Councils ‘plunging headfirst in black hole of debt’ as extra funding not enough

Councils across Devon have warned the £33m extra from Government still isn’t close enough to plug their funding gaps with ‘a huge black hole of debt emerging and we are plunging headfirst into it’.

Owl notes that Ben Ingham has very little to say compared to the Leaders or Chief Executives of the other District Councils. Has he run out of steam?

Daniel Clark 

More than £36m was provided to councils in March by Central Government, and with £33m more awarded in the second tranche of finance handed out.

The additional support will mean councils can continue to provide essential services, such as adult social care and children’s services, while also providing support to people impacted by the coronavirus.

But with income streams for councils having been decimated and increased expenditure as a result of the pandemic, the additional cash will only partly cover the shortfall and only gives them breathing space, rather than any security.

Devon’s district councils were unanimous in stating that the first round of finance was not enough and that the coronavirus crisis and lockdown measures were leaving them facing significant and catastrophic financial pressures unless additional funds were provided by Government.

And while they have welcomed the extra funds in the second round of funding, council chiefs have warned ‘it doesn’t solve the problem’.


First round Second round Total
Devon £ 22,516,153.00 £ 14,195,595.00 £ 36,711,748.00
East Devon £ 46,976.00 £ 1,467,105.00 £ 1,514,081.00
Exeter £ 72,737.00 £ 1,306,278.00 £ 1,379,015.00
Mid Devon £ 38,976.00 £ 825,286.00 £ 864,262.00
North Devon £ 52,672.00 £ 965,336.00 £ 1,018,008.00
Plymouth £ 8,464,484.00 £ 7,236,310.00 £ 15,700,794.00
South Hams £ 33,962.00 £ 866,545.00 £ 900,507.00
Teignbridge £ 59,771.00 £ 1,342,148.00 £ 1,401,919.00
Torbay £ 5,371,954.00 £ 3,764,926.00 £ 9,136,880.00
Torridge £ 41,925.00 £ 685,208.00 £ 727,133.00
West Devon £ 29,023.00 £ 555,735.00 £ 584,758.00
TOTAL £ 36,728,633.00 £ 33,210,472.00  

£ 69,939,105.00


Cllr Gordon Hook, leader of Teignbridge District Council, said: “Our income streams have simply dried up. Our leisure centres have had to be closed because of social distancing, so absolutely no money coming in. Our car parking income has dropped from an average of £95,000 a week to £2,500 a week. A huge black hole of debt is emerging and we are plunging headfirst into it.”

Teignbridge District Council’s Managing Director Phil Shears added: “We very much welcome this second round of emergency funding to support councils, which is an acknowledgement by the government of the vital support we are providing in responding to this emergency, as well as the immense and immediate pressure district councils are under. Our latest settlement of £1,342,148 combined with the initial grant of £59,771 takes our cumulative sum to just over £1.4m.

“This latest funding package is welcome and gives us just short of another couple of months’ breathing space, but it will not allow us to recoup the significant financial loss of income as a direct result of the lockdown.

“Devon’s district councils will continue to work together to press the government for an assurance about how it will help district councils with this financial plight – as has been promised. The sooner we know the details of this, the sooner we can start to plan for the future with a degree of financial confidence.”

Chief Executive of Mid Devon District Council, Stephen Walford, added: “We are grateful that the Ministry seems to have more clearly recognised the pressures on districts in the short-term. However, this takes the total funding announced nationally to £3.2bn, when the current estimates of the total cost to councils are around £10bn.

“This latest funding package is welcome and gives councils some time to breathe, but it doesn’t solve the problem and we will continue to press for a comprehensive undertaking from government on how funds will be made available to fully support councils – as has been promised. The sooner we know the details of this, the sooner we can start to plan for the future with a degree of financial confidence.”

North Devon Council’s chief executive Ken Miles said that the £1m that they have received will only last around a month and isn’t enough to keep the council afloat in the longer term.

He said: “Although North Devon Council welcomes this funding from the government, it’s a cautious welcome. In reality, it will last us around a month as current projections show that we could have up to a £3 million budget shortfall over the first three months of the pandemic. This is due to increasing costs from supporting our local community, particularly our most vulnerable residents and a reduction in income from things like car parks and planning fees.

“We’re pleased the government has recognised the importance of district councils by offering a bigger slice of this second round of funding, but we need them to recognise that it isn’t enough to keep us afloat in the longer term and that further funding will be needed.”

In the South Hams, Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council, said she welcomed the £866,545 from the second tranche of the COVID-19 funding, but it was only about a sixth of what was needed.

She said: “This will assist the Council to partly meet its projected loss of income streams such as car parking income and planning income, but it will only be part of the solution. Just the loss of income from car parking, some business unit rentals, harbour fees, and the Dartmouth Ferry income will be very significant. The Council’s estimate is that we could see a reduction in income and increased expenditure totalling over £6 million in 2020/21.

“While the funding is much appreciated, it is less than one sixth of what we estimate we might need. The allocation of funding to Councils has been made partly based on population and as a rural Council we are always going to miss out on this basis. We will continue to lobby the Government so that we receive the appropriate level of funding to be able to plan confidently for the future.”

Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council, said he was disappointed with the level of funding they received which was one of the lowest of any council, getting just £555,735.

“While this is most welcomed, we are disappointed that we are one of the few District Councils whose allocation of the funding is less than £1 million,” Cllr Jory said. “The funding has been allocated partly based on population and in a sparsely populated area such as West Devon, we are always going to lose out on funding based on our population. We will continue to lobby our MPs going forward for a more sustainable funding package.

“The amount received will only partly cover our income shortfalls and increased costs which are projected to be £2.6 million for 2020/21. Therefore we hope there will be future funding packages for Councils to fully compensate us for our loss of funding streams. The Council is working quickly to deliver lifelines to local businesses and has now paid out £12.6 million of Government grant funding to 1,070 businesses.”

Cllr Ken James, Leader of Torridge District Council said while they were grateful that the latest grant package from Government has increased the financial support to Torridge from £42,000 to £685,000, it was less than a third of what they needed to balance the books.

He said: “While the sums may seem large, the Councils current financial situation has been impacted both by a fall in income and increased costs in ensuring services are maintained and enhanced elsewhere for the vulnerable. Our current estimate is a shortfall of around £2.5 Million for the 2020/21 financial year which is likely to grow should the crisis persist.

“To put this into further context the shortfall estimated to date equates to around £38 for every resident in Torridge. The package from government announced so far is around £11 per resident or 29 per cent of this figure, less than a third of the money we already need to balance the books.

Therefore while we very much welcome the funding provided we sincerely hope that it will be part of an ongoing package of support as this will certainly be needed by all Councils up and down the Country and not just here in Torridge.”

East Devon District Council’s Leader, Cllr Ben Ingham, added: “While the grant is very welcome it is one piece of the jigsaw in adapting the council to the much changed financial circumstances and we are assessing the matter and will be debating how we respond to these changed circumstances.”

