Follow the latest coronavirus news in Ireland and across the world on the Independent.ie live blog.

17:00 21/05/2020

WHO warns against use of hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19

A World Health Organisation official has warned against the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, following President Donald Trump’s claim on May 19 that he was taking the drug.

Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, noted that health authorities – including the US Food and Drug Administration – have issued warnings about the drug’s potentially lethal side effects. There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective for treating Covid-19.

Dr Ryan said: “Warnings have been issued by many authorities regarding the potential side effects of the drug, and many countries have limited its use to that of clinical trials, or during clinical trials, or under the supervision of clinicians in a hospital setting. That’s specifically for Covid-19 because of a number of potential side effects that have occurred and could occur.”

16:40 21/05/2020

UK lab say they will begin supply of Covid-19 vaccine in September

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AstraZeneca scientist at work in a laboratory (AstraZeneca/PA)

AstraZeneca has said it has the capacity to manufacture one billion doses of the University of Oxford’s potential Covid-19 vaccine and will begin supply in September.

The pharmaceutical firm said it has secured the first agreements for at least 400 million doses of the vaccine.

It said it aims to conclude further deals in order to expand capacity over the next few months to “ensure the delivery of a globally accessible vaccine”.

On Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that if the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate proves successful, then up to 30 million doses for the UK could be available by September.

The Oxford team is currently testing the vaccine candidate in humans.

16:20 21/05/2020

EasyJet to resume flights from June 15

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EasyJet is to resume flights from a number of UK airports from June 15 (EasyJet/PA)

EasyJet is to resume flights from a number of UK airports from June 15.

The low-cost carrier announced that its initial schedule will involve mainly domestic flying in the UK and France.

Further routes will be confirmed “over the coming weeks” as demand increases and coronavirus lockdown measures across Europe are relaxed, the airline said.

UK airports to be served by easyJet from June 15 include Gatwick, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Belfast.

The only international route from the UK will be between Gatwick and Nice, France.

16:00 21/05/2020

High-profile pubs co-owned by former Leinster star take High Court action against FBD

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Former Leinster star Eoin O’Malley . Photo: Diarmuid Green

Amy Molloy

A group of Dublin pubs co-owned and run by a former Leinster rugby star have taken High Court action against insurer FBD.

Pressure is mounting on insurance companies from businesses in the hospitality sector as restaurants and pubs prepare “for the big battle ahead” as they look to recover losses suffered due to the coronavirus.

Hyper Trust Ltd, trading as the Leopardstown Inn, is the latest to initiate proceedings.

15:40 21/05/2020

Happy meal – why I’m no longer ashamed of loving a McDonald’s

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Cars queue at a reopened McDonald’s drive-thru (Brian Lawless/PA)

Tanya Sweeney

The Golden Arches. The Hamburglar. McNuggets. Happy Meals. It’s a restaurant so beloved it pretty much has its own instantly recognisable lexicon, and after nine weeks of a McDonald’s-free life, we can now return to its familiar fare.

Well, sort of. Dubliners can enjoy McDonald’s via one of six drive-thru restaurants. Naturally, the fast-food chain was trending on Twitter for much of yesterday. Those lucky enough to be within a chip’s throw of one of the six outlets were proclaiming that it was “like Christmas”.

McDonald’s is having a moment, but most of us have been ‘lovin’ it’ for as long as we can remember. All those lovely childhood afternoons spent eating high-salt, high-carb, high-fat food while a giant plastic model of a clown presided over us. All those birthday parties spent chucking paper hats, thick milkshakes and Happy Meal toys at each other.

15:15 21/05/2020

‘Time running out’ for testing plan before second wave, says top UK health figure

The Health Secretary has been told “time is running out” for the Government to launch its testing and tracing system if a possible second wave of coronavirus is to be avoided.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a testing and tracing system considered essential for easing the current coronavirus lockdown will be up and running by June 1.

But Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation – which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock because his members were “concerned” over an apparent lack of a clear strategy.

