Thursday briefing: Test and trace begins

Top story: ‘We’ll make it mandatory if that’s what it takes’

Good morning, Warren Murray here and you can check your eyesight on the following.

Coronavirus test and trace comes into effect in England today from 9am. The system is intended to allow lockdown to be replaced with local measures where the disease flares up again. Testing is being extended to everyone with coronavirus symptoms including under-5s. Those testing positive will be called and asked to give names and phone numbers of those they’ve come within 2 metres of for more than 15 minutes in the previous two days. Those people will then be instructed to self-isolate for 14 days and keep children out of school. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said people must do their “civic duty” and stay at home when instructed. “This will be voluntary at first … but we can quickly make it mandatory if that’s what it takes.” The scheme, headed by Lady Harding, is launching after a troubled genesis and without a much-anticipated app that is still being trialled on the Isle of Wight. In parallel, Scotland is launching its own “test and protect” regime. David Hunter, Oxford professor of epidemiology and medicine, lays out a compelling scientific argument today that Britain’s infection rate is still too high and there will be a second wave if easing of restrictions proceeds as foreshadowed.

More than 60 Conservative MPs have continued to defy Boris Johnson’s calls to “move on” from the Dominic Cummings crisis with a senior minister, Penny Mordaunt, breaking ranks to accuse the aide of inconsistencies in his account of travelling 260 miles to his family estate in Durham. The former chancellor Sajid Javid also said the journey was not “necessary or justified” as the number of backbenchers calling for Cummings to resign or be sacked grew to 44, with a total of 61 Tory MPs weighing in to criticise him – two of them government whips. The Newsnight presenter, Emily Maitlis, did not present the show last night after the BBC announced she had breached impartiality rules with a monologue on Tuesday night where she said in part: “Dominic Cummings broke the rules – the country can see that and it’s shocked the government cannot … He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can flout them.”

The government’s target of hitting 200,000 Covid-19 daily tests by Monday has been described as “meaningless” and “almost designed to confuse”. Prof Sheila Bird, a biostatistics expert, said it was “pretty incredible stuff” that each individual swab from a single individual was reportedly counted as a separate test in thousands of cases. “Considering the swab of the left nostril and the right nostril of the same person as two tests would be most unfortunate.” Prof John Ashton, a former medical and public health official, said the published statistics were “all over the place … We don’t know how many people have been tested. We don’t know how many tests have been satisfactory. There’s a real problem of transparency and trust.”

In the US, the death toll has reached 100,000 while South Korea may need to reinstate restrictions after a flare-up in the daily number of new cases. Globally there have been more than 355,600 deaths and nearly 5.7 million infections. Rolling coverage continues at our global live blog.

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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Forests pillaged under Bolsonaro – Two studies have raised further alarm about deforestation in Brazil during the first year of the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s government. One study showed the country lost 12,000 square kilometres (4,633 sq miles) of forest in 2019 while the other flagged a 27% increase in destruction of tropical forests in eastern Brazil. The environment minister, Ricardo Salles, has advocated that the government use the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to weaken already shaky environmental protection laws. Amazon deforestation and fires have soared since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, vowing to end the “fines industry” of environment agencies and develop the rainforest.

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Crisis in Fiji parliament – Fiji’s politics are in a tailspin again after the suspension of the main opposition party, which has left parliament with just three opposition members on the eve of a major national budget debate. The suspension of the Social Democratic Liberal party for alleged breaches of party registration laws leaves little in the way of checks on prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who came to power in a coup before winning the 2014 and 2018 elections with his FijiFirst party. Fiji had four coups from 1987 to 2006, largely due to tensions between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, the descendants of colonial era indentured labourers.

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Two-Prom strategy – There will be Prom concerts this summer but not as we know them. The organisers of the world’s biggest classical music festival have revealed details of their 2020 plans, which will consist of six weeks of concerts from the archives. They hope to follow this with a fortnight of live music and “a rousing last night” from the Royal Albert Hall in London. David Pickard, the season’s director, called it “not the Proms as we know them, but the Proms as we need them”. A two-week live element, from 28 August, is described as an “ambition” rather than a certainty, with musicians performing in the Royal Albert Hall “culminating in a poignant and unique Last Night of the Proms to bring the nation together”.

