“Do it for your loved ones, your community, and the NHS.”

Matt Hancock has just tweeted this message in advance of tomorrow’s launch of a “Test, Track and Trace” system. A central part of this will be an “instruction” that those who are informed that have been in contact with anyone showing signs of Covid-19 must go home immediately and self-isolate for 14 days whether or not they have symptoms.

This is identical to the “instruction” in force when Dominic Cummings chose: to race home; check on his wife who he thought was showing symptoms (thereby becoming a contact himself); return to the office; go back home then drive his sick wife and son to Durham. The only difference, then, was that the self-isolation period was only 7 days.

Dominic Cummings told us on Monday that what he did was justified because he was protecting his loved ones. He didn’t seem to care much about the community or the NHS . He has no regrets and has made no apology.

Are they all mocking us?

Nothing to see here – Time to move on.


We were promised 100,000 tests by end April, rising to 200,000 by the end of May

These targets are arbitrary but of the Government’s making.

A correspondent has taken great trouble in providing Owl with the following article on how the figures on Coronavirus test are being “massaged” to fit a political narrative. The number of tests should be a straightforward matter of fact. Unfortunately they are not.

This is particularly relevant tonight, as Boris Johnson “surprises” the nation with an earlier than expected announcement of the start of a “test, track, trace and isolate” system. Owl believes this is to distract us from Dominic Cummings – “nothing to see here, time to move on”.

The launch looks to be premature: the NHSX phone app is still under development; testing capacity cannot possibly meet Boris’ new target of 200,000 by June 1, and the results are taking far too long to process. And there are accounts of those recruited to track and trace having little or no training.

Regrettably, It is yet another example of the Government launching new initiatives by megaphone then failing to deliver, when what we need is a Government we can believe in and trust.

People might react to messaging and spin but a virus is completely unaffected.

The correspondent writes:

I regard More or Less as one of the best programmes on Radio 4 because it’s devoted to an accurate analysis of various statistical claims. However, there is one that is  particularly interesting at the moment because it takes apart the government’s claims to have reached the declared target of 100,000 Coronavirus tests per day. (All the material included below was taken from More or Less BBC Radio 4 20 May 2020.)

On 15 May the government claimed that 136,486 Coronavirus tests were completed. I think most of us would read that as meaning that 136,486 people were tested. Unfortunately that is not the case: only 43,298 people were tested for diagnostic reasons. The other 93,188 claimed tests included home testing kits sent out, whether or not they were completed;  tests done for research purposes; and multiple tests done on the same patients – multiple tests done for very good reasons but nevertheless carried out on one patient. In fact, each person tested at a drive-in centre was counted twice in the government’s daily figures because each of those tests involved spitting into a container (one test) and taking a swab from inside the same person’s nose (one test). So these represent two tests within the government’s figures.

The programme shows that the real figure of tests done is less than one third of what the government was suggesting with its figure.

It’s a 30 minute programme which deals with other statistical claims but if you’re only interested in the conclusions relating to the number of tests claimed to have been done each day, they are around the 16 minute mark. The reporter explains some of the key points.

Why are non-diagnostic tests a source of distortion? “While these tests are potentially giving vital information about the prevalence of the disease, the Department of Health and Social care say they aren’t being used to diagnose cases. The government itself doesn’t count people who receive these tests as people who have been tested. Nevertheless, these non-diagnostic tests are being added to the figures and they’re what’s making it possible for the government to keep claiming that the target has been hit. […] If you remove the posted kits because we don’t know how many were actually carried out and the research kits because the government itself doesn’t count those as people tested, then on the fifteenth of May we go from the government’s figure of 136,486 tests to only 69,900 which we know were actually carried out for diagnostic purposes.” What about the number of people tested? “Of the 69,900 tests we know were done on the fifteenth of May, they were done on 43,298 people.”

So the government’s figures are a combination of sleight of hand (including testing kits sent out whether or not they were used and multiple tests on individuals) combined with straightforward misdirection (including in the reported figure tests which the government itself does not regard as people tested).

The full programme is available here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08dnd81

Why are Clinton Devon Estates felling trees during the bird nesting season?

A correspondent has sent this “letter” to Owl, but asks to remain anonymous.