Posting on Twitter, Karime Hassan, Chief Executive and Growth Director of Exeter City Council, added that the amount Exeter has received was roughly the amount of income the council has lost to date because of the lockdown.

The first round of funding saw the majority of the cash handed to the top tier authorities, with £35m of the £36.7m handed to Devon, Torbay and Plymouth councils, but the second tranche has seen the eight district council handed a larger slice totalling nearly £8m.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Councils are playing a central role in our national fight against coronavirus and the Government continues to back them at this challenging time.

10 Downing Street handout photo of Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick answering questions from the media via a video link during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).

“That’s why I announced an extra £3.2billion of support for councils to help them to continue their extraordinary efforts.

“Today I’m setting out how the latest £1.6billion of this will be allocated to councils in the fairest way possible, recognising the latest and best assessment of the pressures they face.

“We are backing local district councils and a clear majority will receive at least £1million in additional funding.”

The announcement builds on other government measures, including allowing councils to defer the payment of business rates to central government and providing them with a combined £850million in up-front social care grants that will help with their cashflow so they can continue to deliver vital services.


Surge in care home deaths blamed on PPE mistakes

This is the short “analysis” section taken from the Times article with the above heading. 

The point Owl wants to highlight is the comment that Public Health England believes the flow of people in and out of care homes is the main cause of outbreaks. 

The risk of this happening is a point Owl repeatedly made in the context of Abbeyfield’s insistence on closing the Shandford Care Home in Budleigh during the height of the epidemic.

Owl also knows of a number of cases where frail patients were moved out of hospital into care homes with no testing in order to free up hospital beds. 


Before this virus hit the decades-long neglect of social care was becoming a bigger political issue, with Boris Johnson pressured to make good on his promise to find a lasting funding solution. That ended when the virus put attention back on the NHS but the failure to create a functional care system has proven deadly.

Now that rising care home deaths have focused minds again the question is how to save lives. In a fragmented system of financially precarious private providers, poorly integrated into the health service, it was always going to be hard to issue consistent guidance and protective kit. Places designed for the elderly and frail were always going to be vulnerable.

Public Health England has said that many care home patients died before they could be tested.

It is welcome that tests are being expanded to any resident. Mobile units to descend on homes suffering outbreaks are promised to help bring them under control. But after making big promises, the government now has to deliver.

It believes the flow of people in and out of homes is the main cause of outbreaks. Stricter isolation may help but has issues: those with dementia could deteriorate if cut off. Good PPE for essential visitors seems a better bet and a website for social care to buy kit bought by the NHS is needed quickly.

Gown shortages still plague NHS staff

NHS staff continue to face an acute shortage of protective gowns, according to internal documents that reveal the government is still struggling to secure the safety of frontline workers.

Nikou Asgari in London

“Stocks of fluid-repellent gowns and coveralls remain pressured,” said a presentation by NHS Supply Chain, the body which sources medical kit, that was seen by the FT. 

Another slide in the presentation, held on April 29, quoted Keith Willett, director of acute care for NHS England, who acknowledged that the stock of gowns “is better than last week but we are not out of the woods yet”.

The slides underline the strain the pandemic has placed on supplies of personal protective equipment for health and social care workers, at least 108 of whom have died because of the virus, according to figures revealed by foreign secretary Dominic Raab at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.

“Gowns remain the main item we are carefully monitoring and trying to bring in deliveries sooner to ensure supplies are maintained,” Mr Willett said in the presentation. 

The NHS has been struggling to source gowns since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Most of its protective products are imported from Asia and the UK does not have large-scale textile manufacturers producing PPE domestically.

Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, on Wednesday said the city was down to just a few days’ supply of gowns, with hospitals helping others that had run out. “It is touch and go . . . and that is not a situation we want to be in,” he said.

The government has been criticised for failing to take up offers from companies that are able to make PPE.

Christopher Nieper, chief executive of women’s fashion company David Nieper, said he first contacted the government more than a month ago offering to make reusable gowns for frontline workers.

“We’ve gotten nowhere at all, absolutely nowhere,” he said, despite having spoken in early April to advisers from Deloitte, which is in charge of gown procurement on behalf of the government.

“I proposed the exact gown, exact fabric but they’re not interested in a reusable product, only interested in disposables,” he said, adding that Deloitte’s head of gown procurement “didn’t know how much fabric was required to make one garment”.

Hospital workers in London in a protest calling on the government to provide PPE across the NHS, care sector and other vital public services © Matt Dunham/AP

Mr Nieper’s 300 sewing machinists have instead been churning out thousands of reusable gowns for hospitals in Leicester, Nottingham and Buckinghamshire, among others. 

During Wednesday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Raab said three flights had brought gowns from Turkey over the past month. Earlier in the day, he said a shipment of 140,000 gowns had arrived recently from Myanmar.


One in six south west care homes have Covid 

Data has shortcomings, but is best we have

Coronavirus outbreaks have been confirmed or suspected at one in six care homes across Devon and Cornwall.

Latest Public Health England figures show that 117 suspected or confirmed outbreaks of COVID-19 at care homes across the region have been reported. Care homes are only included in the dataset once, and if they have reported more than one outbreak, only the first is included in this dataset.

This data contains no indication of whether the reported outbreaks are still active, and each weekly total refers to reports in the period Tuesday to the following Monday.

No information about deaths in care homes is provided in the dataset, although ONS information published on Tuesday showed that 68 deaths had occurred in care homes up until April 17.

The PHE data shows that up until Monday, April 27, outbreaks of coronavirus had been recorded in 117 of the 739 care homes in Devon and Cornwall, with the highest percentage being in West Devon, in 28 per cent of its homes, with the lowest in Mid Devon, at just 9.4 per cent. No cases have been confirmed in the Isles of Scilly.

There have been 12 outbreaks in Torbay (14 per cent), with a further 10 in Teignbridge (13.7 per cent), seven in East Devon and West Devon (9.6 per cent and 28 per cent), six in Exeter and North Devon (17.1 per cent and 18.8 per cent), four in the South Hams (13.8 per cent), and three in Mid Devon and Torridge (9.1 per cent and 9.4 per cent). Of the 117 outbreaks, 29 were reported to Public Health England since last Tuesday, including three of the four so far in the South Hams. No outbreaks were reported in Exeter.

[For tabulation of data see here]

NHS staff coronavirus inquests told not to look at PPE shortages

Inquests into coronavirus deaths among NHS workers should avoid examining systemic failures in provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), coroners have been told, in a move described by Labour as “very worrying”.

Robert Booth 

The chief coroner for England and Wales, Mark Lucraft QC, has issued guidance that “an inquest would not be a satisfactory means of deciding whether adequate general policies and arrangements were in place for provision of PPE to healthcare workers”.

Lucraft said that “if there were reason to suspect that some human failure contributed to the person being infected with the virus”, an inquest may be required. The coroner “may need to consider whether any failures of precautions in a particular workplace caused the deceased to contract the virus and so contributed to death”.

But he added: “An inquest is not the right forum for addressing concerns about high-level government or public policy.”

