Coronavirus update: UK volunteers help NHS, Julian Assange denied bail, Spain overtakes China’s death toll
Coronavirus has placed the UK’s National Health Service under significant strain in recent weeks.
Hundreds of thousands have offered to assist the UK’s National Health Service, Julian Assange has been denied bail after his legal team argued the coronavirus crisis warranted his release, and the death toll in Spain has overtaken that in China.
Meanwhile, a wide range of activities are now banned in Australia.
This story is being updated regularly throughout the day. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Thursday’s key moments
First deaths recorded in Victoria, 190 new coronavirus cases in NSW
Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton says two men in their 70s have died in the state overnight.
“They’re our first deaths but in a sense they’re not unexpected,” he said on Fairfax radio this morning.
Victoria now has 520 cases of COVID. The deaths bring the national total to 11.
In New South Wales, health authorities have confirmed 190 new coronavirus infections, bringing the state’s total to 1,219.
The new cases were recorded in a 24-hour period to 8:00pm AEDT yesterday.
The number of new infections is less than in the previous 24 hours (to 8:00pm Tuesday), when 212 new cases were recorded.
Thousands offer to help UK’s NHS, Princes Charles tests positive
The NHS is the UK’s universal healthcare system, which has been widely-loved since its post-war establishment.
More than 400,000 people have volunteered in just 24 hours after the UK Government put out a call to help the National Health Service (NHS) during the coronavirus crisis.
Yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for former health workers and others to come forward to help out with tasks like delivering medicine from pharmacies, drive patients to appointments, and make phone calls to check in on isolated people.
“We hoped to get 250,000 volunteers over a few days, but I can tell you that in just 24 hours, 405,000 people have responded to the call,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
The UK’s death toll stands at 437 with more than 8,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Among the dead is the deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Budapest, Hungary.
Last night, it was revealed that Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, had tested positive for coronavirus.
“It is not possible to ascertain from whom the Prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during the recent weeks,” a statement from Clarence House said.
The 71-year-old was said to be in good health and is self-isolating in Scotland.
A wide range of activities are now banned in Australia
These are the venues and services that are banned from operating under stage 2 restrictions that came into force at midnight:
- Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours
- Spas and massage parlours — this doesn’t include health-related services such as physiotherapy and allied-health services
- Real estate auctions and open house inspections
- Amusement parks and arcades
- Indoor and outdoor play centres
- Gyms, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre, spin facilities, saunas, wellness centres and community and recreation centres
- Public swimming pools
- Galleries, museums, national institutions, historic sites, libraries, community centres
- Auction houses
- Casinos, gaming or gambling venues
- Outdoor and indoor markets — this doesn’t include food markets
- Places of worship
Weddings can continue, but no more than five people total can attend, and funerals are limited to a maximum of 10 people (although the the Federal Government has since announced states and territories can provide exemptions to that limit in “hardship cases”, though “only at the margins”).
Haircuts were initially restricted to 30 minutes or less, but that rule has since been scrapped.
Stage 3 of restrictions may see retail stores closed, but the Prime Minister said he hoped that would not be necessary.
Spain overtakes China with COVID-19 deaths
Spain has registered a 24-hour jump of 738 deaths from COVID-19, pushing the death toll above that of China for the first time.
With 3,434 fatalities in total, Spain now has the second-highest number of deaths globally after Italy’s 6,820.
This new record comes as the coronavirus infected Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, 62, who tested positive on Wednesday (local time).
A government statement said Ms Calvo was doing well and receiving medical treatment.
The pressures in the country have seen a Madrid skating rink turned into a makeshift morgue, while the Spanish military has found elderly Spaniards dead or abandoned in aged care homes.
Spanish medical staff, who themselves account for thousands of infected cases, have launched legal proceedings against the Government over the lack of basic protective equipment like masks, scrubs and gloves.
The Spanish army has asked NATO for ventilators, protective gear and testing kits, Armed Forces Chief Miguel Villarroya said on Wednesday.
Spain is on Day 11 of a 15-day nationwide lockdown that is likely to be extended to 30 days. Schools, bars, restaurants and most shops are shuttered. Social gatherings are banned. People are confined to their homes.
“We have achieved a near total reduction in social contact,” health emergency chief Fernando Simon told a news conference, adding that Spain was nearing the peak of the epidemic.
