/Thursday briefing: London coronavirus case confirmed

Thursday briefing: London coronavirus case confirmed

Top story: Purge of Chinese officials over crisis

Hello, I’m Warren Murray with news you can peruse.

Britain must prepare itself for more cases of the coronavirus through the summer, health officials have warned, after they confirmed the first patient diagnosed in London. The patient brings the total number in the UK to nine. She flew back to the capital from China last weekend and officials are tracing relatives, friends and others she may have been in contact with including passengers on her flight.

In China, the national total has risen to more than 1,300 deaths and nearly 60,000 cases, Alison Rourke reports at our live blog. The spike in deaths and cases was followed by a purge of regional leaders in Hubei province and Hong Kong.

Health bosses speculate the virus will continue to spread in the UK until it peaks in the summer – later than the previous assumption that it would peter out in the late spring. “We are planning that we are into this for the next few months,” said a source. Further afield, the cruise ship refused port by four countries, the MV Westerdam, is being allowed to dock in Cambodia – there are no known cases on board but it did make a recent stopover in Hong Kong. The world’s largest mobile phone trade fair, Mobile World Congress, has been cancelled – it was due to be held in Barcelona on 24 February – and the China Formula One race on 19 April has been scrapped, with the Vietnam round two weeks earlier also at risk. Samoa has gone as far as to turn away eight of its own citizens for fear they might be infected.

Stone scandal – Congress has summoned Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, amid fury over the justice department’s interference in the sentencing of the president’s ally Roger Stone. All four prosecutors resigned from the case as a result of the intervention. The Democrats are calling it an unprecedented threat to the US justice system. Ed Pilkington writes that a barrage of former justice department figures have also sounded the alarm: in the wake of the Watergate scandal, rules have been in place since 1978 to severely restrict communication between the president, his team and justice officials. “Trump has torn down that wall,” said Chiraag Bains, a former justice department prosecutor. “He treats the justice department’s prosecution powers as an arm of his political apparatus, to threaten perceived enemies and reward friends.”

Big Ben bill balloons – The repair bill for parliament’s Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben, has increased by £18.8m to nearly £80m following the discovery of asbestos, bomb damage and the effects of pollution. The 96-metre tower, a national symbol since 1856, has been mostly hidden from view since its restoration began in 2017. Painstaking examination of the tower uncovered decay and damage to hundreds of intricate carvings, asbestos in the belfry, extensive use of toxic lead paint, broken glass in the clock dials and the need to employ a specialist clock expert. The conservation effort is slated for completion in late 2021 – peers and MPs are scheduled to move out in four years to allow work to begin across the rest of the building under a £3.8bn programme.

McKee murder charge – A 52-year-old man has been charged with the murder of Lyra McKee, who was shot dead during rioting in Derry. He is due to appear in a Derry court today. McKee, 29, one of Northern Ireland’s most promising young journalists, had been observing unrest in the Creggan area of Derry on 18 April 2019. The accused man, one of four arrested on Tuesday, is also charged with possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life and professing to be a member of a proscribed organisation. Police have said “the quest for the evidence to bring the gunman to justice remains active and ongoing”. Despite the revulsion at McKee’s murder, the New IRA and other dissident republican groups have persisted with sporadic attacks and intimidation, including a spate of recent incidents apparently part of a campaign against Police Service of Northern Ireland efforts to recruit more Catholics to the force.

Labour TV debate – Lisa Nandy has accused her rivals for the Labour leadership of failing to grapple with the scale of the challenge facing the party, as the candidates clashed over antisemitism, Brexit and economic policy in the contest’s first televised debate. Some of the liveliest exchanges came as the candidates discussed the party’s record on antisemitism – which all four said they would apologise for – as Emily Thornberry sparred with Rebecca Long-Bailey over the latter’s record on addressing the problem. With all four candidates adopting sections of the 2019 manifesto, policy differences have been relatively modest in the contest thus far. Starmer earlier published 10 “pledges” to Labour members including retaining Jeremy Corbyn’s policies of scrapping student tuition fees and nationalising rail, mail, energy and water.

Evidence of Homo we-don’t-know – A “ghost population” of ancient humans lived in Africa about half a million years ago and many of their genes still exist in people today, scientists now think. By comparing modern genomes with those of ancient Neanderthals and Denisovans, researchers concluded some of the DNA came from an as-yet undiscovered group of archaic humans. They were too late arriving on the scene, though, to hunt, ride around on or live inside the shells of a giant turtle that roamed South America until about seven million years ago. It has an impressive science-name: Stupendemys geographicus.

Today in Focus podcast: Coming out later in life

Nicholas McInerny, a writer, came out as gay aged 45 and after nearly 20 years of marriage. It took a huge toll on his family and it all came flooding back last week when the TV presenter Phillip Schofield went public with his story. Also today: Alex Hern on the government’s plans to regulate the internet.

Today in Focus

Coming out later in life

Lunchtime read: Processing our ready-to-eat food habits

It’s cheap, attractive and convenient, and we eat it every day – it’s difficult not to.

Montage of processed food products

An array of processed food yesterday … Illustration: Guardian Design

But is ultra-processed food making us ill and driving the global obesity crisis? Bee Wilson delves into our collective shopping basket.


UK Athletics is facing a fresh crisis over the renewal of its £3m-a-year TV deal with the BBC which runs out this summer, the Guardian has learned. Championship rugby clubs are considering forming a breakaway league and introducing a salary cap which could threaten relegated Saracens’ attempts to keep hold of England stars, the Guardian understands. England fell agonisingly short against South Africa in a final over in which they lost three wickets, losing the first Twenty20 international by a single run.

Manchester City’s fierce hostility to Uefa’s investigation into the club’s alleged breaches of financial fair play regulations has been laid bare in court documents, which show City sought financial damages from Uefa for alleged leaks of the process to the media. Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were buried last Friday in a private ceremony near the family’s southern California home, according to death certificates. West Bromwich Albion continued to re-establish their momentum as they extended their lead at the top of the Championship to six points with a resolute 2-1 win over Reading. Everton manager Willie Kirk was left ruing “stupid” dropped points as his side missed out on the chance to overtake Manchester United in the Women’s Super League with a 2-2 draw at Tottenham. And Spurs have criticised the Oxford English Dictionary after it expanded its definition of the word “yid” to include a “supporter of or player for” the football club.


House prices in the UK rose last month for the first time in 18 months as confidence began to return to buyers and sellers, according to surveyors and estate agents. The biggest gains were in Northern Ireland and Scotland. On the markets, Asian shares were broadly flat as investors weighed the sharp increase in coronavirus deaths and cases. The FTSE100 will follow suit with a slight drop at the opening, according to futures trading. The pound is $1.295 and €1.191.

The papers

The Guardian leads with the coronavirus case in London and the likelihood of more diagnoses in the UK. The front page also anticipates Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle today, expecting it to be a modest shake-up. The Telegraph sees it as more dramatic – it claims the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, is “fighting for survival” as the PM gets ready to “purge” his government.

Guardian front page, Thursday 13 February 2020

Guardian front page, Thursday 13 February 2020.

“All clear”: the Metro on the first Britons quarantined over the Covid-19 outbreak. All 83 of them have been cleared to go home. The Mirror and the Express have differing takes on state of the NHS. The former says doctors are being “bullied to the brink” with excessive workloads because of Tory cuts. The latter says “NHS red tape slashed to boost patient care” as frontline staff are allowed to dispense “key medicines”.

The Mail interviews the Duchess of Cornwall over her domestic violence campaign – “Camilla: my crusade for abused women”. Both the i and the Times cover a rowback over powers to clean up the internet. “Safer social media plans shelved after backlash by tech giants” says the mini Indy. The paper of record has “PM set to water down curbs on tech giants” – an insider quote says there is a “pro-tech lobby in No 10” that is nervous about Ofcom being empowered to come down hard on the likes of Facebook and Twitter over online harms. Lastly, the FT: “BP raises oil majors’ bar with vow to hit net zero emissions by 2050” – you can get across that here.

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