Covid third wave reaches new peak

According to ZOE COVID Study incidence figures, in total there are currently 69,993 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID in the UK on average, based on PCR and LFT test data from up to five days ago. A decrease of 2% from 71,111 new daily cases last week.*

covid.joinzoe.com /post/third-wave-reaches-new-peak


In the double vaccinated population, it’s estimated there are currently 18,817 new daily symptomatic cases in the UK. Cases have been slowly increasing for a few weeks, with 16,957 cases last week (Graph 1). 

The UK R value is estimated to be around 1.0 and regional R values are; England, 1.0, Wales, 1.0, Scotland, 0.9 (Table 1). Cases have been falling steadily in Scotland for the past few weeks. Rates are highest in the Midlands and North of England where vaccine rates are some of the lowest.

In terms of prevalence, on average 1 in 69 people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID (Table 1). 

The number of daily new cases across the age groups cases remain high, but is now finally falling in those aged 0-18. Cases are now rising steadily in 35-55 year olds and remain low in 18-35 and over 55s (Graph 2).

In terms of prevalence, cases are highest in Wales, Midlands, North West and North East. (Graph 3). 

ZOE’s predicted Long COVID incidence rate currently estimates, at current case rates, 1,122 people a day will go on to experience symptoms for longer than 12 weeks (Graph 4). 

The ZOE COVID Study incidence figures (new symptomatic cases) are based on reports from around 750,000 thousand weekly contributors and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have received positive swab tests. The latest survey figures were based on data from 43,624 recent swab tests done between 25 September and 09 October 2021. 

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, comments on the latest data:

“The UK seems to be slowly waking up to the fact that COVID cases are too high, but the reality is they’ve been soaring for months and many countries have put us on their red list. Infections remain high in young people, and look to be spilling over into the 35-55 year olds. If these increases creep into the over 55s it could spell disaster for the NHS this winter. 

This week a major UK Care Home provider has confirmed that based on our research, it’s now including cold-like symptoms on their visitor forms to stop potential COVID cases from entering their facilities. This is a bold move as it goes against the official government guidance, but will ultimately save lives, and hopefully others will follow suit. 

With cases so high, it’s clear that herd immunity isn’t happening, and the risk is most people continue to believe they are safe if they have had COVID or a vaccine. ZOE data shows that vaccine protection wanes over time and a natural infection alone only gives 64% protection, so we need to be doing all we can to get everyone double vaccinated and stop waiting for  herd immunity to happen through natural infection.”

Graph 1. The ZOE COVID Study UK incidence figures results over time; total number of new cases and new cases in fully vaccinated

Graph 2. Incidence by age group 

Graph 3. Prevalence by region

Graph 4. Predicted Long COVID incidence over time

Please refer to the publication by Thompson at al. (2021) for details on how long covid rates in the population are modelled

Table 1. Incidence (daily new symptomatic cases)[*], R values and prevalence regional breakdown table 

Map of UK prevalence figures

UK government ordered to reveal firms awarded ‘VIP’ Covid contracts

The UK government has been ordered to reveal which companies were given “VIP” access to multimillion-pound contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early months of the Covid pandemic, in a ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

David Conn www.theguardian.com 

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has previously refused to disclose the names of 47 companies that had contracts awarded through the privileged, fast-track process allocated to firms with political connections.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) last year found that companies referred as possible PPE suppliers by ministers, MPs or senior NHS officials were given high priority by the DHSC procurement process, which resulted in a 10 times greater success rate for securing contracts than companies whose bids were processed via normal channels.

The Good Law Project (GLP), which first revealed the existence of a VIP lane, is together with fellow campaign group EveryDoctor challenging the DHSC over the lawfulness of the VIP lane and large contracts awarded to three companies: PestFix, Ayanda Capital and Clandeboye Agencies.

The government is defending the claims, arguing that the contracts were lawful and the suspension of competitive processes for all PPE contracts – that in total were worth £12.5bn – was justified due to the health emergency.

A government spokesperson confirmed last December that another company, PPE Medpro, had been awarded contracts worth £200m via the “high-priority lane,” but the DHSC declined to say how the company came to be given VIP status.

The NAO stated in its report that 47 companies had been given PPE contracts via what it termed the “high-priority channel” for those with political connections, but the then health minister James Bethell said the government did not intend to reveal their identities because “there may be associated commercial implications”.

The GLP applied in January under the Freedom of Information Act for the company names to be disclosed, which the DHSC took nearly three months to refuse. It took a further four months to carry out a review, then said on 7 September it would publish the names, but failed to do so. The GLP successfully complained to the ICO, whose ruling requires the names to be published by 22 November and states that the DHSC breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to do so.

