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An extraordinary account of how a Welsh and American team conquered Afghanistan’s highest peak

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an extraordinary account of how a welsh and american team conquered afghanistans highest peak

As tough climbs go, there are few more gruelling than getting to the top of 24,580ft (7,492m) Mount Noshaq – the highest mountain in Afghanistan.

It’s something that Welshman James Bingham discovered when he led a part Welsh, part American, team up it. The ultra-marathon runner and expert mountaineer summited Everest in 2007 – but said Noshaq was ‘tougher’.

But despite the physical exertion and the fact that getting to the remote mountain was a risky business – the 45-year-old father of two had to dodge minefields and travel with armed guards in case of encounters with the Taliban – he told MailOnline Travel that the 2010 trip was ‘the greatest adventure of my life’. And incredible images from the expedition show just what an epic odyssey it was. 

British adventurer James Bingham ventured to Mount Noshaq in Afghanistan in the summer of 2010. It is the country's highest peak at 24,580 feet (7,492m). Above, Bill Lyden carries a heavy load towards a higher camp on the peak, battling steep icy slopes and high altitude

British adventurer James Bingham ventured to Mount Noshaq in Afghanistan in the summer of 2010. It is the country’s highest peak at 24,580 feet (7,492m). Above, Bill Lyden carries a heavy load towards a higher camp on the peak, battling steep icy slopes and high altitude

A photo of Mount Noshaq taken from the climbers' basecamp at 15,255 feet (4,650m). The route they took followed the ridgeline on the right-hand side

A photo of Mount Noshaq taken from the climbers’ basecamp at 15,255 feet (4,650m). The route they took followed the ridgeline on the right-hand side

James with his climbing party, which included his three friends - Welsh compatriots Quentin Brooksbank and Mark Wynne, and Bill Lyden from Alaska - local porters and an armed Afghan escort

James with his climbing party, which included his three friends – Welsh compatriots Quentin Brooksbank and Mark Wynne, and Bill Lyden from Alaska – local porters and an armed Afghan escort 

James said this photo brings back brilliant memories of trekking up towards basecamp on the second day of the expedition. He remembers the heavy loads not so fondly

James said this photo brings back brilliant memories of trekking up towards basecamp on the second day of the expedition. He remembers the heavy loads not so fondly  

London-based James, who grew up in Rhosneigr on the south-west coast of Anglesey, originally got the idea to climb the mountain after a similarly adventurous old school friend from the Welsh island, Quentin Brooksbank, texted him suggesting that they go and explore the Hindu Kush range, where Noshaq is located.

Initially, James was apprehensive about travelling to Afghanistan as he ‘assumed it was far too dangerous for Westerners to visit at that time in 2010 given everything that was going on and the ongoing conflict’.

But the more research he did about Afghanistan, the more his confidence grew.

He told MailOnline Travel: ‘I had concerns initially, but the situation in Afghanistan wasn’t quite what I thought.

‘In the weeks and months leading up to the expedition, we read lots about the region surrounding Noshaq and discovered that a handful of intrepid adventurers had travelled to the area, including a small group of French mountaineers who climbed the mountain the year before.

The climbing team (James, second from the right) pose for a photo before making their way to the Afghan village of Qazi-Deh. Everyone had to pack into one vehicle for a long and bumpy ride on unsurfaced roads

The climbing team (James, second from the right) pose for a photo before making their way to the Afghan village of Qazi-Deh. Everyone had to pack into one vehicle for a long and bumpy ride on unsurfaced roads

Local farmers helped carry the team's loads to basecamp. The above photo was taken on the first day of the climbing expedition as they left Qazi-Deh. The mouth of the valley leading to Mount Noshaq can be found 1.2 miles (two kilometres) east of Qazi-Deh

Local farmers helped carry the team’s loads to basecamp. The above photo was taken on the first day of the climbing expedition as they left Qazi-Deh. The mouth of the valley leading to Mount Noshaq can be found 1.2 miles (two kilometres) east of Qazi-Deh

Bill trekking up towards basecamp on the second day of the expedition with a heavy load

Bill trekking up towards basecamp on the second day of the expedition with a heavy load 

James snaps a photo while the rest of the team catch up on some well-earned rest at basecamp

James snaps a photo while the rest of the team catch up on some well-earned rest at basecamp

James and his team reached Mount Noshaq by flying to Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, then enduring a ‘bone-rattling’ two-day jeep drive through Tajikistan to Afghanistan

James and his team reached Mount Noshaq by flying to Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, then enduring a ‘bone-rattling’ two-day jeep drive through Tajikistan to Afghanistan

‘After some deliberation, we threw caution to the wind and decided to go.’

