The COVID-19 reproductive rate – also known as the ‘R value’ – has risen to 1 in the South West, meaning the region now has the second highest rate of transmission of the virus in England, new analysis shows (ONS).
Remember the South West region extends beyond the peninsular to include Gloucester and Wiltshire and the city of Bristol.
An R value above one means each infected person passes the disease onto more than one other person, a value less than one means the infection will eventually die out. But there are other factors involved as well and Owl has reported on the significance of the K value.
Obviously we need to be very alert to what might have happened here since Boris Johnson allowed unlimited travel to beauty spots and the subsequent easing of lockdown measures.
Owl’s view is that the best “canary in the cage” to watch is the estimate of percentage of population exhibiting Covid related symptoms is Tim Spector’s Covid-19 symptom tracker app which is updated daily.
Increase in symptoms would be the first indicator of problems. Owl has been watching the following local seaside districts with contrasting characteristics. (eg South Hams with high proportion of second homes and North Devon with very high visitor to local population ratio etc.)
Public Health England (PHE) has given a regional breakdown of the coronavirus transmission number, or R value, with the latest estimate showing it is around one in the North West and South West regions of England.
PHE said latest estimates, worked out in conjunction with Cambridge University’s MRC Biostatistics Unit, show it is highly likely that R is below one in each other region of England.
The brand-new analysis shows that the North West now running above that at 1.01, the highest in the country, up from 0.73 a few weeks ago when the data was last released.
The South West is listed as exactly 1, meaning it is the second highest R value in England, although the researchers believe the number of new daily infections in the region to be ‘relatively low’.
This comes as lockdown restrictions continue to be eased across England, meaning more and more people are returning to work, and some children have returned to school.
The South West is followed by the South East on 0.97, London on 0.95 – a huge increase from its last value of 0.4 – and the East of England on 0.94.
It measures the number in the Midlands to be at 0.9 and in the North East and Yorkshire, which previously had the highest R value, at 0.89.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, said: “Our estimates show that the regional R numbers have increased although they remain below one for most of England – this is to be expected as we gradually move out of lockdown.
“It is vital that everyone continues with social distancing, practising good hand hygiene and must remain at home and order a test if they have symptoms.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, The government’s chief scientific adviser has also chimed in to the conversation, also saying that the reproductive rate of coronavirus could be as high as 1 in some parts of England.
Sir Patrick told a virtual briefing with journalists on Friday the R-number – the average number of people that will contract coronavirus from an infected person – for England was between 0.7 and 1, while it remained between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole.
He said the prevalence of COVID-19 was on a “downward trajectory” in the UK, adding: “The prevalence of coronavirus, according to the ONS, is at 0.1%, with 53,000 people with COVID-19 in the past two weeks.”
He said the incidence rate was at 0.7% per week, which meant there were “roughly” 39,000 new coronavirus cases each week.
Sir Patrick said: “The latest R-value calculation is between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole, it may be a little bit higher in England it may be between 0.7 and 1, and there is a bit of regional variation.”
He said there could be “some places” where the R-value is very close to 1 – which has now been confirmed by Public Health England’s new data analysis.
The application for Goodmores Farm, off Hulham Road and Dinan Way, specifies the mooted estate’s layout, appearance, road designs and open space provision.
Five per cent of the proposed dwellings would be ‘affordable’.
Residential, open space, commercial and education elements are proposed for the Exmouth site. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture
Eagle Investments Ltd has already secured outline permission for up to 350 homes on the plot after its original blueprints were narrowly approved by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Development Management Committee in July 2018.
It also secured the go-ahead for five-and-a-half acres of the site to be utilised for mixed-use employment and commercial purposes, and the provision of land for a primary school.
The firm has now submitted a reserved matters application – detailing layout, scale, appearance and landscaping – for 317 residential units, associated roads, open space, and an attenuation basin for water run-off.
From the planning application for 317 homes. Residential, open space, commercial and education elements are proposed for the Exmouth site. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture
“The principles set out for residential estate design are to provide a safe, attractive and convenient environment for residents,” say the plans.
Sixteen of the new homes would be ‘affordable’, with the rest being open market properties.
A mixture of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom houses are intended.
The site is off Hulham Road and Dinan Way in Exmouth.
An aerial view of the land earmarked for development.
The development would be positioned around a large, green open space ‘focal point’ that would also accommodate the proposed school and a possible communal laying field.
“This open space acts as the linking element for the site’s commercial, education and residential areas,” say the plans.
A wooded play park and an orchard with fruit trees also feature in the plans.
The different phases of the Exmouth scheme. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture
The application states the site can be split into four ‘key elements’ – open space; education; residential; and commercial.
Education is said to be ‘central to the development and acts as a key focal point’.
“The residential has been arranged as to create a good mix and range across the site to create a sense of community and not cause segregation,” say the proposals.
“The commercial areas will be located to take advantage of public highways access and vehicular footfall along Hulham Road.
“While still part of the rest of the development to be accessed and have its facilities utilised by residents, it will be segregated by landscaping and the road network to minimize impacts of noise, smell and traffic. “
Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture
It is proposed the estate will adopt 20mph speed limits to discourage through-traffic – with restricting bends, carriageway narrowing and shared surface areas suggested to slow vehicles down.
The application adds: “As part of the upgrade to Dinan Way, two new pedestrian crossing points will be provided to give pedestrians a safe and convenient place to cross the main road.
“A great network of footways and cycleways are to be provided around the site to encourage residents to make sustainable travel choices and educe car use in the area.”
Most dwellings will have at least two private parking spaces or utilise shared parking courts.
Affordable units would be split between shared ownership and rented accommodation.
Five per cent of these would be completed in the first phase of development, according to the application.
Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture
A long-awaited £12million Dinan Way extension, being driven by Devon County Council, has planning permission, is fully designed and is waiting for government funding.
It is hoped the ‘missing link’ road will cut congestion and HGVs using Exmouth town centre by creating a new connection to the busy A376.
“Private holiday lets, including Airbnb properties, could reopen as early as next month as ministers seek to kickstart the domestic tourism industry….
….”Mr Dowden [Culture Secretary] confirmed yesterday that ministers would also be launching a campaign to encourage Britons to book domestic holidays in seaside towns this summer. He said: “We’re hoping to get tourism back as rapidly as possible, and when it is back we will be investing extensively, ensuring we have a major campaign to encourage British people to take British staycations.”
But will they be “investing” in the local Councils bearing the brunt of clean up costs? – Owl
Private holiday lets, including Airbnb properties, could reopen as early as next month as ministers seek to kickstart the domestic tourism industry.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said the government’s target was for the sector to reopen by July 4, with self-let properties likely to be among the first to be available because they present a “lower risk” of spreading coronavirus.
Domestic tourism chiefs are hoping for a boom once the lockdown restrictions are eased to allow people to stay overnight away from home.
Campsite and holiday park owners, as well as private rental outfits, have been lobbying the government to allow them to be among the first in the hospitality sector to reopen, claiming they are already set up for social distancing.
The news was welcomed by Airbnb, the world’s biggest private letting platform, last night. A spokeswoman said: “The British summer holiday is back on the horizon and hosts are getting ready to provide accommodation away from the crowds that’s local, private, clean and safe.” At present the website has a booking block on “non-essential” stays until at least July 4, but says it has developed a new “cleaning protocol” for hosts to follow in order to minimise the risk of the virus transmitting.
Mr Dowden confirmed yesterday that ministers would also be launching a campaign to encourage Britons to book domestic holidays in seaside towns this summer. He said: “We’re hoping to get tourism back as rapidly as possible, and when it is back we will be investing extensively, ensuring we have a major campaign to encourage British people to take British staycations.”
Domestic travel agents have said bookings for staycations this summer, starting from mid-July, are looking promising, although September is proving to be the “stand-out month” after a recent surge in reservations.
Mr Dowden also said a proposed new bank holiday in October, designed to boost domestic tourism, was an “excellent proposal”. Experts predict such a move could raise an estimated £500 million for the economy.
He told MPs: “One of the challenges we will have is getting the [tourism] sector up and running as strongly as possible in the summer, and extending it for as long as we can.”
The idea of an extra bank holiday to compensate for the impact of the pandemic was proposed last month by the UK’s tourism agency, Visit Britain.
Its acting head, Patricia Yates, told MPs that the industry had lost the benefit of two bank holidays in May because of the lockdown.
“It’s really important to extend the season, and bank holidays are really valuable,” Ms Yates said. “Having a bank holiday in the October half term would really drive business and remind people that the holiday season is still going and not just ending in August.”
The culture secretary added that he and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, were “looking at further measures” to support financially hit coastal areas before then. Tim Loughton, a former Tory minister, cited research that workers in seaside towns were being laid off faster than in any other part of the country.
No 10 confirmed last month that the government was looking at the idea of an extra bank holiday but warned that it came with “economic costs”.
Councillor Ben Ingham said: “Following the resignation of the Independent Cabinet and the dissolving of the Independent Group, I wish to continue serving our communities throughout East Devon to the best of my ability.
“Without a doubt that is best done through the Conservative Party who will be called upon to help sort out our Local Government recovery efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
So Ben, tell us when you had your “Damascene ” moment that serving the community is best done through the Conservative Party rather than through the “party” you led! (Owl)
Former Independent Council Leader defects to the Conservatives
Councillor Ben Ingham, who recently resigned as Independent leader of East Devon District Council, has now rejoined the Conservative Group in a bid to ‘help with recovery efforts’ following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Leader of East Devon District Council Conservative Group, Councillor Andrew Moulding, is said to have ‘warmly welcomed’ his return to the group with immediate effect.
He commented: “Ben is a highly respected and valued member of EDDC who I have known and worked with for too many years to remember.
“He brings invaluable experience, knowledge insight and nous to our group, where he will make a valuable contribution to the East Devon community and is a first class ward member.
“As a party we are a ‘broad church of interest’, both locally and nationally. We look forward to welcoming more like-minded members to the group in due course.”
Councillor Ben Ingham said: “Following the resignation of the Independent Cabinet and the dissolving of the Independent Group, I wish to continue serving our communities throughout East Devon to the best of my ability.
“Without a doubt that is best done through the Conservative Party who will be called upon to help sort out our Local Government recovery efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I look forward to the chance of participating in that and making a positive contribution.”
Owl is beginning to see a number of different ways of analysing the pandemic by examining the emerging data as opposed to using “a priori” modelling. Time will eventually reveal the the “truth”. This is an example of the data analysis approach.
“Coronavirus infections in England and Wales peaked several days before the lockdown came in, a new study suggests, indicating that the draconian restrictions were not responsible for the decline in deaths and cases.”
Modelling by Professor Simon Wood, of the school of mathematics at the University of Bristol, shows that the majority of people who died at the peak would have been infected roughly five days before the lockdown was introduced.
The finding is based on data which shows that the average death from coronavirus takes around 17.8 days from the onset of symptoms, while symptoms appear approximately 5.2 days after infection, making a total of 23 days.
Deaths in England and Wales peaked around April 8-9, which suggests the majority of people who died then had become infected roughly 23 days earlier, around March 18-19.
Full lockdown in the UK did not come into effect until March 25. However, in the week before, social distancing measures were already in place and many people had begun working from home. Large public gatherings had stopped and bars, restaurants and theatres were starting to close.
Prof Wood said: “It does seem possible that the social distancing that was happening before full lockdown might have done the trick.
“My results simply suggest that if you do not make strong assumptions about what happened, then the data tend to suggest a peak a few days before lockdown.”
He said it was difficult to be completely sure when infections peaked in Britain because community testing was stopped in mid-March so there was no data from early in the epidemic.
However his analysis also showed that Sweden’s infections peaked just a few days after Britain, even without full lockdown being imposed in that country. The German reproduction ‘R’ number was also estimated to have fallen below one before full lockdown.
In the work, published on the open access research site arXiv, hosted by Cornell University, Prof Wood said the results had ethical implications for keeping lockdown in place or reinstating it later in the year because it could have disastrous long term implications on the nation’s health.
“These facts have implications for the policies to be adopted in the coming autumn, particularly given the peculiar ethical issues associated with lockdown,” he said. “For example, plausible estimates of the life loss burden from an unmitigated Covid-19 epidemic in the UK are about two weeks per person.
“A plausible lower bound on the UK life loss from the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath is seven weeks per person. The economic shock from lockdown is substantially larger than 2008.”
Commenting on the research, Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, said data from the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) showed a similar fall in respiratory infections in the week beginning March 15.
Figures show new infections fell off a cliff even though lockdown would not be in place for a further nine days, leading to the conclusion that social distancing was already working and having a major impact on disease transmission within the community.
“The effect is in line with the RCGP surveillance data which shows the drop in consultations of acute respiratory infections for the week of the 15th March,” Prof Henegan said.
He also found that calls to NHS 111 peaked on the day lockdown was implemented, even though reported infections should have kept rising for several days afterwards because many people would have been incubating the virus and would not develop symptoms for around five days.
The figures suggest infections had actually peaked five days earlier.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, added: “I would not be surprised at this – peak deaths were on April 8, only 16 days after lockdown.”
Dr Lucy-Jane Davis, British Medical Association South West chair, says that the infection rate remains “worryingly high”.
“The risk surrounding this highly infectious illness remains significant and if there is further spread thousands more families could lose loved ones before their time,” she says in an open letter (see page 20).
“In a recent BMA survey, doctors in the South West revealed fears around a second peak of Covid-19 that has the potential to overwhelm the health service.
“Forty-seven percent of doctors in the region expressed that they were not confident in their ability to manage a second influx of Covid-19 cases.
“We understand that the lockdown in itself has had an impact on people’s health and wellbeing, but it remains vital that easing it must be done gradually and sensibly. The Government must take every measure possible to support the public and employers in stopping the spread of the virus, whether that’s in outdoor places, reuniting with friends and loved ones, or returning to work.
“To prevent a second peak and avoid more loss of life in the South West, the BMA is calling on the Government to establish a wide-scale, accurate and systematic approach to test and trace and support the public in adhering to social distancing and infection control measures as restrictions are relaxed,” said Dr Davis.
“Frontline staff have worked tirelessly during this pandemic to care for patients and save as many people as possible, often putting this before their own safety, wellbeing and health.
“To risk a second pandemic as a result of complacency could serve to undermine the incredible efforts they have already gone to throughout this pandemic.”
Dr Davis’ letter comes after a new BMA surveyed showed that 53% of doctors in the South West fear the backlog of non-covid patients is becoming uncontrollable.
The survey also found that over 63% of doctors in the region say demand has increased significantly in the past week, with 16% saying it had already exceeded pre-March levels.
Twenty-one percent of doctors in the region said there had been no engagement with them over how to manage the increase in demand in their place of work or local area.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chairman, said: “Doctors are rightly worried.
“The care they are able to offer non-covid patients has worsened because of prioritising those with the virus, and they have little confidence that they can manage the surge in demand to come.”
At the height of the pandemic non-emergency surgery was halted. Public Health England has said that cancer referrals from GPs have fallen by as much as 80%.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of NHS staff, hospitals were not overwhelmed during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak and our intensive care capacity met the needs of patients.
“We continue to work closely with the NHS and partners and guidance has already been issued to the NHS on the process of starting to restore urgent non-covid services in a safe way.
“We are committed to ensuring the NHS has the funding and support it needs to respond to the crisis.”
“A leaked email from the chief executive of Serco – one of the main companies contracted to deliver the service – revealed how he doubted the scheme would evolve smoothly but said he wanted it to “cement the position of the private sector” in the NHS supply chain. ”
The NHS coronavirus test-and-trace system designed to prevent a second deadly wave is not expected to work at full speed until September or October, the Guardian has learned.
Tony Prestedge, the chief operating officer of the NHS scheme, admitted in a webinar to staff that the programme would be “imperfect” at launch, adding that he hoped it would be operational at a world-class level within three to four months.
It comes as a leaked email from the chief executive of Serco – one of the main companies contracted to deliver the service – revealed how he doubted the scheme would evolve smoothly but said he wanted it to “cement the position of the private sector” in the NHS supply chain.
