How a Japanese cult tested nerve gas on sheep at Australian property

Untold story of how a deadly Japanese doomsday cult bought 400,000 hectares in the Australian Outback to test a Nazi nerve agent on sheep – before they poisoned 5,500 commuters in Tokyo’s subway

  • The Aum Supreme Truth cult was founded by Shoko Asahara in Japan in 1984
  • The sect purchased the remote Banjawarn Station in Western Australian in 1993
  • Cult members used the property to test the deadly nerve agent sarin on sheep
  • In 1995 they released sarin into the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 commuters 
  • The story is featured in the Australian Federal Police’s latest Platypus magazine  

Banjawarn Station takes up a million acres of shrub and grassland on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert in the middle of Western Australia. 

It is marginal land to graze livestock but about as isolated as any habitable place that exists on the planet and the perfect location to do things without being watched. 

In April 1993 two senior members of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Supreme Truth flew from Tokyo to Perth on a fact-finding mission looking for just such a spot.

The group’s second-in-charge and its ‘intelligence minister’ chartered a plane with a local real estate agent and inspected properties for sale across the Outback.

The sect planned to stage terrorist attacks its leader believed would start a nuclear war between superpowers, and remote Australia seemed a safe place to seek refuge in the fallout. 

More immediately, they were in search of a hideout to plan and prepare for what has been described as the first use of a weapon of mass destruction by terrorists.  

Banjawarn Station was bought by the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Supreme Truth in 1993 and used to manufacture and test the nerve agent sarin. Two years later the cult used sarin in a fatal attack on Tokyo’s subway system. The Banjawarn homestead is pictured

Aum Supreme Truth cult members tested sarin on sheep and their carcasses were found by its next owners. Australian Federal Police visited the station after the 1995 Tokyo terrorist attack and tested the skeletons of the animals (pictured)

On the morning of March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Supreme Truth sect released the nerve agent sarin on five train stations in Tokyo, then the busiest subway network in the world. The attack (pictured) killed 12 commuters and poisoned 5,500, seriously injuring more than 50

Forward scouts Kiyohide Hayakawa and Yoshihiro Inoue eventually settled on Banjawarn Station, 4,047 square kilometres of mulga and saltbush, about 14 hours’ drive north-east of Perth.

The sect paid less than $500,000 for the land, avoiding foreign ownership rules by starting up two companies through an Australian citizen of Japanese decent. 

Over the next 18 months the sect – also known as Aum Shinrikyo – would use this property to conduct experiments with the nerve agent sarin, a chemical weapon developed in Nazi Germany.

What the group learnt about sarin on the station would culminate in an attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 which would kill 12 innocent people and poison 5,500 other commuters.

Events at Banjawarn Station would become a focus of the Australian Federal Police’s Operation Sea King and inform the crime-fighting body’s future response to international terrorist threats. 

On September 9, 1993, a party of 25 sect members including their charismatic blind guru Shoko Asahara arrived in Perth on tourist visas issued in Tokyo, immediately attracting the attention of Customs. 

On September 9, 1993, a party of 25 sect members including their blind leader Shoko Asahara (pictured) arrived in Perth on tourist visas issued in Tokyo, immediately attracting the attention of Customs. The group later travelled to Banjawarn Station

Aum Supreme Truth members carried mining equipment and chemicals including hydrochloric acid to Perth in sake bottles and glass jars marked ‘hand soap’. Pictured are chemicals left behind by members of the Aum Supreme Truth sect at Banjawarn Station

Banjawarn Station is 4,047 square kilometres of mulga and saltbush 14 hours’ drive from Perth

The group had brought with them mining equipment and chemicals including hydrochloric acid contained in sake bottles and glass jars marked ‘hand soap’.

Their arrival and what they would later do at Banjawarn Station is covered in a feature article in the latest issue of the Australian Federal Police magazine Platypus. 

Detective Leading Senior Constable Mark Creighton told the magazine an AFP officer noted the amount of excess baggage the group was carrying and the jars of acid they claimed were soap.

‘Customs invited them to put their hands underneath the bottles and pour it out and they said, “Oh, no, no, we don’t want to do that”,’ Leading Senior Constable Mark Creighton said.

‘Then, apparently one of the Customs officers accidentally brushed against leader Shoko Asahara and were set upon by other sect members because they’d touched their “god”. 

‘They could not have done anything more to draw attention to themselves. Customs basically said, “Right, we’re going to go through you like a dose of salts.”

The AFP removed the Aum Supreme Truth sect’s ‘Laboratory Door’ from Banjawarn Station as evidence (pictured). ‘Toyo Laboratory’ was written in Japanese – a reference to sect member and Tokyo University physics graduate Toru Toyoda

Following the Tokyo terrorist attack police flew to Banjawarn station. They are pictured digging for evidence in 1996. Some of the evidence they gathered was sent to London for testing

Customs officers found ammonium chloride, sodium sulphate, perchloric acid and ammonium water, all of which was seized along with some laboratory equipment. 

