Farm Workers Quarantined In Fresh Outbreak
What’s the latest?
More than 200 workers at a vegetable farm in Herefordshire have been placed in quarantine following an outbreak of coronavirus. The local council said at least 72 staff at AS Green & Co in Mathon had tested positive for Covid-19 and more were awaiting results. The farm’s entire workforce is being treated as “one extended bubble” and has been ordered to self-isolate at the property. Food and essential supplies are being provided by Herefordshire council as an emergency measure. The farm specialises in growing broccoli, broad beans and runner beans and supplies Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S and Aldi. In a statement, the farm said its staff were its priority and confirmed it was working closely with Public Health England to prevent the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, a leading UK scientist has said a Covid-19 vaccine could be rolled out across the country in the first half of 2021 if trials are successful. Professor Robin Shattock, who leads a team developing a coronavirus vaccine at Imperial College London, said he expected to “get an answer as to whether it works” by early next year. If trials go “really well”, the successful vaccine could then be made available for everyone in Britain in the first six months of 2021. Prof Shattock’s comments came as the Department of Health confirmed a further 21 people had died from the virus in the UK on Sunday – down from 148 further fatalities registered on Saturday. Figures from the department show the UK’s total death toll currently stands at 44,819.
How is the crisis impacting the economy?
Primark has announced it will not take advantage of the government’s jobs retention bonus. The bonus was unveiled by chancellor Rishi Sunak last week and will award companies a grant of £1,000 for each furloughed employee they retain. Primark placed around 30,000 workers on the government’s furlough scheme and has since brought all of them back to work – meaning the retailer could claim as much as £30m worth of retention bonuses. However, on Sunday, Primark said it was “not necessary” for the firm to apply for the bonus scheme under “current circumstances” – a decision which is likely see other major businesses put under pressure not to claim the taxpayer money.
Meanwhile, some firms are cautiously reopening their offices to employees. It comes after the government ditched previous messaging urging Brits to stay at home. On Sunday, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said more employees should return to workplaces to ensure “the economic engines of this country are fired up again”. However, many of the UK’s largest companies – including banks, accountancy and law firms – have seen a successful transition to home working during the pandemic and are unlikely to rush the return to offices. According to City of London police commissioner, Ian Dyson, the 30 biggest employers in the capital’s financial district only intend to bring between 20% and 40% of workers back to offices in the coming months, with the rest continuing to work remotely.
And what are the international developments?
Donald Trump has been pictured wearing a face mask in public for the first time. The US president was photographed donning the covering during a visit to a military hospital in Washington DC on Saturday, telling reporters: “I think when you're in a hospital, especially in that particular setting… it's a great thing to wear a mask.” He has previously suggested he would not wear a mask. The change of tone came as the US reported a daily record of 66,528 new cases on Saturday. Meanwhile in Australia, the state of New South Wales has asked more than 1,000 people who recently visited a pub in Sydney to self-isolate and get tested after a cluster of new infections was linked to the venue. The request comes as the state of Victoria continues to fight a significant outbreak in Melbourne, with 273 new cases of the virus confirmed on Sunday.
Elsewhere in the world, the European Council is reportedly struggling to find a consensus among its members regarding a long-term budget and one-off economic stimulus package for tackling the impact of the pandemic. EU leaders are due to gather in Brussels for their first face-to-face meeting in five months this week. According to reports in the Guardian, both Germany and France have backed a €750bn pandemic recovery fund but are facing opposition from “frugal” northern European states, including the Netherlands. If this week’s meeting fails to agree a stance, a second conference is expected to be held in the last week of July – with German chancellor Angela Merkel insisting the bloc must resolve the issue by the end of the summer.
Michael Gove discusses the wearing of face masks in England as the relaxing of lockdown measures continues. On Friday, the prime minister suggested the government was considering making masks compulsory in enclosed spaces, including shops. However, on Sunday, Gove emphasised that the decision was one of “good manners” rather than public health policy. Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show whether masks would become mandatory in shops, the cabinet office minister said: “I don’t think mandatory, no, but I would encourage people to wear a face mask.” He added: “On the whole... it's always best to trust people's common sense”.