There were four men in the climbing team – James, Quentin, fellow Welshman Mark Wynne and Bill Lyden from Alaska – and it would be the first British-led expedition to attempt an ascent of Noshaq since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

To reach the remote mountain – which lies in the northeast of Afghanistan, on the border with Pakistan – the daring quartet took a direct flight from London to Dushanbe, the capital city of neighbouring Tajikistan.

From there, they endured a ‘bone-rattling’ two-day jeep drive through Tajikistan to reach a remote border crossing at Ishkashim, a town in northeastern Afghanistan. They dressed in traditional Afghan apparel – tunics, loose trousers and hats – before they reached the mountain so they blended in.

Explaining this choice of route, James said: ‘This meant we arrived in Afghanistan at a point remarkably close to the mountains we hoped to climb.

‘It also significantly reduced road travel within Afghanistan, which was sensible given the security concerns in some areas.’

The expedition team was only allowed to climb the mountain after accepting an armed escort from the commander of the police in Ishkashim.

A photo of the team's basecamp at 15,255 feet (4,650m). Two of the team - James and Quentin - stand in the sun while studying route options up the mountain

A photo of the team’s basecamp at 15,255 feet (4,650m). Two of the team – James and Quentin – stand in the sun while studying route options up the mountain

A view from James's tent door of the snow-wrapped peaks stretching out before him. This shot was taken at camp two on the mountain at 20,341 feet (6,200m) where the team took time to acclimatise to the high altitude and rest

A view from James’s tent door of the snow-wrapped peaks stretching out before him. This shot was taken at camp two on the mountain at 20,341 feet (6,200m) where the team took time to acclimatise to the high altitude and rest

James leads the team up a near-vertical slope to the top of a ridge

James leads the team up a near-vertical slope to the top of a ridge 

Mark reaches the crest of a ridge after a long day load-carrying. Basecamp was a few thousand feet below this point

Mark reaches the crest of a ridge after a long day load-carrying. Basecamp was a few thousand feet below this point

The commander was worried that the expedition planned to pass close to the Pakistan border, where he said there was suspected Taliban activity.

It was agreed that if they took on security, they would be granted permission to climb the mountain, so four armed soldiers travelled with them on the three-day trek to basecamp and helped guide the team clear of minefields, a legacy of the Mujahideen’s nine-year war with the Soviet Union. 

James and his team also hired some local farmers who were keen to earn some extra money by carrying bits of kit.

Before they set off and pushed for the summit, James and his team spent many days climbing up and down to various lofty points on Noshaq to acclimatise to the high altitude.

During this time, the climbers established four camps for their ascent and two for their descent.

James noted that the group had to be ‘self-reliant’ as Noshaq is so remote that climbing infrastructure is non-existent. If anything went wrong, there would be no rescue available.

When they felt ready, the mountaineers set off on what proved to be a gruelling trek.

Recalling the expedition, James said: ‘Conditions on the mountain were tough at times.

Bill poses for a photo on a bright sunny afternoon, with the majestic Hindu Kush lording it in the background

Bill poses for a photo on a bright sunny afternoon, with the majestic Hindu Kush lording it in the background

James and Bill approach a near-vertical 660ft-high rock band, just below 22,965ft

James and Bill approach a near-vertical 660ft-high rock band, just below 22,965ft

Bill navigating a near-vertical section of snow and rock at around 19,685 feet (6,000m)

Bill (foreground) and Mark clamber along a rocky ridgeline

The picture on the left shows Bill navigating a near-vertical section of snow and rock at around 19,685 feet (6,000m). On the right, Bill (foreground) and Mark clamber along a rocky ridgeline

James noted that the group had to be ‘self-reliant’ as Noshaq is so remote that climbing infrastructure is non-existent. If anything went wrong, there would be no rescue available

James noted that the group had to be ‘self-reliant’ as Noshaq is so remote that climbing infrastructure is non-existent. If anything went wrong, there would be no rescue available 

Bill and James take a short break after reaching the crest of a ridge high on the mountain

Bill and James take a short break after reaching the crest of a ridge high on the mountain

‘Higher on the mountain we encountered waist-deep snow, whiteouts and a couple of storms.

