Scientists Give Stark Virus Warning
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance issued a stark warning about the spread of Covid-19 at a press conference at Downing Street on Monday. If the virus is to continue spreading at its existing rate – with transmission doubling every seven days – new infections will reach almost 50,000 a day by mid-October, Vallance said. On its current trajectory, the UK can expect to see an increase in hospitalisations and an increase in deaths – potentially reaching 200 fatalities a day by mid-November. Prof Whitty also warned that “the seasons are against us”, with autumn and winter conditions likely to benefit Covid-19 as they do other respiratory viruses.
With an estimated 6,000 people becoming infected each day in the UK, Prof Whitty has urged the public to help reduce the spread by abiding by “hands, face, space” advice and isolation rules. Individuals should also reduce unnecessary social contact between households – something Whitty admitted came with “significant downsides” but insisted was necessary to stop the virus from “taking off”. The UK's Covid-19 alert level has since been upgraded from level three to level four, meaning transmission of the virus is high or rising exponentially. No 10 has confirmed that the prime minister will chair an emergency Cobra meeting this morning before announcing new nationwide measures to tackle the virus – including a 10pm curfew for pubs, bars, and restaurants – later today.
GLOBAL BANKS HIT WITH ‘DIRTY CASH’ CLAIMS
Some of the world’s biggest banks have been accused of turning a blind eye to the global transfer of dirty money following a major leak of documents. The documents, which have been shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, contain more than 2,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed with the US government’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). Banks file SARs when they suspect a client may be using their services for criminal activity. According to the leaked FinCEN documents, major banks appear to have allowed £1.55tn of potentially corrupt transactions to be processed through the American financial system between 1999 and 2017.
According to BBC Panorama, which has seen the leaked documents, HSBC allowed criminals to move $80m through its accounts – even after it was told of their fraud by US investigators. It is one of several major banks – including JP Morgan, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered – accused of allowing criminals, terrorists and oligarchs to transfer dirty money. HSBC, which is the UK’s largest bank, claimed to have overhauled its ability to combat financial crime in recent years. “HSBC is a much safer institution than it was in 2012,” it said. FinCEN has condemned the leak and warned it could compromise law enforcement investigations. It has referred the breach to the US Department of Justice.
Prince Charles speaks out about the risk posed by the climate crisis, warning that it is rapidly becoming a “comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic”. Opening the Climate Week NYC summit with a recorded message on Monday, the prince said “swift and immediate action” was required to capitalise on “the window of opportunity” provided by the pandemic for a sustainable “reset”. It follows comments from the Prince of Wales at the Davos summit in January urging business and political leaders to radically reform carbon-based economies to help tackle the crisis.
Meanwhile, schoolchildren around the world have been invited to join climate strikes on Friday in the first global action since the coronavirus pandemic struck. Fridays for Future, the youth movement sparked by Greta Thunberg’s school strikes, said in a statement: “We live in the midst of a pandemic, but climate change is just as much of a crisis as it was before… This is not a time to be silent.” Organisers said children were being encouraged to take to the streets or join online protests “in whatever way suits you best”.
In other news
SUPPORT FOR TRAIN FIRMS EXTENDED
The government has extended its support for train firms for 18 months to help the transport network survive the Covid-19 crisis. After passenger numbers collapsed during lockdown, firms were awarded emergency funding to cover their losses. These measures have now been extended to ensure trains are still able to run, even with fewer passengers. The fresh support comes amid a broader shake-up of the rail system, with the government opting to end franchises in favour of temporary new deals which will pay train operators’ management fees of up to 1.5% of their costs before the pandemic. The Department for Transport said the deals were a “transitional stage” before the introduction of a new system.
US NEARS 200,000 DEATHS
The coronavirus death toll is now nearing 200,000 in the US – more than double that of India, the country currently reporting the second-highest number of cases in the world. At least 199,815 Americans have died since the start of the pandemic, official data shows. According to a Reuters tally, deaths in the US now stand at about 800 each day, down from a peak of 2,806 in mid-April. New cases rose 17% last week compared with the previous seven days, with the country now reporting an average of 40,000 new daily infections. With the presidential election less than six weeks away, the CDC has warned the US death toll could hit 218,000 in the second week of October. Donald Trump has insisted the development of an effective vaccine is imminent and could even come ahead of the polls on 3rd November.
RA COULD SELL MICHELANGELO TO SAVE JOBS
The Royal Academy (RA) is reportedly contemplating selling a £100m Michelangelo sculpture to avoid cutting its workforce. The gallery is allegedly consulting with staff on potential redundancies for 150 people – around 40% of its workforce – after the Covid-19 pandemic led to a 75% drop in its revenue. However, one group of Royal Academicians are said to have backed an alternative plan to cover the losses through the sale of Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo. The 515-year-old sculpture was given to the gallery in 1829 and has an estimated value of up to £100m. An RA spokesperson has denied the plan and insisted the institution “has no intention of selling any works in its collection”.
TREASURY BLOCKS BLOOD SCANDAL PAPERS
The Treasury has blocked the publication of key documents relating to the NHS infected blood scandal on the grounds the information would be “disruptive” and could be “distorted” by the media. The Treasury’s refusal to grant a Freedom of Information (FOI) request emerged ahead of the reopening of the inquiry into the scandal, which saw the NHS give haemophiliacs blood contaminated with HIV in the 1970s and 80s. The FOI request was lodged by Jason Evans, whose father died after receiving contaminated blood. Evans has condemned the Treasury’s refusal as “outrageous”. “It’s not acceptable to hide information because they’re scared of the media,” he added.
ITALIAN AIRPORT DENIES PM SIGHTING
An Italian airport has denied reports that Boris Johnson landed there less than a fortnight ago on a secretive trip to baptise his son. On Sunday, Italian newspaper La Repubblica claimed the prime minister had been seen in Perugia from 11th to 14th September. According to the newspaper, unnamed sources at Perugia’s San Francesco d’Assisi airport confirmed he had landed there. On Monday, Johnson’s spokesperson described the claims as "completely untrue". Hours later, the president of San Francesco d’Assisi airport issued a statement saying there had been an "error" in previous communication and that Johnson "absolutely did not" recently land there.
A poll of more than 50,000 Doctor Who fans has named David Tennant as the nation’s favourite Doctor. The survey, conducted by the Radio Times, asked fans to pick their favourite Doctor from among the 13 actors who have played the Time Lord since the BBC series began in 1963. Tennant came top of the poll with 10,518 votes, while Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to play the Time Lord, came a close second.