Coronavirus: Ministers consider NHS contact-tracing app rethink, or maybe not

This article from the BBC critical about the efficacy of the NHX contact tracing app appears on the same day as a much more bullish article from the Times.

Is No 10 briefing in two different directions? Is this one of Dominic Cummings’ “do the unexpected” cunning plans? Or is the Government in disarray?

Owl is posting both for comparison and contrast – first the BBC: 

Coronavirus: Ministers consider NHS contact-tracing app rethink

www.bbc.co.uk

Concerns about the risks of deploying a go-it-alone UK coronavirus contact-tracing app are causing further delays.

A second version of the smartphone software was due to have begun testing on the Isle of Wight on Tuesday, but the government decided to postpone the trial.

Ministers are considering switching the app over to tech developed by Apple and Google.

But countries testing that model are experiencing issues of their own.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock had originally said the NHS Covid-19 app was to be launched across England – and possibly other parts of the UK – by 1 June.

But he subsequently said the government had decided it would be better to establish a network of human contract tracers first.

However, the BBC has discovered that one of the main reasons the initiative is running behind schedule is that developers are having problems using Bluetooth as a means to estimate distance.

Even so, they still believe they are better placed to tackle the challenge than counterparts overseas who are working under constraints imposed by the two US tech firms.

Bluetooth handshakes

Contact-tracing apps are designed to prevent a second wave of infections by keeping a log of when two people are in close proximity to each other and for how long.

If one of the users later tests positive for the disease, the records are used to determine how likely it is they infected the other. If required, an alert is triggered to help prevent the further spread of the virus.

The UK has adopted what is known as a “centralised” approach, meaning that the contact-matching process is carried out on a remote computer server. One benefit is it offers epidemiologists more data to tackle the pandemic. France and India are other countries to have adopted this model.

By contrast, Apple and Google’s “decentralised” approach carries out the matches on the handsets themselves, on the grounds this better protects users’ privacy.

Poland switched its app from a centralised to decentralised approach on Tuesday. Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Italy and Latvia are among others to have adopted the tech giants’ design.

Both systems rely on Bluetooth “handshakes” to work.

Number 10 is concerned that iPhones will not always detect each other because of a restriction Apple has imposed on apps that do not adopt its model.

But the UK team has devised a workaround and is more concerned about other limitations of using Bluetooth.

Train trouble

Some of these issues were outlined in a study published by Trinity College Dublin last month.

It highlighted problems with using received Bluetooth signal strength as a means to estimate distance.

Researchers warned signal strength “can vary substantially” depending on:

  • how deeply a handset is placed in a bag
  • whether the signal has to pass through a human body to reach the other phone
  • if the two people are walking side-by-side or one behind the other
  • if the devices are indoors rather than outdoors
  • whether the smartphone is surrounded by metal objects

The report highlighted troubling results when Singapore’s TraceTogether app was tested.

Image copyright PA Media Image caption Ireland’s police force is among organisations trialling a contact-tracing app ahead of a planned national rollout

An experiment within a stationary train carriage found that when users moved from a distance of 3.5m (11.5ft) to 4m, signals became stronger rather than weaker because of the way metal objects were reflecting the radio waves.

A trial in a supermarket also found the received signal strength was the same whether two people were walking close together or 2m apart.

Follow-up tests using Apple-Google’s tech are currently under way.

“The work is ongoing, but preliminary results are broadly consistent with previous observations,” said Dr Brendan Jennings, who has been tasked with assessing the effectiveness of Ireland’s Covid-19 app.

Hidden data

The team behind Switzerland’s SwissCovid app is carrying out tests of its own.

Its Bluetooth measurement chief believes the issue can be partly addressed by taking a range of readings over a period of five minutes or more.

But he added that Apple and Google had placed curbs on what could be achieved.

“The Google and Apple API [application programming interface] limits the amount of raw information that is actually exposed to the app,” Prof Mathias Payer told the BBC.

