Political hokey-cokey! Leader in name only Ben Ingham was left with “no choice”, poor dear!

“The former leader of East Devon District Council has said he was left with ‘no choice’ but to rejoin the Conservative Party if he wanted to make a difference.”

What choice has Ben Ingham left his electorate?

When they voted for him last year they rejected the Tories but only one year later a Tory is what they have now got.

More generally, across the board in May 2019, the East Devon electorate voted for change but that is not what Ben Ingham delivered. So it’s not surprising to discover that the Conservatives “admired” what he was doing (or rather not doing).

In Owl’s opinion he has only himself to blame for his downfall.

[The last paragraph in this article suggests to Owl that Ben is up to his old tricks of plotting again – watch your backs everyone!].

EDDC former Independent leader joins Conservatives

Daniel Clark www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

The former leader of East Devon District Council has said he was left with ‘no choice’ but to rejoin the Conservative Party if he wanted to make a difference.

Cllr Ben Ingham, who led the Independent Group on the council until two weeks ago, has since ‘crossed the floor’ and once again taken up membership of the Conservatives.

Cllr Ingham was previously a member of the Conservative Party but had resigned 15 years ago, and had in the intervening years been an Independent, before joining the East Devon Alliance, and then returning to being an Independent.

He was elected leader of the council last May, but following a number of defections that saw the initial 20-strong Independent Group fall to just 10, and the Democratic Alliance/Independent Progressive Group coalition hold more than half of the seats, resigned from the leadership last month.

Cllr Ingham said: “There were just 10 of us left and you need 10 for a cabinet, so it was not possible to carry on. I couldn’t have stood for leader as I would have needed others to prop us up, so we had a chat and decided it was correct to dissolve the cabinet and ‘cease the positions’ of the three who had left us. This forced the process for a new leader, which was right, as we could no longer hold the position.

“The long term policies for East Devon are so important for me and I’ve been an Independent for 15 years, so I don’t want to let go of my aspirations and ideas for the future of East Devon. They don’t fit in with the Democratic Alliance or the IPG, so thought, crikey, if I really believe in what I am doing and I don’t have faith in the Democratic Alliance and what they are trying to do, then if I want to participate then only the Conservative Group can be taken seriously.”

Cllr Ingham said: “I have learnt in the last year that they (Conservatives) quite admired our ideas and didn’t really challenge us on anything. They admired what we were doing and if I really mean it and want to make things happen, then I thought I have to join the Conservative Group and maybe in the future then we can make them happen.”

Cllr Ingham added that he will be explaining his ideas and proposals to the Group, as ‘some of them are really good for East Devon’, and hopes that they will be adopted by the party, but that making the jump back to the Conservatives was the only way his ideas could come to fruition.

 

Three [more] Honiton councillors resign in a week!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Owl

Three resignations has seen Honiton Town Council left with seven vacancies out of 18 positions.

Former councillor James Wyatt resigned last weekend citing ‘bullying and harassment’, allegations which have previously been vigorously rejected, by Honiton mayor, Councillor John Zarczynski, while councillors Ray Hanratty and Terry Darrant resigned on Monday (June 8).

In a letter to the council, Mr Wyatt said the situation was ‘endemic’ and that he has reported his concerns to the East Devon District Council (EDDC) monitoring officer.

When asked by the Herald, the EDDC said it would not be appropriate for the monitoring officer to comment.

Mr Wyatt also expressed concern at the reopening of Honiton Market.

He said his resignation was because he could do ‘little else’ to highlight the issues and effect change.

Six resignations have occurred in the past three months with Nathan Hannay, Jason Hannay and former deputy mayor Duncan Sheridan-Shaw all choosing to leave the council.

Honiton mayor, Councillor John Zarczynski declined to comment on the resignations.

 

Coronavirus: five reasons why the UK death toll is so high

 

Owl finds “the conversation”, sponsored by UCL one of its founding partners,  an interesting and informative source of scientific comment and analysis of the coronavirus epidemic.

Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths theconversation.com 

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, UK government advisers suggested that 20,000 UK deaths would be a good outcome. Today, the tally sits at more than 45,000.

There is no doubt the UK has been hit hard by coronavirus, and has the second-largest number of deaths worldwide, trailing only the USA which has five times the population and 111,139 deaths.

Where did the UK go wrong? And how will it prevent further deaths if a secondary pandemic wave occurs as it reopens? Modelling and epidemiology give us some clues.

1. Lockdown was too late

The UK acted too slowly in imposing its lockdown on March 23, which allowed the initial infection to quickly spread out of control. This was the case with infections within the UK and those coming from abroad.

The first case of COVID-19 in the UK was on January 31 – that is almost two months before the imposition of the lockdown on March 23. Other countries, such as China and Italy, were much quicker to impose their full lockdowns – in Italy the first case was also reported on January 31, but the lockdown was imposed from March 9.

We know that the initial spread of coronavirus is exponential. The initial reproduction, or “R” number in the UK was estimated to be 2.6, meaning that for every person infected, another 2.6 further infections occurred. This quickly increased the size of the epidemic in the initial couple of months while it was crucially important to attain control of the virus.

The UK is also well connected with other countries and this possibly helped to gear up infections via imports and travel in and out of the country before lockdown was imposed.

