Covid ‘clusters’ in every part of East Devon & Exeter – but new cases drop

The number of new Covid-19 cases across East Devon and Exeter has dropped in a week – but ‘clusters’ of the virus remain in every ward of both areas.

Evidence now indicates that during the first Tier system, introduced on 14 October, infections continued to rise in many Tier 1 regions. Infections in these regions, including ours, only turned around under the harder restrictions of Lockdown 2. Under the new Tier system, Tiers 2 and 3 have been beefed up but Tier 1 has been left unchanged. – Owl

[Previous post gives latest on National picture]

East Devon Reporter 

Government figures show a further 180 infections have been confirmed across the district in the last seven days, and 141 in the city.

The new cases recorded in East Devon represent a decrease of 64 when compared to the previous week.

Exeter’s number is a decrease of 79.

All 20 wards in East Devon – spanning Exmouth, Honiton, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Ottery St Mary, Seaton, and Cranbrook – currently have three or more coronavirus infections.

The district’s highest numbers are currently in Budleigh Salterton (22 cases), Ottery and West Hill (20), and Exmouth Town (18).

And the same can be said for Exeter’s 15 wards – with the biggest ‘clusters’ in Wonford and St Loye’s (20 cases), Heavitree West and Polsloe (18), and Middlemoor and Sowton (17).

Week-on-week, the number of confirmed new coronavirus cases across Devon and Cornwall has nearly halved – with figures falling everywhere.

As of yesterday afternoon (Friday, November 27), government statistics showed that 1,266 new Covid cases had been confirmed in the last week across Devon and Cornwall.

That is compared to compared to 2,367 cases in the previous seven days.

Clusters across district and city

Twenty ‘clusters’ – where three or more Covid cases have been confirmed – have been identified in East Devon:

  • Budleigh Salterton (22 cases);
  • Ottery St Mary and West Hill (20);
  • Exmouth Town (18);
  • Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh (16);
  • Sidmouth Sidford (14);
  • Exmouth Halsdon (13);
  • Cranbrook, Broadclyst and Stoke Canon (12);
  • Honiton South and West (nine);
  • Exmouth Brixington (nine);
  • Clyst, Exton and Lympstone (eight);
  • Exmouth Littleham (six);
  • Axminster (six);
  • Newton Poppleford, Otterton and Woodbury (six);
  • Sidbury, Offwell and Beer (six);
  • Honiton North and East (five);
  • Seaton (five);
  • Feniton and Whimple (four);
  • Dunkeswell, Upottery and Stockland (four);
  • Kilmington, Colyton and Uplyme (four);
  • Sidmouth Town (three).

The ‘clusters’ data, last updated this afternoon (Saturday, November 28), is based on a rolling rate of new cases by specimen date ending on November 23.

‘Clusters’ remain in all of Exeter’s 15 wards:

  • Wonford and St Loye’s (20 cases);
  • Heavitree West and Polsloe (18);
  • Middlemoor and Sowton (17);
  • Mincinglake and Beacon Heath (12);
  • Pennsylvania and University (11);
  • Exwick and Foxhayes (ten);
  • St Leonard’s (nine);
  • Alphington and Marsh Barton (nine);
  • Countess Wear and Topsham (nine);
  • Heavitree East and Whipton South (nine);
  • Pinhoe and Whipton North (eight);
  • St Thomas West (seven);
  • St James Park and Hoopern (six);
  • St Thomas East (six);
  • Central Exeter (six).

New cases across Devon and specimen dates

Of the 1,266 new cases confirmed in Devon and Cornwall since November 20 up to yesterday afternoon (Friday, November 27), 141 were in East Devon and 220 in Exeter.

There were 59 cases in Mid Devon, 104 in North Devon, 231 in Plymouth, 33 in the South Hams, 73 in Teignbridge, 119 in Torbay, 51 in Torridge and 43 in West Devon.

Cornwall recorded 232 cases.

Of the 1,266 new cases, 970 had a specimen date between November 20 – 26, with 152 of these in East Devon and 101 in Exeter.

There were 40 in Mid Devon, 84 in North Devon, 179 in Plymouth, 25 in South Hams, 62 in Teignbridge, 86 in Torbay, 42 in Torridge and 28 in West Devon.

Cornwall had 171 cases.

Hospital admissions

The number of people in hospital in the South West has in the last seven days has fallen from 942 to 938.

There are currently 67 patients in mechanical ventilation beds, up from 65 last Friday.

The number of patients in hospital across Devon and Cornwall following a positive Covid-19 test has risen since last week – but only just.

NHS England figures show that, as of Tuesday morning (November 24), there 272 patients across both counties compared to 265 on November 17.

There were 128 people in the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital (up from 106), 53 in Derriford Hospital in Plymouth (down from 90), and 35 in Torbay Hospital (down from 39), 29 in North Devon District Hospital (up from 18).

