Persimmon and Bellway down tools and halt dividend

Uncertainty over what should happen on construction sites is another example of the lack of clarity coming from Boris Johnson every time he blusters. Although Persimmon undoubtedly will have an eye on a collapse in demand.

When housing development eventually gets going again, Owl confidently predicts that developers will claim that EDDC has fallen behind its planned build out rate and demand more planning permissions to compensate.

Owl wonders what is happening at Hinkley – the construction that is so vital to Heart of the South West strategic plans? Have they downed tools?

Matt Oliver  www.thisismoney.co.uk 

Persimmon and Bellway down tools and halt dividend as row rages about whether construction should continue during lockdown

Persimmon and Bellway have told workers to down tools as a row rages about whether construction should continue during the coronavirus lockdown. 

The housebuilders also suspended their dividends to help conserve cash, following in the footsteps of other businesses. 

Shares in Persimmon rose 15.3 per cent, or 258.5p, to 1950p after the announcement, while Bellway’s shares fell 1.6 per cent, or 32p, to 2039p. 

Housebuilders Persimmon and Bellway have told workers to down tools as a row rages about whether construction should continue during the coronavirus lockdown

Rivals Barratt, Taylor Wimpey and Galliard Homes also announced site closures. Vistry Group, the owner of Bovis Homes and Galliford, also said it was cancelling a dividend due in May worth £60million. 

It had already halted work at its sites. However, others such as Redrow and Berkeley Homes have defied pressure to take similar steps, sparking a row about whether the Government should explicitly ban construction site work. 

Cabinet ministers including Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick have resisted an all-out ban, saying that work on infrastructure is important to the economy and should continue – so long as workers stay far enough apart under social-distancing rules. 

Despite this, major sites in London have been shut down after an outcry over the number of construction workers still using the London Underground. 

Mace, the main contractor in charge of redeveloping Battersea Power Station – one of the capital’s biggest building projects – announced a two-day shutdown on Tuesday to review whether it can continue safely. 

Work on major High Speed 2 (HS2) rail sites, including Euston Station and Old Oak Common, has also been suspended, as well as construction of Google’s new headquarters in King’s Cross. 

Persimmon said it had taken the decision to close building sites and sales offices because of the ‘exceptional’ challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. 

It said work would only continue at some to make them safe, but admitted the temporary shutdown would cause ‘significant delays’ in handing over homes to customers. 

In a move to free up cash and fortify its balance sheet, the company also postponed two dividend payments – worth 235p per share overall or £749.5million – that were due in April and July. 

Bellway also said it would also shut down its sites and cancelling its interim dividend. Smaller builders such as McCarthy & Stone said they were pausing work. However, Cairn Construction joined Redrow and Berkeley in continuing work on its sites.

 

Coronavirus: Tracking app aims for one million downloads

Owl has been sent this link by a trusted source, but Owl has not tried this personally. Readers need to be aware of the cautions expressed in the BBC article.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-52033210

An app that tracks the symptoms of Covid-19 in the UK has become one of the most popular downloads.

Its creators aim to deliver insights into why some people get the disease more severely than others.

They also hope to create a map showing where outbreaks are happening and help distinguish cases from those of the common cold.

It is one of many such new apps. Experts have warned people to be cautious about which they download.

At present, Covid Symptom Tracker is the third most popular app in Apple’s UK store and second in Google Play’s new releases chart for the country.

Its developers are targeting one million downloads in 24 hours.

The program has been shared thousands of times via WhatsApp and other social-media platforms.

Created in just three days by researchers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals and King’s College London university, in conjunction with the nutrition advice start-up Zoe, it has already reached 750,000 downloads and, according to its developers, is being installed at a rate of 50,000 times an hour.

Home-testing kit

The app was the brainchild of Prof Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiologist at King’s College, who has specialised in the genetics and medical histories of twins for the past 25 years.

“I was rather depressed as they were shutting down everything in the university and I thought that twins are the best studied people in the country, so how can we use that information in this crisis?” he told BBC News.

