Under proposed “traffic light” system most of Sidmouth could be locked down until a vaccine is produced.

“Schools could start returning within three weeks under a ‘traffic light’ plan being pushed by senior ministers to ease lockdown misery – amid Cabinet splits over whether the government should risk more deaths from the disease to save the plunging economy.”

“Over-70s face a ‘red light’ for many months more, potentially having to wait for a vaccine before going back to normal life.”

Overall, just under a quarter (22.6%) of the population of East Devon is aged 70+, but in some areas of Sidmouth it’s more like a half (49.9). Good ONS interactive map of where over 70s live can be found here.

James Tapsfield www.dailymail.co.uk

Schools could start returning within three weeks under a ‘traffic light’ plan being pushed by senior ministers to ease lockdown misery – amid Cabinet splits over whether the government should risk more deaths from the disease to save the plunging economy.

The fledgling ‘exit strategy’ would see the country get back up in running in stages after May 11, with primary, GCSE pupils, and nurseries potentially going back part-time.  

Meanwhile, clothes shops and garden centres could be among the ‘non-essential’ stores given a ‘green light’ to reopen with precautions to protect customers. Rail services would be brought up to normal levels, with commuters probably urged to wear facemasks, and the NHS would resume carrying out non-urgent procedures. 

A second ‘amber’ stage later in the summer would see more of the economy revived, with all employees told to go back to work and some social gatherings allowed. 

However, it might not be until later in the year that pubs and restaurants can reopen and sporting events get up and running. And over-70s face a ‘red light’ for many months more, potentially having to wait for a vaccine before going back to normal life.

The proposals are gaining traction amid a mounting backlash at the lack of a clear plan. Senior ministers are divided between those who want to ‘run hot’, using apparent spare capacity in the NHS to relax social distancing soon, and those who fear acting too early will allow the disease to run rampant, according to the Sunday Times. 

After concerns about drift at the heart of power, Boris Johnson is gearing up to take back the reins of government, making calls to ministers from Chequers where he is recuperating from his own health scare with the disease. 

Cabinet minister MIchael Gove tried to dampen down frenzied speculation over loosening of restrictions this morning, saying while it was ‘entirely understandable’ people want to know the way out it was too early to make such decisions. 

Asked if the ‘traffic light’ system was the government’s ‘exit strategy’, Mr Gove told Sky News: ‘No it’s not. It is the case that we are looking at all the evidence. But we have  set some tests that must be passed before we can even think about easing the lockdown.’ 

Although he stressed no decisions had been taken, Mr Gove did hint at the shape of an easing, suggesting pubs and other parts of the hospitality industry will be ‘among the last’ to come back. 


Brainboxes, your country needs you

Max Hastings’ view on how to deal with the consequences of a hollowed out state caused by a decade plus of austerity

Max Hastings www.thetimes.co.uk 

It seems mistaken to heap too much blame on the government for the failures in Britain’s response to Covid-19. Instead, our rulers should be judged by how fast they learn from grim experience, and how imaginatively they address the yawning fissures exposed by this earthquake.

Amid many uncertainties, one thing is assured: the state will play a role in all our affairs for the next few years, greater than we have known for 60 or 70 years. The fumbled response thus far represents consequences of generations in which its institutions and instruments have been eroded and run down, as the dynamic of society shifted to the private sector. The NHS could just cope six months ago, but unsurprisingly lacked spare capacity to meet the coronavirus, hence the enlistment of the army to provide logistics, communications and managerial support through its Operation Rescript.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, after suffering decades of shrinkage and political contempt, struggles to address international issues, including the welfare of tens of thousands of British citizens abroad. Meanwhile, we have the police force we deserve, in the absence of effective supervision as well as adequate funding.

The government should be devolving many decisions and supervisory functions to local authorities, rather than persisting with a surely doomed attempt to run everything, and to distribute stupendous sums of public money, direct from Whitehall. But councils, too, are resource-starved, treated by central government as a burden upon national life rather than as a key component of it.

Above all, the civil service at every level has been abused, bypassed, despised, demoralised. Most of its indifferently rewarded high-flyers quit before reaching the highest posts. Permanent secretaries are obliged to share power, though seldom responsibility, with ministers’ often half-witted and unfailingly arrogant spin doctors.