The GLP’s director, Jo Maugham, said: “If, and this shouldn’t be so, government needs to be dragged kicking and screaming to transparency, we’re here and we’ve shown time and again we’re happy to do that job.”

The DHSC was approached for comment.

Desperate plea from Devon County for care workers

Council appeals for help as care worker shortage gets worse 

www.devon.gov.uk

Analysis by the national social care charity, Skills for Care, shows that the shortage of care workers in England is now greater than it was before the coronavirus pandemic, and the situation is getting worse.

It’s leaving care providers everywhere struggling desperately to find enough staff to provide care to vulnerable people. 

Many are having to turn down requests to help new people, and juggling rotas and home visits while doing the very best they can to care for their vulnerable clients.

In Devon, a county known for having one of the highest proportions of older people among its population, the need for more care workers is beyond urgent.

The county needs around 2,000 additional care workers right now to fill growing numbers of vacancies.  And demand for care is rising.

Councillor James McInnes, our Cabinet Member with responsibility for adult social care, said

“We saw a good number of people move into social care early in the pandemic, as their previous careers came to a halt or they wanted a change.

“But with restrictions lifted, and all sectors of the economy opening up again, we’re seeing that drift back into retail, hospitality and other sectors.

“Add Brexit to that, and the whole issue of recruitment right now across all sectors is extremely competitive.

“It means that people whose health has deteriorated and who are now needing help at home, are finding it very difficult to find care.

“And people already getting help from a care worker are seeing changes to their visits, simply because their care providers have to respond to higher demand without the additional staff they need.

“For us at Devon County Council, it means quite honestly, we’re finding it extremely difficult to match vulnerable people to the care they need.”

But the problem in Devon is even more acute than that. 

It’s not just adult social care where the county is seeing particular need right now.

“There are more people in Devon today who quite simply need help – just help – than there are people to provide it,” says James McInnes.

“I’m not talking about help with personal care or other aspects of social care, I’m talking about plain and simple help.

“I’m talking about help with shopping, help to pick up prescriptions, help to prepare a meal, company because they’re lonely. 

“Good neighbours, good friends, good people in the community who are happy to go out of their way a bit to look out for someone else.  The county needs more people like that, and I’d urge us all to consider our own part in that.”

Alongside registered care providers, there’s another layer of help and care that Devon is short of. 

Personal Assistants – people who visit others at home who need help.  They often work for themselves, and they’re paid by the person they’re helping.

“We also need more Personal Assistants in Devon,” says Cllr McInnes.

“The help they’re providing gives greater choice to people who need care and support at home and who want to arrange that for themselves.  This may be for skilled personal care or a wider range of help.  The more options that people have to meet their needs, the better it will be.

“So my clarion call today is to ask the Devon public to do two things:

“Firstly, to know that there is a challenge in Devon right now and that there are people who they will know who need care and support.

“And secondly, to ask themselves what they can do about it, and to act on it.

“We are a county of well meaning, often kind-hearted and generous people.  When we’ve needed to come together and look out for friends and family, as we did at the outbreak of coronavirus, we generally have.

“Now is the time to do that again.

“If you have experience of caring for a relative or have previously worked in care, or if you are keen to work in a new and rewarding field, now is the time.  We want to hear from you. We can give you one to one support to help you find the role that suits you best. And we have free training to help you do that.

“If you can be a Personal Assistant, working for yourself and helping people in your community, now is the time.  We can help with advice and guidance on how to do that.

“If you have time and the energy, simply to volunteer to help people in your local community – to sit with someone while their caring wife or husband has a break, or just to talk to someone who doesn’t have anyone else to talk to, or to pick up a bit of shopping from time to time – now is the time.”

If you are interested in exploring career opportunities in social care, Proud to Care Devon is calling for people who are interested to complete an online form at devon.cc/findyourcalling.  Applicants will get a call back and the offer of free one-to-one telephone support, providing careers advice and information about jobs and training in care and health.

If you can be a Personal Assistant, you can find more information, and list yourself by visiting devon.cc/pa-pinpoint.

If you have time to spare and can volunteer to help in your community visit Devon’s ‘Show you Care’ website devon.cc/care or get in touch with your local community group.

Mid Devon faces £1million shortfall

Readers might need to refresh their memory on the backstory: A cautionary tale from Mid Devon Council dabbling in development.

Control shifted in Mid Devon Council from Lib Dem to “no overall” control in 1999 and is run by a coalition of Lib Dems, Independents and Greens. 

The underlying problem is that central government in England controls the purse strings of local government to a much greater extent than other wealthy countries. This Westminister “control freakery” is one of the reasons regional devolution is not progressing and why “levelling up” is likely to prove challenging. – Owl

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com

Mid Devon is looking at any available opportunity to make ends meet with predictions of a £1million shortfall.