The disclosures come as scientists said lockdown measures should not be eased until the test-and-trace service is well established. The system, which tracks those who have contracted coronavirus and anyone they have been in contact with, before asking them to self-isolate, was rolled out across England last week with the help of 25,000 contact tracers.
Justin Madders, a shadow health ministers, said the idea that the system may be months away from being fully operational was “deeply concerning”.
In a webinar for staff, Prestedge, a senior banker drafted in to help run the programme to trace infected people, said: “I am sure when Dido [Harding, chief executive of scheme] announces this service later she will make clear that it is an imperfect service at launch that we will improve over time and make it world-class by the time that we are moving towards the September or October time.”
Prestedge, who is due to take up the post of deputy chief executive of the bank Santander UK, said: “We know it will be imperfect, we know it will be clunky but we ask you to help us improve the service.”
The video was recorded on 27 May, just before the government announced the scheme would launch. In following days, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, laughed off claims in an interview with Sky News that he had rushed to introduce the system amid the political row over the alleged breach of lockdown rules by Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.
Initially an app was supposed to be part of a national rollout of the test-and-trace programme, but this element has been beset by problems and instead the tracing system started without it.
Prestedge said he expected test and trace to be running for 24 months and that initially test results would take two to three days to arrive, with the hope this would improve over time.
A leaked message from Rupert Soames, Serco’s chief executive, also revealed his own concerns about the initial months of the programme. Serco is among a number of companies that are recruiting, coaching and managing contact tracers who do not have clinical training.
They have taken the bulk of the work, recruiting 10,000 of the new 25,000 contact tracers after being awarded an initial fee of £45.8m, which could rise to £90m.
In an email forwarded to staff, which was then immediately recalled, a message from Soames said: “There are a few, a noisy few, who would like to see us fail because we are private companies delivering a public service. I very much doubt that this is going to evolve smoothly, so they will have plenty of opportunity to say I told you so.”
It continued: “If it succeeds … it will go a long way in cementing the position of the private sector companies in the public sector supply chain. Some of the naysayers recognise this, which is why they will take every opportunity to undermine us.”
Soames also asked managers to make sure employees behave in a way to survive the “Daily Mail test”, explaining that this meant “that you would not mind their behaviour being described on the front of a national newspaper”.
“It is inevitable that someone somewhere is going to behave badly,” he said, adding that he wanted to know immediately to resolve the issue.
He continued: “At Serco we have a fair amount of experience managing difficult issues and one of the hard lessons we have learned is that the truth we can manage, it’s the evasion or cover up that destroys you.”
Serco said the message from Soames was not recalled but may have been forwarded to a wider group of employees in an email that was recalled.
Madders said: “The government’s own scientific advisers have said that an effective track, trace and isolate system must be fully operational before the lockdown is relaxed further so any suggestion that we may be months away from that is deeply concerning.
“We need assurances from ministers that they urgently ensure an effective system is in place and working effectively. To move ahead with further easing of the lockdown without this vital system working fully would be a huge gamble that no responsible government should take.”
Those working for test and trace have raised concerns about a slow start. The Guardian was shown an email dated 2 June from one provider to their team that said: “We did experience some teething issues yesterday particularly with CTAS [the contact tracing and advice service software] and this feedback has been shared with the clients.”
It told those working for the service that the data volumes were still very low and there would be times when no records were available. Staff were told to do e-learning at this time.
On 1 June, an email told staff ttheir hours would be reduced owing to a lack of cases coming through. Another email said: “With the operations in its early stages, the data volume at the moment is not at full capacity, and as such you may experience prolonged periods of waiting for a case.”
One anonymous worker said: “The communication and training have been terrible from the start and I’m yet to know anybody who has made a call to a member of the public.
“We have been paid to do nought and been dossing all day every day on government money. I have personally been sat in my garden sunbathing, drinking and chilling with my pals for two and a half weeks now, occasionally coming inside to stop my computer going to sleep and check my emails. Normally I would be happy about this but when the countries public health is at risk. It is a tragedy.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The new NHS test and trace service is up and running and is helping save lives. Anyone in this country can now book a test and the majority who book a test get the results back within a day. We have over 25,000 contact tracers in place, who have all been trained and are fully supported in their work by public health experts.”