The group claimed to be ignorant of local laws and said they were simply planning to do some gold mining. 

They paid $30,000 in excess baggage fees to cover equipment including a mechanical ditch digger, picks, petrol generators, gas masks, respirators and shovels. 

Leading Senior Constable Mark Creighton said the group attracted the attention of the AFP for another even more sinister reason. 

‘Accompanying the group were six or seven Japanese girls who were under the age of 18,’ he said. 

‘Their parents weren’t with them and the thing that struck us at the time was that this might have been child abuse because Banjawarn Station is miles from anywhere.’

Customs charged two members of the group, including ‘head scientist’ Seiichi Endo, with carrying dangerous goods on an aircraft and fined them $2,400 each but did not stop them proceeding. 

‘When the new station owners moved in they saw a particular site where a lot of sheep had perished,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton told Platypus. ‘They thought, “Well, that’s a bit unusual” because the sheep hadn’t been shorn’. Sheep skeletons on the station are pictured

Shinrikyo Aum was founded by Shoko Asahara (pictured) in Tokyo 1984 as a belief system drawing upon elements of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism, Christianity, yoga, and the writings of Nostradamus

That same day the sect members travelled by air and road to Banjawarn Station, where they would set up a laboratory in the homestead’s kitchen.

The lab would eventually be fitted with evaporators, bunsen burners, beakers, a rock crushing machine and its own generator but eight days after the sect’s arrival in Australia most of the group had flown home. 

SARIN IN THE SUBWAY 

On the morning of March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Supreme Truth sect released the nerve agent sarin on five train stations in Tokyo, then the busiest subway network in the world.

The terrorists used the tips of their umbrellas to pierce plastic bags of sarin before disembarking and escaping in getaway vehicles. 

The coordinated attacks killed 12 commuters and poisoned 5,500, seriously injuring more than 50.

Japanese prosecutors suggested cult leader Shoko Asahara knew about planned police raids on Aum Supreme Truth facilities and ordered the attacks to divert police attention away from the group.

At the cult’s headquarters in Kamikuishiki police found explosives, a Russian military helicopter and a stockpile of chemicals that could be used for producing enough sarin to kill four million people.

They also located cells containing prisoners and a safe holding millions of US dollars in cash and gold.

Over the next six weeks more than 150 cult members were arrested. Asahara was eventually found hiding within a wall of a cult building on May 16.

A subsequent trial found Asahara guilty of masterminding the Tokyo subway attack and he was sentenced to death.

Asahara and 12 other cult members were executed in Tokyo in July 2018.

A month later Asahara and several other sect members unsuccessfully applied for visas to return to Australia. 

In coming weeks and months those who had remained at Banjawarn would source local chemicals to replace what was confiscated in Perth and buy earth moving equipment from Kalgoorlie, 350km south of the station. 

The group bought eight mineral exploration leases from the Western Australian Government, believing that would prevent outsiders coming onto the station without their approval.

‘They had the mining leases and they thought they could do what they liked,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton told Platypus.

Phyliss Thomas, an elder in the nearest Aboriginal community, would later report having seen about five people wearing ‘space suits’ at the property in August. 

The group was standing by a twin-engine airplane while others were in the aircraft.

Bill Leaver, who delivered mail and groceries to sheep stations in the region, told the ABC he found the new occupants of Banjawarn stand-offish.

Mr Leaver, who once delivered barrels of hydrochloric acid to the station, said he witnessed a man cutting the lawn with scissors and heard strange repetitive tapes playing in the background.

Even more bizarrely, he spoke to a woman who said she was purging demons from her body by drinking mustard and salt water. 

Mr Leaver told the ABC he saw no evidence the new owners had any knowledge of grazing or interest in running a sheep station. 

Sect members may have thought their presence had gone largely unnoticed but by October the AFP had contacted the National Police Agency of Japan and received information including Shoko Asahara’s criminal record.

‘There was an officer based in Sydney we had a very good relationship with,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton said. ‘And they replied very, very quickly to the effect that essentially, “these people are no good”.’

Australian Federal Police travelled to Banjawarn Station in troop carriers from Kalgoorlie. Detective Superintendent Blaise O’Shaughnessy is pictured right putting on a protective mask before undertaking a search at the property

Aum Supreme Truth bought eight mineral exploration leases from the Western Australian Government, believing that would prevent outsiders coming onto the station without their approval. Police are pictured searching the property after the Tokyo subway attacks

The sect was suspected in Japan of conducting illegal activities but was classified as a religious organisation and police were wary of conducting overt investigations.

