The government’s decision to ban mass gatherings is described by the Guardian, the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph as a “U-turn” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, just 24 hours after he insisted he would not follow Scotland’s lead in doing so.
The Telegraph quotes Whitehall sources admitting the coronavirus situation was now “accelerating very quickly”. It says events such as Wimbledon, Glastonbury Festival and the Grand National could be axed, with new laws allowing the government to pay them compensation.
The Financial Times says the policy reversal follows growing pressure for the UK to move further into the “delay” phase of its action plan after other European countries took much tougher measures. For the Guardian, Mr Johnson’s “cautious approach” was taken after “the most dramatic day of the crisis so far”.
The Times suggests that police will be able to detain infected people, and schools and nurseries could be forced to stay open, as part of a package of emergency powers to be introduced next week. The paper says councils will be allowed to “lower standards in care homes” to cope with staff shortages, and there will also be measures to speed up cremations and burials.
The Times adds that ministers believe the virus will infect the majority of the population, and the new laws are likely to stay in place for two years.
According to the Daily Mail, hospitals could “stop treating” the most severely ill victims of coronavirus as the outbreak escalates. It says new intensive care guidelines being drawn up could even mean that patients with a “poor prognosis” are “taken off ventilators in favour of those with better survival chances”. The Mail says that doctors are already reporting that wards look like “war zones”.
“Virus Wipes Out Sport,” the Daily Mirror declares, referring to sport being “crippled”, fears of big job losses and football clubs being “driven to the wall”. The Mirror, the Daily Express and the Daily Star all raise the prospect that the domestic football season might have to be abandoned.
According to the online Independent, Europe’s football authorities are braced for a “total shutdown” until at least September. It quotes a source close to high-level talks dismissing the idea that matches might resume early next month as “ludicrous”.
The Sun leads on a story about a newborn baby who it says tested positive for the virus within minutes of being born at a hospital in London. The child’s mother had been rushed there with “suspected pneumonia”. They are now being treated at separate hospitals. The paper declares the baby the “world’s youngest victim”.
The Daily Express suggests that a team of scientists at Imperial College London are “on the brink” of developing a vaccine to combat the virus. A scientist tells the paper it has worked “really well” when tested on mice. But the paper adds that even if clinical trials proceed as well as the team hope, a vaccine would not be available for patients for another year.
Elsewhere, there’s considerable disquiet about the government’s strategy of allowing the country to develop so-called “herd immunity” – when enough people have resistance to make it much harder for a virus to spread.
The Daily Mirror highlights comments made by the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, that around 60% of the population would need to get Covid-19 for the UK to establish “herd immunity”. He also said the illness was likely to become an annual seasonal infection.
In her column in the i, the Spectator’s deputy political editor, Katy Balls, says many Tories are “twitchy” about this “high stakes” strategy. “Most people want a chance to stay healthy”, an unnamed backbencher is quoted as saying.
In other news, the Sun is among a number of papers to report that the actors union, Equity, has apologised to actor Laurence Fox and agreed an out-of-court settlement for calling him a “disgrace to our industry”. Equity’s minority ethnic members’ committee had criticised him over comments he made on the BBC’s Question Time programme in January.
The actor had argued that the media’s treatment of the Duchess of Sussex was not racist, and that it was racist for an audience member to label him “a white privileged male”. However, the Guardian says the entire committee has resigned in protest at Equity’s apology.
And the Times reports on a growing nuisance in Berlin – a population of thousands of wild boars digging up gardens and cemeteries, and roaming into shops.
They have become so accustomed to urban life that they’re now crossing roads at traffic lights, it says. Biologists reckon the boars are unlikely to have worked out the significance of red and green lights, but have probably observed cars stopping there and pedestrians crossing safely. The Times concludes that they have learnt how to “save their bacon”.