'No clear source' for coronavirus outbreak in Leicester
The rapid rise of coronavirus cases in Leicester could have been driven by community transmission rather than caused by a specific outbreak, a report has found.
Public Health England found “no explanatory outbreaks in care homes, hospital settings, or industrial processes” after the rise in infections led to the UK’s first local lockdown.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tightened restrictions on parts of the city and nearby suburbs on Monday, ordering non-essential shops to close and urging people not to travel in or out of the area.
The PHE report found an increase in the number of people aged under 19 who had been infected in the East Midlands city, from 5% of all cases in mid-May to 15% in June, and a similar increase in infections among working-age people.
“If an excess of infections has occurred then it is occurring in young and middle-aged people,” the report said.
It added that there was no “analytical link” between the reopening of schools to more pupils in June and the increased infection rate, but that further investigation would be “sensible”.
The report concluded evidence for the scale of the outbreak was limited, but added the proportion of positives from PCR testing – the national standard for identifying new coronavirus cases – is rising.
“This is suggestive of a genuine increase in numbers of new infections, not simply an artefact of increasing test rates,” it said.
The preliminary investigation report – released on Wednesday evening – suggested the infection rate in the city had fallen from 140.2 to 135.7 per 100,000 people in the from the week to June 20 to the seven days prior to June 27.
This is still significantly higher than the overall infection rate in England which fell over the same period from 10.7 to 6.7 per 100,000 – despite the easing of some lockdown restrictions.
Meanwhile, academics and clinicians from the University of Leicester said reimposing lockdown represents a “failure of timely intervention”.
In a letter to The Lancet medical journal, the group of academics and clinicians wrote that the spike of regional infections had exposed “key problems” that need to be “urgently addressed”.
“In particular, the opportunity to escalate interventions locally has been stymied by the inadequacy of information sharing,” the letter said.
But the letter’s signatories report that news of the city’s outbreak came as a surprise to local health organisations, who were only able to access “pillar 1” data at that time.
Pillar 1 data – tests carried out in NHS and PHE laboratories – found that the number of new cases per day was low throughout the first half of June, according to the authors.
The academics and clinicians wrote that information through pillar 2, testing of the wider community, indicated an ongoing spike but was “not communicated in a timely manner” to local authority and health organisations.
The correspondence raises concerns that an area-specific lockdown will “target and disproportionately affect ethnic minority communities”, adding that adherence to any proposed measures requires effective community engagement.
“We should remain mindful that lockdown is a blunt and damaging tool of last resort that represents a failure of timely intervention,” the letter stated.
“Our experience brings into sharp focus the shortfalls in the current identification and management of local Covid-19 outbreaks.”
The letter, signed by seven academics and clinicians from the university, calls for a coordinated public health response that is “locally led, agile, and responsive to prevent unnecessary morbidity and mortality”.
Published: 02/07/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Gavin Williamson to announce schools overhaul for September
Schools in England are expected to be told to overhaul the curriculum, stagger break times and group children into “bubbles” when they return to the classroom.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is due to announce the plans for getting all pupils back after the summer following up to six months at home – on the same day schools in Leicester close again as part of the city’s lockdown extension.
The Daily Telegraph reported that a draft of the official guidance also bans the mixing of year groups – such as in assemblies – as well as school choirs, and suggests teachers also stagger the start and end of the day.
Contingency plans must also be in place in case of a local lockdown, the paper said, and schools will be required to liaise with their local health protection team if there are two or more confirmed coronavirus cases within a fortnight.
A general rise in sickness or absence where Covid-19 is a suspected cause could lead to a year group or the whole school being told to stay at home and self-isolate as a precaution.
Details are expected to be set out at a Downing Street press conference on Thursday – the first time one has been held since daily briefings were scrapped last week.
Meanwhile, schools in Leicester will be closed on Thursday and will not reopen until after the summer break.
Figures released in Public Health England’s preliminary investigation into the Leicester outbreak – released on Wednesday evening – suggested a slight drop in the infection rate in the city from the week to June 20 to the seven days prior to June 27 – down from 140.2 to 135.7 per 100,000 people.
The data also suggests the overall infection rate in England fell over the same period from 10.7 to 6.7 per 100,000 – despite the easing of some lockdown restrictions.
Rates in Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale declined more sharply over the same period. Officials in regions with high infection rates have said they are working hard not to follow Leicester into lockdown.
The report also suggested the majority of recently confirmed cases are in people aged 18 to 65 years – with the median age of those infected standing at 39 years. And 50.9% of the cases reported in June in the city were in women.
The wards of North Evington, Belgrave and Stoneygate had the highest number of cases reported between June 11 and 25.
But the report concluded evidence for the scale of the outbreak was limited and an increase in reported cases could be partly due to a rise in the availability of testing.
The Office for National Statistics will on Thursday provide new figures from the coronavirus infection survey for England, and the latest data on the NHS Test and Trace programme will also be published.
It comes as the economic challenges of the pandemic were laid bare by a continuing jobs bloodbath.
The John Lewis Partnership warned over store closures and job cuts and Sir Philip Green’s Topshop empire revealed redundancy plans on Wednesday.
Upper Crust owner SSP announced up to 5,000 roles could go following plunging passengers numbers at railway stations and airports.
And Unite the union said its research revealed that almost 12,000 aerospace job losses have been announced in recent months at some of the UK’s biggest companies, including 1,700 by Airbus earlier this week.
Published: 02/07/2020 by Radio NewsHub
On today’s News Chat from Radio News Hub, Matt Soanes is joined by Chris Hobson from the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, student Regina Tóth and Dave Stokes, Chair of the Leicestershire Police Federation – to discuss the local lockdown in Leicester. Our news partners, Radio News Hub, are now producing a programmes discussing the sport […]
Business Minister says UK “rightly” stockpiled drug effective against Covid-19
Business minister Nadhim Zahawi said Government and firms should cooperate to ensure access to coronavirus treatments. Donald Trump’s administration in the US has bought up virtually all stocks for the next three months of remdesivir, a drug shown to work against Covid-19.
Mr Zahawi said the UK had “rightly” stockpiled dexamethasone, another drug which has proven effective in the most seriously ill Covid-19 patients, but suggested cooperation rather than competition was the way forward.
“We deliberately made sure that we had enough stock of dexamethasone, rightly so,” he said.
“But we also want to cooperate because the best outcome for the whole world is that we work together.”
He highlighted deals struck by AstraZeneca to supply a vaccine around the world if the Oxford team’s work is successful.
“By attempting to compete, I think we ultimately undermine all of our strategies,” he said. “Much better to work together than to work to undermine each other.”
Published: 01/07/2020 by Radio NewsHub
RNLI warning after fridge-freezers mistaken for wreckage
The RNLI has issued a warning after two fridge-freezers were “dumped” in water off the coast of Aberdeen and mistaken for wreckage. Reports of wreckage in the small harbour in Cove, five miles south of the city, were made at 8.20pm on Tuesday.
The crew of six on the Severn-class Bon Accord vessel were at the scene 25 minutes later, with the Y-boat daughter craft also deployed.
Assisted by HM Coastguard, they were able to secure the appliances on deck and return them to Aberdeen.
The Aberdeen Lifeboat crew also “had to break from social-distancing rules to attend the call”, with coxswain Davie Orr critical of the risks posed by their find.
He said: “Whoever dumped these fridges showed a casual disregard for the environment, sea safety and also caused a significant waste of search and rescue funds and resources.
“Fridges float, and can drift a long way. These two items could easily have holed a small vessel and caused a real emergency at sea.
“Our crew also had to break from social-distancing rules to attend the call, with the associated risks.
“The fridges were bulky and awkward to bring on deck but needed to be recovered to avoid another incident.
“We will always be ready to respond to any report of concern for safety at sea, but we hope the lesson of tonight’s false alarm will strike home.”
Published: 01/07/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Significant numbers from the coronavirus lockdown
After 100 days in lockdown, we look at some of the numbers that have shaped the experience.
– When the UK’s lockdown was announced on March 23, the cumulative number of deaths involving Covid-19 that had occurred in the nation up to that date was 1,000. There had been 950 in England and Wales, 43 in Scotland and seven in Northern Ireland (based on figures for death registrations).
– The death toll, based on registered deaths, passed 10,000 on Day 13 of the lockdown (April 5), 20,000 on Day 21 (April 13), 30,000 on Day 29 (April 21), 40,000 on Day 40 (May 2) and 50,000 on Day 62 (May 24).
– The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said 43,575 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday June 28, up by 25 from 43,550 the day before.
The Government figures did not include all registered deaths involving Covid-19 across the UK, which – as of June 30 – totalled just under 55,000.
– Britain’s economy is set to plunge by 10.2% in 2020 and global activity will take a hit of more than 12 trillion US dollars (£9.6 trillion) from the coronavirus pandemic by the end of 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.
In an update to its already grim set of forecasts in April, the IMF said it now expects the global economy to contract by 4.9% in 2020 compared with the 3% it predicted two months ago.
– Some economists have said the crisis could see levels of unemployment return to the three million-plus witnessed in the 1980s.
– The lockdown seems to have also had an impact on the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) decline.
“Reduction in road vehicle activity has taken us back to levels similar to the 1950s,” said Dr David Carslaw, a reader in urban air pollution at the University of York.
He added: “In terms of emissions … we’ve probably gone back to the early 1900s.”
Published: 01/07/2020 by Radio NewsHub
Aristocrat waits for Supreme Court ruling on battle with estranged wife
An aristocrat and his estranged wife are waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on their long-running Scotland versus England legal battle. Charles Villiers and Emma Villiers, who lived near Dumbarton and separated after 18 years of marriage, are divorcing in Scotland
But they disagree about whether arguments over money should be heard in an English or Scottish court.
Lawyers say the Supreme Court ruling could have implications.
Mr Villiers says because divorce proceedings are taking place in Scotland, any fight over money should also be staged in Scotland.
His estranged wife, who now lives in England, disagrees.
Five Supreme Court justices analysed the latest stage of the five-year dispute at a Supreme Court hearing in London in December and are due to publish a ruling on Wednesday.
Mr Villiers asked Supreme Court justices to analyse the case after losing fights in the High Court and Court of Appeal in London.
A judge based in the Family Division of the High Court in London began considering the dispute in 2015.
Mrs Justice Parker said any fight over the division of assets should take place in England.
In 2018, three Court of Appeal judges in London upheld that decision and dismissed an appeal by Mr Villiers.
Appeal judges said divorce proceedings in Scotland and a money fight in England were not “related actions”.
Mr and Mrs Villiers are listed on the website www.thepeerage.com.
The website provides a “genealogical survey” of the peerage in Britain.
Lawyers representing Mr Villiers say he is a relative of the Duchess of Cornwall.
Solicitor Russell Bywater, who represents Mr Villiers and is based at law firm Dawson Cornwell, said in December that the case pitted the English and Scottish jurisdictions’ “different approaches to spousal maintenance” against each other.
He said if Mr Villiers lost, Scottish divorcees might make money claims in England in the hope of getting bigger payouts.
A spokeswoman for London law firm Vardags, whose lawyers specialise in family court litigation, said the outcome of the case might trigger changes in legislation.
Published: 01/07/2020 by Radio NewsHub
PM to face Commons grilling after ministers order Leicester lockdown
Boris Johnson is to face a fresh grilling over the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic amid confusion over the reimposition of lockdown controls in Leicester. One hundred days after restrictions came into force across the country, ministers are facing questions over whether they were too slow to act following a flare up in the east Midlands city.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who faces Mr Johnson in the Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions – has said people in Leicester were “crying out” for answers and suggested the Government should have moved quicker.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) said the Government needs be “more open and transparent with local Covid-19 data” and over how spikes will be dealt with in future.
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby criticised the Government and Public Health England (PHE) for delays in sharing case and testing data which showed how the disease was spreading.
And Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman at the BMA, said: “The Prime Minister has talked about a ‘whack a mole’ strategy to tackle local outbreaks, but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground – be they public health teams or local leaders – are not given the most accurate up-to-date data possible.
“This is crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives and the health service, and something that is not happening right now.”
Sir Chris Ham, former chief executive of the King’s Fund, wrote in the British Medical Journal’s opinion section: “Even at this stage, it is not too late for the United Kingdom to align more closely with countries like Germany where regional and local leaders have played a significant role in limiting the impact of Covid-19 on the public’s health.
“Local leaders, including devolved governments and elected mayors, are much better placed than the Westminster Government to engage their communities in limiting and responding to future outbreaks.”
Mr Johnson has paid tribute to the people in the city for their “forbearance” in accepting the return of controls including the shutting of non-essential shops and the closure of schools to most children.
There was frustration, however, among businesses at having to turn away customers just as the rest of England was preparing for a further opening up with the return of pubs, restaurants and cinemas on Saturday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government had no choice but to impose a city-wide lockdown after a series of targeted measures – including working with factories which had seen a spike in cases – failed to halt the spread.
“It was clear that we needed to take this further action,” he said following talks in Whitehall on Tuesday.
“I understand that people in Leicester have difficulties – especially when the rest of the country is having lockdown measures lifted – that they are going to be asked to stay at home for that much longer.
“But it is profoundly in the interests of people in Leicester and across the country that we get this virus under control.”
In other developments:
– The Government is to establish a new “office for talent” in an effort to boost the economy by attracting leading scientists and researchers to the UK in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis;
– Sir Keir is warning local councils will face a £10 billion “black hole” in their finances, decimating local services, as a result of the crisis unless the Government steps in;
– Researchers have said that frailty is as important as age or underlying health issues in determining the risk of people dying from coronavirus.
At the same time, the Government remains under pressure over the economy as fears grow of more job losses as the furlough scheme – which has protected nine million jobs during the course of the pandemic – begins to unwind.
The Prime Minister has unveiled plans to bring forward £5 billion of infrastructure spending in an attempt to reboot the economy after the lockdown brought activity grinding to a halt.
But opposition parties warned these fall far short of the scale of investment needed following the country’s unprecedented fall-off in output.
Meanwhile, aerospace giant Airbus announced it was cutting 1,700 jobs in the UK due to the pandemic while the union Balpa said that Easyjet was considering axing more than 700 pilot jobs.
TM Lewin said around 600 people would lose their jobs as all 66 high street shops will close, the latest in a long line of retailers to announce cuts spurred on by the economic chaos caused by the Covid-19 virus.
From Wednesday, businesses will be able to start bringing staff who had been furloughed back part-time as more businesses begin to re-open.
However from August, employers will have to start contributing to their staff wages again – prompting fears of more mass lay-offs if firms lack the cash to pay them.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our number one priority has always been to protect jobs and businesses through this outbreak.
“The furlough scheme, which will have been open for eight months by October, has been a lifeline for millions of people and as our economy reopens we want that support to continue.
“Giving firms the flexibility to bring back furloughed workers on a part-time basis will help them work gradually and help them plan for the months ahead.”
Published: 01/07/2020 by Radio NewsHub
On today’s News Chat from Radio News Hub, Matt Soanes is joined by Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, Jerry Glazier from the National Education Union and Sean Tipton from ABTA. Our news partners, Radio News Hub, are now producing a programmes discussing the sport of the day. Watch online here or on their YouTube channel.
Government criticised for slow Leicester response
Local leaders have criticised the slow response from the Government and Public Health England (PHE) in sharing case and testing data in Leicester.
Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said he had been trying “for weeks” to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.
His comments come as it emerged the number of reported cases of coronavirus in Leicester are much higher than data published by the Government show.
According to the most recent data, published on Monday, there have been 1,056 cases in Leicester since the outbreak began.
But Leicester City Council said that the latest figures it has received show there have been 3,216 Covid-19 cases confirmed in the city since the start of the pandemic.
The difference is due to the DHSC data only reporting cases confirmed in NHS and PHE labs, while the council’s total contains positive test results carried out in testing centres.
While the DHSC publishes the complete testing data on a national level, it only publishes the partial data for individual local authorities.
The PA news agency understands this means there could be more cases than publicly reported and without access to this data local leaders might be unaware of outbreaks in their areas.
Sir Peter said: “The Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) announced that he believed there was an outbreak in Leicester the best part of two weeks ago.
“Since then, we’ve been struggling to get information from them (the Government) about what data they had, what led them to believe there was a particular problem here, and struggling to get them to keep the level of testing in Leicester.”
He added he has been trying “for weeks” to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.
When asked whether a local lockdown should have been brought in earlier, he said: “If as seems to be the case, the figures suggest there are issues in the city, I would wish that they had shared that with us right from the start, and I wish they had taken a more speedy decision rather than leaving it 11 days from the Secretary of State’s first announcement.
“That’s a long gap, and a long time for the virus to spread.”
Speaking later on Tuesday Sir Peter told reporters: “What we said to the Government was, it’s all very well telling us that the figures are high in Leicester.
“What we need to know is what’s happening at the community level, what’s happening at the neighbourhood level, what’s happening at the street level, because obviously we’re a very diverse city and a very big city, and it’s only if you have that sort of information you can understand what the overall city figures might amount to.
“We’ve got that data and we’re still trying to work through the mountain of stuff that’s now come through and try to map it and to see where in the community the virus is still active and where it might be spreading.”
Published: 30/06/2020 by Radio NewsHub