Office for National Statistics to provide full tally of Covid-19 deaths

The reported death toll from coronavirus in the UK is set to increase beyond the NHS’s daily tally on Tuesday when fatalities outside of hospitals are counted for the first time.

Figures from the NHS and Public Health England have so far been the key barometer of the impact of the virus but they have not included any deaths in homes, care homes and other non-hospital settings. Daily figures for Monday showed a rise in the UK death toll of 209 to 1,408 people, but these are only people who died in NHS care.

Covid-19: deaths outside hospitals to be included in UK tally for first time

Pamela Duncan 

The Office for National Statistics will start publishing data about the rest of the deaths from 9.30am on Tuesday giving a fuller picture of the impact of Covid-19. They will tally all of the deaths from late December until 20 March which they believe occurred outside hospitals.

Unlike the NHS figures, which are limited to people who tested positive for the disease, they will also include cases where it is mentioned as a suspected cause on death certificates.

“It will be based on mentions of Covid-19 on death certificates,” said a spokeswoman for the ONS. “It will include suspected cases of Covid-19 where someone has not been tested positive for Covid-19.”

At the daily Downing Street press conference, the foreign secretary Dominic Raab was asked if the new data release showed the country has only been shown “part of the truth so far”. Raab did not answer, but Patrick Vallance, the chief medical officer, said he did not expect the increase in the death toll from the additional ONS data to be large, adding: “It’s important going forward that we have this reconciliation between all of the numbers.”

Every Tuesday the statistics authority will provide a backdated weekly count of all suspected coronavirus deaths of people who have died in their homes, care homes or hospices, which will be published in a combined form with the figures drawn from the daily death toll announced by the NHS in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The figures will be backdated to the previous week, starting with the week ending 20 March. It will include the ages of the people who died and give a regional breakdown.

Officials said that focusing so far only on hospital deaths, about which information is immediately available, has allowed the NHS and PHE to produce rapid and up-to-date figures. Deaths which occur out of hospitals can take longer to trace statistically because of the time it can take for paperwork to pass through coroners’ offices. But it has resulted in only a partial picture of the virus’s impact. Some of the hospital fatalities have also been slow to be recorded. One death reported on Monday actually occurred 17 days earlier.

The Department for Health and Social Care publishes daily UK-wide figures in a statement on its website which makes no mention that its figure of “patients in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus” do not include deaths outside hospitals.

Public Health England’s own online dashboard of the spread of the virus in the UK describes “reported cases of coronavirus in the UK”. Only if you click on a link “about the data” does it explain that it is limited to deaths in NHS services of patients who have had a positive test result for Covid-19.

A spokesperson for NHS England said it was “clear from the start these are people who have died in our hospitals”.

There are sometimes significant delays in deaths appearing in the NHS England figures. One death reported on Monday actually occurred on 13 March in Mid Essex hospital services NHS trust, a 17-day lag. Another, first reported on Saturday, actually occurred in Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals NHS trust on 13 March.

At least 33 deaths which were reported by NHS England between Thursday and Sunday actually occurred more than a week earlier.

Of the 159 newly reported deaths recorded by NHS England today, at least 30% occurred on or before 27 March.

“There are various reasons why a hospital trust might delay reporting a death, including contact tracing, the internal validation processes and staff absences. For sheer capacity reasons, it’s occasionally necessary for some trusts to report over a longer time period,” an NHS spokesperson said.

  • This article was amended on 31 March 2020. In it, we gave the UK death toll as 2,433. This has been corrected to 1,408.


Fall in Covid-19 tests putting lives at risk, critics claim

Ministers have been accused of putting lives at risk by failing to rapidly expand testing for coronavirus as promised, after fewer than 5,000 people were tested in one day.

Critics said the government had been misleading people about the scale of its testing programme as it became clear the UK has still not met its initial aim of 10,000 daily tests.

Rowena Mason

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, claimed over the weekend that the goal had been met. But it emerged on Monday that the level of testing had dipped over the weekend, with just 4,908 people tested in the 24 hours before 9am on Sunday.

On Friday, 9,114 tests were carried out on about 6,900 people, with the disparity due to the need for multiple tests following inconclusive results. This dropped on Saturday to 8,278 tests on 4,908 patients – the latest figures available.

The numbers contrast sharply with those of other countries such as Germany, which is conducting around 70,000 tests daily, or half a million a week.

After the data showed yet another drop in UK testing, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and Tory chair of the Commons health select committee, as well as opposition parties called on the government to focus on increasing mass testing across the country to detect, isolate and prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has killed 1,408 people in the UK so far. The World Health Organization has urged countries to “test, test, test”.

“The big advantage we now have is evidence that testing works in other countries. We can see that Asian countries have been spectacularly more successful than European ones in avoiding mass lockdown,” Hunt told the Guardian.

A senior source at the Department of Health and Social Care said the UK did not have as much domestic laboratory capacity as Germany but had been working hard to increase numbers.

However, another Whitehall source said the UK’s main problem was that it had tried to source the tests too late after changing strategy in favour of a lockdown, and was now facing stiff competition from other countries around the world.

Keir Starmer, the favourite to become Labour leader, said it was “deeply worrying that the number of people being tested for coronavirus has fallen”.

“Experts across the world have been clear that the best chance we have of fighting this pandemic is to significantly increase the number of people who are being tested, particularly health workers,” he said.

“Ministers need to explain why the NHS is not testing to capacity, why we are falling behind other countries and what measures they will put in place to address this situation as a matter of urgency.”

Munira Wilson, a Liberal Democrat MP and the party spokeswoman on health, also accused the government of having been “not only misleading but reckless” in failing to reach the promised number of tests.

“Stopping the spread of coronavirus is hugely dependent on the public trusting the information and advice the government provides. This sort of behaviour puts that at risk and endangers us all as a result,” she said.

The government has until the last few days limited testing to people with suspected coronavirus in hospitals, care homes and prisons. But it expanded testing to around 900 NHS workers over the weekend and has pledged to increase that further as numbers ramp up. However, it has not set out any plans to widen testing to all suspected cases, as happens in countries such as South Korea.

It is almost three weeks since ministers first promised an increase in testing to 10,000 a day, which has still not been met. The next target, set by Hancock on 18 March, was for testing to increase to 25,000 a day within four weeks of that date.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the target was on course to be met, but Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, suggested in a press conference on Monday that it could take another month to reach. She referred to the “25,000 tests per day that Public Health England and NHS England are well on the way to meeting by mid-to-late April”.

Asked about the government’s failure to reach the 10,000 target, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said: “We are operating on multiple fronts to increase the testing. We want to scale that up as swiftly as possible but it has got to be reliable.”

Downing Street appeared to blame Public Health England for the false claim by Gove, saying he had been relying on information given to him by the health experts.

After a week of lockdown conditions in the UK, government advisers said there was some signs the spread of the virus may be slowing.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said Johnson’s guidance on social distancing had been “successful in terms of behaviour changes”, with data showing “a dramatic fall-off in the use of the London tube, bus routes, rail and motor vehicles”.

The rate of hospital admissions was advancing at a steady rate and now stood at 8,000, Vallance said. He said this “may suggest we are beginning to see some effects through” from the government’s initial social distancing advice, announced two weeks ago.


Coronavirus: ‘Desperate’ East Devon NHS workers forced to ‘beg, borrow and steal’ protective equipment

East Devon NHS workers having to ‘beg, borrow and steal’ protective equipment have had their concerns taken to the area’s MP by Claire Wright, county councillor and former parliamentary candidate for East Devon.

Councillor Wright was contacted by a ‘desperate East Devon NHS worker’ who is concerned that equipment is not in place to deal with a predicted surge in coronavirus cases over the next two weeks.

Joseph Bulmer 

In an open letter to the area’s MP, Simon Jupp, councillor Wright asked for reassurance that the necessary protective equipment will be delivered to East Devon’s NHS workers this week.

Nub News asked Mr Jupp for his response to the open letter, he said he has asked the Department of Health and Social Care for details on the equipment’s delivery.

In the letter councillor Wright said: “The predicted surge in cases for Devon is around 10-14 days time. We will need to see patients with suspected and confirmed CV 19 in hot sites and I am worried that we will run out very quickly. There’s quite a lot of beg borrow and steal going on.”

“The above words are taken from an email I received from a desperate East Devon NHS worker this morning extremely anxious about facing the coming weeks without adequate personal protective equipment.

“We have of course, heard disturbing stories from NHS staff via the media, about the lack of PPE and how vulnerable they feel to infection and potentially worse, with a continued significant virus load, while working on the front line.

“I am aware of Robert Jenrick’s welcome words this afternoon, but I am not yet sure how this translates into supplies for East Devon.