Initially, the app was made available only to the twins taking part in his studies, who were sent a home-testing kit to better understand which symptoms corresponded to the coronavirus.
But the professor realised it could be scaled up to the general public, without the testing element.

Temperature reading

“The NHS hasn’t come up with a better alternative and this app seems to be working,” he said.

“We are hoping to get to one million downloads by the end of the day and we will also be ready to release data by then for the NHS, data modellers and researchers to play with.”

The software requires users to share personal details, including their age, height and medical history.

It then asks them to describe symptoms, if they have any, on a daily basis, as well as to give a temperature reading.

Critically unwell

Prof Spector said it could potentially help the NHS:

  • learn how fast the virus is spreading in a particular area, as well as highlighting high-risk parts of the country
  • better understand the symptoms, including the differences between those of the virus and the common cold
  • explain why some people develop a mild illness while others become critically unwell

A spokeswoman for Zoe told BBC News all shared data would be anonymised and not used for any commercial purpose. And users could delete all their records when the crisis was over.

But as spam and malware skyrocket on the back of the pandemic, one expert said people would be wise to be cautious about downloading other apps purporting to help tackle coronavirus.

“I am concerned by the rash of websites and apps intended to allow people to report of their Covid-19 symptoms,” said privacy expert Pat Walshe.

‘Dubious ethics’

“I’ve found it difficult or impossible to determine who is behind a number of them.

“They do not adopt appropriate standards of compliance with data protection law and I see dubious ethics.

“Could an app help? Yes, possibly. But I think we need the NHS to coordinate it in order to provide confidence, trust and protection.”

Prof Spector agrees people need to be careful.

“There are lots of scams out there and bogus things trying to get your details,” he said.

People wishing to download the Covid-19 tracker can do so from Apple and Google’s app stores.

https://covid.joinzoe.com/

UK patient zero? East Sussex family may have been infected with coronavirus as early as mid-January

Owl understands that, in any epidemic,  it’s important to try to find “patient zero”, the first person to become infected. This is because it helps epidemiologists determine how and when the outbreak started and to gain insight into how it spreads.

Evidence seems to point to a much earlier start in the UK, possibly a month earlier than currently assumed, with the patient infected in Austria, the source of most or all European cases.

[Warning – this article describes certain practices involving ping-pong balls – please do not try this for yourselves anywhere, anytime – Owl.] 

By Paul Nuki, Global Health Security Editor, London and Sarah Newey www.telegraph.co.uk 

A family from East Sussex may have been Britain’s first coronavirus victims, catching the virus in mid-January after visiting an Austrian ski resort which is now under investigation for allegedly covering up the early outbreak.

If confirmed with official tests, it would mean the outbreak in Britain started more than a month earlier than currently thought.

As things stand, the first recorded UK case was January 31 and the earliest documented incidence of transmission within the UK occurred on February 28.

IT consultant Daren Bland, 50, was skiing in Ischgl, Austria from January 15 to 19 with three friends, two from Denmark and one from Minnesota in America. 

All three men fell ill on their return with classic coronavirus symptoms and Mr Bland passed on the infection to his wife and children in Maresfield, east Sussex.

A virus which caused a dry cough then spread rapidly through the locality in the weeks running up to the February half term, with many local children taking time off school with illness.

Austrian prosecutors on Tuesday opened an criminal investigation into allegations a suspected infection in the resort of Ischgl was covered up allowing Covid-19 to spread across Europe undetected.

Hundreds of infections in Germany, Iceland, Norway and Denmark have been traced back to the resort in the Tyrolean Alps by European investigators but Mr Bland and his family are the first in the UK known to be associated with the resort.

Like many of the European victims, Mr Bland visited the Kitzloch bar, which is famed for its apres ski parties. The bar is tightly packed and known for “beer pong” – a drinking game in which revellers take turns to spit the same ping-pong ball into a beer glass. 

“We visited the Kitzloch and it was rammed, with people singing and dancing on the tables”, recalled Mr Bland on Wednesday. “People were hot and sweaty from skiing and waiters were delivering shots to tables in their hundreds. You couldn’t have a better home for a virus”.