A recent study suggests that most COVID-19 introductions in the UK occurred during March 2020 and that 34% of UK infections originated in Spain, 29% in France, 16% in Italy and 23% in other countries. If the lockdown had been imposed sooner and travel between countries stopped earlier, it’s possible a number of infections and deaths could have been prevented.

2. Infections are still out of control

Because the UK let the virus get out of control to begin with, it is taking longer than hoped to come down the other side of the epidemic curve – infections are still in the thousands each week.

The R number varies across the country, and it could be higher than one in some areas. Since deaths lag behind infections by two to three weeks, and R is not consistent, the numbers are not coming down as quickly as hoped.

As long as there is some infection in the population, secondary infections will occur and the virus cannot be fully suppressed and controlled.

3. Not all deaths were counted from the start

In the initial stages of the epidemic, the UK did not account for infections and deaths in settings other than hospitals, crucially leaving out those that took place in care homes.

Understanding the roles of hotspots, like care homes, and super spreaders – people who are responsible for infecting an especially large number of others – is crucial at the onset of an epidemic. The UK government should have been taking this into account from the end of January, not from April, when care home deaths began to be added to tallies.

4. Missing symptoms

The UK has been been much slower than other countries in telling people what COVID-19 symptoms to look out for, with a heavy focus on cough and fever.

A loss of taste and smell was added to the UK’s official list of symptoms on May 18, more than a month later than in France and almost a month after a study suggested these as clinical symptoms of infection.

Hence, in the initial stages of the COVID-19 spread, many people could have been unknowingly infected and be infectious and thus carried on with their normal activities, unwillingly passing on the virus and keeping R high.

5. Failure to test, trace and isolate

Another reason the UK is experiencing large number of COVID-19 deaths is that the country was late to instigate a large-scale testing, tracing and isolation strategy. Although some testing has been conducted, the stance in the UK was to encourage symptomatic people to solely isolate in order to prevent onwards transmission.

But in a situation where we do not know the extent of asymptomatic COVID-19 infection, it might have been better to encourage testing of symptomatic people and start the tracing of contacts of positive people sooner. This is how South Korea controlled its epidemic. In the UK, testing was not scaled up and manual contact tracing only launched on May 28.

How to get the pandemic under control

Since the onset of the pandemic, I have been using mathematical modelling to understand how to control the transmission of COVID-19 and determine the best strategy to exit the lockdown.

Our recent pre-print study suggests that reopening schools as the first step towards reopening society, even if done gradually, must be accompanied by a large scale and well-functioning testing, tracing and isolation strategy.

To prevent a second wave after reopening schools as the first step in exiting lockdown, the UK will need to trace around 50% of people with symptoms and 40% of their contacts, and isolate all symptomatic and diagnosed cases.

The UK can turn the coronavirus epidemic around with a strong test, trace and isolate strategy. Our modelling results suggest that if this is comprehensive and efficient, the government can prevent a secondary pandemic wave and bring the number of infections and deaths down.

Falling death rates bring hope that coronavirus may be in retreat

Another example of hypotheses emerging from those observing and analysing data, as opposed to the predominant modelling approach. Which is closer to the scientific approach? – Owl

Tom Whipple, Science Editor www.thetimes.co.uk 

At one point intensive care doctors were having to choose who lived or died. Then weeks later Matteo Bassetti, the head of infectious diseases at San Martino hospital in Genoa, said that something had shifted.

“The strength the virus had two months ago is not the same strength it has today,” he said late last month. He was not alone in this view.

In America, where New York’s health system so nearly collapsed, one virologist agreed cautiously. Maybe the coronavirus was burning itself out. After rampaging through the east coast it was no longer causing the same damage.

“It’s in the nature of these viruses to get tired after a while,” Lee Riley, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of California, Berkeley, said.

Scattered groups of doctors around the world are beginning to whisper about a change. What might have changed is the virus itself, they say.

Or it might be that in the array of treatments thrown at it, almost all as yet unproven, we have got better at coping with it. If so, perhaps a second wave might not be as terrible as the first.

These rare shafts through the doomy clouds of coronavirus have radiated around the world. But so too have the rebuttals of other scientists, desperate that the world does not lower its guard.

They say that the genetics of the disease show that nothing has changed. The evidence from ongoing outbreaks suggests that we are still helpless against its ferocity. They point out that these clinicians were providing anecdotes when the world needed hard statistics.

In two Italian regions, however, scientists have gone through the statistics and found some unexpected validation to turn anecdote into data.

An analysis of death rates from Ferrara, in Emilia-Romagna, and Pescara, in Abruzzo, has produced striking results. “From March to April, the death rate decreased by more than 50 per cent in all age-classes,” the paper found. The fall was largest among the elderly, from 30 to 13 per cent. The gap remained when factoring other explanations, such as pre-existing conditions.

The results could be explained in other provinces as due to hospitals learning to cope, but these facilities never had the crowding experienced elsewhere in Italy.

Lamberto Manzoli, from Ferrara University, did the analysis after reports from doctors. “Physicians who were quite expert in the disease were going on television and saying the same thing,” he said. “That the mortality and morbidity was decreasing. So I said, ‘OK, let’s check.’” And when he did: “Honestly, I was surprised.”