“It will probably come as no surprise, but I have just witnessed Clinton Devon Estates felling diseased ash trees on Dotton Lane between Newton Poppleford and Colaton Raleigh.

I appreciate these trees have to be felled to control the problem, in fact I believe the estate has allocated a seven figure sum to deal with this over the next few years.

What I don’t approve of is the fact it is in the middle of the bird nesting season. The reason the work is being undertaken now is probably for easier identification, wonder why they cannot just mark the diseased trees and fell them when they are dormant in the Winter.

It is not the first time they have shown scant regard for wildlife is it!

I have been very pro the estate over the years, sadly not so much now.”

(Owl will never forget the sagas of the Estate’s past cavalier attitude to bats and slow-worms)


Decision-making delays leave seafront regeneration plans in limbo

“At Thursday’s scrutiny committee meeting, Cllr Cathy Gardner, chairman of the committee, confirmed the marketing exercise remains on hold until full council and cabinet have met.

Any decision over the future of the Queen’s Drive site is, under the constitution of the council, one for the cabinet to make.

They will have the option of accepting the recommendation of scrutiny and full council, or if they chose, are entitled to stick with their original decision.”

That there is no Cabinet is down to an indefensible decision made by EDDC ‘s Conservative Chairman, Stuart Hughes.

Owl reminds readers that Chairman Stuart Hughes cancelled the May Annual Meeting after Ben Ingham’s coalition with the Conservatives lost its majority. This is the meeting at which a new administration could have taken over in a smooth transition. Clearly a political decision.

The powerless Leader, Ben Ingham, subsequently “resigned” the Cabinet on 18th May. This week, in a bizarre choreography, a series of extraordinary meetings will be held, some to decide whether to have another meeting to decide, on electing a new administration.

The future of Exmouth seafront will remain in limbo for several more months following delays over decision-making as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is now more than eight years since East Devon District Council (EDDC) released its plans for an ambitious redevelopment scheme for the seafront.

The current plans to redevelop Exmouth seafront include a high-quality waterfront restaurant, an 80-bedroom hotel, as well as an area for play and leisure uses.

But those plans have faced delays – the latest following the council’s scrutiny committee in March agreeing that a panel ratifying the selection criteria for marketing it to developers was not properly balanced.

The scrutiny committee sent its recommendation over the constitution of the panel to full council to debate, before it will go back to the cabinet for a final decision.

At Thursday’s scrutiny committee meeting, Cllr Cathy Gardner, chairman of the committee, confirmed the marketing exercise remains on hold until full council and cabinet have met.

Any decision over the future of the Queen’s Drive site is, under the constitution of the council, one for the cabinet to make.

They will have the option of accepting the recommendation of scrutiny and full council, or if they chose, are entitled to stick with their original decision.

Initially it had been hoped that bids would be received and reviewed this month, with a recommendation on a preferred developer/operator in July, but that timescale will now be delayed.

It means that the earliest that the marketing exercise can begin, subject to cabinet approval to continue with the project, is not likely to be until the end of June.

But following the resignation of Cllr Ben Ingham as the leader of the council, a new administration will be in charge for the council following Thursday’s extraordinary full council meeting, and they may take a different view on how the seafront should be developed.

Time though is running out for a final decision to be made as the attractions for the Queen’s Drive space – the replacement for the former Fun Park – only have permission to stay on the site until March 2022.

Three more Covid-19 deaths recorded in East Devon – with none in Exeter for second week running

The latest ONS statistic show a total of 41 Covid-19-related deaths have now been recorded in East Devon. Thirteen of them have been in hospital, 26 in care homes, and two at home.

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

Three further coronavirus-related deaths were recorded in East Devon from May 9 -15 – with none in Exeter for the second week running.

New Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures published today (Tuesday, May 26) show one of the fatalities was in a care home, one in hospital, and one at home.

Figures relate to deaths that occurred in the seven-day period, but were registered up to May 23.

The latest ONS statistic show a total of 41 Covid-19-related deaths have now been recorded in East Devon. Thirteen of them have been in hospital, 26 in care homes, and two at home.

In Exeter, the total remains at 37. These include 15 in hospital, 20 in care homes, and two at home.

The total number of people who have died across Devon due to the virus now stands at 317.