Shinrikyo Aum, founded by Asahara in Tokyo 1984, was a belief system drawing upon elements of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism, Christianity, yoga and the writings of Nostradamus.

At its height the sect claimed tens of thousands of members. 

In 1992 Asahara declared himself to be Christ and Japan’s only fully enlightened master, identifying himself as the ‘Lamb of God’.

Aum Supreme Truth sect members held unwavering beliefs in Asahara who encouraged them to drink 30ml bottles of his bathwater, which they bought for $300.  

Headsets were rented to members with the promise of mimicking Asahara’s brain waves and he offered his blood to drink as a way of achieving enlightenment.

Asahara’s stated mission was to take the sins of the world upon himself, claiming he could transfer spiritual power to his followers. He prophesied a third world war instigated by the United States which only Aum members would survive. 

Members of the Australian Federal Police and Western Australian Police are pictured around a campfire at Banjawarn Station as they searched the property in 1995 

The Tokyo subway deaths brought international attention to Banjawarn Station in 1995. Japanese reporters are pictured at the property after news of the sarin attack broke 

‘A lot of the members of the sect were outcasts and excluded from society,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton told Platypus. ‘They were either so intelligent that they couldn’t relate to other people or they were in their own fantasy world.’ 

Among the information Japanese police had received about the sect was its possible link to the 1989 murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who had been preparing a class action lawsuit against them. 

WHAT IS SARIN GAS? 

Sarin is a colourless, odorless liquid used as a chemical weapon due to its extreme potency as a nerve agent.

Exposure is lethal even at very low concentrations and death can occur within one to ten minutes after direct inhalation.

It causes suffocation from lung muscle paralysis unless antidotes are quickly administered.

Sarin is discovered in 1938 and developed in Nazi Germany. Its production is internationally outlawed.  

‘We had a pretty good handle on the membership of the group  and we worked closely with the Department of Immigration and Customs,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton said. 

‘The special police liaison officer in Tokyo made sure that their further applications for visas would be “politely refused”.

‘The fact that two of the group had been convicted of a really, really dangerous offence of carrying these dangerous goods on aircraft helped – in addition to all the other intelligence that we and other agencies collected.’

While authorities rejected further visa applications of known sect members, in November two adherents were granted travel documents from the Australian consulate in Osaka and went to Banjawarn where they stayed for six months. 

In June the sect staged a sarin attack on the Japanese city Matsumoto, releasing gas it had tested at Banajwarn from a refrigeration truck, killing eight people and injuring more than 500. 

In August it sold Banjawarn Station at a loss of $200,000 and in October the last of the group flew out of Perth and returned to Japan. 

Soldiers are pictured cleaning out Kasumigaseki subway station in Tokyo after the Aum Supreme Truth attack in March 1995. The rush-hour poisoning killed 12 commuters 

The little-known sect gained international attention when on March 20, 1995 it released sarin in five Tokyo train stations on what was then the busiest subway system in the world.  

The new owners of Banjawarn contacted local police several days after the attacks when news broke of Aum Supreme Truth’s involvement. 

‘When the new station owners moved in they saw a particular site where a lot of sheep had perished,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton told Platypus. 

‘They thought, “Well, that’s a bit unusual” because the sheep hadn’t been shorn – it looked like they’d been bludgeoned to death rather than shot.’ 

The new owners had also found laboratory equipment and containers of chemicals in the homestead. 

An AFP team flew to  Perth and joined local Western Australian police, then along with a government chemist drove from Kalgoorlie to Banjawarn in troop carriers laden with camping equipment. 

Rescue workers are pictured carrying survivors of the Tokyo subway attacks to emergency tents on March 20, 1995. The five attacks were timed to take place simultaneously

Tokyo Fire Department officers are pictured leaving Kasumigaseki station on March 20, 1995 in Tokyo after decontaminating the subway

Investigators carried out extensive searches and testing at the site, uncovering evidence of sarin experiments that had been conducted on sheep at the property. 

Forensic Officer Steve Olinder took samples from the dead animals back to Kalgoorlie where he spent a night in a motel with sheep skulls around him. 

The laboratory door taken by police from Banjawarn Station is at the AFP Museum

There was also evidence the sect had plans to build nuclear weapons and had dug up uranium with an excavator. 

‘The teams took samples, they took statements and they brought the samples back,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton said. 

‘The government chemist ran the checks… and they came back positive for sarin.

‘My understanding is that the chemist fell off his chair – like he’d done something wrong. But he checked it again and come back with exactly the same result.’

The samples were sent to a scientist in London who had previously found that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein killed thousands of Kurds in 1988 using mustard gas and nerve agents.

Information obtained by the AFP was also exchanged with the FBI and the NYPD Joint Terrorist Taskforce, which were investigating a New York chapter of Aum Supreme Truth. 

