Morning briefing: 100,000 test target within UK government’s grasp

Good morning.

The government appears confident it will fulfil its pledge to test 100,000 people daily before the end of April – a target that previously appeared to be slipping away. Last night, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it was “likely” the government would hit the target, while Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I think we will have either met it or be very close.” In some respects, the actual figure is arbitrary – NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, called it a “red herring” this week – but the ramping up of testing numbers will be seen as a success story for the government. At last count, the UK had tested nearly 82,000 people, up from 52,000 the previous day. We await figures from yesterday, the last day of April.

Meanwhile, hospital bosses are in two minds about guidance from NHS England to treat black, Asian and minority ethnic staff as “potentially greater risk” and consider moving them out of frontline positions. Several analyses have shown people from ethnic minority backgrounds are at an increased risk of dying from Covid-19. Hospital officials, however, are worried that they do not have enough staff to reassign ethnic minority workers. “Hospital bosses are very worried about this very high death rate among BAME staff. But it’s not obvious exactly what we can do. If you have a high proportion of BAME workers, how do you provide normal care if a substantial number of them move away from their usual roles? It’s difficult,” one official told the Guardian.

Lastly, care homes could be the “epicentres of transmission back into society”, a senior NHS England director has warned. According to the Independent, Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s senior incident director for coronavirus, told a private online briefing for NHS bosses that there had been a “shift in the recognition” of the extent to which coronavirus is spreading between patients and staff, and that care homes would be “feeding the endemic problem that we will have going forward.”

Global updates:

US: President Donald Trump claimed he was “confident” the coronavirus had originated in a lab in Wuhan based on evidence he’d seen, contradicting US security services, who yesterday claimed the virus was “not manmade or genetically modified”.

South Africa: South Africa has eased one of the world's strictest lockdowns, which banned jogging, dog-walking, and alcohol sales. From today, some industries will begin to reopen, but masks and social distancing will remain mandatory. The country will implement an overnight curfew.

Malaysia: Businesses in Malaysia will be allowed to reopen on 4 May, except for those that usually involve large gatherings of employees.

Australia: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated social distancing measures could be eased on 8 May, earlier than planned. The government was due to make a decision about lifting measures on 11 May, but Morrison said Australians had “earned an early mark”. Individual states and territories have already begun lifting some lockdown rules.

Indonesia: Cases passed 10,000, making Indonesia the second-worst hit country in south-east Asia.

Singapore: Singapore has housed some of its migrant workers who have recovered from Covid-19 onboard two cruise ships. Migrant workers have been the group worst hit by the coronavirus within the nation.

Russia: Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has tested positive for Covid-19, and will now self-isolate. The country yesterday reported 7,933 new cases of the coronavirus, a record daily rise.

Philippines: Provinces that have a lower number of coronavirus cases have begun easing lockdown measures today, amid fears that a lack of testing has masked the true scale of the crisis in the country.

Read more on the New Statesman:

Why the UK’s cultural divide is forcing Labour to be cautious over the Tories and coronavirus

“I’ve never been afraid for my own life before”: inside New York medics’ struggle against Covid-19

Death and mourning in the age of coronavirus

Read More

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.