There were 16 patients in mechanical ventilation beds (down from 19); five at the RD&E, five at North Devon District Hospital, one in Torbay Hospital, and ten at Derriford Hospital.

In the last week, there 21 deaths within hospitals in Devon and Cornwall within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 death.

Nine of these were in Exeter, two in Torbay, six in Plymouth, three in North Devon, and one in Cornwall.

Tier 2 is ‘best chance’

Devon’s director of public health Steve Brown said this week that Tier 2 restriction will give the county ‘the best chance’ to see cases continue to fall.

He added: “When we were in Tier 1, prior to the current national restrictions, we saw continued rising cases.

“It’s only been recently, as a result of the national lockdown, that we have seen those cases plateau and ultimately start to fall.

“Devon going into Tier 2 is the best chance for us to continue to see those cases fall.”

Covid infections in England fall by 30% over lockdown – React study

Coronavirus infections in England have fallen by about a third over lockdown, according to a major study.

[Next post gives latest information on local infections – Owl]

By Rachel Schraer 

Some of the worst-hit areas saw the biggest improvements – but, despite this progress, cases remained high across England.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the data showed the country could not “take our foot off the pedal just yet”.

The findings by Imperial College London were based on swabbing more than 100,000 people between 13-24 November.

The React-1 study is highly respected and gives us the most up-to-date picture of Covid-19 in the country.

Its researchers estimated the virus’s reproduction (R) rate had fallen to 0.88. That means on average every infection translated to less than one other new infection, so the epidemic is shrinking.

Run alongside pollster Ipsos MORI, the Imperial study involved testing a random sample of people for coronavirus, whether or not they had symptoms.

The results of these tests suggested a 30% fall in infections between the last study and the period of 13-24 November.

Before that, cases were accelerating – doubling every nine days when the study last reported at the end of October.

Now cases are coming down, but more slowly than they shot up – halving roughly every 37 days.

In the North West and North East, though – regions with some of the highest numbers of cases – infections fell by more than half.

The findings suggest cases are now highest in the East Midlands and West Midlands.

Lockdown came into force across England on 5 November but national data, based on people with symptoms, suggests there was a spike in cases in the week after.

This was put down to pre-lockdown socialising, since it takes five days on average after catching the infection for it to be detectable by a test.

R was last below 1 on the 14 August

R was last below 1 on the 14 August

Despite clear improvements, overall cases remain high.

An estimated one in 100 people have coronavirus – double the rate in September when infections began to rise.

The study also found certain groups had a higher chance of testing positive over this period:

  • People of Asian ethnicity
  • People living in the most deprived neighbourhoods
  • People living in the largest households
  • Roughly 96 people in every 10,000 had coronavirus, down from 132 per 10,000 just before lockdown
  • There were about 72,000 new infections a day, compared with 100,000 at the end of October

Prof Paul Elliott, who leads the study, said the data offered “encouraging signs” for England’s epidemic.

“These trends suggest that the tiered approach helped to curb infections in [the worst-affected areas] and that lockdown has added to this effect.

But he said: “As we approach a challenging time of year, it’s even more vital that through our actions and behaviours we all play our part in helping to keep the virus at bay.”

‘Moving in the right direction’

Prof Kevin McConway, a statistics professor at the Open University, urged caution over the figures.

He said: “Things have started moving in the right direction again, but we’re by no means in the position we were at the end of the summer, or even the start of the summer. We can’t stop taking great care yet by any means.”

The government suggested England’s new tier system, coming into force on Wednesday, would be “crucial” to keeping infections falling.

The three-tier system is tougher than the similar one in place before 5 November, under which cases continued to rise.

It will see regions placed in one of three tiers: medium, high and very high.

In total, 99% of England will enter the highest two tiers, with tight restrictions on bars and restaurants and a ban on households mixing indoors. Only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly will be in the lowest tier.

Elsewhere in the UK, Northern Ireland has begun a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown, while in Scotland each area has been placed in one of five tiers.

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said pubs, restaurants and bars will be subject to stricter restrictions – which are not yet finalised – in the run-up to Christmas. They will come into force from Friday, 4 December.

These findings of the React-1 study are interim, meaning they still need to be reviewed.

Call for govt help to cover East Devon recycling contractor’s extra costs

East Devon District Council (EDDC) is to ask central government for help meeting the extra costs its recycling contractor has incurred during the coronavirus crisis.

Daniel Clark 

The authority’s cabinet was informed that Suez had been impacted by lockdown and residents having to stay at home, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.

A meeting on Wednesday heard that a big increase in the volume of rubbish left for kerbside collections was compounded by the loss of key frontline staff through shielding and self-isolation.

“None of this had been planned or budgeted for and the service was working outside of normal contract arrangements,” councillors were told.

Members agreed to consider an extraordinary additional claim submitted by Suez for costs incurred in responding to the pandemic conditions.

A further report will detail the exact amount the contractor is asking for.

But councillors also resolved to lobby MPs for support from central government to help cover the costs.

