Devon has plans to provide a fast response to any future outbreaks of the virus across the county and help prevent it spreading – although cases are among the lowest in the country.
“Devon’s Director of Public Health, Virginia Pearson, will lead a small committee made up of key personnel who can marshal all the resources needed to provide a swift response to managing an outbreak of the virus.”
So at last we have a Devon controlled and manged infection response team who start managing from a low infection base. Heartening to see that death rates per head of population in Devon corresponds to those experienced in Germany. Lets hope that the test and trace system is up to the task – Owl
‘If we end up like Leicester, then that will be an absolute failure’.
The East Midlands city this week became the first place to be put into a ‘local lockdown’ as a result of increasing numbers of coronavirus cases.
In total, there have been 3,673 positives cases in the city – with nearly 1,000 of them being in the last two weeks.
The number of infections in Leicester has seen the Government reserve some of the lockdown easing measures with non-essential retail having to close, schools going back to only taking children of key workers, and the ‘Super Saturday’ reopening of pubs on hold.
In complete contrast, Devon feels like a different world. Despite having nearly three times the population on Leicester, the county has seen less than a third of Leicester’s cases – just 1,185 as of Thursday.
Devon has so far escaped the worst of the crisis, with deaths among the lowest in the country, care home deaths significantly lower than would be expected given infections, and the number of cases having plummeted to levels where they the virus is barely there. Only North East Lincolnshire of upper tier authority has seen fewer cases per population than Devon.
And new measures to contain and reduce cases of coronavirus in Devon and safeguard the health of local people have now been revealed, which detail plans to provide a fast response to any future outbreaks of the virus across the county and help prevent it spreading.
The Local Outbreak Management Plan involves close partnership working between local organisations like health, councils, police, schools and care homes alongside businesses and key industries such as tourism, as well as working the Government and with the new NHS Test and Trace Service to ensure Devon has the necessary capacity and capability to provide a fully co-ordinated approach to contain and manage local outbreaks of COVID-19.
“If it can work anywhere, it is here,” said Dr Phil Norrey, Devon County Council’s chief executive. “At the current rate, it (covid-19) is almost not there in the local population. It is there, but at a very low level. The numbers cases may be three times the actual level but they are people who are asymptomatic and have no symptoms. We monitor it daily and get the information through, and if we get more than two in a day, we’re thinking ‘oh that’s a lot.
“Leicester last week had roughly 500 cases and they have same as in two and a half weeks as we have in the whole pandemic, and we have two times the population as them.”
If you go onto the Government website, the statistics show that Devon has had 1,185 confirmed cases across both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2. Of them, 831 are Pillar 1 details of tests carried out by NHS, with a further 354 in Pillar 2, carried out by commercial testing
On Tuesday, when speaking to the media, Dr Norrey said that in the previous five days, there had been no confirmed cases in either pillars in the county, although since then, three cases have been confirmed in East Devon.
“From the start, people in Devon took the message they received very seriously and took responsibility for them and their families. We know examples when people didn’t do that, but generally, there has been a responsible approach, and if that continues, we have every chance to keep levels as low as we can.
“It is a very nasty disease and we have 200,000 people over the age of 65 and the risk of getting ill doubles with every seven years of age, so we have the vulnerability if it is out and about. But where you see no cases in areas week after week, while it may still be there and very infectious and can spread quickly, from those levels, it will still take a while to build up in the local community even if the R Rate was very high, but we would aim to catch any outbreak early.
“Prevention is a key theme for us and all the public sector partners are working to prevent so as far as we can to stop an outbreak. If there is an outbreak then we aim to catch it early, and communicate and engage with the public. The key is to understand where the virus is being transmitted and then we are in a better position to understand that and we have the best possible data.
“People will be able take decisions for their own lives based on the best information that we have locally. If it is on the increase in an area then they can perhaps reduce the social contact or contexts where it is slightly riskier, but we are in a good position with a very low incidence of the disease. We are the lowest in the south west and have had zero cases in five days.”
Out of all of the 316 English district areas, Torridge remains the place with the lowest infections per 100,000 – with the South Hams now 3rd, North Devon 4th, West Devon 5th, East Devon 8th, Teignbridge 10th, Exeter 15th, Torbay 21st, Plymouth 40th, and Mid Devon 43 rd .
Across Devon, in the latest weekly Public Health Surveillance report, only Lambeth had reported a lower proportion of cases to its population than Devon, with five other areas, including Torbay, reporting no cases.