It would be mistaken to idealise past British governments, including wartime ones. In the 20th century, however, weak and incompetent ministers were protected and buttressed by an impressive Whitehall machine. Sir Humphrey Appleby was a valuable article, much brighter than hapless Jim Hacker.

It is such human instruments to execute policy that are today lacking, and must be rediscovered. Not merely this country, but the world, faces years of unprecedented medical, economic and social stress. The critical agent in preserving our societies will be the state, which thus needs our best brains and most competent administrators.

Whitehall is experiencing an invasion of management consultants. Such people are a dubious resource in good times, a wholly inadequate one in bad. There is talk of bringing in clever former ministers — Jeremy Hunt, William Hague, Ken Clarke, Rory Stewart and suchlike. This might be sensible, even essential. Even more pressing, though, is the demand for high-quality administrators lower down the chain.

In the early months of the Second World War, there was regulatory and administrative confusion and bungling at least as great as now. From 1940 onwards, however, Britain mobilised its people more efficiently than any other nation. The British Army never achieved excellence, but the home front did.

The department store chief Lord Woolton ran food, and gave his name to an economical pie. Patrick Hennessy, wunderkind boss of Ford of Dagenham, joined the Ministry of Aircraft Production, to do the heavy lifting for Lord Beaverbrook. The former Trades Union Congress chief Ernest Bevin directed labour. Lord Leathers became responsible for shipping and transport. The “three profs” — Lord Cherwell, John Maynard Keynes and Lionel Robbins — addressed their brilliant minds to the conduct and funding of government.

Nearer the coalface, many of the finest mathematicians in the country were guided towards Bletchley Park. Such academics as Noel Annan, Edgar Williams and Enoch Powell, thrust into ill-fitting uniforms, dramatically raised the quality of service staff work. It is an insufficiently understood aspect of war that it matters least who does the killing — a task requiring little intellect — and much more who generates ideas and steers them towards implementation.

Today, thank goodness, we are not fighting anybody. We need not thrust millions of young men and women into uniform. Yet after generations in which most of the nation’s brightest and best have devoted their lives to making money or spending it in the private sector, now instead their talents are desperately needed on the front line — a new kind of front line, but just as critical as were the beaches 80 years ago.

No such mobilisation is going to happen in five minutes. We are all undergoing a supremely traumatic process of adjustment. But it seems important that those in charge of government should at least identify a direction of travel, a roadmap towards radical measures such as were unthinkable three months ago. They should be planning, for instance, the recruitment of civilian special constables to reinforce a police force that lacks the numbers to handle the law-and-order challenges that lie ahead. They should be considering how best to re-employ the talents of millions who will forfeit their existing jobs.

Ministers, as much as the rest of us, need to acknowledge that we cannot look forward to some happy date this year when normal service will be resumed. We must prepare, instead, for a new world, wherein we can survive and prosper only if we respond to its challenges with courage and imagination.

Foremost is that we should conscript the best possible people to manage the myriad activities of the state, which will, for many moons ahead, intrude unprecedentedly but also, we should hope, constructively upon all our lives. If the government kids itself that McKinsey can supply the answers, then it is asking the wrong questions.


Is EDDC Skyping away or Zooming in?

Is EDDC using the best technology to keep democratic local governance  going during lockdown? 

Looks like EDDC is still using Skype when the rest of government is using the more appropriate Zoom.

Council meetings

It is expected that the vast majority of meetings will not need to go ahead because they are not dealing with essential matters during this time of crisis. However, as of now, the council will review the need to hold meetings on a rolling basis. Moving forwards, as a matter of priority, and subject to what Government permits local authorities to do, we are looking at ways of conducting urgent/important meetings remotely using Skype and/or conference calling.


Jenrick has ‘made it clear’ parks must stay open during No 10 briefing. Which home did he return to afterwards?

Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, has “made it clear” to councils that they must keep parks open during the coronavirus lockdown, although he sidestepped calls to apologise for visiting his Herefordshire home.

Owl wonders which of his three homes he returned to after conducting the briefing: his Hereford grade 1 mansion, his £2.5m London house or the property in Southwell near Newark [his constituency]?