14.45 21/05/2020

WATCH: Face coverings could reduce the spread of virus

Face coverings could reduce the spread of Covid-19, according to a new study by the University of Edinburgh.

Research has found that wearing a face covering can reduce the forward distance of an exhaled breath by more than 90pc.

As the breath could contain small droplets of water, some of which may contain traces of the virus, experts have said that covering up the mouth and nose could help combat Covid-19.

Scientists testing the effectiveness of seven different types of face coverings, including medical grade and home made masks, say they could all potentially limit the spread of coronavirus.

Oxfam to close operations in 18 countries with potential loss of 1,450 jobs

Aid agency Oxfam International is to severely curtail its work because of the financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Its plans include the closure of operations in 18 countries at the potential cost of 1,450 jobs.

The organisation, which currently operates in 66 countries and whose global work is coordinated via 20 affiliate offices around the world, said in a statement that it has had to accelerate changes as a result of the pandemic.

Countries it will be exiting include Afghanistan, Egypt, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania. It said the changes will affect around 1,450 out of nearly 5,000 programme staff.

Following the changes, it will retain a physical presence in 48 countries, six of which it will explore as new independent affiliate members, including Indonesia and Kenya.

The organisation had started a 10-year strategic review in late 2018 in the wake of a sex scandal in Haiti that caused a global outcry and prompted many donors to withdraw their support, particularly in the UK, where it started operations in 1942.

Many of its charity shops, particularly in western Europe, have had to close, a visible sign of the financial damage caused by the scandal. Haiti is another country in which it will be closing operations.

“We’ve been planning this for some time but we are now accelerating key decisions in light of the effects of the global pandemic,” said Oxfam International’s interim executive director Chema Vera.

Oxfam said the changes will enable it to be more effective in tackling global poverty and inequality and helping people to survive humanitarian crises.

14.29 21/05/2020

Cabinet to approve indemnity for teachers marking Leaving Cert

Teachers and schools will be indemnified from any legal cases taken over the cancellation of Leaving Cert exams.

The Cabinet will today meet in-corporeally to sign off on plans for the State to cover the cost of any legal action resulting from the decision to introduce predictive grades rather than exams this year.

The Government cancelled the Leaving Cert earlier this month over concerns about holding exams safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move prompted fears among teachers that parents and students, who may be unhappy with their grades, will take legal action if they are unhappy with their results.

Rugby giant Devin Toner uses lockdown to brush up on his cookery skills

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Devin Toner and son Max at the kitchen counter where he has been busy cooking and baking. MAIN PHOTO: FRAN VEALE

What does a rugby player do in lockdown when there are no matches to play?

Well, if you are Devin Toner and you have a huge interest in food, you start re-exploring the canon of Italian dishes you would normally have the night before games.

Toner, the tallest man in rugby, standing at 6ft 11in, would usually have lasagne or another carb-loaded meal on the eve of lining out for Ireland or Leinster, his club for the last 14 years and for whom he has won 240 caps.

Over the last few weeks, the second-row has rediscovered some of the more traditional cooking methods from Italy, including one that involves using milk in lasagne instead of tinned tomatoes.

13.47 21/05/2020

‘We’re overwhelmed’ – four children left orphaned by coronavirus thank public as fundraiser raises over €200K

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Mikee Plangca holds a photograph of her father Miguel who was a factory worker and lost his life to Covid-19, leaving Mikee, and her 3 siblings, orphans. Photo: Frank McGrath

FOUR children left orphaned by Covid-19 have been “overwhelmed” by the generosity of strangers who donated to a fundraiser in their aid.

Miguel Plangca, who was originally from the Philippines, passed away from the virus last week, leaving behind his children Mikee (21), Michael (19), John (14) and Chekie (12).

Their mother Gilceria passed away from Cancer in 2015. Mikee shared the story of the family’s heartbreak with Independent.ie on Tuesday and since then a GofundMe page set up to support her and her siblings has raised over €200,000.