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Anti-Chavista subversive club – The United States funded rock groups in Venezuela to record songs promoting democracy and undermining the rule of Hugo Chávez, according to documents released under freedom of information. More than 10 bands were contracted in 2011 using funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a non-governmental agency responsible for promoting democracy abroad. Successive US governments sought to unseat Chávez, who as Venezuela’s president headed a “Bolivarian revolution” built in part on anti-American sentiment. In 2014 it was revealed USAid secretly tried to infiltrate Cuba’s hip-hop scene.

Coronavirus Extra

Ryanair is the worst major airline for refunding British customers whose flights have been cancelled during the coronavirus pandemic, with more than eight out of 10 people still waiting for their money back, according to figures from Which?.

No planes in the sky, empty hotels, deserted attractions: with the world at a standstill, the tourism industry has been one of the industries worst hit. But as destinations slowly emerge from lockdown and borders tentatively reopen, many in the sector are wondering if this is a chance for tourism to rebuild in a greener, more sustainable way.

Lockdown has reminded us of the pleasures of walking. But making small changes can boost its benefits to our health, mood and creativity, too. Here is how to optimise your stride and focus your mind to get the most from your daily stroll.

Today in Focus podcast: Scandal of Covid-19 in care homes

Why did so many people die in care homes? That may be the most urgent question of the likely public inquiry into the UK’s Covid-19 response. Listen to Rob Booth, the Guardian’s social affairs correspondent, on the government failures that led to thousands of care home deaths.

Lunchtime read: Global threat to free press

From Mexico to Malta, attacks on journalists and publishers have proved deadly to individuals and chilling to broader freedoms. And now Covid-19 is being used as an excuse to silence more voices, writes Gill Phillips.


A group of clubs, led by Liverpool, will argue against paying a £330m rebate to Sky and other broadcasters at a meeting to discuss the matter on Thursday, despite the Premier League’s recommendation that it should be accepted. Andy Murray will be hoping to compete in his first match since November when competitive tennis returns to Great Britain at the end of next month with a national tournament organised by his brother, Jamie. Formula One teams must make significant cuts to their budgets in each of the next five seasons after the FIA announced new budget caps on Wednesday. And Alex Hales looks set to remain frozen out of England’s one-day setup for some time yet after Eoin Morgan scotched talk of an imminent comeback and stressed the opener’s recreational drugs ban could have derailed last year’s World Cup bid.


Asian stocks were mixed after an upbeat open on Thursday, as investors pinned their hopes on an economic rebound from the coronavirus crisis. Shares rose in Tokyo, Sydney and Shanghai but dropped in Hong Kong where tensions are flaring over Beijing’s effort to exert more control by forcing security laws on to the territory. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has told Congress the Trump administration no longer regards Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China, which sets the stage for the US to withdraw its preferential trade and financial status. The pound is worth $1.224 and €1.112 at time of writing, at which point the FTSE is trending about 70 points higher.

The papers

You can see all the front pages here today. The Guardian says “Tories defy PM to pile pressure on Cummings”. It also gives prominence to Emily Maitlis, who did not present Newsnight on Wednesday after a statement from the BBC said she broke impartiality rules on Tuesday’s programme. The FT’s headline is “Johnson brushes aside Cummings inquiry demands despite backlash”, quoting the PM saying it’s time to “move on”. Its sub headline is “Blame shifted for pandemic failings”.

The Telegraph also carries a large picture of Maitlis and says she “broke BBC rules with Cummings rant”. Its splash is “Public told they have ‘duty’ to test and trace”. The Mirror, which jointly broke the Cummings story with the Guardian, still has Cummings squarely in its sights, picturing him on the front page with the PM and the headline: “Why don’t YOU do YOUR duty …” The Times also leads on the new test-and-trace policy: “Do your duty and we can defeat virus, Britain told”. It covers Emily Maitlis in the right-hand column.

The Metro says Boris Johnson is “Zooming Fuming”, saying PM “sticks by Cummings as he’s grilled by furious MPs”. The Daily Mail is Cummings-free on its front, instead splashing on the “Test & trace revolution” while the Express has “Test and Trace: Key to our freedom”. The Sun says “Ale meet again”, with the news that pubs are to “open in June”. And finally, while strictly speaking not a newspaper front page, the New European’s headline is too good to ignore: “Nerd Immunity: why the PM risked everything to protect Cummings”.

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