Michael Gove – Practice what you Preach!

Asked if face masks should become compulsory in shops, Mr Gove told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “I don’t think mandatory, no.”

“But I would encourage people to wear face masks when they are inside, in an environment where they are likely to be mixing with others and where the ventilation may not be as good as it might.

“I think that it is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration, to wear a face mask if you are, for example, in a shop.

“It is always better to trust people’s common sense.”


This picture appears on the front page of today’s Telegraph. The caption reads: “Cabinet colleagues Liz Truss and Michael Gove visit the same Pret a Manger in Westminster on Tuesday, one wearing a mask and one without.”


Study indicates lockdown significantly reduced coronavirus

The largest study to date examining rates of coronavirus infection in the general public has found that there was a significant reduction of the virus before lockdown restrictions were eased.

According to researchers at Imperial College London, the rates of infection fell during May, the last month of lockdown, halving every eight to nine days.

There were on average 13 positive cases for every 10,000 people, with an overall reproduction number of 0.57 – lower than previously reported.

Other key findings were that young adults, aged 18 to 24, were more likely to test positive than other age groups, underscoring the need for this age group to adhere to social distancing measures to protect vulnerable friends and family, and that those Asian ethnicity were more likely to test positive than those of white ethnicity.

Also, care home staff and healthcare workers were more likely to be infected with COVID-19 during lockdown than the general population, and anyone who had recent contact with a known COVID-19 case was 24 times more likely to test positive than those with no such contacts.

The Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-1) programme, commissioned by DHSC and carried out by a team of scientists, clinicians and researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos MORI, provides a baseline for further research a clearer picture of the spread of the virus to help inform measures tailored to limit its spread.

“Community testing is a vital step in ongoing efforts to mitigate the pandemic, but to be successful this must be based on robust scientific evidence and sound statistics,” said Professor Paul Elliott, FMedSci, director of the programme at Imperial College London.

“Through this surveillance programme with DHSC and Ipsos MORI we’re gathering the critical knowledge base necessary to underpin community testing and facilitate a greater understanding of the prevalence of COVID-19 in every corner of England.”

In the second part of the programme (REACT-2), various antibody tests have been assessed for accuracy and ease of use at home.

Plans are underway to roll this out to 100,000 people to identify the levels of antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19 in the general public.

Treasury forecaster’s three stark predictions for Britain’s economy

Richard Partington www.theguardian.com 

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the Treasury’s official forecaster, has published three possible scenarios for the UK economy as it tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic:

Central scenario

The economy recovers more slowly than previously anticipated, with gross domestic product (GDP) regaining its pre-virus peak by the end of 2022. GDP falls by 12.4% in 2020.

Business investment is 6% lower over five years than expected by the OBR in March before Covid-19 spread. Job losses and business failures are significant. Scarring caused by job losses and lower levels of business investment mean the level of GDP after inflation remains 3% lower at the start of 2025 than anticipated in March.

Unemployment more than doubling from 1.3 million last year to 3.5 million in 2021. Outstripping the damage inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis, the unemployment rate peaks at 12% in the final three months of 2020.

The hit to the economy, coupled with the rise in state spending to cushion the blow, results in a sharp rise in government borrowing this year. The budget deficit – the shortfall between income from taxes and expenditure – hits £322bn, or 16% of GDP.

The UK’s national debt – the sum total of every budget deficit recorded in history – increases above 100% GDP for the first time since the early 1960s in all years of the scenario.

Best-case scenario

Activity rebounds relatively quickly, similar to the OBR’s central scenario published in April during the early stages of the Covid-19 emergency. GDP returns to the pre-virus peak by the end of March next year, and there is no enduring economic scarring.

Unemployment still however reaches a peak of 10% in the three months to September. As many as 1.9 million people would be out of work next year, as employment begins to gradually rise again.

GDP still also falls by 10.6% this year, although snaps back rapidly next year.

The limited damage to employment helps to protect household finances, enabling a recovery in consumer spending to levels close to that expected in March.

The government’s budget deficit hits £263bn this year, or 13% of GDP, before gradually dropping back by 2025 to end up near the levels expected before coronavirus struck.

Worst-case scenario

Economic output recovers even more slowly, returning to its pre-virus peak only by 2024. This results in a more significant loss of business investment, company failures and persistently high levels of unemployment.

