Coronavirus briefing: NHS staff saluted and US virus cases overtake China

By Andy McFarlane
BBC News


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A person is seen in silhouette, applauding the work of the NHS, in front of big screen in Piccadilly CircusImage source, Reuters

NHS staff saluted

It was an emotional moment for those who took part - not least the NHS staff and care workers being saluted by the nation. The Royal Family and prime minister joined well-wishers who flocked to front doorsteps, balconies and windows on Thursday evening night to applaud those dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. It came after figures revealed the UK death toll rose from 475 to 578 in one day, with 11,658 confirmed cases.

There will be additional support for the NHS from firefighters, who have agreed to drive ambulances and deliver essential supplies if required. However, unions point out many are off-work in self-isolation. And, with NHS leaders saying staff feel "at risk" of contracting the virus unless they wear protective equipment while dealing with all patients, the BBC is told guidance is expected to be updated within two days.

Normal life continues to be seriously affected. As vulnerable people continue to report problems getting groceries while in isolation, supermarkets are to use a government database of the 1.5 million people deemed most at risk to help prioritise delivery slots. Sharon Cranfield, from Surrey, tells us she's reliant on deliveries because her daughter Jessica, 19, has cystic fibrosis, adding: "I'm terrified of going to the shops." There are signs, too, the housing market is grinding to a halt, with transactions agreed before the lockdown falling through.

We dig into the detail of the government's latest financial support package to find out what help is available to self-employed people. Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says the government's response to coronavirus proves he was "absolutely right" during December's election campaign that public spending could be increased.

US cases overtake China

The US now has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country, with more than 85,500 positive tests - overtaking both China and Italy. However, the US death toll remains much lower, at less than 1,300. Some 8,215 people have died in Italy. President Donald Trump predicts the US will get back to work "pretty quickly", calling the figures "a tribute to the amount of testing that we're doing".

Back in China, where the outbreak began, the government is temporarily banning all foreign visitors to prevent a further rise in the number of imported cases. Meanwhile, South Africa has begun a three-week lockdown. And while recent numbers from Italy's worst-hit northern region suggest the epidemic might be slowing there, fresh fears have arisen for poorer communities in the south.

Meanwhile, doctors, aid workers and the United Nations say camps for the displaced in north-western Syria could be devastated by an outbreak.

Life under lockdown

While you're adjusting to the new normal, we have videos explaining how far apart you need to be to follow social distancing guidelines, and exploring how to cope with lockdown if you're sharing a flat. Our science correspondent Victoria Gill looks at how to safely get groceries and takeaway meals. And you might find inspiration from our weekly series on how people living in isolation will be spending their weekends. Remember, there's loads of advice on our dedicated page.

Can the EU get a grip on the virus?

By Katya Adler, BBC Europe editor

EU leaders meeting on Thursday - by socially-distant video conference - glaringly failed to agree to share the debt they are all racking up fighting Covid-19. From her flat in Berlin, where she is self-isolating after her doctor tested positive for the virus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly admitted to the disharmony over financial instruments.

What leaders did agree on was asking Eurogroup finance ministers to explore the subject further, reporting back in two weeks' time. The EU is famous for kicking difficult decisions down the road but in coronavirus terms, with spiralling infection and death rates, two weeks feels like an eternity.

One thing not to miss today

Listen up

The Coronavirus Newscast team is joined by Sean Farrington, from Radio 5 live's Wake Up To Money, to help unpack the government's new measures to support the self-employed. And musician Charli XCX offers some tips on keeping fit, staying creative and painting rocks in self-isolation. Meanwhile, the World Service's Science in Action examines why China's strong social distancing policies seem to have been successful in stopping the spread of the virus.

What the papers say

Some front pages use photographs of staff at the Royal Liverpool Hospital taking in the nation's gratitude for the work of the NHS during the applause that rang around the UK. Others feature members of the public - and young royals Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis - saluting the medical staff and carers. "Checkpoint Britain" is the main headline for both the Daily Express and the Metro, as they report police measures to enforce social distancing. The Daily Star describes those driving without good reason as "Checkpoint Charlies". The effects of the virus on the property market is the big story for the Daily Mail, under the headline: "Don't move home." The housing market was "plunged into chaos" after the government called on people to delay moving home, the Times reports. Meanwhile, the Sun looks at the UK's latest virus statistics to declare: "One Brit dies every 13 minutes."

From elsewhere

Need something different?

If you're suffering self-isolation blues, cheer yourself by watching newly hatched green sea turtles making their way to the sea. Read our interview with Little Mix star Perrie Edwards, who talks new music, panic attacks and knitting. And, it being Friday, it's time to test your knowledge in the quiz of the week's news. Or if you're feeling the need to see something really daft, delve into the BBC Archive to watch footage of Rover, a crocodile that thought it was a dog, broadcast on magazine show That's Life 43 years ago today.