Covid cases may have stopped falling, major English survey shows

Cases of coronavirus may no longer be falling across England, according to a major survey that raises concerns over whether lockdown measures can contain the new variant, as the UK reported a record daily number of deaths.

[Owl has been keeping records of the Zoe/King’s College symptom tracker app. These data  indicate reported symptom rates in East Devon falling from the November lockdown until the Christmas break. They have then been rising and only appear to have levelled off in the past few days. Reported symptom rates are still running at levels last seen at the end of November. Owl thinks we still need to be very cautious]

Ian Sample www.theguardian.com

Boris Johnson described the 1,820 deaths reported on Wednesday as “appalling”, as he warned: “There will be more to come.”

Scientists at Imperial College London analysed swab tests from more than 142,000 people across England between 6 and 15 January which suggested that new infections may have fallen recently but were now stable, and perhaps even growing slightly, with only south-west England showing clear evidence of a decline.

Imperial’s React-1 infection survey found 1.58% of people tested had the virus, a rise of 74% compared with the previous survey conducted between 25 November and 3 December.

Infections were highest among 18 to 24-year-olds, at 2.51%, with rates more than doubling among the most vulnerable over-65s to 0.94% in the latest survey.

The scientists estimate the R value – the average number of people an infected person infects – to be 1.04 for England. The epidemic grows when R is above 1 and shrinks when it falls below 1.

But the survey reveals regional variations, with cases potentially having plateaued in London and the east of England, falling in the south-west, where the R is estimated to be 0.37, and rising in Yorkshire and the east Midlands.

Levels of the virus were highest in London, with 2.8% of those in the survey testing positive, and lowest in the south-west, with prevalence of 0.53%.

Reacting to the new record death toll, the prime minister said the more transmissible variant discovered late last year was now in virtually all parts of the UK.

“It looks as though the rates of infection in the country overall may now be peaking or flattening but they’re not flattening very fast and it’s clear that we must keep a grip on this. We must maintain discipline, formation, keep observing the lockdown,” he said.

The Imperial scientists warned that pressure on the NHS showed no sign of letting up.

“The NHS is very resilient and all sorts of contingency measures are being brought in, but we do need to get the prevalence rates down because if we don’t then we will see the same pressure from prevalence to hospital admissions to [intensive care] admissions and sadly to deaths,” said Paul Elliott, professor of epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial.

The data appears to contradict the falling trend in new daily reported cases at the start of this week, but Elliott believes the Imperial survey may be ahead of official figures, not least because the survey tests people routinely rather than picking up infections after people have developed symptoms and gone through the process of getting a test.

“We do think we are ahead of the [community testing] pillar 2 data and it may be that in coming days there will be a flattening off, but clearly we need to keep a watching brief,” Elliott said.

At a press briefing on the report, Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial, highlighted Facebook data showing a fall in mobility immediately after Christmas and a rise at the start of the new year, which might help to explain a fall in cases followed by a levelling off.

But the new variant, named B117, which emerged in the south-east and is more transmissible, is also thought to be driving more infections.

“The fact that we’re in lockdown and it’s a stronger lockdown than lockdown two [in November], but R is above 1, we’d attribute some of that to transmission of the variant strain,” Riley said.

The survey came as the UK recorded a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, reaching 38,905 on Wednesday, after continued falls in cases earlier in the week. The latest figures bring the total number of cases in the UK to 3,505,754.

Government data up to 19 January shows that of the 5,070,365 vaccinations that have been given in the UK so far, 4,609,740 were first doses – a rise of 343,163 on the previous day’s figures. Second doses accounted for 460,625, an increase of 3,759 on figures released the previous day.

The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 281,490. Based on the latest figures, an average of 399,625 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the government’s target of 15m first doses by 15 February.

Riley said that while the vaccine rollout was “quite rightly” focused on those most at risk, they were not the most likely to spread the virus.

He said it would take “a large number of weeks or possibly months” for the vaccine to have an impact on the spread of the virus and bring new cases down.

Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ council criticised as most members based in London

A business council set up by Boris Johnson to rebuild the UK after Covid has been criticised for being too London-centric and treating most of the country with “contempt” after it emerged that all but five council members are based in or near the English capital.

Helen Pidd www.theguardian.com

Just one of the 30 Build Back Better Council members is based in the north of England, two are in the Midlands, one in Cambridge and one in Scotland. None work for firms headquartered in Wales or Northern Ireland. Twenty-two are in London and three in commuter towns within 25 miles of the capital.

Announcing the council on Monday, Johnson said it would “level up opportunity for people and businesses across the UK”. He promised it would “provide an important forum for frank feedback on our recovery plans”.

But the geographic makeup of the council was criticised for drawing almost exclusively from firms based in London or the commuter belt of the capital.

Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle city council, said: “So much for levelling up. We’re the only city with an A rating for our CDP assessment (demonstrating our ambition and plan for net zero by 2030), we’ve created thousands of jobs in the city over the last decade, we’ve won national praise for our work on tackling homelessness, we’ve broken all our housebuilding targets and we’re the first city to have all care home residents vaccinated against Covid. But the government doesn’t think they have anything to learn from us.”

Frank McKenna from UnitedCity, a pressure group set up to help businesses in Greater Manchester recover from the pandemic, said: “The one thing the government should have learnt from the last nine months, surely, is that we can’t have a one-size-fits-all-approach to rebuilding our economy.”

McKenna, who also heads Downtown in Business, which brings together firms in the north of England and the West Midlands, said it wasn’t too late to broaden the council’s membership. “Even at this stage I would say to Boris Johnson and his colleagues: this just looks daft … At worst it looks like the north of England has been forgotten and is being treated with contempt again.”