Due to lasting economic scarring caused by the depth of the crisis and slow recovery, GDP after inflation is 6% lower at the start of 2025 than was expected in March 2020.

Unemployment peaks at 13% in the first three months of 2021, in a jobs crisis worse than the period of high unemployment under the Thatcher government of the 1980s. As many as 4 million people would be out of work next year.

GDP plunges by 14.3% this year, marking the worst recession for three centuries. The severe blow to household finances from the sharp increase in unemployment causes a severe decline in consumer spending, hurting the economy. Household consumption does not return to its pre-virus peak at all in the five-year scenario.

Due to the economic collapse and higher levels of state spending necessary, the budget deficit reaches£391bn, or 21% of GDP.

Rates of new COVID cases are no longer declining in the UK according to new COVID Symptom Study data

According to the latest COVID Symptom Study data, rates of new COVID cases have stopped declining with over 23,000 suspected cases in the UK.


According to the latest COVID Symptom Study data, rates of new COVID cases have stopped declining with over 23,000 suspected cases in the UK.

According to the latest COVID Symptom Study app figures, there are currently 1,472 daily new cases of COVID in the UK on average over the two weeks up to 04 July 2020 (excluding care homes) [*]. The data suggests no decline from last week (1,445 cases). The latest figures were based on the data from almost 3 million users, 11,639 swab tests done between 21 June to 04 July (a full regional breakdown can be found here).

The latest prevalence figures estimate that 23,459 people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID and highlights a big regional difference across the UK. While nations like Northern Ireland have almost no active cases, the rates for other English regions, like the Midlands are showing high numbers. The Midlands has 6,556 predicted symptomatic COVID cases compared to 2,254 in the North West.

This estimate is in line with the most recent ONS Infection survey in which 25,000 people in England were estimated to be infected with COVID-19 during the two week period that goes from the 14th to the 27th of June. The latest prevalence map  also indicates that parts of Wales currently have high numbers of predicted symptomatic COVID. This new prevalence data based on large numbers allows the COVID Symptom Study to look at the country in a much more detailed way than other current data sources.

The data science team at ZOE and King’s College London have this week updated the way it calculates prevalence figures. Due to the increasing number of longer-term sufferers of COVID and the influx of new data from swab tests the model has been adjusted to remove the long term sufferers who will be studied separately. This means the new prevalence figures are easier to interpret and reflect the change.

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, comments: 

“It is disappointing to see that the number of daily new cases is no longer falling as they have been in previous weeks, this could be a temporary blip or due to the easing of lockdown and the amount of social contact slowly increasing. Importantly our updated analysis of the prevalence is still continuing to show that The Midlands and Wales are key areas in the country where the amount of COVID is remaining relatively high. It is important that we keep a close eye on these areas.

With the growing number of people suffering for extended periods of time, we are going to be focusing on these long term sufferers to help us research causes and potential treatments. But in order for this to be possible, we need all our users to continue to log in, if they have been ill and have got better.”

Additional notes

[*] This analysis requires swab testing, which was kindly provided by the Department of Health and Social Care for England. As Scotland and Wales are not yet offering tests to app users, we provided indirect estimates using countrywide averages and wide confidence limits.  Testing is happening in Northern Ireland, but the number of participants is too few to generate an accurate estimate. These figures exclude care homes as there is not enough data from the app to estimate this population.

Flood strategy ‘at odds with Boris Johnson push for mass housing’

New plan stops short of banning any new building on land at the highest risk of flooding! – Owl

Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com 

The government’s long-awaited strategy for tackling floods in England does not go far enough and appears to conflict with Boris Johnson’s “build, build, build” plan for more housing, experts have said.

Billed by ministers as the most comprehensive flood defence plan in a decade, the fresh approach will mean more money spent on natural solutions to counter floods, such as capturing water on fields.

But the plan, unveiled on Tuesday, stopped short of banning any new building on land at the highest risk of flooding, disappointing experts, local authorities and flood-hit communities.

Prof Hannah Cloke, a hydrologist at the University of Reading, said the government’s pledge to review house building on floodplains did not “sound in tune” with the prime minister’s commitment to cutting red tape to build new homes more quickly under “Project Speed”.