“Can you please reassure me and all the local health workers that those supplies of PPE for every NHS staff member will be received by the middle of this week (Wednesday 1 April)?”

Nub News contacted the area’s MP, Simon Jupp, for a response to councillor Wright’s open letter, he said: “I have asked for further details on the specific case raised in the email as it always helps to highlight specific local concerns from NHS workers to press the case further to help ensure all frontline staff have access to the necessary equipment to stay safe.

“I had already requested further PPE delivery details from the Department of Health & Social Care and the Cabinet Office.

“As I’m sure you recognise, all elected representatives have a duty to work together in times of crisis for the good of our communities. I have spoken with many councillors in weeks on a variety of different issues and continue to do so.”

LED Community Leisure asks for Sidmouth’s support

LED Leisure is asking its members in Sidmouth for support during the coronavirus lock down.

LED, which runs Sidmouth Swimming Pool, is asking its members not to cancel their direct debits so that the organisation can continue to function once the lockdown is lifted.

Joseph Bulmer

LED Community Leisure is a not-for-profit Community Benefit Society with charitable status.

The organisation’s charitable status does entitle it to some financial support from local councils but 90% of its income is generated by members, through its centres across East Devon.

As a result of the Prime Minister’s announcement on Friday, March 20, that all leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools were to close with immediate effect LED’s income has fallen dramatically.

In response to the announcement LED has ‘frozen’ all membership collections, including monthly direct debits. The suspension means that no payments will be taken and when members re-start their membership there will be no re-joining fee.

LED is asking members to, ‘please do not cancel your direct debit’.

LED’s CEO, Peter Gilpin, has made a statement to members, he said: “As you can imagine, the facility closures and suspension of membership income will have a very serious effect on our finances.

“The various government support initiatives are welcome. It is likely that most staff at LED will have to be ‘furloughed’, for example – i.e. laid off and paid 80% of their salary by the government – as LED will have virtually no ongoing income.

“Some key staff will need to be retained on site to keep the facilities operational, albeit in a state of ‘hibernation’, ready for when we have the green light to reopen. Some key administrative staff will also need to be retained as many services, support contracts and partnerships will need to continue.

“Whilst LED is taking every action to minimise or reduce costs during this period, it is inevitable that the Trust will need to rely upon its financial reserves to survive the next few months in order to be able to reopen facilities and re-employ furloughed staff in due course. However, like many charities, these reserves are finite, and it will be a challenge to ensure that LED gets through what will undoubtedly be a very difficult period.

“So, my purpose for writing is to give you the above update and to ask you if you would please give LED your continued support by opting to continue your membership subscription during these difficult times, which we have no idea how long they may last.

“If you would kindly do so, I shall take your loyalty and support into account in 2021 when it comes to next year’s fees, by which time I hope the worst of this should be over. This will take the form of an extension for Annual memberships and a payment holiday for monthly memberships equivalent to the eventual closure period.

“However, I do appreciate that for some of you, continuing your membership at this difficult time may not be possible due to your personal circumstances, in which case you need do nothing as your membership has been automatically suspended.

“If you would kindly agree to continuing your membership subscription and for us to reactivate your suspended membership, please confirm using this email link

“Although our centres will be closed, the good news is that you can still exercise with LED Community Leisure. We have put plans in place to offer a range of exercise options to keep you active in the safety and comfort of your own home. For those at home with school-aged children, we will also have ideas for how you can have fun exercising together.

You can access a free streaming site with access to 95 workouts across 8 categories via Les Mills online.

We are also planning to run regular Facebook Live exercise at home videos for you to join in with.

Mr Gilpin added: “As a community leisure trust, we want to be in a position where we can reopen for our local communities as soon as possible, with all our team members back on board, after this unprecedented and worrying situation subsides.

“I do very much hope that LED can count on your continued support in order to ensure the sustainability of our services, facilities and staff beyond the current crisis, and thank you so much for your patience and support to date.”


Son’s fears for mum, 100, as closing Budleigh care home will move OAPs despite coronavirus lockdown.

An anguished son fears his 100-year-old mum will die from coronavirus as her closing Budleigh Salterton care home forges ahead to move vulnerable pensioners out during lockdown.

Owl recently reported on this sad story.

Owl understands that a group of local people are desperately beseeching Simon Jupp MP to get County Councillor Christine Channon and her advisor Chris Davies, and Abbeyfield to put a halt to the Care Home’s  (Shandford) closure. Councillor Channon has been reported in the press as saying she received advice last autumn that the home was no longer viable.

Professional property and business experts, members of “Save our Shandford” hotly dispute this finding but have been denied access to any details.

Becca Gliddon 

Jessie Gannon in happier times, celebrating her 100th birthday with her family.

Richard Gannon is appealing to Abbeyfield, which is closing Shandford care home, ‘If my mother is to die, please let her die in relative peace in the home she loves’.

The Abbeyfield Society and Devon County Council said Shandford’s elderly could be safely moved out during lockdown on the advice of Public Health England.

Mr Gannon, 69, from Payhembury, has not seen his mum, Jessie, since the Budleigh home went into lockdown several weeks ago.

Jessie Gannon is 100-years-old and faces being moved to another home amid the coronavirus lockdown, because Abbeyfield has decided to close Shandford, in Budleigh Salterton, where she has lived for more than two years.

On Mother’s Day he waved at her though a window because relatives have been banned from visiting to protect residents from Covid-19.

Mr Gannon, whose mum moved to Shandford more than two years ago, said: “Nobody should be moving vulnerable people out of that house. It’s breaking hearts and killing people.

“If a vulnerable person gets this, there’s a good chance they will die. I don’t want them to die anywhere else, apart from there. They are happy in their home.

“I don’t care whether they want to close the home or move them. Nobody should be moving about.

“If she’s going to die, which is a high possibility, I would like her to die in a place with people she knows and the lovely staff. She will be happy and I will be happy.”

Earlier this year Abbeyfield said it hoped to close Shandford by March 31, saying it was ‘not a viable option’ to keep it open.

Mr Gannon called for decency, appealing to Abbeyfield to ‘leave alone until the crisis is over’.

Why Boris Johnson is finally turning to the experts

The deep irony of Michael “people in this country have had enough of experts” Gove solemnly reassuring an anxious public that the government is being guided by the best expert advice had not been lost on anyone. That Mr Gove can say such things with such a poker face is a tribute, of sorts, to his political skills.


One of the most remarkable innovations during this crisis has been the rise, or perhaps restoration, of the rule of the expert in public life. When the public need to learn more about the coronavirus, why it spreads so quickly and what we can do to try and avoid it, they turn to a range of scientists and, yes, to some journalists for the closest approximation to the truth as can be attempted. Never before have so many doctors and scientists popped up on television. The public do not, on the whole, turn to the politicians, though the relatively high approval ratings enjoyed by Boris Johnson suggest that trust in politics may not be as bad as some suppose, at least for the time being. But the experts carry the authority needed to get on top of a such as this. 

Hence the habitual appearance of various medical and scientific officers flanking the politicians at the daily press conferences held in Downing Street and by the Scottish government. And, indeed, at the White House, where even President Trump must treat them with some respect.

The appearance of the experts has a few purposes. First, no politician with a degree in Classics or PPE (philosophy, politics and economics, in this case) can answer questions about epidemiology, or any other scientific -ology for that matter. They are forced by circumstance to have people sharing a platform with them who are under no obligation to spin the facts. The benefit, though, is that the politicians can nod sagely as they explain about infection rates and herd immunity, and hope some of that expert gravitas may rub off on them, even from two metres away.

A second advantage for the politicians is that the presence of experts and the constantly stated obligation to follow their guidance gives ministers a perfect alibi if things go awry. If, for example, it turns out that the national lockdown was ordered too late, then the prime minister can, in effect, offload the blame to the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser. The maxim “advisers advise, ministers decide” will be quietly dropped in such a turn of events. The experts can carry the can, fairly or not. A variation on the theme will be that the Scottish government can blame Whitehall for getting it wrong. 

So far, though, both politicians and experts seem to have been getting through the crisis without too much collateral damage, despite the embarrassing self-isolation of the PM, the health secretary Matt Hancock, the CMO Chris Whitty, and now Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief political adviser. The next few weeks, as the emergency reaches its peak, will put the credibility of the experts under unparalleled strain. 

See also: Ex-officials with experience of crises recalled to Whitehall

Rajeev Syal


Stop bank dividend payouts, governor of the Bank of England told

Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, came under fresh pressure last night to put a stop to £7.5 billion of dividends due to be paid out by British banks over the next few weeks.

Patrick Hosking, Katherine Griffiths

Agustín Carstens, head of the Bank for International Settlements — known as the central bank for central banks — called for a global freeze on dividends in the sector. On Friday the European Central Bank ordered eurozone lenders to cancel all dividends until at least October.

In an appeal for action by supervisors to ensure that lenders are equipped to push out the huge amount of extra credit needed to keep companies afloat, Mr Carstens said: “Banks should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Earlier, Sir John Vickers, former chairman of the Independent Commission on Banking, told The Times: “For the sake of the health of the financial system, dividend payouts by banks should now be totally out of the question. I’m surprised the Bank hasn’t yet put a stop to them. It should do so at once.”

With Barclays due to pay out £1.03 billion this Friday, the Bank of England would have to move quickly to prevent the outflow. Robert Jenkins, a former Bank financial policy committee member, said yesterday that the payout would hinder Barclays’ ability to lend as much as £20 billion to £25 billion to struggling firm businesses and households at a critical time. He has called for a ban on dividends.

The chief executives of about eight banks will meet officials from the Financial Conduct Authority today to discuss ways to improve service to customers. The talks are expected to include bonuses and dividends, as regulators want banks to retain their financial firepower to help customers.

One former senior regulator said that it was puzzling to see the inaction of the Bank and the Prudential Regulation Authority, its supervisory division. A co-ordinated ban by all the biggest central banks would be better, the source said.

Any backtracking on dividends, however, would be likely to infuriate shareholders because Britain’s banks have been paying out billions of pounds in cash bonuses to executives and staff over the past few weeks. Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays, has been paid a cash bonus of £395,000 in the past few days, while other executives and employees have been paid cash bonuses of £1.01 billion since March 1.

Tim Bush, head of governance at Pirc, the shareholder advisory group, said, “Companies cancelling dividends create a pay issue where management bonuses and incentive plans for 2019 have paid out when the final dividend for 2019 hasn’t.”

Last night, Barclays was still planning to go ahead with its 6p-a-share dividend, which is due to be followed by payments of $4.2 billion by HSBC on April 14, £968 million by Royal Bank of Scotland on May 14 and £1.58 billion by Lloyds Banking Group on May 27.

While all of them looked comfortably capitalised at their year-ends on December 31, their potential strength could be seriously reduced by the economic slump.

Mr Staley personally stands to be paid dividends of £317,000 on Friday because of his holding of 5.3 million Barclays shares. He also owns another 7.2 million shares, but these have not vested and do not qualify for dividends. Any decision on pulling the dividend would be for the full board.

Barclays would face a particular legal problem in cancelling its dividend because the record date — the moment when a shareholder ceases to qualify for a declared dividend — has already been passed. To cancel now would put every shareholder who has sold between the record date and now at a disadvantage.

On the other han, accounting regulators have made plain that dividend payers should exercise great caution.

Mr Carstens, in an article on, said that banks should be drawing on their capital reserves to make more credit available. “To boost lending capacity further, we need a global freeze on bank dividends and share buybacks,” he said. The BIS in Basel is owned by the world’s central banks and is highly influential in setting capital rules.

The promised dividend largesse by the big British clearing banks stands in stark contrast to much of the rest of UK business, with more than £4.2 billion of promised dividends cancelled or postponed by more than 100 companies in the past two weeks.

Barclays believes that it is financially strong and well diversified and should go ahead with the dividend. The Bank of England and Barclays declined to comment.


Our social distancing is working, says Sir Patrick Vallance

Yesterday Owl broke this news, having been primed by Owl’s knowledgeable friend that something encouraging was appearing in the data. These are early days, given the lag that is inevitable between taking action to impose social restrictions and seeing the effects, when the incubation period is thought to be between 7 to 14 days.

Owl’s post gave a link to the Public Health England Covid-19 dashboard. Covid-19 confirmed cases across the UK appear to be stabilising at around 2.5k cases a day, the data doesn’t now show daily rates doubling every three or four days. Caveats apply and are listed in the previous post.

These numbers are high (we only test the most serious cases) and the coming days will show whether they start to accelerate again or start to do what we all hope – reduce. Not until then will we have the infection under some form of control.

Francis Elliott, Political Editor | Tom Knowles, Technolog Correspondent | Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor

Britain may be starting gradually to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control because residents are doing a “good job” of social distancing, the government’s chief scientific adviser said yesterday.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that hospital admissions were increasing by a stable amount each day, with the NHS coping as numbers stopped accelerating. He warned that deaths would continue to rise and that it was vital for Britain to stay in lockdown until it was clear that intensive care would not be overwhelmed.

He expressed cautious optimism that “dramatic” reductions in travel and contact could be decreasing the number of new cases and putting the country on course to halt the epidemic.

“The measures are in place. They are making a difference, they are decreasing the contact which is so important to spread the disease and we’re doing a good job at cutting that down,” he told a press conference yesterday. “The stay at home message will be reducing the number of cases of transmission in the community and decreasing the number of cases overall.”

Road traffic is approaching a quarter of its normal volume and the number using buses and trains has fallen even further, according his presentation. Data from Transport for London shows a dramatic fall-off to “just a few per cent” of the total number of commuters using the Tube at the end of February.

As well as transport there were dramatic reductions in footfall on high streets, he said. The closure of pubs and restaurants had helped to reduce contact between people, which was predicted to have “a very significant effect” on the rate of transmission.

More than 9,000 patients are being treated in hospital for coronavirus, a jump of 50 per cent over the weekend, but Sir Patrick said it was “quite important” that numbers did not appear to be accelerating.

They were increasing “pretty much the same amount each day for the past few days”, with about 1,000 new daily admissions. “It is a number that NHS staff are clearly coping with in terms of what they are doing at the moment.”

He said this data demonstrated “that actually this is a bit more stable than it has been. I expect people coming every day to be about that — it may go up a little bit. And in two or three weeks you would expect that to stabilise and to start to go down a bit.”

Yesterday 180 coronavirus deaths were reported, down from 260 on Saturday. Sir Patrick said Britain was “tracking roughly along the same path as France” in terms of deaths and slightly behind Italy, which had almost 2,000 deaths at the same stage of its outbreak.

A total of 1,408 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Britain as of 5pm on Sunday and the total number of cases was 22,141. Before Britain’s lockdown a week ago each infected person was passing the virus on to two or three others, leading to exponential increases. The key aim of social distancing is to get this figure below one, at which point the outbreak would start to peter out.

The government’s scientific advisers previously said that compliance with isolation and distancing rules needed to be 75 per cent to be effective.

Boris Johnson’s decision to impose a stricter lockdown a week ago was justified in part because ministers had been told that the target was being missed. Downing Street has so far resisted presenting the data it used to make that judgment. Officials say that some of the information used is commercially sensitive and is not suitable for inclusion in government-backed data.

Tech firms including Google are set to pass on smartphone data to the government to help them monitor how well people are complying with social-distancing rules. The company is in discussions about supplying anonymised information that shows the extent to which people are still congregating in public areas such as parks.

Google’s Maps app is used by a billion people around the world every month and most people’s phones constantly report their locations and movement back to Google’s servers. The company has yet to hand over any information but had discussed with the government how it would work.

A Google spokeswoman added that the company had been looking at ways to determine the impact of social distancing with its data, “similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps.” It said that any information it supplied would be aggregated and anonymised.

Analysis of smartphone data is one of several measures the government is hoping to use to assess compliance with social distancing rules. BT has also revealed that it is providing anonymous records of mobile data from its users to health officials to help show “generalised patterns in the movement of people to assist with policy planning”.

The mobile phone network provider O2 confirmed last week that it had been in discussions with the government about using its mobile technology to create a model that predicts how the virus might move around the country

Technology to monitor the virus is seen as crucial to helping normal life resume once the lockdown is eased.

A week ago Mr Johnson ordered Britons not to leave their homes except for essential shopping, exercise once a day, medical care and work that could not be done from home.

‘Early signs’ show spread of coronavirus in UK could be slowing, says leading professor

Owl was alerted, yesterday, to encouraging “anomalies” in the infection rate data by Owl’s knowledgeable friend. Today Professor Neil Ferguson,  epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said he believes the “epidemic is just about slowing in the UK right now” as a result of lockdown measures.

Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the UK we can see some early signs in slowing in some indicators, less so in deaths because deaths are lagged by a long time from when measures come in force. This would indeed be excellent news.

 Owl’s knowledgeable friend was looking at the official Covid -19 case, recovered and death data published on this dashboard. The friend, however, cautioned against publishing anything just yet for a number of reasons.