Professor Riley told the science publication Elemental that he had reached a similar view. After studying reports from New York there were hints of an improvement in recoveries from the disease, he said.

“I don’t know of other experts who think the way I do,” he said. “And I could be totally off the mark. But I look at real-world data instead of predictive models to come up with my ideas.” He said the virus had mutated to become weaker, an opinion dismissed by many.

Dr Manzoli said that the most likely explanation was not that the virus had changed but that we have.

When the first cases arrived in Italian hospitals, doctors followed what was known as the Chinese protocol. They waited until the condition worsened and patients were given ventilation if there was a respiratory failure.

But doctors noticed that the disease did not affect only breathing, it also seemed to cause blood clots and maladaptive immune responses. A cocktail of drugs was administered to treat this along with other medications that — they hoped — attacked the virus.

“They started early,” Dr Manzoli said. “They didn’t wait until the symptoms were severe.” Maybe among the variety of treatments they hit on something that worked. “People are still dying,” he said. “But the rate is decreasing.”

The pre-print website medRxiv released the findings with its own, very big, caveats. The study has not yet been through peer review. None of the drugs given by the hospitals has yet been shown to work. One, hydroxychloroquine, has been found not to work.

As the world tackles the pandemic, this lone study offers the possibility of hope. A second wave could come. But perhaps it will not strike with the same ferocity. “We have reasons to believe this new approach is working,” Dr Manzoli said. “This has to be confirmed elsewhere but this is something positive.”

The problem is, however, that by the standard of evidence on which medicine relies, we still know nothing.

Peter Horby, an epidemiologist at Oxford University, ran the recent trial that showed hydroxychloroquine — an antimalarial hailed by President Trump — was ineffective against coronavirus. He and his colleagues said at the time that the ad hoc use of drugs in emergencies was hindering the search for treatment.

Professor Horby said that we should remember this when looking to explain the Italian findings. “The use of unproven therapeutics outside of clinical trials makes it almost impossible to attribute changes in fatality rates to any specific drug or intervention,” he said. “There will have been multiple simultaneous changes and what you observe is an average effect.”

He is running a larger trial, known as Recovery, that is looking at a range of drugs of the kind used in Italy and elsewhere. Maybe some will have small effects, maybe cumulatively they will have large effects. He cannot say.

“We don’t know which, if any, of the listed treatments are effective or if other unmeasured effects . . . are the reason for the improvements.” In other words, we still know nothing.

For Dr Manzoli, whose region suffered some of the worst effects of the virus, that argument is both self- evidently true and was, at the height of the pandemic, impossible to assess.

“Fatality was so high in the first phases, people were dying unbelievably frequently,” he said. “The disease was so lethal, I totally understand that physicians tried everything. If I see so many people dying and there is no treatment . . . as a physician I am obliged to try something.”

Perhaps from that pit of despair, from back-to-back shifts by exhausted nurses, from doctors deciding who should get oxygen and who should be left to die, from hospitals whose wards spilt into waiting rooms, we have hit upon the rudiments of a treatment.

Or perhaps like hydroxychloroquine, Mr Trump’s “game-changer” that never was, it will be yet another false dawn in the long night of coronavirus.

Coronavirus: WHO warns against further lifting of lockdown in England

England’s coronavirus lockdown should not be further lifted until the government’s contact-tracing system has proven to be “robust and effective”, the World Health Organization has said after widespread criticism of the first results of the new tracking operation.

Daniel Boffey www.theguardian.com 

As shops across England prepared to reopen, and people were encouraged by the government to come out of their homes and on to the high street, Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for Europe, cautioned that the UK remained in a “very active phase of the pandemic”.

His remarks came as ministers confirmed a review of the 2-metre distancing rule, with the government coming under pressure from business leaders, Tory backbenchers and rightwing media to further ease the lockdown. Boris Johnson said on Sunday that the falling numbers of coronavirus cases has given the government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the 2-metre physical distancing rule.

In response to data showing the government had failed to trace the contacts of a third of those testing positive in the first week of the new system, Kluge warned in an interview with the Guardian against rushing into reopening the economy.

The WHO official said the tracking in England of about 31,000 contacts of 8,000 infected people was encouraging and a cause for congratulations. But he added that Downing Street needed to be convinced it could “aggressively” track infections as the prime minister looks to reopen the economy.

As of Saturday there were 41,662 deaths in the UK – a daily increase of 1,425 confirmed cases and 181 deaths.

Governments who locked down early in the pandemic, in the face of public criticism, had recorded fewer deaths during the pandemic, Kluge said, but European leaders would now be judged on their management of their exit from the restrictions.

“We know that early lockdowns saved lives and bought some time for the health system to be ready,” Kluge said when asked about the British government’s record. “But I would rather than instead of looking to the past, jump to the future and say that the question of lifting the lockdown is as important as going to the lockdown. The key words here are to do it gradually. Do it carefully.

“Contact tracing is key especially as the UK starts to relax the social and physical distancing measures. There has to be a robust track-and-trace system in place of operation. I would like to reply [to questions about the first results of the system] and say we need an effective tracking system in place, it is one of the measures that we recommend that are in place now. One certainty is that a country has to decide themselves on that one.”

Of the 8,117 positive cases referred to contact tracers, 5,407 had been willing to hand over the names and phone numbers of people they had met in the previous two days. Despite the stumbling start and the lack of a promised coronavirus app slated for launch by the end of May, Johnson is under growing pressure from Conservative backbenchers to push on with lifting the lockdown amid grim forecasts of mass unemployment.

“We know that the situation in the UK is still being taken very seriously,” Kluge said. “But we also know that it is a balance between three factors: population health, economic and social, and the third is the wellbeing of the people. So whatever the country decides: be ready. It is not over. And whatever decision you make, please make sure it is based on public health and epidemiological observations.”

Kluge said international comparisons were difficult but that the pandemic had shown the importance of governments being able to communicate effectively with the public to convince them of the necessity of respecting the unprecedented nature of the requests being made.

Noting that Downing Street had delayed going into lockdown in early March for fear that the population would fail to follow the rules with rigour as the restrictions dragged on, Kluge said: “What is the lesson there? Keep people engaged.”

Kluge said he could understand the government’s caution despite calls from senior Conservatives, including the former leader, Iain Duncan Smith, for a rethink on the 2-metre guidance. Johnson has ordered a review of the policy to be completed by July.

“Every country has their own context, based on a risk assessment. In the UK I would say this is a very active phase in the pandemic so, more let’s say, careful,” he said. “There is no right or wrong. Of course, ideally, it would be everywhere the same but countries are doing this based on their own risk assessment …

“Whether it’s one or two metre is less important than the fact that people will adhere to the measures, to the physical distancing, to the handwashing, to the respiratory hygiene, and that they understand that it’s not over. This is the key issue.”

With Europeans eyeing up the potential of summer holidays, Kluge said Europe as a whole could not be complacent, with infection rates increasing in the past fortnight in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia. The Europe region within Kluge’s remit is made up of 53 countries: the UK, the member states of the EU, and the countries of central and eastern Europe including Turkey and Russia.

The reopening of schools had led to some local flare-ups in Europe that were swiftly contained, Kluge said, and the continent could face a deadly combination of a second wave of coronavirus and an influenza pandemic in the autumn.

“We call it when ‘Covid will meet the flu’,” Kluge said. “The issue is that several epidemics can go together and how do you have policies in place? We put an expert group together to look at that because no one has the ideal answer.”

Kluge said it would be crucial for governments to distribute the influenza vaccine among the groups most vulnerable to Covid-19: older people, men, and generally people with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and renal disease.

There are 135 potential vaccine candidates for Covid-19, of which 10 are in clinical trial. Kluge said it “may well take a year, a year and a half now” before a vaccine could be ready. “My understanding is that it’s still a bit early in the day. Of course one thing is efficacy, but then the other one is safety … We are hopeful and there’s a lot of effort. But, until that moment, let’s implement what we know works.”

 

83% of East Devon care homes have avoided coronavirus outbreaks

Some 83 per cent of care homes in East Devon have avoided coronavirus outbreaks to date, according to Public Health England (PHE) data.

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

And the latest figures show just over 77 per cent of Exeter facilities have stayed clear of the virus.

The figures are based on confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases.

New statistics, covering up to and including the week starting June 1, show 12 out of the 74 care homes in East Devon -16.2 per cent – have reported outbreaks.

Eight of Exeter’s 35 care homes, 22.9 per cent, have had cases – with none reported in three weeks.

Care homes can only be included in the data set once. If they have reported more than one outbreak, only the first is included in the figures.

The PHE statistic include no indication of whether the reported outbreaks are still active and no information is provided on deaths.

A total of 110 of the 516 care homes in Devon – 21.3 per cent – have reported confirmed of suspected coronavirus outbreaks.

This is compared to 50 out of 227 – 22 per cent – in Cornwall.

The highest percentage has been in West Devon (eight outbreaks), 32 per cent of care homes, with the lowest in Mid Devon (five outbreaks) at 15.2 per cent.

There have been confirmed or suspected coronavirus outbreaks in 28 care homes in Plymouth (29.5 per cent), 18 in Torbay (21.2 per cent), 14 in Teignbridge (19.2 per cent), five in the South Hams (16.7 per cent), and five in Torridge (15.6 per cent).

The latest Office for National Statistics figures released on Tuesday (June 9) show a total of 44 Covid-19-related deaths have now been recorded in East Devon.

Fifteen of them have been in hospital, 27 in care homes, and two at home.

In Exeter, the total is 38. These include 15 in hospital, 21 in care homes, and two at home.

The total number of people who have died across Devon due to the virus now stands at 341.

Updated interactive map shows where coronavirus deaths have been recorded in East Devon and Exeter

Lancet editor attacks UK government for ‘catastrophic’ handling of Covid-19 pandemic

Missed opportunities and appalling misjudgments by the government over its handing of the Covid-19 pandemic have led to the avoidable deaths of thousands of people. That is the stark view of Lancet editor Richard Horton in an interview in the Observer’s New Review this week.

Horton – whose book, The Covid-19 Catastrophe: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Stop It Happening Again – lambasts the UK management of the outbreak, describing it as the greatest science policy failure of a generation.