Labour warned the advice could limit the scope of investigations into the impact of PPE shortages on frontline staff who have died from Covid-19, including 82 NHS workers and 16 social care staff, according to government figures, though these are believed to be an underestimate.

“I am very worried that an impression is being given that coroners will never investigate whether a failure to provide PPE led to the death of a key worker,” said Lord Falconer, the shadow attorney general. “This guidance may have an unduly restricting effect on the width of inquests arising out of Covid-19-related deaths.”

Doctors and nurses’ unions have repeatedly warned that their members do not feel safe at work because of a lack of PPE. Three weeks before he died, a Reading doctor, Peter Tun, warned Royal Berkshire hospital that unless it supplied vital protective kit “it will be too little and too late”.

A coroner has been in touch with his family but it remains unclear whether there will be an inquest. The hospital has begun a serious incident investigation into the death, the Guardian has learned.

Rinesh Parmar, the chair of the Doctors Association UK, said: “The provision of PPE is so vital to the safety of health workers that to suggest coroners do not consider its supply in detail misses a big part of the picture. Only comprehensive inquests into the deaths of every NHS and care worker will give the bereaved the ability to ask questions and have the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths fully explained.”

Explaining his newly issued advice, Lucraft cited a court ruling that found it was right for an inquest to consider whether a soldier had died because a flak jacket had been pierced by a sniper’s bullet, but not to consider whether more effective flak jackets could and should have been supplied by the Ministry of Defence.

However, coroners have in the past ruled on the provision of protective equipment. When the Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker investigated the death of Steve Roberts, a tank commander who died in Iraq when he was not supplied with enhanced body armour, he concluded that the lack of appropriate basic equipment was “unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that those soldiers have in the government”.

A spokesman for the chief coroner at the Judicial Office said the guidance was “an expression of the law as it currently stands” and “to provide consistency for coroners”.

About half of doctors working in high-risk areas told a British Medical Association survey this month there were shortages or no supply at all of long-sleeved disposable gowns and disposable goggles, while 56% said the same for full-face visors. Supplies of PPE to care workers remain patchy and a promised government supply system, known as Clipper, is yet to get properly up and running.

With no public inquiry into the coronavirus crisis yet established, inquests remain the only official forum to investigate deaths. Daniel Machover, one of the UK’s leading inquest lawyers, said the guidance could be subject to judicial review by lawyers acting for bereaved families.

“This points to the need for a public inquiry,” he said. “As you widen out the issue from one death to several deaths you get into a situation where an inquest format is not suitable and you want to be dealing with systemic issues.”

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, a charity which advises on investigations into state-related deaths, said: “Bereaved families legitimately ask whether failures in the provision of safety equipment played a part in the deaths of their loved ones.

“It follows that coroners should, where appropriate, examine this question. In the absence of a public inquiry inquests will play a vital role in identifying systemic failings in the protection of frontline workers. This scrutiny is key to learning lessons and holding people to account in order to prevent future deaths.”


Big offices are now a thing of the past, says Barclays boss

Another question mark over the future utility of Blackdown House?

Lucy White

Big offices are now a thing of the past, says Barclays boss in sign lender may give up most of its Canary Wharf HQ

Published: 29 April 2020

The boss of Barclays has said having thousands of workers in one building ‘may be a thing of the past’ as he signalled a shift in the way the banking industry operates.

In a sign that the lender may give up most of its towering Canary Wharf HQ, chief executive Jes Staley said the coronavirus would have a lasting impact on where staff work.

Around 70,000 of the 80,000 employees are working from home with just a handful of the 7,000 who usually work in Canary Wharf, London, coming in to the office. 

Barclays boss Jes Staley (pictured with wife Debora) said the coronavirus would have a lasting impact on where staff work

Others are in branches, operating with social distancing measures, while a few are going in to call centres.

Staley said: ‘You’re going to find we use much more significantly our branches as alternate sites for investment bankers and call centre workers and people in the corporate bank. Putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.

‘We will find ways to operate with more distancing.’………..


Urgent Call for evidence – Committees – UK Parliament. Closing date today

(Though later submissions will be accepted) 

The Inquiry: 

The Committee has been concerned to hear that people with protected characteristics are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and the Government’s response, including the emergency Coronavirus Bill.  We are particularly interested to hear about what impact these measures have had, and will continue to have, and whether the Government’s aim to support workers and people more widely have considered all relevant equality impacts.  The Committee is calling for written submissions about:

Your experiences. We want to know:

  1. How people have been affected by the illness or the response to it
  2. If there have been specific impacts on people due to them having a protected characteristic
  3. Whether there may be unforeseen consequences to measures brought in to ease the burden on frontline staff, for example relaxing the measures under the Mental Health Act and Care Act)

Reviewing the measures

The Government has said current measures will be reviewed in three weeks’ time, and measures in the Coronavirus Bill be voted on again in 6 months’ time.

  1. What needs to change or improve, which could be acted on in three weeks’ time;
  2. What needs to change or improve, which could be acted on in 6 months’ time.

You can comment from a personal, organisational or expert opinion, or a mixture.

We would like to hear from you by 30 April 2020. If you cannot get it to us before then, please don’t worry, as it will still be useful to us if you submit it later. The sooner you can get it to us, the more likely the Committee can use it to press the Government to reconsider the current measures at the three-week review

We know that some impacts will be immediate, and others will be felt further in the future. We will look to follow-up this work in 12 months’ time to build a more complete picture of how people with protected characteristics have been affected.  

Your submission

If your submission is accepted by the Committee, it will usually be published online. It will then be available permanently for anyone to view. It can’t be changed or removed.

If you have included your name or any personal information in your submission, that will be published too. Please consider how much personal information you want or need to share. Your contact details will never be published.

Decisions about publishing evidence anonymously, or about accepting but not publishing evidence, are made by the Committee. If you want to ask the Committee to keep your evidence anonymous (we’ll publish your evidence but not your name or personal details) or confidential (the Committee will read your evidence but it won’t be published) then please tick the box on the form. This lets the Committee know what you would like but the final decision will be taken by the Committee.

We can’t publish submissions that mention ongoing legal cases – contact us if you are not sure what this means for you.

Please feel welcome to discuss any questions with the Committee staff on; 020 7219 6123


We understand that the issues raised in this inquiry may be potentially distressing or sensitive.

Committees of the House of Commons are not able to take up individual cases but if you would like political support or advice you may wish to contact your local Member of Parliament.

If you would like support or advice you may wish to contact a support service through their website or helpline such as:

Samaritans– 116 123

Equality Advisory & Support Service 0808 800 0082

Citizens Advice 03444 111 444

Money Advice Service 0800 138 7777

Age UK– 0800 678 1602

Disability Rights UK

Maternity Action

Mind  – 0300 123 3393

Scope – 0808 800 3333

Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline – 0300 330 0630

You may also find the following list of additional resources and helplines useful: Fawcett Society resources page


“Clinical Commissioning Group demands change to earlier headline”

Owl has received an email from a spokesperson from the Devon Clinical Commissioning Group which says:

“The Sunday Times headline which you have copy-and-pasted [on Sunday 26 April] is incorrect in that it states hospitals have ‘no gowns’. This is not true. Unless you can evidence your headline, which is not supported by the copy-and-pasted story, please amend it. You may or may not have noticed that later editions of the Sunday Times used a re-written story and headline.”

Owl was one of many news outlets that carried this story and is pleased to see that the CCG reads our blog.

Owl has found the post of the precautionary advertisement [20 April] for: boiler suits, lab coats, painting suits, chemical suits and disposable (or washable) overall with full length sleeves, on the Torquay Chamber of Commerce website, quoting the Devon CCG contact.

Happily, as Owl posted yesterday, the situation in Devon has improved: “Stocks of protective gowns for frontline NHS workers in Devon have improved since an appeal went out for urgent supplies…. it is understood the appeal was a precautionary step at a time when there was heightened concern over a potential shortage of gowns in the middle of April, which has now eased.

None of the items listed in the advertisement have been issued to NHS staff.”



Stock of gowns for healthcare staff improving says Devon NHS

Stocks of protective gowns for frontline NHS workers in Devon have improved since an appeal went out for urgent supplies.

Edward Oldfield 

An advertisement on behalf of the Devon NHS posted on Monday last week called for boiler suits, lab coats, painting coats, chemical suits or any type of disposable or washable overall with full-length sleeves.

But it is understood the appeal was a precautionary step at a time when there was heightened concern over a potential shortage of gowns in the middle of April, which has now eased.

None of the items listed in the advertisement have been issued to NHS staff.

Deputy chief nurse Vanessa Crossey QN, on behalf of the NHS in Devon, said: “Stocks of gowns have now significantly improved and some precautionary measures, designed to complement the national supply chain, were not needed.

“Devon’s position is no different to other areas, and health and care partners have put in place effective stock monitoring procedures and mutual aid systems to increase our resilience.”

The advertisement appeared on a procurement website on Monday, April 20, posted by Torbay Council on behalf of Devon NHS.

Torbay MP Kevin Foster said he has had regular briefings from local council and NHS leaders and was unaware of any urgent shortage of PPE supplies.

The MP said if there was an immediate problem he had offered to escalate the issue with the Department for Health to ensure enough supplies were available.

Any additional personal protective equipment sourced locally by the NHS is risk-assessed by experts.

Supplies of items of PPE equipment for the NHS and social care have been fluctuating due to increased demand.

More than 100 businesses and organisations in Devon have shared their own PPE kit with the NHS in recent weeks.

Volunteers are also working with the NHS in Devon to make extra items including scrubs, laundry bags, head bands and protective visors.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working around the clock to ensure PPE is delivered as quickly as possible to those on the frontline during this global pandemic for as long as it is required.

“We have delivered over 1 billion items since the outbreak began, including to care homes, and there is a 24 hour NHS-run helpline where NHS and social care workers can call to report shortages in supply.”

A BBC investigation found the Government failed to buy some protective equipment to prepare for a pandemic. It reported there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the Government’s pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK.

Some NHS staff told the Panorama programme broadcast on Monday night they were being put at risk because of the shortage of personal protective equipment.

The Government told the BBC it had taken the right steps and was doing everything it could to increase stocks.


The epidemic and care homes in East Devon

The epidemic hit some local care homes badly after developing in East Devon in March – but the lockdown stopped a wider spread. 

The epidemic hit some local care homes badly after developing in East Devon in March – but the lockdown stopped a wider spread.

 From Seaton Matters Posted on April 29, 2020

I am now in a position to report further on the Covid situation in care homes and the local community.

Outbreaks occurred in several care homes in Seaton and surrounding towns at the end of March/beginning of April, reflecting people having become infected earlier in March before the lockdown was imposed. From one home, 8 residents have died and a care worker is in hospital, after a majority of residents and many staff become infected, despite measures being taken to try to protect people and support from the Devon care system.

(The national graph above shows the drastic acceleration of deaths in care homes in the first two weeks of April; most ‘other excess deaths’ are probably Covid-related but not recorded as Covid.)

A conversation with a major local employer about the fluctuating level of absenteeism due to Covid-19 suggests that the epidemic was getting quite significant in the Axe Valley by the beginning of April, reflecting the same timescale. Today, illness-based absenteeism of those still in work is much lower, suggesting that social distancing has blocked off the spread of the virus. The care home outbreaks are more under control, and many other local homes appear to have escaped infection.

Imported from Italy in late February?

The spread of the disease in East Devon seems therefore to have come just a couple of weeks after the rapid growth of the epidemic in London. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the school half-term break in February could have been significant in starting community transmission, especially as some families and school groups returned from trips to Italy. At the time, no one was tested or asked to self-quarantine, although returnees from Wuhan had earlier been forced to undergo quarantine for 14 days.

So – the lockdown has worked, is working – but it came too late for some people in our community.


Example of ideology causing serious concerns – NHS staff shun testing centres

NHS staff shun testing centres amid concerns about safety and lost results

Contracts to operate testing facilities have been awarded under special pandemic rules, through a fast-track process without open competition. These include the accountants Deloitte, the public services specialists Serco and Sodexo, and the pharmacy chain Boots, which has also trained and provided more than 300 staff to administer swabs.

Owl wants to point out that if you decide, for expediency or ideology, to go down the contracting route for a complex sequence of operations then best practice would be to appoint an experienced prime contractor, with overall responsibility. Doesn’t seem to happened in this case.

“At Wembley tests have been lost, with no contact number provided to chase missing results. The site is operated by Sodexo, but the responsibility for ensuring staff get the results lies with Deloitte. The accounting firm is managing logistics and data across most of the test centres, including booking tests, getting samples to the labs and communicating the results.”

As a Royal Free source says: “…The chain of command is very opaque and it is very difficult to know how you get your results back. It should be run by people with operational experience of clinical tasks, not by an accountancy firm.”

The other ideology that concerns Owl is the element of competition that has been allowed to creep into the allocation of the scarce resource of testing. Everyday the Government announces yet another group eligible for testing (possibly driven by the need to be seen to be ramping up testing). The result is that we are witnessing an unseemly scramble for who can get to the telephone, or on-line, first. Owl believes that whilst testing is still limited there has to a prioritised system of rationing, for example, currently to care homes and their staffs. No doubt this is anathema to those adhering to the right wing “the devil take the hindmost” principle.

For the article read on:

Juliette Garside, Lisa O’Carroll the Guardian 29 April 2020

Key workers and NHS staff have raised concerns about the management of a national network of drive-in corona-virus testing centres, with doctors at one London hospital trust “actively discouraging” staff from using them.

Thousands of people have turned up at more than 30 locations around the UK to be swabbed for traces of the virus after the government opened up facilities previously reserved for NHS workers to all employees in essential services, including care homes and utilities companies.

The expansion in testing at the weekend has led to long queues at some facilities, with motorists – many of them already feeling unwell with symptoms of Covid-19 – stuck in their cars in hot weather for hours, forbidden from opening windows and unable to use toilets or find water.

