Reports suggest that coronavirus may have been spreading across the UK since late 2019, months before it was detected.
The World Health Organisation has said that it was struggling to obtain information regarding coronavirus from China in the early days, before it was declared a global pandemic.
The Guardian reports that genetic analyses of the new coronavirus suggested the virus emerged in humans in China in late November to early December 2019, with some data suggesting the first known case was observed on November 17th.
China’s official submission to the WHO states the first infection was December 8th.
The first confirmed date of coronavirus in the UK was January 31st. But as our understanding of the range of distinct symptoms of the virus has grown, many people wonder if they or their loved ones could have had it earlier.
Dr Stephen Baker at Cambridge University’s Infectious Diseases Institute told The Guardian: “People are on heightened awareness about any sort of respiratory infection and it is easy to retrofit stories to things.
“Let’s say it was kicking off fairly substantially in Wuhan and people weren’t being informed: could there have been people travelling to and from China at that point who may have been infected by coronavirus? That is completely possible. Is it then possible that they transmitted the virus to other people when they were in the UK? Yes, of course that’s possible.”
Last month it was reported that swabs from a man, thought to be suffering from pneumonia, tested positive for Covid-19 in Paris on December 27th. This would mean that COVID-19 was in Europe a month earlier than previously thought.
Last month Tim Spector, an epidemiologist professor reporting on the symptom-tracking app developed at King College London, said: “The reports I am getting are from people who were ill from early January onwards and strongly suggest they had Covid-19 but were not recognised as such.”
On March 13th, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies concluded that: “there are more cases in the UK than previously thought and we may therefore be further ahead of the epidemic curve”.
Dr Baker explained that it would take an influx of infected people to cause real growth in the epidemic in the UK. He attributes this potentially people coming back from holidays in February half term such as ski holidays in Italy.
He said: It’s really at the point when you get a number of introductions in one go that onward transmission is more likely to happen … as soon as you get a certain number of the population infected in one go then you make that expansion of an epidemic [more likely].”
Baker also says that not everyone who has coronavirus is equally infectious and earlier cases might have been people who did not come into contact with others. He said: “When you’re ill, you tend to stay at home, so people may have been self-isolating on the basis that they didn’t feel very well.”
A clinical lecturer in infectious diseases at King’s College London, Nathalie MacDermott, has said that the virus could have been spreading silently and gaining access to more vulnerable sections of the population.
The WHO has encouraged countries to investigate other suspicious cases to better understand the circulation of the virus.
Public Health England has also acknowledged that it ‘cannot exclude the possibility that Covid-19 was in the UK in December or early January’.
People on working tax credits will get a £500 one-off payment, Rishi Sunak confirms
Make sure you know about this
Brits on tax credits get a one-off benefits payment of £500, Rishi Sunak reveals in budget.
Outlined in the budget, Sunak explained that a £20 weekly increase in universal credit will extend for a further six months.
The chancellor explains that by the way Working Tax Credits system works people will not be able to receive the extra £20 weekly.
Instead, people will benefit from a £500 one-off payment.
Mr Sunak said: “To support low-income households, the Universal Credit uplift of £20 a week will continue for a further six months, well beyond the end of this national lockdown
“We’ll provide Working Tax Credit claimants with equivalent support for the next six months.
“Because of the way that system works operationally, we’ll need to do so with a one-off payment of £500.”
The £500 tax credit boost will run in the same way that the Universal Credit is paid – automatically.
Lots of people have switched from the old ‘Tax Credit’ to the new ‘Universal Credit’ system. Anyone who hasn’t yet been transferred across will now be eligible for this new one-off payment.
The number of people claiming universal credit in the UK has doubled since the start of the pandemic, reaching 6 million people at the start of this year.
The extra benefit support is welcomed but many are raising concerns that six months is not long enough.
Sunak also revealed in today’s budget that furlough will be extended until September but employers will have to pay 10% of the employee’s wages in July and 20% in August and September.
