NHS staff no longer top priority for vaccine despite fear of third wave

NHS staff will no longer get the coronavirus vaccine first after a drastic rethink about who should be given priority, it emerged last night.

[Owl thinks the order of who gets the vaccine first  in the highest priority group will remain very fluid in the early days as the tricky handling procedures are refined in the light of experience]

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

The new immunisation strategy is likely to disappoint and worry thousands of frontline staff – and comes amid urgent warnings from NHS chiefs that hospitals could be “overwhelmed” in January by a third wave of Covid-19 caused by mingling over Christmas.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “If we get a prolonged cold snap in January the NHS risks being overwhelmed. The Covid-19 restrictions should remain appropriately tough.

“Trust leaders are worried about the impact of looser regulations over Christmas.”

Frontline personnel were due to have the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine when the NHS starts its rollout, which is expected to be next Tuesday after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved it on Wednesday.

However, hospitals will instead begin by immunising care home staff, and hospital inpatients and outpatients aged over 80. The new UK-wide guidance on priority groups was issued by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) amid uncertainty over when the rest of the 5m-strong initial batch of doses that ministers ordered will reach the UK.

NHS personnel will be able to take the vaccine into care homes to immunise residents later this month if, as expected, the MHRA agrees that the batches of 975 doses it comes in can be subdivided and the stability and safety of the drug be maintained.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the leader of the British Medical Association, said it backed care home residents getting the jab first. However, that means NHS staff will be left at higher risk of getting infected and potentially dying, he added.

“Doctors and other healthcare staff will recognise the need to vaccinate care home residents and older patients first, but will likely be frustrated at the government’s inconsistent messaging changing from yesterday to today.

“In the first wave, we saw far too many health and social care workers become incredibly sick with Covid – with many tragically dying – and therefore those working on the frontline need to be given the opportunity to get protected early,” he said.

NHS bosses have warned the 800,000 doses that comprise the UK’s first consignment from Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Belgium may be “the only batch we receive for some time”, raising questions about how soon further supplies will arrive and how long frontline personnel and vulnerable groups will have to wait for their two jabs.

The change in priorities came as NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts in England, warned hospitals would struggle to maintain normal care in January if a fresh spike in infections after Christmas leads to beds again filling up with Covid patients, just as they are trying to manage their winter crisis.

NHS Providers and senior doctors made clear their anxiety that the government’s decision to allow up to three households to mix indoors in England between 23 and 27 December may prove ill-advised and backfire, because people will pass the infection on to vulnerable relatives. They pleaded with the public to exercise caution about how they socialise.

Dr Susan Crossland, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, which represents hospital doctors, said they shared concerns “about the possibility of a Christmas wave of Covid in January, as well as the potent threat of this combined with ‘normal’ winter pressures exacerbated by cold weather”.

“In my opinion the relaxation of rules at Christmas is crass in the extreme. Combined with the bickering among politicians we have seen in recent days over the tiered system, it further weakens the importance of maintaining safety measures,” she said.

The NHS already being “on a knife-edge” due to intense demand and under-staffing means “it is the responsibility of everyone to limit contact and follow safety measures over the coming weeks and months to avoid mass stress burdening the NHS in the difficult winter months,” Crossland added.

One hospital boss said: “Normally people give their elderly relatives colds and flu and respiratory disease over Christmas and they end up in hospital in January. This year that’s more complicated. [There is a] very necessary relaxation over Christmas as people need a break, but recognise that there will potentially be an impact.” Their trust assumes January will be “really tough”, despite the vaccine’s imminent rollout, they added.

The World Health Organization on Thursday also advised that the threat of a “Christmas wave” emerging just after the new year should make people think twice before using the festive break from restrictions to attend gatherings with other people.

“We are looking, many of us, towards the holiday season, towards Christmas, whether it is called a third wave or a Christmas wave,” said Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe. “The question we have to ask ourselves if we are going to come together, or we are thinking about an activity during which transmission can happen, we have to ask the question, is it really necessary?

“Because if the restrictive measures are being eased and the basic public health measures are not adhered to, whatever the country in the region or globally, absolutely there will be again an increase because the vaccine will come too late for this winter.”

A government spokesperson said: “This Christmas, families and friends can meet up in a limited and cautious way thanks to a balanced and workable set of rules. We agreed these UK-wide measures based on scientific and clinical advice on how best to minimise the risks, and following Sage advice we have introduced strengthened local restrictions to protect the progress gained during national restrictions and continue to suppress the virus.”

Meanwhile, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, has raised the prospect of people needing annual vaccination against coronavirus, in the same way they get immunised against winter flu. It is important to have further Covid vaccines available in case revaccination is required, he told the BBC.

“It is really unknowable at this point. But it is very much something that I see now as one of the goals only just over the horizon to get my head around, what if – and if – we will at any point in the future need to think about revaccination,” he said.

