The Spectator

Covid-19 update: New York: 21%. Stockholm: 26%. London?

Covid-19 update: New York: 21%. Stockholm: 26%. London?
Open for testing: members of Britain’s armed forces are ready to test essential workers (Photo: Xinhua/Shutterstock)
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The Spectator brings you the latest insight, news and research from the front line. Sign up here to receive this briefing daily by email, and stay abreast of developments both at home and abroad:

News and analysis 

  • The much-anticipated shipment of personal protective equipment from Turkey contained 32,000 gowns vs the expected 400,000 units.
  • Meanwhile, 42% of NHS beds lie empty, as do two-thirds of mechanical ventilation units.
  • Boris Johnson could return to No. 10 as early as Monday, according to the Telegraph.
  • Ten million key workers and their households can now book a Covid-19 test online. The 5,000 that were made available this morning ran out in just two minutes.
  • Rishi Sunak is considering 100% government-backed Covid-19 loans of up to £25,000 to small businesses.
  • The Scottish government has released its plans for ending the lockdown. Katy Balls has the details.
  • The chief executive of an NHS trust has criticised the ‘outrageous profiteering’ of a company that raised the price of a single piece of PPE from £2 to £16.50.
  • Just 30 of the 4,000 prisoners scheduled for early release to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in prisons have left.

New York: 21%. Stockholm: 26%. London?

How many of us have had the virus? Antibody testing is starting to provide answers to the question. In New York City, it’s around 21 per cent. Sweden’s health agency yesterday said it should be 26 per cent in Stockholm by 1 May. The UK government is finally starting its discovery process: over the next few days, testing kits will be sent to 20,000 randomly selected households to screen their residents for Covid-19 antibodies. As Ross Clark says on Coffee House today, we must be prepared to be surprised by how many of us have been infected with the virus – without, in many cases, even being aware of it.

Ross writes: ‘The latest such study, from the Oise department in Northern France, has come back with especially remarkable results. A team from the Pasteur Institute tested 661 pupils, staff and their families from a single high school, and found that of the 661 tested 171 showed signs of antibodies, suggesting that they had been infected with the virus. The rate of hospitalisation of those infected was 5.3 per cent and the fatality rate among this relatively young cohort (average age 37) was zero.’

While the study is not yet peer reviewed and offers many caveats, it is one more piece of evidence suggesting Covid-19 may be far more prevalent than we first believed – and correspondingly far less fatal. What evidence comes from UK antibody testing will prove vital to our exit strategy – and the results can’t come soon enough.

Read Ross’s full blog here.

In words

‘He [Boris] called me a few days ago. I will tell you he sounded incredible. I was actually surprised. I thought he’d be like “Oh Donald, how are you?”. He was ready to go. I’m very surprised to tell you. It’s like the old Boris, tremendous energy, tremendous drive.’

Donald Trump on his phone call with Boris Johnson.

‘We are ahead of our internal plan for where we expected the amount of capacity to be and we have got a week left to hit that goal.’

Matt Hancock discussing his 100,000 tests a day target on BBC Radio 4 this morning.

‘The simplest, boldest, most radical way of solving the coming fiscal crisis.’

Ed Conway, Sky News’s economics editor, proposes a one-off wealth tax of 10 per cent. The alternative, he says, is hyperinflation which will penalise the young.

In pictures

Open for testing: members of Britain’s armed forces are ready to test essential workers (Photo: Xinhua/Shutterstock)

The cost of Covid-19

by Kate Andrews

What is the true cost of Covid-19? No one knows – yet. But it’s not going to be cheap. The Treasury has revised its borrowing plans for May to July up to £180 billion – four times what it planned to raise and over £20 billion more than it planned to raise in that time.

