Sickness lasts longer with UK variant, study suggests

The increased infectiousness of the UK coronavirus variant could be because people stay sicker for longer, a small study has suggested.

Tom Whipple, Science Editor www.thetimes.co.uk

The research, conducted using data from 65 US basketball players and staff who had contracted Covid-19, found that the seven infected with the new variant were ill for about 13 days, compared with eight days for the 58 who contracted the old variant.

If confirmed, the study may also mean that countries need to extend the length of time that people self-isolate.

“We thought [the UK variant’s] increased infectiousness was due to higher viral load,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said. The new data, he said, “suggests it’s related to . . . longer duration of infections”.

However, scientists caution that the findings come from a small sample.

The study, by researchers from Harvard University, was only possible because of regular testing in the US National Basketball Association. People typically only get a test when they are symptomatic, and after testing positive take no further tests, meaning it is possible to chart neither the beginning nor end of the infection. The NBA, however, tests daily, and — unusually — continues to do so when players test positive, meaning the full course of the infection can be monitored.

Those infected with the old variant took two days from the detection of the virus to reach peak viral load. It then took six days until the virus was undetectable. Among those with the new variant, the duration was five and eight days respectively.

Dr Jenny Rohn of University College London said that a larger study was needed, but that the findings would explain the strain’s infectiousness. “The study also has serious implications for the current quarantine period of ten days, given that the Kent variant was shown to be at large in the infected person for an average of 13 days,” she said.

Dr Simon Clarke of Reading University said that it hinted at why the variant was more deadly, speculating that the increased time “gives greater opportunity for the immune system to overreact and kill the patient”.

Budleigh TIC plea for website funding

If tourism is so important to the local economy, why doesn’t the “sector” support Tourist Information Centres (TICs) ?

Owl understands that the rise in airbnb has resulted in a catastrophic fall in commissions that used to be earned by TICs in taking b&b bookings.

Daniel Wilkins​ www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

A plea has been made to help fund a new-look website for the town’s tourist information centre which would help attract visitors and tour operators to Budleigh Salterton. 

The TIC’s current website http://www.visitbudleigh.com is not ‘fit for purpose’ according to trustee Helen Warren and a drop in revenue from advertisers is partly due to the current state of the site. 

Estimates for a new web page are in the region of between £2,500 and £3,500 with East Devon AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) pledging £1,000 towards the TIC. 

The centre is currently in the process of applying to become a not-for-profit organisation and is appealing for organisations or individuals who might be prepared to help meet the funding shortfall. 

Mrs Warren, who is also chairman of the chamber of commerce, said the TIC, which is currently closed due to the coronavirus restrictions, is completely self-funded and relies on advertising revenue to keep going. 

She added: “It (the current site) is very difficult to navigate and the graphics are poor. 

“Our neighbouring towns of Sidmouth and Exmouth both have modern websites that have been fully funded by their town councils. 

“Sadly, this is not the case for Budleigh and so the centre needs to raise money in order to create a website of equal merit. 

“A modern, dynamic website with good visuals and links will help to promote Budleigh as a destination town worth visiting.  

“It would promote its independent shops and cafes, beach and water sports, walking and cycling routes, wildlife, community events , drama and Internationally acclaimed festivals, which will in turn benefit the local economy and provide community engagement. 

“By promoting sustainable tourism the information centre hopes to be able to persuade sufficient local businesses to think that this is a useful website that will promote their interests and encour-age visitors into the area.” 

The website also needs to be populated with good quality photographs of the area and events that take place throughout the year.  

If anyone can supply some suitable images, they can be credited with their name. 

For more information on supporting the Tourist Information Centre, ring Helen on 01395 442600/07902 128104 or email helenlouisewarren@gmail.com  

Continuing the theme: Parish councils need to be reformed urgently

 Letter www.theguardian.com 

The recent Handforth parish council meeting (Editorial, 8 February) highlights the ongoing issue of dealing with bullying by councillors. The scrutiny of councils set out in the Localism Act 2011 sadly does not apply to parish councils. The government’s preferred approach is to leave complaints to be remedied through the ballot box but, with elections every four years, this is not a solution. Beleaguered councillors and residents have nowhere to go. Complaints may be made to the monitoring officer of the district or unitary authority, but they have no teeth to deal with bad conduct.

The government is aware of this problem. In 2015, a consultation on extending the remit of the local government ombudsman to larger parish and town councils was held, but the results were never published. In 2016, the draft public service ombudsman bill, in which all parish councils were to be included in the scheme, was drafted but not presented to parliament. Apparently, now it is not fit for purpose. In February 2019, a government briefing paper (No 04827) again highlighted the need for reform, but still nothing has been done.