Leading Senior Constable Creighton said the Tokyo sarin attacks and events at Banjawarn marked a new era of crime fighting for the AFP and sparked one of its first investigations into international terrorism.

‘It was the basis of the counter terrorism legislation we take for granted today,’ he told Platypus. ‘It’s one of the more significant investigations that I have ever taken part in. 

DID AUM SUPREME TRUTH TEST A NUCLEAR BOMB AT BANJAWARN? 

On the night of 28 May 1993 a seismic disturbance was detected south of Banjawarn Station. It was a month after the property had been bought by the Aum Supreme Truth cult.

The event sent shock waves through hundreds of kilometres of desert but was witnessed only by a few long-distance truck drivers and gold prospectors.

They reported seeing a fireball in the sky and hearing a protracted low-frequency sound. No large asteroid impact was found and a mining explosion was discounted.

The Urban Geoscience Division of the Australian Geological Survey Organisation determined the event ‘showed similar characteristics consistent with typical seismic activity for Western Australia,’ and was most likely an earthquake.

Following the revelation that Banjawarn had been owned by the sect there was speculation the disturbance might have been the result of a test explosion of a nuclear device.

An Australian Federal Police investigation found no evidence to support the suggestion and cult members were not believed to in Australia at the time of the event.

‘Certainly, from a world-wide perspective, probably the highest one. It’s been 27 years since this and we’re still talking about it.

‘Not only were we speaking with the Japanese authorities, we were speaking with the FBI and preparing our submissions which eventually went to the US Senate as part of their Permanent Committee on Investigations.

‘When the AFP investigations team came to their conclusions they didn’t have any of the legislative tools that we take for granted now. 

‘There was no counter terrorism legislation. The [sect’s] idea was that their actions would kick off a nuclear war between the Americans and the Russians – and that Australia would be a safe haven after this.’

Police work done before the Tokyo attack had stopped Aum Supreme Truth from establishing anything more than a small, short-lived base in Australia. 

The graziers who bought Banjawarn Station alerted police to suspicious finds they had made when they learnt of the Tokyo attacks. Troop carriers are pictured taking police and supplies to the property

‘At the time the Aum sect were prevented from establishing a foothold in Australia by some very determined and proactive work by Federal and Western Australian agencies,’ Leading Senior Constable Creighton said.

‘The AFP, Australian Customs and Department of Immigration worked together to prevent senior Aum members from returning.’

Asahara was executed with Kiyohide Hayakawa and Yoshihiro Inoue, the pair who had scouted Banjawarn, as well as Seiichi Endo, the so-called head scientist, and nine other sect members in July 2018.

Aum Shinrikyo was classified as a terrorist organisation and still exists under the name Aleph.

Cattle have replaced sheep at their one-time Australian base and there is little trace left of the cult at Banjawarn Station. 

A brick barbecue built by police who searched the property remains on the site and writing on the wall of a machinery shed provides instructions in Japanese on how to start up the generator. 

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Trump: 'I tested positively toward negative' for coronavirus

Donald Trump says that ‘I tested positively toward negative…meaning I tested negative’ for coronavirus after taking hydroxychloroquine despite FDA warning of its dangers

  • President Trump gave a head-spinning explanation to reporters Thursday as he tried to say that he’s consistently tested negative for COVID-19 
  • ‘Yeah, I tested positively toward negative, right? So I tested perfectly this morning. Meaning I tested negative,’ he said as he departed the White House 
  • Trump also said he had one more day left in his two-week dose of hydroxychloroquine, which he’s using off-label 
  • The president revealed Monday that he had started taking the anti-malaria drug, which he’s often touted as a potential coronavirus cure  
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

President Trump gave a head-spinning response to reporters as he left the White House Thursday as he tried to explain he’s consistently tested negative for COVID-19. 

‘And I tested very positively in a another sense. This morning,’ Trump said. ‘Yeah, I tested positively toward negative, right? So I tested perfectly this morning. Meaning I tested negative.’   

The president again said he was winding down his use of hydroxychloroquine, which is used to treat malaria, lupus and other illnesses, but comes with a laundry list of side effects. 

‘I tested positively toward negative,’ President Trump told reporters Thursday as he left the White House. He has been continually tested for the coronavirus 

The president and other White House officials are being tested using a rapid test created by Abbott Laboratories 

At Thursday’s departure, Trump also said he had about one more day of a two-week dose of hydroxychloroquine, which he’s using ‘off-label’ to prevent contracting the coronavirus 

‘I think it’s another day. I had a two-week regimen of hydroxychloroquine. And I’ve taken it just about two weeks. I think it’s another day,’ he said. 

‘So I’m still here. I’m still here,’ he said, challenging critics who said he shouldn’t be using the drug off-label due to it causing abnormal heart rhythms in some patients. 