For good measure, Horton, who has been editor-in-chief of the Lancet for 25 years, also attacks the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) for becoming “the public relations wing of a government that had failed its people” and denounces Public Health England (PHE) for not taking proper note of the World Health Organization’s public health emergency warning about the disease. He also dismisses the UK’s response to the emergence of the Covid-19 virus as “slow, complacent and flat-footed”, a reaction that show the government was “glaringly unprepared” for the pandemic.

Horton has been strident in his denunciation of Britain’s political leaders and health chiefs since the emergence of Covid-19 and now believes that to restore their damaged reputation those individuals need to acknowledge their mistakes. “I think that’s going to have to start with Sage, the chief scientific officer and the chief medical officer being very clear that the signals were missed from January,” says Horton. “Individually, they’re great people, but the system was a catastrophic failure.”

Why did the UK take so long to lock down, he asks, and why, despite all the warnings, first from China and then from Italy, did we seem to be caught unawares by the speed and lethality of the virus?

As editor of the Lancet, Horton was responsible for publishing a series of five academic papers in January that first described the novel coronavirus in detail and outlined measures for combating the outbreak. Several papers talked about the importance of personal protective equipment, testing, avoiding mass gatherings, school closure and lockdowns. “All of the things that have happened in the last three months, they’re all in those five papers.”

The latest R number in the UK – now published by Sage

Latest estimate (12 June) for the South West region is thought to lie between 0.8 to 1.1. This is a large range which Owl doesn’t find very informative because it suggests that infection rates could be either shrinking or expanding!

Owl is also somewhat confused by the explanation of how R is calculated or rather inferred. After being blinded by the science Owl is left with the distinct impression that there is a degree of circularity in arriving at R. It seems that the self same epidemial models being used to inform decisions are run in reverse so as to infer what R value would be needed as input into the models to “predict” the current levels of infection. 

There remain some key known unknowns which are likely to have a big influence on the dynamics of how the infection progresses. There is evidence that a substantial proportion of the population has had an asymptomatic infection but we don’t know whether asymptomatic individuals can infect others. Recently at Weston hospital asymptomatic staff tested up to 40% positive.  Antibody testing (Boris Johnson’s game changer) doesn’t seem to be coming out with high enough numbers to indicate the build up of herd immunity, but it isn’t the only indicator of immunity. 

And the level of false negative results of testing seems to be of the order of 30% which looks rather high.

Meanwhile  the Covid-19 symptom study estimated on 10 June that infection rates are down 39% on the week before in England  based on data from 24 May to 6 June, implying an overall R much less than 1 where the Sage range is 0.8 to 1.0.

Locally, the four seaside districts in Devon Owl is keeping an eye on,  are all showing 0.4% symptom rates. On 5 June when the announcement was first made that the R value was 1 in the South West, East Devon stood at 0.3%, Torbay at 0.4% and North Devon and the South Hams were at 0.2%. So symptom rates are not declining, maybe starting to rise, maybe statistical noise, but not back to the 13 May levels when Boris announced unrestricted travel to beauty spots. These need watching as further relaxations of lockdown are implemented.

Finally there is also the K number to consider

Latest guidance from the Government

Latest R number range for the UK

Last updated on Friday 12 June 2020.

What is R?

The reproduction number (R) is the average number of secondary infections produced by 1 infected person.

An R number of 1 means that on average every person who is infected will infect 1 other person, meaning the total number of new infections is stable. If R is 2, on average, each infected person infects 2 more people. If R is 0.5 then on average for each 2 infected people, there will be only 1 new infection. If R is greater than 1 the epidemic is growing, if R is less than 1 the epidemic is shrinking.

R can change over time. For example, it falls when there is a reduction in the number of contacts between people, which reduces transmission. It is not an exact number, it is a calculated estimate.

R is not the only important measure of the epidemic. R indicates whether overall the epidemic is trending towards getting bigger or smaller but not how large it is. The number of people currently infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) – and so able to pass it on – is very important.

R should always be considered alongside the number of people currently infected. If R equals 1 with 100,000 people currently infected, it is a very different situation to R equals 1 with 1,000 people currently infected.

How R is estimated

Individual modelling groups use a range of data to estimate R including:

  • epidemiological data such as hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths – it generally takes 2 to 3 weeks for changes in R to be reflected in these data sources, due to the time between infection and needing hospital care
  • contact pattern surveys that gather information on behaviour – these can be quicker (with a lag of around a week) but can be open to bias as they often rely on self-reported behaviour
  • household infection surveys where swabs are performed on individuals which can provide estimates of how many people are infected – longitudinal surveys (which sample the same people repeatedly) allow a more direct estimate of the growth in infection rates

Different modelling groups use different data sources to estimate R using mathematical models that simulate the spread of infections. Some may even use all these sources of information to adjust their models to better reflect the real-world situation. But there is uncertainty in all these data sources, which is why R estimates can vary between different models, and why we do not rely on one model; evidence from several models is considered, discussed, combined, and R is presented as a range. The most likely true value is in the middle of this range.

Who estimates R?

R is estimated by a range of independent modelling groups based in universities and Public Health England (PHE). The modelling groups discuss their individual R estimates at the Science Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (SPI-M) – a subgroup of SAGE. Attendees compare the different estimates of R and SPI-M collectively agrees a range which R is very likely to be within.