Truth behind Matt Hancock’s ‘step-grandad’ who died from Covid

Revealed: Matt Hancock’s ‘step-grandfather’ whose Covid death brought Health Secretary close to tears in Parliament

  • On Tuesday Matt Hancock told Parliament his step-grandfather died from Covid
  • He said ‘Derek’ had passed away last month after catching the virus in Liverpool 
  • Health Secretary was close to tears breaking the news to MPs in the Commons
  • He drew on personal experience to highlight the toll Covid had taken on the UK
  • MailOnline can reveal Mr Hancock’s relative is Derek Johnston, who died at 77
  • Mr Johnston was the husband of Hancock’s mother Shirley’s husband’s ex-wife  

By Nick Craven Stewart Whittingham For Mailonline www.dailymail.co.uk

This is Derek Johnston, the ‘step-grandfather’ whose death brought Health Secretary Matt Hancock close to tears when he paid an emotional tribute to him in Parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Hancock, 42, was wrapping up a highly-charged debate on the Covid lockdown tiers when he referred to Mr Johnston as his ‘step-grandfather, Derek’ who died last month of the virus.

In fact, Derek was not Mr Hancock’s step-grandfather and their relationship, MailOnline has discovered, was more complex than that. 

Former construction worker Derek, 77, was the second husband of Mr Hancock’s stepfather, Bob Carter’s ex-wife, Marjorie.

Mr Carter married the Health Secretary’s mother Shirley in 1984 after she split from Mr Hancock’s father Michael when the MP was six years old. 

Mr Carter had been married before to Marjorie Slater, but after their divorce, she married Derek Johnston in 1983. 

The fractured and complex family background of the Cheshire-born MP has been thrust into the spotlight by the surprising intervention of Mr Hancock.

Mr Johnston (left and right), who died in Liverpool on November 18, was married to Marjorie Johnston, who is Mr Hancock’s stepfather Robert Carter’s first wife

The family tree shows how Mr Hancock and Mr Johnston are distantly related. The complex nature of his family background was highlighted by the surprising intervention of Mr Hancock

In his speech on Tuesday, Mr Hancock told the Commons: ‘We talk a lot of the outbreak in Liverpool, and how that great city has had a terrible outbreak and got it under control.

‘This means more to me than I can say, because last month my step-grandfather Derek caught Covid there and on 18 November he died.

‘In my family, as in so many others, we’ve lost a loving husband, a father, a grandfather to this awful disease.

‘So from the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you to everyone in Liverpool for getting this awful virus under control.

‘It’s down by four-fifths in Liverpool, that’s what we can do if we work together in a spirit of common humanity.

‘We’ve got to beat this, we’ve got to beat it together.’

Mr Johnston married Marjorie (above) in 1983 after she split from Mr Hancock’s step-father 

Mr Hancock’s father Michael, 74, told MailOnline of Derek: ‘He was older me, he was in a home and he had Alzheimers – the usual story. It was just a few weeks ago.’

Asked if the family had managed to see Derek before he died, Michael said: ‘You know that it is like with his dreadful disease, it is very restricting.

‘It is not my side of the family.’ 

When pointed out that his son was upset talking about Derek’s death in the Commons, Michael added: ‘Matt wears his heart on his sleeve. He is affected by these things.’

Speaking from his home in Tarporley, Cheshire, he went on: ‘My son is the health secretary trying to do a job against a constant barrage of criticism and you cannot appreciate the amount of energy he has.

‘The amount of intellect he has, and he is far cleverer than me, that he puts all this into it.

‘And from my perspective all I see is people moaning all the time.’

Referring to Mr Hancock’s public mention of Derek, Michael said: ‘Presumably it is highlighting the fact that this disease is affecting everybody, nobody comes above it.’

Asked about Derek’s death, Mr Hancock’s mother Shirley said: ‘It’s very sad.’ 

When asked if her husband Bob was related to Derek, she added: ‘Yes, we’re all in a big family.’ 

Derek – who worked for construction giant Kier in the north-west for many years – suffered from dementia in later life.

On a tribute page on the ‘much loved’ website, he is fondly remembered by his widow Marjorie and described as ‘a much-loved, devoted husband, dad, brother, uncle, grandad and friend.

‘Derek will always be remembered for his kindness, his loyalty, generosity and his quirky sense of humour.’

In his speech, Mr Hancock told the Commons the outbreak in Liverpool ‘means more to me than I can say because last month my step-grandfather Derek caught Covid there and died’ 

Donations in his name are invited for the Willowbrook Hospice in St Helens, and four days ago, Bob Carter made a donation, with the Health Secretary and his wife Martha also pledging a sum on Tuesday, the day of his speech in the Commons.

Matthew John David Hancock was born on October 2, 1978 in Chester to businessman Michael Hancock and then wife Shirley Hills.

But by 1982, his father had left Shirley, Matthew and his elder sister Emily to marry Vera Atkin in Chester, who already had a daughter, Katherine from a previous relationship.