The wearing of face masks has already been made mandatory for those visiting shops in Scotland and remains necessary for those boarding public transport across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. According to reports in the Guardian, the prime minister is expected to make a further statement on the topic later this week. The Labour party has indicated it would be supportive of new rules making face masks mandatory in shops in England. Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said the policy could help “inspire greater confidence and might encourage more people to go out and spend money”.
In other news
LABOUR JOINS FACEBOOK AD BOYCOTT
The Labour party said it would be joining an advertising boycott of Facebook “in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement”. Shadow minister Rachel Reeves said the party would join the boycott, alongside firms such as Unilever, to express its concern “about the failure of Facebook to take down some hateful material”. The boycott has been organised by several groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which has accused Facebook of allowing “racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant” on the social media platform. Facebook has insisted harmful posts are removed but said some could remain “if the public interest value outweighs the risk of harm”.
BRITAIN TO SPEND £705M ON EU BORDER
Britain is set to spend £705m on border infrastructure to facilitate the flow of trade after the transition period expires at the end of this year, Michael Gove has said. Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show on Sunday, the cabinet office minister said the spending package would include £470m for the construction of port and inland infrastructure “to smooth the flow of traffic” and £235m for the preparations of IT systems and staffing. Gove said he was “absolutely certain” that Britain’s borders would be ready and secure ahead of the end of the transition period, and claimed the spending package would help the UK "seize the opportunities" post-Brexit. The government said details of how the British-EU border will operate are due to be set out shortly.
HONGKONGERS CAST 'PROTEST VOTE'
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers have reportedly queued to cast ballots in what has been described as a symbolic protest vote against draconian security laws recently imposed in the territory by Beijing. A primary poll was held over the weekend to select pro-democracy candidates to contest Legislative Council elections in September. Organisers estimate 500,000 people had turned out to vote by Sunday afternoon. It has been suggested the turnout will serve as an indication of opposition to the security law, which critics believe will gravely curtail Hong Kong’s freedoms. Democratic lawmaker Eddie Chu said the primary would act as “a proxy referendum against the national security law.”
DOCTORS WARN OF DROP IN SERVICES
The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned a “catastrophic” drop in NHS services caused by the coronavirus pandemic is harming patients. According to new research by the BMA, more than 1m planned surgeries and treatments – as well as more than 20,000 cancer treatments – were delayed or cancelled between April and the end of June this year. BMA chair of council Dr Chaand Nagpaul has warned patient safety is being “severely compromised” as a result of the disruption. “The full impact of this drastic reduction in routine NHS care in England is only now emerging,” he added. The BMA’s findings follow repeated warnings from experts who say the NHS can expect to face a backlog of cancer patients, many of whom will have gone undiagnosed during the pandemic.
WELLS SEARCHED IN MADELEINE MCCANN PROBE
Portuguese police have searched three disused wells as part of their investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, according to reports in The Mirror. The newspaper said police and divers had examined the wells in an area around 10 miles from the Praia da Luz resort where McCann disappeared in May 2007, aged three. The search sites are reportedly close to a beach where suspect Christian Brueckner’s camper van was photographed in 2007. Brueckner, a convicted German paedophile, is known to have lived on the Algarve coast at the time McCann went missing. He remains in prison Germany for drug dealing and has not yet spoken to investigators regarding the three-year-old’s disappearance.
Wild bison are set to return to the UK for the first time in 6,000 years. The small herd of the animals – which are Europe’s largest land mammal – will be released in Kent in spring 2022. The reintroduction aims to help regenerate natural woodland, scrub and glades on a former pine wood plantation. “Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape,” the Kent Wildlife Trust said. The bison will be joined by free-living longhorn cattle, “iron age” pigs, and Exmoor ponies, which will also assist in restoring the woodland.