Trump also told reporters he hasn’t taken an antibody test, which could show if he was exposed to the virus previously and built up some resistance to it. 

Since Trump told reporters Monday that he decided to take hydroxychloroquine, a drug that he’s been touting as a potential coronavirus treatment for weeks, the White House has been put on defense. 

That evening the White House press secretary sent out a note from the president’s physician that said ‘we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks’ on the decision for Trump to take hydroxychloroquine. 

But the doctor didn’t say he wrote Trump the prescription.   

Government health experts don’t have evidence yet that hydroxychloroquine is affective against the coronavirus. The FDA did approve its ‘off-label’ use, but also put out a warning on April 30 about heart problems it could cause and said it should only be used to treat coronavirus patients who are hospitalized. 

Beyond the heart problems, side effects include dizziness, nausea, rashes  and even hallucinations.   

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ridiculed Trump for taking the drug, saying it was dangerous for someone who was ‘morbidly obese.’ 

Trump slapped back calling her a ‘sick woman’ and said she was mentally ill. 

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, was aghast when he was asked about it at a Yahoo virtual town hall Tuesday night. 

‘It’s like saying maybe if you injected Clorox into your blood it may cure you.’ 

‘Come on man, what is he doing? What in God’s name is he doing?’ Biden asked. 

At Wednesday’s press briefing, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president’s decision.        

‘Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that has been in use for 65 years for lupus, arthritis and malaria. It has a very good safety profile, but as with any drug, and as with any prescription, it should be given by a doctor to a patient in that context. So no one should be taking this without a prescription from their doctor,’ she said.

‘But that being said, I’ve seen a lot of apoplectic coverage of hydroxychloroquine. You had Jimmy Kimmel saying the President’s “trying to kill himself” by taking it. You had [MSNBC’s] Joe Scarborough saying “this will kill you.” [Fox News host] Neil Cavuto saying “what have you got to lose, one thing you have to lose are lives.” And you had [CNN’s] Chris Cuomo saying ‘the President knows that hydroxychloroquine is not supported by science,’ McEnany said.

‘He knows it has been flagged by his own people and he’s using it,’ she said.   

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Zoey Deutch Tested Positive for Coronavirus for an Entire Month

On the mend. Zoey Deutch opened up about her experience overcoming a monthlong battle with the novel coronavirus.

“I had the coronavirus early on, before the shutdown, and a group of my friends also got it,” the Politician actress, 25, explained in an essay for Vulture on Tuesday, May 19. “People keep asking me, ‘Where did you get it?’ and I wish I knew. I feel like I could have spoken in a more eloquent way about my experience had I known. I continued testing positive for a month, which is longer than they’re saying you’re supposed to. I’m okay now.”

Deutch continued, “I’m so grateful for my health and I also feel guilty, in a way, for making it out okay. I think this virus is bringing up so many conflicting emotions. I have to say I’m also so grateful for my inherent neuroses, which caused me to stay inside before I was supposed to. I’ve been quarantined longer than there was a mandated shut-in.”

The Zombieland: Double Tap actress experienced “such drastically different symptoms” from her pals who also battled the disease. “I had a sore throat and felt totally delirious, like, I was losing my mind. It was different than the normal ‘me feeling like I’m losing my mind,’” she shared, noting that one of her friends “only lost taste and smell” and another “went to the hospital with the ‘normal’ symptoms.”

To aid in her recovery, Deutch opted to stay indoors for almost two months. She will now only go outdoors “very minimally” while wearing a mask.

Deutch acknowledged the advantages she had throughout her coronavirus journey over others with fewer resources. “I am so lucky to be healthy, that I’m safe and not immunocompromised and have access to doctors; I am incredibly privileged,” she said. “But not everyone shares that privilege — so we need to be extra careful for those who don’t by wearing masks.”

Deutch is the daughter of actress Lea Thompson and filmmaker Howard Deutch. The Before I Fall star joins a growing list of stars who have spoken out about their positive coronavirus diagnoses including Tom Hanks, Idris Elba, Pink and Sara Bareilles.

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The disease is transmitted from person-to-person. It can cause mild illness, such as a cold, or more serious sickness, like pneumonia.

In the United States alone, more than 1.5 million cases have been confirmed. While the nationwide death toll has surpassed 90,000, the number of recoveries has reached over 360,000.

Given the constantly evolving nature of COVID-19, Us Weekly wants our readers to have access to the most accurate resources. For the most up-to-date coronavirus information, guidance, and support, consult the CDC, WHO, and information from local public health officials. If you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms, call your primary care provider for medical advice.

