Newspaper headlines: UK on 'war footing' as elderly face isolation

By BBC News

  • Published
A sign outside Watford General HospitalImage source, PA Media

Increasing concern over the coronavirus pandemic is the main focus for most of Sunday's papers.

"Death toll leaps and forces Johnson to act" is the headline in the Sunday Times. The paper says Prime Minister Boris Johnson is accelerating plans to buy up beds in private hospitals and potentially make the elderly and vulnerable self-isolate - possibly for months.

It reports the strict new measures could be brought into force this week - a fortnight earlier than medics and scientists had originally expected.

The front page of the Sunday Express also homes in on the implications for older citizens. "Over-70s face stay at home order" is the headline as it details what it describes as a "dramatic plan to save lives".

The move comes, the paper says, as Britain is "rocked" by the increase in deaths. It suggests the new rules will also apply to anyone under 70 with pre-existing medical conditions.

The Sunday Telegraph claims Mr Johnson has put industry on a "war footing" to equip the NHS for the "battle ahead". In what the paper describes as an "unprecedented peacetime call to arms", it claims that Mr Johnson is asking manufacturers - including Rolls Royce and JCB - to transform production lines to enable them to make ventilators.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock writes in the paper that firms "cannot make too many" ventilators - and he sets out how the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said extra measures to "shield" older and medically vulnerable people will need to be instituted soon. He urges people to pull together, as British people did in the Second World War.

Cartoonist Matt attempts to inject a note of humour. His sketch depicts a suited man saying, as he leaves home for the day, that he's going to self-isolate. Or, he adds - in a reference that will strike home for many retailers - "as I call it, open my shop".

The Telegraph also reports that the UK's biggest teaching union, the National Education Union, has written to Mr Johnson "demanding to know why schools are being told to stay open". France, Ireland and Spain have all announced school closures and the Union says its members deserve to see the modelling government is basing its decisions on.

The Mail on Sunday is one of many papers to carry photographs showing scenes of chaos and shelves stripped bare in shops, as it reports that ministers have made plans to deploy troops to guard hospitals and supermarkets as panic-buying hits.

Its "at a glance" guide points out that "at least 10 times" as many people have died from winter flu worldwide than from the virus since it was first reported. But it also reports that emergency legislation will be put before MPs to requisition land for "extra graveyards" and to relax regulations to allow for speedier cremations and burials.

"It's war on the virus" is the declaration of the Sunday Mirror, which claims that 8,000 private hospital beds will be rented by the NHS, troops will be mobilised and over-70s will be told to self-isolate for up to four months.

The concerns of "hundreds of scientists" that the UK response to the virus is wrong, or has fallen short, make the front page of the Observer. The paper contrasts the situation in the UK with measures being taken by other countries around the world: borders closed by Denmark and Lithuania; ports closed in Norway; national lockdowns in France and Spain; and the US extension of a flight ban.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The increase in coronavirus cases in the UK comes as people continue to stockpile food

Away from the many pages devoted to the epidemic, the Mail on Sunday reports that the disclosure of private communications between British and US officials has revealed a "smoking gun text" in the case of Anne Sacoolas - the US citizen who left the UK under diplomatic immunity after she was involved in a fatal collision with Harry Dunn last summer.

The Mail suggests the correspondence shows that - in spite of insistence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that it had objected in clear and strong terms to Mrs Sacoolas' departure - a departmental official had stated in the communications that she was free to "leave on the next commercial flight". The FCO insists it acted properly and lawfully.

Image source, Aiken Standard Archive
Image caption,
Anne Sacoolas pictured on her wedding day in 2003

And the paper also brings us news of a new phenomenon, which may bring timely inspiration for those facing the prospect of self-isolation. Following the rise of the "silver surfer", it's now the turn of the "PlayStation pensioner".

It says the State of Online Gaming report, which quizzed 4,500 people, found that some pensioners spend almost three hours a day on their consoles, while 7% said they'd played a game continuously for five to 10 hours.

"Barmy Army" is the Sun on Sunday's headline as it reports that just 21 injured veterans have been seen at a new £300m armed forces rehabilitation centre since it opened in Loughborough in 2018.

Treatment at the centre is only guaranteed for serving personnel. The paper points out that this leaves thousands injured on the frontline who've since left service to "go through the NHS", putting "more strain" on local services. It says charities and politicians are calling for a more "common sense" approach.

And the Sunday Times concludes that couples are dropping "the blame game" after figures show that the number of people citing adultery as a reason for divorce has more than halved in the past decade. A bill to introduce "no fault" divorce is currently passing through Parliament, but, at the moment, the most common ground given is "unreasonable behaviour".