EDDC’s strategic lead for finance Simon Davey said that the cabinet would need to know the amount of money involved and that officers are currently seeking legal advice around contracts

Councillor Geoff Jung, portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, said: “This is a large amount of money, but they have had to do far beyond their own contract to cover what they have been having to do since March.”

Cllr John Loudoun added: “If there are extra costs identified, then we should ask our MPs to lobby for some or preferably all of the extra costs identified.”

Cllr Philip Skinner said this was a very sensible suggestion and one his Conservative opposition group would support.

He said: “We need to put party politics to one side as this is something never come across before, so we need to make sure the financial position we are in is as sound as can be.”

Cabinet heard that Suez had submitted a claim for reimbursement of additional costs that had arisen through operating in pandemic conditions.

These included itemised details of additional labour, vehicles and fuel during the peak lockdown period.

As the costs had arisen through a response to ‘extraordinary and unforeseeable’ circumstances, they were not budgeted for, the meeting heard.

Councillors were told route changes that had also taken place had also ‘blurred the lines’ between operational costs and Covid costs.

It was added that there was likely to be an additional increase in cardboard with more people online shopping for Christmas.

‘Tipping point’ negotiations are now set to begin with Suez over collection tonnages to establish what are and are not Covid 19 costs.

Tory MP Makes Jaws Drop With Tweet About Opening Nightingale Hospitals

A Tory MP has been accused of “staggering” levels of ignorance after suggesting Nightingale hospitals and the NHS could be run at full capacity with a full staff to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Chris York 

John Redwood, MP for Wokingham, made the clam in a tweet on Sunday despite long-running concerns about personnel shortages in the health service.

The MP wrote: “Why not open and staff all the Nightingale hospital capacity they need for CV 19 cases and get the rest of the NHS back to full capacity for everything else?

“No need to scare us with the idea the NHS will not cope.”

According to a recent report by The Kings Fund, there is currently a shortfall of just under 84,000 workers across NHS hospitals, mental health services and community providers.

The report blamed “a prolonged funding squeeze combined with years of poor workforce planning, weak policy and fragmented responsibilities” while the Tories have been in power for the “workforce crisis”.

This has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as frontline health workers catch Covid-19 or are forced to self-isolate. Earlier this month it was reported 30,000 NHS staff were off as the country braced itself for the second wave of the virus.

Redwood’s tweet was met with widespread disbelief.

Redwood has been contacted for comment.

Elsewhere, Boris Johnson has warned there will be “disastrous consequences” if new tiered coronavirus restrictions aren’t introduced this week.

Never the one to waste the opportunity of using five words when two will do, the PM used a series of obscure war references to warn of the potential “disastrous consequences for the NHS”.

Boris Johnson’s secret meeting ended in tiers — but it could have been worse

Boris Johnson could not quite decide if his attempts to channel Winston Churchill in the fight against the coronavirus had reached the equivalent of the Battle of Britain, when national survival was secured, or El Alamein, when the slow advance to victory began.

At a time of crisis, how good is Boris Johnson at making decisions? – Owl

Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler 

It was 8.15pm on Wednesday when the prime minister began summing up the conclusions of a closely guarded meeting of eight ministers that decided tier levels across England and the fate of millions. Several times the prime minister conjured up his hero’s spirit: “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?” he mused. After what one witness described as “several mixed metaphors”, Johnson settled on: “I think we’re at the beginning of the end of the second half.”

The prime minister’s verbal contortions illustrate the dilemma for a government unsure whether imposing new control tiers is the final fix before a vaccine and mass testing save the day, or another false dawn that heralds a long winter of discontent that will stretch to Easter and beyond.

Wednesday’s meeting decided which areas would be in which tiers. Its conclusions have enraged MPs and council leaders in largely Covid-free areas who have been coupled with virus hotspots. The real story of that meeting is that it might have been worse. The story of the next few months is that it still might be.

“We’ve got to sort this out,” Johnson said, opening the meeting, before handing over to Matt Hancock, the health secretary, who presented to the virtual meeting for 20 minutes. The data, Hancock argued, left little room for doubt where most of the country should be placed. With the virus falling, but not fast enough, Manchester was always going to be tier 3 — not least because of tense relations with its mayor, Andy Burnham.

Liverpool — the guinea pig for mass testing — would get a reprieve. “Liverpool had to be in tier 2 to show you can turn these things around,” said one minister.

Hancock focused on the difficult marginal areas. The word that kept coming up was “contagion”. Stratford-upon-Avon is largely clear of Covid-19, but it is near Solihull, which is “really bad”, and people travel there to work and shop. The same problem arises in Kent, where the Medway towns have infection rates double the rest of the county and many times those of rural areas.

Throughout the meeting, the ministers discussed breaking the Covid zones down to district council level, as many Tory MPs wanted. In the end, they all agreed this was impractical. “We kept running up against the contagion effect,” one said. “Clarity of messaging was also going to be a problem.”

