#worldnews | Wednesday briefing: Viral alarm spreads through Europe | World news

Top story: World ‘simply not ready’ for pandemic

Hello, I’m Warren Murray with your automatic update for Wednesday.

Schools could close and travel around the UK might be restricted under stepped-up government plans to deal with the coronavirus as its spread accelerates across Europe. Switzerland, Austria and Croatia are among countries that have reported their first cases and the death toll has risen in Italy to at least 11. At least a dozen schools across the UK have sent students and staff into self-isolation at home after they returned from virus-hit northern Italy. Plans have been announced to test flu patients in an attempt to spot whether Covid-19 is spreading in Britain.

In Geneva, Dr Bruce Aylward, head of the WHO-Chinese mission to Wuhan, called for countries to “prepare for a potential pandemic” by readying hospital beds, isolation zones and respirators. He said hundreds of thousands of people did not get Covid-19 because of China’s aggressive response but other nations were “simply not ready … Access the expertise of China. They have done this at speed and they know what they are doing. They are really, really good at it.” You can find the latest updates at our live blog.

IFS call to raise taxes in budget – The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, should fund Boris Johnson’s spending promises with tax rises in next month’s budget, rather than entrench austerity or break Conservative election promises by increasing borrowing. The tax and spending thinktank says the government is on track to borrow about £63bn next year – £23bn more than the most recent official forecasts. It says the Tories are heading towards breaking their election pledge to balance day-to-day government spending with tax income by the middle of the current parliament. To help balance the books Sunak could abolish entrepreneurs relief, which costs £2.3bn and only benefits as few as 5,000 individuals, and reform council tax to target the most expensive homes, says the IFS. Tory MPs who wrested “red wall” seats from Labour are warning Sunak not to “clobber” their blue-collar communities with a mooted rise in fuel duty.

Midweek catch-up

> Democratic candidates have bickered and shouted over each other in a series of chaotic exchanges in the final debate before the South Carolina presidential primary and Super Tuesday contests.

Sanders and Bloomberg come under attack in Democratic debate – video

Bernie Sanders bore the brunt of criticism from a number of his centrist rivals including Joe Biden, who has declared he intends to win in the state on Saturday and pledged to nominate an African American woman to the supreme court if elected.

> A coalition of business, politicians and campaigners is demanding the government stamp out the “curse” of those single-use plastic sachets used for everything from ketchup to shampoo – 855bn of which are discarded every year globally, often unopened and enough to cover the entire surface of the Earth.

> At a Labour leadership hustings in Manchester, frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer has come under sustained fire from Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy over what Nandy called Labour’s “tone deaf” approach to Brexit in the general election.

Labour leadership candidates clash over Brexit at Guardian hustings – video

Starmer rejected this analysis, saying that “fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly”, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was the number one issue on the doorstep, as well as what he called “manifesto overload”. The race to succeed Corbyn is intensifying as party members start to cast their ballots.

> The singer Duffy has broken a lengthy absence from public life with an Instagram post saying she had been drugged, held captive and raped over a number of days and had spent a long time recovering. Duffy did not give details but said she planned to post a spoken interview explaining her story.

> Seagulls are more likely to peck at discarded food if a person pretends to eat it before dropping it, researchers have found. This was established using some flapjacks in blue wrappers, a supply of blue sponges and a pair of sunglasses.

‘Corridor nursing’ – A&E units are so overcrowded that growing numbers of patients have to be looked after in hospital corridors, with nurses and doctors warning of the risks of harm. A Royal College of Nursing survey found 73% of those polled said they looked after patients in a “non-designated area” such as corridors every day. Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “It is shameful that corridor care has become the norm and this survey reflects the reality emergency department staff experience on a daily basis.” Meanwhile a separate report warns that patients are not recovering properly from stroke or heart attack because the NHS offers too little rehabilitation after they leave hospital. It says a “postcode lottery” in the availability of community rehabilitation in England is having “devastating consequences”.