‘Just below 22,965ft (7,000m) we discovered a near-vertical 660ft-high band of rock.

‘The rock was very brittle and it was hard to make good anchors for climbing safely.

‘Then on the supply side of things we ran low on food in the later stages of the climb and a broken stove meant we couldn’t drink for a couple of days, but we got there in the end.’

James and his team weren’t rewarded with much of a view, but the moment they made the summit was a joyous one nevertheless.

James said: ‘We had thrown everything we had to reach the summit of the mountain. We were physically pretty broken by that point and really felt the effects of the altitude. It was harder than climbing Everest as we’d had no support at all after basecamp and this meant carrying large loads up and down the mountain over several weeks. 

‘In a sense we were surprised to reach the summit as at times it felt we would never make it. But somehow against the odds we did. It was a wonderful feeling and I was so proud of my teammates and friends who had been rock solid throughout the expedition.’

On reflection, James said that one of the most magical aspects of the trip was that they ‘didn’t see another soul for the duration of the three-week expedition, which is unusual on most big mountains these days’.

Also memorable were the ‘spectacular, jaw-dropping, incredibly remote views’ on the way up.

Despite it being an ‘incredibly challenging expedition’ James said his visit to Noshaq ‘remains the greatest adventure of my life’.

He explained: ‘As well as seeing the stark beauty of the landscape, I think we all fell in love with Afghanistan and most importantly the country’s generous people, who treated us so well.’

A stunning shot taken at around 21,325 feet (6,500m) showing views over the Pakistan border

A stunning shot taken at around 21,325 feet (6,500m) showing views over the Pakistan border

Another image showing the views over Pakistan from the snow-caked slopes of Mount Noshaq

Another image showing the views over Pakistan from the snow-caked slopes of Mount Noshaq

Higher on the mountain, James said the team encountered 'waist-deep snow, whiteouts and a couple of storms' but they managed to see the bad weather out to reach the top

Higher on the mountain, James said the team encountered ‘waist-deep snow, whiteouts and a couple of storms’ but they managed to see the bad weather out to reach the top

A photo showing the icy, almost otherworldly, terrain around the team's basecamp

A photo showing the icy, almost otherworldly, terrain around the team’s basecamp

Mark and James on the summit of Noshaq, at 24,580ft (7,492m). Mark and James are school friends from Anglesey and, as this image shows, they packed a Welsh flag

Mark and James on the summit of Noshaq, at 24,580ft (7,492m). Mark and James are school friends from Anglesey and, as this image shows, they packed a Welsh flag

Mark radios back to basecamp, confirming to Quentin that the team had made the summit and were OK. Quentin had remained at basecamp after struggling to acclimatise

Mark radios back to basecamp, confirming to Quentin that the team had made the summit and were OK. Quentin had remained at basecamp after struggling to acclimatise

Bill, who's from Alaska, on the summit of Noshaq. This was his first expedition outside the USA

Bill, who’s from Alaska, on the summit of Noshaq. This was his first expedition outside the USA

James and Mark on the summit of Noshaq. James said: 'We were both totally broken and suffering from the effects of the high altitude. At the same time very proud that we had managed to reach the summit'

James and Mark on the summit of Noshaq. James said: ‘We were both totally broken and suffering from the effects of the high altitude. At the same time very proud that we had managed to reach the summit’

After his first trip to Afghanistan, James has returned many times to climb and explore other regions.

In 2015, he helped set up The Marathon of Afghanistan, the first international marathon to take place in the country and now an annual event.

James’s hope is for more Afghans to take up mountaineering, a sport he said is slowly gathering momentum.

Perhaps some there will be inspired by news just in that a group of compatriots has just become the first all-Afghan team to conquer Noshaq.

James relayed the news to MailOnline Travel that the team of nine – six men and three women – all made the summit.

They said it was ‘incredibly hard’, he reported, and they underestimated how tough it would be. But ‘working as a team’ they eventually made it.

James added: ‘I hope they experienced the joy I did back in 2010 on the slopes of Noshaq.’ 

James Bingham’s ventures: He is Race Director of 135-mile ultra-marathon Ring O Fire, co-founder of The Marathon of Afghanistan and recently established the Afghan Sports Trust, a new charity that raises money to help fund grassroots sporting organisations in Afghanistan.  

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Struggling test and trace programme now forced to bring in super-management consultants from KPMG

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struggling test and trace programme now forced to bring in super management consultants from kpmg

The struggling test-and-trace programme has been forced to bring in super-management consultants from KPMG in an attempt to get back on track.

The government is preparing to draft in a new team to bolster the £10billion scheme which was implemented to manage any second coronavirus wave.

The service, which was introduced by Boris Johnson earlier this year as ‘world-beating’, has been condemned as ‘barely functional’ after being flooded by demand in recent weeks.

It comes as the Prime Minister sounded the Covid-19 alarm after admitting an ‘inevitable’ surge in cases – with the UK recording a four-month high of 4,322 new infections in the past 24 hours.

The struggling test-and-trace programme has been forced to bring in super-management consultants from KPMG in an attempt to get back on track

The struggling test-and-trace programme has been forced to bring in super-management consultants from KPMG in an attempt to get back on track

‘Hundreds’ of staff from consulting firms including KPMG and EY have been put on standby to work in various parts of the test-and-trace system ‘on a short-term basis’, according to The Guardian.

It is thought that they will be required across the programme including project support, supply chain, data and programme management sectors.

The consultants are said to be starting within the next 72 hours and will likely remain for the next six months – with the terms of contracts still being negotiated. 

It is not yet clear how much these services will cost the taxpayer.          

KPMG declined to comment when approached by MailOnline. 

EY and the Department of Health and Social Care have been contacted for comment. 

The move comes after Boris Johnson (pictured) tonight admitted that an 'inevitable' second wave of coronavirus had begun to batter the UK, as the nation was placed back on Covid red alert

The move comes after Boris Johnson (pictured) tonight admitted that an ‘inevitable’ second wave of coronavirus had begun to batter the UK, as the nation was placed back on Covid red alert

The move comes after Boris Johnson tonight admitted that an ‘inevitable’ second wave of coronavirus had begun to batter the UK, as the nation was placed back on Covid red alert. 

The Prime Minister said a second nationwide lockdown was the ‘last thing anybody wants’ but revealed his administration was considering whether it needed to ‘go further’ to see off the new virus surge. 

A raft of new measures including localised lockdowns has been put in place this week.  

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33346966 8748785 image a 32 1600457012716

Visiting the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre construction site near Oxford, Mr Johnson said: ‘I don’t want to go into bigger lockdown measures at all, we want to keep schools open and it is fantastic the schools have gone back in the way they have. 

‘We want to keep the economy open as far as we possibly can, we want to keep businesses going.

‘The only way we can do that is obviously if people follow the guidance.’

Nightingale hospitals were today ordered to be ready to open again within 48 hours – and another swathe of England was plunged into lockdown.

Health bosses have revealed the temporary hospital in Birmingham’s NEC arena – officially opened by Prince William via videolink during the darkest days of the outbreak in April – has been placed on standby so it can start treating patients within two to three days. 

The UK’s daily infections hit a four-month high of 4,322 in the past 24 hours with figures showing the outbreak has nearly doubled in size in a week and the R number is potentially as high as 1.4. 

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Medical tents return to the streets of Madrid

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medical tents return to the streets of madrid

The green medical tents return to Madrid’s military hospital , as the city is gripped by coronavirus second wave.   

The Gomez Ulla hospital, is getting ready just in case emergency wards get crammed again.

COVID-19 cases are stubbornly on the rise in Madrid despite curbs on nightlife, outdoor smoking and limiting all group interaction to a maximum of 10 people. 

 The measures have not prevented the outbreaks from spreading widely, something that experts blame on inadequate self-protection and, especially, a failure in diligent tracing of contacts of positive cases.