The crunch concerned London. Hancock admitted that across the capital “the numbers are trending down”. In much of south London, infection rates are low. In Newham in the east, and around Ealing in the west, they are sky high. The health secretary proposed three options: the whole city in tier 2 or tier 3, or most in tier 2, with the worst pockets in tier 3.

Alok Sharma, the business secretary, had fought before the meeting to ensure all three tiers would allow non-essential retailers and services such as hairdressers to remain open and the former 10pm curfew be extended to 11pm.

He backed tier 2 and so — with caveats — did Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, and Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary.

It was Michael Gove who demanded the most draconian crackdown, going further even than Hancock by declaring: “It’s got to be tier 3 across the whole of London.” The Cabinet Office minister revived warnings from the Sage advisory group of scientists that hospitals could be swamped over winter. “He did a proper, three-minute-long speech which seemed designed to ensure his views got out there,” said one of those present.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor and the most outspoken advocate of keeping the economy open, was too busy with the spending review to attend the meeting, sending John Glen, the economic secretary to the Treasury, in his place.

Crucially, Glen was armed by Treasury officials with key data on the economic damage that would be caused by putting London in the top tier in the run-up to Christmas, the busiest shopping time of the year.

Glen questioned Hancock’s data, declaring there was “a lag” in the health secretary’s figures. He also argued that “tier 2 is like the old tier 3”, saying Sage had previously advised ministers that would be enough to reduce infections and a further crackdown was not needed.

The Treasury’s trump card was figures showing that if London was put in tier 2 the restrictions would mean 50,000 jobs were put at risk, many of them in hospitality. The kicker was that if the capital was placed in tier 3 the number of jobs at risk would rise to a staggering 550,000. The difference was potentially half a million jobs — about one in nine of all jobs in the capital.

Glen’s intervention, coupled with the knowledge that Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, was “threatening to kick the f*** off if London went into tier 3”, led Johnson to make his decision: “I’ve listened to Michael, but we’ve got to think about the economic situation as well. My view is that we should have London in tier 2.”

In Downing Street they regard this plan as an attempt to “build a bridge from here to Easter”, to keep a lid on the virus until the twin battalions of what Johnson calls “the cavalry” or “the artillery” arrive in the shape of a vaccine or more widespread mass testing.

Tory MPs are in uproar at the plans, with 70 having written a letter of protest and about 50 planning to vote against their own government on Tuesday when parliament is asked to approve the scheme.

Labour will wait until tomorrow before deciding how to vote but the Tory chief whip, Mark Spencer, told Johnson on Wednesday night: “This is going to be difficult but we’ll get it through because the opposition won’t oppose it.”

But last night Johnson wrote a letter to the 70 rebels, pledging that some areas being put into tier 3 will be allowed to move into tier 2 in mid-December and announcing that the whole tiers system will be abandoned in February unless MPs vote to extend it.

Despite the climbdown, the Covid Recovery Group of rebels, co-ordinated by Steve Baker, a veteran of Brexit rebellions, is demanding that the government publishes impact assessments of the plans before the vote.

Senior officials do not think the economic document will calm things. It will combine Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and Bank of England figures into an “apocalyptic” analysis of how the economy is likely to shrink by up to 12% this year and be between 3% and 6% smaller than it would have been in the long term. “We aren’t going to sugar-coat things,” a Treasury source said.

Treasury officials, stung by public scepticism about their predictions over Brexit, will not present nationwide jobs warnings, but if the dire predictions about London were extrapolated across all the 23 million people who will be in tier 3 it would mean between one million and two million jobs are at risk.

In a virtual meeting with Tory backbenchers last week, Johnson told MPs that the OBR was “too gloomy” about the economy bouncing back.

Even before last night’s letter, he ordered that the first review of the new tiers on December 16 be “a real moment” in which millions will be moved from tier 3 down to tier 2.

“In two more weeks we will have more data on how the national lockdown has helped bring the numbers down,” a senior figure said.

“There are a load of places that are on the borderline between 2 and 3 and by mid-December the data should allow some to move down.”

The biggest of those might be Manchester. Edward Argar, the health minister, was asked repeatedly by MPs on a Zoom call on Thursday about what the exit strategy is for those areas in tier 3.

An MP from Greater Manchester who was on the call said: “He just couldn’t answer the question. Some of us believe Andy Burnham has pissed off Matt Hancock so much, we will be in lockdown in perpetuity.”

But it is now clear Burnham has been tipped the wink by ministers that his region will be downgraded to tier 2. An ally said: “We are about two weeks behind Liverpool so we see no reason why we won’t be in tier 2. We have been reassured that the review will be meaningful.” That is supported by senior figures in No 10. “December 16 is a big deal,” one added.

If this helps to placate Tory backbenchers, it will put the prime minister into conflict with the scientists. Sage minutes, shown to ministers last week, reveal that the experts remain implacably opposed to any loosening of the rules in the run-up to Christmas.