In the meantime, good councillors are resigning following unacceptable behaviour from fellow councillors, and trying to recruit new ones is next to impossible in such a toxic environment. Parish councils are at the coalface of local government and communities. Only reform can solve this serious failing in local democracy.

Jane Brook

Former parish councillor, Northaw, Hertfordshire

After the Handforth melt down, Honiton Town Council says “Hold my beer…”

This article in West Country Bylines explains the background to the “goings on” in Honiton Town Council chronicled in the Watch. 

This has led to the foundation of “Honiton Forward” and Owl wonders what impact that might have on the Conservative grip on the Honiton and surrounding Divisions in the May County Council elections.

John Burgess westcountrybylines.co.uk 

If you thought Handforth Council was bad, let me introduce you to Honiton. In the last three years, two successive town clerks and 17 councillors have resigned. Two council employees were more or less driven out of their jobs. £75,000 was wasted on staffing issues, and employment tribunals are pending. A barrage of complaints was sent to the Monitoring Officer, with a hearing due in March. £88,000 was spent on legal fees with no result, so a total of £163,000 of taxpayers’ money has gone down the drain.

Voters were so disgusted by this catalogue of failure that a non-political organisation, Honiton Forward, was formed to bring pressure to bear on the council. It gathered 600 signatures on a petition calling for all councillors to resign, so that an election could be held to form a new council.

The petition was presented in a volatile council meeting last March, attended by 60 members of the public. The vote on the motion was split 50:50 between the reformers on the council and those who had been largely responsible for its disastrous policies. The Mayor, chief instigator of the policies, cast his vote against the petition. All the reformers subsequently resigned, leaving a rump of just seven active members.

Honiton Forward launched a second petition calling on East Devon District Council (EDDC) to undertake a Governance Review of the council. This device is used for forming new councils or where ward boundaries have been changed, making it necessary to hold fresh elections. It has never (yet) been used to remove an existing council. Over 1400 signatures were obtained from the electorate – well over the 10 per cent required. The petition was presented to EDDC in December. We await its outcome.

However, change could come as soon as May, when by-elections will be held to fill the ten vacancies on the council caused by a spate of resignations last year. If Honiton Forward can field ten candidates and win all the seats, they will have a majority to bring about vital reform.

The history of the mess in Honiton goes back to 2012, when the council voted by 12 votes to 3 to build The Beehive, a new community and arts centre. This facility was something the town had desperately needed. The building opened in 2014, providing Honiton with a cinema, theatre, live music venue and a centre for many local organisations. With an annual footfall of 60,000, it has been a great success and was voted Devon Community Centre of The Year for 2017.

You would think the council would be pleased that this major project was going so well, and would do all it could to ensure continuing success, but you would be wrong.

There was a split on two big issues: first, an overspend on the build of almost £100,000 meant the council had to increase its mortgage on the building to plug the gap; and secondly, the council decided to operate The Beehive by leasing most of the building to a charity set up by the council for that purpose.

A faction on the council, led by the current mayor, strongly opposed leasing to a charity as the council would have no control, and this same faction also argued the overspend should be reclaimed from the architects of The Beehive who had overseen the build. Following resignations of six Beehive-supporting councillors, the ‘anti-Beehive’ faction became the dominant force and began disputes against the architects and against the charity, which led to legal action. Conflicts arose with council members and council staff, with accusations of bullying, resignations of councillors and the resignation of a Town Clerk.

So incensed were users of The Beehive that a council meeting attracted over 150 townspeople demanding that the council come to an agreement with the charity out of court.

Several issues with the way councils operate have become painfully apparent over the years of this sorry saga.

Because councils are sovereign bodies, there is no way to hold a council to account save through the election cycle. But if there is no election, what then? In the council elections in East Devon in May 2019, 67 wards out of 84 were uncontested, including the two Honiton Wards. No election meant no change.

Shockingly, there is zero redress for the ratepayers if the council wastes their money. Honiton council has blown £88,000 on two failed legal disputes, and wasted another £75,000 on issues caused by staff suffering work-related stress and having to take sick leave. No councillor has resigned, no councillor has apologised, and no one is held to account for this huge waste of money.

There is a growing recognition that councils do not reflect the diversity of the populations they serve. Six of the seven remaining active councillors in Honiton are retired, three first joined the council 12 years ago and one has been a member for over 30 years. Yet, nine of the ten members who resigned last year were in their 30s, 40s or 50s with full-time jobs, and took their relative youth, energy and ideas with them.

So what is to be done? There needs to be some means of holding a council to account, perhaps through a Council Ombudsman to whom the public can appeal if the council loses the confidence of the electorate. There should also be some external oversight of potential legal disputes to assess the risk to public money.

Most voters have little idea of who their councillors are or what they do. This makes an election where a voter has to choose, say, nine from a list of 16 candidates, simply a lottery; good candidates are not elected whilst poor ones are.

Candidates for council elections should be required to publish their manifestos on the council website, so the public have at least some idea who they are voting for. Once elected, councillors should also be required to report back to the public on a regular basis, say bi-monthly, on their council work, and to justify their decisions. Councillors should also be limited to two or three terms, and steps taken to help councils reflect the diversity of their communities. Honiton will have the added challenge of overcoming the damage done by this unhappy and very public spat.

Local councils have an important role in the local community, but their work is largely unknown and unappreciated. They can provide a stepping-stone into public decision-making for aspiring politicians, and an opportunity for retired people to bring their experience to bear. But they are also open to an abuse of power, and it is time to look at how they operate and find ways to improve transparency, scrutiny and accountability.

Trump’s failed Atlantic City casino demolished before cheering crowd

The fall of a leader with authoritarian instincts is usually symbolised by toppled statues and looted palaces. For Donald Trump, perhaps inevitably, it was the demolition of a failed casino.

David Smith www.theguardian.com

On Wednesday the former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was reduced to rubble in 20 seconds by 3,000 sticks of dynamite. It had fallen into such disrepair that chunks of the building had been tumbling to ground……

(see online article for video)

This time last year – a timeline of failure leading to unnecessary deaths

As Simon Jupp MP takes to the media to say that after a year with our freedoms curtailed, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, let us reflect what an expensive shambles this year has been.

Had the Government continued with its policy of turning to consultants, rather than use existing public sector expertise, Owl doubts that there would be anything to celebrate except more failed moonshots and dud silver bullet “game changers”. 

Boris Johnson show his true mettle

Selected extracts from:  https://timeline-of-failure.com/ covering just the first six weeks of the emerging pandemic

 Jan 23 

 Johnson skips first Cobra meeting on the crisis

“The committee – which includes ministers, intelligence chiefs and military generals – gathers at moments of great peril such as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other threats to the nation and is normally chaired by the prime minister.” (Sunday Times)

January to March: Government fails to check or quarantine airport arrivals.


Fewer than 300 people out of the 18.1 million who entered the UK in the three months prior to the coronavirus lockdown were formally quarantined. The number of potentially infected individuals entering the UK from coronavirus-affected countries in that period is thought to be in the tens of thousands. (Guardian)

Jan 29 

Johnson misses second Cobra meeting on the virus

(Spectator)

Feb 5

Johnson misses third Cobra virus meeting
(Spectator)

Feb 11 

Government ignores recommendation to close pubs and restaurants to stop the spread of the virus


“Stopping all leisure activities, including public gatherings such as at bars and restaurants, would be expected to have a much larger effect on the population-level spread of the epidemic,” a report from government scientists states. The findings will be presented the next day at a Cobra meeting which Boris Johnson will fail to attend. (Government website)

As the danger grows, Johnson urges Britons to remain “confident and calm”
(ITV News)

Feb 12 

Johnson skips fourth Cobra meeting

A report from government scientists is presented, suggesting closing bars and restaurants could have a significant impact in stopping the spread of the virus. The Prime Minister is yet to attend a single meeting of the coronavirus emergency response committee. (Spectator)

MI5 implements pandemic plan

Sir Andrew Parker, then MI5 chief, enacts the Security Service’s pandemic plan. Parker is believed to have taken the decision immediately after hearing the grim Covid-19 prognosis from government scientists at a February Cobra meeting. (The Times)

Feb 14  

PM retreats for a ‘working holiday’

The PM decamps for a fortnight to Chevening, Kent. Despite the UK raising the official threat level to ‘moderate’ and NHS England declaring a Level 4 Critical Incident at the end of January, aides are told to keep Johnson’s briefing notes short. It will later emerge that much of Johnson’s time was spent reaching a divorce settlement, to pave the way for the announcement that he and his new partner are now engaged and expecting a baby. (Sunday Times)

 Feb 18 

Johnson skips fifth coronavirus Cobra meeting (Spectator)

Mid February: “There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning”

Looking back at this time, a Senior Downing St adviser will later say: “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there. And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was… like people feared he would be.” (Sunday Times)

Feb 24 

Johnson emerges from his ‘working holiday’ and returns to Downing Street (Mirror)

Feb 26 

Closing schools could help stop spread of virus, government scientists advise

A paper from government scientists advises that a combination of measures including school closures, home isolation and voluntary household quarantine could substantially reduce the peak of the virus. (Government website)

“Herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”

A summary of how Dominic Cummings described the Government’s strategy, according to a witness who later spoke to the Sunday Times. He denies it. (Sunday Times)