The ONS figures include people who have died at home, in hospital, in care homes, hospices, ‘other’ communal places, or ‘elsewhere’.

They are broken down by the local authority area in which the deaths were registered.

A total of 15 people have now died in Mid Devon due to the virus, 23 in North Devon, and 15 in West Devon.

Elsewhere in the county, a total of 72 deaths have been recorded in Plymouth, 54 in Torbay, 12 in the South Hams, 30 in Teignbridge and 18 in Torridge.

One-hundred-and-ninety deaths have been recorded in Cornwall.

As Covid-19 decimates our confidence in care homes, what are the alternatives? 

“No one questions the extraordinary dedication and bravery of care home workers, or overlooks the majority of homes that have remained virus-free. But the sector will clearly struggle to fill the beds left empty by, so far more than 12,000 virus-related deaths of residents in England and Wales. That’s the official number, other calculations put the figure at possibly twice that in reality – on top of the usual pre-crisis number of daily deaths of almost 400.”

David Brindle, public services editor www.theguardian.com 

What is the outlook for care homes? Polling suggests 31% of us are less likely to seek residential care for an older relative in light of coronavirus. Among people aged 65 or over, 40% are less likely to consider it for themselves.

No one questions the extraordinary dedication and bravery of care home workers, or overlooks the majority of homes that have remained virus-free. But the sector will clearly struggle to fill the beds left empty by, so far more than 12,000 virus-related deaths of residents in England and Wales. That’s the official number, other calculations put the figure at possibly twice that in reality – on top of the usual pre-crisis number of daily deaths of almost 400.

Many staff have performed miracles to try to sustain the vibrant, warm culture that can be found in the best homes. But no amount of reassuring video contact with family, or whooping drive-bys, can obscure the truth that more than 400,000 older or disabled people are isolated indefinitely in environments ideal for a virus to let rip if it gains a foothold.

Some families have been making efforts to extricate relatives from residential settings – far from easy, especially if the individual is subject to safeguarding measures – but few are calling to inquire about admission. Home managers are watching anxiously as occupancy rates slip further below the 87% reported in January, which is reckoned to be around the minimum for profitability. Homes with greater reliance on state-funded residents, for whom fees are relatively low, need a still higher numbers of residents.

Sector analysts Carterwood calculates that average occupancy will drift down to 79% by April next year. Not until October 2022, or possibly September 2023 depending on any second or third waves of the virus, will the rate return to 87%. The forecasts assume, perhaps optimistically, availability of a vaccine by May 2021.

While a drop of eight percentage points may not seem dramatic, operating surpluses lie mainly in that margin. More than eight in 10 of the UK’s 477,000 care home beds are provided by for-profit companies but, contrary to popular belief, most homes are not run by large operators with controversial financial practices: a study in 2018 showed that while the then nine leading companies accounted for less than 13% of all beds, some 5,000 small businesses accounted for almost 50%.

Property advisers Knight Frank told a recent Health Investor magazine webinar that they considered 27,000 homes with fewer than 20 beds “highly vulnerable” and expected widespread closures over the next two years – especially among the many needing modernisation and lacking en-suite facilities. Some “temporary” closures are already occurring.

For homes that can survive to 2022, however, the long-term picture may be much rosier. Carterwood is projecting occupancy rates at or exceeding 90% by the end of 2024 and Knight Frank believe the market will be at full capacity by 2029. Investors behind the big providers will be tempted to hold their nerve and soak up short-term losses. One reason for this is simple demographics – the number of people aged 85 or over is set to double over the next 25 years – but another is lack of alternatives to residential care.

That is not to say there are no alternatives. Despite periodic ministerial exhortations, experts agree that the UK is not about to undergo a cultural revolution and resume large-scale caring for older people within the extended family home. But there are other care models more commonly found in other countries.

One such model is live-in care, where a full-time care worker moves in to share the home of the older or disabled person. Promedica24, Europe’s leading provider of the service, claims its popularity in Germany has been a key factor in that country’s relatively low level of Covid-19 infection. But with charges of £700 a week for the most basic package, in addition to living costs and accommodating the care worker, it is hard to see it as anything other than a niche solution.

