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Live Reporting

Edited by Jude Sheerin

All times stated are UK

  1. UK denies 'political decision' to snub EU over medical kit

    James Landale

    Diplomatic correspondent

    The row over why the UK failed to sign up to the EU's medical equipment procurement scheme has been resurrected today with an appearance before MPs by the head of the Foreign Office, Sir Simon McDonald.

    Last month the government was criticised for not taking part in the scheme to bulk buy medical equipment that could be used to tackle the coronavirus.

    Ministers -including Michael Gove- were forced to deny that anti-EU sentiment had played a part in the decision. There were also claims of missing emails and a communication confusion.

    But today Sir Simon McDonald,appearing via video link, told MPs it was a deliberate decision by ministers to turn down the invitation from Brussels. "It was a political decision, our mission briefed minsters on what was available, and what was on offer, and the decision is known," he said.

    This prompted a robust response from the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, at the Downing Street news conference. He said that he had spoken to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, and as far as he knew there had been no political decision not to participate.

    He revealed that he had now accepted an invitation from the EU to join that particular scheme which he said had not yet delivered a single item of medical equipment.

    And Whitehall sources have since suggested Sir Simon "misspoke" and that a clarification of his remarks will be forthcoming.

  2. Missouri sues China for 'sinister campaign of malfeasance and deception'

    Anthony Zurcher

    BBC North America reporter

    The US state of Missouri is suing China, the Chinese Communist Party, and other government officials over what it calls a "sinister campaign of malfeasance and deception" which, it claims, led to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

    In a court filing on Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt argued that China's early actions led to an "unnecessary and preventable" outbreak.

    The federal lawsuit seeks damages for "the enormous loss of life, human suffering, and economic turmoil" that has occurred in the state.

    A spokesman for the attorney general's office called the move "historical".

    But the lawsuit will face significant legal and procedural obstacles.

    US law, for instance, gives foreign governments sweeping immunity from such actions.

    Missouri may be less concerned with securing monetary damages, however, than with scoring political points and pinning blame on China for the devastating health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

  3. UK government official admits repatriation response 'not ideal'

    James Landale

    Diplomatic correspondent

    More than 1.3m travelling Britons have been helped to return to the UK on commercial flights after the global lockdown, according to the civil servant at the head of the Foreign Office.

    Sir Simon Macdonald told MPs that an additional 12,124 British nationals had been repatriated via 64 special government charters from 20 countries.

    He told the Foreign Affairs Committee there remained “tens of thousands” of Britons – many in the Indian subcontinent – who still want to return to the UK.

    Many Britons and their families have complained about poor communication and a slow response from the Foreign Office during the crisis, and Sir Simon acknowledged there had been “problems” with the department’s initial reaction.

    "There were real problems that many calls were not getting through," he said. The Foreign Office response had at times been "not ideal". And he told the MPs he was "sorry" that some of their constituents had been left in a difficult position.

    But he told MPs that for every complaint the Foreign Office had received, it had also received about 20 expressions of thanks.

    He also accepted that it had taken longer to get Britons home compared to citizens of some other countries. But he defended the decision made by ministers to focus on getting Britons on commercial flights and delaying special charter flights until they were really needed. He said this protected the taxpayer from having to pay for a huge number of flights that could be covered by travel and insurance companies.

  4. Ghana party-goers fined $15,000 over lockdown rules

    Here's a round-up of some of the main coronavirus stories from Africa, where there are now more than 23,000 confirmed cases and 1,158 deaths.