They predict that the R number, a rating of the virus’s ability to spread, could double from just under one to about two, leading to exponential growth. On Friday the scientists advised against singing, dancing, playing board games or hugging relatives at Christmas.

No 10 is furious with the Department of Health, where senior figures have briefed MPs that they would like to impose a fourth, higher tier — rebranded as “3-plus” — in January if Christmas sends infections up. A No 10 source said: “They have been pushing this for weeks. It is simply not going to happen.” Hancock denies this is his view.

Downing Street is similarly quick to leap on overly optimistic briefings by officials elsewhere in Whitehall that the purchase of hundreds of millions of quick- turnaround “lateral flow” tests mean a “test and release” scheme could be set up to enable theatres to reopen for pantomimes and for people to attend the traditional Boxing Day football matches.

Johnson told MPs at the 1922 committee: “We have cornered the market” in the tests, but a No 10 source said: “We are some way off that.”

The prime minister’s inner circle is cautious about predicting the end is in sight. Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, has privately warned senior members of the civil service that they will continue to work from home until at least Easter.

A Whitehall source said: “The strategy they are working towards is to try and get things back to normal in the spring but that will depend on how successfully they roll out the vaccination scheme.”

There are some grounds for optimism. This weekend Sharma signed a deal for another two million doses of the Moderna vaccine, bringing the total number to seven million.

Ministers hope the Pfizer vaccine, of which Britain has ordered 40 million doses, will get the green light from safety watchdogs and will start being given to the over-70s and the clinically obese by December 7. However, the logistics of distributing the Pfizer drug, which has to be kept at minus 70C, is “daunting”.

The Oxford University vaccine being made by AstraZeneca has also hit bumps, with claims that the trials were poorly structured. But Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, told No 10 officials last week that it is still on track.

Key people, including NHS workers, teachers and police officers, will get it first although it is understood that the government has the capability to deliver only one million doses a week. No 10 says that will be scaled up.

Military chiefs are preparing for a flood of requests from councils for help with mass testing and vaccine distribution. They will open a “clearing house” team in the headquarters of the army’s 14,000-strong Covid Support Force to process the requests. Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, told MPs last week that he could not replicate the Liverpool testing regime nationwide because“I don’t have that many people”.

Normal life might be around the corner, but the liberation force will not be the artillery or the cavalry. Johnson had better hope that whoever it is can score a late winner in the second half.

Angry Tory MPs turn on Gove after ‘overwhelmed NHS’ claims

Boris Johnson was facing a growing Tory mutiny over new Covid-19 restrictions last night as furious Conservative MPs accused the government of exaggerating capacity problems in the NHS in an attempt to win their support.

[See the two contrasting posts of yesterday: “Boris offers escape route for towns and villages” and “Support our curbs or Covid will swamp our NHS”. Distinctly mixed messages. – Owl]

Toby Helm

Ahead of a crucial Commons vote on the new three-tier system on Tuesday, an extraordinary row erupted over claims by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove that the NHS, including the newly constructed Nightingale hospitals, could be “physically overwhelmed”.

Writing yesterday in the Times, Gove revealed that the earlier decision to impose a second national lockdown had been taken after ministers had been presented with a grim picture of rising Covid-19 cases and Nightingale hospitals at capacity.

“Every bed, every ward occupied,” Gove wrote. Attempting to force rebel Conservatives into line, he told elected members that they had “to take responsibility for difficult decisions” in the national interest.

In a desperate attempt to win potential rebels round, the prime minister wrote to all MPs spelling out that regulations putting areas in tiers would end on 3 February and be reviewed every fortnight until then. He also promised the analysis demanded by many MPs of the health, economic and social impact of Covid-19 and the measures taken to tackle them.

But as Tory MPs objected to Gove’s tone, the argument was stoked further as other Conservatives revealed to the Observer that health minister Nadine Dorries had told a group of them last week that the Nightingale hospitals were in fact largely unfilled because people regarded them as “dark and dingy”, and that it was proving difficult to find the staff to run them. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care denied she had used those words and said: “Each NHS Nightingale has been developing a clinical model that can be scaled up as and when additional capacity is required in the region. This model ensures that the right skill mix of staff will be available from NHS trusts in the region, NHS professionals and direct recruitment if required.”

A spokesperson for the NHS confirmed that just two of seven Nightingales – Manchester and Exeter – had begun to admit patients.

One senior Tory said: “Ministers like Gove cannot at one and the same time be saying we are on the brink of being overwhelmed unless we adopt far tougher measures, while admitting they are not using any but a tiny number of the emergency capacity beds we have, and that, anyway, they don’t have the staff. If it is as bad as he says, what have they been doing since March?”

Tobias Ellwood, one of the Tory MPs threatening to vote against the government on Tuesday, said Gove had been “completely disingenuous because every one of our Nightingales is underused – they are largely dormant”. On Twitter, he added: “Let’s not place areas in higher tiers, due to local bed pressure when other beds lie empty.”