More promising is “extra care”, also known as “retirement communities”, in which older people have their own flat – either leasehold or rental – with communal facilities and on-site care support. These schemes went early into lockdown, with communal areas closed but extra services such as food delivery and daily check calls introduced. Arco, the sector’s trade body, says Covid-19 infection rates among its members have been very low, with the “vast majority” having only isolated cases and no outbreaks. The total number of deaths reported is “in the low double figures”.

Operators say word has spread: people have been buying flats unseen during the virus crisis and one company, Rangeford, is so confident of prospects that it has signed off a new scheme in Gloucestershire in recent weeks and started groundwork. But the sector remains small: according to Arco, just 75,000 people or 0.6% of all those aged 65 or over in the UK live in extra-care housing, compared to 6.1% in the US, 5.4% in New Zealand and 4.9% in Australia. Finding sites and getting planning consent is difficult and it can take seven years to get a scheme from conception to completion.

There are other options, from co-housing to intensive community support, which offer alternatives to life in a care home for people seeking more than drop-in domiciliary help. In the chastening aftermath of Covid-19, or at least its first wave, all should be thoroughly evaluated and, where proven, given central and local government backing to grow. Residential care will rise again, but it should not remain an automatic default.

Dust cloud over Sidmouth after latest cliff fall

Another cliff fall has taken place in Sidmouth, and an eyewitness predicts another will happen at any moment.

The cliff fall which took place today (May 26), follows a number of landslides in Sidmouth over the last few months. See devonlive for images.

Chloe Parkman www.devonlive.com 

Key worker Stu White, 37, was on shift when he noticed the large cloud of dust over the town.

Stu said: “I was at work when I just looked over and noticed it.

“I didn’t hear a noise or anything.”

Stu, who describes himself as a “cliff geek”, noticed another large slab of rock which looks as if it could fall at any moment.

Given the history of Sidmouth cliff’s recent landslides, Stu’s prediction is not a surprise.

Last month pedestrians in Sidmouth witnessed a large cliff fall which created a huge plume of dust over the town.

A further two landslides in Sidmouth took place in March.

A Beach Management Scheme for the town which aims to protect Sidmouth’s crumbling cliffs is in place. The preferred option of the plan would see a new rock groyne placed on East Beach, shingle imported, and the height of the seafront splash wall increased.

The scheme which costs somewhere in the region of £8.7million, is now moving to the next stage after the funding gap was bridged earlier this month.

Cllr Geoff Jung, earlier this month, when he was still the Environment portfolio holder for East Devon District Council, said: “Now the Sidmouth and East Beach BMP is most likely to be fully funded, the East Devon team can concentrate on finalising the details of the project, such as accommodating an attractive new splash defence along the esplanade, improved slipway access and a recharged beach, which are all part of the preferred option, which is estimated to cost £8.7m.

“It is planned that as soon as is possible an exhibition and a chance to “meet the team” session will be held in Sidmouth (subject to Coronavirus emergency measures) providing local people the opportunity to see and understand the final designs.

“The project team will also have to apply for planning permission which will be subject to further period of public consultation, and agreement from strategy consultees which will include the Town Council, Natural England, and Historic England. Final assurance checks by the Environment Agency must also be passed to confirm the eligibility of the central Government Grant.”

The council is planning to host a public exhibition, when circumstances allow, in order to gather feedback on the details of the proposals, including the glass splash panel, prior to submitting a planning application.

Devon councillor quits Conservative Party over Cummings furore

A Devon councillor has resigned from the Conservative Party over the Dominic Cummings furore.

As a result, Conservatives loose control of West Devon Borough Council.

Composition now: 13 Indys, 2 Greens and 1 Libdem ; vs 15 Cons.

Lee Trewhela www.devonlive.com
Rev Mike Davies’ resignation means that West Devon Borough Council – on which he sits as councillor for Okehampton North –  is no longer a Conservative-controlled authority.

The former Mayor of West Devon said: “The lack of a resignation from Mr Cummings, a government advisor, undermines public trust and will now encourage people to break current and future rules.

“Following Mr Cummings’ lack of foresight to resign because of the impact of his actions, the Prime Minister should now terminate Mr Cummings’ employment.”

Mr Davies, who is a part-time church pastor, added: “Covid-19 needs to be controlled and as we have been constantly reminded ‘Staying at home saves lives’.