And despite fears that an invasion of tourists, or people flocking to the beach would cause a ‘second wave’, so far, there has been no impact at all in Devon, with the number of cases in single figures through the month of June in all parts of the county – with Torridge’s last case being report all the way back on May 19.
Dr Norrey added: “If you look back to where lockdown began to ease in May, more schools going back, non-essential retail opening, and some of the issues with large numbers coming to resorts or gathering on beaches, as yet, we have seen absolutely no impact on the incidence of the disease and it has steadily decreased. This is not to say we won’t see an increase, but that the incidence remains at a low and a manageable level to enable the economy to open up as far as it can safely.”
Asked what he thinks may happen once more lockdown measures are released on Saturday, Dr Norrey said it was very difficult to tell and there were a range of scenarios, but he thought the most likely was a small but manageable increase in the number of cases.
He added: “There will be more people having contact with more people in situations where the virus is more likely to transmit, but there has been a lot of work been done by businesses to minimise transmissions in those setting and people are being advised to think about the general level of social contact. The last thing businesses want is to reopen and be at the centre of an outbreak and then have to close again, so businesses want to get back in a secure way, and they are taking it really seriously.
“Much of our tourism industry is outdoors and the evidence from recent weeks of people coming together in outdoor groups is that it hasn’t led to any kind of perceptible increase in transmission. There could be small but manageable increase and if there is setting causing us a concern we can stop them quickly and manage the risk, but if people in their normal lives are not having lots of contact then the spread out from a setting would be minimised, and gives us time a catch and stop an outbreak.”
Devon County Council is one of 11 Beacon councils selected to help and advise other public authorities, and Devon’s Director of Public Health, Virginia Pearson, will lead a small committee made up of key personnel who can marshal all the resources needed to provide a swift response to managing an outbreak of the virus.
Dr Pearson said: “This comprehensive plan details how we will work with the new NHS Test and Trace Service and ensures we have the necessary capacity and capability to provide a fully co-ordinated approach to contain and manage local outbreaks of COVID-19.
“It provides a blueprint for action, but it will need regular updating as new national guidance is produced or legislation changes. Containing local outbreaks successfully will need to be a co-ordinated effort with specialists from Public Health England, the NHS, social care, district councils, education, the police, the private sector, employers and the community and voluntary sectors.
“But we have a long history of working with PHE on all sorts of outbreaks of communicable diseases as they happen all the time. Covid-19 is a special sort but we use the same principles of partnership working and early action if we see anything going wrong.
“As lockdown releases and as people want to get back to normal, we need to be vigilant and keep an eye on what is happening, but if people follow social distancing advice, wash their hands, keep going hygiene, wear face coverings where appropriate, it will protect people. We are the people in control of this and can stop covid spreading so have to take responsibility as individuals. It becomes less easy when people are travelling across the country as they increase the geographic footprint and return to normal life, but if we follow public health advice, it will minimise the risk of picking up the virus and spreading it to others.”
Speaking about Devon, Dr Pearson said that the county does have the local data which gives them the ability to keep an eye on what is happening locally, and she added: “There will be a risk until we get immunisation and until then have to be vigilant, but we are following up any cases that we do find and making sure people are protected. We need to keep an eye on local data, which we can do, and we can see what is happening locally and we want to share that with the population so we can tell you what is happening and increase the confidence of the public.”
She admitted that she was surprised by the response of the Government to the situation in Leicester and that if the powers were localised, they wouldn’t have applied the same response, but that Devon would be doing all it can to ensure they never got to a position where a wide ranging lockdown would be needed.
“It is difficult to know what happened in Leicester but we would see any community lockdown in Devon as an absolute failure given our numbers are so low and there is a whole range of things we can do before you end up on a situation where out of control and would have to do that,” she said.
Part of the issue in Leicester appeared to have arisen from local officials not having had the Pillar 2 data, but Dr Pearson confirmed that Devon are getting that information at a postcode level and have been for a while, although the data from the NHS track and trace system is not yet at postcode level.
But she said that track and trace is able get hold of about 80 per cent of contacts from the few recent positives in Devon, making the county one of the best performing nationally, and she added: “The intelligence we are getting is that it is working.”
Cllr John Hart, Devon County Council leader, added that because of the way the vast majority of Devon people have behaved with ‘great sense and responsibility throughout the pandemic’, it has meant the county has had the lowest number of outbreaks by some way throughout the crisis.