The following year, Vera gave birth to Matthew’s half-brother Christopher Hancock, now aged 37.

In October 1984, Mr Hancock’s mother married company director Robert Carter, and the pair went on to found Border Business Systems, an early software company in the north-west. 

Later, Mr Hancock, who attended the prestigious £16,500-a-year King’s School, Chester, and won a first in PPE from Exeter Oxford, and a Masters in Economics at Cambridge, would work briefly for the firm.

Border Business Systems is said to have pioneered the ‘address management’ technology which allows people to enter their postcode and choose from a list of addresses.

From 2000 to 2005, father-of-three Mr Hancock worked as an economist for the Bank of England, and soon his meteoric rise through the Conservative Party would begin, becoming a Secretary of State aged just 39. 

A spokesman for Mr Hancock declined to comment. 

Sandy Park won’t be a coronavirus vaccination site, council confirms – watch this space Owl

But there seems to be a bit of confusion or a lack of communication (Western Morning News reports the Sandy Park choice), obviously “work in progress” –  Owl

 “A system has been approved and the NHS are leading on the subject and not completely up to speed on what they plan to do. Sandy Park is to be used as a one of the major sites in the county, the last thing I knew.”

Jamie Hawkins www.devonlive.com 

Sandy Park will not be used as a mass coronavirus vaccination site, Devon County Council has tonight confirmed.

Earlier today, Cllr Roger Croad – Cabinet Member for Community, Public Health, Transportation and Environmental Services – confirmed that detailed planning is underway in Devon for two mass sites to deliver the vaccine.

Cllr Croad said that in addition to the two sites, there will be more localised sites as well, and all of which will be supplemented by the delivery of vaccines in vulnerable settings by local primary care teams.

Speaking at Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Croad said that while the NHS are leading on the roll-out of the vaccine in the county, the last thing he knew was that Sandy Park, the home of the Exeter Chiefs located just off the M5 in Exeter, was going to be used as one of the major sites in the county.

However, Devon County Council has tonight confirmed that after consideration, Sandy Park will not be used as a vaccine site.

A spokesman said: “Sandy Park was one of a number of sites being considered. However, this has now been ruled out. “

Having been asked by Cllr Rob Hannaford to report on pressing issues around vaccinations, Cllr Croad said in his report: “Detailed planning is underway in Devon for Covid-19 Mass Vaccination so a local vaccination programme can commence as soon as the vaccines are authorised for us.

“Two mass vaccination site have been identified by the Devon CCG in additional to more local primary care network sites all of which will be supplemented by the delivery of vaccines in vulnerable settings by local primary care teams. Devon County Council is in active in discussions to ensure that our health and social care staff can be vaccinated.

“There is a comprehensive workforce plan to ensure sufficient staff can safely support the programme, and not negatively impact other services. We expect existing vaccinators, newly recruited and trained personnel, and volunteers to all have a role to play.”

He added: “A system has been approved and the NHS are leading on the subject and not completely up to speed on what they plan to do. Sandy Park is to be used as a one of the major sites in the county, the last thing I knew.”

Steve Brown, Public Health Director (Designate) for Devon, added: “Mass centres are being planned but that is just one route for vaccines, so there will be other routes of going into care homes, GPs, more localised sites, but the undertaking cannot be underestimated as it’s vaccinated the population twice, as its two doses.

“It is a huge task and even when we get the vaccine, the logistics of vaccinating everyone won’t happen quickly but will take months to get through the process for everyone. It is a significant undertaking, not to be underestimated.”

More than 50 NHS England hospitals are ready to start administering the approved Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from next week, with Derriford Hospital in Plymouth on the list.

The UK has so far ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to immunise 20 million people.

Party with one councillor registers one of UK’s biggest political donations

Even in an era when British politics seems endlessly surprising, this was an eye-opener: one of the biggest individual political donations this year has gone not to the Conservative party or to Labour but to a tiny group in Surrey with just one councillor.

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com 

The news came in the quarterly update of donations produced by the Electoral Commission. Amid a list dominated by unions and businesses handing sums to the big parties was notice of £204,888.20 going to the Hersham village society.

It is fair to say that outside the somewhat niche political circles of Elmbridge borough council, most people will not have heard of this particular party. One of a string of village-based independent groups that run Elmbridge council in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, it has for decades represented the interests of a small commuter-belt outpost best known, if at all, as the home of the punk group Sham 69, who immortalised it in their 1979 hit Hersham Boys.

The money came in the will of Richard Greenwood, a Hersham man who died last year aged 84, seemingly without any living relatives. The bequest came as a surprise even to his local party.

“I can’t even say I knew him, actually,” said Roy Green, the party’s one councillor. “He only made out his will about three days before he died, and he left big sums of money to various organisations, not just us but a local hospice and the MCC.