Aaron Walawalkar  www.theguardian.com

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on the coronavirus outbreak, Jenrick said it “cannot be right” that some councils across the country had closed their parks in recent weeks.

He said that, while the virus “does not discriminate”, lockdown measures are much harder for people who do not have gardens or open spaces for children to run around in.

“People need parks. That’s why I have made it clear to councils that all parks must remain open,” he said.

The announcement comes weeks after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, threatened a ban on outdoor exercise on the weekend that Brockwell Park, in south London, was controversially closed in response to a reported influx of sunbathers. Analysis by the Guardian has revealed that park closures would disproportionately effect the most deprived Londoners.

Jenrick also addressed reports of mourners being turned away from funerals, pointing to the case of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton, who died after contracting Covid-19.

He said the tragedy was compounded after Ismail’s family could not attend his funeral. “That is not right and it shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “For clarity, funerals can go ahead with close family present.”

The government will publish further guidance on funerals, Jenrick said, adding: “I’m also asking councils to keep open or indeed to reopen cemeteries and graveyards … for people to make that private visit and seek solace at the grave of someone you’ve loved or to privately lay flowers.

“There have been times in my life when I have needed to do that. These are small steps, but small mercies can make a difference.”

Jenrick defended his decision to visit his parents’ home earlier this month, despite repeatedly urging the public to stay at home to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The Guardian established that the housing secretary visited his parents in Shropshire, 40 miles from his own home by road, who were already being supported with grocery deliveries by their local community.

Jenrick said in the briefing he had delivered medicines to his elderly parents and that it is “entirely within the guidelines” to do so.

He said he “would not want people to feel concerned that they cannot do something like that to help their own elderly relatives or parents who are in need”.

Jenrick was also asked whether he should apologise to the public for seeming to have broken the rules when visiting his Herefordshire home during the lockdown. He says his house in Herefordshire is his main home, despite the fact his children and wife attend school and work in London.

He responded: “I joined my family at our home in Herefordshire as soon as I was able to do so, as soon as we made the decision that it was no longer necessary to work in person in Westminster.

“I’ve been there since I’ve been working from home and returned to Westminster last night to do this press conference because parliament returns next week.”

The briefing came as the number of people to die in UK hospitals rose by 888 to 15,464.


Hundreds of private jets fly into UK from coronavirus hotspots

“When people voted to leave in 2016 they were voting to take back control of our borders,” Priti Patel (Nov 2019)

David Collins, Northern Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk 

Hundreds of private jets have been used by rich passengers to enter the UK from virus hotspots since the lockdown began.

Britain is already setting itself apart from the rest of the world with few travel restrictions. Many other countries have clamped down on international travellers and imposed quarantine rules.

An investigation identified 545 private jets landing in UK airfields since the lockdown was imposed last month. They have arrived from Spain (25), France (27) and Germany (32). A total of 15 private jets have also arrived from America, according to flight data supplied by WingX, an aviation consultancy. America has the world’s highest Covid-19 death toll, in excess of 38,000.

More than 15,000 passengers are still arriving into the UK each day on normal flights. No routine tests are carried out on arrival.

Private plane operators should carry out due diligence on passengers hiring private jets to see if they conform to the government’s rules on “essential travel” only.

Some wealthy passengers are being misleading about the purposes for private jet hire, however, claiming that they are travelling to family homes, rather than second homes or holiday homes. The UK still operates an open borders policy, unlike 130 other countries that have imposed travel restrictions since the pandemic began.

Professor Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine, said it was “hard to understand” why the UK persisted in an open borders policy, calling it “most peculiar”.

Justin Bowman, chief executive of the Air Charter Service, the largest private charter service in the world, said: “Governments are facing huge challenges moving people from different parts of the world back to the UK, where they are stranded.

“The airlines stopped pretty much overnight. There are still thousands of people in the wrong place. Many of these flights will be legitimate repatriations from around the world. I would hope those abusing the rules are in the minority.”

The super-rich have also been using private jets to leave the UK. A total of 767 private planes have flown from UK airfields since the lockdown. This includes 115 flights from London Farnborough airport, known for its “discretion and bespoke service”, according to one private jet company’s website.