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership thinktank, said: “A large part of the British business community, including a number of its most significant firms, is here – not least most of its major supermarkets. It is vital that discussions about key business priorities reflect that.”

A government spokesperson defended the appointments, saying: “The Build Back Better Council members have significant operations across the UK, employing tens of thousands of people in factories, R&D campuses, shops and forecourts across the Midlands and the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Council members were selected because of their long-term commitment to the UK economy and their combined capability to increase business investment, get the economy moving and create jobs across the entire country.”

The council members include senior executives from companies including Google, Heathrow Airport, British Airways and Unilever. Outside London and the commuter belt there is the chief executive of Siemens, based in Manchester; the chief executives of Jaguar Land Rover and Severn Trent, both in Coventry; Sir Ian Wood of the engineering consultancy Wood in Aberdeen, and Poppy Gustafsson from the cyber-security firm Darktrace in Cambridge. The three companies within 25 miles of the capital are in Slough, Brentwood in Middlesex and Welwyn Garden City.

A new local plan for East Devon – Issues and Options report consultation

[Text of e-mail from EDDC on general circulation forwarded by a correspondent]

Dear Sir/Madam

A new local plan for East Devon – Issues and Options report consultation

I am delighted to advise that we are producing a new local plan for East Devon.  To start things off we have produced an Issues and Options consultation report.  This report highlights some of the major planning issues and challenges that we see for East Devon over the years ahead and some of the potential responses.  We would welcome your views on the matters we raise or any additional considerations.

The Issues and options report can be viewed www.eastdevon.gov.uk/newlocalplan and we have also produced an online questionnaire that we would encourage you to fill out.  We need to receive any comments by 12:00 noon on Monday 15 March 2021.

Responses received to the consultation, along with ongoing plan making work, will be used to help us produce a draft version of the local plan that we hope will go out for consultation in early 2022.

It is envisaged that a new local plan will guide future development and contain the full range of planning policies needed for the Council to undertake its development management functions and determine planning applications.   This consultation is undertaken in respect of the requirements of ‘Regulation 18’ of ‘The Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012’ https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/767/regulation/18/made

Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment – Call for Sites

To support local plan production we are undertaking a call for sites as part of a new Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment (HELAA).  If you wish to promote any sites or areas of land in East Devon, for development, please visit our HELAA web page www.eastdevon.gov.uk/callforsites

Submission need to be received by 12:00 noon on Monday 15 March 2021

Sustainability Appraisal Scoping report

Local Plan production needs to be accompanied by sustainability appraisal.  We have produced a draft scoping report and would welcome any comments, again by 12:00 noon on Monday 15 March 2021.  Please see our sustainability appraisal web page www.eastdevon.gov.uk/sustainabilityappraisal for more details.

Yours faithfully

Matt Dickins

Planning Policy Manager

‘WHY THE GOVERNMENT SECRECY?’ ASKS GOOD LAW PROJECT

Legal challenge on Covid procurement secrecy with court hearing scheduled for Wednesday 3 February

Jon Danzig www.facebook.com 

The UK now has the highest COVID-19 death rate of anywhere in the world, writes Jolyon Maugham, QC, Director of the Good Law Project.

As we try and make sense of how we got our response so wretchedly wrong, just how significant will Government’s abandonment of transparency and proper process prove to be?

The purpose of procurement law is to ensure the public interest is served and that contracts go to those most able to deliver.

It protects us by requiring Government to undertake open and competitive tendering. This is particularly important at times of crisis when stakes are high.

Yet Government’s response to this pandemic has been characterised by secrecy.

There are billions of pounds of public health contracts we know nothing about – we don’t know who has made the decision to spend, or with what safeguards, or why such strange counterparties were chosen.

It is almost impossible for anyone to accurately assess where we’ve gone wrong because so many parts of the story are missing.

And Government is being deliberately misleading about what it has and hasn’t complied with.

On 17 December, Cabinet Office Minister, Julia Lopez, responded to a question in Parliament stating that all PPE contracts had now been published.

[Source: https://hansard.parliament.uk/…/583A3CB…/Covid-19Consultants]

That is simply not true.

Our litigation has revealed Government is refusing to publish whole categories of contracts, including those of significant agencies like Public Health England and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

[Source: https://drive.google.com/…/1ZxVtlh_zkY0MZ8fALO1iARTSRY…/view]

Executive agencies have no separate legal status – there is no lawful reason to exclude these.

Further, the NAO in its second report on pandemic procurement, set out that £12.5 billion had been spent on PPE between February and July 2020, including through existing contracts with Supply Chain Coordination Limited (SCCL), which manages the NHS supply chain.

[Source: https://www.nao.org.uk/…/The-supply-of-personal-protective-…]

However, data provided to us by Tussell on 18 December showed that only £8 billion of PPE contract awards made during that same period had been published.

Procurement through existing contracts is still the subject of an obligation to publish. Yet Government has published no details of call-off contracts with SCCL relating to PPE – over £4 billion of contracts are hidden.

These breaches matter.

▪ They matter because they normalise non-compliance with the law.

▪ They matter because they erode public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely, and that it will not just be handed to politically connected individuals, without adequate safeguards.

▪ But most importantly they matter because without a full and honest picture of what is happening, how can we begin to turn our fatally flawed response around?

We have a Government who no longer wants to account to the people on what it does – on why we have the worst death rate in the world, on why so many families are grieving.

But they cannot evade scrutiny in the courts. Our hearing is scheduled for 3rd February.

I am publishing my final Witness Statement in full.

[Link: https://drive.google.com/…/1ZxVtlh_zkY0MZ8fALO1iARTSRY…/view]

Thank you.

Jon Danzig