“He left over £1m in all. No one knew he was that rich – he lived in this little ex-council house. I think one of our committee had lived opposite him and helped him in the past. He must have decided we should benefit.”

There is only one snag: as well as being the Hersham village society’s only councillor, Green, who has represented it since 1979, is likely to be its last. “I’m up for re-election in May, and I actually don’t think we’ll even be putting anyone up for election, as most of us have just got too old to carry on,” he said. “My brain is willing, but physically it’s getting difficult. Last night I had a three-hour council meeting, sitting in my office, staring at a screen, and my back was killing me. And that was the third long meeting this week.

“On Monday, I went to the funeral of one of our members who was in his 80s, and he’d been with us for over 30 years. But we don’t have younger people coming forward.”

Luckily, the money is still being put to good use. Green said the society was “more of an amenity and social group”, although it has to register as a party because members stand for election, meaning Greenwood’s bequest was registered as a donation.

It provides volunteers to run the local community centre, which will now get a revamp, along with funds for activities such as a youth group and a Saturday night cinema club. Green described the cinema club as “mainly for older people, so they can get out at least once a week”.

The society is in the process of handing most of its unexpected windfall to other local groups, including the Brownies, a scheme to help homeless people, a charity housing former racing greyhounds, and Hersham in Bloom, which plants flowerbeds.

Up to now, Green admitted, the tiny party/community group had tried to keep its new wealth quiet so as not to be inundated with requests. It was a nice problem to have, he added. “It was a lovely sum of money, a complete surprise, I can tell you. So we’re giving donations where we can. There’s not much money going to these small organisations, it normally goes to the bigger ones.”

Ex-councillor defends PPE contracts after buying homes in Devon and Cornwall

A businessman who won £276m in PPE contracts has defended his work during the coronavirus pandemic after he purchased properties in Devon and Cornwall.

Howard Lloyd www.devonlive.com

Businessman Steve Dechan is the owner of Gloucestershire-based Platform-14, which specialises in medical devices for people with chronic pain.

A national newspaper has reported that despite the company making a loss of close to £500,000 last year, he was awarded a £120m contract to supply masks in March, followed one in June worth £156m to supply gowns and masks.

According to the Sunday Times, Mr Dechan has bought a £250,000 holiday home in Cornwall and a £50,000 house for his parents in Exeter to add to his £1.5 million, grade II listed property in the Cotswolds.

It was also reported that he paid himself £500,000.

Mr Dechan, a former Conservative councillor on Stroud Town Council, denied he had benefited from his political affiliations, insisting that it was done ‘on merit’.

Steve Dechan (Image: Gloucestershire Live)

It has been reported there was not a competitive tender for either of the contracts awarded to his company.

In a series of exchanges on Twitter, Mr Dechan claimed: “What businessman delivers ahead of schedule, Below budget on contracts he has been doing for 8 years. makes money, pays his taxes in U.K & creates more jobs, pays his team bonuses and didn’t cheat.”

A National Audit Office report revealed that the Government had established a fast-track VIP lane to purchase billions of pounds of PPE from little-known companies with political contacts in the Conservative party.

Roughly one in 10 suppliers processed through the VIP channel – 47 out of 493 – obtained lucrative PPE contracts, compared to less than one-in-a-hundred suppliers that came through the ordinary lane.

Mr Dechan told Stroud News that his company had not benefited from this.

“We had no VIP or fast track. No help,” he claimed.

“It was done on merit, great price, great PPE delivered in amazing time.

“How many front line workers did we protect? Answer: hundreds of thousands.

“We didn’t and still don’t know if it was a competitive tender or not, we still assume it was. That’s a question for the buyers.”

He also told the Sunday Times that he had done ‘very, very well out of the pandemic’, but defended the work he had done to battle Covid-19, saying that the PPE he had delivered helped ‘millions of people in pain’.

Mr Dechan was contacted through his company Platform-14 for comment but did not respond to DevonLive and CornwallLive’s enquiries.

‘Once in a lifetime’ redevelopment for stately home approved

A ‘once in a lifetime’ chance to redevelop the 86-acre estate and stately home at Winslade Park to create a destination in the region with 2,000 new jobs has been given the green light.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

East Devon District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday backed Burrington Estates’ plans for the Clyst St Mary site which will convert the estate into a modern mixed-use campus of office and employment facilities in a parkland setting with associated residential development and on-site recreational facilities.

The £80m vision includes outline permission for up to 94 residential units split over two parts of the site, improved sport pitches for football and cricket, tennis courts and provision of parkland recreation routes.

Full permission for the conversion of the existing buildings into high quality, multi-let office space at Winslade Manor and Winslade House, an extension to Brook House for employment use and an extension to the leisure facilities to create improved facilities including a new gym, spa facilities and beauty salons, and a restaurant/café and high end business club was also granted.

Despite opposition from some local residents and parish councils and that the scheme would be a departure from the Local Plan, councillors backed the officer recommendation to approve the plans almost unanimously, with two abstentions.