Johnson announced on Thursday that 99% of the population of England would enter the highest two tiers, with tight restrictions on bars and restaurants, and a ban on households mixing indoors. Only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly will be in the lowest tier.

Many Tory MPs say the new system imposes excessively tight restrictions on areas with fewer cases which border regions with higher numbers of cases. They have called on ministers to produce more evidence for their decisions and also to publish analysis of the economic cost of imposing the new regime. They also want boundaries to be drawn at a more local level.

Charles Walker, the vice chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs, said he would vote against the government on Tuesday and believed that Gove’s approach had backfired.

He said: “Michael Gove’s intervention has not helped the government’s case. I, like most MPs, have perhaps one or two emails a week from people saying ‘tighten the rules’ but scores from people running businesses asking how they can survive. Members of parliament who have deep concerns about the latest round of restrictions are acting in good faith by representing those who elected them. They are doing what they were elected to do.”

In his letter to MPs the prime minister called these “tough times” requiring “tough decisions”. He said areas could move into lower tiers from 16 December and the government would spell out what was needed before this could happen. A Cabinet meeting on 17 December would spell out what tiers would operate from 19 December. After the fourth fortnightly review on 27 January, parliament would have another vote “determining whether the measures stay in place until the end of March”.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, which will be placed in tier 3, accused the government of repeating scare tactics used by ministers during his recent rows with Westminster.

“Gove and the government have form on this,” he said. “They used the same scare tactics against Greater Manchester when they tried to browbeat us into accepting their original flawed tier 3 proposals. It didn’t work then and people should be sceptical of it now.” He said all MPs in tier 3 areas should “think twice” before voting for a system that would give their councils no extra support than those in tier 1 or 2, adding: “It will decimate their towns and cities and is a deliberate act of levelling down.”

The occupancy rate of Manchester’s Nightingale hospital, he said, was low, while locally the number of intensive-care Covid-19 patients had fallen to its lowest level since early November.

At least 10 Tory MPs are expected to vote against the government on Tuesday, with some two dozen or more said to be deeply uneasy and waiting to see if the government makes concessions. Former Cabinet minister Damian Green, the MP for Ashford in Kent, said: “Unless I see new convincing evidence, I will vote against.” Seven Tory MPs from Kent are due to meet Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock on Monday.

Tory MP Dr Ben Spencer said: “As a doctor, with all my body and soul we absolutely cannot let our NHS be overwhelmed and I agree with Michael Gove that MPs must take responsibility for difficult decisions. That’s why to make these decisions MPs need the harm/benefit analysis and the predicted impact of these restrictions on NHS capacity for their local areas.”

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group, which has raised deep concerns of the plans, said he was grateful for the “constructive approach’ and would study the details of Johnson’s letter before Tuesday’s vote. Labour has yet to decide how to vote and is pressing for more financial support for hard-hit areas and businesses.

Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at Exeter University Medical School, warned that the risks to individuals were being ignored by those seeking tier relaxation. He said: “It is all very well talking about numbers and infection rates but what about the person who gets infected and ends up with permanently damaged lungs? They are done for life. These are the factors that we should be focussed on.”

Coronavirus expert David Matthews of Bristol University added that the government needed to be much clearer about its motives for imposing strict new measures. “It is imposing them because we don’t want cases to start rising again,” he said. “If unchecked, that would mean people will be left to die, untreated, in their own homes because there would be no hospital beds for them because there were so many other sick individuals. If a person gets seriously ill with Covid, they should have the right to have emergency treatment, dexamethasone, and oxygen in emergency care units. Keeping case numbers low is therefore essential.”

Meanwhile, hospitals have been told to prepare for the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine in as little as 10 days’ time, with NHS workers expected to be at the front of the queue. NHS bosses said hospitals in England could expect to receive their first deliveries of a vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech as soon as Monday 7 December, with regulatory approval anticipated within days.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 16 November

‘Why did it take nine hours to go 130 miles in our new electric Porsche?’

“To really help the revolution get to full power before 2030 we need a concerted effort from local authorities to take up the charging point grants – only one in six do, according to AA research, and for those premises providing chargers to ensure they work.”

Miles Brignall

A couple from Kent have described how it took them more than nine hours to drive 130 miles home from Bournemouth as they struggled to find a working charger capable of producing enough power to their electric car.

Linda Barnes and her husband had to visit six charging stations as one after another they were either out of order, already had a queue or were the slow, older versions that would never be able to provide a fast enough charge in the time.

While the couple seem to have been “incredibly unlucky”, according to the president of the AA, Edmund King, their case highlights some of the problems that need ironing out before electric car owners can rely on the UK’s charging infrastructure.

The couple, who love their new fully electric Porsche Taycan 4S, which has a range of about 250 miles, contacted the Guardian to describe how difficult it is to recharge a car away from home. Their journey would have taken two and a half hours in a conventional car, they say.

