UK COVID-19 death toll rises to nearly 50,000, Reuters tally shows

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll neared 50,000 on Tuesday, confirming its place as one of the worst hit countries in the world just as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to ease the stringent novel coronavirus outbreak.

The toll now stands at 49,646, including death certificate data for England and Wales released on Tuesday up to May 22, previously published figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and recent hospital deaths in England.

Such a large death toll has prompted criticism of Johnson, who opposition parties say was too slow to impose a lockdown, too slow to protect the elderly in nursing homes and too slow to build a test and trace system.

Johnson’s government says that while it may have made some mistakes it is grappling with the biggest public health crisis since the 1918 influenza outbreak and that it has ensured the health service was not overwhelmed.

Still, the grim death toll surpasses even some projections by the government’s own scientific advisers.

In March, Britain’s chief scientific adviser said keeping deaths below 20,000 would be a “good outcome”. In April, Reuters reported the government’s worst-case scenario was 50,000 deaths.

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Unlike the daily death toll published by the government, Tuesday’s death certificate figures include suspected cases and confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Epidemiologists say excess mortality – deaths from all causes that exceed the five-year average for the time of year – is the best way of gauging deaths from a disease outbreak because it is internationally comparable.

Some 62,000 more people than usual have died in the United Kingdom during this year’s coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest available data, an expert from the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.

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Britain reopens markets and some schools as lockdown eases

LONDON (Reuters) – English schools reopen on Monday for the first time since they were shut 10 weeks ago because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many parents planned to keep children at home amid fears ministers were moving too fast.

The easing of strict measures will mean classes will restart for some younger children, up to six people can meet outside in England, outdoor markets can reopen, elite competitive sport can resume without spectators and more than 2 million of the most vulnerable will now be allowed to spend time outdoors.

But with Britain recording one of the highest death rates from COVID-19, many are worried that it is happening too soon, including a number of scientists who advise the government who have warned it could lead to a second spike in infections.

“The overall view from SAGE – the scientific advisory group on emergencies which advises the government – their overall view is that we must do this cautiously and that is precisely what we are doing,” business minister Alok Sharma told BBC TV.

“These are very cautious steps that we are taking,” he said, while adding it was a “very sensitive moment”.

Ministers have been wrestling with how to kickstart the economy, which has been devastated by the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, while avoiding a possible second wave of infections which would cause further damage.

The government says the relaxation of rules on Monday represents only a limited easing but there has been concern that the country is still not ready for the changes, and that more people are beginning to ignore guidelines on social distancing.

A survey for the National Foundation for Educational Research found school leaders estimated 46% of parents would keep their children at home because of concerns, fears echoed by some health officials.

Britain has recorded more than 38,000 deaths from confirmed COVID-19 cases while the Office of National Statistics and other sources of data put the figure of fatalities from suspected and confirmed cases at 48,000.

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UK's Johnson to lead coronavirus news conference as adviser's future hangs in balance

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead the daily coronavirus news conference on Sunday as the future of his senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who is under pressure over a journey made during the lockdown, hangs in the balance.

The news conference will take place at 17:00 BST (16:00 GMT), Johnson’s Downing Street office said.

The prime minister last appeared at the daily briefing, which more often sees a minister face questions, on May 11.

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UK government took decision to stop mass testing and tracing in March: advisers

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain decided to end mass testing and contact tracing of those with or suspected of having COVID-19 in March because a surge in new cases at that time would have been beyond the system’s capacity, government advisers said on Friday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for scaling back testing and tracing in March, only to ramp up the system in recent weeks to try to ease out of a lockdown to tackle the coronavirus outbreak that has all but shut down the economy.

Johnson’s government repeatedly says it has been guided in its fight against the coronavirus by scientific and medical advice, and on Friday, John Newton, Britain’s testing coordinator, said it was ministers who ultimately decided on contact tracing.

Newton said the government’s scientific advisory group established in February that an increased rate of transmission of the virus in the community meant it would not be worth carrying on with mass contact tracing.

“When, in March, it became apparent that community transmission was occurring … that decision was then enacted. It was a decision of course of government, informed by all its advisers not just Public Health England,” he told parliament’s science and technology committee.

He said the advice from modellers in March was that Britain in a short period would have as many as a million cases – something that would stretch even those countries with large testing and tracing capabilities.

“At that point it was the government’s very significant decision, made by government, to move to lockdown as the most appropriate response to the epidemiology in the UK at the time,” he said.

On other measures where Britain is adopting different advice to other countries, Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, told the committee the advice to the public to keep two metres apart would be kept under review.

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UK PM Johnson will not face criminal action over relationship with U.S. businesswoman: Mirror

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not face criminal action following allegations of misconduct over his relationship with U.S tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Thursday.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct launched an investigation last September following a newspaper report that Johnson, when mayor of London, had failed to disclose his personal links to Arcuri, who received thousands of pounds in public business funding and places on official trade trips.

Johnson denied any wrongdoing, saying everything was done with full propriety and that there was no interest to declare.

The IOPC, the British police watchdog, was due to announce its findings later on Thursday but the Mirror, citing unnamed sources, said on its website it was expected to recommend there be no criminal investigation.

The matter was referred to the watchdog because Johnson was head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, a role equivalent to a police commissioner, during his 2008-2016 term as mayor.

The Greater London Authority said it had alerted the IOPC because Innotech, Arcuri’s then company, had received 11,500 pounds ($14,073) from London & Partners, the mayor’s promotional agency, for two events in 2013 and 2014.

She was attended a trade mission to Singapore and Malaysia in 2014 through Playbox, one of her companies, even though an initial application through Innotech had been declined.

