Tuesday briefing: Covid-19 danger jumps from middle age

Photograph: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Top story: Lancet study gives picture of age-related risk

Hello, Warren Murray with you again, and don’t be surprised if you start seeing teddy bears appearing in people’s windows.

The first comprehensive study of Covid-19 deaths and hospitalisations in mainland China has revealed in stark detail the increase in risk for coronavirus patients once they reach middle age. Four per cent of infected people in their 40s needed hospital treatment, as did more than 8% of patients in their 50s. More than 18% of those in their 80s and above needed hospitalisation after catching the virus. Only 0.04% of 10 to 19-year-olds had to go into hospital if infected.

The analysis found that while the overall death rate for confirmed cases was 1.38% it rose sharply with age, from 0.0016% in the under 10s to 7.8% in those 80 and over. The study reported in Lancet Infectious Diseases was based on analysis of 70,117 laboratory-confirmed and clinically diagnosed cases in mainland China, combined with 689 positive cases among people repatriated from Wuhan. The number of deaths related to coronavirus in the US has passed 3,000, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. Meanwhile today marks a week of no new cases reported in Wuhan city, China, where the outbreak first emerged. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US is almost double those in China. The pandemic’s economic fallout could cause China’s growth to come to a standstill while driving 11 million more people in East Asia into poverty, the World Bank has warned.

In major European cities homeless people are increasingly going hungry during the enforced lockdown and even being issued with police fines for being outside, Daniel Boffey writes from Brussels. A shortfall in protective supplies for staff means food banks and soup kitchens have closed, while efforts to stop the spread have ranged from shelters in Amsterdam turning residents out during the day, to homeless people being herded into gymnasiums in Paris to stop them gathering outside. From Las Vegas there have been jarring images of an open-air carpark being used as a “shelter” for homeless people who had to be turned out of a 500-bed facility when a resident tested positive.

More news throughout the day at our global coronavirus 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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Family killed in West Sussex – A family of four have been found dead at a home in West Sussex. The bodies of two adults and two children were discovered in the village of Woodmancote on Sunday evening. Sussex police launched a murder investigation but said they were not seeking anyone else in connection with the deaths. Officers attended after receiving a call raising a welfare concern about the residents. All of the victims were believed to be members of the same family, the force said, and all were pronounced dead at the scene.

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Test spots cancer’s DNA fingerprints – A blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer has been revealed by researchers. It picks up chemical changes in DNA that is shed by tumours and ends up circulating in the blood. Researchers say the test can not only tell whether someone has cancer but also what type. The test was developed using a machine learning algorithm that examined “methylation” patterns in cancerous and non-cancerous DNA. The rate at which it could detect cancer varied, but reached 93% in advanced cases. Researchers say it also offers hope in regard to cancers that are otherwise difficult to detect. The system correctly identified 63% of those with stage I pancreatic cancer, rising to 100% in stage IV.

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Carbon harms your planet’s health – Graphic cigarette packet-like warnings should appear on high-carbon products from airline tickets and energy bills to petrol pumps, to show consumers the health impacts of the climate crisis, say public health experts. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they argue it would “sensitise people to the consequences of their actions, representing nudges designed to encourage users to choose alternatives to fossil fuels, thus increasing demand for zero-carbon renewable energy”. Previous attempts to label goods with the amount of carbon that went into their production petered out as consumers found them hard to understand.

Coronavirus Extra

Our science podcast features Professor David Smith explaining the various ways in which clinicians can test whether someone is infected with Sars-CoV-2. And following the recent announcement that the UK government has bought millions of antibody tests, we explore what they might be able to tell us.

In today’s long read: Times of upheaval are always times of radical change. Some believe the pandemic is a once-in-a-generation chance to remake society and build a better future. Others fear it may only make existing injustices worse, writes Peter C Baker.

And while isolation may protect older people right now, it is exposing them to another, less understood challenge: loneliness.

Today in Focus podcast: Spanish flu – lessons from 1918

Science writer and journalist Laura Spinney discusses the outbreak of Spanish flu, which is believed to have killed up to 100 million people. She believes there are lessons to be learned from that pandemic.

Lunchtime read: From Bouncer’s dream to gorillagrams

As the Australian soap turns 35 years old, the cast and programme makers talk about the outlandish storylines, the phenomenal success and the show’s agenda of social activism.


Jack Grealish, the Aston Villa captain, has apologised for breaking the government lockdown after being pictured at the scene of a road accident on Sunday morning. Next year’s Tokyo Olympics will now officially open on 23 July 2021 – 364 days later than planned – but Britain’s two-time taekwondo gold medallist Jade Jones is remaining positive despite the delay as she now has a year to “become a better athlete”. Hull KR’s Mose Masoe says he is “not ready” to go home after being told he has to leave hospital to continue his rehabilitation from a career-ending spinal injury with beds being freed up for coronavirus patients.

All of Europe’s 55 national football associations will hold a video conference with Uefa on Wednesday to discuss the latest proposals for the 2019‑20 season. The British and Irish Lions have played down concerns over next year’s tour of South Africa clashing with the rescheduled Olympic Games. Joe Root expects talks over a possible pay cut for England’s centrally contracted players may be on the horizon, even if this is not a feature of cricket’s upcoming rescue package. And Billy Joe Saunders has had his boxing licence suspended following a social media post in which he seemingly advocated domestic violence.


China’s services activity expanded in March after slumping to a record low the previous month, but business is expected to take some time to return to normal as the economy struggles to recover from the coronavirus shock. The official non-manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to 52.3, after plunging to 29.6 in February, the National Bureau of Statistics said. Asian shares surged after a rally in US stocks mostly spurred by health care companies’ announcements of developments that could aid in the coronavirus outbreak. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.8% in morning trading to 19,243.91. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 2.0% to 5,285.50, while South Korea’s Kospi picked up 1.6% to 1,743.84. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng stood at 23,517.68, up 1.5% and the Shanghai Composite gained 0.6% to 2,764.16. The pound is worth $1.233 and €1.19 at time of writing.

The papers

People not behaving as they should at this time is a theme on some of the fronts today. The Guardian has “Police warned against overreach in use of virus lockdown powers”. Similar in the Telegraph: “Police given warning on overzealous virus tactics”.

The Express directs its fire elsewhere: “Get tough on cowards abusing NHS heroes”, while the Metro has “Sickening abuse on front line”. The Mirror wants to “Give them all a medal” as it campaigns for “NHS heroes” to receive an honour.

“Lockdown helping UK to beat virus” says the i as it echoes comments by the government’s chief scientific adviser. “Now 1 in 4 doctors off work” is the Mail’s more worrying offering. The Times reports on the “£75m airlift” for holidaying Britons who have become stranded abroad – our version here. The FT has “Pharma groups boost virus battle with vaccine and testing advances”. Its front also features the plunging price of oil – Larry Elliott explores Saudi Arabia’s machinations here.

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