    • A court in Ghana has fined six people a total of $15,000 (£12,200) for attending a birthday party last Saturday in a suburb of Accra. Gatherings were banned under a three-week lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19. The lockdown was partially lifted on Monday
    • The Nigerian government has apologised for “mistakes” made during the burial of President Muhammadu Buhari's chief of staff, who died from coronavirus. People were pictured in huddles around the grave site on 18 April, failing to observe strict rules on mass gatherings
    • In Sierra Leone, President Julius Maada Bio has gone into self-isolation after one of his bodyguards tested positive for coronavirus. The president said that he, himself, was in good health
    • In Rwanda, people have started wearing face masks in public after the government made it mandatory. In the capital Kigali, police could be seen questioning those with no masks, but no arrests were made
    • And in Niger, 10 people have been imprisoned after several days of violent demonstrations against the restrictions put in place due to the virus. Young people set up barricades on the streets, angry at the overnight curfew and the ban on collective prayers
  5. New York governor travels to Washington to talk 'testing'

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has delivered his daily briefing from the city of Buffalo, before departing for Washington DC to meet President Trump at the White House.

    Cuomo said 478 deaths had been recorded in New York state in the previous 24 hours, the lowest total in more than two weeks.

    He noted that only 7% of total virus cases were outside the New York City region, and that some parts of the state “do not have a Covid issue”, so hospitals there will be able to resume elective surgeries soon.

    He said that “some economies” around the state could soon reopen.

    The governor said that the subject of his meeting with Trump would be testing.

    He added that states will take charge of testing samples, but the federal government should be responsible for sourcing the kits and providing them to the states.

  6. US Congress nears new bailout agreement

    The White House and Congress are nearing a deal to approve a new US aid package worth around $470bn (£380bn).

    If approved by the Senate, as expected later on Tuesday, the bill will be taken up by the House as early as Thursday.

    Much of the money covers a programme providing loans to small businesses - last week the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced it had already spent its entire $350bn budget bailing out firms disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

    Democrats had sought new protections for food assistance and other state-level social safety net programmes, but the deal is not expected to approve funding for their wish-list.

  7. Italy’s active cases fall for second day

    There's encouraging news from Italy, where the number of current coronavirus cases has dropped for the second consecutive day.

    As of Tuesday, there were 528 fewer active cases in the country, bringing the total down to 107,709, Italy’s civil protection agency said.

    Yesterday, Italy reported its first reduction in the number of people currently positive for the virus since the outbreak began.

    BBC Rome Correspondent Mark Lowen said the drop in active cases was “good news”, but stressed that “Italy is still losing too many each day”.

    The country's death toll jumped to 24,648 on Tuesday, a rise of 534 in the past 24 hours. That’s an increase of 80 compared to Monday, when 454 deaths were reported.

    Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said it would be “irresponsible” to fully reopen the country when the lockdown ends on 4 May.

    "I would like to be able to say, let's open everything. Right away," Conte wrote on Facebook. "But such a decision would be irresponsible."

    He said Italy would reopen in line with "serious scientific policy", suggesting it would be a gradual process.

  8. Captain Tom opens new UK field hospital

    Tom Moore on a big screen at NHS Nightinghale Harrogate

    Captain Tom Moore - the 99-year-old British war veteran who raised over £27m for the NHS - has opened a new field hospital in Yorkshire.

    A virtual ceremony was held to open the 500-bed facility at Harrogate Convention Centre, the first of seven field hospitals built outside a city.

    Captain Tom, as he is affectionately known, appeared via video link at the opening on Tuesday.

    The Yorkshireman raised the huge sum by completing 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday,

    Speaking earlier, he told the BBC: "For me to be opening a new hospital in Harrogate is outstanding.

    "All the people in that area have done so well to produce a new hospital in such a short time."

    He celebrates his 100th birthday on 30 April.

  9. Appeal for volunteers for UK vaccine trial

    The UK has announced it is giving more than £40m to two British projects searching for a vaccine for coronavirus - with one trial to start this week.

    One of those projects, led by Imperial College London's Department of Infectious Diseases, is appealing for volunteers.

    In a tweet, the college's trust said it was looking for healthy people aged between 18 and 55, and that successful applicants would be paid up to £625 for taking part.

    View more on twitter
  10. 'Recovering' Boris Johnson holds phone call with Donald Trump

    UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told US President Donald Trump that he is "feeling better and on the road to recovery", the White House has said.

