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.”


The 11 things that councils in Devon should have been discussing this week

While the coronavirus bill, which came into law this week, relaxes the requirement for councils to have to meet in person and councillors to physically be present in the room to vote, it has meant that to comply with social distancing guidelines and to protect the health of members, almost all meetings in Devon have been cancelled.

Use for Zoom – Owl?

Daniel Clark 

The coronavirus outbreak has put life on hold for a lot of people with them confined to their homes unless they have a good reason to be out.

Members of the public are only allowed to leave their homes for shopping for “basic necessities”, as infrequently as possible, one form of exercise a day such as a run, walk or cycle, medical reasons, to provide care, or to help a vulnerable person or travelling to and from work, but only if it is “absolutely necessary” and cannot be done from home.

And while people have been able to work from home, the existing legislation for local councils has meant that they have had to put their routine decision making and committee functions on hold.

While the coronavirus bill, which came into law this week, relaxes the requirement for councils to have to meet in person and councillors to physically be present in the room to vote, it has meant that to comply with social distancing guidelines and to protect the health of members, almost all meetings in Devon have been cancelled.

Here, the Local Democracy Reporting Service takes a look at 11 discussions that were due to take place this week by councils across the region that saw the meetings where they were on the agenda cancelled.

Owl, however, is only copying below the section relating to EDDC. You can go to the web link above to see the rest


East Devon District Council’s Housing Review Board on Thursday afternoon were due to discuss a report summarising the work undertaken by the Housing Service in response to the Council’s commitment to carbon reduction and increased energy efficiency.

They were to be recommended to endorse the cultural shift required to move to a carbon neutral Housing Service within 20 years.

The report said that EDDC has over 4,200 properties in their portfolio and they will be carrying out a stock condition survey of all the properties over the next 18 months to enable the council to have a more concrete picture of the energy efficiency of each property, as well as identifying any other issues that need to be addressed.

This survey will inform a 15-20 year plan of improvement works to reduce the carbon footprint and increase the energy efficiency of our housing stock, the report added.

The concept of ground source heat pump systems as a potential alternative approach to heating suitable properties is being explored, with work seeking to understand the costs involved as well as identifying council properties that are in an appropriate area for the installation of the system, given the extensive groundworks require.


East Devon District Council’s Housing Review Board on Thursday afternoon were due to approve a starter programme of air source heat pump installation and use £150,000 from the boiler replacement programme in the Housing Revenue Account for this purpose.

The report said it would be work towards the Councils ambition to reduce its carbon footprint and ultimately attain a carbon neutral position and would begin to end to boilers, radiators and cooking hobs in new homes, with super-efficient houses and flats using low-carbon heating such as heat pumps and induction hobs to help meet carbon emissions targets.

The council’s annual boiler replacement programme is typically £500,000, and the Housing Review Board were due to set aside £150,000 of this to initiate a programme of mainstreaming the installation of Air Source Heat Pumps in our stock, delivering 15 installations.


‘We lobbied to stem the flow’ – MP praises efforts to ward off holidaymakers

Some of our MP’s did and some of ours didn’t. Owl has heard nothing about Neil Parish ‘s  views on this issue. Certainly EDDC didn’t take the firm lead shown by North Devon and North Norfolk District Council. More interested in business than in people? – Owl

Stuart Anderson

It is a relief to see people obeying government guidelines and staying at home, say North Norfolk’s MP Duncan Baker.

It follows new guidance issued late last week that cottages and rentals such as AirBnBs had to close to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, following similar rules set for hotels and other holiday venues a few days earlier.

Mr Baker told Radio Norfolk: “We lobbied really hard to get the caravan parks, the campsites, the holiday rentals and the B&Bs to no longer open to try to stem the flow to our area.

“In this constituency we have the oldest demographic in the country and it’s absolutely vital that we protect our most vulnerable right now.”

Data issued in March by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 24.3pc of North Norfolk residents are aged 70 and over – higher than anywhere else in the country – followed by Rother, 24pc; East Devon, 22.6pc; Tendring, 22.0pc; and New Forest, 21.7.

But not everyone seems to be sticking to the rules.

North Norfolk District Council leader Sarah Butikofer said she had heard reports of people still checking in to holiday cottages in Weybourne as late as Friday (March 27).

There are some exemptions to the rules, for example, key workers and non-UK residents who are unable to travel to their country of residence can continue to stay in hotels or similar accommodation where required.


Care homes refusing to take in patients ready to leave NHS hospitals

A number of issues exposed in this article. Care home managers are refusing to accept elderly people discharged from NHS hospitals because testing for coronavirus is not a requirement under discharge guidance issued by the government last week.

Raises the matter of  our government’s unpreparedness with regard to testing, testing, testing.

Owl also wonders whether this applies to Abbeyfield who don’t seem deterred from shuffling vulnerable residents around the County in order to meet their self-imposed administrative deadlines to close care homes that should be in lockdown.

Then, of course, we need to remember all those who supported the closure of our local community hospitals. Especially those who actively criticised Claire Wright and others campaigning to keep them open. “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked” (Warren Buffett) – hold that thought – Owl.

Amelia Hill 

Care home managers are refusing to accept elderly people discharged from NHS hospitals owing to coronavirus fears, and one has said government-issued protective equipment for residents and staff is “completely useless”.

David Steedman, the manager of Arlington House care home in Sussex, said he had five empty rooms but he was not taking in people discharged from hospital as it would be “madness” to expose residents and staff to the risk of infection.

On Friday it was announced that every social care provider in the country would receive deliveries of personal protective equipment including masks. Social care workers will start being tested for coronavirus along with NHS staff from next week.

“The personal protective equipment issued for staff is laughable,” Steedman said. “These masks, as well as having an expiry date of 2016, are the sort of flimsy, paper thing that dentists wear with gaps all round the edges. The instructions say they should be used if a resident has symptoms of the virus or actually has it. But these masks are completely useless in those situations.”

He added: “The government needs to take a reality check if they genuinely think otherwise. The hospitals are desperately trying to empty beds so they can take new people in, who have the virus, but we can’t help them because they don’t have the equipment to test those they’re discharging.”

NHS trusts have been trying to discharge patients to free up capacity. Testing for the virus is not a requirement under discharge guidance issued by the government last week.

“I’d be mad to let anyone into my home without a test showing they’re free of the virus,” Steedman said. “It’s my responsibility to keep safe the hugely vulnerable residents who are in my care already. It would be dangerous foolishness on my part to accept any hospital discharges who might bring the virus into our home.”

Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove, said Steedman and other care home managers he knew of who were also refusing to accept NHS discharges should be praised for their stance. “Care homes simply can’t afford to let anyone in unless they’re confirmed not to be carrying the virus. The consequences of doing otherwise are just too awful to consider,” he said.

“Care homes are going into crisis mode because the second there’s a symptom of the virus in the home, there are layers upon layers of failure from the state to support them. The state is failing to test residents or staff quickly enough and they’re failing to issue suitable equipment.”

He added: “The failures are particularly shameful because not only are these people who have spent their lives paying into the system and deserve dignity, but the equipment is simple and straightforward and the state should be able to supply it.”

A senior director at a London acute trust, who asked not to be named, told the Health Service Journal: “There’s a real problem with private care homes refusing to take patients back unless they’ve been tested for Covid-19. But [testing] is not the national guidance currently and there just aren’t enough testing kits to do it.

“I’m now on calls with commissioners about getting more people out of hospital and into the community, and they’re saying: ‘Yes, that’ll be done in the next week,’ and I’m on the verge of screaming at them.”

Another acute sector director in north-west England said: “We need care homes to be really robust. We’ve been hearing from colleagues that nursing homes won’t accept their residents back after they’ve been discharged from hospital, unless they’ve been fully swabbed for coronavirus. This is not the national guidance, and we aren’t able to do that right now. This could cause a huge issue.”

On Saturday the health secretary, Matt Hancock, wrote an open letter of thanks to social care workers. Hancock, who is in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, said the government was committed to doing “whatever is needed” for social care and the NHS, including allowing workers from both sectors free parking in council-owned spaces.

“Whilst many people are now staying at home, I know that is not an option for most of you as your work caring for others cannot be done from home,” he wrote. “We will do all we can to make your lives easier during this period, including, for example, making parking on council-owned on-street spaces and car parks free for those who work in social care.

“We are committed to doing whatever is needed; that promise applies just as much to social care as it does for the NHS.”


Mass testing is the fastest route back to normal life

What is the exit route from the Coronavirus paralysis? Normal life is much closer in countries that have embraced the advice of World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom to “test test test”.

Jeremy Hunt,  former Health Secretary 

What is the exit route from the Coronavirus paralysis? We are told the peak will be in about three weeks. But we are also told that until we have a vaccine, thought to be over a year away, the virus will come back in wave after wave. Normal life seems a long way off. But normal life is much closer in countries that have embraced the advice of World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom to “test test test”.

The restaurants are open in South Korea. You can go shopping in Taiwan. Offices are open in Singapore. These countries learned the hard way how to deal with a pandemic after the deadly SARS virus. They now show us how we can emerge from lockdown.

Testing provides clarity. Where you find it, you can isolate and contain it. And where you don’t, vital services continue to function. In most of those countries restaurants, malls and office blocks require you to walk through a temperature checker before you enter. They all check international visitors the same way and are astonished we don’t do the same at Heathrow.

The immediate priority is to protect the NHS and ramp up its capacity. Beds, equipment, and ventilators  are all vital, but as every health secretary learns fairly quickly, the true capacity of the NHS lies in its staff.

They are the heroes we need to protect – and make sure they can get back to work as quickly as possible if a member of their household has symptoms. Around 10 per cent of the population have a cough or fever at this time of year, taking thousands of NHS workers off the frontline. The government’s commitment to accelerate testing for NHS staff is therefore absolutely right.

But as new tests come on stream we need to go further. Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director of Public Health England, told the Select Committee which I chair on Thursday that the virus can incubate for three to five days before any symptoms. Those are days when doctors and nurses could be infecting their own patients. We need weekly tests for all NHS and care home staff to remove that worry.

As we tool up to do this, you begin to see how mass testing can also show us the way out of this crisis. Social distancing works because it drastically reduces the opportunity for transmission. What was previously an exponential growth in transmission becomes much slower as the curve is flattened. But this only works for as long as it’s in place, and it can’t remain in place forever. But with mass testing, accompanied by rigorous tracing of every person a Covid-19 patient has been in touch with, you can break the chain of transmission.

Of course, with many other countries thinking the same way, there is no magic wand that will suddenly overcome shortages in testing supply chains. The solution is to look to British scientists and manufacturers to put in place tests and the infrastructure we need to process them. Just as we are rising to the challenge with ventilators, we need urgently to do the same for testing.

If we do so, the opportunities are clear. South Korea has tested five times more people per head of population than us – and are reaping the rewards with their new cases now on a downward trend – despite being nearer to China. They are reporting fewer than ten deaths every day.

Closer to home, Germany is leading the way. Two weeks ago they had carried out 167,000 tests, four times more than us. As a result they have identified three times more cases than us – but with fewer than half the number of deaths we have had. There may be differences in reporting, but fundamentally, finding Covid-19 patients earlier means you can get the most vulnerable ones hospital care more quickly. In Germany they are even taking in patients from France and Italy.

We should be under no illusion that the contact tracing that goes alongside testing is resource intensive. Every time somebody tests positive, they need a dedicated contact tracer who works through all their previous interactions to make sure every single one is isolated until they are tested as Covid-free. Why not allocate all the local government officials in planning departments and the civil servants on non-Covid duties to this task?

And as Europe’s tech hub, we should use our skills there, too. In Singapore everyone has been asked to use the TraceTogether App. When you come near someone else with the app it swaps anonymous ID data which is stored in your phone. If you contract the virus, everyone you have been near can be contacted.

Singapore has had just two deaths. It is encrypted and all data destroyed after 21 days. Those worried about the civil liberties implications might reflect that Singaporeans have had their liberties curtailed far less than countries which have had to go into full lockdown.

Mass social distancing should protect the NHS through the peak over the next few weeks, but it’s a blunt instrument with massive economic impact. For the next wave we must use the precision scalpel of mass testing.