“For maximum utility, we would get all the different measurements, but this has privacy implications.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Swiss MPs have given permission for the country’s contact-tracing app to be launched nationwide

Apps using Google and Apple’s tech do not get to see the actual signal strength but rather one of three values, based on calculations used to normalise the different ways Bluetooth behaves on different handsets,

By contrast, the UK team can currently obtain the measurements directly.

Those responsible believe a further advantage of their centralised approach is that the data can be processed on the server involved, since it would be too taxing a task to be done on smartphones.

But part of their challenge is communicating this to Baroness Dido Harding – who heads up the wider Test and Trace programme – and 10 Downing Street itself.

A spokesman for the prime minister declined to comment.

Now the Times

Tracing app cuts spread of coronavirus on Isle of Wight

Oliver Wright, Policy Editor www.thetimes.co.uk

Contact tracing and the NHS’s covid smartphone app have identified infections and reduced the spread of the virus, official figures suggest.

An analysis of the integrated system, that is being used on the Isle of Wight, appears to show that it has succeeded in containing the infection during a month long trial.

The findings are likely to be highlighted by an official evaluation of the project to be published next week and will increase pressure on the government to launch the app across the country.

There have been reports that Downing Street is cooling on the new NHS Covid 19 app amid delays to the nationwide roll out.

However this was denied yesterday by senior government sources who insisted that the app still had an important role to play in containing the virus while easing lockdown restrictions.

Official government data of confirmed cases of coronavirus, broken down by local authority areas, show that at the start of the trial on the Isle of Wight on May 7 there had been 154 cases on the island.

Over the following month, during which time the app and tracing system was in place, a further 47 cases were identified – a rise of 30.5 per cent.

Across England, during the same period, the number of confirmed cases of Covid 19 only rose by 12 per cent.

But the data also reveals that the vast majority of the new infections on the island were picked up in the first few weeks of the trial.

How the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app works

Between May 7 when the system was put in place and May 26, 45 new cases were identified. However since then only two new infections have been identified.

This, experts said, could be evidence that the integrated system was successful at picking up more cases early and eventually halting the spread of the virus on the island.

The figures could be influenced by the greater use of tests on the island, which were only made available nationally to everyone with symptoms nationwide on May 18.

Nevertheless the data does give hope that the integrated system can work to control infection rates as the lockdown begins to ease.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia said the figures suggested that the rate of infection on the island had declined “more rapidly” than might have been expected.

“It is very hard to draw a definitive conclusion because the overall case numbers on the island are small which makes it hard to prove in a statistically significant way,” he said.

“But it does look promising.”

The island’s MP Bob Seely described the results as “fascinating”.

“Clearly these results need to be studied carefully, but one interpretation of this data may be that the app helped to identify cases – as it is designed to do – and by identifying more cases in the population more quickly it has helped people to take action earlier which has prevented the further spread of the virus, which has resulted in a steeper decline.

“One should be cautious, but it may show that the Island has not only provided a place to test the app effectively, but has also shown the effectiveness of the app too.”

The data comes amid reports that Downing Street is cooling on the concept of the app after initial enthusiasm.

Senior government figures admitted that they had perhaps been “too keen” on the app to begin at the expense of more traditional contact tracing.

“If you look around the world you see that the emphasis everywhere is on more traditional techniques to trace contacts. That doesn’t mean the app doesn’t have a role to play but it is not a single solution.”

Supporters of the programme point out that as lockdown restrictions ease so more people will come into contact with people that they do not know making the app more valuable as a way of controlling the virus.

They also denied suggestions that NHSX, which developed the app, was preparing to scrap it in favour of a system designed by Apple and Google.

“To change tac at this stage would lead to significant delays and there are no other advantages in doing so.”

Lord Bethell of Romford, the minister for innovation, said: “We will publish an evaluation soon explaining the lessons we have learnt and the changes to the app we have made as a result.

“The app will complement the NHS test and trace programme, helping control the spread of the virus by rapidly and anonymously alerting contacts who users may not know, and who would be missed through standard contact tracing methods.”

 

Dominic Cummings sets up panel of “experts” to advise on radical reform of planning laws

Owl wonders how many readers will have followed this correspondent’s example and written to their MP?