He added: “We obviously want to keep it that way and reduce it still further. We can now build on this effort and extend the work we have done together as Team Devon to protect our residents and support the most vulnerable.
“We will now be at the forefront of responding and managing the outbreak at a local level. And if there’s a hotspot in a town or village we’ll be able to get onto it swiftly before it spreads too far.
“We’ve ensured that our plan includes a strong focus on prevention and early intervention to ensure key settings such as care homes and schools and high- risk locations and communities identify and prioritise preventative measures.”
Cllr Hart said that while there are no grounds for complacency, he will let people know if there is an issue, but ‘at the moment, we have no cases’. In the previous five days, there had been no new cases, while the previous week saw just five cases.
He added: “We prepared for all eventualities, but the eventualities have ironically not raised their heads.”
Based on the initial models, Devon was forecast to see up to 6,000 deaths from coronavirus, and the county spent £2m on two temporary morgues in case they were needed, but as of this week, there have been 169 deaths in all settings within Devon. The latest ONS weekly figures for the week b between June 13 and June 19, but were registered up to June 27.saw zero deaths in the county.
Cllr Hart added: “And we didn’t put all the problems in care homes either. We have 8,500 people in them, and the death rate in care homes is less than would be expected. Devon – along with Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk – is one of only five local authorities where the number of deaths in care homes is significantly less than would have been expected related to the general population.
“We have people lined up to firefight if there was a case, but at the moment we have just one care home with an issue out of 333. We have sorted a doctor for each home who will be responsible, and PPE has ceased to be an issue. Every death is a tragedy but the numbers are very small.”
On what will happen this weekend once lockdown measures are released, Cllr Hart added: “We don’t know, but the spikes in activity so far have not caused a problem. In the South West, we have been having second home owners coming since Easter – not in droves – but they have been coming, and it has not had any impact on the fact and figures.
“There have been spikes of activities on beaches since before the Spring bank holiday and there has been no increase in cases of covid-19, and since then, all of the figures have been reducing, not increasing.”
On a local lockdown, Cllr Hart said that they hope that Devon would never get anywhere close to that stage given they have all the information to know what is going on.
He added: “When two or more cases and not in the same household, we will do checks to make sure the people of Devon are safe even though looking to open up the tourist industry. It is worth nearly £2b a year and employs over 85,000 people, so it is crucial that we get back working.
“We will be working for the benefit of the people of Devon and telling them what is happening rather than what rumour can create, if there is something. I hope we never get to lockdown and can stamp out coronavirus and any outbreaks quickly, but we are still looking for a faster response to testing so people know where they are, but we will stamp anything out before we get anywhere near there.
“A local lockdown is around a nine out of ten on a scale and there are lots of other activity before we get to that kind of position and I hope we never get to that kind of position.”
Among the actions that could be taken if there was a spike anywhere, Dr Norrey said, included at short notice deploying testing facilities if they feel the need to around asymptomatic testing of individuals.
He added: “With the numbers we have and they were not isolated cases, we would focus on a setting, be it a care home, a workplace, a school, a factory, and we would work first at that level before it got to the wider community, and we have already done that quietly behind the scenes in a couple of cases
“There has not been a lockdown but we have been working with the settings and ensuring appropriate measures. We identified some that have been an issue but have not had to exercise any powers. Before you get anywhere near closing a setting then lots of work you can do and the last thing we want to do is unnecessarily shut down any setting.”
He added: “Overall, our rate is something like 26 deaths per 100,000 when national average is 86 per 100,000, and the death rate is broadly comparable with the figure in Germany.”
And he added that at the levels of infection in Devon at the moment, the much heralded and misunderstood R Rate was meaningless, saying: “It doesn’t mean as much to me as the number of cases we are seeing locally. It seeped into the public consciousness but have become less and less relevant as cases drop off.”
And cases continue to drop off. The latest Public Health England surveillance report, bases on data between June 22 and June 28, showed another fall in the levels of coronavirus in Devon. The previous week had seen the weekly rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population under Pillar 1 and 2 positive tests at 1 for Devon. That figure has dropped to 0.4 – effectively three cases in the last seven days.
Only Lambeth, and the City of London, Rutland, Portsmouth, Bath and North East Somerset, and Torbay – the latter five where no positive cases where recorded – have a lower positivity rate than Devon.
Cllr Hart added: “We have no grounds for complacency but we will let people know if there is an issue, but at the moment, there isn’t one. If there is something going on then we will tell you.”