The pair are not the first owners who love their electric cars to complain that the UK’s charging network is poorly maintained, complicated and hugely difficult to navigate via its various apps and payment systems.

The latest electric cars require fast 50kW-100kW chargers to refill on the go but they are hard to find and are often out of action.

Their journey shows the scale of the challenge the government faces if it is to have a working infrastructure in place ahead of its ban on new petrol and diesel cars in 2030.

Linda Barnes says they knew they would have to stop for a fast charge on the way home but were unprepared for what happened next.

“We left Bournemouth with 45 miles of range left and followed the car’s navigation system to the nearest fast charger, plugged it in but nothing happened,” she says. “A parking attendant told us it had been out of action for weeks.”

After a tour of several chargers, they were left wondering if they might have to stay the night in a hotel. A nearby Porsche garage with a slow charger gave them a free boost to get them to the next motorway services. When they arrived there, a woman who was using it told them she had only got it working by calling the helpline and that the call centre was about to close.

At their next stop, there was a queue to use the 7kW slow charger, which was working but came with a “distinctly unhelpful” 45-minute time limit, at which point another driver suggested a nearby hotel that had charging points.

Rather than risk driving there and use up more power, the couple phoned, only to be told by staff that they had no idea what type it was or if it was even working.

When they finally got to a working fast charger at a motorway services – via two more that were not operating – they were met with eight shiny Tesla chargers but discovered they were out of bounds because they are only available to the brand’s owners.

Fortunately, there was another fast charger that was available and they were finally able to get enough power to get home with only 11% battery power to spare.

Linda says the sense of relief was enormous. “We ran through the entire gamut of emotions in those nine hours – resignation, range anxiety, annoyance and disbelief that this was happening – and finally elation when we realised we’d get home,” she says.

“At one point I thought we might have to spend the night in the motorway service area. We would have stayed in the hotel if it hadn’t been the night that the second lockdown came into force.”

Thinking that they had just been unlucky on their first outing, the next day Linda’s husband drove to their nearest town where there are three charging points in a car park. None were working.

“He then drove to a local pub where there is one in the car park – that was not working, either. Undeterred, he drove to the local BP fuel station but, sure enough, that was not functioning. There was no helpline number on the charging point and the assistant in the service station couldn’t help and said it was nothing to do with them.”

Linda says she now knows why most drivers charge their cars at home overnight and avoid using the public network. “Our car is lovely to drive and electric cars are the future. However, someone needs to get a grip of the charging infrastructure,” she says. “On the plus side, we have discovered that electric car owners are a helpful bunch and everyone we met tried to help.”

The AA’s King, a keen electric vehicle driver, says the couple were very unlucky with their first non-home charging experience: “This couple are very lucky to have a Taycan, which is the best electric vehicle I have ever driven. For most electric vehicle drivers, charging at home and at work gets them where they want to go and back.

“However, the reliability and availability of public charging does vary, with much criticism aimed particularly at charging on some motorway service areas but things are fast improving.”

He cites companies such as Gridserve, which has a state-of-the-art charging station near Braintree in Essex, and InstaVolt, which has won three customer awards this year for the reliability of its 500kW rapid charging network.

“Electric vehicle consumers want more interoperability, more chargers, greater reliability and a contactless experience. To really help the revolution get to full power before 2030 we need a concerted effort from local authorities to take up the charging point grants – only one in six do, according to AA research, and for those premises providing chargers to ensure they work. Driving an electric vehicle is great fun and can save you money and save emissions. Let’s make sure the future network can help save range anxiety,” he says.

Charging points: what you need to know

• There are more than 11,600 public charging sites in the UK, located at motorway service areas, supermarket and local authority car parks and, increasingly, pubs and restaurants. However, they come with a variety of sockets, power sizes, and a baffling array of payment methods – depending on the provider.

• Some are free to use but most have a fee, particularly the rapid chargers that will provide 80% recharges in 40-60 minutes. Some require users to sign up for an app and special payment card; the better sites let you pay contactlessly with a standard bank card – but there are not enough.

• Paid-for charging sites typically cost 30p per kWh, which is about twice as much you would pay if doing it at home. You will pay about £10 for 33kWh of electricity at a rapid charger – in most cases enough to drive about 130 miles.

• In something of a rerun of the Betamax v VHS video battle of the 1980s, there are three types of connector being used, so most drivers have to carry two leads around. The good news is that new cars sold in Europe are moving to one standard, CCS faster charging, which should make life much easier. Drivers connecting to low-power 7kW public chargers use their own cable, while the higher-powered 50kW and 100kW sites have built-in cables, similar to a petrol pump.

• Too often, chargers are simply out of order, a really big problem if you were banking on being able to use one to complete a journey. The various apps will often tell you it is working but the information can be out of date.

• This article was amended on 28 November 2020. An earlier version incorrectly referred to a ban on new “petrol and electric” cars in 2030, rather than petrol and diesel cars.