CGI site plan for the Winslade Park redevelopment

CGI site plan for the Winslade Park redevelopment (Image: Burrington Estates -)

Development Manager Chris Rose told the committee that this was a balanced decision, as the scheme was contrary to the Local Plan, provided lower levels of affordable housing than policy requires, part of the car park is in the flood zone, and some housing will be built on agricultural land.

But he added: “That needs to be balanced between employment benefits of this, as will be highly skilled office jobs and not one you often see in East Devon, a high standard of refurbishment to the listed buildings, community access to the parkland and sports pitches that are being brought back into use and access to swimming pool for the school. The view of officers is the benefits outweigh the harm.”

How the redevelopment of Winslade Park could look like

How the redevelopment of Winslade Park could look like (Image: Burrington Estates)

However, Gaeron Kayley, chairman of the Save Clyst St Mary Residents’ Association, called for the committee to reject the plans. He said: “We believe the developers bought the site to manipulate the planning system to get housing and offices on the site that is well outside the Local Plan.

“They have ignored the Neighbourhood Plan and the Local Plan and this all about how much profit they can get out of the site, and the community isn’t getting enough out of the site. This undermines the integrity of the Local Plan that we fought so hard for and the 200 plus objections.”

Linda Trim added that approval would result in harm to the asset you are trying to protect, while Carole Spearman said that to add a significant extra levels of traffic to the area was misguided and not sustainable.

But Andrew Clancy said it was a once in a generational opportunity to create something outstanding for the community, while Clyst St Mary School said that they were in favour of the plans.

Matthew Bennett, from Burrington Estates, called for the scheme to be approved, saying: “We pride ourselves in quality, style, design and customer service, and will provide this approach to provide beautiful homes for many Clyst St Mary residents, new and old.

“The overriding principle to bring back the building into commercial use and we want to create a vibrant new business hub for East Devon which deserves the stunning manor. This will help create 2,000 new jobs, ensure the 94 dwellings are low density, and we have offered £2m for social housing despite not having to.

“It is providing 80 acres back into the Clyst St Mary community, the leisure club will be refurbished to exceptional standards, and cricket and football pitches for local use, and picnics and kite flying will be welcome.

“We have done this to create a destination that the region can be proud of, generating over £100m of economic activity and community activity. It is the most significant opportunity for the district in recent years and warrants the strongest possible support, as it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to redevelop Winslade Park properly, so please let us fulfil it.”

Cllr Mike Howe, who represents the Clyst St Mary ward, said that the application had both positives and negatives attached to it.

He said: “There are positives and it will bring the listed buildings into sustainable use, it brings jobs back to the local economy, and it brings back the sports provision, but it is balanced against the downsides.”

Cllr Howe said that there was concerns about what may happen to the fragile transport infrastructure around the village and at the roundabout if 2,000 more cars were added to the road and the queues of traffic trying to get on the A376 will reoccur, but that can happen today anyway as per the current planning permission for the site.

Stock image of traffic build-up

Stock image of traffic build-up (Image: Save Clyst St Mary Residents’ Association)

Cllr Philip Skinner, recommending the scheme be approved, said: “There are many benefits that come with the application. This site has changed between different owners and they have found it hard to wade through the treacle to find something that works for the community and to make a profit and for it to stand up. There are pros and cons for this and it’s not the perfect application but we need to move forward.”

Cllr Tony Woodward said that the economic benefits should not be underestimated, and while he was concerned about the transport, it didn’t prevent a reason for refusal, while Cllr Geoff Pook added that a site with this many benefits will have some problems, but the trade-off was acceptable.

Backing the plans, Cllr Ollie Davey said: “Overall I think that the scheme is just about acceptable as it stands,” while Cllr Bruce de Saram described it as a ‘mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly’, but that there were lots of benefits.

Councillors voted by 10 votes to none, with two abstentions, to approve the plans, after more than two and a half hours of debate, with work set to begin of the office redevelopments early in 2021.

A separate reserved matters application will still need to be submitted and approval for the housing element of the scheme.

After the meeting, Burrington Estates Group Managing Director, Mark Edworthy said: “We are excited to move ahead with this unique proposition which we believe will be a project for the region to be proud of.

Winslade Park Redevelopment - Pictured (left to right): Paul Scantlebury, Co-Founder, Mark Edworthy, Co-Founder and Group Managing Director and Peter Quincey, Development Director

Winslade Park Redevelopment – Pictured (left to right): Paul Scantlebury, Co-Founder, Mark Edworthy, Co-Founder and Group Managing Director and Peter Quincey, Development Director

“Winslade Park will deliver lasting benefits not only for businesses and the local economy through the creation of much-needed employment opportunities, but for the neighbouring community too. The South West has always had an edge for those wanting a better work/life balance, and Winslade Park provides the perfect lifestyle choice. I would like to thank EDDC and local councillors for their support.”