Policies at the heart of the government’s Covid-19 response, like the furlough scheme, are surpassing all estimations for uptake, and have been granted a limitless price tag by the Chancellor through to the end of June at least. As the economy contracts in a way that hasn’t been seen for a century, and as the cost of managing the crisis surpasses the measures brought in to deal with our last major economic blow, some radical ideas are being put forward to deal with the financial aftermath. In the Timestoday, Ed Conway looks at the prospects for a one-off wealth tax to cover the costs. It’s not exactly a rousing endorsement, listing out a multitude of reasons why such levies are a bad idea. Some are left out, like how a wealth tax works as double-taxation and punishes anyone – ages ranging – who made an effort to save, but it would be tough to include them all – the list of wealth tax problems runs long.

If not a wealth tax, what other ideas are on the table? James Forsyth reports in this week’s Spectator that cabinet ministers believe austerity is ‘not politically possible’ this time round. Could other taxes temporarily be raised, as done in the Thatcher years, to tackle today’s problems quickly and make way for tax cuts down the road? Will the regulatory barriers that have been swiftly lifted on business to help them survive Covid-19 be abolished permanently as part of a growth agenda? Should the cost of Covid-19 even be keeping us up at night? After all, it’s a one-off spending spree. Even if national debt peaks at more than 100 per cent of GDP – the danger zone for economies – perhaps it could be chipped away at slowly but surely, as it’s so cheap to borrow. Perhaps the answer to our Covid-19 finance worries is on this list, or a combination of these ideas, or something brand new. But now is the time to start thinking about the Treasury’s spreadsheets – the numbers are only bound to get bigger.

Global news

  • Donald Trump floated the idea of injecting people with disinfectant to kill coronavirus, adding; ‘I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.’
  • Africa needs an estimated 74 million test kits and 30,000 ventilators according to UN estimates. Aidan Hartley explains why Covid-19 deaths might not be the continent's greatest concern.
  • Tests of 54 symptom-free care residents in Stockholm showed that 20 carried the virus. They ‘are obviously carriers and this we think is an extremely important information for everyone who lives there,’ Stefan Amér, Head of Family GPs, told Swedish Radio.
  • Students in Hong Kong were among the first in the world to sit their final secondary school exams today.
  • Two children in Vietnam have donated 20,000 medical masks to the UK.
  • Sydney’s beaches have closed again due to crowding just days after re-opening.
  • Thousands of roses have been cut off bushes in a Tokyo park to deter crowds.
  • The World Health Organisation has experienced a five-fold increase in cyber attacks since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

In data

It’s not just the virus that’s seemingly peaked, but interest in it as well.

Podcast: How the pandemic is becoming political

On this week’s episode of Coronomics: stories from countries turned upside down, Kate Andrews speaks to our panel - based in New York City, Rome and Hong Kong, about Italy’s cautious reopening, the political blame games in the United States and Hong Kong’s second wave worries. 

Research

Does Covid-19 decline, with or without a complete lockdown? Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, the chairman of the Israeli Space Agency, says coronavirus is following a similar pattern in all countries, whether they have stringent lockdowns or not: ‘The spread of the virus starts at an exponential rate, however, continues to moderate and ultimately fades after eight weeks or so since its outbreak.’ Ben-Israel adds that, as the pattern is ‘common to all countries in which the disease was discovered, regardless of their response policies’. He added: ‘It is recommendable to reverse the current policy and remove the lockdown. At the same time, it is advisable to continue with low-cost measures, such as wearing masks, expanding testing for defined populations and prohibiting mass gatherings.’

Coronomics

  • Gatwick airport predicts it will take four years to return to pre-Covid-19 passenger numbers.
  • Global stocks have fallen after a potential antiviral failed its first clinical trial.
  • 26.5 million Americans have now applied for unemployment benefits.
  • Alcohol sales surged 31% in the UK in March, but overall retail sales plunged by a record 5.1%.
  • The US congress approved a $484 billion Covid-19 relief package to expand loans for small businesses. Total spending in response to the crisis is now almost $3 trillion. Meanwhile, EU leaders signed off on a €500 billion emergency financial package.
  • The boss of Lloyds of London has told the FT that coronavirus is ‘no doubt the largest insurance challenge the industry has ever faced, I think by some way’.

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Was this the moment my father won his fight against coronavirus?Merlin Hanbury-Tenison