The most popular destinations for jets leaving the UK during the lockdown were France (34), Germany (34), Spain (30) and Russia (23). Private jet hire to Moscow can cost between £20,000 and £70,000.

Ten private planes have flown to the United Arab Emirates since the lockdown. Industry sources say a private flight to the UAE would cost up to £100,000.

One aviation source said: “These are some of the wealthiest people who count the UK as their home, who are fleeing to second homes since the lockdown was imposed.”

The Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees and regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the UK, said it had “no way of knowing if the hire of private aircraft has increased or declined in recent weeks”, as it does not monitor the numbers.

It emerged last week that French police turned back a private jet after a group of wealthy passengers flew from Farnborough to Marseilles for a holiday.

Clive Jackson, founder of the private plane hire firm Victor, said he believed most of the industry was acting responsibly when taking bookings from the public. “We have an obligation not to flout the rules as we have an essential part to play in the Covid crisis, providing genuine medical evacuation and repatriation for families in distress.”

Metro mayors fear London‑first coronavirus plan is damaging the regions

Scotland and Wales are already developing their own exit strategies. Whitehall and No 10 appear to be concentrating on London (as always). The Northern  Metro-Mayors are asking for a seat on COBRA, but who speaks for the regions? The unelected Great South West or the equally unelected Local Enterprise Partnerships? Can our MPs come together as (most of them did) with #pleasecomebacklater

“The role of local government is being massively underplayed in Whitehall”  (Especially, it would seem, with regard to contact tracing – Owl)

David Collins, Northern Correspondent  www.thetimes.co.uk 

Boris Johnson faces rising pressure to open up Cobra emergency meetings to political leaders from outside London as plans are drawn up to lift the national lockdown.

Senior ministers privately canvassed several of the country’s metro mayors last week about their thoughts on a staged “regional release” of the lockdown, with London the first to benefit from being freed of restrictions. The response was an unequivocal “no” from regional leaders, who are concerned about a “London-first” approach.

Senior politicians believe a lack of input into Cobra from local government has caused blunders in addressing the growing crisis in care-home infections, a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for care workers, and a confused NHS volunteer scheme that clashes with existing local schemes.

Two of the most powerful civic leaders outside the capital, Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, and Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, said they would support a seat on Cobra for the regions as government planning moves to the “recovery” phase.

“There should be representation for the English regions on Cobra now,” Burnham said. “I’m not saying that for the benefit of Greater Manchester, or any other particular region, but for everybody’s benefit. I think certain decisions might have been made differently if Cobra had had a regional voice from the very start of this crisis.”

A strong regional voice on the Cobra committee could offer practical “on the ground” experience that some government sources say the current “overly centralised” set-up lacks.

“The role of local government is being massively underplayed in Whitehall,” said Burnham, a health secretary under Gordon Brown who led the response to swine flu in 2009. “We have issues in Greater Manchester that I would like the chance to express in Cobra.”

Burnham gave an example of asking the government for PPE for care home workers in Greater Manchester last week. After asking for 500,000 items, which would have lasted care workers one week in the region, just 48,000 arrived.

“This would be something I would have raised with Cobra,” he said. “And it’s a problem not just specific to us but something that is going on across all the regions in the care sector.”

Street said he had been “comfortable” with not being on Cobra due to the emergency meetings so far being about national guidelines and policy-making around the epidemic. But as the focus begins to shift towards a recovery plan after lockdown, he said: “I would definitely want to make the case for the Midlands.”

Lifting the lockdown “sector by sector” would affect regions differently, making it crucial that they had input, both Street and Burnham said.

For example, relaxing restrictions on the car industry and bringing 20,000 workers back to work would help the West Midlands more than other regions, and Liverpool, which depends heavily on tourism for jobs and income, will be hoping for a boost to the hospitality sector.

“We need to be part of those discussions,” said Street, who used to be managing director of John Lewis. “We understand our regions better than anyone.”

Cabinet Office Briefing Room A (Cobra) is used for committees that co-ordinate the government’s response to a national emergency.

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has used Cobra meetings to argue that building workers should not be going to work in the capital.

He claimed the prime minister overruled him during Cobra, arguing that building workers could carry out their jobs in relative safety.