You can see a round-up of all the key points from the budget here.
What Rishi Sunak’s new budget means for people in Greater Manchester
Everything you need to know
Rishi Sunak has said he wants to be honest about the government’s plans for fixing the public finances.
The chancellor says there has been ‘acute damage’ to the economy, with more than 700,000 people losing jobs and the economy shrinking by 10% – the largest fall in 300 years.
Borrowing has also been as high as during wartime.
He said: “It’s going to take this country, and the whole world, a long time to recover from this extraordinary situation.”
Here are the key points from his 2021 budget announcement….
- Sunak explains that 1.8 million fewer people are expected to be out of work than previously thought, with the peak at 6.5% down from the forecasted peak of 11.9%.
- Furlough is set to be extended until the end of September this year, however, firms will be asked to contribute 10% of employee’s wages in July and 20% in August and September as the scheme is gradually phased out.
- A fourth grant worth 80% of average trading profits up to £7,500 covering February to April that will help self-employed people.
- The £20 increase in universal credit will extend for six months
- Total cash support to businesses has reached £25bn. A further £5bn restart grant has now been confirmed to help companies get going after lockdown.
- Hospitality and leisure businesses will pay no business rates for three months, then discounted for the remaining nine months of the year by two-thirds.
- The 5% VAT cut will be extended to the end of September and gradually increased at 12.5% for six months before returning to the normal rate in April 2022.
- The stamp duty holiday will be extended on properties up to £500,000 to the end of June. It will return to normal levels from October 1st.
- Mortgage guarantees were also confirmed to help first-time buyers access 95% mortgages, with just 5% deposits.
- The government will take a ‘fair’ approach to ‘fixing the public finances’ the chancellor confirms.
- There will be no increase in national insurance, income tax or VAT.
- The personal allowance will remain at £12,750 until 2026 and the higher rate will increase to £50,270 next year.
- Inheritance tax threshold, pensions lifetime allowance, annual exempt allowance from capital gains tax and VAT exemption thresholds will all be frozen.
- New minimum wage rates come into force in England on April 1st. Basic rate workers will see a 2.2% increase, with the National Living Wage rising to £8.91 an hour.
- The budget deficit will reach £355billion this year (17% of GDP) – the highest level in peacetime.
- Sunak said: “It’s going to be the work of many governments over many decades to pay it back, just as it would be irresponsible to withdraw support too soon, it would also be irresponsible to allow our future borrowing and debt to rise unchecked.”
- The chancellor explains that the economy will recover more quickly than previously thought.
- GDP will grow by 4% this year and 7.3% next year according to official forecasts.
Contactless payment limit set to increase to £100
It’s hoped this will provide a much-needed boost to the retail sector
Rishi Sunak is set to announce in the budget today an increase in contactless payment limit up to £100.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the contactless limit was increased from £30 to £45 and it is hoped this second increase will provide a much-needed boost to the retail sector.
Some industry sources have expressed alarm at the new threshold, warning of the potential increase in fraud, according to Sky News.
The increase in the limit was made possible due to Brexit. The European Commission set the limit to €50.
Sunak is expected to highlight the important of ‘pinging’ payments as shoppers continue to rely less on cash.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, he said: “London’s retail sector is famous across the world, with Oxford Street, Covent Garden and Westfield seen as global destinations for shopping.
“As we begin to open the UK economy and people return to the high street, the contactless limit increase will make it easier than ever before for people to pay for their shopping, providing a welcome boost to retail that will protect jobs and drive growth across the capital.”
The chancellor is set to unveil the budget at 12:30pm today. He is expected to offer more information on the mortgage scheme that will offer 5% deposit as well as extending the stamp duty holiday and increase corporation tax from 19% to 23%.
Sunak is also set to announce the extension of furlough until September and information on a £5bn scheme to help firms such as shops, clubs and gyms.