See East Devon Watch article

From a correspondent to their MP (not Jupp):

I have been alarmed to read in the last couple of days, news that there are plans being laid out at the moment to divert planning decisions from local councils to business groups owned by the government; or as the Times describes it;  ‘Jenrick and Johnson’s senior aide, Dominic Cummings, have set up a panel of experts to advise on radical reforms to planning laws that will hand control of decisions from local councils to development corporations owned by the government’ – The Sunday Times, June 7th.

Taking planning decisions away from democratically elected bodies who have sworn to represent their constituents and instead giving it to private individuals and business people obviously completely undermines the democratic process and further alienates local communities and people.  Allowing those with pecuniary interests to be in charge of decision making is quite frankly, very disturbing indeed and risks not only the role of local government, but also the countryside, the environment, our local economy which depends on tourism, our children’s health which depends on clean air, our biodiversity, our history, our faith in government and the democratic principle etc etc.  I cannot think of a worse way to solve the housing crisis than to give it to an opaque body with very vested interests.

I appeal to you as our representative at parliament and someone who has shown themselves willing to listen to local people, to raise this issue at Parliament with great urgency as once this has gone through, all our communities, towns, villages and countryside will be at risk.

 

Lockdown a week earlier ‘would have halved coronavirus death toll’

“Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said that thousands of lives had been lost because the government, and the scientists advising it, did not realise how many people were already infected in early March.

“He also suggested that a similar scale of deaths resulted from infections in care homes being four times higher than everywhere else, insisting that scientists had urged ministers at the time to test residents and staff…

“Boris Johnson insisted it was “premature” to judge whether the government should have done things differently.

Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

Britain’s coronavirus death toll could have been halved by imposing lockdown a week earlier, one of its architects has acknowledged.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said that thousands of lives had been lost because the government, and the scientists advising it, did not realise how many people were already infected in early March.

He also suggested that a similar scale of deaths resulted from infections in care homes being four times higher than everywhere else, insisting that scientists had urged ministers at the time to test residents and staff.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, conceded yesterday that the slow increase in testing capacity was his key regret about the early stages of the epidemic. He said there were a “long list of things” that could have been done differently but if he were to choose one “it would probably be looking at how we could [have speeded] up testing very early on”.

He said at the Downing Street coronavirus briefing: “Many of the problems that we had came because we were unable to actually work out exactly where we were, and we were trying to see our way through the fog.”

Boris Johnson insisted it was “premature” to judge whether the government should have done things differently. He said a lot more was known now about the virus than in March and “we made the decisions at the time on the guidance of [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies], including Professor Ferguson.”

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, also avoided accepting blame on behalf of the government when questioned yesterday about Mr Ferguson’s remarks on ITV’s Peston. “There will be a time when we need to look at the lessons,” he said.

Rory Stewart, the former Conservative cabinet minister, was one of the most prominent voices arguing for a swifter lockdown in March. He told Today on Radio 4 it was “right that they did follow the scientific advice, but it’s also true, I believe, that from the end of February they should have been challenging it harder on the basis of what they could see was happening elsewhere.”

Professor Ferguson was a key member of Sage until forced to resign for breaking lockdown rules to meet his lover. He contradicted Mr Johnson’s mantra yesterday that ministers had taken the right decisions at the time.

“The epidemic was doubling every three to four days before interventions were introduced. Had we introduced lockdown a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half,” he told the Commons science and technology committee.

Acknowledging he was “second guessing” with hindsight, he cited studies suggesting that about 1,500 cases had been imported from Spain and Italy in early March which were not picked up because of a lack of screening at the border. He said deaths were higher than the 20,000 he estimated in March because “we underestimated how far into the epidemic this country was, that’s half the reason”.

Professor Ferguson said modelling of a lockdown had been given to ministers nine days before it was imposed. Last night Channel 4 News reported that a paper advocating lockdown was written for a government modelling group on March 9, two weeks before it was imposed. However, minutes showed that on March 13, Sage was “unanimous that measures seeking to suppress spread of Covid-19 will cause a second peak”. On March 16 it advised “there is clear evidence to support [more] social-distancing measures [being] introduced as soon as possible.”