Last October, the government’s Internal Audit Agency ruled a decision to award a 100,000 pound grant to a company run by Arcuri was appropriate.

Arcuri gave a number of TV interviews after the allegations came to light, saying she and Johnson had enjoyed a “very special relationship”, having bonded over classical literature, but said he had never shown her any favouritism.

She repeatedly refused to say whether she had had an affair with Johnson but castigated him, saying he had cast her aside like “some gremlin” after the reports surfaced.

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UK COVID-19 death toll nears 43,000: official data

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 official death toll has reached nearly 43,000, underlining the country’s status as the worst-hit in Europe and raising more questions about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the crisis.

New official figures for England and Wales brought the death toll to at least 42,990, a Reuters tally showed, which includes previously published data from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well recent hospital deaths in England.

Tuesday’s data from the Office for National Statistics also painted a grim picture in care homes, which have been especially hard hit by the virus that has killed more than 317,700 worldwide.

The death toll in care homes across the United Kingdom surpassed 10,000 as of May 8, the data showed.

While different ways of counting make comparisons with other countries difficult, the figure confirmed Britain was among those hit worst by the pandemic.

Such a high UK death toll increases the pressure on Johnson. Opposition parties say he was too slow to impose a lockdown, too slow to introduce mass testing and too slow to get enough protective equipment to hospitals.

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UK COVID-19 death toll nears 43,000: official data

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 official death toll has reached nearly 43,000, underlining the country’s status as the worst-hit in Europe and raising more questions about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the crisis.

New official figures for England and Wales brought the death toll to at least 42,990, a Reuters tally showed, which includes previously published data from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well recent hospital deaths in England.

Tuesday’s data from the Office for National Statistics also painted a grim picture in care homes, which have been especially hard hit by the virus that has killed more than 317,700 worldwide.

The death toll in care homes across the United Kingdom surpassed 10,000 as of May 8, the data showed.

While different ways of counting make comparisons with other countries difficult, the figure confirmed Britain was among those hit worst by the pandemic.

Such a high UK death toll increases the pressure on Johnson. Opposition parties say he was too slow to impose a lockdown, too slow to introduce mass testing and too slow to get enough protective equipment to hospitals.

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China urges local companies to list in London in renewed global push: sources

LONDON/HONG KONG/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China is urging domestic companies to look at listing in London, several sources told Reuters, as the country aims to revive deals under a Stock Connect scheme and strengthen overseas ties in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The Shanghai-London Stock Connect scheme, which began operating last year, aims to build links between Britain and China, help Chinese companies expand their investor base and give mainland investors access to UK-listed companies.

The original plan was for several companies to take part in the scheme in the first couple of years, but so far only one company — Huatai Securities (HTSCq.L) — made the trip from Shanghai to London last June.

But now Chinese authorities have given the go-ahead for China Pacific Insurance (601601.SS) and SDIC Power (600886.SS) to move ahead with their London-listing plans, the sources said, after both deals were halted last year.

They also gave the nod to China Yangtze Power (600900.SS) to begin preparations for a secondary listing on the London Stock Exchange, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the matter is confidential.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission, the Shanghai Stock Exchange and China Pacific Insurance did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. SDIC Power and China Yangtze Power declined to comment. The London Stock Exchange declined to comment.

Under the London-Shanghai Connect Scheme, first announced in 2018, Chinese companies are allowed to add a secondary listing of Global Depositary Receipts in Britain that would be linked to shares in Shanghai.

The sources, including officials from banks, government and exchanges, said that the aim was to push for a resumption of listings under the Stock Connect scheme as China seeks to improve ties with the outside world and help to fund its post-lockdown recovery.

“In the second half of this year, we could see one or maybe two Chinese companies list in London,” said one of the sources, who is closely involved in the process.

“China is among the first countries to come out of lockdown, and is keen to get back on track with plans to improve trade relations with the UK,” he added.

Anti-China sentiment in the United States on several fronts and the troubles surrounding U.S.-listed Chinese coffee chain Luckin Coffee (LK.O) may have made the route to New York harder to navigate.

PIPELINE BUILDS

In London-Shanghai listings pipeline, China Pacific Insurance is likely to be the first Chinese company to make its London debut this year, seeking to raise between $2 billion and $3 billion, and it could price the sale in September or October this year, a second source said.

China Yangtse Power is another sizable listing, which could raise about $2.5 billion from a deal that will equal about 5% of its share capital, the second source said.

The share listings will not necessarily be an easy sell in the current environment, a third source said, who is a London-based banker involved in some of the transactions.

“The IPO market is like to remain shaky for a good while yet, and these are not ‘need to own’ assets. Investors will already be busy supporting the companies in their portfolio and are likely to be selective,” he said.

The market for initial public offerings (IPOs) has been all but shut since the outbreak of COVID-19 across the world, which has hit global economic growth, wreaked havoc on stocks and pushed market volatility to its highest in years.

Many companies have been raising funds in the secondary markets to keep businesses going through the lockdowns imposed in much of the world. But there were only eight new listings in the first quarter of 2020, the lowest number since 2009, Refinitiv data showed.

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We want to work with teachers to restart schools: UK PM's spokesman

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government wants to work with teachers and trade unions to help some students return to schools from June 1, the British leader’s spokesman said on Monday, trying to ease growing concerns.

Some teachers have criticised the government for moving too quickly to return some students to schools, part of concerns in Britain that the country is not ready even for the tentative easing of rules to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“We continue to want to work with teachers, head teachers and the unions in order to find a way to have a controlled and careful return of some year groups from June 1 at the earliest,” the spokesman told reporters.

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