Speaking at a scrutiny committee meeting of Mid Devon District Council on Monday, October 11, cabinet member for finance, Councillor Andrew Moore (Clare & Shuttern, Conservative) said that ‘circumstances have continued to be far from normal.

He said: “The wheels of finance, as we know, must roll inexorably on.

“The last six months have seen the team complete the annual closedown with the draft statement of accounts again being produced very promptly.

“The audit is well advanced, and early indications are for another sound report.

“Covid continues to affect financial performance, but I’m pleased to say, is in line with budget expectations. I want to note as well, not for the first time, the terrific grant-related work undertaken by the team, not just in the last six months, but beyond to support our local communities and businesses.

“Looking forward, we’re on the point of starting the annual budget round for 22/23. All members have a vital say in the council’s plans. Now is the time to bring forward alternative options for proper consideration.

“The starting position has improved from earlier indications, but it’s still around a £1million shortfall. “Central funding uncertainties abound, and service revenues remain at risk. As ever, costs are under pressure for reductions to make ends meet.

“Whilst we all like them, new initiatives rightly need solid financial justification.

“There is a lot of work to do between now and the council meeting where we address the budget on February 23, 2022.”

Deputy chief executive Andrew Jarratt added: “The challenge will be that the government are going to provide quite late advice from some of the key financial revenue streams that we’re going to require for next financial year.

“Budget setting is going to be a challenge set against that backdrop.

“We have been told that we’re likely to receive a three year settlement, which in some respects is very welcome, but we must be careful what we wish for because the last time we’ve received a three year settlement, the numbers were quite scary.”

Councillors heard some of the broad plans and ways the authority was attempting to reduce the shortfall.

Mr Jarratt added: “it’s not all going to be about cost reduction. There’s going to be a mixture of cost reduction and income maximisation wherever possible.

“The prevailing economic situation does not help us at all in the rounds of income maximisation. Some of the commercial opportunities we have been exploring over the last two or three years will be met against a very strong prevailing negative wind. Things like investment in industrial units or other commercial activities may not be quite as successful as we’d hoped.

“At the moment, we’re trialling different ways of delivering our waste service, which could save significant amounts of money, but also is important to meet the national targets for recycling rates, which are particularly challenging to meet.

“We will work on an ongoing building rationalisation program to reduce cost and increase rental from income where possible. We brought the DWP to Phoenix House about three years ago, and we maintain a healthy annual rental stream on that basis.

“I’m pleased to see that all of the units at Market Walk are rented out. There aren’t many councils with a unit portfolio as active as ours.”

He said at Mid Devon’s leisure centres before Covid, income was £3million.

“I was chatting to the management team of leisure about some interesting ideas they’ve got for making that income stream even healthier over the next six to twelve months,” he said.

Mr Jarratt then discussed the council’s green agenda.

“Set against that backdrop, the council has made a pledge which may reduce costs moving forward, but at the moment will probably increase our cost pressure. That is the carbon green agenda and ensuring that we become carbon neutral by 2030.

“That will need some pump-priming expenditure, but we may well see a significant reduction in utility spend over the next two to ten years.

Councillor Stephen Pugh (Westexe, Conservative) questioned empty properties and voids.

Mr Jarratt discussed the council’s 24 commercial property units it owns.

He said: “We budget for a level of voids on a rolling regular basis. It depends what the market situation is at any given time.”

He said the council had anticipated at least one void at Market Walk.

“It depends which one,” he added. “The one that’s been most noticeable to members of the Tiverton area has been the biggest unit there, which is Unit 17, which was once the medium-sized superstore.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had a void there for 18 months, but I’m very pleased to say we’ve recently signed a new rental deal with somebody to go in there for a short term with the NHS vaccine program utilising it.”

Empty shops in Tiverton at Market Walk

Empty shops in Tiverton at Market Walk

He added that Market Walk was ‘doing well.

“I hope the investment that we made about 12 months ago to improve the streetscape up there is paying some dividends.

“It’s all about increasing footfall, not just for our properties in the Tiverton Town Centre but for all the other retailers as well.”

Councillor Ben Holdman (Castle, Liberal Democrats) talked about car parking.

“I have noticed in the last year we have had problems with some of the machines,” he said.

“That will affect revenue streams on that one and also drive up complaints.

“Is there an action plan to keep our machines as up to date and maintained as possible?”

“I wouldn’t be very happy that we were losing any revenue opportunities,” he said.

“Occasionally, they do go down, but we fix them as soon as we possibly can.

“The issue of Covid is why our car parking income is down. People aren’t visiting the town centres as much as they once were.

“Most of our large fee-earning car parks have more than one machine in them, so there is always somewhere to pay.

“It’s amazing now how much more traffic is done electronically rather than through the machines.”