Professor Ferguson said the second and “more avoidable” reason why deaths were so high was that half of them were in care homes. Scientists “made the optimistic assumption that the elderly and the most vulnerable would be shielded as the top priority. That simply failed to happen,” he said.

Sage had told ministers “the only way you can really protect care homes is through extensive testing to ensure infections don’t get in”.

Professor Matt Keeling, of Warwick University, who sits on the scientific pandemic influenza modelling group (SPI-M), a Sage sub-committee, agreed that going into lockdown earlier would have saved lives. He said: “Maybe we should have been jumping up and down and saying ‘has anyone checked care homes?’.” Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said while it was “part of the scientific method” to look at what had gone wrong this should be to learn lessons rather than allocate blame.

Planning breaches found on Cummings family estate

Nothing to see here! – Owl

“Stuart Timmiss, [Durham] council’s head of development and housing, said: “While there have been historic breaches of planning and building control regulations, current legislation places a time limit on any enforcement measures and as a result no further action will be taken.”

“However, the council has not specified exactly what breaches of planning and building regulations it did find – and it has not been made clear whether any happened during the time Mr Cummings’ parents have lived there.”

By Richard Moss Political editor, North East & Cumbria www.bbc.co.uk 

There were breaches of planning regulations on the estate where Dominic Cummings stayed during his lockdown trip to Durham, officials have found.

The PM’s adviser stayed with his family in what he said was a “cottage” on his parents’ farm in April.

Durham County Council would not provide details of what regulations had been broken, or when they happened.

But it said no action would be taken as they were “historic”, having happened outside the time limit for enforcement.

Councils have a maximum of between four and 10 years to take action, depending on the nature of the infringement.

An investigation into whether the property where Mr Cummings and his family stayed was correctly registered for council tax is continuing.

Downing Street has been asked to comment but previously declined.

Swimming pool

The council investigated the planning status after receiving a number of complaints following an online article by journalist Alex Tiffin which found no record of a planning application for a cottage on the estate.

City of Durham Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy also raised the issue with the authority.

The only planning applications listed on the council’s website for the farm are for a roof over a swimming pool in 2001, and the removal of various trees.

The prime minister’s senior adviser said he spent part of the lockdown in a cottage on his parents’ estate at North Lodge, on the outskirts of Durham.

He had travelled 260 miles from London with his wife and four-year-old son to get to the family home of his mother and father, Robert and Morag Cummings.

Durham County Council said it had received a number of complaints about whether the property had the correct planning permission, and whether it was correctly registered for council tax.

Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of development and housing, said: “While there have been historic breaches of planning and building control regulations, current legislation places a time limit on any enforcement measures and as a result no further action will be taken.”

However, the council has not specified exactly what breaches of planning and building regulations it did find – and it has not been made clear whether any happened during the time Mr Cummings’ parents have lived there.

Mr Timmiss said the investigation concluded the main house had not been subdivided, and that the residential use of an outbuilding for family accommodation did not require planning permission.

He added advice had been given to the Cummings family on building control regulations.

Mr Timmiss added: “We have also looked into the complaints raised in respect of non-payment of council tax and will be passing our findings on to the Valuation Office for its consideration and review.”

Mr Cummings said he travelled to Durham because of concerns about childcare for his son, after his wife Mary Wakefield had developed potential coronavirus symptoms. They stayed on the estate for more than a fortnight and he said he developed Covid-19 symptoms while he was there.

Durham Police said Mr Cummings may have breached coronavirus regulations by driving to Barnard Castle during his stay, but the force said it would not take retrospective action.

Mr Cummings had said the 60-mile round trip with his wife and son was to test his eyesight to ensure he could make the journey back to London safely, and that he had acted reasonably and legally.

 

DISCRETIONARY GRANT FUND LAUNCHES IN EAST DEVON – EAST DEVON

Following a decision made on Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, after what appeared to Owl to be wide ranging discussion involving all councillors and an input from Simon Jupp MP.  –  the following scheme is announced.
(Leader of the Council and Chairman of the Cabinet, Cllr Paul Arnott, told the meeting that he had extended an invitation to Simon Jupp to join the virtual meeting. However, Simon Jupp had to decline as the Cabinet clashed with another meeting.)

A new Government Discretionary Grant aimed at supporting small businesses and charities in East Devon launches today, 10th June.Online applications for the Scheme 3 fund will be open for two weeks, from 10th June to 24th June at www.eastdevon.gov.uk/discretionary-business-grant. This follows previous schemes which supported businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors as well as small businesses more generally and has seen over £40m being deployed to over 3,000 businesses in the District. The fund aims to support businesses which were not previously eligible for grant funding.Following agreement by Cabinet on 9th June, East Devon District Council will administer the £2.4 million fund to small and micro businesses which were trading on 11 March 2020 and have not been eligible for other grants, except the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self‐Employed Income Support Scheme.One of the key eligibility criteria requires businesses to have high ongoing fixed property related costs and to show they have suffered a major fall in income due to the COVID‐19 crisis.A range of grants will be available: £1,000, £2,500, £5,000, £10,000 and £25,000 with all businesses required to meet the same evidence based tests of eligibility. The following business types will be prioritised for funding support, in line with Government requirements:

  • Small businesses in shared offices or other flexible workspaces, e.g. industrial parks, science parks, incubators etc, which do not have their own business rates assessment.
  • Regular market traders who do not have their own business rates assessment.
  • Bed and Breakfasts which pay Council Tax instead of business rates.
  • Charity properties in receipt of Charitable Business Rates Relief which would otherwise have been eligible for Small Business Rates Relief or Rural Rate Relief.

In addition to these national fund priorities, the Council has decided that it will accept applications from local businesses which meet the Government eligibility criteria and:

  • Have high fixed property costs associated with the business (including business rates).
  • Can evidence significant financial loss as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Employ less than 50 staff.
  • Fall within the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors or can evidence the majority of their customer base are retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.
  • May be classified as a language school.
  • Are not eligible under the national priorities grant scheme.

The Council’s policy also allows for potential special cases to be considered, where businesses are considered most relevant and crucial to our local economy.Councillor Paul Arnott, Leader of East Devon District Council, said:

It is welcome that Government has made this funding available, this time with more locally targeted aims, and we will be working cross party to ensure the money gets out of the building to the enterprises that need it as fast as possible.Our analysis suggests that less than 50% of the funding that would be needed to fully meet local needs has been made available and we do need our MPs to keep pressing the government for further funds.  That said, we urge businesses to apply as soon as possible.

Businesses not eligible for funding under this scheme include:

  • Businesses which were not trading on 11 March 2020.
  • Businesses currently in administration or insolvent, or where a striking-off notice has been made.
  • Businesses eligible for other Government funding schemes (EXCEPT Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the self‐employed income support scheme).

Businesses should ensure they have the corresponding supporting documents at hand before starting the application, including bank statement for March, April or May 2020. Other supporting information may be needed for certain business-types, including latest company accounts, HMRC tax return, tenancy agreement. Only one application per business will be allowed, regardless of the number of premises the business occupies.Officers at the Council will be working as quickly as possible to process the claims and cannot respond to each business with individual updates, so businesses are asked to remain patient and a response will reach you as soon as possible.

Why I broke with Boris Johnson

Why I broke with Boris Johnson

By Tim Montgomerie www.newstatesman.

The dashboard was flashing red many months before Boris Johnson’s own life-endangering encounter with Covid-19. Long before 40,000 British deaths from this pandemic and the evaporation of the Prime Minister’s reputation for competence there were multiple signs that the ship of state was heading for rocky times. Key talents had been reshuffled out of the cabinet because they had committed the sin of independent-mindedness. The top table was left with a very middle-ranking membership. Ministerial special advisers who dared to differ had been dispatched and years of hard-won experience lost in the process. MPs learned that messages to the Prime Minister needed to be effusive to have much hope of a reply. More often than not, any critical messages – how- ever constructively worded – were greeted with silence.