Politicians were once held to account – now nothing stands in their way

Most people in Britain were brought up in a country that offered the faint hope of justice. The police would investigate corruption, if only occasionally. Politicians would dodge and weave but avoid flat-out lies. Political parties had moral standards, however flexible, and if a minister disgraced himself or herself they could resign. Opposition politicians, journalists, satirists, charities and alliances of concerned citizens worked on the assumption that if they exposed wrongdoing there was a chance it would stop.

 Nick Cohen 

I don’t wish to romanticise the past. My small point is that we have not always been as shamefully governed as we are governed today. Countries change and not always for the better. Corruptions of public life in Britain that were once challenged now pass unpunished. The old codes that restrained the powerful have proved useless against politicians who say: “We can break them and no one can stop us.” Boris Johnson’s administration now lies as a matter of policy and a matter of course.

Do I hear you say that all politicians lie? Not like members of this government they don’t. Today’s ministers do not just avoid the question. They lie outright, loud and proud. To confine myself to the past week, ministers said the electorate “settled the argument” about a no-deal Brexit in the 2016 referendum and the 2019 general election. The record shows Leavers promised voters “the easiest deal in human history” in 2016 and an “oven-ready” deal in 2019. They were still telling the Leave voters they cozened that we should be able to enjoy the benefits of being in the EU after leaving. If there is chaos at the ports and job losses, it will be because the EU willed suffering on us as a punishment, rather than because Boris Johnson foisted a hard Brexit on his country, with predictable and inevitable consequences.

It may seem like a lost age, but not so long ago allegations of corruption warranted police investigations. In 2006, a Scottish Nationalist MP alleged Labour was selling peerages in return for political donations. The Met questioned Labour fundraisers and ministers in Tony Blair’s government, up to and including Blair. What makes the past seem almost rosy is the sequel. The Crown Prosecution Service said there was not enough evidence to prosecute. Labour did not turn on the Metropolitan police and force its chief commissioner out. Blair did not claim that the police were pursuing a political vendetta. He and his government took the investigation on the chin and accepted scrutiny as the price of governing in a democracy.

The police have prima facie grounds this weekend to investigate the billions in Covid contracts this government has sluiced out of the Treasury to friends and allies. Cronyism wasn’t a small error of judgment. It was such an accepted part of the spending splurge that the National Audit Office found civil servants had established a VIP fast-lane “to assess and process potential PPE leads referred by government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals”.

If Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Met, and Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency, were to investigate, they would do so in the knowledge that the Johnson administration menaces everyone who holds it to account. The Electoral Commission investigates allegations against Vote Leave and Conservative MPs. The government proposes to abolish it. The Supreme Court rules that Johnson cannot arbitrarily suspend parliament. The government proposes curtailing its powers.

You can guess how a police investigation would be dealt with. Tory newspapers and websites – probably the Telegraph and Guido – would look for the smallest piece of dirt to smear Dicks and Owens as Remainers or liberals. The courtier intellectuals at Policy Exchange would develop strategies to stop the “activist” police officers pursuing “political prosecutions”. Ministers would endorse them and before you knew it the police would be under attack. Even if they want to investigate, the police must have noticed that the Priti Patel case ended with the guilty minister staying in her job while the honourable investigator resigned.

Do you still think nothing has changed? Let’s see what else I have. Staying with last week, governments once believed manifesto promises were sacrosanct. On Wednesday, the Conservatives tore up their manifesto promise on international aid.

When Labour was in power, journalists deplored its reliance on spin. Johnson wrote in 2006 that Blair was “luxuriating in power, while all 3,000-odd government spin doctors… squander untold millions burnishing his image”. (It wasn’t true but back then no one thought it worth their time exposing Johnson. Britain might not be in such a squalid state if we had.)

Last week, the Open Democracy website revealed a government led by Johnson, the enemy of spin, had set up an “Orwellian” unit to obstruct the release of sensitive information requested by the public under the Freedom of Information Act and to compile blacklists of journalists.

In 2014, Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit in his conference speech. Johnson seized on the “Freudian slip” as proof Labour was unfit to govern. Last week, his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, issued a spending review and did not mention Brexit once, which certainly showed he was unfit to govern, The media did not pile into Sunak’s “Freudian slip” as they piled in on Miliband and not only because of pro-Tory bias.

Time is on the side of authoritarian rulers. The Tories know that, however furious the cries of anger, they have an 80-seat majority and the next election won’t be for years. The scandal will fade. They will endure.

I am not about to offer false optimism. People once believed the way they could win change was by shaming the double standards of rulers hiding behind masks of virtue. Now there are no easy ways of coping with rulers who have no shame, who feel no need to pretend to be virtuous because they can govern with impunity. The only answer is to tell yourself to keep pounding away in the faint hope that a kind of justice will come years from now. I accept this isn’t the most rousing of slogans.

• Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist