Government set to cap university admissions amid Covid-19 chaos

Exclusive: strict limits on student numbers could avoid admissions free-for-all

Strict limits on the number of students that each university in England can recruit are set to be imposed by the government in an effort to avoid a free-for-all on admissions, with institutions plunged into financial turmoil as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian has learned.

A government source said each university would be restricted in the number of UK and EU undergraduates they could take for the academic year starting in September, in a move backed by higher education leaders. It will be the first such limit since the university admission cap was lifted in 2015.

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Britons on virus-hit ship wait for Panama Canal green light

Passengers on cruise liner where four died and its sister ship hope to be flying home soon

Hundreds of cruise ship passengers, many of them British, on a trip where four people have died from Covid-19 are confined to their cabins awaiting the go-ahead to pass through the Panama Canal.

Dozens have fallen ill on the Zaandam cruise ship, which was stranded off the Pacific coast of Panama after several Latin American countries refused to let it into port. Some passengers were transferred to a second ship – the Rotterdam – on Saturday night.

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Stephen Kinnock targeted by police for visiting father, Neil

South Wales force criticised for tweeting disapproval of MP defying coronavirus rules

The MP son of Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, has been publicly shamed by police for “non-essential” travel during the coronavirus lockdown after going to celebrate his father’s 78th birthday.

Stephen Kinnock, the MP for Aberavon in South Wales, posted a picture of himself sitting on a chair outside his parents’ London home, adhering to guidelines to stay two metres apart, as they marked the occasion with his wife, the former prime minister of Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

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UK coronavirus restrictions could last six months – deputy chief medical officer

Dr Jenny Harries says lifting lockdown too soon could risk second wave of infection

The lockdown in the UK to try to slow the spread of coronavirus could go on for six months and the country may not return to its normal way of life until the autumn, a key government doctor has said.

The deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, said at Downing Street’s daily press conference on Sunday that the effectiveness of the current restrictions would be reviewed at the end of the original three-week period.

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The Guardian view on Covid-19 and politics: institutionally vulnerable | Editorial

British government and parliamentary democracy are trapped in outdated buildings and habits. The coronavirus has exposed the need to rethink how they work

Lots of things about modern politics would surprise William Gladstone if the 19th-century Liberal prime minister was unexpectedly reincarnated into the Britain of 2020. Things like press conferences, video links and female MPs would all catch him out. Gladstone would, though, be reassured by one thing. He would easily be able to find his way around Westminster. That’s because the corridors of power in which politics, parliament and government are conducted in 2020 are remarkably unchanged since he died in 1898. The warren of staircases and rooms in 10 Downing Street and the cramped Commons chamber, with MPs jostling through the division lobbies, would all be familiar to him.

Whether Britain benefits or suffers from its traditionalised habits and settings of politics is a recurrent question. But the Covid-19 pandemic poses it in a new way. Parliament went on sitting through world wars and financial crises. Gladstone himself sat through the Great Stink of the summer of 1858, when the Thames became a sewer. But a modern pandemic that has made human proximity unsafe has meant that parliament cannot sit at all, and that MPs cannot do their fundamental job. Business in the chamber became a ghostly charade. Voting by crowding into the aye and no lobbies was deemed too dangerous to attempt. At the height of a national crisis, therefore, many of the checks and balances on government, and parliamentary democracy itself, have effectively collapsed. These issues must be addressed before parliament returns on 21 April.

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With parliament in recess, the press has a vital role in holding the government to account | Roy Greenslade

With parliament in recess, the press has a vital role in holding the government to account

Where was the compassion? The overwhelming mainstream media response to the announcement that Boris Johnson had tested positive for Covid-19 was anything but sympathetic. It was summed up by a Daily Mail headline which pointedly asked whether Johnson, his ministers and advisers had not practised the social distancing they had preached.

Similarly, the Guardian referred to accusations that the prime minister had been guilty of nonchalance by failing to heed his own advice to the public. Amid the crisis, he may not be held to account. But the Sunday Mirror, reflecting the consensus viewpoint, argued that later “he will have serious questions to face.