It took six years for Margaret Thatcher’s governments to begin to stop listening to alternative voices. The same patterns had emerged within six months of Johnson becoming Prime Minister, and within six weeks of his general election victory last December. In her early years the Iron Lady relished argument and intellectual debate – and those internal jousts strengthened her for the public battles with her true opponents. In the starkest of contrasts, the team inside today’s No 10 has often preferred to greet internal dissent with retribution – much of it pre-briefed to favoured journalists. Throughout the Westminster village every Tory had quickly learned the score: do, say and tweet as you are told – or else. In February’s reshuffle we learned that earning the disfavour of key prime ministerial adviser Dominic Cummings was fatal, even if you were chancellor of the Exchequer. Everyone was dispensable. Except Dom.

Again and again I warned Johnson that “it’s reign of terror now and, inevitably, reign of error next”. In a message from mid-February, I noted that “ministers increasingly fear rather than respect your No 10 operation” and that there was little free-thinking across his government. I urged him to appoint an outsider – perhaps a former White House chief of staff – to conduct a widespread review of his No 10 set-up. He needed to establish how his Downing Street office should be reconstructed so that it had a chance of meeting the challenges of our time. I begged him to anticipate looming problems before it was too late. I pinpointed a “shortcutting of proper process to hit objectives”. I worried about curtailed cabinet meetings where issues such as the economic impact of coronavirus received just five minutes of “discussion” in January. All these private calls for a course correction went unheeded. On 27 February I told him that, with enormous sadness, I was walking away from his offer to me of a “great project”. I could see the car crash coming and I couldn’t bear to be part of it.

And it was with enormous sadness. I was demoralised by his operation’s treatment of good people. In the wake of December’s mighty election victory I had been exhilarated by the prospect of what a pro-Brexit, pro-social justice Tory government could do with a solid majority over a five-year term. But that victory had gone to too many young heads. It had been an impressive win but it wasn’t all down to the brilliance of Johnson’s circle, whatever they seemed to think. It owed much to the most left-wing Labour leader of modern times and his manifesto containing an impossible number of promises. It also owed much to a widespread desire from within non-traditional Tory voters for an end to the chaos and disunity of those hung parliament years.

Sadly, No 10 hasn’t left its campaigning tactics of divide-and-rule behind it. It’s still campaigning 24/7 – constantly crossing the road to pick a fight with enemies inside the Conservative Party, in the media and beyond. Many who worked with Cummings – when he advised Iain Duncan Smith, when he was at the Department for Education, or when he was at Vote Leave – will recognise the pattern of pugilism.

The tragedy is that it didn’t need to be this way. Johnson was not like this when he ran London. He was an upbeat, inclusive mayor who embraced issues such as climate change, same-sex marriage and the living wage before other Tories. He encouraged disagreement within his team. Key advisers Daniel Moylan and Isabel Dedring had differing views on transport but both were heard and heeded at different times. The same was true of Stephen Greenhalgh and Kit Malthouse on issues of policing and business competitiveness.

With four-and-a-half years until there has to be another general election it might not be too late to put things right. Cummings is undoubtedly a hugely talented individual but if he is to stay in place he shouldn’t have the dominant role that he currently enjoys. I’ve learnt of too many conversations truncated, and not by brilliant argument or killer facts. “There’s no way that Dom would wear that” has been enough to ensure termination of much alternative thinking.

Although Team Boris includes many talented people – David Frost, Isaac Levido and Munira Mirza – it needs more grey hairs and more straight-talkers. If Johnson is going to be presidential he needs something that is a lot more like a White House than Dom’s frat house, starring Caino, Roxstar, Sonic and other playground names.

But – much more than a strengthening of No 10 – a restoration of cabinet government is needed. At this time of enormous challenge, it is unforgivable that the likes of Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Penny Mordaunt and Julian Smith aren’t at the top table. And is Tom Tugendhat ever going to be forgiven for having once used the foreign affairs select committee to suggest that Johnson’s time as foreign secretary wasn’t his finest hour?