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Figures show people tested for covid-19 drops below 10,000 a day

Department of Heath figures show number of people tested for coronavirus has dropped below 10,000 a day – after Matt Hancock insisted 100,000 a day was the target

  • New people tested daily in the UK has slipped back below the target of 10,000 
  • Total of 9,406 people were reported as being tested in 24 hours to 9am today
  • Confirmed coronavirus cases had reached 41,903 as of 9am today

Department of Health figures have revealed that the number of new people tested daily in the UK has slipped back below the target of 10,000, set by health secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday.

A total of 9,406 new people were reported as being tested in the 24 hours to 9am April 4 – bringing the total number of people tested in the UK since the outbreak began to 183,190.

Mr Gove, using different statistics to those put out by the Department of Health, said 10,984 people were tested on Friday, 

For the previous two days, the equivalent figure tested for the virus was above 10,000. Of those tested in the UK, 41,903 were confirmed to have covid-19, as of 9am on Saturday. 

Michael Gove pictured during a press conference on coronavirus in Downing Street today. Mr Gove, using different statistics to those put out by the Department of Health, said 10,984 people were tested on Friday

An NHS worker puts a parcel in a bin at a coronavirus testing site in a car park near The O2 in Greenwich, London, Saturday April 4

A medical technician takes a sample to test for the coronavirus disease

Yesterday Matt Hancock was forced to admit his pledge to boost COVID-19 testing capacity to 100,000 per day by the end of April did not include antibody kits, which are seen as crucial to getting the UK back up and running because they can reveal who has had, and is now immune to, the coronavirus.

Number 10 performed a screeching U-turn on its testing policy on Thursday as it abandoned the previous centralised approach by health chiefs and finally invited the wider science and medical research sectors to help, with private labs now joining the effort to process thousands of swab tests.

But the Government’s shambolic handling of the testing crisis was exposed by scientists and commercial laboratories on Friday, who claimed they offered to help the government two weeks ago to increase antigen testing – which only tell if someone is currently infected – but were ignored.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during a Covid-19 Digital Press Conference in 10 Downing Street in London, Britain April 3, 2020

Increasing swab testing – sometimes called antigen testing – is also viewed as crucial because it allows officials to test more self-isolating health workers and to say for certain whether they have the disease, allowing those who do not to return to the NHS frontline.

Public Health England is believed to be assessing up to 150 different antibody tests but several kits have already failed medical checks, including one that was wrong 75 per cent of the time. Officials have not revealed how accurate the tests need to be before they will finally give them the green-light.

Manufacturers of antibody tests who have sent them to PHE for assessment said there was still no clarity on whether their kits were going to be used despite some claiming their devices are 98 per cent accurate.

An Essex-based maker of DIY kits claimed officials won’t even look at its product because it is a self-test, as opposed to one used by medics.

The fall in numbers tested comes as the recorded death toll from the virus in the UK has rises above 4,000, including a five-year-old child. 

A member of staff wearing PPE holds a container labeled ‘test kits only’ at a coronavirus testing site in a car park near The O2 in Greenwich, London

The Department of Health said the number of coronavirus-related hospital deaths stood at 4,313 as of 5pm on Friday, up from 3,605 the day before.  

NHS England said 637 patients in England who tested positive for Covid-19 had died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospital to 3,939.

They were aged between five and 104, and 40 had no known underlying health condition, ranging in age from 48 to 93.

There were 212 deaths in the Midlands, more than in London, where there were 127. The North West had 97 deaths the North East and Yorkshire 73, the East of England 70, the South East 41 and the South West 17.

Today Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, warned the coronavirus infection rate will remain high for ‘weeks and weeks’ if people flout social distancing rules this weekend. 

Proffesor Ferguson said that while the epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, people’s behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.

His warning followed similar pleas by Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock for people to stick with the social distancing measures and resist the temptation to enjoy the sunshine forecast for swathes of the UK on Saturday and Sunday.

The stay-at-home calls came as:

  •  The Ministry of Justice said hundreds of risk-assessed prisoners within two months of their release date are to be temporarily sent home to reduce the risk of coronavirus taking hold in jails and overwhelming the NHS.
  • Mr Johnson wrote to opposition party leaders including newly-elected Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer inviting them to a briefing next week and insisting ‘we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency’.
  • A member of the armed forces became the first confirmed coronavirus case on the Falkland Islands.

Asked what would happen if people flout the social distancing rules this weekend, Proffesor Ferguson told BBC Radio 4: ‘That moves us to a slightly more pessimistic scenario.

‘We still think things will plateau but we’ll be at quite high levels of infection for weeks and weeks rather than seeing quite a rapid decline as the type seen in China.’

He said he was ‘hopeful’ that some of the intense social distancing measures could be substituted with rapid access to testing and contact tracing in a few weeks’ time – once case numbers are lower.

‘We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May that we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now,’ he explained.

