Rise in virus in G7 area prompts concern over holiday hotspots

The government has denied the G7 summit is behind a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in Cornwall, a rise that is raising significant concern about extra tourism pressures on the region in the summer weeks.

Nicola Davis, Jessica Elgot, Aubrey Allegretti print edition today’s Guardian

Recent seven-day case rates have risen rapidly for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, increasing from 4.9 per 100,000 people on 3 June to 130.6 per 100,000 people on 16 June.

Outbreaks among students, as well as the impact of people travelling to and from Cornwall during half-term, are believed to have contributed to the rise in cases.

There have been significant outbreaks in Carbis Bay – the area where the G7 summit was held – as well as nearby St Ives and Newquay West where many delegates stayed during the summit.

Rates are currently high in Ponsanooth, Mabe Burnthouse and Constantine, where the uptick has been linked to an outbreak at the Penryn campus that is shared by Exeter and Falmouth universities.

Andrew George, the former Lib Dem MP for St Ives who is now a councillor in Cornwall, said the government must publish its risk assessment for the summit, a request he said had been denied.

“The correlation between G7 and the tsunami of Covid-19 case-load in St Ives/Carbis Bay and Falmouth is undeniable,” he told the Press Association.

“It ought to drive public bodies to at the very least maintain an open mind about the connection between the two. Those who were responsible for that decision and for the post-G7 summit Covid-19 case management and assessment should be held to account for their decisions and actions.”

A spokesman for Boris Johnson yesterday denied a link between the event and the rise in cases.

“We are confident that there were no cases of transmission to the local residents. All attendees were tested, everyone involved in the G7 work were also tested during their work on the summit,” he said. “We always said, following the move to step three, that we will see cases rising across the country. That is what we’re seeing playing out.”

Concerns have been raised that those indirectly linked to the G7 summit could be associated with the rise, with police, hospitality venues and a protest camp in St Ives all reporting cases of the virus.

Rowland Kao, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh who contributes to the Spi-M modelling subgroup of Sage, said Cornwall was not an outlier for vaccination uptake nor levels of the Delta variant, suggesting other factors were behind the rise in rates.

These, he said, may include low rates of infection in previous waves – meaning those not yet vaccinated are also unlikely to have natural protection – as well as seasonal working patterns and increased mixing among locals.

“Of course any risks would have been exacerbated by the large numbers of people arriving in Cornwall both for the G7 summit and for recreational purposes,” he said.

Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, also said a mix of factors was likely to be at play. “Whilst the arrival of the G7 attendees may have had some impact upon the numbers we are now seeing [in Cornwall], cases are predominantly among 15- to 24-year-olds. These populations will mostly be unvaccinated, and there may well have been a fair amount of travelling to tourist sites over the recent half-term?’

The increase in Cornish cases is likely to raise questions about the effect on other holiday hotspots in the UK with the public now being advised to avoid international travel.

Officials believe that a vaccination drive targeting younger adults, ahead of the school holidays, is now possible with the four-week delay to the final easing of lockdown restrictions.

Planning Bill: Why do house building proposals face a backlash?

The government has put sweeping changes to England’s planning rules at the heart of its plan to increase house building.

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk 

Ministers insist the current system needs a radical shake-up to ensure more homes and vital infrastructure are delivered.

But the proposals have prompted a backlash, with some Conservatives citing them as a factor in local and by-election defeats for the party.

What’s going on?

The government wants to make controversial changes to the rules that determine house building and land use in England in a new Planning Bill.

The legislation was outlined at the Queen’s Speech in May, with detailed plans expected to be published later this year.

Ministers say the current system, still largely based on laws passed after the Second World War, has become outdated and ineffective.

As a devolved issue, the planning rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are set by politicians there.

What are the new proposals?

Although ministers are still working on the exact plans, a blueprint for the overhaul was published by the government last summer.

It would see the current regime – where local planning officials assess applications case-by-case – replaced with new rules based on zones.

Councils in England would have to classify all land in their area as “protected”, for “renewal”, or for “growth”.

In protected areas, including areas of natural beauty, places at risk of flooding, and the green belt, development would generally remain restricted.

But councils would have to look favourably on development in “renewal” areas, whilst in “growth” zones, applications conforming to pre-agreed local plans would automatically gain initial approval.