The Guardian was contacted about multiple concerns, including queues of up to five hours, workers with appointments turned away because of delays, leaking test vials, wrongly labelled samples, and lost test results at Nottingham and Wembley.

A doctor at the Royal Free NHS trust, which operates three hospitals in north London, said they were so concerned about the drive-in facility located in the Ikea car park in Wembley that staff had been told not to use it.

The regional network, which will be extended to 50 locations, is a cornerstone of the government’s target of reaching 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April.

Contracts to operate the facilities have been awarded under special pandemic rules, through a fast-track process without open competition.

The contracts were handed to private companies including the accountants Deloitte, the public services specialists Serco and Sodexo, and the pharmacy chain Boots, which has also trained and provided more than 300 staff to administer swabs.

At Wembley tests have been lost, with no contact number provided to chase missing results. The site is operated by Sodexo, but the responsibility for ensuring staff get the results lies with Deloitte. The accounting firm is managing logistics and data across most of the test centres, including booking tests, getting samples to the labs and communicating the results.

The Royal Free source said: “All three [of the trust’s] hospitals are actively discouraging people from going there. We have no faith that they would get the result. The chain of command is very opaque and it is very difficult to know how you get your results back. It should be run by people with operational experience of clinical tasks, not by an accountancy firm.”

Instead of using Wembley the trust is swabbing staff at work and sending samples to Francis Crick Institute laboratories for analysis.

People attending a number of drive-in facilities reported being left with no choice but to take their own swabs, having expected the procedure to be carried out by a trained professional.

James Collins, a carer at a home for vulnerable adults in Lincoln, who has been self-isolating with a cough, said he waited five hours fora test at Robin Hood airport, Doncaster, on Saturday; it had involved a two-hour round trip.

He was surprised to have to swab himself. “I’m scared I haven’t done the test right,” he said after testing negative. “If I wanted to do it myself I would have gone for a home test.”

At Doncaster and elsewhere security guards patrolled the lanes warning motorists not to take photos or videos and not to open their windows. Drivers could communicate with marshals only by phone. There were some portable toilets, but after a single use they were sealed, awaiting cleaning.

Serco, which runs nine centres including Doncaster, said the longestrecorded wait was two hours, adding: “Serco is managing the site facilities at some of the Covid-19 test facilities. The sites are becoming increasingly busy and we are working hard to get people through the centres as quickly as possible?’

Anna Wittekind, a nutritionist who said she had been off work with chest and stomach pains for 12 days, said she and her husband, who worked for the NHS, had waited three hours at a drive-in facility. Her result arrived quickly and was negative.

“I have no idea whether I managed to take a good enough swab, so it may have all been a waste of time,” she said. “I felt for the poor souls working there, but the organisation was abysmal.”

A worker at the Lighthouse laboratory in Milton Keynes said she was concerned about safety and lost results. The lab was opened by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, this month as one of three “megalabs” created to support the testing initiative.

She claimed the lab, which is capable of processing up to 10,000 tests in 24 hours, had received hundreds of swabs in vials that either were leaking or were not sealed in two bags, meaning those handling them risked contamination. Other swabs had labelling errors, so the results were unlikely to reach the person tested.

“We do feed these problems back to the test sites and some improve,” she said, “but some are consistently poor and in some cases this goes beyond just making our lives difficult to actively endangering us or the reliability of results?’

Steve Fay, a physiotherapist in respiratory care in Leicester, said he was seen at a centre in Nottingham operated by Boots on 1 April. He was left waiting for more than a week for the results. His wife, who works as an NHS nurse and had her test at the same time, had to wait even longer.

After chasing, via 14 emails, Fay was eventually referred to Deloitte.

Fay said: “I threatened to make this public when suddenly [there was] a reply in one hour and a result an hour later. The tests both came back negative. Personally I’m very doubtful of this test because we both had the symptoms?’

A spokesman for Deloitte said: “Deloitte has a specialist health sector practice, which includes a large number of staff with operational healthcare experience. This is the group who is at the core of our work, supplemented where appropriate with individuals with technical skills relevant to the work we are doing?’

Boots said it managed the Nottingham site but had “no role in processing the results”. Sodexo also said it was not responsible for delivering test results.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the latest records showed that more than 90% of people tested up to 21 April had received their results within two days.

Protecting care homes must now become the Government’s top priority

Promises are not enough

“This week, we learned that ministers were warned by scientific advisers in January that care homes would be especially vulnerable to a pandemic. ….

The proper provision of PPE for care workers must be made an absolute priority for the government. Access to increased testing capacity, which remains haphazard and sketchy, must be vastly improved…….”


Boris Johnson has a talent for arresting phrase-making, and it was duly deployed outside Downing Street as he returned to active duty. Comparing Covid-19 to a street mugger, the prime minister said that as a result of ongoing lockdown measures, the country has begun to “wrestle it to the floor”, as recorded infection rates and NHS hospital deaths from the disease fall from their early April peaks.

Not for the first time in his career, Mr Johnson’s rhetoric was vivid, but it expressed at best a partial truth. Barely 24 hours later, the Office for National Statistics published an estimate by the Care Quality Commission that 4,334 people died from coronavirus in care homes in the fortnight leading up to 24 April.

Half of those CQC-reported deaths occurred within the final five days. As the curve of hospital deaths flattens and begins to descend, Westminster’s political energies have moved restlessly on to the question of how lockdown restrictions might be eased. But care workers are bracing for a deadly peak that has yet to come.

The struggle to protect the nation’s vulnerable and elderly must not be fought in lonely isolation, out of sync with the national mood. At the Downing Street press briefing on Tuesday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, claimed that the potential crisis in care homes “was something we focused on right from the start”. But that social care became the forgotten frontline of the coronavirus crisis is generally accepted.

This week, we learned that ministers were warned by scientific advisers in January that care homes would be especially vulnerable to a pandemic. From personal protective equipment to testing, the response from the government to that advice was belated and inadequate. What is urgently needed now is the application of genuine political imagination to mitigate a tragic situation which is moving towards a deadly climax. Care homes need immediate help in three specific areas – medical equipment, human resources and financial capability.

The proper provision of PPE for care workers must be made an absolute priority for the government. Access to increased testing capacity, which remains haphazard and sketchy, must be vastly improved. Mr Hancock has announced that care homes will now be able to test asymptomatic as well as symptomatic carers and residents. This is welcome, as is the commitment to publish daily figures on care home deaths. But when some care homes are still struggling to perform any tests at all, the promise doesn’t count for much.

The National Care Forum, which represents 120 not-for-profit providers, has called for acute care specialists and geriatricians normally based in the NHS to lend their expertise in managing outbreaks. Their knowledge, and the experience they acquired during the early April hospital peak, could be an invaluable resource.

About 25,000 retired doctors and nurses responded to government calls to return to the NHS; their skills would be a vital boost in residential homes. Members of the 750,000-strong NHS “volunteer army”, most of whom have not been called on, could be diverted to perform specific tasks. Meanwhile, a financial lifeline from central government is also desperately needed: myriad extra costs have left large numbers of providers close to the edge.