Cloke said: “A fortnight ago Boris was attacking ‘newt counting’ and bemoaning the pace of progress in the UK. Dealing with flooding shows precisely the difficulties behind his promise to build better, faster and greener. Sometimes being better and greener requires building more slowly and carefully, or we risk long-term economic and social costs that we cannot afford.”

The government pledged in its 2020 budget to spend £5.2bn on flood defences by 2027, which it said would create about 2,000 new flood and coastal projects, and improve the protection of 336,000 properties in England.

Academics welcomed the investment in natural flood solutions, such as hollows to catch floodwater, and the government’s support for making properties more resilient to floods.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, said the government was considering giving the Environment Agency more powers to prevent building on high-risk floodplains but stopped short of saying that fewer homes should be built in these areas.

About 20,000 homes a year are built on land at the highest risk of flooding in England, equating to one in 10 of all new homes since 2013.

Planning policy says housing should be based in areas at the least risk of flooding, yet local authorities, which face penalties if they miss house-building targets, say they feel powerless to stop developments and are concerned these construction projects will only increase in number.

Heather Shepherd, of the National Flood Forum, which supports at-risk communities, said the government was “asking for problems” by continuing to build on floodplains and plug new properties into ageing infrastructure. “If you’re to think of nature as a solution then our floodplains become precious and a resource to mitigate flooding. If we build on them we’re taking away a natural way of managing flood risk,” she said.

Shaun Davies, the Labour leader of Telford and Wrekin council, Shropshire, which had weeks of floods in February, said there was little in the new government approach to reassure residents.

Davies said he raised concerns with Eustice in February about the conversion of an old power station into 1,000 new homes on the Shropshire floodplain but that that development was still going ahead.

The insurance firm Zurich said the extra cash to help flood-hit homeowners recover from damage “misses the point” and that at-risk residents need financial support to defend their homes “before extreme weather strikes – not after they have been flooded”.

Eustice said: “Our record investment and ambitious policies will better protect homes, schools, hospitals and businesses, but we also recognise that we cannot prevent flooding entirely, which is why we will ensure that communities at high risk are more resilient.”

‘Compelling’ evidence air pollution worsens coronavirus – study

There is “compelling” evidence that air pollution significantly increases coronavirus infections, hospital admissions and deaths, according to the most detailed and comprehensive analysis to date.

Damian Carrington www.theguardian.com

The research indicates that a small, single-unit increase in people’s long-term exposure to pollution particles raises infections and admissions by about 10% and deaths by 15%. The study took into account more than 20 other factors, including average population density, age, household size, occupation and obesity.

There is growing evidence from Europe, the US and China that dirty air makes the impact of Covid-19 worse. But the study of the outbreak in the Netherlands is unique because the worst air pollution there is not in cities but in some rural areas, due to intensive livestock farming.

This allows the “big city effect” to be ruled out, which is the idea that high air pollution simply coincides with urban populations whose density and deprivation may make them more susceptible to the virus.

The scientists are clear they have not proven a causal link between air pollution and worse coronavirus impacts. Conclusive evidence will only come with large amounts of data on individual people, which is not yet available, rather than average data for regions as used in the analysis.

But scientists said it was important to do the best research possible as understanding the link may be important in dealing with further Covid-19 outbreaks and could signal where subsequent waves will hit the hardest.

Many scientists agree that air pollution is likely to be increasing the number and severity of Covid-19 infections, as dirty air is already known to inflame the lungs and cause respiratory and heart disease that make people more vulnerable. But not all agree that the evidence so far is good enough to demonstrate a large impact.

“What I was struck by was this really was a strong relationship,” said Prof Matthew Cole, who conducted the research with his colleagues Ceren Ozgen and Eric Strobl at the University of Birmingham, UK. Unlike most studies to date, the paper has been reviewed by independent scientists and accepted for publication in a journal, Environmental and Resource Economics.

The team concluded: “Using detailed data we find compelling evidence of a positive relationship between air pollution, and particularly [fine particle] concentrations, and Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths. This relationship persists even after controlling for a wide range of explanatory [factors].”

The most prominent previous study was conducted by Harvard University researchers and found an 8% increase in coronavirus deaths for a single-unit rise in fine particle pollution. Cole said: “We used data at much finer resolution, with the average size of the 355 Dutch municipalities being 95 km2 compared to the 3,130 km2 for a US county.”

“This means we can more precisely capture each region’s characteristics, including pollution exposure,” he said. The new analysis also uses Covid-19 data up to 5 June 2020, allowing it to capture almost the full wave of the epidemic.

An additional factor considered was the Netherlands carnival gatherings that take place in late February, particularly in the livestock farming regions in the south and east of the country. This is where coronavirus cases were highest and where air pollution is highest, due to the ammonia emitted from livestock farms, which forms particle pollution. Coles’ team used statistical methods to estimate the impact of these gatherings. “But it did not knock out the effects of pollution, which I really thought it would,” he said.

Among the other factors taken into account were average income, level of education, smoking, share of population receiving incapacity benefits and closeness to international borders.

“As analyses of a possible link between air pollution and Covid-19 progress we are beginning to see much better studies emerge,” said Prof Frank Kelly, at Imperial College London, UK. “This new study appears to be the best to date.”

He said the work used high quality data and controlled for multiple possible confounding issues. “Further research elsewhere is required to confirm these findings, but we have now reached a point in the pandemic where datasets are robust enough to ask the question,” he said.

Prof Francesca Dominici, who led the Harvard Study, praised the work as “very good” and agreed that it added to her team’s work. She said it was important to examine the relationship between air pollution and Covid-19 outcomes across many countries, as each country’s data would have its own strengths and weaknesses and different confounding factors can be at play.

“Air pollution is not yet getting enough attention because of the slow peer-review process [for academic studies]” Dominici said. “But hopefully as this and other studies are published, the topic will get more attention and most importantly will affect policy.”

However, Prof Mark Goldberg, at McGill University in Canada, warned that averaging data across a region masked the variations among individuals and could mask other potential explanations for the correlation between dirty air and coronavirus. He is concerned that over-interpreting the correlation distracts from other important factors.

“The issue with severe cases is social and economic deprivation – which correlates with air pollution – and [underlying health] conditions,” he said. “I see it in Montreal: the poorest areas with high numbers of people living together, on low incomes and working multiple jobs were hardest hit.”

Cole accepts that only individual-level data will conclusively resolve the question of a link. “We can’t rule out [some unknown factor] until the data gets better. But it’s difficult to know what that would be.”

New Deputy Mayor appointed before botched vote

Obvious tensions, chaotic scenes, an accidental vote and a councillor locked in a toilet – this was what greeted residents who tuned into the first virtual Honiton Town Council meeting last night.

Welcome to the “new normal” – Owl

Joseph Bulmer honiton.nub.news 

It was the first meeting of Honiton Town Council since the Coronavirus lock down began, it was also the first time the council has held a meeting online.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic councillors voted to suspend an Annual General Meeting of the council. Council AGMs usually involve the election of a new mayor and deputy mayor but due to the current circumstances councillors voted to suspend the meeting.

This means that the current mayor, John Zarczynski, will keep his position for another year. However, due to the resignation of councillor Duncan Sheridan Shaw earlier this year councillors had to elect a new deputy mayor.

Councillor Carol Gilson was voted in as the new deputy mayor, with six councillors voting in favour of her appointment, two against and one abstention.

Councillors Taylor, Gilson, Dolby, Coombs and Carrigan appeared to be tuning into the meeting from the same house with each councillor taking it in turns to be in the hot seat. This congregation of councillors in one house was criticised by a fellow councillor and by a member of the public.

After the appointment of councillor Carol Gilson as deputy mayor proceedings turned to the issue of re-establishing the council’s HR Committee.

Councillors Kolek and Pollington requested that the committee be made up of all members of the full council due to a number of recent high profile resignations. This proposal was quashed by their fellow councillors.

Councillors then voted on re-establishing the HR committee under a previous frame of reference, meaning that the HR committee would be made up of councillors holding committee chair positions.

When the vote came to councillor Gilson she was absent from the call, the deputy town clerk, Heloise Marlow, moved on and eventually came back to councillor Gilson when she reappeared on the conference call.

When asked where she had been she told councillors she had been ‘locked in the toilet’. The town clerk admonished councillor Gilson and asked that she please inform the meeting’s chairman before leaving a meeting in future.

Councillor Gilson then voted against re-establishing the HR committee under the previous frame of reference but quickly realised that she had in fact intended to vote in favour of the motion.

This led to much confusion. The town clerk remarked: “I honestly don’t know what to do now.”

Despite councillor Gilson’s botched vote the motion was still carried.