It comes after a pandemic modeller advising the Government warned that the lockdown measures are merely a ‘placeholder’ and that Britain had ‘painted itself into a corner’ with no clear exit strategy from the Covid-19 crisis. 

On Friday, England’s chief nursing officer, Ruth May, urged people to think of two nurses who died after contracting coronavirus and ‘stay home for them’.

Areema Nasreen and Aimee O’Rourke, both mothers of three children, died alongside two healthcare assistants, it was announced on Friday.

Ms May, speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, said: ‘This weekend is going to be very warm and it will be very tempting to go out and enjoy those summer rays.

‘But please, I ask you to remember Aimee and Areema. Please stay at home for them.’

She added: ‘I worry that there’s going to be more and I want to honour them today and recognise their service.’

Meanwhile, in his letter to opposition leaders, the PM said: ‘As party leaders, we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency.

‘Therefore, I would like to invite all leaders of opposition parties in Parliament to a briefing with myself, the chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser next week.

‘I want to listen to your views and update you on the measures we have taken so far, such as rapidly expanding testing and providing economic support to businesses and individuals across the country.’

UK receives 300 ventilators from China to fight coronavirus as Michael Gove says we’ll be producing 1,000 a day by next week but experts claimed NHS will have ‘nowhere near enough’ in time for Easter Sunday peak just eight days away 

The UK has received 300 ventilators from China to fight coronavirus, Michael Gove said as he estimated 1,000 new machines will be produced per day by next week. 

A team from University College London working with Mercedes Benz has produced a new non-invasive respirator that has been clinically approved, Mr Gove said in a press conference today.

He said the device is vital in reducing the number of patients who eventually need to be intubated.

It comes amid concerns the NHS will have a severe shortage of ventilators to cope with the coronavirus peak over Easter Sunday, with only 30 to arrive in the first batch.  

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street on Saturday 

Ventilators allocated for early treatment of coronavirus (COVID-19), are brought to Basaksehir Hospital in Istanbul today. A team from University College London working with Mercedes Benz has produced a new non-invasive respirator that has been clinically approved, Mr Gove said in a press conference

Mr Gove said: ‘They produced 250 yesterday, they will produce the same number today and tomorrow, rising to 1,000 a day next week.

‘We are also increasing the capacity of the NHS to deploy invasive ventilation, we have been buying invasive ventilators from partners abroad including Germany and Switzerland.

‘And today 300 new ventilators arrived from China.’

He continued that the Government is also working with UK ventilator suppliers to manufacture existing and modified models in greater numbers.

He said new models have been designed to come on stream soon.

Mr Gove said: ‘The new models that have been scaled up as part of the Ventilator Challenge (a brief put to a consortium of manufacturers) will becoming on production lines this week.

A technician tests a ventilator at a research and development center of Jiangsu Yuyue Medical Equipment & Supply Co., Ltd. in Danyang, east China’s Jiangsu Province

‘More are coming into production in the coming weeks, subject to safety and regulatory approvals, as part of the Prime Minister’s call to manufacturers to scale up production.’

Mr Gove said the first devices ordered from Oxford-based medical devices company Penlon will begin arriving in hospitals next week, delivered by the Ministry of Defence.

He said the first devices from Smiths Group had been received at MoD Donnington – a military logistics hub in Shropshire.

Mr Gove said: ‘The initial dispatch is the result of scaled up manufacturing of an existing mechanical ventilator design and I am grateful for the efforts of an industry consortium including GKN Aerospace and Rolls Royce.

‘These ventilators will be distributed to hospitals next week.’

Mr Gove said: ‘The more ventilators – invasive and non-invasive – available to the NHS, the more patients get the care they need, when they need it.

‘But the process of design, assembly, testing and manufacture does take time and we need to make sure that these devices are safe and their manufacture scaleable.’

The NHS will have ‘nowhere near’ enough ventilators to cope with the coronavirus peak over Easter Sunday with only 30 to arrive in the first batch, according to The Guardian. 

Hospitals across Britain are still 21,825 ventilators short of the estimated 30,000 it will need when the crisis, which has infected over 38,000 Britons, is at its height.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Friday said the virus continues its ‘grim march’ and admitted that next week is likely to be worse still, potentially topping out at more than 1,000 deaths per day by Easter Sunday.

The NHS will have ‘nowhere near’ enough ventilators to cope with the coronavirus peak, according to sources (pictured: file photo of a doctor examining an intubated patient’

Efforts to get manufacturers to produce ventilators are underway, with the government previously ordering 10,000 from Dyson – despite the engineering giant never making them before. 

Billionaire entrepreneur James Dyson said ‘the race is on’ to get the medical machines created specifically for the pandemic.

The British firm, most famous for its vacuum cleaners, said it has a prototype tested on humans and could start delivering them from mid-April, pending ‘regulatory approval’.