    In a phone call a short while ago, the two leaders discussed the need for an international response to the coronavirus pandemic and a post-Brexit trade deal, Downing Street said.

    The US added that they also reaffirmed their close co-operation "to reopen global economies and ensure medical care and supplies reach all those in need".

    Mr Johnson is also expected to speak to the Queen in another telephone call later this week, for the first time in three weeks.

  11. What did we learn from today's UK government briefing?

    Today's briefing was led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

    He started by addressing the key area of pressure facing the government: the provision of PPE for health and social care workers. He said the government was working with suppliers and manufacturers, including 159 in the UK.

    But Mr Hancock faced more questioning on PPE. He denied that the government had made a political decision not to be involved in an EU scheme on ventilators, a claim made by a top Foreign Office official earlier today. Sources have since said the official misspoke.

    Mr Hancock said the UK had put more money into an international vaccine fund than any other country.

    A vaccine developed in Oxford will begin trials in people this Thursday; a stage which can often take years to reach.

    Asked whether Britain was on course to have one of the worst outcomes in Europe, Mr Hancock said that it was important, when looking at international comparisons of death rates, to look at the populations of the countries. (We have more here on the difficulties of comparing countries.)

    Prof Jonathan Van Tam updated us on the data. On the number of new virus cases, he says we still are not seeing a downward trend, and so we remain in a "dangerous time".

    While there has probably been a peak of people in hospital in London, this is not true for other nations and regions; instead the numbers have plateaued. He says we must continue to push these numbers down. We also need to see a fall in the number of deaths, he said.

  12. Hancock: Vaccine is top priority

    And finally there is a question from Reuters on the statistics released by the ONS today, which showed that deaths in England and Wales have hit a 20-year high.

    Mr Hancock says reports saying coronavirus deaths are "40% higher" in the UK than the previously reported data is "not an accurate representation of those (ONS) figures".

    He says the ONS figures are measured differently from the statistics released daily on hospital deaths.

    Mr Hancock goes on to say that there were "two absolutely critical tasks" at the start of this crisis - to get the virus under control and flatten the curve, and also to make sure the NHS was not overwhelmed.

    "We have achieved that," he says.

    Mr Hancock finishes by saying that finding a vaccine for coronavirus is "the top priority" and adds he is "delighted" one is going into human clinical trials this week.

    But, he says, "there is a huge amount still to do".

  13. What is the vaccine being tested in the UK?

    Analysis

    Michelle Roberts

    Health editor, BBC News online

    A vaccine for coronavirus is the breakthrough the world is waiting for. It would give humanity a way to beat the infection and save lives.

    Lots of scientific groups in different nations are chasing this goal, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock hopes the UK will be the one to succeed.

    He’s promised £42.5m to fund two research groups: one team at Imperial College London and the other based at Oxford University.

    The Oxford group, led by Prof Sarah Gilbert, is to begin testing its vaccine in human volunteers this week.

    Her team at the Jenner Institute set to work as soon as the genetic code, or blueprint, of coronavirus became available in January.

    The vaccine uses a small section of this code packaged into a harmless virus. Scientists hope that delivering this into the body will teach the immune system how to fight off the real disease, without ever needing to become infected with coronavirus.

    The plan is to test it on around 500 volunteers by mid-May and if that work proves successful, give it to thousands more volunteers.

    Other groups, like Prof Robin Shattock and colleagues at Imperial, are using pieces of raw genetic code which, once injected into the body, should start producing bits of viral proteins which the immune system again can learn to fight.

  14. Hancock - Missing out on EU PPE scheme has had 'no impact' on UK

    The Mirror's Pippa Crerar returns to the subject of whether the UK opted out of the EU's ventilator procurement scheme for political reasons, as the Foreign Office's top official Simon McDonald has suggested.

    She says McDonald and Hancock, who earlier distanced himself from this claim, "cannot both be right' and asks which one we should be believing.

    The health secretary says there has been speculation about e-mails not being answered.