Authorities in Madrid were set to announce ‘drastic measures’  on Friday against the outbreaks. 

They hinted that those could include localized lockdowns and other ‘restrictions on mobility’ in Madrid’s hardest-hit areas, which are also the poorest and more densely populated.

But experts are warning that they may not even be enough.

Medical tents are back at the The Gomez Ulla military hospital in Madrid

Medical tents are back at the The Gomez Ulla military hospital in Madrid

‘There is so much community transmission in Madrid that is possible that very soon a full lockdown will be needed,’ said Rafael Bengoa, a former WHO official.

‘It seems like we are learning too slow – we haven’t acted energetically enough,’ he told Cadena SER radio.

The measures are ‘tardy and insufficient,’ said Daniel Lopez Acuna, who was director of emergencies at WHO. ‘They are overthinking it. Action is needed.’

The center-right coalition government in Madrid has been in turmoil, part internal infighting and part external criticism, as it struggled this week on what to do next. 

The region’s top coronavirus expert announced on Wednesday that stay-at-home orders should be expected by the weekend, but his bosses took a distance from his remarks.

The regional boss, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, has also been one of the biggest critics of the national left-wing coalition’s handling of the pandemic. Her government recovered control in late June, once the central government lifted a state of emergency that had reined in a devastating first wave of the virus. But since then, Ayuso had been complaining that central authorities weren’t helping enough.

After weeks exchanging blame for inaction, Sanchez and Ayuso have agreed to meet Monday with the only goal of ‘bending the curve,’ both governments announced Friday.

On Friday  5,100 new infections were reported, 200 more than the day before

On Friday  5,100 new infections were reported, 200 more than the day before

Part of the concern is Madrid’s capacity to spread infections to other parts of the country. Home to 3.3 million people in its urban area and as many more in its surrounding region, the city is also Spain’s economic powerhouse. It’s also centrally located at the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, bringing in workers from nearby provinces and visitors from elsewhere.

On Friday, the city reported more than 5,100 new infections, 200 more than the day before. The regional hospitals were treating 2,907 people, including nearly 400 in intensive care units, one third of the country’s total.

But so far it’s health centers that are shouldering the worst of the crisis. Famously underfunded for years, primary care doctors and nurses are now also performing thousands of virus tests per day, and have taken the burden of tracing contacts of those who come out as positive.

That’s causing increasingly longer delays in providing test results, leaving people like Raquel Lopez, a 39-year-old sociologist on her 21st week of pregnancy, waiting at home in self-imposed isolation for five days as she waited to find out whether she had the virus.

Raquel, who took the test on Monday after finding out that a family she spent time with a week earlier had contracted the virus, on Friday was told that she’s negative.

‘But it could had been either way,’ said Lopez, who works from home. ‘My husband and I have been responsible and we haven’t gone out while waiting for the results, but what happens with people who can’t afford to miss work? Are they going to wait at home or go out there possibly infecting others?’

Lopez lives in Vallecas, one of the working class neighborhoods that is expecting some of the restrictions. She’s angry at officials who promote the idea that people in impoverished areas are to blame for not using masks, keeping social distancing or completing quarantines.

‘That’s not true. We are doing it the same way as the rest of Madrid,’ she said. ‘The truth is that citizens are behaving much better than politicians.’

Spain on Thursday added more than 11,000 new infections and registered 162 new confirmed deaths from the virus. The country has Europe’s highest caseload since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 625,000 people have been infected and at least 30,400 have died, according to the Health Ministry’s official data.

 Doctors have warned that Madrid is walking ‘in slow motion’ towards a repeat of its ‘nuclear bomb’ Covid crisis in March.

Spain has recorded an average of more than 10,000 new cases per day over the last week, the worst figures in Europe and the fifth highest infection rate in the world.

Nearly a third of those falling sick are in Madrid which is striking fear into the capital’s medics after it bore the brunt of Europe’s spring outbreak – Spain has the highest per capita death rate on the continent.

On September 4, Madrid recorded 4,852 cases, its highest ever number of infections in a single day, and the city today has an R-rate of 1.08 – any number greater than one means that the contagion is multiplying. 

MADRID: Madrid's R-rate stands at 1.15 - any figure over 1 is considered to be detrimental to public health because it means that the contagion is growing as it spreads

MADRID: Madrid’s R-rate stands at 1.15 – any figure over 1 is considered to be detrimental to public health because it means that the contagion is growing as it spreads

SPAIN: The national coronavirus tally has surged in recent weeks, with an average of 10,140 new cases per day over the last week

SPAIN: The national coronavirus tally has surged in recent weeks, with an average of 10,140 new cases per day over the last week

SPAIN: There were 239 deaths in Spain in the last 24 hours - the highest figure since May - and a total of 366 fatalities over the last seven days, which is double the previous week when there were 177 deaths

SPAIN: There were 239 deaths in Spain in the last 24 hours – the highest figure since May – and a total of 366 fatalities over the last seven days, which is double the previous week when there were 177 deaths

Although, the figures compared to the initial outbreak must be counterbalanced by Spain’s increased testing capacity, the uptick is starting to be felt in hospitals.  

There were 239 deaths in Spain in the last 24 hours – the highest figure since May – and a total of 366 fatalities over the last seven days, which is double the previous week when there were 177 deaths.  

EUROPE’S SURGING DAILY CORONAVIRUS CASES

SPAIN: 10,140

FRANCE: 8,684

RUSSIA: 5,559

UNITED KINGDOM: 3,286 

UKRAINE: 2,953

*All figures based on latest seven-day average reported 

Source: Reuters  

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‘In a way, it’s like the situation in March but in slow motion,’ said Dr. Carlos Velayos, who works as an intensive care unit physician at the public hospital in suburban Fuenlabrada. 

The hospital is expanding its ICU capacity from 12 to 24 beds by the end of September, as all of them are currently filling up with coronavirus patients. 

With 1,281 patients in ICUs as of Wednesday, Spain has roughly as many beds devoted to treat grave patients of COVID-19 as France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy together.

And 359 of them are in the Madrid region, which for the past week has accounted for roughly one-third of a national average of 8,200 new infections per day.

Spain’s virus caseload, above 600,000, is one of the world’s highest and more than 30,000 have died in the country for the new virus.

Velayos said that prediction models were telling hospital administrators in Madrid that some ICU wards could reach peak capacity in the second half of September. But little or nothing has been done to avoid returning to extended shifts among many health professionals that are still recovering from the stress of the pandemic’s first wave.

‘In March, it was like a nuclear bomb that brought the health system as a whole to a collapse in a matter of weeks,’ Velayos said. ‘We might not be there yet, but that´s not a reason not to be worried. We have allowed the outbreaks to reach a level of being uncontrollable.’

Medical workers are this time better prepared, with lessons learned on how to treat incoming patients more effectively and they have means to better protect themselves against contagion. But operating rooms in the Madrid region, which has a population of 6.6 million, are already being turned into ICUs and surgeries have been postponed, while hospitals compete to hire professionals for the expanded capacity.

Regional authorities say that the health system still has room to manage the incoming flow of patients, but following warnings by medical personnel like Velayos, officials are now reacting with stricter measures that could include selective lockdowns in parts of the city as early as next week.

The five countries with the highest average number of daily cases recorded in the last week in Europe

The five countries with the highest average number of daily cases recorded in the last week in Europe

Current infection rates in Europe according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), with Spain and France among the worst-affected countries in the recent rebound

Current infection rates in Europe according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), with Spain and France among the worst-affected countries in the recent rebound 

The restrictions, if finally adopted, will center on urban areas where the coronavirus is spreading faster, officials announced Wednesday. That’s suburban towns like Fuenlabrada, but also working-class neighborhoods in southern Madrid where contagion rates have been steadily soaring since August.

They also happen to be areas where less affluent residents and mostly migrant families cram into small apartments and commute on public transportation to manual work in other quarters of the Spanish capital.

COUNTRIES REPORTING MOST NEW CASES/DEATHS EACH DAY

CASES 

INDIA: 93,199

US: 38,897

BRAZIL: 31,599

ARGENTINA: 10,960

SPAIN: 10,140

DEATHS

INDIA: 1,162

US: 854

BRAZIL: 808

MEXICO: 456

ARGENTINA: 207 

*All figures based on latest seven-day average reported

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Ángela Cantos lives in the Vallecas neighborhood, one of the hot spots in the recent wave of outbreaks. She said that if her neighborhood is locked down, ‘then Madrid will be paralyzed.’

‘Who is going to cook and clean in other districts if they close down here?’ she said.

The regional deputy health chief, Dr. Antonio Zapatero, said Wednesday that ‘Madrid wants to flatten the curve before the arrival of autumn and the complications that cold weather could bring,’ adding that the ‘drastic measures’ to be taken will be decided by the weekend.

Zapatero also said that people have relaxed protection measures by holding large gatherings, often forgetting about social distancing or masks. He also announced that police will monitor compliance of mandatory self-isolation since at least 90 people have been found to be skipping quarantines after testing positive for the new virus.

The country brought contagion under control earlier this year with a three-month lockdown, one of the strictest anywhere, but since it relaxed restrictions in mid-June, outbreaks have spread throughout the country.

The Spanish government says the country is now doing more tests and that more than half of the newly infected show no symptoms. But health centers are starting to struggle to cope with the number of virus tests required and responding to patients. In hospitals, 8.5% of the country´s beds are now treating COVID-19 patients, but in Madrid that share jumps to one in five beds.

In terms of ICUs, official data shows that 38% of the region’s beds have coronavirus patients, although some hospitals are already at 90% of their capacity before rolling out emergency plans for new beds, like they did in spring.

‘Madrid is maintaining a steady level of infections, but we have to take into account the impact of the pandemic in primary care, in hospitals, which is totally sustainable at the moment. But we have to make that line of infections decrease,’ said Zapatero, who back in March was tasked with Madrid’s makeshift hospital of 1,500 temporary beds in an exhibition center.

Europe's daily number of cases (shown on this chart) has reached record levels, according to WHO figures, although deaths have so far remained relatively stable

Europe’s daily number of cases (shown on this chart) has reached record levels, according to WHO figures, although deaths have so far remained relatively stable 

This time, officials are hoping they don’t have to reach that point. The regional government is spending 50 million euro (£45.5 million) to build by the end of October a massive permanent new ‘epidemics hospital’ with more than 1,000 beds. 

It’s also promising more resources for primary care, since health centers have now become the new bottleneck of citizens concerned that they may have contracted the virus.

EUROPE WARNED TO BRACE FOR HIGHER MORTALITY RATE 

The WHO warned Europe this week to brace for higher mortality rates over the autumn as cases soared on the continent.

Spain, France, the Netherlands, Malta, Greece, Slovenia and Ukraine are all reporting more cases than ever.

In the last seven days, Spain has reported an average of 10,140 cases each day, France 8,684, Russia 5,559, the United Kingdom 3,286, and Ukraine 2,953.

The countries reporting the highest average deaths over the same period were Russia 114, Spain 59, Ukraine 54, Romania 38 and France 36.  

‘It’s going to get tougher. In October, November, we are going to see more mortality,’ WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said on Monday.

‘It’s a moment where countries don’t want to hear this bad news, and I understand,’ Kluge said, adding that he wanted to send the ‘positive message’ that the pandemic ‘is going to finish, at one moment or another.’ 

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In addition to performing most of the testing, first-row doctors in Spanish health centers have now taken the burden of contact tracing.

‘The problems in primary care are not from the past six months,’ said Dr. Olaya Muñoz, who works in a health center in the heart of Madrid. ‘COVID has just been more stress for a system that was malfunctioning for at least a decade.’

Muñoz finds time to talk, while catching her breath, as she walks uphill to visit two elderly patients at home. After that, more than 40 appointments await her back at her community health center. Although these days they do most of them by phone, she can’t devote more than an average of six minutes per patient.

‘The workload is just unbearable,’ she said.

Dr. María Cruz Martín Delgado, spokeswoman for Spain’s intensive care specialists’ association known as Semicyuc, says that a collapse in primary care couldn’t only lead to more asymptomatic cases to go undetected but also poorer or no treatment of other illnesses that eventually could lead to more patients downstream, in hospitals and ICUs.

What Martín wants is a clear protocol from authorities at the national and regional levels on how to proceed.

