Latest news, Flybe could be back next year after deal struck to restart airline

Flybe could be flying again next year, after administrators announced a deal had been struck with investors to restart the regional airline.

Gwyn Topham

The Exeter-based Flybe went bust in early March, with the impact of the coronavirus crisis on passenger demand proving the last straw for the struggling airline.

The administrators EY said Flybe’s brand and remaining assets had been sold to Thyme Opco, a company affiliated to Cyrus Capital, which had pumped money into the Virgin Atlantic-led rescue attempt in 2019.

The deal could mean Flybe restarting as a regional airline in the UK in early 2021. Administrators said they would work with the new owners and the UK Civil Aviation Authority to prepare for its return to the skies.

Simon Edel, a joint administrator, said it would be great news for communities around the UK who had relied on Flybe: “The restart of this iconic brand, which was once Europe’s largest regional airline, will provide a potentially significant boost to aviation jobs, regional connectivity and local economies.”

A Thyme Opco spokesperson added: “While we plan to start off smaller than before, we expect to create valuable airline industry jobs, restore essential regional connectivity in the UK and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the country’s economy.”

The idea of relaunching an airline may raise eyebrows in a sector that has seen a huge downturn in traffic, with most carriers laying off about a third of staff and reporting enormous losses during the pandemic.

Flybe, which flew about 8 million passengers a year between 81 airports in the UK and Europe, had long struggled financially. It was promised fresh investment when a consortium of Virgin, Stobart Air and Cyrus Capital took over the airline in 2019. Virgin Atlantic had planned to rebrand the airline and integrate it as a feeder for its long-haul routes from Manchester and London.

However, by January the airline’s troubles were such that the new owners sought a government bailout, before the impact of Covid-19 took Flybe into administration in March.

The pitched battle over lockdowns is missing the point: Covid-19 is a class issue

Just as our final exit from the EU comes into view, noise from the media and politics about Covid-19 is sounding discomfortingly similar to the furies that erupted around the 2016 referendum.

John Harris 

On one side stands the political right, opposed to lockdown, apparently spurning the advice of experts, and seemingly convinced that a mixture of true-Brit common sense and derring-do will somehow see us through. The left, meanwhile, emphasises the importance of “the science”, and the prospect of disaster. As in the US, it is beginning to feel like any contentious political question will now trigger these polarised responses – not necessarily in the population at large, but certainly among the people whose opinions define what passes for the national conversation.

News coverage of the second wave has so far tended to focus on which places should go in which official tiers, the distinction between pubs and restaurants, and the decision to send students back to universities. What has not been discussed nearly as much is the plain fact that the coronavirus crisis – even more so in its second phase – is all about basic inequalities, and the kind of questions of work, housing and poverty that deep crises always bring to the surface. In other words, Covid-19 is a class issue. That may sound simplistic, but what it actually denotes is an intricate set of considerations that the argument over lockdown is not acknowledging.

Since the start of the crisis, I have been regularly talking to many of the leaders in the north of England whose anger at condescending treatment from Boris Johnson and his colleagues continues to make the headlines. As many of them see it, one reason for the recent increases in infection is that the initial lockdown affected many of their areas differently than more affluent places. Rather than retreating inside to bake their own bread and have work meetings on Zoom, people in such trades as construction, warehousing and care work had to carry on venturing outside and mixing with others in the first wave, so levels of the virus remained comparatively high, even before the summer reopening then took them back to dangerous levels. Clearly, the ability to render yourself housebound is also dependent on whether your domestic environment makes remaining at home either viable or all but impossible. The basic point was recently nailed by the Financial Times writer Anjana Ahuja: “This crisis has broadly separated us into the exposed poor and the shielded rich.”

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, recently told me about one correlation that highlights this disparity. He said that in a swathe of the country that takes in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and West Yorkshire, Covid hotspots map on to areas that were the focus of the last Labour government’s so-called Pathfinder scheme: the programme that aimed to replace old housing by bringing in private developers, and left a legacy of unfinished work and huge resentment. “The quality of housing in those areas is still extremely poor,” said Burnham. “Lots of families live intergenerationally. It’s very overcrowded. How would you self-isolate in a situation like that?”

This is a good riposte to the oft-heard suggestion that most people who fail to follow the rules are degenerate “Covidiots”, and further proof that in a society as insecure as ours, trying to stringently control anything – let alone a highly infectious disease – will tend to be very difficult indeed. According to research done at King’s College London, only 18% of people self-isolate after developing symptoms, and only 11% quarantine after being told by the government’s test and trace system that they have been in contact with a confirmed case. Among the factors the study associates with non-compliance are “lower socio-economic grade”, and “greater hardship during the pandemic”. A lot of people, it seems, would like to do what they are told, but simply can’t.