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UK strategy to address pandemic threat ‘not properly implemented’

Exclusive: Former government chief scientific adviser says getting the needed resources was impossible

The UK’s biological security strategy, published in 2018 to address the threat of pandemics, was not properly implemented, according to a former government chief scientific adviser.

Prof Sir Ian Boyd, who advised the environment department for seven years until last August and was involved in writing the strategy, said a lack of resources was to blame. Other experts said there was a gap between pandemic planning and action, and that the strategy had stalled.

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Coronavirus means we really are, finally, all in this together | John Harris

It has taken a crisis on this scale to put paid to the divisive strivers-and-shirkers rhetoric of austerity

I saw a coronavirus banner the other day that said “Check in on your five nearest neighbours”, and I thought about Errol Graham.

Back in January, just as China’s Covid-19 outbreak was turning critical, the story broke of how Graham, a grandfather of two and lover of football, had died aged 57. In June 2018, bailiffs pursuing him for nonpayment of his rent had found Graham’s body, which weighed just four and a half stone. A coroner’s report said he suffered from severe social anxiety, and had isolated himself from even family and friends. His flat in Nottingham had no gas or electricity, and there was no food in his fridge apart from two cans of fish that were four years out of date.

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Michael Gove appears to blame China over lack of UK coronavirus testing

Minister says China was ‘not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness’ of virus

Michael Gove has appeared to lay the blame for the UK’s lack of mass testing on China, raising the prospect of increased diplomatic tension between the two countries.

Some of China’s reports on the virus were unclear about the “scale, nature and infectiousness” of the disease, the cabinet minister told the BBC.

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Borrow emergency cash by all means, but please pay it back

Getting the Bank of England to print money to cover the government’s debts is in principle a good idea

This is an economic crisis and it’s right that government takes unprecedented steps to compensate employees and the self-employed from huge income hits. But how are we going to pay for these decisions? Eventually taxes will go up, but governments need to raise cash right now as tax revenues fall and spending surges. Luckily, borrowing costs are low, but what happens if financial markets are unable to absorb the huge amounts of extra borrowing?

This is a crucial question with which treasuries around the world, and the IMF, are starting to grapple. The gung-ho among you may like the answer of the economist Jordi Galí, who last week called for central banks to print money for government without it ever being paid back. Our view at the Resolution Foundation is that he is right to examine the case for monetary financing (the Bank of England creating money to directly buy government debt). But we don’t agree that the objective is for it to never be repayable – in fact, we argued last week that it’s crucial to stress that any unavoidable monetary financing would be temporary and that the central bank could sell off government bonds when things calm down. We’ve seen unprecedented steps by government to tackle this crisis, with big price tags attached. Unprecedented measures may be needed to pay for them, but we should plan for that with utmost care.

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We’re making a right mess of our right to free expression

The row between Oxford University and the students who ‘disinvited’ Amber Rudd highlights the illiberalism on both sides of the argument

This month, the former home secretary Amber Rudd was invited to give a speech to UN Women Oxford UK, an Oxford University student society, to celebrate International Women’s Day. Thirty minutes before the event, Rudd was “disinvited” and the event cancelled.

Last week, the university “deregistered” the student society for breaking free-speech regulations. Both decisions show what a mess the debate over the right to expression has become.

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The Observer view on government failure in the coronavirus crisis

A pandemic was always going to put the health system under strain, but Britain was woefully unready

See all our coronavirus coverage
Coronavirus – latest updates

Last week brought the tragic news of the first medical professionals to fall victim to Britain’s coronavirus epidemic. Dr Habib Zaidi was a community GP in Essex who died from suspected Covid-19 symptoms last Wednesday. Dr Adil El Tayarlar was a London-based organ transplant surgeon who believed he contracted the illness while working in hospitals in the West Midlands. There will very likely be more doctors, nurses and support staff who also lose their lives as a result of their critical work in treating patients with the virus. It is an appalling reminder that, every day, NHS and social care staff are putting their own lives at risk in order to save the lives of others.

In recent days, the effort to ramp up the NHS’s critical care capacity has been incredible. Work is well under way to build a new hospital at London’s Excel centre: from next week, NHS Nightingale will provide 500 beds, with space to expand to 4,000; an incredible 27-fold increase in the capital’s critical care beds. Similar hospital expansion programmes are getting under way in Birmingham and Manchester.

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Coronavirus has completely changed how UK politics works

Only weeks ago no one would have anticipated the Tories finding the magic money tree

Whereas Harold Wilson is said to have claimed a week is a long time in politics, a day is an eternity in coronavirus. Against a backdrop of changed time-space parameters, the Victorian gothic madhouse that is our sovereign parliament and which had been due to sit until the month’s end had the plug pulled on Wednesday.

In the past two weeks the atmosphere has changed markedly for the nation; our high streets, which were becoming ever quieter anyway, have forcibly become eerily silent with sights never seen before: restrictions on supermarket entry and the rationing of goods to customers in surgical masks. MPs and those who dwell in the Westminster bubble have not been immune to change but have been slow to catch on to some aspects of the social distancing and isolationism that is, paradoxically, bringing the nation together.

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Johnson still ‘leading from the front’, says business secretary

Alok Sharma insisted there are ‘no gaps in government’ as he gave the PM’s Covid-19 briefing

The business secretary has insisted there are “no gaps in government” despite Boris Johnson and three key figures entering self-isolation over coronavirus.

On Saturday, Alok Sharma, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, said the prime minister was still “leading the response from the front” – behind closed doors in Downing Street – after testing positive.

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Yes, Jeremy Corbyn is still here and he’s still right about everything

It’s time for the Labour leader to exit gracefully, but there’s little chance of that

With the result of the Labour party leadership contest imminent, I thought I’d be so happy to see the back of Jeremy Corbyn. Now I’m wondering if we ever will.

While I would never trivialise coronavirus, at least we’ve been spared mass gatherings of people in “Just say Jez” T-shirts sobbing mawkish goodbyes to the man who “won the argument”, while tanking two general elections (including the worst Labour result for 85 years). He also presided over a culture of (cough) “alleged” antisemitism now under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and facilitated Brexit.

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‘Stay home’: Varadkar announces sweeping two-week lockdown

Irish taoiseach says new measures aimed at ‘saving as many people’s lives as possible’

The Irish government has announced sweeping restrictions that will put Ireland in a de facto lockdown to try to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said on Friday evening that from midnight people should stay at home for two weeks, until 12 April, in a significant tightening of curbs on social and commercial life.

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‘Nonchalant’: Boris Johnson accused of Covid-19 complacency

Government ‘too slow to act’ and ministers have failed to lead by example, health experts say

Boris Johnson was accused of failing to heed his own advice to the public over how to contain coronavirus on Friday as it emerged that he and other key government figures had themselves contracted Covid-19.

On a day of extraordinary developments at the heart of the operation to counter the virus, both the prime minister and health secretary, Matt Hancock, said they had tested positive. The chief medical officer ,Prof Chris Whitty, also reported symptoms and went into self-isolation.

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‘There is a lot of Covid-19 in Westminster’: how politicians fell ill

The UK PM and his health secretary have coronavirus. This was not the message they wanted to deliver

Prof Neil Ferguson was the first to sound the alarm – and perhaps provide a clue as to how the prime minister, the health secretary and the chief medical officer all became victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ferguson is the scientist whose research at London’s Imperial College led to the government’s dramatic pivot in its handling of the outbreak.

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British firms to be given more protection from bankruptcy

Laws which make it illegal for a business to trade when insolvent set to be changed

British companies struggling amid the coronavirus outbreak are to be given greater protection from bankruptcy under emergency changes to insolvency laws due to be unveiled by the government this weekend, the Guardian has learned.

Ministers are preparing to announce measures to give firms greater leeway to continue trading, including offering them more protection from creditors in effort to prevent mass company failures and a sharp rise in unemployment.

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How will the UK function with a sick prime minister?

Boris Johnson has contracted Covid-19 at a time when the country needs him most – but the UK has survived with incapacitated leaders before

Cabinet government had for most of this week already been replaced by Zoom government, but the fact that Boris Johnson has contracted coronavirus, and so been forced to self-distance himself from the nation that he rules, raises awkward questions about how the government control room will operate at probably its most testing moment.

No 10 has offered the reassurance that Johnson, rather than his deputy, the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, will if possible remain in charge, making the vital decisions in physical isolation in his flat in No 11 for the next week, connected to colleagues only by technology. If so, it brings a new meaning to the oft-repeated dictum that it is lonely at the top.

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First the corona prince, now Johnson. Who are their designated survivors? | Marina Hyde

The trajectory is darkening, with Britain now a significant step nearer to being led by Dominic Raab

Here we are, then. TFI whatever day it is. It might feel unclear if you’re suffering from a persistent cough or are just trying to hack up the red pill.

Unfortunately, return to the simulation is impossible. As I type this, both Boris Johnson and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, have tested positive for coronavirus, while the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, is self-isolating. The prime minister says he is experiencing mild symptoms, and will self-isolate in Downing Street, where he is continuing to helm the UK’s response to the pandemic. Fatalistically speaking, this die was cast the second we learned he’d appointed Dominic Raab as his “designated survivor”. Why lie about who we are, you know? Just activate whatever protocol installs a roid-fuelled salesman for Magnet kitchen (Esher branch), whose unbeaten monthly commission run will only come to a horrifying end if anyone checks the showroom freezers.

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Dominic Raab is Boris Johnson’s nominated stand-in

Foreign secretary would step up should the PM become incapacitated by coronavirus

Boris Johnson has said he is only suffering mild symptoms of Covid-19 and will continue working in the coming days – but if he is incapacitated by the virus, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has been nominated as the “designated survivor”.

That means he would take up the prime minister’s responsibilities, if Johnson was unable to perform them himself. Aides insist Johnson can continue to work by video link, like much of the rest of the workforce.

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Dominic Raab is Boris Johnson’s nominated stand-in

Foreign secretary would step up should the PM become incapacitated by coronavirus

Boris Johnson has said he is only suffering mild symptoms of Covid-19 and will continue working in the coming days – but if he is incapacitated by the virus, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has been nominated as the “designated survivor”.

That means he would take up the prime minister’s responsibilities, if Johnson was unable to perform them himself. Aides insist Johnson can continue to work by video link, like much of the rest of the workforce.

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Chancellor’s coronavirus bailout ignores many self-employed

Actors and other artists in sole-person limited companies to get nothing

Thousands of self-employed people – in particular those working in the creative industries – who set up limited companies have been “devastated” by being excluded from the chancellor’s bailout.

On Thursday night Rishi Sunak said the government would pay self-employed workers 80% of their profits – up to £2,500 a month – for three months, starting in June.

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Keir Starmer profile: Labour’s ‘non-aligned’ leadership frontrunner

The shadow Brexit secretary and former chief prosecutor is on course to succeed Jeremy Corbyn. Can he unite a divided party?

When John Erskine signed up a teenage Keir Starmer to the Labour club at Leeds University freshers’ week in 1982, he had hoped to find a new recruit in the factional dogfight raging inside the party.

But he was disappointed. Erskine recalls the young law student’s politics as being of the “non-aligned, conscience-driven left” – something like a kind of political Methodism.

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Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock in self-isolation with coronavirus

Prime minister and health secretary say they have mild symptoms and will continue to lead Covid-19 response

Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have both tested positive for coronavirus and will have to work leading the government’s efforts to tackle the pandemic in isolation.

After the prime minister, who is 55, said he had mild symptoms and would self-isolate in Downing Street, Hancock posted a Twitter video saying that he too had mild symptoms and he would be able to continue.

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