England’s test and trace service is being sub-contracted to a myriad of private companies employing inexperienced contact tracers under pressure to meet targets, a Guardian investigation has found.
Under a complex system, firms are being paid to carry out work under the government’s £22bn test and trace programme. Serco, the outsourcing firm, is being paid up to £400m for its work on test and trace, but it has subcontracted a bulk of contact tracing to 21 other companies.
Contact tracers working for these companies told the Guardian they had received little training, with one saying they were doing sensitive work while sitting beside colleagues making sales calls for gambling websites:
Germany will likely be able to avoid another recession despite a second national lockdown in the coronavirus pandemic, due to start on Wednesday, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told public radio Deutschlandfunk on Monday.
“I hope we can prevent a complete economic standstill in the second wave of the pandemic,” he said.
Here are the key global developments from the last few hours:
After reports that Trump and other White House staff would be offered the coronavirus vaccine on Monday, the US president said that he was not scheduled to receive the vaccine, tweeting, “People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary. I have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time. Thank you!” Although Trump has had coronavirus and so does not need to have the vaccine, his taking it is meant to instil confidence in Americans that the vaccine is safe.
London mayor said surge in cases “deeply concerning”. The surge in coronavirus cases across London is “deeply concerning” and requires further Government action to be brought under control, Sadiq Khan has said. He wrote to Boris Johnson on Sunday requesting for an immediate increase in Covid-19 testing provision across the capital in response to the rising number of infections.
Vaccination clinics run by family doctors will begin across England from Monday but people have been warned that a rise in cases after Christmas socialising could disrupt the roll out of protective jabs. GP practices in more than 100 locations will have the approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine delivered to them on Monday, with some offering vaccinations within hours.
South Korea ordered schools to shut. South Korea ordered schools to close from Tuesday in the capital Seoul and surrounding areas as it battles its worst outbreak of novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in February.
The US is on the brink of marking the sad milestone of 300,000 dead from coronavirus in just under a year. The US death toll, a fifth of the global total, currently stands at 299,168, according to Johns Hopkins University.
ESwatini (formerly Swaziland) Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who tested positive for COVID-19 four weeks ago, has died at age 52 after being hospitalised in neighbouring South Africa, the tiny absolute monarchy’s government said late on Sunday.
The Dutch government will decide on stricter measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands on Monday, as the country reported the biggest rise in infections in more than six weeks.
Schools in Greenwich, south-east London, have been asked to close from Monday evening after “exponential growth” of coronavirus demanded “immediate action”, the council said, amid reports that the capital is likely to enter tier 3 soon.
Bahrain has approved a Covid-19 vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and launched online registration for the vaccine for citizens and residents. Citizens and residents above 18 years of age could register online to receive the vaccine for free.
Mauritania has reimposed a night-time curfew in in the face of a “worrying surge” in Covid-19 cases and deaths, the president’s office said.
Greece has reported 693 new coronavirus cases – the lowest daily figure since mid-October. There have been a further 85 deaths.
Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said he is recovering from Covid-19, in his first televised appearance since he was treated in a German hospital almost two months ago.
Teachers in England have described a nightmarish term in schools in which Covid has triggered soaring anxiety levels, exhaustion and fear, driving many to consider quitting and even self-harm.
As schools limp towards Christmas with flagging attendances and rising cases in some areas, teachers said they lived in constant fear of catching the virus in school, and were overstretched and understaffed. They complained of feeling abandoned by the government and unfairly vilified by some parts of the media.
Many of the 200-plus teachers who responded to an appeal from the Guardian to share their experiences expressed anger and despair. “We really have been thrown to the lions,” said one primary school teacher working in Swale, Kent, one of the worst-affected regions in the country:
England’s family doctors to administer vaccine starting Monday
Vaccination clinics run by family doctors will begin across England from Monday but people have been warned that a rise in cases after Christmas socialising could disrupt the roll out of protective jabs, PA Media reports.
GP practices in more than 100 locations will have the approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine delivered to them on Monday, with some offering vaccinations within hours.
The majority will begin providing vaccination services to their local community from Tuesday, NHS England and NHS Improvement said.
NHS staff including nurses and pharmacists will work alongside GPs to inoculate those aged 80 and over, as well as care home workers and residents.
The vaccination centres will operate from doctors’ surgeries or community hubs in villages, towns and cities.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams are about to embark on an enormous challenge, delivering the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the community whilst also delivering the expanded flu vaccine programme and the usual care and services our patients rely on us for.”
The opening of the community centres comes after dozens of hospital hubs began offering vaccinations from last Tuesday.
London mayor says surge in cases “deeply concerning”
The surge in coronavirus cases across London is “deeply concerning” and requires further Government action to be brought under control, Sadiq Khan has said.
PA Media: The Mayor of London wrote to Boris Johnson on Sunday requesting for an immediate increase in Covid-19 testing provision across the capital in response to the rising number of infections.
Mr Khan also asked for a compensation scheme to be put in place for businesses ahead of any further restrictions being imposed on the city.
He warned that moving London from Tier 2 into Tier 3 would have a “catastrophic” economic impact on businesses and put “hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at stake”.
The Government said it will review all tiers in England on 16 December.
Mr Khan said: “The surge in coronavirus cases across our capital is deeply concerning.
“I am calling on the Government to urgently provide additional support to get the spread under control, save lives and livelihoods and ensure our NHS is not overwhelmed this winter.
“Increased testing is key to this, which is why I want to see regular asymptomatic testing extended to all those unable to work from home and to students and staff at London’s secondary schools, sixth-form college and FE (further education) colleges.”
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Monday reported 718 new coronavirus cases, down from the record daily increase of 1,030 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 682 were locally transmitted, it said.
Most of the new cases were in Seoul, the neighbouring port city of Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province, home to over 25 million people.
South Korea’s total infections now stands at 43,484, with 587 deaths.
Medical professionals work at a makeshift coronavirus testing clinic at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA
The government launched a massive tracing effort involving hundreds of troops, police and officials to help track down virus carriers.
Some experts said the government and the public needed to do more.
“This is the time to send an impactful message to the public, so that they can take voluntary actions,” said Kim Dong-hyun, president of Korean Society of Epidemiology and a professor at Hallym University College of Medicine.
Under a Phase 3 lockdown, only essential workers would be allowed into offices and gatherings would be capped at less than 10 people.
South Korea orders schools to shut
South Korea ordered schools to close from Tuesday in the capital Seoul and surrounding areas as it battles its worst outbreak of novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in February, Reuters reports.
Schools in the capital region would move classes online until the end of the month, in the latest ratcheting up of social distancing measures which so far have failed to reverse the spike in infections.
The school closure is a step towards the imposition of Phase 3 social distancing rules, a move that would essentially lock down Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said such a step required careful review, as the government comes under mounting pressure to do more to step the rise of infections.
In the Australian state of Victoria, the state’s “world-class” contact tracing systems now in place could have been established before the state’s second wave of coronavirus if the health department had been less defensive and listened to advice earlier, a parliamentary committee has found.
The state’s upper house inquiry report, released on Monday, also found that the department should have moved faster to communicate effectively with culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and the lack of preparedness “cost lives”: