Calls for local lockdowns as study finds R value above 1 in north-west England

 

The government is under pressure to bring in tougher local lockdowns in some areas, as a new study showed the R value was rising across England and had tipped above 1 in the north-west for the first time since the peak of the coronavirus epidemic.

A separate analysis by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s modelling team also put the R-value at 1 in in the south-west, but gave a lower value of 0.8 for the north-west.

Haroon Siddique www.theguardian.com 

The development raises concerns that a return to stricter physical distancing may be needed in some areas and that the UK could continue to see hundreds of daily deaths for weeks.

The influential model, from scientists at Public Health England (PHE) and the University of Cambridge, puts R at 1.01 for the north-west and 1 for the south-west. The north-west – including Liverpool and Manchester – is viewed as particularly concerning due to higher numbers of infections there, which would be projected to continue at the current rate.

Regional leaders said they feared the prospect of a second spike in deaths and that the decision to ease lockdown based on the national picture – ignoring regional hotspots – had been a mistake.

However, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, attempted to downplay the new study from Cambridge and PHE, which is part of his own department. He insisted it was right to ease the lockdown and claimed that the government’s overall view after looking at various studies was that the R value was still below 1 in all regions.

Appearing at No 10’s daily press briefing without the usual scientific experts alongside him, Hancock defended himself against an accusation that the government was “cherrypicking” good data in order to justify loosening restrictions.

“The [PHE/Cambridge] study you mentioned is one, but the overall assessment that is brought together by Sage that advises the chief medical officer is the one that I look at,” he said. “What I do is look at all of these different studies and the overall view of Sage is that the R is between 0.7 and 0.9 and it is higher in the south-west of England and the north-west but it remains below 1 in each area. That doesn’t take away from the need that we spot and crack down on localised outbreaks.”

The government’s scientists have consistently said the lockdown can only be eased if the R rate – showing the average number of people to whom one infected person will pass the virus – remains below 1. If it is higher, that suggests exponential spread of the virus.

However, separate figures from the Office of National Statistics suggested there was a halving in the number of people infected across England in the second half of May – although this data did not take into account infections in care homes and hospitals.

In their latest analysis, the Cambridge-PHE team conclude that R has risen in all regions and is hovering just below or around 1, “probably due to increasing mobility and mixing between households and in public and workplace settings” and that based on current estimates, the decline in daily deaths could be arrested by mid-June, at which point there could still be hundreds of deaths a day.

Paul Birrell, from the University of Cambridge, said: “More worrying is the north-west where the infections are coming up the highest in absolute number, where there are 4,000 [daily infections] but again there’s quite a large band of uncertainty attached to that.”

Birrell said that an R number of about 1, or above, was “not necessarily a cause for immediate concern” but that further investigation was needed to identify hotspots within the north-west.

The model draws on death rates, meaning it has a built-in lag and does not capture any additional impact of the easing of lockdown this week. It is one of several that feeds into the government’s official estimate of R, which on Friday was between 0.7 and 1, a slight increase on last week’s figure. A separate analysis by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s modelling team also put the R-value at 1 in in the south-west, but gave a lower value of 0.8 for the north-west.

At his weekly press conference on Wednesday, Andy Burnham said weekly cases in Greater Manchester were at their lowest since the start of lockdown, with 190 new positive Covid-19 diagnoses. But there were some “worrying” statistics: there had been a slight increase in Covid-19 hospital admissions and those in intensive care.

Burnham told Sky News: “I’m sure that people across the north-west will be looking at this new information and feeling quite anxious about it. ”

“I think the lockdown was relaxed prematurely and if you combine with that the loss of confidence in the government’s public health messaging with everything that came out of the Dominic Cummings situation, I think this is the situation we are now in.

Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, said lockdown was eased too quickly by a London-centric government.

He said: “When the infection rate was at its highest in London and it wasn’t as high here, the government locked down in the interests of the country. The government seem to me to be reopening or unlocking the economy or certainly relaxing the restrictions when it might not be in the interests of the whole country.”

Graham Stringer, a member of the science and technology committee and MP for Blackley and Broughton, said the government had made a fundamental error by concentrating on the national R rate.

The ONS snapshot infection survey, covering the last two weeks in May, found that during that period, an estimated 53,000 people were infected at any time. This puts the daily infection rate at 5,600 compared with almost 8,000 in last week’s figures. Peter Benton, the director of population and public policy operations at the ONS, said: “That, we think, is a real reduction in the number of people being infected.”

Previously, the ONS had said the trend looked flat and stable, but as more data has accumulated a downward trend is now evident, the analysis said.

R-rate has risen to 1 in South West say experts

The COVID-19 reproductive rate – also known as the ‘R value’ – has risen to 1 in the South West, meaning the region now has the second highest rate of transmission of the virus in England, new analysis shows (ONS).

Remember the South West region extends beyond the peninsular to include Gloucester and Wiltshire and the city of Bristol.

An R value above one means each infected person passes the disease onto more than one other person, a value less than one means the infection will eventually die out. But there are other factors involved as well and Owl has reported on the significance of the K value.

Obviously we need to be very alert to what might have happened here since Boris Johnson allowed unlimited travel to beauty spots and the subsequent easing of lockdown measures.

Owl’s view is that the best “canary in the cage” to watch is the estimate of percentage of population exhibiting Covid related symptoms from Tim Spector’s Covid-19 symptom tracker app which is updated daily.

Increase in symptoms would be the first indicator of problems. Owl has been watching the following local  seaside districts with contrasting characteristics. (eg South Hams with high proportion of second homes and North Devon with very high visitor to local population ratio etc.)

                13 May

(Boris OK’s unlimited travel)

           25 May

(Weston Hospital closed)

       5 April

 

North Devon           0.3%          0.7%           0.2%                        
South Hams           0.6%          0.5%           0.2%
Torbay           0.5%          0.3%           0.4%
East Devon          0.5%          0.7%          0.3%

 

Covid-19 Symptom Tracker App estimated symptom rates

Now to the article.

R-rate has risen to 1 in South West say experts

Public Health England (PHE) has given a regional breakdown of the coronavirus transmission number, or R value, with the latest estimate showing it is around one in the North West and South West regions of England.

PHE said latest estimates, worked out in conjunction with Cambridge University’s MRC Biostatistics Unit, show it is highly likely that R is below one in each other region of England.

The brand-new analysis shows that the North West now running above that at 1.01, the highest in the country, up from 0.73 a few weeks ago when the data was last released.

The South West is listed as exactly 1, meaning it is the second highest R value in England, although the researchers believe the number of new daily infections in the region to be ‘relatively low’.

This comes as lockdown restrictions continue to be eased across England, meaning more and more people are returning to work, and some children have returned to school.

People have also recently been given governmental permission to meet with up to five others from different households, in the latest easing of the lockdown restrictions which has seen many people’s social “bubble” expand.

The South West is followed by the South East on 0.97, London on 0.95 – a huge increase from its last value of 0.4 – and the East of England on 0.94.

The latest regional R analysis by Public Health England

The latest regional R analysis by Public Health England (Image: Public Health England and Cambridge University)

It measures the number in the Midlands to be at 0.9 and in the North East and Yorkshire, which previously had the highest R value, at 0.89.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, said: “Our estimates show that the regional R numbers have increased although they remain below one for most of England – this is to be expected as we gradually move out of lockdown.

“It is vital that everyone continues with social distancing, practising good hand hygiene and must remain at home and order a test if they have symptoms.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, The government’s chief scientific adviser has also chimed in to the conversation, also saying that the reproductive rate of coronavirus could be as high as 1 in some parts of England.

Sir Patrick told a virtual briefing with journalists on Friday the R-number – the average number of people that will contract coronavirus from an infected person – for England was between 0.7 and 1, while it remained between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole.

He said the prevalence of COVID-19 was on a “downward trajectory” in the UK, adding: “The prevalence of coronavirus, according to the ONS, is at 0.1%, with 53,000 people with COVID-19 in the past two weeks.”

He said the incidence rate was at 0.7% per week, which meant there were “roughly” 39,000 new coronavirus cases each week.

Sir Patrick said: “The latest R-value calculation is between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole, it may be a little bit higher in England it may be between 0.7 and 1, and there is a bit of regional variation.”

He said there could be “some places” where the R-value is very close to 1 – which has now been confirmed by Public Health England’s new data analysis.

Detailed plans submitted for 317 Exmouth homes, Goodmores Farm

Detailed plans have been submitted for 317 homes in Exmouth as part of proposals which also feature land for a new primary school and commercial use.

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

The application for Goodmores Farm, off Hulham Road and Dinan Way, specifies the mooted estate’s layout, appearance, road designs and open space provision.

Five per cent of the proposed dwellings would be ‘affordable’.

Residential, open space, commercial and education elements are proposed for the Exmouth site. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

Residential, open space, commercial and education elements are proposed for the Exmouth site. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

Eagle Investments Ltd has already secured outline permission for up to 350 homes on the plot after its original blueprints were narrowly approved by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Development Management Committee in July 2018.

It also secured the go-ahead for five-and-a-half acres of the site to be utilised for mixed-use employment and commercial purposes, and the provision of land for a primary school.

The firm has now submitted a reserved matters application – detailing layout, scale, appearance and landscaping – for 317 residential units, associated roads, open space, and an attenuation basin for water run-off.

From the planning application for 317 homes. Residential, open space, commercial and education elements are proposed for the Exmouth site. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

From the planning application for 317 homes. Residential, open space, commercial and education elements are proposed for the Exmouth site. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

“The principles set out for residential estate design are to provide a safe, attractive and convenient environment for residents,” say the plans.

Sixteen of the new homes would be ‘affordable’, with the rest being open market properties.

A mixture of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom houses are intended.

The site is off Hulham Road and Dinan Way in Exmouth.

The site is off Hulham Road and Dinan Way in Exmouth.

An aerial view of the land earmarked for development.

An aerial view of the land earmarked for development.

The development would be positioned around a large, green open space ‘focal point’ that would also accommodate the proposed school and a possible communal laying field.

“This open space acts as the linking element for the site’s commercial, education and residential areas,” say the plans.

A wooded play park and an orchard with fruit trees also feature in the plans.

The different phases of the Exmouth scheme. Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

The application states the site can be split into four ‘key elements’ – open space; education; residential; and commercial.

Education is said to be ‘central to the development and acts as a key focal point’.

“The residential has been arranged as to create a good mix and range across the site to create a sense of community and not cause segregation,” say the proposals.

“The commercial areas will be located to take advantage of public highways access and vehicular footfall along Hulham Road.

“While still part of the rest of the development to be accessed and have its facilities utilised by residents, it will be segregated by landscaping and the road network to minimize impacts of noise, smell and traffic. “

Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

It is proposed the estate will adopt 20mph speed limits to discourage through-traffic – with restricting bends, carriageway narrowing and shared surface areas suggested to slow vehicles down.

The application adds: “As part of the upgrade to Dinan Way, two new pedestrian crossing points will be provided to give pedestrians a safe and convenient place to cross the main road.

“A great network of footways and cycleways are to be provided around the site to encourage residents to make sustainable travel choices and educe car use in the area.”

Most dwellings will have at least two private parking spaces or utilise shared parking courts.

Affordable units would be split between shared ownership and rented accommodation.

Five per cent of these would be completed in the first phase of development, according to the application.

Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

Image: Eagle Investments Ltd/ ARA Architecture

A long-awaited £12million Dinan Way extension, being driven by Devon County Council, has planning permission, is fully designed and is waiting for government funding.

It is hoped the ‘missing link’ road will cut congestion and HGVs using Exmouth town centre by creating a new connection to the busy A376.

Holiday lets poised to open doors in staycations boost

“Private holiday lets, including Airbnb properties, could reopen as early as next month as ministers seek to kickstart the domestic tourism industry….

….”Mr Dowden [Culture Secretary] confirmed yesterday that ministers would also be launching a campaign to encourage Britons to book domestic holidays in seaside towns this summer. He said: “We’re hoping to get tourism back as rapidly as possible, and when it is back we will be investing extensively, ensuring we have a major campaign to encourage British people to take British staycations.”

But will they be “investing” in the local Councils bearing the brunt of clean up costs? – Owl

Ben Clatworthy, Assistant Travel Editor | Eleni Courea, Political Reporter www.thetimes.co.uk 
Private holiday lets, including Airbnb properties, could reopen as early as next month as ministers seek to kickstart the domestic tourism industry.

Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, said the government’s target was for the sector to reopen by July 4, with self-let properties likely to be among the first to be available because they present a “lower risk” of spreading coronavirus.

Domestic tourism chiefs are hoping for a boom once the lockdown restrictions are eased to allow people to stay overnight away from home.

Campsite and holiday park owners, as well as private rental outfits, have been lobbying the government to allow them to be among the first in the hospitality sector to reopen, claiming they are already set up for social distancing.

The news was welcomed by Airbnb, the world’s biggest private letting platform, last night. A spokeswoman said: “The British summer holiday is back on the horizon and hosts are getting ready to provide accommodation away from the crowds that’s local, private, clean and safe.” At present the website has a booking block on “non-essential” stays until at least July 4, but says it has developed a new “cleaning protocol” for hosts to follow in order to minimise the risk of the virus transmitting.

Mr Dowden confirmed yesterday that ministers would also be launching a campaign to encourage Britons to book domestic holidays in seaside towns this summer. He said: “We’re hoping to get tourism back as rapidly as possible, and when it is back we will be investing extensively, ensuring we have a major campaign to encourage British people to take British staycations.”

Domestic travel agents have said bookings for staycations this summer, starting from mid-July, are looking promising, although September is proving to be the “stand-out month” after a recent surge in reservations.

Mr Dowden also said a proposed new bank holiday in October, designed to boost domestic tourism, was an “excellent proposal”. Experts predict such a move could raise an estimated £500 million for the economy.

He told MPs: “One of the challenges we will have is getting the [tourism] sector up and running as strongly as possible in the summer, and extending it for as long as we can.”

The idea of an extra bank holiday to compensate for the impact of the pandemic was proposed last month by the UK’s tourism agency, Visit Britain.

Its acting head, Patricia Yates, told MPs that the industry had lost the benefit of two bank holidays in May because of the lockdown.

“It’s really important to extend the season, and bank holidays are really valuable,” Ms Yates said. “Having a bank holiday in the October half term would really drive business and remind people that the holiday season is still going and not just ending in August.”

The culture secretary added that he and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, were “looking at further measures” to support financially hit coastal areas before then. Tim Loughton, a former Tory minister, cited research that workers in seaside towns were being laid off faster than in any other part of the country.

No 10 confirmed last month that the government was looking at the idea of an extra bank holiday but warned that it came with “economic costs”.

Conservatives welcome the “like-minded” Fox back to the fold (watch your backs! – owl)

Councillor Ben Ingham said: “Following the resignation of the Independent Cabinet and the dissolving of the Independent Group, I wish to continue serving our communities throughout East Devon to the best of my ability.

“Without a doubt that is best done through the Conservative Party who will be called upon to help sort out our Local Government recovery efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

So Ben, tell us when you had your “Damascene ” moment that serving the community is best done through the Conservative Party rather than through the “party” you led! (Owl)

Former Independent Council Leader defects to the Conservatives

Hannah Corfield exmouth.nub.news 

Councillor Ben Ingham, who recently resigned as Independent leader of East Devon District Council, has now rejoined the Conservative Group in a bid to ‘help with recovery efforts’ following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Leader of East Devon District Council Conservative Group, Councillor Andrew Moulding, is said to have ‘warmly welcomed’ his return to the group with immediate effect.

He commented: “Ben is a highly respected and valued member of EDDC who I have known and worked with for too many years to remember.

“He brings invaluable experience, knowledge insight and nous to our group, where he will make a valuable contribution to the East Devon community and is a first class ward member.

“As a party we are a ‘broad church of interest’, both locally and nationally. We look forward to welcoming more like-minded members to the group in due course.”

Councillor Ben Ingham said: “Following the resignation of the Independent Cabinet and the dissolving of the Independent Group, I wish to continue serving our communities throughout East Devon to the best of my ability.

“Without a doubt that is best done through the Conservative Party who will be called upon to help sort out our Local Government recovery efforts to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I look forward to the chance of participating in that and making a positive contribution.”

Coronavirus infections in England and Wales hit peak days before lockdown, study finds

Owl is beginning to see a number of different ways of analysing the pandemic by examining the emerging data as opposed to using “a priori” modelling. Time will eventually reveal the the “truth”. This is an example of the data analysis approach.

“Coronavirus infections in England and Wales peaked several days before the lockdown came in, a new study suggests, indicating that the draconian restrictions were not responsible for the decline in deaths and cases.”

By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor www.telegraph.co.uk 

Modelling by Professor Simon Wood, of the school of mathematics at the University of Bristol, shows that the majority of people who died at the peak would have been infected roughly five days before the lockdown was introduced.

The finding is based on data which shows that the average death from coronavirus takes around 17.8 days from the onset of symptoms, while symptoms appear approximately 5.2 days after infection, making a total of 23 days.

Deaths in England and Wales peaked around April 8-9, which suggests the majority of people who died then had become infected roughly 23 days earlier, around March 18-19. 

Full lockdown in the UK did not come into effect until March 25. However, in the week before, social distancing measures were already in place and many people had begun working from home. Large public gatherings had stopped and bars, restaurants and theatres were starting to close. 

Prof Wood said: “It does seem possible that the social distancing that was happening before full lockdown might have done the trick.

“My results simply suggest that if you do not make strong assumptions about what happened, then the data tend to suggest a peak a few days before lockdown.” 

He said it was difficult to be completely sure when infections peaked in Britain because community testing was stopped in mid-March so there was no data from early in the epidemic.

However his analysis also showed that Sweden’s infections peaked just a few days after Britain, even without full lockdown being imposed in that country. The German reproduction ‘R’ number was also estimated to have fallen below one before full lockdown. 

In the work, published on the open access research site arXiv, hosted by Cornell University, Prof Wood said the results had ethical implications for keeping lockdown in place or reinstating it later in the year because it could have disastrous long term implications on the nation’s health.

“These facts have implications for the policies to be adopted in the coming autumn, particularly given the peculiar ethical issues associated with lockdown,” he said. “For example, plausible estimates of the life loss burden from an unmitigated Covid-19 epidemic in the UK are about two weeks per person.

“A plausible lower bound on the UK life loss from the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath is seven weeks per person. The economic shock from lockdown is substantially larger than 2008.”

Commenting on the research, Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, said data from the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) showed a similar fall in respiratory infections in the week beginning March 15.

Figures show new infections fell off a cliff even though lockdown would not be in place for a further nine days, leading to the conclusion that social distancing was already working and having a major impact on disease transmission within the community.

“The effect is in line with the RCGP surveillance data which shows the drop in consultations of acute respiratory infections for the week of the 15th  March,” Prof Henegan said.

He also found that calls to NHS 111 peaked on the day lockdown was implemented, even though reported infections should have kept rising for several days afterwards because many people would have been incubating the virus and would not develop symptoms for around five days. 

The figures suggest infections had actually peaked five days earlier. 

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, added: “I would not be surprised at this – peak deaths were on April 8, only 16 days after lockdown.”

 

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