The NHS has not been overwhelmed by the pandemic. Mr Johnson was right to celebrate that fact as he returned to Downing Street. The belated lockdown gave hospitals the headroom they needed. The same sense of urgency must finally inform the government’s response to the crisis in our care homes.


Contact tracing can’t be run by Westminster, experts warn

Successful implementation of contact tracing is an essential prerequisite to lifting lock down. It is an enormous task. What worries Owl is that the Government still seems to be trying to micromanage this from Whitehall. 

So far the Government’s track record of centralised management of the response to the pandemic is unimpressive. Owl is also worried that too much faith is being placed on the untried and untested use of smartphone apps. It is yet another example of UK exceptionalism. 

Sarah Boseley

Ministers must relinquish their top-down control of the coronavirus epidemic after the lockdown to allow millions of people potentially infected with Covid-19 to be traced and supported by local teams in their own communities, say experts.

Urgent discussions have begun between central government, local authorities and public health officials about the 18,000-strong army promised on Friday by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to help trace the contacts of people who test positive or have symptoms of the coronavirus.

Hancock said they would be in place within three weeks but the Guardian understands that nobody has yet been recruited.

A letter to local authorities and other agencies on Friday, seen by the Guardian, said just 3,000 of these people would have public health expertise, while the other 15,000 would be call handlers.

It is understood that ministers such as Hancock, who is enthusiastic about digital technology, hoped the NHS app would take much of the strain. The app is designed to warn people who have come into close contact with anyone who has Covid-19 to go into self-isolation.

The government hoped that a high proportion of the population – up to 80% – would download the app on a smartphone. But in meetings, they have been advised that is unrealistic. In Singapore, with high smartphone use, the take-up was only 20%.

Public health experts say that apps are no substitute for a sympathetic and supportive conversation, even for those who are familiar and comfortable with using smartphones, which many older and more vulnerable people are not.

“It is absolutely ridiculous. You need the shoe-leather epidemiology, you need people on phones. Apps are simply supports for contact tracing,” said Allyson Pollock, a professor of public health at Newcastle University. “You need people on old-fashioned things like telephones or going door to door and they need to be local teams because they need to understand the local communities.”

The whole system should be run by directors of public health and environmental health officers based in local authorities, with the resources they need, because they understand their community, she said. That was how it used to be, before the multiple restructuring culminating in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which led to the decimation of public health disease control and its centralisation and fragmentation, she added.

“We don’t know where the block is, but there is a huge block and huge resistance to doing this locally. This is partly because they’ve ripped out so much capacity and they’ve also ripped out the real-time data locally.

“We are never going to get on top of this if we don’t put back the local capacity in order to lift local restrictions.”

Contact tracing began immediately after the first case was confirmed in England at the end of January but stopped abruptly across the whole of UK – even in regions with barely any cases – on 12 March, along with community testing.

The government said it was moving from the “contain” to the “delay” phase because it was no longer possible to track down and isolate everyone infected. Countries that continued to follow that plan, as urged by the World Health Organization (WHO), have had fewer deaths. They include Germany, Singapore and South Korea.

The UK “gave up very early”, said Anthony Costello, a professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London and a former WHO director. By 12 March, there had been 10 deaths and 590 confirmed cases, and about 3,500 contacts had been traced. But most of the cases were in London and the West Midlands. Continued testing, tracking and tracing could have kept the virus out of other regions and reduced deaths, he said.

“If we hadn’t stopped it on 12 March, our epidemic would have been much less. They effectively allowed it to spread,” he said.

Public health, local government and environmental health officers all say they are capable of running the sort of extensive contact tracing network that will be needed in all areas of the country.

“Directors of public health – and their teams – have extensive experience and knowledge of contact tracing, their local communities and the wider health and social care system,” said Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health.

“Engaging directors of public health in the design and implementation of any new plan will help ensure whatever is developed will work on the ground and be integrated with other aspects of the response to Covid-19, including testing and protecting vulnerable people across the UK.

“The reality is that no single organisation or agency, whether national or local, can deliver and oversee this operation alone. A collaborative approach is fundamental. The government needs to fully involve us in this.”

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said its members and also many other people with expertise, such as retired doctors, had been in touch wanting to help. “We have quite early on opened up a national voluntary register,” said Gary McFarlane, its Northern Ireland director.

“My own view is that we need a national media call for those who have the skills – all those retired doctors and sexual health workers and environmental health officers who can hit the ground running.”

As businesses start to open, whether garden centres or offices or factories, local authorities would be busy engaging with them to ensure they did it safely – so the retired volunteers could help reduce their workload by taking on the contact tracing effort.

A government spokesperson said: “Tracing and testing those with symptoms of Covid-19 is essential if we are to limit the spread of this virus and save lives.

“The NHS is developing a contact tracing app, which alongside effective tracing and testing, is designed to give our country the confidence it needs to return to normality.

“We are working with clinicians, scientists and other specialists to plan a safe, staged path to national rollout.”


Questionnaire: How are things in Lock Down in Sidmouth?

Something to do in Sidmouth during lock down.

Q.1 Are you appreciating there being less traffic or can’t you wait to get back into your car? Owl wonders how many might be tempted to tick the box – “I like less traffic”. This is Regency Sidmouth after all.

Joseph Bulmer 

A Sidmouth community group is asking residents to fill out a questionnaire on ‘How are things in Lock Down’ in Sidmouth?

The Vision Group Sidmouth (VGS) has created a questionnaire to put to Sidmouth residents on the realities of life in lock down.

The questionnaire includes questions on: Traffic, cycling, money, home working, deliveries of essential goods, supermarkets, shopping habits, business and virtual communication.

VGS is particularly interested in whether you would continue to use the delivery services set up by local businesses once the lock down is over.

A spokesperson for VGS said: “We need your input now, as we look at how we are managing in such a different world – and also how we might manage in the future.

“We would be very grateful if you would ‘interact’ with this questionnaire; it looks a bit daunting but you can take as long or as short a time as you wish

“As you will see we are not asking for names, the data will be completely anonymous but of course you can always email us at if you want to give ‘on the record’ comments.

“All the questions are voluntary so you can just answer some of them if you want, although we hope it is easy enough for you to answer all those with tick boxes.”

If you are planning to fill out the questionnaire please tick ALL those which apply. You do have the chance to say more as well if you would like to.

The survey will close on Monday, May 4, and VGS hopes to have the results collated very soon.

The findings will then be put into a single document and circulated to the press and local councils.

The VGS spokesperson added: “Who knows what further ideas and actions might come out of your responses?”

Councils are using this emergency to shut out democracy

“Unfortunately, there appears to be an alarming number of cases where democratic scrutiny and accountability in councils is being shut down, with several using this crisis as an excuse for handing over sweeping powers to unelected chief executives and leaders.”

At  EDDC all meetings have been cancelled, including this month’s scrutiny meeting, but not yet the Annual Council – Wednesday, 13th May. So who is making the day to day operational decisions, how and under what authority? Previous announcements indicated extensive use of Skype. 

Remember that Ben Ingham has lost his majority and is Leader in name only (LINO). Shutting down democracy would be very convenient wouldn’t it?

Jonathan Bartley 

The return of Parliament is undoubtedly a welcome development. At a time of national crisis, we know just how vital proper democratic scrutiny and debate is.

The decisions being made right now will affect every single one of us and so it is essential that a forum such as Parliament is able to use its experience and knowledge not only to scrutinise the decisions made, but also to offer help, guidance and support to the government so it can make the best decisions for us all.

The same could be said for local authorities up and down the country who are on the front line of this crisis and are responsible for delivering many of our essential services.

Unfortunately, there appears to be an alarming number of cases where democratic scrutiny and accountability in councils is being shut down, with several using this crisis as an excuse for handing over sweeping powers to unelected chief executives and leaders.

In Lambeth, where I am the official leader of the opposition, I had to watch on Wednesday night as Labour councillors pushed through changes to the constitution that allow the chief executive to make decisions that would otherwise be made by a democratically elected leader, cabinet, or any council officer, simply if he considers it is “expedient” and “necessary” to do so. There were no reasons given. And it already had an urgency procedure for emergency decision-making.

Putting to one side the suggestion that the way it made the decision may actually be in breach of the council’s own constitution, such a move is bad for democracy. It is also downright dangerous at a time when the local authority is already making bad decisions such as beginning the unnecessary demolition of large council buildings in densely populated areas and park closures, bringing national outcry. More than ever it needs scrutiny and to be harnessing as much expertise as it can.

Regrettably, Lambeth is not the only place where this is happening. Green Party colleagues in councils across the country are reporting similar power grabs in both Conservative and Labour-held authorities.

From South Hams, where it has been proposed the Head of Paid Services and the council leader are given the power to decide if meetings should take place, to Norwich where the council met online to decide not to hold any online council meetings, we are seeing an erosion of democracy at the most fundamental level. Decisions which have real impact on people are being made without the scrutiny they require.

Of course, many authorities are already hiding behind the logistical problems lockdown brings for taking decisions behind closed doors. But it’s not just Parliament that is able to sit and discuss issues virtually.

If a parish council’s grants committee in West Yorkshire is able to meet virtually, as my Green Party colleague Andrew Cooper highlighted last week, then I see no reason for any other council to hide behind this emergency as an excuse for closing down democracy.

At a national level we have seen just how vital proper scrutiny is in helping to shape government policy for the better, whether that is by the media or by opposition politicians. Whether it’s on the numbers of testing or access to personal protective equipment for health workers, we have seen throughout this crisis how proper questioning of ministers has led to changes in government policy.

At the local level too, we have seen how often it has been individual councillors and local communities who have led the response to the crisis through mutual aid, foodbanks and delivery services, being best able to identify where the needs are from the bottom up. It is this kind of expertise and knowledge that councils should be looking to harness and be led by.

We need more democracy, not less in this crisis. Before the coronavirus epidemic hit many local authorities were just beginning to embrace the idea of citizen assemblies as a response to the climate crisis, recognising that we make better decisions when we work together. Now they appear to be going in the opposite direction by excluding residents, councillors and the experts from decision-making right at the time that they need them most.

Those in positions of power are faced with an unprecedented and extremely challenging situation and nobody would blame them for finding it difficult. But this is why we have such a strong democratic system in the first place. Now is not the time to be letting that slip away.

Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party and Leader of the Opposition on Lambeth council


Councillors issue words of support following shock resignation from Honiton Council

Trouble and strife continues to dog Honiton Council

Hannah Corfield

Yesterday evening (April 27), Honiton residents were saddened by the announcement that Duncan Sheridan-Shaw was resigning from his elected position on the town council.

In an emotional letter, Duncan stated that the ‘swathe of negativity and harassment faced’ was too much ‘for any decent human soul to deal with’ and that he ‘could not continue’ under the restraints of the current leadership.

He added reassurance that he still ‘believed wholeheartedly’ that great things are possible in a ‘loving and accepting community’ and that he would continue his involvement within the community as a citizen.

Nub News contacted members of Honiton Town Council for their response on his decision to stand down.

Town Mayor, John Zarczynski commented: “I’m very disappointed. Very disappointed. But I am not at all surprised.

“All I will say is this; I thank him and wish him well for the future.”

Deputy Town Clerk, Heloise Marlow said: “I wish you all the best in your future endeavours and hope that we can again work together at some point in the future.”

Former Town Mayor, Henry Brown also got in touch: ”Duncan can be proud of his service to our community.

“He worked hard to promote local organisations as is evidenced by a short conversation with people in the town.

“I’m confident that in time, when the council is renewed, he will return and make Mayor.”

Cllr Tony McCollum added: “It’s a sad day for Honiton, as they have lost a great ambassador for the town.

“Honiton Chamber of Commerce would like to him to stay on within his capacity as Tesco Community Manager.

“He is also involved as a trustee for The Random Kitchen, when it becomes a registered charity.

“We won’t lose him completely, however it is sad to see him leave the council.”

Cllr Caroline Kolek commented: “The resignation of our deputy mayor sadly came as no surprise.

“This council continues to be bogged down with fighting people rather than being proactive in supporting the community.

“There are some councillors who continually want to look back and make allegations, frame past actions, votes or correspondence as spurious or circumstantial evidence to portray others in a poor light.

“I still believe the best thing for this town is for the whole council to resign and face a full democratic election.

“In the meantime I wish Duncan well. He will make an excellent mayor, which will happen one day I am sure.”

Cllr Michelle Pollington responded directly to Duncan’s letter: “I am greatly saddened by your decision, but I cannot say I am surprised.

“You are a fantastic ambassador for the town, and I hope to have the opportunity to work with you on town projects in the future.

“Thank you for the hard work that you have put in as a Councillor and as Deputy Mayor.

“The Town Council have lost a valuable member.

“Thank you, also, for the hard work that you are putting in during this crisis for the people of the town.”

Cllr Jason Hannay expressed his regret: “I really feel for Duncan, he is by far one of the treasures of this town.

“‘Duty first and self second’, something he says time and time again.

“He really has lived up to this!

“I completely understand and it does come as no surprise that he has felt the need to resign.

“A constant barrage of private messages to him, open emails with continuous finger pointing by councillors too.

“It is unfortunate that once again this town is going to see history repeat itself.

“It is sad that another great councillor feels they have to resign.

“Understandably so and no surprise to most, but the worst thing is this town has lost an amazing individual who would have been great for our community, and an outstanding mayor fit for purpose to serve this great town!”


South Korean study shows ‘alarming’ spread of Covid-19 in open plan office

Was it wise for EDDC to have left the Knowle? What are they going to do about Blackdown House?

By Nicola Smith, Asia correspondent 28 April 2020

Scientists have tracked the aggressive pace at which the coronavirus can sweep through an open plan office based on data from a call centre outbreak in South Korea. 

The research by the Korean Centres for Disease Control focusses on a cluster that emerged in early March in a 19-storey building in a bustling district of Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Commercial offices are located on the 1st to 11th floors with residential apartments from the 13th to 19th. 

