Fall in Covid-19 tests putting lives at risk, critics claim

Ministers have been accused of putting lives at risk by failing to rapidly expand testing for coronavirus as promised, after fewer than 5,000 people were tested in one day.

Critics said the government had been misleading people about the scale of its testing programme as it became clear the UK has still not met its initial aim of 10,000 daily tests.

Rowena Mason  www.theguardian.com

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, claimed over the weekend that the goal had been met. But it emerged on Monday that the level of testing had dipped over the weekend, with just 4,908 people tested in the 24 hours before 9am on Sunday.

On Friday, 9,114 tests were carried out on about 6,900 people, with the disparity due to the need for multiple tests following inconclusive results. This dropped on Saturday to 8,278 tests on 4,908 patients – the latest figures available.

The numbers contrast sharply with those of other countries such as Germany, which is conducting around 70,000 tests daily, or half a million a week.

After the data showed yet another drop in UK testing, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and Tory chair of the Commons health select committee, as well as opposition parties called on the government to focus on increasing mass testing across the country to detect, isolate and prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has killed 1,408 people in the UK so far. The World Health Organization has urged countries to “test, test, test”.

“The big advantage we now have is evidence that testing works in other countries. We can see that Asian countries have been spectacularly more successful than European ones in avoiding mass lockdown,” Hunt told the Guardian.

A senior source at the Department of Health and Social Care said the UK did not have as much domestic laboratory capacity as Germany but had been working hard to increase numbers.

However, another Whitehall source said the UK’s main problem was that it had tried to source the tests too late after changing strategy in favour of a lockdown, and was now facing stiff competition from other countries around the world.

Keir Starmer, the favourite to become Labour leader, said it was “deeply worrying that the number of people being tested for coronavirus has fallen”.

“Experts across the world have been clear that the best chance we have of fighting this pandemic is to significantly increase the number of people who are being tested, particularly health workers,” he said.

“Ministers need to explain why the NHS is not testing to capacity, why we are falling behind other countries and what measures they will put in place to address this situation as a matter of urgency.”

Munira Wilson, a Liberal Democrat MP and the party spokeswoman on health, also accused the government of having been “not only misleading but reckless” in failing to reach the promised number of tests.

“Stopping the spread of coronavirus is hugely dependent on the public trusting the information and advice the government provides. This sort of behaviour puts that at risk and endangers us all as a result,” she said.

The government has until the last few days limited testing to people with suspected coronavirus in hospitals, care homes and prisons. But it expanded testing to around 900 NHS workers over the weekend and has pledged to increase that further as numbers ramp up. However, it has not set out any plans to widen testing to all suspected cases, as happens in countries such as South Korea.

It is almost three weeks since ministers first promised an increase in testing to 10,000 a day, which has still not been met. The next target, set by Hancock on 18 March, was for testing to increase to 25,000 a day within four weeks of that date.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the target was on course to be met, but Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, suggested in a press conference on Monday that it could take another month to reach. She referred to the “25,000 tests per day that Public Health England and NHS England are well on the way to meeting by mid-to-late April”.

Asked about the government’s failure to reach the 10,000 target, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said: “We are operating on multiple fronts to increase the testing. We want to scale that up as swiftly as possible but it has got to be reliable.”

Downing Street appeared to blame Public Health England for the false claim by Gove, saying he had been relying on information given to him by the health experts.

After a week of lockdown conditions in the UK, government advisers said there was some signs the spread of the virus may be slowing.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said Johnson’s guidance on social distancing had been “successful in terms of behaviour changes”, with data showing “a dramatic fall-off in the use of the London tube, bus routes, rail and motor vehicles”.

The rate of hospital admissions was advancing at a steady rate and now stood at 8,000, Vallance said. He said this “may suggest we are beginning to see some effects through” from the government’s initial social distancing advice, announced two weeks ago.

 

Coronavirus: ‘Desperate’ East Devon NHS workers forced to ‘beg, borrow and steal’ protective equipment

East Devon NHS workers having to ‘beg, borrow and steal’ protective equipment have had their concerns taken to the area’s MP by Claire Wright, county councillor and former parliamentary candidate for East Devon.

Councillor Wright was contacted by a ‘desperate East Devon NHS worker’ who is concerned that equipment is not in place to deal with a predicted surge in coronavirus cases over the next two weeks.

Joseph Bulmer  exmouth.nub.news 

In an open letter to the area’s MP, Simon Jupp, councillor Wright asked for reassurance that the necessary protective equipment will be delivered to East Devon’s NHS workers this week.

Nub News asked Mr Jupp for his response to the open letter, he said he has asked the Department of Health and Social Care for details on the equipment’s delivery.

In the letter councillor Wright said: “The predicted surge in cases for Devon is around 10-14 days time. We will need to see patients with suspected and confirmed CV 19 in hot sites and I am worried that we will run out very quickly. There’s quite a lot of beg borrow and steal going on.”

“The above words are taken from an email I received from a desperate East Devon NHS worker this morning extremely anxious about facing the coming weeks without adequate personal protective equipment.

“We have of course, heard disturbing stories from NHS staff via the media, about the lack of PPE and how vulnerable they feel to infection and potentially worse, with a continued significant virus load, while working on the front line.

“I am aware of Robert Jenrick’s welcome words this afternoon, but I am not yet sure how this translates into supplies for East Devon.

“Can you please reassure me and all the local health workers that those supplies of PPE for every NHS staff member will be received by the middle of this week (Wednesday 1 April)?”

Nub News contacted the area’s MP, Simon Jupp, for a response to councillor Wright’s open letter, he said: “I have asked for further details on the specific case raised in the email as it always helps to highlight specific local concerns from NHS workers to press the case further to help ensure all frontline staff have access to the necessary equipment to stay safe.

“I had already requested further PPE delivery details from the Department of Health & Social Care and the Cabinet Office.

“As I’m sure you recognise, all elected representatives have a duty to work together in times of crisis for the good of our communities. I have spoken with many councillors in weeks on a variety of different issues and continue to do so.”

LED Community Leisure asks for Sidmouth’s support

LED Leisure is asking its members in Sidmouth for support during the coronavirus lock down.

LED, which runs Sidmouth Swimming Pool, is asking its members not to cancel their direct debits so that the organisation can continue to function once the lockdown is lifted.

Joseph Bulmer  sidmouth.nub.news

LED Community Leisure is a not-for-profit Community Benefit Society with charitable status.

The organisation’s charitable status does entitle it to some financial support from local councils but 90% of its income is generated by members, through its centres across East Devon.

As a result of the Prime Minister’s announcement on Friday, March 20, that all leisure centres, gyms and swimming pools were to close with immediate effect LED’s income has fallen dramatically.

In response to the announcement LED has ‘frozen’ all membership collections, including monthly direct debits. The suspension means that no payments will be taken and when members re-start their membership there will be no re-joining fee.

LED is asking members to, ‘please do not cancel your direct debit’.

LED’s CEO, Peter Gilpin, has made a statement to members, he said: “As you can imagine, the facility closures and suspension of membership income will have a very serious effect on our finances.

“The various government support initiatives are welcome. It is likely that most staff at LED will have to be ‘furloughed’, for example – i.e. laid off and paid 80% of their salary by the government – as LED will have virtually no ongoing income.

“Some key staff will need to be retained on site to keep the facilities operational, albeit in a state of ‘hibernation’, ready for when we have the green light to reopen. Some key administrative staff will also need to be retained as many services, support contracts and partnerships will need to continue.

“Whilst LED is taking every action to minimise or reduce costs during this period, it is inevitable that the Trust will need to rely upon its financial reserves to survive the next few months in order to be able to reopen facilities and re-employ furloughed staff in due course. However, like many charities, these reserves are finite, and it will be a challenge to ensure that LED gets through what will undoubtedly be a very difficult period.

“So, my purpose for writing is to give you the above update and to ask you if you would please give LED your continued support by opting to continue your membership subscription during these difficult times, which we have no idea how long they may last.

“If you would kindly do so, I shall take your loyalty and support into account in 2021 when it comes to next year’s fees, by which time I hope the worst of this should be over. This will take the form of an extension for Annual memberships and a payment holiday for monthly memberships equivalent to the eventual closure period.

“However, I do appreciate that for some of you, continuing your membership at this difficult time may not be possible due to your personal circumstances, in which case you need do nothing as your membership has been automatically suspended.

“If you would kindly agree to continuing your membership subscription and for us to reactivate your suspended membership, please confirm using this email link opt-in@ledleisure.co.uk

“Although our centres will be closed, the good news is that you can still exercise with LED Community Leisure. We have put plans in place to offer a range of exercise options to keep you active in the safety and comfort of your own home. For those at home with school-aged children, we will also have ideas for how you can have fun exercising together.

You can access a free streaming site with access to 95 workouts across 8 categories via Les Mills online.

We are also planning to run regular Facebook Live exercise at home videos for you to join in with.

Mr Gilpin added: “As a community leisure trust, we want to be in a position where we can reopen for our local communities as soon as possible, with all our team members back on board, after this unprecedented and worrying situation subsides.

“I do very much hope that LED can count on your continued support in order to ensure the sustainability of our services, facilities and staff beyond the current crisis, and thank you so much for your patience and support to date.”

 

Son’s fears for mum, 100, as closing Budleigh care home will move OAPs despite coronavirus lockdown.

An anguished son fears his 100-year-old mum will die from coronavirus as her closing Budleigh Salterton care home forges ahead to move vulnerable pensioners out during lockdown.

Owl recently reported on this sad story.

Owl understands that a group of local people are desperately beseeching Simon Jupp MP to get County Councillor Christine Channon and her advisor Chris Davies, and Abbeyfield to put a halt to the Care Home’s  (Shandford) closure. Councillor Channon has been reported in the press as saying she received advice last autumn that the home was no longer viable.

Professional property and business experts, members of “Save our Shandford” hotly dispute this finding but have been denied access to any details.

Becca Gliddon  eastdevonnews.co.uk 

Jessie Gannon in happier times, celebrating her 100th birthday with her family.

Richard Gannon is appealing to Abbeyfield, which is closing Shandford care home, ‘If my mother is to die, please let her die in relative peace in the home she loves’.

The Abbeyfield Society and Devon County Council said Shandford’s elderly could be safely moved out during lockdown on the advice of Public Health England.

Mr Gannon, 69, from Payhembury, has not seen his mum, Jessie, since the Budleigh home went into lockdown several weeks ago.

Jessie Gannon is 100-years-old and faces being moved to another home amid the coronavirus lockdown, because Abbeyfield has decided to close Shandford, in Budleigh Salterton, where she has lived for more than two years.

On Mother’s Day he waved at her though a window because relatives have been banned from visiting to protect residents from Covid-19.

Mr Gannon, whose mum moved to Shandford more than two years ago, said: “Nobody should be moving vulnerable people out of that house. It’s breaking hearts and killing people.

“If a vulnerable person gets this, there’s a good chance they will die. I don’t want them to die anywhere else, apart from there. They are happy in their home.

“I don’t care whether they want to close the home or move them. Nobody should be moving about.

“If she’s going to die, which is a high possibility, I would like her to die in a place with people she knows and the lovely staff. She will be happy and I will be happy.”

Earlier this year Abbeyfield said it hoped to close Shandford by March 31, saying it was ‘not a viable option’ to keep it open.

Mr Gannon called for decency, appealing to Abbeyfield to ‘leave alone until the crisis is over’.

Why Boris Johnson is finally turning to the experts

The deep irony of Michael “people in this country have had enough of experts” Gove solemnly reassuring an anxious public that the government is being guided by the best expert advice had not been lost on anyone. That Mr Gove can say such things with such a poker face is a tribute, of sorts, to his political skills.

@_seanogrady  www.independent.co.uk

One of the most remarkable innovations during this crisis has been the rise, or perhaps restoration, of the rule of the expert in public life. When the public need to learn more about the coronavirus, why it spreads so quickly and what we can do to try and avoid it, they turn to a range of scientists and, yes, to some journalists for the closest approximation to the truth as can be attempted. Never before have so many doctors and scientists popped up on television. The public do not, on the whole, turn to the politicians, though the relatively high approval ratings enjoyed by Boris Johnson suggest that trust in politics may not be as bad as some suppose, at least for the time being. But the experts carry the authority needed to get on top of a such as this. 

Hence the habitual appearance of various medical and scientific officers flanking the politicians at the daily press conferences held in Downing Street and by the Scottish government. And, indeed, at the White House, where even President Trump must treat them with some respect.

The appearance of the experts has a few purposes. First, no politician with a degree in Classics or PPE (philosophy, politics and economics, in this case) can answer questions about epidemiology, or any other scientific -ology for that matter. They are forced by circumstance to have people sharing a platform with them who are under no obligation to spin the facts. The benefit, though, is that the politicians can nod sagely as they explain about infection rates and herd immunity, and hope some of that expert gravitas may rub off on them, even from two metres away.

A second advantage for the politicians is that the presence of experts and the constantly stated obligation to follow their guidance gives ministers a perfect alibi if things go awry. If, for example, it turns out that the national lockdown was ordered too late, then the prime minister can, in effect, offload the blame to the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser. The maxim “advisers advise, ministers decide” will be quietly dropped in such a turn of events. The experts can carry the can, fairly or not. A variation on the theme will be that the Scottish government can blame Whitehall for getting it wrong. 

So far, though, both politicians and experts seem to have been getting through the crisis without too much collateral damage, despite the embarrassing self-isolation of the PM, the health secretary Matt Hancock, the CMO Chris Whitty, and now Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief political adviser. The next few weeks, as the emergency reaches its peak, will put the credibility of the experts under unparalleled strain. 

See also: Ex-officials with experience of crises recalled to Whitehall

Rajeev Syal  www.theguardian.com

 

Stop bank dividend payouts, governor of the Bank of England told

Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, came under fresh pressure last night to put a stop to £7.5 billion of dividends due to be paid out by British banks over the next few weeks.

Patrick Hosking, Katherine Griffiths  www.thetimes.co.uk

Agustín Carstens, head of the Bank for International Settlements — known as the central bank for central banks — called for a global freeze on dividends in the sector. On Friday the European Central Bank ordered eurozone lenders to cancel all dividends until at least October.

In an appeal for action by supervisors to ensure that lenders are equipped to push out the huge amount of extra credit needed to keep companies afloat, Mr Carstens said: “Banks should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Earlier, Sir John Vickers, former chairman of the Independent Commission on Banking, told The Times: “For the sake of the health of the financial system, dividend payouts by banks should now be totally out of the question. I’m surprised the Bank hasn’t yet put a stop to them. It should do so at once.”

With Barclays due to pay out £1.03 billion this Friday, the Bank of England would have to move quickly to prevent the outflow. Robert Jenkins, a former Bank financial policy committee member, said yesterday that the payout would hinder Barclays’ ability to lend as much as £20 billion to £25 billion to struggling firm businesses and households at a critical time. He has called for a ban on dividends.

The chief executives of about eight banks will meet officials from the Financial Conduct Authority today to discuss ways to improve service to customers. The talks are expected to include bonuses and dividends, as regulators want banks to retain their financial firepower to help customers.

One former senior regulator said that it was puzzling to see the inaction of the Bank and the Prudential Regulation Authority, its supervisory division. A co-ordinated ban by all the biggest central banks would be better, the source said.

Any backtracking on dividends, however, would be likely to infuriate shareholders because Britain’s banks have been paying out billions of pounds in cash bonuses to executives and staff over the past few weeks. Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays, has been paid a cash bonus of £395,000 in the past few days, while other executives and employees have been paid cash bonuses of £1.01 billion since March 1.

Tim Bush, head of governance at Pirc, the shareholder advisory group, said, “Companies cancelling dividends create a pay issue where management bonuses and incentive plans for 2019 have paid out when the final dividend for 2019 hasn’t.”

Last night, Barclays was still planning to go ahead with its 6p-a-share dividend, which is due to be followed by payments of $4.2 billion by HSBC on April 14, £968 million by Royal Bank of Scotland on May 14 and £1.58 billion by Lloyds Banking Group on May 27.

While all of them looked comfortably capitalised at their year-ends on December 31, their potential strength could be seriously reduced by the economic slump.

Mr Staley personally stands to be paid dividends of £317,000 on Friday because of his holding of 5.3 million Barclays shares. He also owns another 7.2 million shares, but these have not vested and do not qualify for dividends. Any decision on pulling the dividend would be for the full board.

Barclays would face a particular legal problem in cancelling its dividend because the record date — the moment when a shareholder ceases to qualify for a declared dividend — has already been passed. To cancel now would put every shareholder who has sold between the record date and now at a disadvantage.

On the other han, accounting regulators have made plain that dividend payers should exercise great caution.

Mr Carstens, in an article on FT.com, said that banks should be drawing on their capital reserves to make more credit available. “To boost lending capacity further, we need a global freeze on bank dividends and share buybacks,” he said. The BIS in Basel is owned by the world’s central banks and is highly influential in setting capital rules.

The promised dividend largesse by the big British clearing banks stands in stark contrast to much of the rest of UK business, with more than £4.2 billion of promised dividends cancelled or postponed by more than 100 companies in the past two weeks.

Barclays believes that it is financially strong and well diversified and should go ahead with the dividend. The Bank of England and Barclays declined to comment.

 

Our social distancing is working, says Sir Patrick Vallance

Yesterday Owl broke this news, having been primed by Owl’s knowledgeable friend that something encouraging was appearing in the data. These are early days, given the lag that is inevitable between taking action to impose social restrictions and seeing the effects, when the incubation period is thought to be between 7 to 14 days.

Owl’s post gave a link to the Public Health England Covid-19 dashboard. Covid-19 confirmed cases across the UK appear to be stabilising at around 2.5k cases a day, the data doesn’t now show daily rates doubling every three or four days. Caveats apply and are listed in the previous post.

These numbers are high (we only test the most serious cases) and the coming days will show whether they start to accelerate again or start to do what we all hope – reduce. Not until then will we have the infection under some form of control.

Francis Elliott, Political Editor | Tom Knowles, Technolog Correspondent | Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor www.thetimes.co.uk

Britain may be starting gradually to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control because residents are doing a “good job” of social distancing, the government’s chief scientific adviser said yesterday.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that hospital admissions were increasing by a stable amount each day, with the NHS coping as numbers stopped accelerating. He warned that deaths would continue to rise and that it was vital for Britain to stay in lockdown until it was clear that intensive care would not be overwhelmed.

He expressed cautious optimism that “dramatic” reductions in travel and contact could be decreasing the number of new cases and putting the country on course to halt the epidemic.

“The measures are in place. They are making a difference, they are decreasing the contact which is so important to spread the disease and we’re doing a good job at cutting that down,” he told a press conference yesterday. “The stay at home message will be reducing the number of cases of transmission in the community and decreasing the number of cases overall.”

Road traffic is approaching a quarter of its normal volume and the number using buses and trains has fallen even further, according his presentation. Data from Transport for London shows a dramatic fall-off to “just a few per cent” of the total number of commuters using the Tube at the end of February.

As well as transport there were dramatic reductions in footfall on high streets, he said. The closure of pubs and restaurants had helped to reduce contact between people, which was predicted to have “a very significant effect” on the rate of transmission.

More than 9,000 patients are being treated in hospital for coronavirus, a jump of 50 per cent over the weekend, but Sir Patrick said it was “quite important” that numbers did not appear to be accelerating.

They were increasing “pretty much the same amount each day for the past few days”, with about 1,000 new daily admissions. “It is a number that NHS staff are clearly coping with in terms of what they are doing at the moment.”

He said this data demonstrated “that actually this is a bit more stable than it has been. I expect people coming every day to be about that — it may go up a little bit. And in two or three weeks you would expect that to stabilise and to start to go down a bit.”

Yesterday 180 coronavirus deaths were reported, down from 260 on Saturday. Sir Patrick said Britain was “tracking roughly along the same path as France” in terms of deaths and slightly behind Italy, which had almost 2,000 deaths at the same stage of its outbreak.

A total of 1,408 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Britain as of 5pm on Sunday and the total number of cases was 22,141. Before Britain’s lockdown a week ago each infected person was passing the virus on to two or three others, leading to exponential increases. The key aim of social distancing is to get this figure below one, at which point the outbreak would start to peter out.

The government’s scientific advisers previously said that compliance with isolation and distancing rules needed to be 75 per cent to be effective.

Boris Johnson’s decision to impose a stricter lockdown a week ago was justified in part because ministers had been told that the target was being missed. Downing Street has so far resisted presenting the data it used to make that judgment. Officials say that some of the information used is commercially sensitive and is not suitable for inclusion in government-backed data.

Tech firms including Google are set to pass on smartphone data to the government to help them monitor how well people are complying with social-distancing rules. The company is in discussions about supplying anonymised information that shows the extent to which people are still congregating in public areas such as parks.

Google’s Maps app is used by a billion people around the world every month and most people’s phones constantly report their locations and movement back to Google’s servers. The company has yet to hand over any information but had discussed with the government how it would work.

A Google spokeswoman added that the company had been looking at ways to determine the impact of social distancing with its data, “similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps.” It said that any information it supplied would be aggregated and anonymised.

Analysis of smartphone data is one of several measures the government is hoping to use to assess compliance with social distancing rules. BT has also revealed that it is providing anonymous records of mobile data from its users to health officials to help show “generalised patterns in the movement of people to assist with policy planning”.

The mobile phone network provider O2 confirmed last week that it had been in discussions with the government about using its mobile technology to create a model that predicts how the virus might move around the country

Technology to monitor the virus is seen as crucial to helping normal life resume once the lockdown is eased.

A week ago Mr Johnson ordered Britons not to leave their homes except for essential shopping, exercise once a day, medical care and work that could not be done from home.