Limitations of R

R is an average value that can vary in different parts of the country, communities, and subsections of the population. It cannot be measured directly so there is always some uncertainty around its exact value. This becomes even more of a problem when calculating R using small numbers of cases, either due to lower infection rates or smaller geographical areas. This may be due to the uncertainty and variability in the underlying data and can lead to a wider range for R and more frequent changes in the estimates.

Even when the overall UK R estimate is below 1, some regions may have R estimates that include ranges that exceed 1, for example from 0.7 to 1.1; this does not necessarily mean the epidemic regionally is increasing, just that the uncertainty in the data means it cannot be ruled out. It is also possible that an outbreak in one place could result in an R above 1 for the whole region.

Estimates of R for geographies smaller than regional level are less reliable and it is more appropriate to identify local hotspots through, for example, monitoring numbers of cases, hospitalisations, and deaths.

More useful measures as the epidemic shrinks will be the growth rate, and measures of incidence and prevalence. We hope to be providing these numbers over the coming weeks.

Latest R number ranges for NHS England Regions

These are the latest R estimates by NHS England regions. R values are shown as the range, and the most likely estimate is in the middle of this range.

Region R
England 0.8-1.0
East of England 0.7-0.9
London 0.8-1.0
Midlands 0.8-1.0
North East and Yorkshire 0.7-1.0
North West 0.8-1.0
South East 0.8-1.0
South West 0.8-1.1

Latest R number ranges for devolved administrations

The latest ranges for R in the devolved administrations are published on their respective websites. The values can be found with the links below.

Northern Ireland: Link to Northern Ireland reproduction number

Scotland: Link to Scotland reproduction number

Wales: Link to Welsh reproduction number

Growth rate

R does not give us insight as to how quickly an epidemic is changing, for instance, different diseases can spread at different speeds. It may take one infected individual with one disease years to infect two people (R=2), whereas someone infected with a different disease may take hours to infect two people (R=2).

The growth rate reflects how quickly the number of infections are changing day by day. If the growth rate is greater than zero (i.e. positive), then the disease will grow. If the growth rate is less than zero (i.e. negative) then the disease will shrink.

The size of the growth rate indicates the speed of change. A growth rate of +5% will grow faster than one with a growth rate of +1%. Likewise, a disease with a growth rate of -4% will be shrinking much faster than a disease with growth rate of -0.5%. Further technical information on growth rate can be found in the article, The growth rate of Covid-19.

The growth rate requires fewer assumptions about the disease when it is calculated.

Neither measure, R or growth rate, is “better” but each provide information that is useful in monitoring the spread of a disease. As the epidemic progresses and numbers of cases decrease, R becomes a less helpful indicator and other measures need to be considered. These include the number of new cases of the disease identified during a specified time period (incidence), and the proportion of the population with the disease at a given point in time (prevalence), and these will become more important.

In the future, SAGE will move away from publishing R estimates as they become less informative and move towards publishing more appropriate measures. From next week, growth rates will be published weekly. At a later date, additional metrics will provide estimates of incidence and prevalence, such as those from the ONS COVID-19 infection survey.

Published 15 May 2020

Last updated 12 June 2020 + show all updates

  1. 12 June 2020
    The R number range for the UK is 0.7-0.9 as of 12 June 2020.
  2. 5 June 2020
    The R number range for the UK is 0.7-0.9 as of 5 June 2020.
  3. 29 May 2020
    The R number range for the UK is 0.7-0.9 as of 29 May 2020.
  4. 22 May 2020
    The R number range for the UK is 0.7-1.0 as of 22 May 2020.
  5. 15 May 2020
    First published.

 

A Correspondent submits comments to the Committee on Standards in Public Life

A Correspondent has given Owl permission to publish their comments already submitted:

Dear Members of the Committee on Standards in Public Life

Please find enclosed my submission relating to this review. My submission is made as an individual – I was previously a rank-and-file member of a local campaign group of Independent candidates for local government elections, forced to register as a political party which was felt to be disproportionate. I have also made several previous submissions and complaints to the Electoral Commission on local election issues, and found them to be somewhat disinterested in local electoral issues (where there had been allegations of impropriety by the Electoral Registration / Returning Officer, including informal allegations of both electoral fraud and embezzlement – none of which were ever investigated).

 Before answering the specific questions raised for this review, I would like to summarise my current view of Democracy and elections as a whole, not just the question of finance.

 I)                   In my opinion, democracy in the UK is currently fundamentally broken, not only because of election financing, but also because of financing in general, and because of an almost absolute failure of politicians to follow the Nolan Principles resulting in an almost complete lack of transparency and accountability in UK politics today. Trust in politics and politicians has never been lower in several centuries, and this trust needs repairing as a matter of urgency. Democracy is also fundamentally broken because the newspaper/media role in democracy, to investigate politics and politicians and to report the facts without fear or favour, is also almost completely lacking – and because when such investigations do happen and identify non-criminal breaches of the Nolan Principles, there is no independent mechanism for those involved to be held to account – politicians get away with it almost every time, and this leads to a view of one law for them and another for us.

 II)                 Another area requiring regulation is lobbying – as this completely distorts politics and results in decisions based on what is best for special interest groups rather than what is best for the electorate. However this is a complex area in its own right and I am not going to consider it in this response.

