Fall in Covid-19 symptoms on tracker app suggests lockdown is working

In the course of a few weeks we have gone from a “containment” strategy where an attempt was made to trace all Covid-19 cases to “mitigation” and then “suppression” . The containment phase was the only one with wide scale testing but it didn’t last long. In subsequent phases individuals exhibiting symptoms were told to self isolate.

As Owl understands it, in these phases, neither GPs nor NHS 111 (if you could get through) took any records of who thought they may have the virus. There are two obvious consequences: there is no one checking on patients to advise them, as Boris Johnson was, when to go to hospital (deterioration can be very rapid); and we haven’t a clue on how many people exhibited symptoms. 

Owl has more than a sneaking suspicion that resource constraints played a large part in what otherwise seems an inexplicable decision (not enough testing kits and not enough NHS 111 staff). Confused chains of command may also have contributed. It doesn’t look very well organised, remembering we had a two week start over most of Europe.

The Covid-19 tracker app tries to fill this vacuum. Here are more results.

(The tracker app is now being rolled out in the USA, another country that desperately needs data on the Covid-19 transmission.) 


Researchers at King’s College London said there had been a drop in people reporting symptoms since April 1.

Researchers believe that the coronavirus lockdown is working as data from a tracker app suggests that the number of people aged 20-69 who are reporting Covid-19 symptoms has fallen from 1.9 million to 1.4 million across the UK.

The drop, by around 500,000 people since April 1, is indicated in analysis of data from the Covid Symptom Tracker app, which is used by more than two million people.

Contributors can track their daily health on the specially created app, which is also being used by healthcare and hospital workers nationwide.

The researchers behind the app, which was developed by a team at King’s College London, said their latest figures suggest that staying home is having a big impact on the spread of the virus in the UK.

Even though hospital admissions and deaths are still on the rise, we hope that these figures offer a much needed light at the end of the tunnel

Prof Tim Spector

They say the drop in new symptoms indicates that although the number of hospital admissions and deaths from Covid-19 are currently rising, they should start to fall in about two weeks’ time provided social distancing continues.

The team believes the two-week lag is caused by the delay between symptoms starting and becoming very severe.

Lead researcher, Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London, said: “It is really encouraging to see that the rate of new symptoms being reported is beginning to fall.

“Even though hospital admissions and deaths are still on the rise, we hope that these figures offer a much needed light at the end of the tunnel.

“We have been totally blown away by the public’s response to the app.

“On the first day we saw one million members of the public download it making it one of the most successful first days for an app ever, and already probably the UK’s largest citizen science project.

“The altruism of the UK public combined with modern technology is allowing us to rapidly collect huge amounts of invaluable data to help us better understand this deadly virus.”

Researchers say that their data concurs with what has been reported by NHS Digital, based on much smaller numbers.

This shows a decline in the number of calls to NHS 111 by people with Covid-19 symptoms since March 22.

While symptoms have been decreasing nationally, researchers say that their data shows that in all areas there are still many people with active symptoms.

The data also shows that individual areas vary.

Most of the country’s larger cities like London, Birmingham, Glasgow, and Liverpool continue to have very high levels of symptoms in the community, even this far into lockdown. South Wales is another hotspot.

There are significantly higher levels of symptoms across the Midlands, the North of England and southern Scotland than in the south-west of England.

The Covid Symptom Tracker app was developed by a King’s College London team in association with the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and healthcare start-up ZOE Global Limited.

To download the app, and to view an interactive map showing the suggested distribution of Covid-19 in your area, see covid.joinzoe.com


More on: MPs allowed to claim extra £10,000 in expenses

The move by the expenses watchdog has been described as ‘crude’ by critics amid concerns that the updated system and extra cash could be open to abuse.

Parliamentary staffers hit back at the criticism, saying it enabled them to work from home during the crisis.

Owl can’t see how this differs from the way that MPs work in their constituencies during week ends and during recesses.


Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, hit out at the decision and said: “It seems to me a very crude approach.

