The pandemic has a habit of bringing hidden social crises into the open. Now it reveals the precarious position of local government, the provider of vital services from care homes to public health and bin collection, which has helped keep the show on the road in the UK’s biggest national emergency since the second world war.

The National Audit Office (NAO) account of the near implosion of England’s local councils during Covid is sobering: only by the government’s swift, if grudging, injection of billions of pounds of emergency cash into council coffers over recent months did ministers avert what the auditors call “system-wide financial failure”.

The watchdog rightly praises ministers for this: the consequences of scores of local authorities having to declare bankruptcy in the middle of lockdown are frightening. But it makes two other points: first, that 10 years of austerity made municipal finances structurally fragile; and second, that councils’ budget crisis isn’t over:

Brazil sees record deaths

Overseas fans face ban from Tokyo Olympics, reports news agency

Japan’s government has decided to stage the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics without overseas spectators because of fears among the population over the potential spread of Covid-19, the Kyodo news agency has reported, citing officials with knowledge of the matter.

The opening ceremony of the torch relay on 25 March will also be held without spectators, according to the agency.

“The organising committee has decided it is essential to hold the ceremony in the north-eastern prefecture of Fukushima behind closed doors, only permitting participants and invitees to take part in the event, to avoid large crowds forming amid the pandemic,” Kyodo reported.

The report was played down by the International Olympic Committee, which said no decision on overseas spectators had yet been taken:


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