Co-Founder Paul Scantlebury added: “The development of Winslade Park is being handled with great sensitivity and respect for its heritage.

“It has been dubbed a ‘hidden gem’ concealed from view for far too long. We are pleased to breathe new life into this superb asset for the region and deliver on its potential as an idyllic location for office workers, homeowners and the wider community.”

The property has sat empty for six years since Friends Life’s departure, but the site has a chequered history with development proposals, with campaign group Save Clyst St Mary from Inappropriate Development concerned against previous housing plans for the site.

Hopes of Flybe returning to skies increase

The new owner of Flybe has applied for a UK operating licence – raising hopes the former Exeter-based airline is poised to take off once again.

Paul Greaves www.devonlive.com

The Civil Aviation Authority has received an operating licence application from Thyme Opco, which bought the company in October.

Flybe was the largest independent regional airline in Europe before collapsing in early 2020 due to financial difficulties.

The news of the operating application is the first concrete step towards aircraft flying once again.

However, there is no word yet on where Flybe will be based.

East Devon MP Simon Jupp, the Exeter Chamber of Commerce and the South West Business Council have all urged the new investors to make Exeter the centre of Flybe operations once again.

Responding to the latest news the MP said: “It’s another step in the right direction to get Flybe back in our skies.

“I’ve urged the airlines new owners to bring Flybe home to Exeter Airport which will now benefit from up to £8m additional support from government to protect jobs and connectivity in our region. I fought hard for government support for our airport and I’ll continue to push for Flybe to come home.”

The airline employed 2,000 people and flew over nine million passengers a year, according to Statista.

It went into administration in March with all routes from Exeter and Newquay airports cancelled.

A deal to buy what was left of the company was struck with hedge fund firm Cyrus Capital, a company associated with Thyme Opco.

A spokesperson for Thyme Opco said in October: “We are extremely excited about the opportunity to relaunch Flybe.

“The airline is not only a well-known UK brand, it was also the largest regional air carrier in the EU, so while we plan to start off smaller than before, we expect to create valuable airline industry jobs, restore essential regional connectivity in the UK, and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the country’s economy.”

January: “weirdos and misfits” then “Sensible Celebrities” now it’s down to “Matt Hancock” to save the day!

In January the government was recruiting weirdos and misfits: Dominic Cummings calls for ‘weirdos and misfits’ for No 10 jobs

A few days ago it was “Sensible Celebrities”: NHS to enlist ‘sensible’ celebrities to persuade people to take coronavirus vaccine

Now it’s down to Matt Hancock to save the day (whatever can come next?):

Matt Hancock: I’ll take coronavirus vaccine on TV to combat antivaxers

Kat Lay, Health Editor | Emma Yeomans www.thetimes.co.uk

The health secretary has volunteered to be vaccinated live on television to prove that the coronavirus jab is safe.

Matt Hancock made his offer as YouGov polling found that a fifth of Britons were not confident at all or not very confident that the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine was safe and antivaxers took aim at the newly approved drug.

Last night Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, told Britons that they needed to take the vaccination to get rid of restrictions. He said: “Everyone wants social distancing to come to an end, we’re fed up with it. Nobody wants to see the damage they do. But if you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you have to take the vaccine when it’s offered to you. Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.”

Earlier, during a television appearance, it was suggested that Mr Hancock could lead the way with an injection broadcast to the nation.

Piers Morgan, the presenter of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, said: “I’ll come to where you are any time next week if we can do this. Let’s do it together, live on air. It would be powerful, it would send the right message.”

Mr Hancock said: “Well, we’d have to get that approved because, of course, there is a prioritisation according to clinical need and, thankfully, as a healthy, middle-aged man, you’re not at the top of the prioritisation. But if we can get that approved and if people think that’s reasonable then I’m up for doing that because once the MHRA has approved a vaccine — they only do that if it is safe. And so, if that can help anybody else, persuade anybody else that they should take the vaccine then I think it’s worth it.”

A snap YouGov poll found that the public overwhelmingly supported the idea, with 66 per cent in favour against only 12 per cent who opposed it.

Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, suggested the prime minister might also be prepared to be vaccinated against coronavirus live on television — but only if it did not prevent someone more in need of a jab from receiving one. Ms Stratton told reporters: “We all know the character of the prime minister. I don’t think it would be something that he would rule out but what we also know is that he wouldn’t want to take a jab that should be for somebody who is extremely vulnerable and who should be getting it before him.”

In the Commons on Tuesday Sir Desmond Swayne, a former international development minister, said: “The way to persuade people to have a vaccine is to line up the entire government and its ministers and their loved ones and let them take it first, and then get all the luvvies, the icons of popular culture out on the airwaves singing its praises.”

The YouGov poll also found 27 per cent of Brits were very confident the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine was safe and 43 per cent fairly confident. However, 11 per cent were not very confident, 9 per cent said they were not confident at all, and 44 per cent opposed making the vaccination compulsory in law.

By midday Thalidomide was trending on Twitter as antivax activists sought to discredit the newly approved vaccine. Among those arguing against its use was Gerard Batten, a former Ukip leader, who claimed it could cause infertility, something for which there is no evidence.

The claim appears to stem from a petition submitted to the European Medicines Agency by two doctors and campaigners against lockdown who have both previously claimed the pandemic either does not exist or is already over. Their claims about the vaccine were described as lacking in evidence, “hard to follow and tenuous” by Professor Danny Altmann, head of an immunology lab at Imperial College London.

Testing times

1796

Edward Jenner, left, gave the first vaccine to James Phipps, aged eight, on May 14, 1796 using matter from a smallpox sore on Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid. His paper was rejected by the Royal Society but within a few years he had won over enough doctors and by 1800 his smallpox vaccination was popular in Britain and spreading into Europe.

1879

Louis Pasteur created a laboratory-developed vaccine for chicken cholera — in error. His assistant forgot to inject the chickens with fresh bacterial cultures before a holiday. When he returned a month later, he carried out the injections with the old culture, and the chickens survived fatal disease. Pasteur gave them fresh bacteria and they did not become ill.

1955

The Salk polio virus vaccine was deemed successful a little over a year after a huge trial began. It was licensed in the US on the same day, and by 1960 polio rates across the country had dropped by 90 per cent.

1956

One of Elvis Presley’s lesser-known live performances came in October 1956, when he received a polio shot on television. Rates of polio vaccination were slumping among teenagers, who were vulnerable to the disease, so celebrities were enlisted to get the message out.

1977

Ali Maalin, a Somalian cook, became the last person to contract smallpox in the wild. He survived and became an advocate for vaccination. A British woman contracted it from a lab studying the disease a year later, but smallpox was declared eradicated globally in 1980.

1984

After the HIV virus was isolated Ronald Reagan’s secretary of health announced that a vaccine would be found within two years. Decades later, however, no vaccine yet exists and numerous studies have failed. One trial was stopped after it appeared the vaccine raised people’s chances of contracting HIV.

1988

Andrew Wakefield published a study, later discredited, claiming a link between the MMR — measles, mumps and rubella — vaccine and autism. The paper was retracted and he was subsequently banned from practising medicine but his claims have resulted in a significant reduction in vaccination rates.

2008

The HPV vaccine was introduced for girls in the UK age 12 and 13. Boys started receiving the jab too last year. The World Health Organisation has said that cervical cancer, caused by the HPV virus, could be eliminated and Australia aims to wipe it out by 2035.

2019

The WHO reported 140,000 deaths from measles with outbreaks across all regions of the world. Four European countries, including the UK, lost their measles-free status, with the drop in vaccination rates blamed.

Johnson needs a plan or Tories will oust him

So much has gone wrong since the Tories won their general election victory a year ago next week that it is easy to take their majority of 80 for granted.

Iain Martin www.thetimes.co.uk 

A new report, No Turning Back, published today by the think tank Onward, serves as a reminder that the victory was hard-won, even against Jeremy Corbyn, because it involved the construction of a remarkable new electoral coalition of interests. Quite deliberately, the Tory leadership set out, Disraeli-style, to reposition the party, appealing to patriotic, working-class voters.

This was smart politics that worked. Boris Johnson duly smashed through the “red wall” to turn parts of the north of England blue for the first time in generations. Two in five Tory voters are working class. The Tories hold 57 per cent of the seats in the north and Midlands, their highest share since the mid-1930s.

To retain those seats and to maintain a winning coalition at the next election in 2024 or earlier, the Onward report suggests the Tories must now deliver on “levelling up” in the north, while not neglecting southern Conservative voters. Obviously, this balancing requires a high degree of political dexterity and focus.

At Westminster, where the Balkanisation of the party continues apace, the need for unity has not yet got through to many Conservative MPs. So widespread is the fashion for factionalism that new groupings are continually springing up, with Tory MPs forming ever more interest groups to apply pressure to the prime minister.

The CRG, the Covid Recovery Group, was formed last month and has organised resistance to the virus restrictions. The other CRG is the China Research Group, pushing for a tougher policy against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). Then there is the Northern Research Group, the NRG. And the grandaddy of contemporary Conservative internal warfare is the ERG, the European Research Group, which organised resistance to Theresa May. Its members are still on guard against any backsliding on Brexit by their former hero Johnson.

With rebellions rolling, the steady corrosion of the government’s whipping operation has started to produce serious fractures. On Tuesday evening, 55 Tory MPs voted against the new coronavirus restrictions. The prime minister’s hide was saved only by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ordering his MPs to abstain. In the Westminster game, this is a significant moment. The opposition knows that the prime minister cannot rely on his majority. It can now bait and switch its position, saying it will abstain on a controversial matter before perhaps changing suddenly, closer to the vote, leaving the Tory whips scrambling.

A senior Conservative MP, a veteran of the whipping war during the doomed attempts to pass a Brexit deal during the May premiership, blames backbenchers for bad habits: “Many Tory MPs are still to be weaned off the Brexit years rebellion adrenaline fix.” Rebels respond that it is the fault of a high-handed No 10, which until his departure recently was built around Dominic Cummings, a revolutionary who actively dislikes the party. A noxious atmosphere was created and trust in Johnson’s judgment is low. Among the discontented are former cabinet ministers. Says one: “No 10 has behaved with such hubris in the last nine months during the Covid crisis that colleagues have concluded the government has no monopoly of wisdom.”

Tory factionalism is not a new phenomenon. In the 1840s the party split over the Corn Laws, with the free-trading leadership peeling away. In the aftermath of the First World War there was internal warfare. In the early 1980s, much of Margaret Thatcher’s first cabinet was opposed to the prime minister’s approach. From the late 1980s until 2019, the party was bedevilled by divisions on Europe.

But what should worry the prime minister now is that today’s divisions don’t appear to be particularly ideological — yet. The situation is more perilous than an arcane row about policy because it rests on that most subjective of qualities, personality. The doubts are about his ability to function effectively in government, to process the flow of paper and decisions and make good use of patronage.

The squabbling is displacement activity while the party works out what to do with him. Johnson was selected as a winner by MPs and Tory members to get two things done: to win an election and to deliver Brexit. The first was achieved and the second will happen, one way or the other, next month.

After that, and mass vaccination against Covid-19, it is fair to ask: what is this government for? Where are the public sector reforms to power improvement? Where are the policies to capitalise on what should be a boom next year unless the government screws it up?

The prime minister may object, with some justification, that he has had a hell of a year and everyone in government looks whacked. He can complain about unjustness and ingratitude all he likes but this is a tough old world and the Tory tribe are a ruthless bunch. So are the voters. There are always alternative prime ministers available.

That Onward report does contain some encouragement for the prime minister. Its authors say that the 2019 election marked a big realignment, making the Tories as much a party of the working class as of the provincial middle class. If so, Johnson has a special connection with those voters who will look to see whether or not he delivers.

If he is to succeed he’ll need an agenda and to implement it he will require the solid support of his party. That means he must learn the art of party management, and quick.

Government has failed to properly prepare for no-deal Brexit, watchdog warns again

Parliament’s Whitehall watchdog has accused the government of putting its head in the sand over no-deal Brexit as it becomes increasingly clear ministers have failed to prepare in time.

www.independent.co.uk 

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee warned in a new report that the government was still “taking limited responsibility” for Brexit readiness despite there being just four weeks left until Britain leaves the single market.

In a grim report published on Wednesday the MPs warned that they were “extremely concerned about the risk of serious disruption and delay” because of government inaction at ports like Dover.

The MPs noted that it was the twelfth time they had warned the government about the issue since the Brexit vote, but that it was still “not doing enough to ensure businesses and citizens will be ready for the end of the transition period”.

Brexit preparations have involved more than 22,000 civil servants at their peak and have cost at least £4.4 billion, the spending watchdog said – and yet there are still “critical gaps in the civil service’s approach to planning, particularly for unexpected events or undesired outcome”.

This costly approach is compounded by the fact that the Treasury “still does not have a good grip on how much taxpayers’ money is being spent on cross-government priorities”, with excess spending on consultants and little investment in the civil service itself.

“Pretending that things you don’t want to happen are not going to happen is not a recipe for government, it is a recipe for disaster,” said Meg Hillier, the MP who chairs the committee.

“We’re paying for that approach in the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and can only hope that we are not now facing another catastrophe, at the border in 4 weeks’ time.

“But after 12 PAC reports full of warnings since the Brexit vote, the evidence suggests that come January 1st we face serious disruption and delay at the short Channel crossings that deliver a majority of our fresh food supplies.

“The lack of definite next steps and inability to secure a deal adds to the challenge. A year after the oven ready deal, we have more of a cold turkey and businesses and consumers do not know what to be prepared for.”

Trade talks with the EU to sign a deal have now continued in December, but there is little sign of a deal on the horizon.

Trade experts however warn that the hard nature of the Brexit chosen by Boris Johnson makes disruption inevitable, even if an agreement is forthcoming.

A UK Government Spokesperson said: “We are making significant preparations to prepare for the guaranteed changes at the end of the transition period including investing £705 million in jobs, technology and infrastructure at the border and providing £84 million in grants to boost the customs intermediaries sector. This is alongside implementing border controls in stages so traders have more time to prepare”

“With less than one month to go, it’s vital that businesses and citizens make their final preparations too. That’s why we’re intensifying our engagement with businesses through the Brexit Business Taskforce and running a major public information campaign so they know exactly what they need to do to get ready.”