There is now one more data point. On 27 March the daily increase of cases was 2.9k (see below as to why this might be high). Since then the three successive days have had totals of: 2.5k; 2.4k and 2.6k, essentially stable – a pattern not seen before. Not doubling every three days. Caveats apply:

Three or four days ago the baseline for the data was changed so as to align the data from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Now the data is published at 2pm GMT every day. During this realignment some daily rates reported corresponded to a reporting period of much less than 24 hours, followed the next day by a daily rate covering anything up to 36 hours. So there was an artificial low followed by an artificial high in the very recent data

UK testing rates are low, probably confined to only the most serious hospital cases, and are therefore proxy measures for real infection rates . The numbers of Covid-19 confirmed cases reported daily will in some degree relate to how much testing is being conducted. The result is that comparing daily infection rates at a time when testing is supposedly being ramped up, isn’t quite comparing like with like. Ramping up testing is likely to confirm more cases. However, Owl’s friend noticed yesterday a run of falling rates in the past three days. 

Given the assumed incubation period of 7-14 days it might be a bit early to see any change caused by a “lockdown” imposed only a week ago, especially since the metropolitan hot spots took time to comply

Professor Furguson, though, mentions hospital admissions which might be a more stable proxy measure. So cautious optimism.

Lizzy Buchan Political Correspondent @LizzyBuchan 

Early signs show the spread of coronavirus could be slowing down in the UK, one of the top scientists advising the government has said.

As Britons were warned that restrictions could stay in place for six months, Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said he believe the “epidemic is just about slowing in the UK right now” as a result of lockdown measures.

Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the UK we can see some early signs in slowing in some indicators, less so in deaths because deaths are lagged by a long time from when measures come in force.

“But if we look at the numbers of new hospital admissions per day for instance, that does appear to be slowing down a little bit now.

“It’s not yet plateaued so still the numbers can be increasing each day but the rate of that increase has slowed.”

Prof Ferguson said the epidemic was spreading at different rates in different parts of the country, with up to 5 per cent of the population in London likely to have been infected.

“It is quite clear across the country, the epidemic is in different stages in different parts of the country,” he said.

“In central London it could be as many as 3 per cent to 5 per cent of the population has been infected – maybe more in individual hot spots. In the country as a whole in the UK, maybe 2 per cent or 3 per cent.”

He said antibody tests to determine if people have had the virus, which are currently in final stages of validation, would “hopefully” be available in days……..


Mixed messages again, coronavirus crisis: Parking enforcement relaxed in Devon to help residents

DCC says enforcement will be removed from many parking places including coastal and tourist destinations.

Police seem to have other ideas and have declared a major incident.

Police have also been discouraging people from travelling to just these places as being “not in the spirit” of government emergency legislation. Does Cllr Stuart Hughes know what is going on?

 East Devon Reporter 

On-street parking enforcement rules are being relaxed by Devon County Council (DCC) to help residents self-isolating or working from home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Traffic wardens will also scrap foot patrols in favour of travelling in cars – but motorists have been warned double yellow lines are still no-stopping areas.

The temporary move was announced with immediate effect today (Monday, March 23).

DCC says enforcement will be reduced on certain roads so officers can concentrate on ‘keeping key routes running normally’.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, cabinet member for highway management, said: “We must keep the network moving, but we also recognise the concerns in residential areas where people are needing to park at home more often due to the need for social distancing and home working.

“We’re facing exceptional challenges presented by the coronavirus and we all need to play a role in responding to that.

“Our parking teams are adapting and re-focusing their efforts to help our communities through this challenge.”

DCC says that, as a minimum, its teams will manage parking on:

  • Strategic routes – all A and B roads;
  • The main access route to settlements with a population of 500 or more;
  •  Emergency premises – main access routes to 24-hour emergency services premises, including ambulance stations, full time and retained fire stations, hospitals with 24-hour casualty departments and police stations manned 24-hours;
  • Cottage and community hospitals – main access routes to strategic cottage and community hospitals as notified by Devon Primary Care Trust;
  •  Doctors’ surgeries and other public buildings – main access routes to strategic doctor’s surgeries and other public buildings as notified by Devon Primary Care Trust;
  •  Bus routes – no waiting restrictions on bus routes will be maintained so long as services continue;
  •  Supermarkets and food distribution centres – all parking restrictions of access routes to supermarkets and food distribution centres (including loading bays, limited waiting, and pay and display) will be managed;
  •  Locations identified as needing enforcement to permit refuse collection.

DCC says enforcement will be removed from:

  • Peripheral areas – including coastal and tourist destinations (except where identified as being on a strategic route or location);
  •  Residential areas – including residents’ parking bays (except restrictions in these areas, such as yellow lines and where a residential area is identified as being on a strategic route);
  •  Central commercial areas – including limited waiting and pay and display (except where identified as being on a strategic route or location).

Civil enforcement officers will also be working their beats from vehicles – rather than walking – to aid with social distancing.


Devon roads: Planned maintenance shelved but essential repairs continue

Planned maintenance on Devon’s roads has been suspended – but highways teams will continue to carry out essential safety repairs.

Does this include potholes for cyclists – Owl?

East Devon Reporter 

County council bosses say the temporary measure will allow them to focus on critical infrastructure to maintain the local network for key workers amid the coronavirus crisis.

Highway maintenance workers have been classified by the Government as key to delivering essential services during the ongoing pandemic.

They play a critical role in keeping roads safe for emergency services and other key workers, as well as the delivery of food and supplies.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council (DCC) cabinet member for highway management, said: “We hope that local communities understand that our highways teams are carrying out safety critical work to ensure that NHS staff, care workers, emergency services and essential deliveries can safely get to where they need to go.

“Highways staff are being advised to observe social distancing precautions and I would call on our local communities to do likewise and not approach our maintenance crews.

“They should be applauded for their vital work in keeping our roads safe for everyone during these uncertain times.”

A DCC spokesperson added: “With partial lockdown and social distancing in force across the UK, a number of incidents have been reported recently elsewhere in Britain where members of the public have threatened or intimidated highways crews delivering essential road maintenance, putting themselves and road workers at risk.”

“Devon Highways is asking for understanding from the public while it focuses on safety critical work, such as pothole repairs, drain repairs and clearance, safety inspections, winter gritting and removing unsafe trees.

‘Local communities are being asked not to approach highways workers carrying out repairs and inspections across the county.”


Coronavirus forecast to cut UK economic output by 15%

Don’t worry our LEP is on the case – so in Devon will it double to 30%?

Rob Davies 

The coronavirus pandemic could cause UK economic output to plunge by an unprecedented 15% in the second quarter of the year and unemployment to more than double, according to dire forecasts.

The deepest recession since the financial crisis is now all but unavoidable, according to analysts at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), after businesses shut up shop and consumer spending fell dramatically as a result of lockdown restrictions.

The centre said it expected the economy to have shrunk marginally in the first three months of the year by 0.5%, followed by the steepest economic contraction since comparable records began more than 20 years ago.

The predicted slump would dwarf the 2.2% contraction in the fourth quarter of 2008 as the banking crash took hold, marking by far the worst three-month period since at least 1997.

Japan’s Nomura bank has pencilled in a slightly less precipitous fall for the UK of 13.5%, but also predicted a significant rise in unemployment.

The bank’s analysts forecast that government initiatives designed to persuade employers not to let staff go will not be enough to stop the figure more than doubling from 3.9% to 8% between April to June, before creeping up to 8.5% in the third quarter.

The Department for Work and Pensions said on Wednesday that 477,000 people had applied for universal credit in just nine days, forcing it to redeploy thousands of civil servants to help process the claims.

The CEBR and Nomura predict unprecedented economic pain in the second quarter, but both expect a subsequent rebound, assuming coronavirus restrictions are eased and the government takes economic stimulus measures.

The CEBR said a cut in VAT could help to kickstart consumer spending, and it expects measures to promote investment in business, which would not recover until 2030 otherwise.

That would deliver a “sharp bounceback” in the second half of the year, it said, although 2020 GDP would still be 4% lower than 2019.

House prices will fall 13% in the year to the end of March 2021, the CEBR said.


This Is How Experts Think Coronavirus Will Change The World Over The Next 18 Months

Supermarket shelves are stripped bare. Flights are grounded. Workers have been laid off; furloughed; transformed into primary school teachers. A Conservative government has nationalised the railways and is paying people not to work. And this is still only week two. In less than a fortnight, Britain has experienced the kind of social and political upheaval that normally only comes when you guillotine some royals, or storm a winter palace. But is this a brief moment of national solidarity, or a ‘new normal’?

By Chris Stokel-Walker 

That all depends on how long the coronavirus crisis lasts. Experts believe a vaccine for Covid-19 (the disease caused by the Sars-CoV-2 virus) is still at least 18 months away, which makes Donald Trump’s promises that the US will “reopen” in three weeks seem optimistic at best. In the UK, the more likely reality was laid out in a report by researchers at Imperial College London, which estimated that elements of the new normal – social distancing, self-isolation, rolling lockdowns – could last until September 2021. So what’s likely to happen as the coronavirus crisis continues?

The reality is, nobody knows. We have never faced something like Covid-19 before and though there are analogues in the way that countries adapt to traumas like war and famine, in the global west at least, this situation is unprecedented in the modern age. Already, the impact of the coronavirus crisis on everything from the economy to social interactions to the environment has been enormous. So we asked the experts what they think’s going to happen as the pandemic bites, then finally abates.

Month One: Infection

One thing is close to certain: things will get worse before they get better. “I think the epidemic will certainly continue for the next three months,” says Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. He believes that restrictions on movement will only get more severe over the next 30 days. With no one commuting, city centres will be deserted. Building sites will go quiet and shops, bars, restaurants and pubs will remain shuttered.

In their absence, supermarkets and grocery delivery companies will thrive: according to data insights consultant Kantar, which tracks more than 100,000 British shoppers, we made an additional 15 million supermarket visits in the week ending 17 March (the first week of social distancing), compared to the same week in February. The average spend was up, too, climbing 16 per cent. Despite what the pasta wastelands might imply, that’s not just people stockpiling.

“Supermarkets actually account for only about 60 per cent of the food we [normally] consume,” says Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London. The rest comes from your Friday fish and chips, your Saturday brunch, and all those al desko Pret lunches (oh, falafel flatbread, how we miss thee). “If 40 per cent [of the food supply] is cut off, and 60 per cent has to deal with 100 per cent, well, you’ve got stress and strains. It’s inevitable.”

“We’re used to waiting lists, but not, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to hospitalise your grandad, take him home and make him comfortable’.”

Though you shouldn’t expect to see shelves overflowing, they will get less barren as people acclimatise and work their way through the cupboards they’ve filled in preparation for self-isolation. But the real problem for most people won’t be what’s available – it will be paying for it. “People in a month or two’s time will struggle to make their rent and pay their grocery delivery bill,” says Lynette Nusbacher, a former government adviser who now acts as a strategist for major companies. The hardest hit will be gig economy workers, who rely on us zipping around in Ubers after a few too many down the pub, especially since they’re technically self-employed contractors and so less protected by the government’s salary support programmes.

April is also when the NHS will hit its first big pinch point. All the indications show we are on track to follow Italy’s path in the spread of disease, where the death toll has already crossed 6,000 (at the time of writing, there have been 355 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK). The UK has 2.8 physicians per 1,000 people – lower than Spain and Italy, which have 4.1 doctors per 1,000 patients. The number of patients who need critical care will increase dramatically and the NHS is likely to be overwhelmed. As is already happening in Spain and Italy, medical staff will be forced to choose who receives the limited resources, with ventilators being removed from the elderly and given to the young. “We’re used to the idea of waiting lists for healthcare,” says Nusbacher. “But the idea you’d be told, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to hospitalise your grandad, take him home and make him comfortable’, is going to hit us at a very visceral level.”

Month Three: Recession

The hope is that, by July, we’ll have hit a first key milestone: after months of day-on-day increases in new coronavirus cases and deaths, rates for both should start to slow. “I suspect until we see that, we won’t be starting to relax any distancing rules,” says Hunter, although he’d be surprised if lockdown hadn’t been lifted at this point. “Hopefully it’ll happen before the end of May, but it might not.”

Whether Trump’s promise to restart the US economy within a month comes to fruition, it seems likely that three months from now, a number of countries will have begun to return to at least some semblance of normality. “It is most likely, according to our experts, that we’re going to see the ability of people to go out and operate economically in July or August,” says Nusbacher. “It could possibly be a little bit sooner.”

Expect the economy to follow what’s happening in hospitals. “It’s going to be grim, but I personally think things will relax as we move into summer,” says Hunter. “I don’t know it for certain, but I suspect the disease will decline quite steeply towards the end of June. In part that will be because of the measures the government have implemented and encouraged, but also in part it’ll be because of the fact that it’s summer and things will be getting a bit easier.” As things warm up we’ll be allowed to spend time in parks again, but expect some forms of social distancing to still be in place to prevent a second spike in infection rates.

“We could see the demolition of the working class”

Distance will be the norm at work, too. “I think business travel will go and it will be only when people need to be there: when you need people working in the oil and gas industry to go out and do some work on the rigs in the Gulf,” says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester Business School. Our travel-shyness won’t just be because we’ll see the aviation industry (or whatever form of it survives a three-month shutdown) as a vector for spreading coronavirus around the world. It’s also because, after being ordered to work from home, people will realise how much of what normally happens face-to-face can be replaced by technology.

That’ll feed down to rank-and-file workers in the service economy, too. Two years ago, Cooper undertook a study asking about how and why people do or don’t take advantage of the legal right to ask for flexible working from their employer. They found that while women took the option, men didn’t, for fear that it would adversely affect their career. “There was an inhibition, but now there is no inhibition,” Cooper says. “At the moment you’re being forced to work exclusively from home.”

Back in the bricks-and-mortar world, supermarket stocks will stabilise around fewer lines, as manufacturers prioritise getting what they can onto shelves. Our relationship with food will change, too. “We need to be thinking very carefully about renationalising supply chains, out of resilience preparedness,” says Lang, the food policy expert. “We’ve developed, over 60 years, a culture that says, ‘I can eat what I like, when I like, and it’ll be cheap forever, and I’ll overeat as well.’ That culture has got to change.” Tropical fruits will disappear from shelves and seasonal fruits will become so again, thanks to hold-ups at borders due to decreased freight flights. That means no more strawberries in winter. “Coronavirus is going to take a scythe through the normality of food.”

The return to social normality, however, is likely to spark a new round of infections. “In places where we start the economy too soon and let people go to their jobs and let normalcy return in some fashion, it looks like there’ll be a brisk and deadly outbreak,” says Nusbacher. “Brisk because when people are back into contact, there will be infections, and deadly because the capacity of any health setup to administer intensive care will be overcome.”

This could be the moment the British high street dies, believes Nusbacher. Coronavirus won’t be the underlying cause, but it will usher in the age of on-demand delivery and centralised warehouses sooner than might have happened organically. As Amazon and friends eat up even more market share, the impact on everyone else will be enormous. Nearly three million people are employed in the retail sector and although some of them will end up working as pickers for online deliveries, automation means a large proportion of those jobs will cease to exist. “A lot of people will be left out,” says Nusbacher.

Month Six: Relapse

By September, we’ll start reckoning with the lasting effects of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus budgets. Those who can will return to their workplaces. Those who have been laid off – or who were furloughed from companies that then went bust – will struggle to figure out what comes next. With the US economy currently contracting at the fastest rate since the financial crisis, another six months of coronavirus lockdowns all but guarantee a global recession, as economies reel from unprecedented collapses in both supply and demand. Those jobs that disappeared during the crisis are unlikely to return, which could lead to a spike in unemployment. The answer could be a more generous safety net.

“We are going to be spending half a year socialising people to the idea that, when there is a social necessity, it is not a moral hazard to pay people without expecting work in return,” says Nusbacher. “This is an ethical change.” A universal basic income, which has been trialled in Finland and Canada to mixed results, could demolish the working class. Instead of their value to the economy being calculated by how much they produce, it would be based on their consumption – the way in which they spend the money given to them by the government.

“We’ll see quite a marked increase in the birth rate. When you get bored with the telly, there’s nothing else to do”

For those whose jobs survived, the way they work will change. Offices will shrink and become places to pop into a couple of times a week for a catch-up, rather than somewhere to spend 40 hours sat in front of a computer (you can do that at home, after all). “We’re going to need a new ‘manager’,” says Cooper. “Somebody with very good social skills to manage virtual teams.” The changes in how our economy functions will accelerate that shift, as we rely less on shared resources like printers and speedy internet. “The only thing that stopped people doing it [before coronavirus] was the fear that it gave off the impression you weren’t committed.”

Beneath the veneer of normality, however, the virus will be lurking. As summer fades, we’ll see a resurgence in the number of cases that require careful management. Rolling lockdowns will be enforced in different areas of the UK to reduce demand on NHS critical care beds. In turn, that means we’ll need to create some slack in the health system. “Next Christmas or so, I bet we see quite a marked increase in the birth rate,” says Hunter. “You can only watch so many back episodes of Dad’s Army and Carry On films before you get bored with the telly.”

Especially since there’ll be less new stuff to watch. With cinemas likely to stay shut for the foreseeable, studios will have to decide whether to delay films indefinitely, or make them available for streaming instead and take a bath on the box office numbers. Social distancing and travel bans will shut down production on films and TV shows, too, which will force broadcasters and studios to either dig through their archives or figure out new ways to create content.