Door to the past – A secret passageway rediscovered during restoration work in the Palace of Westminster has revealed 169-year-old graffiti from stonemasons, one of whom wrote: “This room was enclosed by Tom Porter who was very fond of Ould Ale.” The route into Westminster Hall was built for the coronation of Charles II in the 17th century and used afterwards by the likes of Robert Walpole and William Pitt the younger. It was eventually bricked up and covered with wooden panelling – but not before someone put in a large 1950s-era Osram lightbulb marked “HM Government Property” that still lit up when amazed historians got in and flicked the switch. Experts working on the restoration found the passage when they noticed a tiny keyhole, had a key made and swung the panelling open.

Today in Focus podcast: India, Modi and the rise of Hindu nationalism

With Delhi rocked by deadly protests as Muslim and Hindu groups clash, Guardian writer Samanth Subramanian looks at the rise of Hindu nationalism within India. And: Daniel Boffey on the EU’s negotiating position with the UK.

Today in Focus

Modi rides Hindu nationalist wave

Lunchtime read: ‘They could shut us down tomorrow’

Maria Ressa, editor of the Rappler website, has been engaged since 2016 in a running battle with paid trolls, influencers, bot armies and fake news websites run by supporters of Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines. After being arrested and bailed eight times in the past year, she will soon learn the outcome of her trial on libel charges, which could bring a sentence of anywhere from 12 to 83 years. “They could shut us down tomorrow. But we will fight everything, both in court and by telling stories. Our fame is our only protection.”

Maria Ressa, the award-winning editor of Rappler, after being bailed in February 2019.

Maria Ressa, the award-winning editor of Rappler, after being bailed in February 2019. Photograph: Bullit Marquez/AP

Rappler was among the first publications in the world to shine a light on how populist leaders are harnessing social media to win power. Duterte’s online playbook has been adopted by the likes of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro – a toxic mix of viral disinformation and intimidation of independent media. Rappler built a vast database exposing Duterte’s network but Ressa sheets the blame home to the likes of Facebook and Twitter. “If the social media platforms don’t take the gatekeeping seriously they will kill the public sphere,” says Ressa. “If we don’t get this right in 2020 you can open a decade or longer of a descent into fascism.”


Frank Lampard admitted that Chelsea are a long way from challenging the elite after Bayern Munich all but secured a place in the last eight of the Champions League with a brutal 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. Antoine Griezmann’s equaliser cancelled out a fine opener from Napoli’s Dries Mertens to give Barcelona a 1-1 draw and the upper hand in their last-16 tie. Pep Guardiola believes that Manchester City are due a change in their luck as he prepares for the first leg of the last-16 tie at Real Madrid tonight. Heather Knight urged England to show their competitive mettle before going into battle against Thailand at the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup. At time of writing England are in position for an emphatic victory.

Andy Murray admits his career is still hanging by a thread, as he contemplates either returning to the tour in Miami next month or having another operation to clear up worrying complications around his repaired right hip. The Six Nations fixture between Ireland and Italy in Dublin on 7 March should not take place due to the risk posed by the coronavirus, the health minister of Ireland has said. LeBron James has spoken about his continuing grief over the death of Kobe Bryant last month. And surfer Kelly Slater has revealed plans for the world’s largest artificial wave, to be constructed in the California desert.


Asian shares have slid following another sharp fall on Wall Street as the virus outbreak continues to weigh on the global economy. Most indices have fallen – the Shanghai Composite reversed early losses to gain 0.3%, while Malaysia rose following recent losses due to political turmoil. The pound is worth $1.298 and €1.194 while the FTSE is off by half a per cent before the open.

The papers

Coronavirus is understandably everywhere today so we’ll abridge the headlines where possible to limit repetition. “Schools face closure …”, says the Times, as it discusses contingencies for a severe outbreak. The Telegraph reports that “mass testing” is among plans.

Guardian front page, Wednesday 26 February 2020

The Guardian says there is “Health advice confusion as virus sweeps across Europe” while the Mail tells of “Virus panic” as pupils and staff are sent home from 18 schools across the UK. The i has “UK virus plan revealed as outbreak spreads across Europe”.

The Mirror and Express both refer to it as the “Killer virus” as they lead on what the former calls a “Lockdown” of British tourists confined to their hotel rooms in Tenerife. The FT throws it forward: “Weak economy and” you-know-what “hit Tory tax and spending pledges”.

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