 III)                To repair democracy therefore needs a great deal more action than simply tackling election financing, though of course fixing election financing is still a much needed fix. Specifically (excluding election financing which I will explicitly answer later), I believe that the following actions are needed:

    a    Politicians (and indeed any other individuals or parties subject to the Nolan Principles), any political advertisements (whether made by politicians, parties or anyone else) and the media need to be forced by law to distinguish between fact and opinion – with an independent JUDIDICIAL body able to investigate complaints made of falsehoods stated as fact with guilty parties forced to make a public retraction and pay a significant fine. The media need to be forced by law to be unbiased in the reporting of facts, though clearly stated opinion should not be subject to any constraints other than existing racial / sexual / religious discrimination laws. Politicians, parties and the media should be expected to maintain detailed records of where they got their facts from, with due regard given if they are unable to substantiate their sources. Due to the time-critical nature of facts both in elections and outside elections, the complaints review process needed to be undertaken in a very timely fashion for any cases relating to current or imminent political decisions or for elections. For elections, any fines need to be considered part of election spending, in order to avoid the “better to ask for forgiveness later than permission now” syndrome. (Note: More difficult to regulate, but it should not be legitimate for e.g. the Conservative Party to label itself as an independent Fact Checker on social media as they did during the last election. This is tantamount to a lie and should be subject to the same factual rules as above.)

   b   The Nolan Principles need to be backed up by additional laws and an independent judicial body that can give a judgement and appropriate punishment for proven breaches. Punishments should be proportional to both the severity of the breach and the seniority of the person, and punishments should include forced loss of office, fines or (for criminal acts) referral to the police / CPS for criminal investigations / charges.

  c   Election manifestos needs to be made binding – promises made in elections are highly influential, and if politicians can make promises and them break them, or alternatively leave out controversial policies from their manifestos, then they can say whatever they feel the electorate want to hear regardless of whether that is what they intend to do if they gain office. Examples of this are Leave’s Brexit campaign (promising to retain access to the EU Single Market, stay in THE Customs Union (not just any customs union), not have customs border between mainland UK and Northern Ireland, and to spend £350m per week extra on the NHS from what they claimed we had to pay the EU even though this was established as a falsehood at the time), Academy Schools (not mentioned with any significance in several recent Conservative & Union Party manifestos, but subject to a vote to make all schools in England and Wales Academy schools as one of the first votes following the general election) etc. Policies contained in a manifesto or referendum campaign need to be legally binding, with a referendum needed for any major policies not stated in the manifesto during the first two thirds of any administration.

  d    Non-election politician and party financing needs to be made completely transparent at all times – not only at election time. Donations need to be limited to being made by individuals who are both British Citizens and resident for tax in the UK, and not corporations – and should not be a tax-deductable expense under any circumstances. The size of donations by individuals should also be limited to a multiple of the median income of UK citizens in order to limit the undue influence of very rich individuals.

 

In order to prevent both actual moral/ethical corruption (even if it is not currently legally corrupt) and any appearance of corruption (as required by the Nolan Principles), it also needs to be made a criminal offense to either give or receive donations, made by any individual who stands to benefit individually from any policy or decision made by the recipient politician/party or any other politician or public body associated with the same party.

 IV)               Turning to election financing, I would like to make a couple of background observations before answering the specific consultation questions…

   A.   In democratic elections, candidates need to be able to campaign and win based on policies and not on how deep their election pockets are. In other words, there needs to be a level playing field, without significant financial advantage for established main-stream parties. At the present time, party candidates have a significant advantage over independent candidates because the party candidates benefit from the additional central party advertising funding that independent candidates do not have. This is fundamentally undemocratic.

   B.   If truthfulness (transparency and accountability) are important normally, they are even more so during elections and (as with advertisements for products and services) election advertisements (of any sort – including social media) particularly need to be factual – it should therefore be a criminal offense for false advertisements during elections and referenda.

 V)                 Now to the specific questions:

 1.      “What values do you think should underpin the regulation of donations and loans, and campaign expenditure by candidates, political parties and non-party campaigners in the UK, and why? Such values may include, though are not limited to, concepts such as transparency, fairness and accountability.”

      a.  In the interest of fundamental fairness of elections, election expense allowances should be the same for all candidates regardless of whether they are party or independent candidates. If parties wish to spend money on elections from central offices, this should be funded by candidates donating part of their election expense allowance to the centre.

     b.  The source of funding for election expenses – and indeed outside elections – need to be fully transparent in order to avoid actual or appearance of favouritism towards donors. Donations need to be limited to individuals (and not special interest groups, businesses etc.) who are both British Citizens and tax-resident in the UK in order to avoid influence by those who do not themselves have a vote, and need to be limited in size either relative to the average income of a UK tax payer or as a small proportion of the total election expense allowance for the candidate – in order to avoid the rich having a disproportionate influence over elections. Donations need to be made to individual politicians rather than a party and recorded and published in real-time – and such donations can then be passed to central party funds by politicians if they wish.

     c .  As we saw in the Brexit referendum expenses scandal, the current regulation and law relating to expenses is completely toothless. Politicians who oversaw spending and who were found guilty of overspending by the Electoral Commission’s formal investigation have suffered no consequences, and have gone on to greater ministerial offices rather than being held to account. This has brought our election processes and indeed the Electoral Commission into disrepute, and the law needs to be made substantially tougher with criminal records and either personal fines (rather than campaign fines), prison sentences or loss of office as potential punishments depending on the seriousness of the offense.