Of 1,143 people tested for Covid-19 in the building, 97 had confirmed cases, and of these, 94 were working in an 11th-floor call centre with 216 employees, indicating an “attack rate” of 43.5 percent,” researchers said in the study published in the CDC’s journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases. 

“This outbreak shows alarmingly that [the virus] can be exceptionally contagious in crowded office settings such as a call centre,” researchers concluded. 

“The magnitude of the outbreak illustrates how a high-density work environment can become a high-risk site for the spread of Covid-19 and potentially a source of further transmission.”

However, on a more positive note, despite considerable contact between workers on different floors in the elevators and the lobby, the spread of Covid-19 “was limited almost exclusively to the 11th floor, which indicates that the duration of interaction was likely the main facilitator,” they added.

Researchers also discovered that the number of asymptomatic patients – 4.1% – was lower than an earlier study in Beijing, which indicated a rate of 5%. 

“Our data might represent the likely proportion of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections in the community setting,” it said. 

The call centre cluster was contained through mass testing of the entire building, strict quarantines for positive and suspected cases and extensive contact-tracing.

A total of 16,628 text messages were sent to people who had stayed more than five minutes near the building during the outbreak. The message recipients were tracked using cell phone location data and urged to avoid contact with others and to take a Covid-19 test. 

Experts say South Korea has managed to avoid lockdowns or business bans through its aggressive “trace, test, treat” plan.


Data shows jobs in Devon are ‘most at risk’ throughout UK

Jobs in East Devon are in the top “twenty areas most at risk” in the UK, Exeter is in the twenty least at risk.

Has EDDC been putting quantity before quality in job creation? Remember the EDDC local plan is based on a “jobs-led policy on” growth scenario aimed at creating 950 job/year in order to justify the final 17,100 minimum housing target for the 18 year period of the Plan adopted in 2016.

Chloe Parkman

Jobs in Devon are among some of the most at risk from the coronavirus pandemic, a study has suggested.

Fresh analysis from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has emerged showing that up to 35% of jobs in Britain are at risk due to COVID-19.

The analysis, based on the latest furloughing data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), shows that five areas within Devon fall into the top 20 areas most at risk.

The chart below shows the areas in Devon most at risk, from the highest to lowest.

Local Authority Total number of jobs at risk Percentage of jobs at risk Region
West Devon 5,226 32% South West
South Hams 11,436 31% South West
East Devon 14,716 31% South West
Torbay 13, 856 30% South West
Torridge 5,676 30% South West

The RSA states that “the area with the highest proportion of jobs in the knowledge economy are least at risk.”

Interestingly, the city of Exeter featured in the ’20 least at risk’, with the number of jobs least at risk being 18,895 and 23% of jobs least at risk.

The full top ’20 most at risk’ chart can be seen below.

Local authority Total number of jobs at risk Percent of jobs at risk Region
Richmondshire 5,965 35% Yorkshire and the Humber
Eden 7,989 34% North West
East Lindsey 14,509 34% East Midlands
South Lakeland 17,424 33% North West
Derbyshire Dales 10,350 33% East Midlands
Scarborough 14,458 33% Yorkshire and the Humber
West Devon 5,226 32% South West
Ryedale 7,699 32% Yorkshire and the Humber
Argyll and Bute 10,074 32% Scotland
Cornwall 66,878 31% South West
Pembrokeshire 13,313 31% Wales
Cotswold 13,526 31% South West
South Hams 11,436 31% South West
North Norfolk 10,063 31% East of England
East Devon 14,716 31% South West
Isle of Wight 15,423 31% South East
Conwy 12,907 31% Wales
Staffordshire Moorlands 8,733 30% West Midlands
Torbay 13,856 30% South West
Torridge 5,676 30% South West

For further information on the RSA analysis click here.


UK to halt several ventilator projects after fall in demand

Good news and bad news – the good news is that clinicians do not believe they need to use as much invasive intubation ventilation. The bad news is for the Devon firms involved in “The Ventilator Challenge” 

Rob Davies 

Several teams that have spent weeks building medical ventilators for the NHS will be told to stop work after the need for the machines proved far smaller than expected.

In mid-March Boris Johnson asked British industry to help increase the number of ventilators available to the NHS from about 8,000 to 30,000, a target later revised down to 18,000.

Stocks have increased to 10,900 and now the number of firms working on new ventilators is to be wound down because many of the devices already available remain unused. Clinicians have credited lockdown measures and the increased use of less invasive treatment techniques for lowering demand.

Two sources familiar with government procurement and the medical equipment regulatory process told the Guardian that the reduced need had rendered several projects surplus to requirements.

The Cabinet Office was expected to inform the teams working on them by letter and telephone as soon as Monday evening, days after Dyson was told its CoVent prototype was not needed.

One of the projects likely to be stood down is OxVent, a collaboration between the medical equipment company Smith & Nephew and Oxford University.

A well-placed source said the government was also likely to abandon the Helix, a device made by Barnstaple-based Diamedica with the help of the contract manufacturer Plexus.

“I expect them to be told tonight,” said the source, adding that more simple devices were being cancelled first. “It was good to have some fallback devices but we didn’t need eight or nine of them.”

The source said both teams had “done an amazing job”, and said more projects could be dropped before the end of the week.

A second source said multiple ventilator projects were about to be stood down, without saying which ones.

The Guardian has approached OxVent and Diamedica for comment. The Cabinet Office said: “The Ventilator Challenge is continuing and any changes will be announced in due course.”

The government initially laid out a three-pronged strategy to increase the number of ventilators to 30,000 by ramping up production of existing designs, importing thousands more machines, and commissioning firms to make new ones.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, then said in early April that the government now believed 18,000 might be needed.

So far 127 have been sourced from established UK suppliers, 877 from abroad and 264 from the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, and 1,156 have been commandeered from the private sector.

Official figures released last week showed that the number of people occupying critical care beds had fallen by 13% in the previous week, from 3,360 to 2,910, far fewer than initially feared.

Clinicians put this down to two main factors, the first of which was the lockdown. “The effort that was taken to stress the importance of protecting people in vulnerable groups will have had an impact on the number of people that were presented,” said Dr Daniele Bryden, the vice-dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine.

The other factor was a growing recognition that it was often preferable to avoid intubation – where a tube is inserted into the trachea to provide oxygen – and to use less invasive methods to deliver oxygen early on in treatment.

Dr Martin Allen, a consultant respiratory physician and board member of the British Thoracic Society, said: “In Wuhan, when they tried other ventilation strategies they failed. Everyone needed to go on to invasive ventilation, so there was a concern that spread throughout the rest of the world.

“When the epidemic hit in northern Italy, provision of invasive ventilation was overwhelmed, so they needed to find other strategies. They found that using Cpap [continuous positive airway pressure devices] and other non-invasive methods stopped about half of the people going to intensive care. It has made a big difference to demand for intensive care beds.”

He said it still made sense for the NHS to have more ventilators than currently required, in case of a second wave of Covid-19.