‘We need to know what is the point when we need to turn down other patients, because we doctors can’t take all responsibility again having to respond to an emergency when we are not given the resources to do so,’ she said.

Velayos, the intensive care specialist from Fuenlabrada, said that the work overload in March and April was widely acknowledged among his colleagues ‘as part of an exceptional situation that needed to be met with all the world´s generosity.’

‘But right now we are talking about a situation becoming chronic, where stress is going to be the norm and routine,’ he said.

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MPs call for Ofcom review of BBC Sounds dance music channel over competing concerns

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mps call for ofcom review of bbc sounds dance music channel over competing concerns

MPs have called on media regulator OfCom to formally investigate the BBC‘s Sounds app over concerns the broadcaster is trying to compete with commercial radio and streaming services.

Their apprehension comes after the BBC announced it was launching a new 24/7 dance app which would focus on streaming all of their shows in one place. 

Radio 1 Dance will bring together Radio 1’s slate of existing dance programmes into a dedicated stream on BBC Sounds, giving audiences more flexibility to listen to their favourite BBC content. 

The BBC announced it was launching a new 24/7 dance app which would focus on streaming all of their shows in one place

The BBC announced it was launching a new 24/7 dance app which would focus on streaming all of their shows in one place

Announcing the service the Beeb says it will ‘give young audiences even more flexibility to listen to their favourite BBC content outside of the more traditional linear schedules’.   

Launching the service, Head Of Radio 1 Aled Haydn Jones said: ‘This is a historic moment for Radio 1. 

‘Though the station’s world-leading influence in the dance music scene has spanned decades, we’re now able to stream all of our brilliant shows in one place on BBC Sounds. 

‘Radio 1 Dance will be the perfect accompaniment to Radio 1, offering something for everyone, from die-hard dance fans to those simply looking to inject some more energy into their day’. 

Pete Tong whose show will play a big role in the service added: ‘This is a huge moment for the dance scene and I’m really excited that my Radio 1 show will be providing the soundtrack to drivetime on Radio 1 Dance. 

‘I look forward to even more people getting to join us to hear the very best in dance and electronica every Monday to Thursday on the new stream’.

Andy Carter MP (pictured) has raised concerns that bosses at the Corporation are competing with the commercial sector

Andy Carter MP (pictured) has raised concerns that bosses at the Corporation are competing with the commercial sector

But Andy Carter MP, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Commercial Radio. which supports commercial radio, has raised concerns that bosses at the Corporation are competing with the commercial sector. 

‘It’s imperative for the future of the BBC that it provides high quality, distinctive content that warrants its significant licence fee income: said Mr Carter. 

‘I am concerned about the serious lack of transparency and scrutiny of the BBC Sounds platform. 

‘New services like Radio 1 Dance do not appear to meet the important public value tests that the BBC must observe. 

‘I hope OfCom will conduct a thorough review of BBC Sounds as a matter of urgency’.

Mr Carter’s comments have been welcomed by Siobhan Kenny, who heads the commercial radio repping trade group Radiocentre.

Pete Tong whose show will play a big role in the service said he is excited that his Radio 1 show will be providing the soundtrack to drivetime on Radio 1 Dance.

Pete Tong whose show will play a big role in the service said he is excited that his Radio 1 show will be providing the soundtrack to drivetime on Radio 1 Dance.

‘We were encouraged to hear new Director General Tim Davie emphasise that distinctiveness and true public service value should be at the heart of all BBC content’, said Ms Kenny.

‘It is disappointing therefore to see this announcement of a new 24 hour dance stream’. 

‘It is really difficult to understand what qualifies as distinctive in this offering. Commercial radio has a rich catalogue in this area and is very popular with audiences’.

She concluded: ‘We know the BBC is struggling to attract younger audiences but launching in competition to existing, UK-based providers, who rely on advertising revenue rather than public funding, is really not the way ahead. 

We agree that it is time for an urgent review’.

A BBC spokesperson said: ‘We want to make it easy for new and existing audiences to enjoy high quality, distinctive content like our dance programmes on BBC Sounds. We’ve always been open about our plans as well as had relevant approvals from Ofcom as part of the normal process.’ 

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