But sources related to one of the ventilator collaborations within British industry reportedly warned manufacturing targets were ‘nowhere near’ being reached.

One source told The Guardian: ‘You just can’t do this sort of stuff overnight, which is what they’re trying to do. But if there’s a second wave in the winter, we’ll have a lot more by then.’

A second source said it was impossible to ‘produce into the peak’. 

A graphic representation of the CoVent ventilator, designed by Dyson, is seen attached to a hospital bed. Efforts to get manufacturers to produce ventilators are underway

The Ventilator Challenge UK group – which includes Dyson and Rolls-Royce – have said they aim to make 1,500 machines a week by the end of the month, but only 30 are said to arrive in the first batch.  

Under codenames Project Oyster and Project Penguin, the consortium has used its design and building resources to deliver two models in two weeks.

Project Oyster has involved making slight tweaks to an existing design by Oxfordshire-based firm Penlon, aimed at speeding up the assembly process.

The consortium is also lending its muscle to increasing production of a device called the ParaPac ventilator, made by Smiths Medical, under Project Penguin.

Consortium lead Dick Elsy said: ‘To provide some context, Penlon and Smiths ordinarily have combined capacity for between 50 and 60 ventilators per week. 

A graphic representation of a CoVent ventilator, designed by Dyson. The Government previously ordered 10,000 ventilators from the manufacturer

‘However, thanks to the scale and resources of the wider consortium, we are targeting production of at least 1,500 units a week of the Penlon and Smiths models combined within a matter of weeks.’

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the government ‘don’t know’ when the peak of the pandemic is expected to be, and expressed confidence in equipment supplies.

Addressing whether the NHS will have enough ventilators during the peak, given some fear they will not receive the critical care they need, he said: ‘I can tell you I don’t think we’re anywhere close to that kind of scenario at the moment. 

‘We will watch it extremely closely and we will make decisions as we need to on a day-by-day basis.’ 

It follows the UK announcing 684 more coronavirus deaths on Friday, taking the total number of fatalities to 3,605.

Yet again the number is a record one-day high – this has been the case almost every day this week, with each day since Tuesday announcing more victims than the last.

The figures mean the number of people dead from COVID-19 in the UK has risen five-fold in a week, from just 759 last Friday, March 27.

 

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Donna Air reveals she tested positive with coronavirus after 'mild flu-like symptoms'

DONNA Air has revealed she tested positive with coronavirus after 'mild flu-like symptoms'.

The actress said she is over the worst of her ordeal after worrying how the deadly bug would effect her, and chose not to tell her friends because she didn't want to spread fear.

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Donna, 40, said: "Hi Guys. I hope everyone is managing to stay strong and in relatively good spirits during the lockdown. I just wanted to let you know developed mild flu like symptoms and started self isolating 18 days ago, I took a test for some clarity & the results tested positive for Covid19.

"Thankfully symptoms improved shortly after and my loved ones are not displaying any signs of the virus. I will continue to follow government guidelines & in the meantime I am sending masses of love to you all ❤️ especially those on the front line."

Donna went on to reveal she had generously purchased coronavirus tests and offered them to NHS staff, after reuniting with her family and daughter Freya Air Aspinall.

She wrote: "I am aware what a privilege it is to be able access tests privately, so I have donated some to friends working for the @NHS. I feel relieved having consulted my gp who has confirmed it is safe to see my daughter again.

"Happy to answer questions on symptoms or give info on what I did to boost my immune system when I felt at my worst . #Stayhome & #Savelives. #staystrong #selfcare #covid19 #overcorona ✌🏻Donna x"

A fan commented on her post on Twitter and said: "Love how you turned this into a positive and bought tests for your freinds in the NHS. Kudos to you Donna x"

And Donna replied: "Best not add to the fear that’s already out there, Fear weakens our immune system!

"Which is why I wanted to wait until I was ok to share with friends and family"

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It come after the Department of Health yesterday reported an increase of 180 more fatalities yesterday and 393 today, with more than 22,000 infections across the UK.

At the moment, the death toll is based on fatalities reported by NHS trusts.

The current figures do not give a true reading of the scale of coronavirus in Britain since a lag in death count means the stats are about three weeks behind.

The ONS statistics, which are released weekly, are expected to show any death "where Covid-19 is mentioned anywhere on the death certificate".

It comes after Monday's figure marks the first time the daily increase in deaths has fallen for two consecutive days and has dropped from 260 on Saturday, the worst day in the crisis so far.

At least four of those who died had no pre-existing medical conditions, the Department of Health said.

New figures also show here has been almost a 50 per cent rise in just a few days in the number of people being treated for coronavirus in England's hospitals, according to new figures.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said on Friday that more than 6,200 patients were in hospital with Covid-19.

But on Monday, he said this figure had jumped to more than 9,000.

 

 

 

 

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