 2.      “Does the Electoral Commission have the powers it needs to fulfil its role as a regulator of election finance under PPERA? It would be helpful if responses would consider the Commission’s role in a) monitoring and b) investigating those it regulates.

    a.     As we saw in the Brexit Referendum expenses scandal, it is clear that the Electoral Commission does NOT have the powers it needs. It needs to have far greater powers to investigate alleged breaches, and far greater sanctions / punishments when they find people guilty of breaches. Breaches need to be criminal offenses by individuals – not organisations – and guilty verdicts need to create a criminal record and result in significant punishment that will act as a genuine deterrent.

  b.    During the Brexit Referendum expenses investigation by the Electoral Commission allegations were made of political bias – whilst I do not personally believe that this was the case, we need to be absolutely certain that the investigating body is genuinely independent – but we also need to give them the same protection of “contempt of court” that the judiciary have in order to protect an independent investigatory body from political interference, with investigations of such contempt made and punished by a separate independent organisation (to avoid a reluctance to issue contempt proceedings because of how it would be perceived – which we have seen for example in some of the scurulous allegation made by Paul Dacre and the Daily Mail over senior judges, where they were unable to issue contempt of court proceedings because of how it would have appeared).

 3.      “What could the Electoral Commission do differently to allow it to perform its role as a regulator of election finance more effectively?”

     a.   Organisations should only need to register with the Electoral Commission as Political Parties if they intend to accept part of election expense allowances / donations for central expenditure. If candidates / elected officials are independent and do not share funding but wish to register under a common “brand”, they should be free to do so without registering as a political party – this will reduce the bureaucracy associated with such small groups and help with a more level playing field.

    b.   As we have seen in recent elections and referendums, advertisements are often paid for directly by individuals, businesses and interest groups other than candidates – these should be banned outright. If such individuals want to contribute to the election spending, they need to do so via the donations route. It should be made a criminal offense for political advertisements to be either paid for or received / published by anyone other than a party or candidate during an election or referendum.

     c.    As we have seen in recent elections and referendums, both paid advertisements and paid-for social-media-trending-posts are often factually misleading (or as most people would call them “lies”). Any paid for advertising or social-media-posts should have a requirement to clearly identify itself as such, and to distinguish between facts and opinion, and it should be an offense for such paid for adverts or posts to be factually inaccurate, with a fast-track process for adjudication of complaints and a range of sanctions from forced retractions, fines against organisations and individuals proportional (and multiples of) the advertising spend, and in the worst most blatant cases, criminal records and even prison sentences. The role of the Electoral Commission should be expanded to include investigating any such paid advertisement / social media posts. It may be necessary to require the platforms used for such adverts / posts to be responsible for ensuring that paid for adverts are labelled as such and for making all reasonable efforts to identify where social-media posts are likely to be from organisations being paid to create them, and to ensure that they are labelled as such as well.

 4.     “Are there aspects of the Electoral Commission’s role which detract from its function as a regulator of election finance?”

       No comment.

    5.    “Are there aspects of the rules which affect or detract from effective regulation of election finance?”

       No comment.

   6.    “What are the Electoral Commission’s strengths and weaknesses as a regulator of election finance?”

       It is clear from the Brexit Expenses finance and the examples given in the Consultation document, that the Electoral Commission’s powers to regulate are entirely inadequate.

    7.   “Are the Electoral Commission’s civil sanctions powers to fine up to £20,000 adequate?”

       It is clear from the Brexit Expenses finance and the examples given in the Consultation document, that the Electoral Commissions sanctions are entirely inadequate. A £20,000 fine on an organisation which has overspent by one or more orders of magnitude more than that is clearly utterly inadequate, and will be considered no more than a cost of cheating rather than a deterrent. Responsibility for adhering to the regulations, and accountability for breaking them need to be allocated to individual candidates / politicians (as well as party officials) rather than some nebulous organisation, and guilty verdicts need to result in a criminal record and punishment made against individuals, to include prison sentences in the most blatant cases, and fines and loss of office in less serious cases.

    8.   “Does the Commission’s civil sanctions regime interact with the police criminal prosecution regime to form an effective and coherent system for deterring and punishing breaches of election finance laws?”

      It is clear from the Brexit Expenses finance and the examples given in the Consultation document, that criminal sanctions are also inadequate as well as the civil sanctions of the EC. Without suitably serious sanctions, there is no incentive to stay within the law and every incentive to breach it, with the paltry fine of £20,000 against an organisation seen as a minor overhead of campaigning rather than any sort of punishment – assuming that is that the case ever gets to “court”, as the statistics show that only a tiny proportion are ever prosecuted.

 9.      “In what circumstances would the regulatory regime be strengthened by the Commission bringing prosecutions before the courts for potential offences under election finance laws?”

       I am unclear in my mind whether the EC should be given court prosecution powers or whether prosecution should be brought by a separate body (entirely independent of political interference – which might rule out Police / CPS).

 10.  “Should the Electoral Commission’s regulatory powers be expanded to include the enforcement of candidate finance laws?

     Yes. See above.

 Many thanks.