This is the basic point the government does not seem to have grasped – painfully highlighted by Johnson’s claim that infections increased because the public became “complacent”. Threatening people with fines of up to £10,000 if they fail to self-isolate – and, we now learn, passing their details to the police – is an example of the same cast of mind, less likely to persuade people in precarious circumstances to follow the rules than to keep their distance from the authorities. The fact that some people on very low incomes are finally eligible for a lump sum of £500 to cover a fortnight’s quarantine will not solve what is obviously a massive problem; in terms of basic practicalities, it is of a piece with Rishi Sunak’s plan to pay only two-thirds of lost wages to people affected by local restrictions.

But before anyone on the left starts feeling too self-righteous, they also have questions to answer. There is a cold, dogmatic attitude in certain quarters that seems to define itself against anything that smells of Tory laissez-faire. Earlier in the year, it was manifested in rigid opposition to schools reopening, as some people averted their eyes from the inequalities the suspension of education was making worse. Now, some of the same voices stridently argue for strict national measures, as if that proposition is straightforward. It is actually not just complex, but full of potential contradictions. A prime example: given that poverty and precarity are what make millions of people vulnerable to both Covid infection and the life-threatening complications that can come with it, the hardship that any lockdown creates will make those problems even worse. This, surely, is the circuit that desperately needs to be broken, but after so many wasted years it will take a long time to do it.

In the meantime, a daily ritual of political futility goes on. Some people on the right yearn for a return to shrunken government, rugged individualism and the primacy of “the economy”, whatever that is. On the opposing side, people would like us to diligently follow the edicts of a reborn state, but social conditions are too far gone to allow many people to do anything of the kind. To those at the sharp end of this crisis, neither position will sound particularly convincing.

So it is that increasing numbers of people ignore the current political drama, and muddle through as best they can. Parallels with the vote to leave the EU are not only about the divisive arguments that have gripped the political class, but the fact that many of the same places whose experience fed into their vote for Brexit – Hartlepool, Preston, Oldham, Middlesbrough – are also suffering the worst of the pandemic. The inequality they embody remains the essence of the 21st-century British condition: four years on from 2016, this is still a country so imbalanced that it keeps falling over.

• John Harris is a Guardian columnist

Number of new COVID clusters falls in regional latest figures

For the first time in weeks the total number of new COVID clusters has fallen in Devon and Cornwall on the government’s official map.

Colleen Smith 18 Oct 

The MSOA data now covers the period October 8 to 14, with 11 new cluster areas today being added to it, but 13 dropping off the rolling data.

It is the first day for a long time when the total number of areas with a cluster in Devon and Cornwall has fallen.

In the worrying Exeter University area numbers continue to fall with Pennsylvania and University now down from 139 to 121.

Exeter’s figure is the lowest since September 28. But in contrast, Torbay’s daily figure appears to the highest one yet with more new cases than anywhere else except Exeter across the two counties.

Hospital figures for the South West rose from 158 to 161 today No deaths have been reported in the NHS England stats for the South West today.

Sunday’s figures show 120 new coronavirus cases in Devon and Cornwall.

Of those 11 are in Cornwall, 25 in Plymouth and 30 are in Torbay.

In Devon there are six in East Devon, 10 in Exeter, 2 in Mid Devon, 5 in North Devon, , 4 in West Devon, 4 in Torridge, 11 in South Hams and 12 in Teignbridge.

In Plymouth

Mutley has 18 cases, up from 15

City Centre, Barbican & Sutton Harbour is up from 11 to 14

Devonport, Mount Wise & Morice Town has 12 cases

Keyham is up seven to 11

King’s Tamerton & West Park has nine cases

In Exeter

Pennsylvania & University 121

Central Exeter 49

St James’s Park & Hoopern 32

Middlemoor & Sowton 29

Alphington & Marsh Barton 17

Mincinglake & Beacon Heath 16

Countess Wear & Topsham 10

In Torbay

Upton and Hele is up from 14 yesterday to 18

St Marychurch & Maidencombe has risen by one to 13

Shiphay & the Willows has 12 cases

Chelston, Cockington & Livermead is up from nine to 11

In North Devon

Ilfracombe East and West have a smattering of new cases.

The only other cluster in North Devon is nine cases on the edge of Exmoor, Dunster and Dulverton.

The East of the town has seen six new positive cases this week taking it to 10 and the Ilfracombe West still has six.

In Teignbridge

The Shaldon and Bishopsteignton cluster has grown to nine cases; Teignmouth South has seven; Newton Abbot, Broadlands and Wolborough have seven and Heathfield & Liverton has seven.

In West Devon

There is a spike in the numbers showing on the MSOA map for the whole West Devon area in the last seven days with 29 cases in total across the area, although none of the clusters are more than six.

In Cornwall

There is only one cluster in double digits in Cornwall.