Schools will return, and universities too, but with fewer international students as people put their lives on pause, or carefully consider whether they want to be halfway around the world when another outbreak arrives. Just as office workers will question whether they really need to all be in the same room to do their work, so we’ll see secondary schools and universities start to consider whether the emergency methods they’ve put in place over the last few months can become more permanent.

Month Twelve: Resilience

With the novel coronavirus no longer so novel, the way we deal with suspected cases will have changed radically. Though a vaccine is still unlikely at this point, medical staff will have become accustomed to dealing with Covid-19 and its associated complications, so will have a better set of treatment options. “Medicine is a science,” says Hunter. “Everything we do is supposed to be driven by hard evidence, but often there’s a lot of what goes on in medicine that can’t actually be controlled for in trials. It’s the individual doctors and nurses who can spot when things need to be done better, because they’ve seen it 50 times already and they get more tuned into what the signs are that they need to be getting worried.”

The way the government traces the virus’s spread could also change. “You might then decide whether you’re going to put a lot of effort into identifying cases that crop up and isolating them – the sort of thing we were doing in late January and early February 2020,” says Hunter. “But that’s quite a long way down the line.”

“Britain, we have a habit of bouncing back. People so rapidly forget the bad things and move on”

One possible bright spot is that, with industry and travel essentially paused, our carbon emissions will collapse. Researchers have already seen massive drops in the release of nitrogen dioxide, with parts of China showing pollution levels up to 30 per cent lower than normal. In northern Italy, nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen by as much as 40 per cent. Though this alone isn’t enough to stave off the climate crisis, the shift in behaviour precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic is, perhaps, a sign that we can all make huge personal sacrifices when faced with a global, existential threat. That, at least, is a positive sign.

However, everything else will be much less rosy. We’ll likely still be in recession and whole sectors of the economy will be fundamentally reshaped. “We might see professional services organisations finding it difficult to say: ‘Everybody come to work’,” says Nusbacher. “We might see the wreckage of some companies that can’t be profitable, just as business models are put under stress right now.” Europe, in particular, may think twice before restarting its hydrocarbon-based economy, and instead take the chance to think greener.

The coronavirus won’t have caused it, but it will be the rocket fuel for changes that have been long coming. “I’m not saying this one pandemic is going to cause permanent social change,” says Nusbacher. “I’m saying this pandemic could be the factor that pushes this lever. The fulcrum is the longstanding set of changes. There’ll be an attempt to return back to normalcy, but that won’t work. Time has moved on. There was going to be social and economic change anyway, and any attempt to ignore that will run up against economic reality.”

But there will be one bright light at the end of the tunnel – a vaccine.

Month Eighteen: Recovery

As a disease, coronavirus is here to stay. But the vaccine – and a carefully considered delivery – will alleviate its impact. “I suspect what will happen is that when a vaccine becomes available, it will be available to those groups most at risk and initially healthcare workers who haven’t had the infection,” says Hunter.

The rest of us will be strong enough to withstand the virus, or will already have had it. “By the end of 2021, there will be some effective treatment,” says Nusbacher. “By the middle of 2021, a lot of people will have immunity due to exposure and survival. That will make a difference. The pandemic will be over and we’ll be dealing with what happened in the past, rather than what happens now.”.

There could be seismic shifts in the world order. China will be keen to restart its economic growth. Countries that benefited from Chinese medical aid, like Italy, will forge closer ties with Beijing. America will, perhaps, finally reconsider the effectiveness of a market-based healthcare system. And in the UK, in the wake of the Conservative government ripping up a century of dogma to save the economy, we may see significant shifts. Just-in-time delivery infrastructure could become a thing of the past and maximum efficiency in the NHS may be seen as a problem, rather than a goal.

Countries – and people – are resilient. Coronavirus will bring about a revolution in the way that Britain lives and works, but many of the long-term shifts it ushers in would likely have occurred anyway, even if not quite this quickly. The test for our society is how we look after those who lose out once society reorders itself. Whether the sense of shared responsibility for the most vulnerable, which emerged when the pandemic first took hold, continues once it abates. And whether we will sacrifice our own opportunities in order to protect those whose opportunities are being taken away.

The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it’s possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you’re in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


Heroes and Villains – Which companies are coming through during the coronavirus crisis?

The dramatic effect of the coronavirus on the British economy has posed serious challenges for the country’s companies and their employees. Some have been applauded for their actions – making donations to health workers, for instance – while others have quickly fallen foul of politicians, the public and their own workers. Here is a list of those who deserve plaudits and brickbats so far.

Joanna Partridge

Plaudits – retail

Co-op The food retailer is taking on 5,000 extra store workers to cope with increased demand, offering temporary employment to hospitality workers who have lost their jobs. People can apply for jobs directly in their local branch. And the 6,500 pupils at 25 Co-op Academy schools who receive free school meals are being given a £20 weekly voucher while schools remain shut.

Timpson The retail chain, which provides shoe repair, dry cleaning and key-cutting services, says it will keep its 5,500 employees on full pay while its shops remain closed.

Lloyds Pharmacy The chain is hiring 1,500 staff so that it can continue delivering prescriptions and healthcare services. The company has also recruited 406 pharmacy students to bolster its staff.

Plaudits – hospitality

Fullers The pub and hotel chain with over 400 sites has said it will not seek rent payments from its tenanted pubs.

Whitbread The owner of the Premier Inn chain and restaurants including Beefeater and Brewers Fayre is putting some employees on a temporary furlough while its sites remain closed. But it will keep them on full pay by topping up the extra 20% of their wages not covered by the government scheme. Whitbread says it is in discussions with the government about providing rooms in its hotels, located near hospitals, to key workers.

Leon The restaurant chain is keeping certain branches open to NHS employees and other key workers, and providing takeaway and delivery meals to NHS workers with a 50% discount. It is also bringing together other restaurants, food distributors and suppliers to deliver free daily hot meals to NHS critical care staff. FeedNHS – also backed by the Wasabi, Abokado and Franco Manca chains – will deliver 5,600 meals a day to five major hospitals belonging to two London healthcare trusts.

Pret a Manger Before the chain was ordered to close, it was offering free hot drinks and a 50% discount on all other purchases for all NHS workers.

Plaudits – banks

Lloyds The bank has suspended 780 planned job cuts across its bank branches, amid a surge in demand and uncertainty over how many staff may need to self-isolate. An internal letter explained it was “not the right time, either for colleagues or for customers”. Britain’s biggest high street bank said it had granted mortgage holidays to over 70,000 customers in just over a week. The lender also confirmed that it would waive interest on arranged overdrafts up to £300 for all customers across its Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland branches from 6 April.

HSBC The UK division donated £1m to the National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal and British Red Cross to help support vulnerable people affected by Covid-19.

Barclays The bank is automatically waiving interest on all overdrafts from 27 March to 30 April. It has also set up an online form for mortgage holiday applications to speed up the process.

Plaudits – other sectors

Unilever The company behind brands including Dove and Knorr is contributing €100m (£89m) globally to fight the pandemic, including €50m (£47m) worth of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food. The London-headquartered firm is adapting manufacturing lines to produce sanitiser for use in institutions such as hospitals. It has also pledged to pay its small- and medium-sized suppliers early to help their cashflow.

Jingye The Chinese company, which recently bought British Steel, sent a private jet filled with medical and protective equipment to the company’s Scunthorpe steelworks. A private jet owned by Jingye landed at Doncaster Sheffield airport containing equipment including face masks, goggles, thermometers and medical gloves, destined for workers at the Scunthorpe blast furnace steelworks and the nearby hospital.

McCarthy & Stone The company, the biggest builder of retirement properties in the UK, has offered government and local authorities more than 300 newly completed apartments in unoccupied developments to house older people recovering from Covid-19 or NHS key workers.

Brompton Bicycles The folding bicycle maker is providing 200 bikes to hire, free of charge, to NHS key workers.

NCP The parking company extended its offer of free parking to NHS workers to all key workers.

British Land The business, which owns shopping centres including Sheffield’s Meadowhall, has said it will scrap rent for three months for small and medium-sized companies renting its space, and will allow larger tenants to spread their second-quarter rents payments over an 18 month window.

Brickbats – retail

Frasers Group Mike Ashley’s business, which owns the Sports Direct chain, gave in to government pressure and closed all their shops after previously informing staff that branches should remain open, as selling sporting and fitness equipment was “extremely important”.

Following the government shutdown, Sports Direct increased the prices of some products by as much as 50%. Ashley admitted that his business had been struggling to enforce the government’s Covid-19 restrictions for thousands of workers at its Derbyshire warehouse, which continues to operate to fulfil online orders. The Unite union had written to the group about concerned employees at the Shirebrook site, who had reportedly been told they would be immediately fired for self-isolating.

Ashley issued a public apology for the firm’s behaviour and said the company had since sought to make amends by offering its entire fleet of lorries to help deliver medical equipment and supplies for the NHS.