The Telegraph has obtained an exclusive video shot inside Ischgl’s Kitzloch apres ski bar, below, which clearly shows conditions inside the venue.

Mr Bland returned home to Maresfield on Sunday, January 19 and fell ill the following morning. “I was ill for 10 days, it was like wading through treacle. I couldn’t get up, I couldn’t work, it knocked me for six. I was breathless.”

Sarah Bland, 49, told the Telegraph: “I was then ill and so was my youngest daughter. My symptoms were a temperature and strange flushes, exhaustion which lasted for nearly three weeks intermittently and total brain fog.

“My daughter had a temperature and persistent cough and was off school for two weeks. My eldest daughter felt wiped out for a day but it passed quickly.”

The family have not been officially confirmed to have had the coronavirus but have been in contact with the Telegraph seeking help for several weeks.

Their suspicions were raised after confirmed coronavirus cases across Europe were traced back to the Austrian resort. Although their illness was relatively mild, one of Mr Bland’s two Danish friends, a man in his 50s, was more seriously ill. 

“I think it’s important we are tested to see if we have had the virus”, said Mrs Bland on Wednesday. “It is partly out of curiosity but also because it may help the authorities better understand the spread in the UK. They are meticulous in their testing in Europe”.

Mr Bland added: “A test for people like us would enable us to get out and help make deliveries and run errands for others”.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said cases  like this demonstrates the need for widespread antibody and viral genome sequencing testing.

These tests can show who has and who has not been exposed to the virus and therefore help epidemiologists trace the history and spread of the disease.

“A really significant unknown in this epidemic is whether or not the cases that are symptomatic are simply the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “If there are hidden cases in large numbers then it tells us that the infection is more difficult to control than we thought… but also suggests that there is a possibility herd immunity may have built up.”

Epidemiologists are still unclear about when the virus arrived in the UK, although modelling from Oxford University has suggested it could have arrived in mid January and have been spreading undetected since then.

Skiers from Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Austria all began testing positive for coronavirus after returning home from Ischgl in March. The Austrian authorities are now probing earlier cases amid allegations that the resort tried to cover them up.

European governments started listing the town as an at-risk area in February, although local authorities played down the concerns initially.

The Kitzloch bar was eventually closed on March 10, and the resort closed on March 13.

Werner Kurz, the mayor of Ischgl, told German newspaper Der Spiegel the shut down was “a catastrophe” for the town, saying: “We implemented all regulations in a timely manner”.

Scientific modelling is valuable – but remember the limitations – only we didn’t.

Owl, on the basis of discussions with trusted and knowledgeable friends, has consistently questioned whether Boris Johnson and his advisers have really been “guided by the science” in a way that could be described as “scientific”. This short article describes the glaring limitations of their approach in a more eloquent way.

The troubling assumptions and use of the modelling from Im­pe­rial Col­lege that un­der­pinned the govern­ment’s be­lief that the na­tion could ride out the epi­demic by let­ting the in­fec­tion sweep through, cre­at­ing “herd im­mu­nity” on the way, is discussed in particular.

Scientific modelling is valuable – but remember the limitations

Ian Sample, Analysis, Guardian 26 March www.pressreader.com 

The lessons to be learned from the coro­n­avirus pan­demic are so nu­mer­ous they will keep schol­ars busy for decades to come. Chief among them is the value of modelling and the fact that an un­crit­i­cal re­liance on their find­ings can lead you badly astray.

A re­cent model from Ox­ford Univer­sity assessed how well dif­fer­ent out­break sce­nar­ios fit­ted the rise in Covid-19 deaths in the UK and Italy. The most ex­treme UK sce­nario as­sumed only a frac­tion of peo­ple were at risk of se­ri­ous ill­ness and es­ti­mated that, as of last week, 68% of the pop­u­la­tion had been ex­posed to the virus. The study, which has not been pub­lished or peer re­viewed, un­leashed a flurry of head­lines declar­ing that coro­n­avirus may have in­fected half the peo­ple in Bri­tain. That’s 34 mil­lion peo­ple.