13 Lostwithiel & Penwithick

7 Redruth North

7 Ponsanooth, Mabe Burnthouse & Constantine

7Shortlanesend, Chacewater & Carnon Downs

6 Crowan, Wendron & Stithians

6 Holsworthy, Bradworthy & Welcombe

5 Padstow & St Issey

5 Camelford & Tresmeer

5 The Lizard

Coronavirus test results must come in 24 hours, says Sage scientist

A massive expansion of testing will still leave Britain struggling to keep Covid-19 infections under control unless the system can inform people they are positive within 24 hours, one of the government’s most senior scientific advisers has warned.

Michael Savage

Ministers have insisted that they are on course to hit a target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of the month, with suggestions this weekend that capability of a million tests a day could be reached by Christmas.

However, Graham Medley, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and chair of its subcommittee on modelling, said that returning test results “ideally within 24 hours” was as critical as capacity in a successful test-and-trace system. He said if necessary, capacity should be curbed in favour of speed.

His advice is at odds with testimony from Dido Harding, the Conservative peer who heads NHS Test and Trace. When demand for tests was surging last month, she said a “conscious decision” was made to extend the turnaround time.

There are still significant delays in the test-and-trace system, according to the latest figures. In the first week of October, 32.8% of tests conducted at regional test sites were returned within 24 hours. The figure was 24.4% for local walk-in sites and 41.9% for mobile testing sites. The number of home-testing kits received within 48 hours was 16%.

Medley told the Observer: “There’s been a huge advance in terms of the capacity for testing, but I think we’re still learning how to optimise the use of that testing. The length of time it takes to get the test result is critical for the contact-tracing. And so there has to be a potential compromise between the volume of testing done and the ability to return the result, ideally within 24 hours.

“Suppose you could treble the number of tests you did, but only at the expense of returning them in a longer period of time, then that’s not really going to work. The volume is important, but only if it can be done promptly. The people doing it need to consider that delay as being as important as the volume.”

Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel laureate and director of the Francis Crick Institute in London, said using smaller labs alongside the big, privately run Lighthouse labs could speed things up. “Big labs have very long lines of communication,” he said. “For very good reasons, they find it difficult to get the sample into them and the information aggregated rapidly. I call [our small labs] lifeboat labs. It’s local, it’s small. It’s a different way of working. Government should think about supporting them, as well as their big labs. We could have repurposed 20 to 30 labs in a month. We may still be able to, but we’ve lost a bit of goodwill.”

The warning over the speed of test results comes amid mounting concerns over tracing efforts. Last week saw another record low for reaching the contacts of those who tested positive, with only 62.6% of close contacts reached in England. Almost 250,000 contacts of people who have tested positive in England have not been reached by tracers since the end of May, according to Labour’s analysis of test-and-trace data. The research, verified by the House of Commons library, found that in the last week for which data is available, almost 80,000 close contacts were not notified.

Local public health experts again demanded a rethink. Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “As is clear from the latest performance figures, the national element still requires significant and urgent improvement. That means quick access to, and turnaround of, testing and at least 80% of contacts reached, as recommended by Sage in May.

“Locally, directors of public health have developed their own contact-tracing functions to supplement what is happening nationally. This approach has proved effective at reaching the areas and communities that the national system cannot. They are also managing, with PHE [Public Health England] colleagues, more complex contact tracing and outbreaks in settings like schools, care homes and businesses. More funding and resources are critical to keep doing this valuable work.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is breaking chains of transmission – over 900,000 people who may otherwise have unknowingly spread coronavirus have been contacted and told to isolate. The number of people who were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts, has increased from 74.9% to 76.8% this week.

“We’re continuing to drive forward local contact tracing as part of our commitment to being locally led, with more than 100 Local Tracing Partnerships now operating, and more to come.

“Since its launch, 84% of contacts have been reached and told to self-isolate where communication details were provided.”

Families across Devon worried after COVID test failures

Families in Devon are writing to MPs claiming that the COVID-19 testing system is failing in Exeter after being told to go back for retesting because their results could not be read.

Colleen Smith  17 Oct 

At least seven families who were tested at the Honiton Road Park and Ride test centre have since received the same official letter from the NHS.

Mums whose children were tested on Monday have been told they need to go back because of testing problems. Some say their children are refusing to have the uncomfortable swab test a second time.

Emma, a Newton Abbot mother has written to her MP saying the system is failing. After sharing a Facebook post she has had hundreds of replies and knows of at least seven families in the same position.

Another Exeter mum who asked to remain anonymous said she believed there may have been a “bad batch”.

She had taken her child to Honiton Park and Ride on Monday and finally got an email last night saying the result could not be read.

She said: “Now it would appear that five people so far who had a test on Monday had had the same email, which to me indicates a bad batch, we have all been asked to retest.

“The five day wait means a substantial loss of earnings with us all having to isolate for potentially another five days while we wait.

“Some of us are unable to work, also children are unable to attend school or nursery. It is also worrying as before my little one developed a temperature we were around elderly relatives who are now more at risk due to this delay and what appears to be a failing in the testing system.”

Emma from Newton Abbot contacted MP Anne-Marie Morris saying: “I am writing as one of your constituents, currently struggling with the consequences of Covid test system inefficiencies and failings.

“A number of local families recently presented at the coronavirus test centre in Exeter, at Honiton Road Park and Ride, on Monday October 12.

“We took our tests, and, despite having chased for results several times this week, many of us have received this message today (some are still waiting):

Families in Exeter are worried after receiving this letter

“It may appear that we didn’t test properly and the tests couldn’t be read, but a recent thread on a local parenting Facebook group highlights that there are at least six families who tested on Monday morning and received this same message last night. This number is growing as more parents join in the discussion.”

“We are dutifully rebooking and retaking tests where possible. Some families are out of the eight-day window for testing when symptoms first started so cannot retest. These delays have had immense impacts on us and our families this week.

“These general impacts for our families include: children unable to go to school, pre-school or nursery, parents unable to work from home with children around (both for employed and self-employed parents) and stress and other mental health impacts while we await delayed results and no idea of when this will be resolved

“Perhaps even more importantly, without knowing whether our symptoms are indeed due to coronavirus, us and members of our families could be unknowingly positive, and in the days before our tests and isolation we could have been infecting others which will not be traced. As that ripples out, the impact of a batch of lost or spoiled tests and a lack of communication is immense. As you know, this could result in illness or even death in large numbers. All the things we were trying to avoid when we got our families tested.

“Additionally, this results in a huge loss of faith in the testing system. No doubt this means many will decide to not get tested or isolate in the future.

“Please can you raise this at a governmental level. This is not the first time this has happened for many of these families, and probably is a wider issue.

“When the testing system works, it works really well. Quick turnarounds and effective communication mean that slight disruption is worth it for the peace of mind that we can get back to “normal” pretty quickly. “

DevonLive has contacted Public Health England for a comment.

Rishi Sunak warned public sector’s food supply at risk

The supply of food to care homes, schools, hospitals and prisons is at risk unless the government steps in to support struggling wholesalers, the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been warned.

Rob Davies

Trade bodies representing major food companies said the loss of business from the hospitality sector, which has been rocked by the 10pm curfew and limits on household mixing, meant that firms which also serve the public sector could fail.

“Without the income from the commercial sector, the supply of food to institutions such as care homes, prisons, schools and hospitals is at immediate risk,” they told Sunak in a letter seen by the Guardian.

They highlighted items made especially for care homes and hospitals, such as easy-to-swallow foodstuffs for people who have difficulty eating.

“Wholesalers send specialist food to care homes and this cannot be replaced by deliveries from supermarkets,” said the Federation of Wholesale Distributors and the Food and Drink Federation.

“The same supply chain is also essential to the ongoing supply of food to primary and secondary schools for the provision of school meals.”

They urged Sunak to hand out discretionary grants and extend the furlough scheme to wholesalers in areas under tier 2 and 3 restrictions, to avoid supply warehouses closing.

They also want business rates relief to be extended to the wholesale sector.

“The above measures are essential to ensure continuity of critical public sector food and drink supply and the government must introduce them immediately,” they said.

Andrew Selley, chief executive of wholesaler Bidfood, said the industry had not been eligible for support offered to hospitality businesses affected by the government’s tiered system of Covid-19 restrictions.

“Our customers range from Michelin-starred chefs through to high street casual dining, cafes, restaurants, pubs, workplace, travel catering and all of those in areas that have been affected,” he said.

“But we also do schools, universities, care homes, hospices and prisons. That varies by wholesaler but it’s about 70% hospitality and 30% public sector. When 70% of your customer base is impacted, your income goes down significantly.

“Whilst we have some variable cost like the number of people picking and delivering, the public sector contracts require delivery to every postcode. There’s a limit to how much cost you can take out.

“Not all of the wholesalers will survive and that means disruption to supply. The thing that’s galling for us is that the wholesale sector and supply chains in general have had no sector-specific support.”

The Treasury is understood to believe that financial packages on offer for some struggling hospitality businesses is, by proxy, support for the supply chain.

The Treasury said: “We’ve put in place a comprehensive plan to protect, support and create jobs, with more than £200bn of support since March – with particular support for the hospitality sector and it’s [sic] wider supply chain.

“And our winter economy plan will ensure this continues in the difficult weeks and months to come – providing a toolkit of support for all situations.

“Our expanded job support scheme will protect jobs in businesses that are open or closed, we’ve increased grants for firms required to close and are providing additional funding for local authorities and devolved administrations.

“This is alongside existing support measures including extended VAT cuts, businesses rates holidays and our extended loan schemes.”