Local residents would get a say on new 10-year plans underpinning the zones, but their ability to comment on individual applications would be curtailed.

Ministers argue this will speed up the planning process, and prevent viable developments being derailed by a “small minority” of vocal opponents.

They say zoning – as used in countries including Japan, Germany and the Netherlands – gives developers more “upfront” certainty of what can be built.

In addition, each council would have to plan for a share of homes from the government’s 300,000 annual house building target for England.

These quotas would be calculated by ministers and made binding – although how they would be enforced has not yet been specified.

Why have they been controversial?

Opposition parties say the plans would sideline communities from planning decisions – a criticism shared by many Conservative MPs and councillors.

They also argue that many developments that already have planning permission aren’t being built, and this should be more of a priority than changing the system.

In addition, Tory MPs in particular have expressed concern at government plans for calculating the binding local house building targets.

Although the exact formula has not been set out, ministers have said it will be based on a revised version of the algorithm currently used to estimate annual housing need in different areas.

That algorithm has already proved controversial among Tory MPs – with the government backing down in December on a previous plan to tweak it.

A number in southern constituencies had warned the changes, which gave a greater weight to affordability, would have concentrated house building in the party’s traditional heartlands.

How has the government reacted?

Following Tory MPs’ criticism, ministers unveiled a different tweak to the algorithm that placed a greater emphasis on building in urban areas and on brownfield sites.

According to planning consultancy Lichfields, it will see the planned allocation for southern England outside London drop from 137,000 to 113,700.

The capital itself will see a slight increase in its figure, with the biggest increases in Manchester, Leicester, Bradford, Derby, and Liverpool.

However, the change has failed to alleviate Tory backbenchers’ unhappiness on planning. Over 90 are said to be part of a WhatsApp group to share concerns.

Why is it a political problem for ministers?

The government will need new legislation to bring in its proposals, meaning it has to keep its MPs onside.

Some Conservatives also believe the plans were a factor in the party’s by-election defeat in the suburban seat of Chesham and Amersham, as well as notable losses in southern England at the May 2021 local elections.

But although changing course could bring some short-term respite for the government, it would also cause problems too.

Ministers have prominently argued their planning system is key to boosting house building, and “levelling up” the country through development in the Midlands and the north of England.

As well as being a key manifesto promise, this has emerged as a key plank of the party’s attempt to widen its geographical appeal.

And others in the party argue that unless more housing is delivered, the party could find it difficult in the long term to attract younger voters struggling to get a foot on the property ladder.

A Labour/Lib Dems alliance could defeat the Tories in seat after seat

“The Liberals in particular are a classic nuisance party, one that has not won a general election on its own since women won the vote. The party should either disband or sit down with Labour and agree never to contest at least winnable seats, in return for an agreed role in government. This must be what the electorate would welcome and is being denied.”

Simon Jenkins www.theguardian.com 

Anyone who predicts the outcome of general elections from byelections should stick to the horses. This applies especially to periodic Liberal Democrat upsets such as last week’s at Chesham and Amersham in Buckinghamshire, where they overturned a blue majority. This was nothing to do with choosing a government, rather it was passing judgment on Johnson’s “algorithmic” deregulation of rural planning in the south-east. It was about “taking back control”, community politics not party politics.

The Lib Dems stand for nothing radical or recognisable, just a vaguely left-of-centre outlook on life. Local issues aside, they appeal to those who vaguely agree with Labour, but cannot quite vote that way. As across Europe, the effect is to split the left-of-centre vote and thus empower the right. Over the weekend, the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, appeared to rule out any formal progressive pact. “We don’t need stitch-ups and deals,” he said. “I’m very sceptical about all that.”

Were Britain to be ruled by one-person-one-vote nationwide, it may well have returned a left-of-centre government in three of the past four elections. In the 2010 general election, the Tories won 36.1% of the vote, Labour and the Lib Dems together picked up 52%. In 2017, the Tories won 42.4% and Labour and the Lib Dems 47.4%. The last election in 2019, which was a Tory triumph in terms of seat numbers, saw the party win 43.6% of the vote, with Labour and the Lib Dems just ahead on 43.7%. In every one of these cases, the Tories still entered Downing Street.

First-past-the-post cannot be entirely blamed for this, though an additional member system as in the devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland would partly redress it. The real cause is simply the refusal of the two major parties of the left to agree any form of alliance, local or national, against the right. The seismic upheaval of Brexit has seen a much-cited shift in the socio-economic underpinning of the left, of lower-income voters moving right and higher-educated voters moving left. In theory, that aids the Lib Dems, but it merely aids them in splitting the left.

Nationally, the Lib Dems are a Westminster club. When in the 2000s their leader, Charles Kennedy, pondered veering to the left of Tony Blair’s New Labour, he decided against it. But his party should then have set aside personalities, disbanded and thrown in its lot with Blair. A modern fusion of Labour and the Lib Dems should be forcefully capitalising on a Tory party steeped in corruption allegations.

If the Lib Dems are vacuous at Westminster, they are lethal at the constituency level. As has been pointed out, Labour’s red wall in the north has not stopped crumbling, while the idea that Chesham represents an equivalent blue wall failure is fanciful. All the Lib Dems (and Labour) are doing is ensuring the left-of-centre stays unrepresented in seat after seat where it enjoys an electoral majority. The Liberals in particular are a classic nuisance party, one that has not won a general election on its own since women won the vote. The party should either disband or sit down with Labour and agree never to contest at least winnable seats, in return for an agreed role in government. This must be what the electorate would welcome and is being denied.

At present Davey is simply determined to keep the Tories in power. He already has a knighthood. Johnson owes him an earldom.

They didn’t want to reveal these names

us15.campaign-archive.com /

Good Law Project is now able to reveal the names of six more companies awarded PPE contracts through the controversial ’VIP’ fast-track lane for associates of ministers and advisers. These six firms landed nearly half a billion pounds of public contracts – all without competition – and were uncovered in documents prised from Government in the course of our litigation:

  • Uniserve Limited is a logistics firm controlled by Iain Liddell. Prior to the pandemic the firm had no experience in supplying PPE, yet the firm landed a staggering £300m+ in PPE contracts from the DHSC and an eye watering £572m deal to provide freight services for the supply of PPE. The company shares the same address as Cabinet Minister Julia Lopez MP and is based in her constituency. Here they are together.
  • Draeger Safety UK Ltd which is a subsidiary of the Germany-based Draeger AG, landed a direct award contract in July 2020 to supply FFP3 masks valued at £87m. 
  • Urathon Europe Limited, a Wiltshire based supplier of wheelchair accessories, was handed two contracts worth £74m to supply face masks. Correspondence released during our recent PPE hearing revealed the Urathon contracts were ‘escalated through VIP Channel’. 
  • First Aid For Sport Limited, SanaClis, and Global United Trading and Sourcing PTE Ltd were awarded contracts from the DHSC worth a combined total of £28.6m. 

The six companies revealed here are in addition to the six other ‘VIPs’ previously revealed by Good Law Project. In April we revealed documents showing P14 Medical, Luxe Lifestyle, and Meller Designs were fast-tracked down the ‘VIP’ route alongside Pestfix and Ayanda. P14 Medical, run by a Tory donor and ex-Tory councillor, was awarded £276m in PPE contracts. Meller Designs, run by another large Tory donor, David Meller, won more than £160m of PPE contracts. Luxe Lifestyle, a tiny recently-formed company with no staff and no experience in buying and selling PPE, was awarded a contract worth £26m after being referred to the VIP lane by an MP.

This followed our scoop last December that Government had handed PPE Medpro, a firm linked to an associate of a Conservative peer with mystery investors, £200m of PPE contracts via the ‘high-priority lane.’

It’s been months of battle to get here. Why is Government so determined to keep the names of VIPs hidden? At whose request did they get ushered through the VIP lane? Documents revealed during our High Court hearing last month show civil servants were “drowning” in referrals from politically connected individuals, which were “consuming bandwidth to progressing viable opportunities”.

The NAO says 47 companies received PPE contracts after being referred to the VIP lane. Our investigations and cases have so far revealed the names of 12 of those companies.  

With your help, we will get to the truth. The more people are aware, the more powerful we will be. Will you please share this update with your friends and family now?

Thank you,

Jo Maugham

Director of Good Law Project