A re­cent model from Ox­ford Univer­sity assessed how well dif­fer­ent out­break sce­nar­ios fit­ted the rise in Covid-19 deaths in the UK and Italy. The most ex­treme UK sce­nario as­sumed only a frac­tion of peo­ple were at risk of se­ri­ous ill­ness and es­ti­mated that, as of last week, 68% of the pop­u­la­tion had been ex­posed to the virus. The study, which has not been pub­lished or peer re­viewed, un­leashed a flurry of head­lines declar­ing that coro­n­avirus may have in­fected half the peo­ple in Bri­tain. That’s 34 mil­lion peo­ple.

But as infectious dis­ease mod­ellers and pub­lic health ex­perts, in­clud­ing the Ox­ford team them­selves, have pointed out, the model used as­sump­tions be­cause there is no hard data. No one knows what frac­tion of the pub­lic is at risk of se­ri­ous ill­ness. The study merely demon­strates how wildly dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios can pro­duce the same tragic pat­tern of deaths – and em­pha­sises that we ur­gently need sero­log­i­cal test­ing for an­ti­bod­ies against the virus, to dis­cover which world we are in.

But as infectious dis­ease mod­ellers and pub­lic health ex­perts, in­clud­ing the Ox­ford team them­selves, have pointed out, the model used as­sump­tions be­cause there is no hard data. No one knows what frac­tion of the pub­lic is at risk of se­ri­ous ill­ness. The study merely demon­strates how wildly dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios can pro­duce the same tragic pat­tern of deaths – and em­pha­sises that we ur­gently need sero­log­i­cal test­ing for an­ti­bod­ies against the virus, to dis­cover which world we are in.

Paul Klen­er­man, one of the Ox­ford re­searchers, called the 68% fig­ure “the most ex­treme” re­sult and ex­plained that “there is an­other ex­treme which is that only a tiny pro­por­tion have been ex­posed”. He added that the true fig­ure – which is un­known – was “likely some­where in be­tween”. In other words, the num­ber of peo­ple in­fected in Bri­tain is ei­ther very large, very small, or mid­dling. This may sound un­help­ful, but it is pre­cisely the point. “We need much more data about who has been ex­posed to in­form pol­icy,” Klen­er­man said.

Paul Klen­er­man, one of the Ox­ford re­searchers, called the 68% fig­ure “the most ex­treme” re­sult and ex­plained that “there is an­other ex­treme which is that only a tiny pro­por­tion have been ex­posed”. He added that the true fig­ure – which is un­known – was “likely some­where in be­tween”. In other words, the num­ber of peo­ple in­fected in Bri­tain is ei­ther very large, very small, or mid­dling. This may sound un­help­ful, but it is pre­cisely the point. “We need much more data about who has been ex­posed to in­form pol­icy,” Klen­er­man said.

The modelling from Im­pe­rial Col­lege that un­der­pinned the govern­ment’s be­lief that the na­tion could ride out the epi­demic by let­ting the in­fec­tion sweep through, cre­at­ing “herd im­mu­nity” on the way, was more trou­bling. The model, based on 13-year-old code for a long-feared in­fluenza pan­demic, as­sumed the demand for in­ten­sive care units would be the same for both in­fec­tions. Data from China soon showed this was dan­ger­ously wrong, but the model was only up­dated when more data poured out of Italy, where ICUs were swiftly over­whelmed and deaths shot up.

The modelling from Im­pe­rial Col­lege that un­der­pinned the govern­ment’s be­lief that the na­tion could ride out the epi­demic by let­ting the in­fec­tion sweep through, cre­at­ing “herd im­mu­nity” on the way, was more trou­bling. The model, based on 13-year-old code for a long-feared in­fluenza pan­demic, as­sumed the demand for in­ten­sive care units would be the same for both in­fec­tions. Data from China soon showed this was dan­ger­ously wrong, but the model was only up­dated when more data poured out of Italy, where ICUs were swiftly over­whelmed and deaths shot up.