I still have huge affection for Boris Johnson. I wanted him to be party leader, and in the run-up to the 2015 election spent many evenings within a small group that plotted towards that goal. My enduring memory of that time was the role his former wife, Marina, played in his life. An extraordinary brain; unafraid to dispense home truths. She was his anchor and, despite everything, had been for most of his adulthood. He’s now divorced and, while I wish nothing but happiness for Johnson and Carrie Symonds, I can’t make sense of so much of his turbulent time in Downing Street without thinking that the turbulence in his private life does a great deal of the explaining. Few of us would be unaffected in similar circumstances, especially if a serious illness had been layered on top.

After Cummings-gate the parliamentary party is moving beyond the terrified phase. Many MPs are furious at the slump in the opinion polls; at the ways in which their multiple calls for Cummings to go were ignored; and at a succession of unforced policy errors. They no longer believe in the Prime Minister in the way they did. They still want their faith to be restored, but does Johnson realise the scale of what will be required to ensure that? I hope so. I fear not. 

This article appears in the 12 June 2020 issue of the New Statesman, A world in revolt

Somerset infection spike due to false positive results?

“The NHS Trust behind Musgrove Park Hospital has issued a ‘heartfelt apology’ after some patients there were told they had tested positive for Covid-19 when, in fact, they may have been negative….

Trudi Grant, Director of Public Health at Somerset County Council : “Without these false positive cases we’re as confident as we can be that there hasn’t been an increase in new cases in Somerset and, in fact, the trend continues downwards, which is great news for all of us.”

Patients given false positive coronavirus results at Musgrove Park Hospital

www.itv.com 

A computer failure has seen a number of hospital patients given false positive coronavirus tests, it has emerged.

The NHS Trust behind Musgrove Park Hospital has issued a ‘heartfelt apology’ after some patients there were told they had tested positive for Covid-19 when, in fact, they may have been negative.

The hospital has not yet said whether those patients with wrong tests were put on to Covid-specific wards.

The Somerset NHS Foundation Trust says the fault was picked up on Thursday 4 June by a “vigilant laboratory manager” who noticed an “unusual increase in the number of positive test results for patients”.

The teams quickly identified the faulty testing machine, and after testing the swabs again realised that it had reported some false positive results.

27 patients have so far been confirmed as being given the wrong diagnosis.

The trust says it will be contacting 147 people in total.

We are now in the process of contacting all those patients who were diagnosed as having coronavirus after their swabs were analysed in the faulty machine to explain to them what has happened and that it is possible they may have been incorrectly diagnosed, to understand the impact this may have had on them, to offer them subsequent testing and to say how sorry we are.

– Dr Daniel Meron, Chief Medical Officer for Somerset NHS Foundation Trust

The laboratory is conducting a full investigation to understand what has caused this. Early indications are that it was potentially caused by a change in the kind of swabs that were in use from 27 May, coinciding with the increase in positive test results that we recorded from that date.

– Dr Daniel Meron

Dr Daniel Meron adds: “We are contacting everyone who is affected so please do not worry if you do not hear from us. Please continue to follow the advice you receive from your healthcare professional and the national advice to minimise the spread of COVID-19.

“Our heartfelt apologies go to all patients and their families who have been affected.”

All patients who test positive for Covid-19 when they arrive at the hospital are isolated on specific wards.

The fault has been blamed for huge increase in cases Somerset has seen in recent days.

Trudi Grant, Director of Public Health at Somerset County Council, says it leaves her team in a “better position” and “explain an awful lot of the quandary” over the increase in figures.

She adds: “Without these false positive cases we’re as confident as we can be that there hasn’t been an increase in new cases in Somerset and, in fact, the trend continues downwards, which is great news for all of us.

“We’ve actually only had three confirmed cases over the last four days, which is about in line with the way that our trajectory was showing.

“I want to really reassure Somerset residents that we continue to experience low levels of infection in this county, and long may it last, and that’s thanks to the efforts of the people in Somerset to make sure we stick to the measures around social distancing, hand-washing and isolation as soon as we or someone in our household experiences symptoms.”

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