B&M The discount retailer remains open as it stocks food and grocery items, as well as pet food. Staff have complained on social media about having to work without protective equipment, including in stores where groceries only account for one aisle. An “advice update” to workers informed them that the company “presumed all our colleagues are key workers” and that they would be paid for any time spent self-isolating, provided they qualified for statutory sick pay. Those who don’t qualify or who had “exhausted their statutory sick pay entitlement” were told they would be contacted by their payroll adviser.

Brickbats – hospitality

JD Wetherspoon The pub chain’s boss, Tim Martin, came in for widespread criticism after he said he wanted to keep all 867 locations open until the government-ordered shutdown of all hostelries. The backlash against JD Wetherspoon grew when it said it could not commit to paying its 43,000 employees beyond 24 March, before it had processed details of the government furlough scheme, as it didn’t have the financial resources to do so.

It later changed tack and said it had created its own reimbursement scheme so that it could pay its workers on 3 April, provided the government backed its interpretation of the measures. The firm says it is retaining all staff and has advised those who want to apply to work for supermarkets during the current period that they will be given priority for jobs at Wetherspoons when pubs reopen. The chain has also told its suppliers that they cannot expect payment until after the pubs reopen, even for items that have already been delivered.

Travelodge Hundreds of residents in its hotels, including homeless families housed there by local councils, were turned out on to the street after the budget hotel chain closed its premises. The firm gave letters to all residents asking them to leave as soon as possible, apparently in defiance of government guidance, which said that hotels looking after homeless families in temporary accommodation should not close.

Britannia The hotel chain blamed an administrative error for sacking staff and leaving some without accommodation after it closed one of its properties in Scotland. It had terminated the employment of workers at the Coylumbridge hotel in Aviemore and asked them to leave their accommodation immediately.

Carluccio’s The Unite union has accused Carluccio’s of “wage theft” after the Italian restaurant chain was closed due to the government-ordered shutdown. It claims workers have been informed they will only be paid 50% of their wages for the month of March, despite having worked until the chain’s outlets closed on 20 March. The union believes the company’s actions are a breach of employment law.

Brickbats – travel

EasyJet The carrier’s pilots and cabin crew have been asked to take three months’ unpaid leave and accept a pay freeze. The airline came in for widespread criticism after it proceeded with a £174m dividend payout to shareholders, £60m of which was paid to easyJet’s founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Ryanair The low-cost airline has been accused of ripping off passengers after it was found to be charging £80 more to those rebooking cancelled flights, even though it had offered fee-free changes. The Dublin-based company has waived its change fees, but passengers still have to pay the difference if the new fare is higher. According to consumer group Which?, the airline has increased the cost of those replacement flights by as much as £80. Pay for all staff, including executives, has been cut by 50% for April and May, but the airline’s boss Michael O’Leary has not ruled out redundancies.

Brickbats – other sectors

Regus Small firms who rent office space from Regus, one of the largest providers of serviced offices, complain that they are still being charged rent even though they are not able to use their offices. The firm said it had seen an “enormous growth in support needed” in the weeks before the shutdown at the companies who rent space from them “with mail handling, internet services, and technology services that allow them to work efficiently”.

Cineworld Former and current employees of the UK’s largest cinema operator by market share have protested about their treatment by their employers. There was widespread outrage over the company’s decision to terminate the employment “with immediate effect” of staff working at both Cineworld and its “boutique” arm, Picturehouse. Cineworld Action Group posted an open letter to the chain’s CEO Greidinger after the UK government’s decision to pay 80% of employees’ wages, but says Cineworld is yet to change tack and reinstate the employees it has made redundant.

Capita Employees at several call centres run by the outsourcing firm got in touch with the Guardian to raise concerns that the company was not taking their safety seriously. One member of staff at a call centre in Runcorn operated by Capita said people were still taking calls for the mobile operator O2 involving retention of customers threatening to quit, complaining of a “filthy” building, dirty toilets and empty hand sanitiser stations. They said they were concerned about catching the virus and giving it to family members with underlying health conditions and were too scared to speak out, as they could be fired.

Capita said it had increased cleaning at sites, staff were working from home where possible, and it had no policy of sacking employees who complain on social media: “The top priority of Capita at this very difficult time is the wellbeing of our people.”


Government in talks over state takeover of Flybe?

Collapsed airline Flybe’s administrator EY has denied reports that it is in negotiations with the government to buy the regional carrier out of bankruptcy in order to protect the UK’s battered aviation sector.

Edward Thicknesse

According to the Telegraph, the Big Four auditor has opened talks with government officials about nationalising the airline in order to serve the UK’s loss-making regional routes.

However, EY said that no such talks were taking place. A spokesperson said: “At this time, we can confirm that there are no discussions between the joint administrators and government about taking Flybe out of insolvency”.

It added that it “continues to be open to approaches from all parties in order to realise returns for creditors”.

Flybe collapsed at the beginning of March after failing to secure a state loan which would have enabled it to keep flying.

Virgin Atlantic, which part owned the airline in a consortium with Stobart Aviation and Cyrus Capital, refused to put any more money into the airline due to the damage coronavirus has done to its business.

The subsequent fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, which has crippled global aviation, has led to a number of airlines calling for state aid to protect them against the threat of collapse. 

A group representing 2,500 or so Flybe employees forced out of work by the collapse of Europe’s biggest regional airline wrote to the chancellor last week asking him to take action so they could access the government’s furloughed workers’ wage scheme.

The talks come as business secretary Alok Sharma announced that insolvency rules would be relaxed for the duration of the crisis in order to keep as many companies trading as possible.

The legislation, which will be backdated to the beginning of March – Flybe collapsed on 5 March – will allow companies “emerge intact the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The UK’s airlines have been among the worst hit by the crisis, but were dealt a considerable blow last week when chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that they would only be able to access state aid as a “last resort”.

In a meeting with the transport select committee, transport secretary Grant Shapps said that negotiations were ongoing with individual airlines on a case-by-case basis, refusing to rule out the government taking a stake in certain carriers. 

Flybe part-owner Virgin Atlantic is reportedly in talks with officials over a package of commercial loans and guarantees worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Waitrose praised for banning couples from shopping together

Waitrose has received praise for banning couples and families from doing their weekly shop together amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Lucy MiddletonSunday 29 Mar 2020

The supermarket rolled out the new policy across its 338 UK stores this week, after bosses became concerned about groups gathering on the premises. Now only ‘one customer per household’ is allowed to go inside to buy their essentials.

Many shoppers have already taken to social media to share their experience, with most heaping praise on the shop assistants putting the measure into place.

One person tweeted: ‘Tremendous effort by Waitrose in Cheltenham today. As I waited outside after being told it was “one adult per household” the way the staff engaged and boosted the public morale was inspiring. Applause to the unsung heroes!’

Another added: ‘Congratulations on keeping everyone safe at Waitrose Wolverhampton. Marshalls in force ensuring only one member per household into store and the two metre distance is being adhered to in the queue.’

Waitrose is not the first supermarket to step-up their policies for customers, with Tesco recently introducing a strict one-in-one-out rule.

Shoppers hoping to get their groceries at Tesco and Sainsbury’s have to queue outside the front door, standing at least two metres away from any other customers. The distance is commonly marked by tape on the floor.

Other stores, including Lidl, Morrisons, Aldi, Iceland and Sainsbury’s, have also installed protective screens for staff as they serve customers.

Shoppers must keep at least two metres distance 

Most companies have ensured their workers have gloves and hand sanitiser when coming into contact with customers, while Waitrose have also given their staff protective visors to wear.

Plenty of stores have also agreed to keep hours reserved for NHS workers and the elderly and vulnerable, by asking other customers to refrain from shopping at those times.

However, some supermarkets have seen little change in shopping behaviours, with staff finding it difficult to enforce the restrictions.

The reserved shopping times for the UK’s leading supermarkets can be found here.


Guided by the science – interview with No 10’s Infection guru

Owl hopes that by now everyone realises that, although in the absence of hard data, modelling is the best science tool to use, models have to be used carefully. Small changes to the variables (assumptions) can produce results in, say, mortality projections, which are an order of magnitude different.

Although Professor Neil Ferguson is the man we can credit for pursuading the government to make the screeching U-turn a couple of weeks ago. This passage from this interview with him by the Science Editor of the Times, worries Owl:

“Yet for other scientists the big problem with Ferguson’s model is that they cannot tell how it works. It consists of several thousand lines of dense computer code, with no description of which bits of code do what. Ferguson agreed this is a problem.

“For me the code is not a mess, but it’s all in my head, completely undocumented. Nobody would be able to use it . . . and I don’t have the bandwidth to support individual users.”

No 10’s infection guru recruits game developers to build coronavirus pandemic model

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor 

The computer modellers whose predictions about the pandemic prompted the national lockdown are working with gamers to release a simulation website.

Professor Neil Ferguson, who leads the team at Imperial College London, is working with John Carmack, the lead programmer of Doom, Wolfenstein and Quake, to create Covid-sim, which could go public as early as this week.

“We’ve been working with Microsoft very intensely,” said Ferguson. “The aim is to produce a website where the public or governments or public health agencies can ask about the state of the epidemic in their country and see the impact of different interventions.”

Ferguson leads a team of mathematical modellers at Imperial — about six of whom have the coronavirus, including him. Their projections of how the pandemic will unfold have dominated government policy-making.

This is a marked change to previous epidemics where ministers have called in teams of modellers from rival universities who compete to work out the best responses.

It was team Ferguson’s research paper of March 16 that prompted the lockdown, warning that without it more than 500,000 people could die. It also projected that a full lockdown of the kind now in force could reduce that to less than 20,000.

This weekend the death toll surged to more than 1,000 — and about 14,000 confirmed “active” cases.

Ferguson has faced a number of challenges to his modelling, most recently from Sunetra Gupta, a former close colleague at Oxford, who released research last week suggesting the virus may have infected up to half of Britons — and that less than one in a thousand may be at risk of serious illness.

Ferguson describes Gupta as a “good friend” but dismisses such ideas as “having no supporting data”. He also said suggestions that many victims would have died anyway because of age or other health conditions make no difference to the key findings.

“This is by far the most serious public health threat I’ve worked on in my career. Even if you just look at the mortality, even in younger age groups, it’s way in excess of seasonal influenza.”

Yet for other scientists the big problem with Ferguson’s model is that they cannot tell how it works. It consists of several thousand lines of dense computer code, with no description of which bits of code do what. Ferguson agreed this is a problem.

“For me the code is not a mess, but it’s all in my head, completely undocumented. Nobody would be able to use it . . . and I don’t have the bandwidth to support individual users.” He plans to put that right by working with Carmack and others to publish the entire program as an interactive website.

What is increasingly concerning Ferguson and his colleagues is working out how the UK could lift the lockdown without the virus resurging.

Two clear strategies have emerged. In the short term, testing will be key. “I think we need a shift in balance from relying completely on social distancing to identifying cases much faster. That means even if I have a mild cold, I can literally test myself at home or drive through a testing station and have a result in 24 hours. This will also allow very rapid contact tracing [to suppress outbreaks],” he said.

Another idea is to lift only parts of the lockdown: “For example, not everybody goes back to the workplace at once.” In the long term, however, the strategy must be to develop a vaccine.

One of Ferguson’s more optimistic results is that the proportion of people for whom the disease is trivial could be as high as 30-50%.

He is increasingly hopeful that the outbreak can be contained. Last week he and his colleagues published new research showing that if unchecked it would infect almost everyone in the world, killing about 40 million people in a year. But with prompt health measures just over a million would die.

Footnote from Owl. Don’t dismiss the return of the “Herd Immunity” strategy once the Prime Minister believes himself to be immune.

Open Letter to Neil Parish MP

In response to one of Owl’s posts today, Owl has been given permission to post this open letter to Neil Parish, sent to the press (midweek letters) last Thursday 26 March 

Dear Editor,

We have not heard from our MP Neil Parish on the #comebacklater campaign. We are hearing reports of families with a positive diagnosis, whose children attend London schools, at large in our Devon village streets and shops. The problem is widespread and goes far beyond the high profile case in Broadhembury. Why did the government fail to prevent people moving to holiday destinations and second homes before the schools closed last week?

Residents are angry that holiday-makers are bringing infection to Devon, putting our vulnerable loved-ones at risk, and escalating the problem with food supplies.

 I urge Mr Parish to consider the problems created by a defunded NHS, under the additional strain of defunded social care, defunded rural transport and an older population. The government should have acted decisively, and should now act, to make sure Coronavirus holiday-makers and second homeowners stay away and come back later.


Liz Pole

Constituency Spokesperson, Tiverton and Honiton Labour Party


Manufacturers cast doubt on ventilator target

The UK may not have all the ventilators it needs by the time coronavirus cases in the country reach their peak, engineering firms warned.

Covid-19 still outrunning the Government – Owl

Simon Jack, Business Editor BBC

Health officials expect the UK to experience its highest number of infections in around two weeks’ time.

The UK has just over 8,000 ventilators, significantly fewer than the 30,000 the government estimates are needed to cope with the fallout from the peak.

Manufacturers told the BBC they cannot produce enough to meet that deadline.

However, one firm involved in the plans to produce the life-saving machines, said that by early May the country would be “in a much better position”.

There is widespread uncertainty within government and industry about how many ventilators it is possible to produce, which firms can make them and by when.

Dyson has received an order for 10,000 units, pending regulatory approval. The firm, headed by British inventor Sir James Dyson, has drawn up its design from scratch in collaboration with Cambridge-based medical firm The Technology Partnership.

Dyson has said it is hopeful its design would be approved within days, which would allow it to begin production within two weeks. However, there has since been doubt cast on whether that timescale for approval was realistic.

Another consortium including engineering firms Airbus, GKN, Rolls Royce, Megitt and others are working on ramping up production of a simplified design based on existing technology from medical ventilator specialist firms Penlon and Smiths.

As well as asking the consortium for help in sourcing parts, it is thought two new manufacturing facilities will be opened – one in the North and one in the South West.

However, with so many different firms involved in the consortium, there is also uncertainty about how quickly approval for the design and accelerated production can happen.

‘Not racing’

Separately, the members of the consortium plan to ramp up supplies to firms Penlon and Smiths which already make ventilators.

One company told the BBC: “We are not racing each other, we are racing against the virus.”

The urgency of the situation appears to have exposed cracks in collaboration between government departments. The BBC understands that in one instance the Department of Health was unaware that 10,000 ventilators had been ordered from Dyson, despite the order having been placed in a Cabinet Office-headed letter.

There has also been confusion about why the UK did not participate in an EU-wide procurement order for tens of thousands of new ventilators.

Some Whitehall sources say the invitation to participate languished in the in-tray of more junior Health Department officials until it was too late. Meanwhile, government sources claimed that the programme would not have made a meaningful difference to available equipment because the UK would have been one of 28 countries vying for the new units.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the UK was capable of producing all the units it needed itself. But manufacturers have said the country may not to be able to do so in the timeframe required to face the peak of UK infections.

One thing is clear: there is no such thing as ordering too many, from wherever made by whomever.

The UK has the same target of 30,000 as the state of New York which has a third of the population of the UK.

Consortium members said there was also demand from countries including Kenya and South Africa. So in the unlikely event the government finds itself with a UK surplus, there will be no shortage of overseas buyers.

The BBC has approached the government for comment.

Urgent police warning for people to stop driving to Haldon Hill

Police have issued a warning for people to stay away from Haldon Hill and other beauty spots during the coronavirus crisis.

It follows reports of people ignoring lockdown and gathering in large groups across Devon and Cornwall on Saturday.

Paul Greaves

Police say they are ‘reminding members of the public’ that they should not be driving to locations to exercise.

The risk of spreading Covid-19 was worsened because some people were ignoring advice that exercise should only be taken from residents’ front doors, police said.

Popular locations where people gathered included Haldon Hill, near Exeter.

The rules from the Government, which came into force on Monday (March 23), state you may only leave your home for four reasons:

  • shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

Chief Superintendent Sam De Reya said: “We have been quite clear in our advice that using your car to get to a preferred exercise location does not constitute an essential journey.

“Our role here is to reduce the spread of coronavirus, save lives and protect the NHS.

“Those in locations that are most likely to have been accessed by car are putting themselves and others at risk and can expect to be challenged robustly.

Devon and Cornwall is understandably proud of its renowned stunning coastlines, wide open spaces and gallons of fresh air and thrive from the millions of visitors who come to enjoy our part of the world each year.

However, the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK has changed our day to day lives while the government is calling for the nation to stop all non essential travel in a bid to stop the spread of the disease that has so tragically claimed lives in the UK.

In the South West not only do we have a proportion of elderly people living here, those who are some of the most vulnerable to coronavirus, but we also have NHS trusts that are stretched to capacity without any extra pressure.

We want to help saves lives and help bring an end to the outbreak as soon as we possibly can.

Therefore we are aiming to spread the message of come back later as far and as wide as possible through a campaign launching today – #comebacklater.

“For the most part the public have been incredibly supportive of the restrictions placed on them so far.

“We would like to thank all of those who are abiding by these very straightforward rules and remind them that they will need to be mindful of the rules for some time to come.”