It wasn’t the only short­com­ing of the Im­pe­rial model. It did not con­sider the im­pact of wide­spread, rapid test­ing; or contact trac­ing and iso­la­tion, which can be used in the early stages of an epi­demic, or in lock­down con­di­tions, to keep in­fec­tions down to such an ex­tent that when re­stric­tions are lifted the virus should not re­bound.

It wasn’t the only short­com­ing of the Im­pe­rial model. It did not con­sider the im­pact of wide­spread, rapid test­ing; or contact trac­ing and iso­la­tion, which can be used in the early stages of an epi­demic, or in lock­down con­di­tions, to keep in­fec­tions down to such an ex­tent that when re­stric­tions are lifted the virus should not re­bound.

It is not a ques­tion of whether mod­els are flawed, but in what ways are they flawed. That does not make them use­less: mod­els can be enor­mously valu­able if their short­com­ings are ap­pre­ci­ated. But, as with other sources of in­for­ma­tion, they should never be used alone.

 

Mixed messages from EDDC – shopping encouraged but parks, toilets and play areas shut! 

Mixed messages – has LINO finally lost control?

East Devon parks, toilets and play areas shut to stop coronavirus spread. 

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk

Parks and gardens, public toilets, play areas and beach huts in East Devon have been shut in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. [But previous post shows LINO and Pook want to encourage parking in Towns to help business]

District council bosses have made the move to follow government guidance on social distancing.

They say the closure will also help to ‘key frontline services’ – such as rubbish collections – running in the face of staff shortages.

With restrictions on our own staffing, this will also mean we can continue to provide other key frontline services for the time being, such as litter collection and kerbside recycling and waste collections…

Green and bulky waste services have been temporarily suspended, but planning and building control remains open for business as construction continues.

An EDDC spokesperson said: “Following government guidance on social distancing, we have closed our parks and gardens, play areas, public toilets and provision of beach huts and sites to help restrict the spread of coronavirus.

“We’ve been closely following government advice and this is the responsible thing to do to help with our country’s response to coronavirus.

“With restrictions on our own staffing, this will also mean we can continue to provide other key frontline services for the time being, such as litter collection and kerbside recycling and waste collections.

“We urge people to stay local, avoid non-essential travel and observe social distancing.”

The council says that, where sites cannot be closed – such as beaches and nature reserves – it is reminding people to respect the Government’s social distancing and hygiene guidance.

 

Is EDDC the most irresponsible council in the country?

Winter car parking rates extended until May across East Devon “in order to better support town centre businesses”

Owl wonders whether LINO (Leader in name only) Ben Ingham and his “Independent” sidekick Geoff Pook have completely lost their marbles.

 Is the Government message too difficult for them to understand?

 We are facing a global pandemic, the infection in the UK has yet to be brought under any semblance of control. It is touch and go as to whether our chronically underfunded NHS will be able to cope when the peak infection rate is reached. 

The government instruction right now is that people should stay at home and only leave for very restricted reasons, and then for as short a time as possible. It is not yet clear whether this instruction will be heeded. East Devon has one of the most vulnerable populations in the country. 

Spending all day wandering around Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton, Seaton, Axminster, Ottery and Budleigh in normal times is to be encouraged, but these are not normal times. There may be a very good case, when recovery starts, to cut car parking charges to encourage this. Doing it now sends all the wrong signals. It is totally irresponsible.

The sooner the LINO regime is replaced, the better.

Beth Sharp www.sidmouthherald.co.uk 

The all-day £2 winter car parking tariff has been extended until May.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) has decided to not bring its usual car park charging tariff back on April 1 this year, in order to better support town centre businesses.

The authority revealed its all day parking for £2 will continue, following an agreement by council leader Councillor Ben Ingham and assets portfolio holder Cllr Geoff Pook.

An EDDC spokesman said: “This decision will be kept under review and when demand begins to return to normal then we anticipate returning to our usual charging tariff.”

EDDC owns car parks in all the major East Devon towns, including Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton, Seaton, Axminster, Ottery and Budleigh.

Visit eastdevon.gov.uk/parking/parking-information/car-park-locations-and-information to find all the EDDC car parks affected.