    But he says the decision came to his desk and he recommended the UK did take part in the scheme as an associate member - that is the "long and the short of it".

    And he insists missing out on the scheme has had "absolutely zero" impact on the UK's access to the equipment, because the scheme has not yet delivered any items to its participants.

  15. Hancock asked about Chinese 'disinformation'

    The health secretary is now asked what the UK is doing to tackle alleged Chinese disinformation campaigns and "conspiracy narratives" designed to "exonerate" Beijing from criticism over its handling of the pandemic in Wuhan.

    Mr Hancock says he has not seen any reports about this or evidence implicating the Chinese authorities.

    But he says there is clearly disinformation about the origins of coronavirus and potential treatments on social media which must be confronted - adding the public have a right to expect truthful and factual information.

    Our Science Editor Paul Rincon has examined the claims, dismissed earlier today by the World Health Organization, that the virus escaped from a lab in China.

  16. Hancock 'trying to get on front foot on PPE'

    Nick Triggle

    Health Correspondent

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock is trying to get on the front foot on personal protective equipment, saying the government is in talks with a diverse range of suppliers abroad.

    He says there is a “global shortage”, but says the key will be being nimble with officials working “day and night” to get more equipment into the country.

    Earlier this week it was announced a deal had been struck with a Chinese supplier to provide 25 million gowns, enough for over six months.

    But NHS managers have been saying they will only be happy when they see the kit in the country – after delays and unreliable supply of equipment in recent weeks.

  17. Hancock: Need to sort out 'credible' PPE offers

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock is asked about protective gear for front-line staff again.

    As we mentioned in an earlier post, the government said today it had received 8,000 offers of PPE supply from companies.

    "The number of items that are needed are absolutely vast," Mr Hancock says.

    "We are always trying to improve the processes we have in place to make purchases."

    He says they have had to "sort out the credible offers" from those that are not, giving the example of companies formed only days before coming forward and seeking public funding.

    "Nevertheless we want to engage with all those companies that can help us in the national effort," he says.

  18. A 'staggering number' of intensive care beds

    Nick Triggle

    Health Correspondent

    Another fall in patients in hospital with coronavirus across the UK - down to 17,700 – is another sign that the UK is over the worst of the peak.

    At one point the numbers topped 20,000 – and with another 12,000 beds free in hospital to treat patients there is still plenty of capacity.

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock also says there are nearly 3,000 intensive care beds available. That is a staggering number. At the start of March there were just 900, but since then overall capacity has been doubled.

  19. Could guidance on face masks change?

    The ITV's Robert Peston asks about potential changes to the government's advice on the use of face masks and what he suggests are problems with testing, particularly getting swabs to laboratories.

    Mr Hancock says he has been asked about masks "many times before" and suggests that ministers will be "guided by the science as always". He notes that the Sage committee discussed the issue today and he looks forward to hearing their recommendations.

    Dr Van-Tam says that if the evidence changes then officials will consider it but insists that it will be ministers who will be briefed first.

    On testing, Mr Hancock says it is "terrific" that total testing capacity has risen to over 39,000 - which he says is ahead of target.

    One of the benefits of this capacity being met is that a greater number of front-line workers, not just in the NHS, can be tested.

    On this issue, Dr Newton concedes that drive-through centres are not ideal for some people and officials are looking at a range of options to make it easier for NHS staff to be tested.

  20. Hancock: We are doing everything we can on PPE

    BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg asks Health Secretary Matt Hancock about protective equipment for front-line staff.

    The government says it has received more than 8,000 offers from companies saying they can start making PPE - but it has been criticised today for apparently not responding to some of those offers.

    Mr Hancock says they have been working to get PPE to those who need it on the front line, especially after a big increase in demand a month ago.

    "We are doing everything we possibly can," he says.

    Earlier, Labour said that "lots" of British firms who offered to produce PPE for the NHS have heard "nothing back" from the government.

    One businessman told the BBC his offer of 450 visors a day apparently went ignored.