Feb 29 

First recorded transmission of the disease on UK soil (Times)

NHS bosses warn of PPE shortage and “nightmare”


In 2019, the Government’s own National Security Risk Assessment warned of the severe risk from a coronavirus pandemic. The Government failed to heed even basic recommended preparations. Instead, Brexit preparations took priority over training key workers for a pandemic, and emergency PPE stockpiles severely dwindled or went out of date following years of austerity cuts. (Sunday Times)

Johnson retreats to Chequers to announce engagement and fiancé’s pregnancy
(Telegraph)

Johnson says the virus is likely to “spread a bit more” in the UK
(Reuters)

March 2

Government’s own scientists say more than half a million Britons could die if virus is left unrestrained (Reuters)

PM finally attends a coronavirus Cobra meeting


Chairing his first Cobra meeting about the disease, the PM is confronted with estimates of half a million deaths in the UK. Despite these chilling warnings from its own pandemic modelling panel, the Government declines another opportunity to join EU countries jointly buying essential PPE, including overalls, gloves and face masks. (Sky News)

Johnson tells the country we are “very, very well-prepared”


As chronic PPE shortages and other failures will soon reveal, Britain is not in fact prepared. (Sky News)

March 3

The total number of coronavirus cases now recorded in mainland China reaches 80,026, with 2,943 deaths (Guardian)

March 4 

Government stops providing daily updates on Covid-19 cases

Following a 70% spike in coronavirus cases in the UK, the Government stops providing daily updates on cases – instead moving to weekly updates. Ministers will later U-turn amid accusations it is withholding vital information. (Guardian)

Greece closes its schools, following in the paths of Iran and Italy

March 5

Larger public gatherings at Greek theatres, cinemas, museums and sports events have been cancelled in three western regions of the country. The Greeks will later be lauded for successfully suppressing the virus through early action. (Guardian)

March 7 

The Prime Minister joins 82,000 at Six Nations rugby match

In the absence of clear government direction many major organisations, businesses and sporting bodies have cancelled events or implemented urgent action plans. Meanwhile Boris Johnson takes his pregnant fiancé to Twickenham. (Express)

March 9 

France bans large events and begins stricter distancing measures (New York Times)

Ireland cancels St Patrick’s Day parades (BBC News)

Government ignores advice to abandon ‘mitigation’ approach and lockdown


A paper prepared for a scientific committee advising the government’s coronavirus strategy calls in stark terms for a lockdown: a full two weeks before lockdown is implemented. (Channel 4 News)

“No rationale” for cancelling sporting events, says UK Government (BBC News)

10 – 13 March: Cheltenham Festival goes ahead with more than a quarter of a million people attending

The festival organisers cite Johnson’s attendance at the rugby three days earlier as part of their rationale for going ahead. Data will later reveal a spike in cases in the region after the event. (Guardian)

March 11 

WHO declares global pandemic
Italy reaches 827 deaths, with over 12,000 confirmed cases. (BBC News)

Madrid becomes the centre of Spain’s coronavirus crisis, closing schools
With over 1,600 cases confirmed, Madrid’s regional government announces the closure of all nurseries, schools, universities and cultural institutions. (Guardian)

Johnson allows 3,000 Atletico Madrid fans to fly to Liverpool


UK government allows the Champions League match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid to go ahead, seeing 3,000 football fans travel from Madrid to Merseyside. 52,000 people attend the match. An investigation will later be launched into a regional spike in cases. (Guardian)

March 12

Government briefs ITV’s Robert Peston that herd immunity is the strategy


Following a briefing from a Government source Peston writes: “The strategy of the British government… is to allow the virus to pass through the entire population so that we acquire herd immunity.” (ITV News)

Mass testing and contact tracing stopped


UK Government sharply departs from the course of action adopted by Germany and South Korea. At this point the UK has seen 10 deaths and 590 confirmed cases. “If we hadn’t stopped it on 12 March, our epidemic would have been much less,” professor of global health Anthony Costello will later say. According to the Royal Society of Medicine’s Gabriel Scally: “Abandoning testing gave the virus the green light to spread uncontrollably.” (Bloomberg)

UK Government’s plan is projected to kill 250k people

The Government is presented with “shattering” findings from Imperial College modelling. Untrammelled, the virus could kill half a million people. The Government’s herd immunity plan is projected to kill a quarter of a million. It is critical that action is taken urgently to suppress the virus. Instead it will be a further 11 days before Johnson introduces a lockdown. (Sunday Times)

Imposing a national lockdown one week earlier would have saved 21,000 lives during the first wave of Covid-19, new analysis has found, confirming that the Government’s dithering had deadly consequences. 

Sadly this dithering was to be repeated – Owl