The number of Spain’s coronavirus cases have increased by a fifth to 47,610.
Coronavirus not enough to bail Assange
Leaked footage showed a gaunt Julian Assange inside London’s Belmarsh Prison in June last year.
An application by Julian Assange’s lawyers to have the WikiLeaks co-founder released on bail due to the coronavirus pandemic has been rejected by a judge in London.
His lawyers told Westminster Magistrates Court the 48-year-old should be released as he was at a high-risk of contracting COVID-19 if he remained in prison.
@MartySilkHack tweet: Judge Baraitser on current UK prison guidance to protect prisoners from coronavirus: “I have no reason not to trust this advice as both evidence-based and reliable and appropriate.
“As matters stand today, this global pandemic does not as of itself provide grounds for Mr Assange’s release,” Judge Vanessa Baraitser told the court.
The judge said Assange’s past conduct showed he was still a flight risk, referring to the fact he skipped bail in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden.
Assange is currently being held at Belmarsh Prison as he fights extradition to the United States over criminal charges relating to the release of classified US Government documents.
Australia’s new COVID-19 testing criteria
The Morrison Government has been criticised for not testing a broad subset of people for the virus.
In a statement following tonight’s National Cabinet meeting, the Government’s outlined who exactly will be able to get tested for COVID-19 now that it’s expanded testing criteria.
You can now get tested if you have fever or acute respiratory infection AND if any of the following criteria fit you:
- All health workers
- All aged/residential care workers
- Geographically localised areas where there is elevated risk of community transmission as defined by the local public health unit
Where no community transmission is occurring, high risk settings where there are two or more plausibly-linked cases, for example:
- Aged and residential care
- Rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
- Detention centres/correctional facilities
- Boarding schools
- Military bases (including Navy ships) that have live-in accommodation.
The National Cabinet also agreed that testing would be expanded to include hospitalised patients with fever and acute respiratory symptoms of unknown cause.
This will be at the discretion of patients’ treating clinicians.
The Government’s statement added that states and territories have the discretion to expand their own criteria for testing — if they have the capacity to do so.
South Africa begins nationwide lockdown
South Africa is starting a nationwide 21-day lockdown to try and slow the rise in coronavirus cases, which now stands at 706.
@PresidencyZA: “We have now declared a national state of disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act.” President @CyrilRamaphosa Chairperson of the #NationalCommandCouncil on #COVID19 #CoronaVirusSA
With a majority of people informally employed, this is going to be a mammoth task for the Government to enforce, as about 25.2 per cent live on 441 Rands a day ($42.55), according to Oxfam’s 2019 Inequality report.
Being unregistered will also make it difficult for the Government to disburse any kind of help, however there are attempts to reach people no matter what their official status may be.
Schools are currently being repurposed to care for the homeless, while Gauteng province — home to Johannesburg and Pretoria — has opened food distribution centres to cater for the informal sector.
School children, who have been traditionally fed by the Government in school, will be given groceries for a month.
A dignity pack has also been announced for girls and other disadvantaged people, which will consist of toothpaste, soap, and other sanitary products.
Safe houses will also be opened to shelter women who may be at greater risk of abuse during the lockdown.
Coronavirus rains on Putin’s tilt for extended reign
Mr Putin (centre) has held Russian Presidential and Prime Ministerial roles uninterrupted since 1999.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a nationwide vote on proposed constitutional amendments that include a change that would allow him to seek another term in power.
If Mr Putin, as critics expect, opts to run again for president in 2024, the new rules would allow the 67-year-old former KGB officer to stay in power until 2036.
Mr Putin didn’t set a new date for the plebiscite originally set for April 22, and said a new date would depend on how the coronavirus pandemic develops.
Russian authorities reported 163 more virus cases in the country since the day before, bringing the national total to 658 on Wednesday.
Russia’s low case numbers have triggered alarm, given its size and shared border with China.
Denis Protsenko, chief doctor of the top Moscow hospital treating COVID-19 patients, echoed the mayor’s sentiment and later told Putin that Russia needed to “prepare for the Italian scenario”.
State-by-state numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases
There have been 2,432 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. The latest update was at 4:39am AEDT on Thursday, March 26.
- NSW: 1,029
- Victoria: 466
- Queensland: 443
- Western Australia: 205
- South Australia: 197
- ACT: 44
- Tasmania: 42
- NT: 6