Councillor Ray Radford (Halberton, Conservative) suggested that HGV driver shortages, and people off sick or isolating, meant the council could be spending more on agency staff.

Chief executive Stephen Walford explained they currently face a shortfall of around nine per cent.

“One of the big challenges we’ve got, as with any organisation at the moment, is to balance off all of the inflows and outgoings with the labour shortages that we’ve got,” he said.

“It is a challenge, and it’s often that we can’t go out and get agency staff.

“Whilst there is a cost to that, there is also a limit to the ability to which we can go out and acquire short term labour resources. Then we have to look at the impact on service delivery.

“Across all the council’s budgets, the incomings and outgoings all look a bit different this year, and that is true, nowhere more so than the staffing line.

“We’ve got structural vacancies, but we’re not saving money because we’re expending extra resources on trying to bring in short term people, which tend to be more expensive. We are also coming up against that point where they might not simply be there to hire in.”

Mr Jarratt added: “The nation has a problem with HGV drivers, and it’s not going to go away very quickly.

“Agencies are more expensive than our people in the short term, and we are overspending in that part of the business. However, within the area of waste, we’re over-achieving on income from recycling due to increased tonnages and the quite good recycling rate we’re getting at the moment, so that’s more than compensating.”

He said the council was now trying to ‘grow our own.

“At the moment, we’ve got seven or eight of our refuse loaders who are being trained to be drivers. It will be a prevailing problem for maybe a couple of years, but we’re doing what we can.

“Of all the services that we deliver, waste is the one where a resident rightly expects to have their bins collected on the day that they want them to be collected.

“I’m sure members collectively get it in the ear when we miss a collection, and so do we as officers. “It’s a service that we’re proud of, and we get a lot of great customer feedback.”

Councillor Sue Griggs (Cranmore, Conservative) asked about the council’s housing strategy consultation and future plans.

“The strategy put forward a very bold vision with plans to build new properties for tenants. It also aims to adapt the homes that we already have to retrofit, improve the environmental efficiency of homes, decarbonise, reduce fuel poverty, and meet climate targets.

“I wonder whether or not we are going to be able to achieve that, bearing in mind the budget constraints that we have.”

Mr Jarratt said: “At the end of October, at the next cabinet meeting, the council’s medium-term financial plan will be discussed and the council’s overarching financial document that will try and cast out the council’s ambitions over the next five years.

“Within that, there will be a lot of work done on the housing strategy that is now out for consultation.

“It’s an aspirational plan for housing delivery because it’s something as a council we haven’t done much of for a reasonable number of years now.

“If you add on top of that our carbon agenda, it adds an extra challenge.

“Another major challenge for our council housing stock is the post-Grenfell legislation coming down the line. It is going to put more financial strain on our assets.

“We will be costing all of those ambitions. Whether all of those ambitions are financially deliverable is a moot point; they probably won’t be. It will be a question of prioritising.”

“The interest income from Three Rivers is described as profit to the council, but that’s not the case until they’ve paid back the capital,” he said. “What likelihood is any of that capital being paid back this year or next year?”

Mr Jarratt said: “The next cabinet will receive the bi-monthly update from Three Rivers, and the meeting in November will have the half-yearly performance information.

“What you will also get is the company’s updated business plan, which therefore will link very heavily into the council funding future over the next five years.

“All of that information will be in the public domain.”

Councillor Elizabeth Lloyd (Sandford and Creedy, Green Party) suggested involving communities in the decision-making processes.

“It is great that members are being asked to input to this budgeting process, and I look forward to doing so, particularly on our work around the climate agenda, which we all agree is important,” she said.

“Last year, I suggested we look into things like participatory budgeting to engage our communities in this process.

“I’m curious whether any thought has been given for such a process. It can be a chance for our communities and the public to give their input.”

She offered help to arrange a public meeting to talk about ideas and find ‘innovative ways of thinking and solutions together.

Cllr Moore said: “I’m always astonished by how much there is to learn about the financial system and the nuances. That’s, of course, why we have people like Mr Jarrett and his team to help us.

“I’m always learning. This is a big and complicated area with many assets to it.

“I would encourage members to represent communities, and it’s up to you to make sure that you have a voice.

“Please use it, and please use it early if you’ve got ideas. We don’t want somebody in February with things we didn’t think about when it’s too late. Early engagement is what I am keen to do.”

Mr Jarratt added: “if there’s anything we can do to get our message out to the community better than we’re doing, that would be great.

“In the next four weeks, we’re sending out a resident’s consultation survey. We will explore within that all of the ideas that our public think we should be exploring.

“This will have to be matched against the available resources that we have.

“The sooner that we get these ideas, we can go away and model them and see how we can fit them in with the budgetary envelope that we have.”