“I think the public may be slightly puzzled as to why what looks like a generous payment of this nature has been made without first doing a bit more research into what the actual costs are.”

And James Roberts, political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “While it’s reasonable for MPs’ staff to have access to the equipment they need to work from home during this crisis, politicians should take care to use the cash properly and avoid it being seen as a personal equipment slush fund.”

But parliamentary staffers hit back at the criticism, saying it enabled them to work from home during the crisis.

Alice Hopkins, a Conservative Parliamentary worker tweeted: “MPs & staff based in Westminster need Parliament IT equipment to be able to do their work securely from home.”

She added that “not a penny will go to MPs” but the backlash was filling staffers’ inboxes with “ill informed emails distracting us from emergency casework.”

She added: “My bosses & colleagues are working round the clock everyday to help 100s of constituents getting in touch.

“The people who are furious that we can work securely at home will also expect immediate help if they asked.”

The guidance, published last month, reads: “This is an uncertain and challenging time. Ipsa is committed to supporting MPs and their staff to carry on with their work as far as possible.”

In a letter to MPs, Richard Lloyd, the interim chairman of Ipsa, wrote: “We have agreed a series of immediate measures that we hope will provide you with the resources and flexibility to concentrate on your parliamentary duties and support your staff.”

Minister James Cleverly added after the story that he would “like to publicly thank my team (and all the others too) for the work that they are doing.

“I know they aren’t the only ones having a tough time but we MPs couldn’t help our constituents properly without them.

“They are helping and working with worried, often vulnerable people on my behalf, who are themselves dealing with unprecedented situations. They are researching, collating, and passing on advice and guidance in a fast changing environment.

“The volume of work has, understandably, increased over the last few weeks and they are working through it with all the additional challenges of working remotely.

“If things are a bit slower than usual, please bear with us as we navigate these uncharted waters. So to my team I say “thank you”.”

Labour staffer Amelia-Rose Tighe added: “I’ve had to procure secure laptops for staff to work at home.

“We have never had as many vulnerable people contact us needing help.

“Anyone bashing this- are you expecting staff to travel to work to help constituents or should we just ignore them?

“This money does NOT go in MPs pockets as the headline suggests, it goes into a budget to be spent on running an office. Other businesses are providing laptops for workers to work from home, why should MPs be made to refuse this?”

Splash the cash: MPs offered extra £10,000 each for home working expenses

MPs have been offered an extra £10,000 each to support them while they work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, the poor darlings. The reason, during a national crisis when so many are losing their livelihoods, jobs, or on furlough, defeats Owl. No wonder Neil Parish thought he ought “earn his keep” by saying something even if it was all platitudes. 

Emanuele Midolo, Esther Webber  www.thetimes.co.uk 

The extra budget can be used to buy equipment such as laptops and printers for MPs and their staff, or to cover additional electricity, heating and phone bills. The money, which comes on top of the existing office budget of about £26,000 a year per MP, will be available until March.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), the expenses regulator, also relaxed rules on the evidence MPs must provide and suspended the 90-day window for claims.

The credit limit on MPs’ payment cards has been increased to £10,000, and they can now spend up to £5,000 in a single transaction.

One MP said he expected that the money would mostly be used to assist staff, as the majority of MPs would already have home offices.

However, there is nothing in the rules to prevent MPs claiming it for themselves.

Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, questioned the decision. “It seems to me a very crude approach [from Ipsa],” he said. “I think the public may be slightly puzzled as to why what looks like a generous payment of this nature has been made without first doing a bit more research into what the actual costs are.”

Several researchers contacted by The Times were unaware of the funding.

The guidance, published last month, reads: “This is an uncertain and challenging time. Ipsa is committed to supporting MPs and their staff to carry on with their work as far as possible.”

In a letter to MPs, Richard Lloyd, the interim chairman of Ipsa, wrote: “We have agreed a series of immediate measures that we hope will provide you with the resources and flexibility to concentrate on your parliamentary duties and support your staff.”

James Roberts, political director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which campaigns for lower public spending, said: “While it’s reasonable for MPs’ staff to have access to the equipment they need to work from home during this crisis, politicians should take care to use the cash properly and avoid it being seen as a personal equipment slush fund.”

The news follows the announcement last month of a £20 million increase in MPs’ staffing budgets. MPs received an extra £25,000 for their staff after a parliamentary review suggested that they were underpaid compared with workers in other sectors. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, said at the time that his staff were “struggling to cope”.

Ipsa was created in response to the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, after which several rules were introduced to limit MPs’ claims. These included a ban on the purchase of second homes and on claims for home refurbishments. Last year, however, a Sunday Times investigation revealed that MPs claimed 22 per cent more in expenses than they did in 2009. In 2017-18, the total claimed by MPs rose to a record £116 million.


Honiton MP’s message of support for Boris Johnson

At last Neil Parish breaks radio silence to say – very little.

In these unusual and fast moving times, Owl likes to consider if  “those in authority” are acting as “Leaders or Followers” 

Alas, Owl finds few Leaders.

Chris Carson  www.midweekherald.co.uk 

Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish, says Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s battle with cornavirus shows the disease does not discriminate.

Mr Parish, whose consituency also includes Axminster, Seaton and Colyton, told The Midweek Herald today: “The PM is a larger than life character, full of energy and fighting spirit.

“My thoughts are with him and his family as he battles coronavirus, personally, and for the nation.

“It shows this virus does not discriminate.

“There is no cure – and we must stop the spread urgently to protect as many people as possible.

“As the weather improves, please do not lose sight of the horror that our NHS, social care workers, charity and community groups are facing on the frontline.

“Stay at home, minimise contact, wash your hands and follow government guidance to get us through this as quickly as possible.

“I know local and national government are working around the clock to provide support.

“If you require help or advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch.”


More on Local Councils telling holiday makers to stay away

This report from radioexe starts with the same report of Devon County’s response, reported by Owl yesterday, but adds further information. The post below starts from report on what Independent group leader Cllr Frank Biederman said and then continues.

Council tells holidaymakers to stay away


Independent group leader Cllr Frank Biederman said: “We need the Government to introduce huge fines for people who flout the regulations and we really need to emphasise that we are closed. The NHS can’t care for visitors as well as our own residents.

“The vast majority of our tourism businesses are closed and are taking a big financial hit for the benefit of the community but we need to crack down on those who refuse to do so.”

He added that any business who were still allowing holidaymakers to make bookings were a ‘disgrace’.

The council’s Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, Cllr Rufus Gilbert, said that Trading Standards had done a test with Bookings.com and sampled 25 per cent of businesses on their website and phoned them, and all of them said they were not accepting booking.

But he added: “With Airbnb, we have had no such assurances. We have written to them but are not expecting a reply. We will do everything that we can, but just because some businesses are advertising online, it doesn’t mean that they are taking bookings.”

Cllr Paul Crabb though said he had gone onto the Airbnb and would have been able to book a detached villa for 13 guests in Ilfracombe for next week, which showed that not everyone was obeying the rules.

The district councils have the responsibility to close down any businesses that are open illegally.

It comes as the leaders of both South Hams and West Devon councils have written an open letter pleading with second home owners not to visit this Easter.

The open letter, written by Cllr Judy Pearce and Cllr Neil Jory, has the support of Cornwall Council, East Devon District Council, Mid Devon District Council, North Devon District Council, Teignbridge District Council and Torridge District Council.

It explains that while they value their contribution they make to local communities and the tourism economy, they are pleading with them to stay away as by travelling to their second home, they are putting the local population at risk.

As of Wednesday morning, across the Devon County Council administrative area, there had only been 236 cases positive COVID-19 cases, with a further 57 in Torbay and 102 in Plymouth. In total, 53 people in Devon have died in hospitals with coronavirus.


Residents are urged to report any Devon businesses trading illegally

Residents in Devon are being asked to shop any businesses they think are trading illegally during the coronavirus lockdown. 

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

Trading Standards bosses in the county are aiming to crack down on any firms flouting the Government guidelines over Easter.

Whitehall last month ordered hospitality businesses to close and said that people should stay at home -with only ‘essential’ travel allowed.

With very few exceptions, all hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels, holiday rentals, campsites and boarding houses should be closed for commercial use until further notice.

Additionally, restaurants, pubs, wine bars, cafes, canteens and other food and drink establishments must also close unless they are providing takeaway or delivery-only services.

Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards is reminding owners of guest houses, campsites and restaurants to remain closed to help combat coronavirus.

And it had issued a message to the public that – if you think a business is open illegally – it can be reported by email to tradingstandards@devon.gov.uk

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council (DCC) cabinet member with responsibility for Trading Standards, the economy and Visit Devon, said: “We understand that Easter is traditionally seen as the start of the holiday season for many businesses.

“However, as a country we all need to do everything we can to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“We know that most businesses are abiding with the new rules. However, where businesses choose to ignore the Government, appropriate enforcement action will be taken.

“We recognise that the hospitality industry is facing real challenges in these uncertain times and we will continue to provide support for you via the Heart of South West Growth Hub.”

A DCC spokesman added: “Holidaymakers are also reminded that visiting the WestCountry for leisure is not regarded as essential travel and they risk receiving a fine from the police.”


Coronavirus: Cornish report 650 incomers amid fears of Easter influx

Cornish residents have reported 650 holiday lets and second homeowners to the council in the past five days as people sneak into the county for the Easter weekend.

Will Humphries, Southwest Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk

The council and Devon and Cornwall police are increasing their efforts to deter weekenders as police officers stop cars, caravans and motorhomes on the M5, A30 and at service stations and car parks at beauty spots. Visitors have been stopped on coastal paths in St Mawes, Rock and Padstow.

Rob Nolan, Cornwall council’s cabinet member for environment and public protection, said that most holiday accommodation owners had stopped trading but not all. Tourists using them have been told to return home.

“The police are relying on unnecessary travel to stop the second homeowners. They are going to ramp it up at the weekend,” Mr Nolan said. “Locals are very anxious about people moving in next door to them.”

The council asked for reports of rule breakers last Friday and by yesterday had received 650 reports, with most about Airbnb rentals.

“Airbnb won’t close their listings,” Mr Nolan said. “They are a very difficult company to get hold of.”

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall, said that it was “very disappointing that some were found to be flouting the orders of the government. I would ask the public to keep vigilant and report any further properties that they suspect may be defying the law.”

Gordon Ramsay and his family have also been the subject of local anger after they arrived at their house in Trebetherick on March 20, before the lockdown was imposed.

The Ramsay family are regular visitors and their eldest son lives there permanently, according to a family friend.

People in Devon and on Exmoor have also reported an influx since the lockdown was issued.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, the MP for Bridgwater & West Somerset, said he had been told of second homeowners asking their cleaners on Exmoor to prepare houses for their arrival.

“Our cottage hospitals won’t be able to cope if there is an outbreak here and the nearest large hospital is in Taunton. We don’t have the resources for these people coming here,” he said.

One Exmoor villager said that two doctors from London had moved into their second home to self-isolate near Dulverton but then drove back to the capital because they forgot their breadmaker, before returning again.

A Times reader who moved from London to her Gloucestershire second home a month ago, before the imposition of social distancing, said she was questioned by two police officers on her doorstep on Monday after local residents reported that she had “recently arrived”.

She was asked to provide evidence of living there before the lockdown and it was only thanks to her daughter having a receipt from a taxi taken from London that the officers were satisfied and left.

“We came down with supplies because no one was taking the situation seriously and we didn’t leave the house for more than two weeks,” she said.

Airbnb said it was working on measures to “help everyone follow government guidance and keep people safe” and added it had blocked spare rooms and shared spaces being advertised in the UK for the emergency period and had taken away the “instant book” feature so that guests have to request a booking from a host.


Extra £25k for East Devon projects boosting community coronavirus efforts

District council bosses have made an extra £25,000 available to boost projects supporting community coronavirus efforts in East Devon.

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk

The authority is distributing the cash through the Covid-19 Prompt Action Fund small grants scheme.

Run by Devon County Council (DCC), the initiative can quickly award up to £499 to community-led efforts.

These can include:

  • Safe deliveries of essential goods and services to those who are vulnerable, such as foods and medicines;
  • Support for accessing online information and services;
  • Virtual support groups to help people to stay connected and informed and to maintain and support mental health and wellbeing;
  • Transport-related initiatives that support safe community responses to the outbreak.

Applications are accepted from constituted and not-for-private-profit Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector groups and organisations, town and parish councils, charities or businesses, or a combination of such groups working together.

Organisations can apply multiple times for different projects.

Non-constituted groups without their own, separate bank account, small local businesses and individuals can also apply. However, they will need to do so with the support of an accountable constituted organisation acting on their behalf either as guarantor or as the holder of the funding.

Because the two councils are working together, groups only have to deal with one lot of paperwork, making it much easier and quicker for them to apply.

It also saves the authorities both running the same grants process, meaning that they have more resources to work on other things to help people and communities.

Cllr Ian Thomas, chairman of East Devon District Council’s community grants panel said: “Our voluntary and community organisations, together with town and parish councils, form the bedrock of East Devon’s drive to ensure that all our vulnerable residents are properly shielded and supported in these challenging times.

“We should be proud of and grateful for the dedication of each and everyone involved.

“I am pleased that we have been able to re-allocate £25,000 funding to further help them continue their essential work through many more support opportunities, by adding our own contribution to that from Devon County Council.”

Councillor Roger Croad, DCC’s cabinet member for communities, said: “At extremely challenging times like this, it is important that we all work together to support our residents, especially the most vulnerable.

“I’m particularly pleased that East Devon District Council are joining the COVID-19 Prompt Action Fund which has received in excess of 260 applications from organisations across the county already, after opening just over two weeks ago.

“This funding will help volunteer groups in Devon continue their vital work to tackle the impacts of the coronavirus in their communities and offer support to those in need.”

Find out more and apply here.


Exmouth Gas Plant goes to Appeal – “Doing Today what is Right for Tomorrow”

From Transition Exeter:

The application for a new Gas-fired ‘Peaking’ Plant, refused by East Devon District Council because of its incompatibility with their Climate Emergency Declaration is going to appeal.  Members of the the public can make representations till April 21st.

The Applicant is Liverton Business Park 2011 (Clinton Devon Estates Ltd), who also owns the solar park nearby. This appeal could be a test case for the construction of these small local back-up, gas power stations, which the Government appears to be encouraging. There is a danger that they will be popping up all over and lead to a whole new generation of gas plants with continued carbon emissions, so we need to prevent a network of such schemes.  Also, subsidised and encouraged through tender exercises opened up by the National Grid, they are probably very commercially lucrative (but of course much of that information would be subject to commercial confidentiality).

The justification for the proposal is mainly based on the plant functioning as a backup facility, to fill the gap in energy supplies when renewables are not generating sufficiently, and thus providing energy security and contributing to the transition to renewables. Some think this is stretching the case very thin, when the Centre for Alternative Technology  argues that 100% renewable energy could supply the grid every hour of the day and night.

The deadline for Representations to the Planning Inspector is 21 April. Many in Exmouth and beyond would be grateful for whatever help you can manage, from a short representation to more technical energy and planning arguments. With respect to pressing for an Inquiry, a reasonable quick point would be that you are very concerned about climate change and have welcomed the local declarations of climate and ecological emergency but are very worried that this scheme conflicts with the local commitments (that would include Devon as a whole). You would feel that the complex issues need airing in a open Inquiry. You need to use your own words.

Oddly, the owner of the Liverton Business Park is Clinton Devon Estates, whose home page bears the large slogan  ‘Doing Today what is Right for Tomorrow’ [Owl thinks it’s time this was changed to “Doing Today what is Right for Clinton’s Business” ]

More information is available from gillwestcott@gmail.com or on the Transition Exeter website www.transitionexeter.org.uk (It isn’t yet but could be soon)