Morning briefing: Ministers under pressure over track and trace

Good morning.

The government is coming under mounting pressure to roll out a track and trace system that, clearly, isn’t yet fit for purpose. The Guardian reports that the system, which will involve more than 20,000 contact tracers as well as an NHS app, will not be ready until June; Health Secretary Matt Hancock initially said it would go live in mid-May. Multiple government scientific advisers warned last night that schools should not open until an effective system is in place and working well.

With the first primary schools set to open on 1 June, ministers are up against it. Even disregarding the timing, the usefulness of the system itself is in question. One government scientific adviser told Sky News that the system might not be fast enough, while the BBC reported GCHQ was looking into security measures with the app. One contact tracer summed up the state of the system while telling the Guardian about the training they’d received. "We had a chat [box] where we could ask him questions, but the first hour and a half of the training was just people writing, ‘I can’t hear anything’."

Even leaving track and trace aside, more and more councils are saying they intend to keep schools closed for the start of next month. The BBC says at least 11 councils have expressed opposition to the date – the Guardian reckons it’s 18, representing 1,500 primary schools. However, opposition from the British Medical Association appears to be softening. The organisation said schools can reopen on 1 June if it is "safe to do so", and that there is "growing evidence that the risk to individual children from Covid-19 is extremely small". Meanwhile, Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), admitted her union’s opposition to the 1 June opening was a “negotiating position”.

Lastly, a BBC Radio 4 documentary has told of the pressure care home managers came under to accept patients from hospitals who were potentially carrying Covid-19. A 2 April government directive called for a national effort to clear hospital beds, while two local councils wrote to care homes suggesting that extra funding was conditional on them taking patients from wards. Susan Mckinney, who runs 14 care homes in the north-east, recalled: "We had an incident on 10 April where twice we rang the hospital saying ‘we can’t accept this person back, we need them tested, we need a negative test so we know what we’re dealing with,’" she said. "They turned up at the door in an ambulance and refused to go away. There was a sort of stand-off at the door of the home… We were threatened with the police if we did not let this person in."

Global updates:

World: The pandemic could undo three years of alleviating inequality and push 60 million people below the poverty line, the head of the World Bank has warned.

US: President Donald Trump said that having the highest number of coronavirus cases worldwide was a "badge of honour" because it showed the US had the best testing system. He also called a US study showing that hydroxychloroquine had limited effectiveness against coronavirus a "Trump enemy statement" after he revealed he was taking the drug as a precaution.

Brazil: Brazil recorded its highest daily rise in both deaths and cases. It reported 17,408 new cases and 1,179 deaths in a 24-hour period, taking the official death toll to 17,971.

India: India recorded its biggest one-day spike in infections, with 5,200 new cases. It has begun to ease what was one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.

Singapore: A man has been sentenced to death via a Zoom call for his role in a drug deal – the first case where capital punishment has been delivered via a remote, virtual hearing. The country also set out a phased approach to ending its partial lockdown from 1 June.

New Zealand: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged employers to consider a four-day working week to allow people to travel the country and achieve a better work-life balance.

Fiji: Fiji has asked to be included in the travel "bubble" between New Zealand and Australia, which is allowing free movement between the two countries.

South Korea: High schools in South Korea reopened today. It marks the beginning of a phased reopening of the country’s school system.

Netherlands: Bars and restaurants will reopen on 1 June provided customer numbers are limited and people follow social distancing measures, the government said.

Canada: Canada and the US have extended their border closure for non-essential travel until 21 June.

Read more on the New Statesman:

Reopening schools is a question of logistics, not of risks

Why the Covid-19 crisis will force the UK to rewrite the economic rulebook

Coronavirus is introducing the pitfalls of Universal Credit to many new claimants

Senior but still citizens: we should not disregard the contribution of elderly in this pandemic

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer stood up to Trump. Can she stand up to her own people?


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.