufacture.

He told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: “There are a series of really important and difficult steps. From the moment a regulator signs off a vaccine as being both efficacious and safe, there are two critical parts to the next steps, but there are many other parts too that have got to go right.

“The first is the manufacture of the vaccine, which is starting before the vaccine is approved, and then the next is the distribution and administration of the vaccine, administration as in injecting it into people’s arms.

“Now, the distribution is not simple because you need a cold chain because the vaccine needs to be kept below room temperature, and then the administration of it needs to be done by people who are qualified.

“And in fact we’re changing the law, we propose to change the law, to broaden the range of qualifications that are allowed to do the vaccination.

“Getting both the manufacture and the distribution and administration right is critical.”

Uber has launched a free service to help public health officials trace riders and drivers who may have been exposed to Covid-19.

It comes as various US states struggle to stop the spread of the virus, with slow testing turnarounds and dwindling supplies making their efforts even harder.

Uber, which has long been sharing data with US authorities in criminal cases and emergencies, is promoting the new free service to health officials in all countries where it operates.

Government set ‘big, hairy, audacious’ Covid-19 testing goal, says Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Chancellor Rishi Sunak had told him he had set a “big, hairy, audacious goal” in terms of Covid-19 testing.

“I’ve been accused of over-promising and sometimes delivering,” Mr Hancock told the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

“And the point is that when you’re handling a pandemic response and the response you need is to scale-up at a speed that is almost unprecedented within Government at a national scale, the tools that I found worked were to set demanding goals.

“In fact the Chancellor told me afterwards that I set a ‘big, hairy, audacious goal’, apparently this is a classic business school doctrine that I didn’t know that I was following.

“The point of the big, hairy, audacious goal is to say to the whole system, ‘this is where we’re going, you do your bit, let’s get there’.

“And we did that on a series of areas, because we then did it when we were building up contact tracing as well.”

Scientists have called for caution over a new study that suggests the severity of Covid-19 may be reduced during the warmer months of the year, and that dry indoor air may encourage its spread.