Fraudsters pose as nurses on dating sites as coronavirus scams soar in the UK

Reports Henry Vaughan, PA

Fraudsters are posing as nurses on dating sites as they seek to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic.

National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK director general Lynn Owens said online shopping fraud is up 46pc since the lockdown, “making it one of the biggest growth areas in crime”, with Covid-19 now linked to around 3pc of all scams reported.

Criminals are playing on people’s fears, offering fake or non-existent items for sale, including game consoles, personal protective equipment (PPE), medicines, hand sanitiser, and even puppies, she told reporters on Thursday.

“We’ve even seen reports of a dating fraud where people are pretending to be… a nurse in a hospital and say, ‘I need money to help me to get to work’, and abuse people that way,” she said.

Investigators also fear organised crime gangs could try to exploit the Government’s financial stimulus package.

The NCA is working with the Cabinet Office, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and HMRC to identify fraudulent claims being made.

Ms Owens said production of cocaine in South America and heroin in Asia has continued “almost unaffected” by Covid-19, but restriction of movement rules has allowed the agency to intercept large batches.

The NCA was involved in the seizure of some 25 tonnes of Class A drugs around the world last month, including two tonnes of cocaine off the coast of Panama, another four tonnes off the coast of Spain and Portugal, and hundreds of kilos of heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ms Owens said: “Restrictions have meant fewer opportunities for criminals to move drugs in smaller, more discreet amounts, especially through passenger traffic, which in turn means they’ve had to take more risks and move more drugs in bulk.

“Criminals may believe that authorities are distracted, particularly at ports, and think there is an opportunity to import larger quantities. We have shown this is far from the truth.”

12.55 21/05/2020

Martin criticises ‘foolish’ reopening decisions that ‘make no sense’

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin speaking to the media outside Leinster House, Dublin ahead of the first sitting of the 33rd Dail (PA)

Reports Political Correspondent Cormac McQuinn

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said it’s “foolish” that hardware stores have been allowed reopen but homeware shops have to stay closed as coronavirus restrictions were eased this week.

He said reopening measures have to “make sense” and also that there should be “more nuance” suggesting people who live more than 5km from their local golf course should be allowed travel there for a game.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that the transmission of coronavirus has effectively been suppressed in the community.

He said this week’s easing of restrictions has seen people return to work and shops reopen.

Mr Varadkar said there has been “broad compliance” with the new rules.

Mr Martin pointed to Department of Health research showing that 85pc of people are willing to wear face covering where recommended and said that he doesn’t believe that complacency has to be feared.

But he said: “Rather, we have to have clarity in what is proposed so that measures make sense and are credible.”

He warned that it’s “uncertainty and inconsistency which causes trouble.”

Mr Martin highlighted the rules on which retailers could open this week saying: “The division between, which shops are allowed to open, and those which must remain closed, simply makes no sense.”

“And in some cases it’s damaging the credibility of the overall restrictions.”

He argued: “The distinction between hardware stores and homeware stores in my view is foolish.

“And there’s now no doubt whatsoever that stores which are allowed to open are actively trying to fill the gaps created by keeping other types of stores closed. “From a competition perspective, there has been a clear unfairness there.”

He also raised concern that the 5km limit on travel for exercise is “simply concentrating movement into a limited number of locations, the exact opposite of what we should want.”

Mr Martin said it makes it harder to sustain social distancing in areas with a higher population density” and doesn’t appear to be part of the restrictions being used by other countries which are a similar stage in their response efforts.

Mr Martin added: “I don’t play golf, but if you’re saying you can play golf on the one hand, but then you can’t really play golf if your golf course is six kilometres away I think that’s the kind of stuff we just need to refine maybe to be more nuanced in how we do things.”

He said there should be consultation with every sector on reopening as they may propose solutions that haven’t occurred to officials.

Businesses warned not to reopen unless ‘allowed to do so’ under Covid roadmap

THE Government has warned businesses that they should not reopen unless they are “allowed to do so” under the roadmap as they risk undermining progress being made to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Department of the Taoiseach senior official Liz Canavan said there are concerns that businesses “which are not aligned with the roadmap” are reopening earlier than set out in the Government’s roadmap document.

“We understand the temptation to do so for retailers and for customers. But we have to be really clear: even if you’re applying the return to work safety protocol you cannot open unless you’re specifically allowed to do so under the roadmap,” Ms Canavan told a briefing on Thursday.

Along with essential services like supermarkets and pharmacies a limited number of retail outlets are designated as being able to reopen under phase one of the roadmap which came into effect on Monday. These include garden centres, hardware stores, IT and electrical shops, mobile phone shops, and car and bike mechanics.

‘Bonkers’ – TD critical of health advice that people should be in the same room as each other for more than two hours

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Alan Kelly of the Labour Party

Public health advice insisting people should not spend more than two hours in the same room as each other has been branded ‘bonkers’.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said the advice, which has limited the length of time Oireachtas Committees can sit, is creating a “George Orwell situation” where “some are more equal than others”.

“If it applies in here, it applies in the courts, it applies with the pharmacists, with the shops, with the meat factories, with the gardai and for everyone else,” Mr Kelly said.

The Labour leader’s intervention came after it was suggested courts could only sit for two hours a day in line with advice the Houses of the Oireachtas received from the HSE on committee hearings.

The Special Committee on Covid-19 Response had been told witnesses should not be in the chamber for longer than two hours at a time over fears about the virus being spread among those in attendance.

WATCH: Heathrow Airport trials new thermal screening measures

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said he backs the idea of “air bridges” between countries with low levels of infection, to provide a fillip to the beleaguered tourism sector.

It comes as the airport begina trialling new thermal screening measures to detect elevated temperatures of arriving passengers, which Mr Holland-Kaye said “could be part of a future common international standard to get people flying again”.

Clampdown coming on people who won’t work in order to keep seeking pandemic payments – Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that there will be a clampdown on people who are asked to return to work but refuse in order to keep receiving the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP).

Speaking on this morning’s Newstalk Breakfast programme, he said that if a person is offered their job back after the pandemic but refuse to take it, they will lose eligibility.

“If somebody is offered their job back and they refuse to take their job back, they lose eligibility for the payment,” he said.

“We will need to do a bit of enforcement around that but before we start to do any of these things, we wanted to make sure that people could actually [live].”

11.35 21/05/2020

Over €1bn in wage subsidy scheme payments made so far

This morning’s briefing from spokesperson at the department of taoiseach Liz Canavan at government buildings:

  • ‘Slow and steady will win the race’
  • ‘Do your exercise and go’ in areas which may be busy, such as beaches
  • Business: those reopening with safety protocols in place but not listed in phase one in the roadmap, ‘are not respecting the spirit’ of the map and are ‘slowing down progress’
  • 473,500 employees have received at least one payment under Wage Subsidy Scheme
  • €1bn 48m worth of payments have been made so far
  • Flu vaccine: available free of charge to over 70s each year – it will now be available to children and at-risk groups for this year’s flu season
  • Passport services: emergency passports are still being processed for those abroad and in Ireland
  • Compliance: since April 8, new Covid regulation had to be invoked by Gardaí 241 times. An Garda Siochana is reporting high levels of compliance from the public
  • Funding of €1.4m allocated to support Tidy Towns, despite this year’s competition being cancelled, will remain with the group

10.48 21/05/2020

Full court sittings to resume ‘as soon as’ tomorrow

The Courts Service has confirmed that “full” court sittings may resume “as soon as tomorrow”.

Detailed advice was issued to the Service Presidents earlier this morning on the lengths of court sittings after public health advisors stated that meetings should not go on for longer than two hours.

The Courts Service was seeking “urgent advice” yesterday regarding this advice and it issued the following statement this morning:

“The Courts Service has received detailed advice earlier this morning on the question of the length of sittings. On the basis of that advice the Presidents are very hopeful that full sittings will be able to resume as soon as tomorrow, once certain additional procedures have been put in place. A further update will be issued in the near future.”

10.14 21/05/2020

China bans hunting, breeding and human consumption of wild animals for five years

The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the global coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated, has issued a total ban on the hunting, breeding and human consumption of wild animals.

The move is in an apparent response to research showing the virus most likely originated among bats and was transmitted to people via an intermediary wild species sold for food at a market in the city.

The regulation seeks to carry out measures passed at the national level covering protected land animals as well as sea life, promising financial relief to help dealers move into other lines of business.

However, it contains numerous exceptions, including for animals used for traditional Chinese medicine, as long as they are not consumed as food for humans. That left it unclear whether the ban would cover pangolins, small mammals whose scales are used for traditional Chinese medicine but which are thought to have been the intermediary carrier of the virus.

The regulation will be enforced immediately and will be in effect for five years.

Contact-tracing app given boost by delivery of tech from Apple and Google

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Pandemic: The ‘Frontline Stays’ section for Covid-19 responders on the Airbnb app on a smartphone. Photo: Bloomberg

Apple and Google have delivered their contact-tracing technology to health authorities in 22 countries today, saying that they have provided the system to those who “have requested access”.

A spokeswoman for the HSE declined to say whether Ireland has yet requested access to the interface. However, she said that the Irish app, which is based on the Apple-Google technology, will not be available to the public by the end of May. Instead, it is “on track” for the “completion” of its development at that time, with a “large scale field test” to follow before release.

She said that the Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) For the app “will be made available in parallel with the field test and this will be followed by full launch of the app, subject to the necessary approvals from NPHET, HSE and Government”.

She did not say when the app expected to launch.

09.01 21/05/2020

Taoiseach on reopening schools in September: ‘there is no ‘no risk’ option’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that there is no “no risk option” when it comes to reopening schools in September.

The Fine Gael leader added on Newstalk’s Breakfast this morning that if the virus remains under control and “all things remain equal”, schools will reopen in September.

“There is the risk of the virus coming back again and spreading again,” he said.

“It’s not intended that schools will open until September but we are looking at how we’re going to do that now and it does require a bit of planning.

Irish consultant teams up with dressmaker and sail manufacturer to produce quality PPE for frontline workers

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University Hospital Waterford (UHW) consultant ophthalmic surgeon Gareth Higgins.

Ralph Riegel reports

AN IRISH consultant has teamed up with an acclaimed dressmaker and a sail manufacturer to create hard-wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) which can be reused by frontline healthcare staff.

It is hoped that the Irish product can now drastically reduce the country’s dependence on PPE imports and long supply chains.

University Hospital Waterford (UHW) consultant ophthalmic surgeon Gareth Higgins worked with Waterford dressmaker Colette McGrath and renowned sail manufacturer Richard Marshall to create the hard-wearing PPE gown which meets all criteria required for frontline healthcare staff.

Mr Higgins, who also teaches medical students, said the high-quality gowns were produced thanks to a perfect coming together of skill sets in Waterford.

“Initially I asked them to make a batch – Richard Marshall had a machine that he could cut panels for Colette McGrath, so they made a
batch of 100,” he told WLRFM.

“They were so ideal – they are light, they are much more robust than the paper gowns that we have and they feel very protective, so once I had them, I realised that this is absolutely ideal and they can be re-washed.”

“The (UHW) management were very much behind me and very interested so we managed to get an initial batch of 3,000 made up for the hospital.”

Critically, the new gown design not only offers perfect protection for healthcare staff but also lessons Ireland’s dependence on imports and, potentially, can offer a local job creation boost.

Their gown is comfortable and offers the reassurance of being much tougher wearing than light disposable gowns.

The concept of reusable, high-quality medical gowns is nothing new.

Reusable gowns which were sterilised in a long, hot wash cycle were once the bedrock of some hospital services.

However, they were replaced over the years with disposable gowns.

“I think that long term, for everything, we are going to have to re-examine these really long supply chains, even if it is more expensive, if it can be produced locally, it can be scaled up,” Mr Higgins said.

“From a security health point of view I think it is a better idea to have re-usable kit and also have short supply lines.”

“The quality of the gown produced by Colette and Richard made it very easy to see that this was the way to go, especially in terms of some of the quality of the gowns that have come in from China had been a bit mixed, in terms of sizes and the quality of the materials.”

“At least we knew we had the guaranteed quality local product and also re-usability means that it’s just a question of how quickly you can launder them and get them back on the floor.”

08.18 21/05/2020

Charity calls for limits on funerals to be relaxed

A charity has asked the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to ease funeral restrictions.

The call comes after a survey showed almost one in 10 believes being with extended family and friends is a key part of the grieving process.

However, this may not be possible, with strict funeral restrictions and family members being unable to physically attend the funeral of a loved one amid the lockdown.

A survey conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes for the Irish Hospice Foundation found 68pc think the pandemic has made society rethink the way it deals with death and bereavement.

WATCH: Trump accuses China of fake Covid-19 toll

US President Donald Trump has again accused China of lying about its Covid-19 toll.

Mr Trump said he “saw more problem on television than they were reporting just by looking at a picture”.

07.11 21/05/2020

Number of cases worlwide reaches 5m

The number of coronavirus cases across the globe has hit the 5m mark, according to a tally from the John Hopkins University.

The United States remains with the highest number at cases, with 1,551,853. Russia is second with 308,705 confirmed cases, while Brazil has seen 291,579 cases.

A total of 249,619 cases have been recorded in the United Kingdom and 232,555 in Spain.

A total of over 327,000 people have sadly passed away from the virus worldwide.

Rural residents forced to fight rampant virus alone after doctors sent to cities

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Distraught: Relatives mourn the death of Martin Orrala (82) in Ecuador. Photo: Reuters/Vicente Gaibor del Pino

When a group of villagers in the Ecuadorian fishing community of El Real came down with coughs and fevers in early April, nobody was sure if they had the coronavirus – and no health workers were available to diagnose or treat them.

Their local doctor, like many of rural Ecuador’s health workers, had been transferred to the country’s biggest city, Guayaquil.

There, the Covid-19 pandemic had overwhelmed hospitals and left authorities struggling to collect bodies.

The villagers say they were only able to provide traditional remedies such as lemon and eucalyptus to the ill, 11 of whom died of what residents believe was the coronavirus.

Employers warned to limit staff meetings to two hours

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Dr Ronan Glynn said there were ramifications for having meetings over two hours (Niall Carson/PA)

Employers have been warned they should limit gatherings of staff or meetings in a room to no more than two hours to minimise the risk of workers having to stay at home if one of them tests positive for the coronavirus.

It may mean colleagues who were in the same room as the person who tests positive will have to remain out of work for two weeks as a precaution.

The advice was clarified yesterday by Dr Ronan Glynn, deputy chief medical officer, who said this will become more relevant as more people return to work.

The rule applies to workers in a “closed space” like an office who are together for more than two hours if one of them is found to be diagnosed with the virus.

Public will be asked to give blood samples for antibody screening

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Coronavirus: Taking a blood sample from a random number of people in the population and analysing it for antibodies should give some measure of the true rate of infection

Members of the public are to be asked to provide blood samples from next month for a test which can tell them if they have had the coronavirus.

The screening for antibodies – which people who have recovered from the virus build up – is to be carried out at random to give the first indication what the rate of infection is in the population.

Although the number of confirmed cases of the virus stands at 24,315, the real number who have been infected is likely to run into hundreds of thousands, with some scientists believing around 6pc of the population may have had the virus so far.

Antibodies may provide immunity from re-infection, although the extent and duration of this is still unclear.

Online Editors



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