“NHS staff, care workers, school teachers and others have been under tremendous pressure to meet the consequences and challenges of this virus. Examples must be set at the highest levels of Government.

“Can you imagine the consequences if everyone decided, at the start of lockdown, to drive to the most convenient place in the country if they thought they might have some of the symptoms?

“Locally, Devon & Cornwall Police fined over 800 people for breaking lockdown rules. In England and Wales over 13,000 fines were issued. Lockdown surely meant lockdown. We are now being told it was ‘guidance’.”

Mr Davies is suspected to have had Covid-19 himself and was seen by two GPs, but this has yet to be tested or confirmed.

He discussed his resignation with Mel Stride MP before making his decision.

He has been a West Devon Borough councillor since 2015 and prior to that was an Okehampton town councillor since 2003. As well as Mayor of West Devon, Mr Davies was Mayor of Okehampton twice.

“I appreciate that many Conservatives may not sympathise with me or share my convictions,” he added. “However, from the concerns raised to me, as association chairman for Central Devon, in the days prior to my resignation I know that many do.”


Owl’s vigilance has slipped a bit. The Independent Sage Report on: “should schools reopen?” nearly got away. A draft was published on Friday with online discussion, there is then a one week period for public consultation before it is submitted to Government.

Owl has just spotted it in time.

The findings of the draft report of the scientific evidence is introduced below with a link to it.


Independent SAGE committee of leading scientists says conditions have not been met to re-open schools safely on June 1

  • Draft report reveals new modelling that shows delaying school re-opening by two weeks halves risk to children
  • Local authorities must establish low levels of infection in community and ability to track, trace, and isolate new infections before re-opening schools
  • Alternative arrangements for educating children must be considered including summer camps and outdoor schools
  • Proposals include requisitioning playing fields and facilities of independent schools and football stadiums
  • Public consultation vital part of process with decision to re-open schools made at local level based on local data
  • Lack of publicly available local data is ‘critical gap’ in current management of pandemic

SCHOOLS should not re-open on June 1, Independent SAGE reports today, because there is ‘no clear evidence’ that it is safe to do so.

The committee of independent scientists chaired by Sir David King, the former Chief Scientific Advisor, has released a ‘draft consultation report’ which says that schools should not re-open until local ‘test, track, and isolate’ systems are in place. ‘There is no clear evidence that these conditions are met. Until they are it is not safe to open schools on June 1,’ the report says.

New modelling shows delaying school re-opening by two week approximately halves the risk to children, and that delaying the re-opening until September is less risky still – reducing the risk to children to below road traffic accident level. The report notes that further modelling is needed to show regional risks and that it intends to do so before issuing its final recommendations to the government next week.

The report notes the harm to children from schools remaining closed and the disproportionate impact on certain groups, including economically disadvantaged children and those from BAME communities. Proposals made by the committee include summer camps and open-air schools and suggests requisitioning independent school buildings and playing fields to ‘provide a better infection control environment’. It suggests football stadiums and other sports facilities could also be used.

The report says that decisions to re-open schools must be taken at a local level with full public consultation.

Locality-based COVID-19 infection and death rates are the best indicator of risk from any future school-based outbreaks, the report says, and that it intends to model these effects before releasing its full report next week. Real-time data about test, track and isolate is essential, it says, noting that, ‘it is inevitable in a pandemic that new outbreaks will occur’ and that ‘planning for such re-closure is essential’.

The lack of publicly available local data is ‘a critical gap in the current management of the pandemic’, the report says and that without it local communities cannot be sure about the level of local infections and whether the numbers of new infections is decreasing.

‘The crucial factor allowing school re-opening around the world has been the presence of well-functioning local test, trace, and isolate protocols—something that is now accepted will not be in place in England by early June,’ the report says. It also notes that school opening in other countries, such as Denmark, ‘has been preceded by substantial investment in measures such as additional washing facilities to promote safety.’

Sir David King said: “It is clear from the evidence we have collected that June 1st is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike. ”

“However we also recognise that the decision of when to re-open our schools is a careful balance and that it is vital for our young people to get back into the classroom as soon as it is safe to do so. The current climate is likely to disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged in society; therefore it is vital that the government also considers innovative ways to help those who need it most.”