Monday, October 12, 2020

Special report: dealing with the Coronavirus

What follows is the content of a special briefing I was sent to accompany the statement made by the Prime Minister today.

  • Coronavirus cases are rising rapidly across the country. In the past four weeks, the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in hospitals in some parts of the country has increased sevenfold.
  • If infections continue to rise at this rate, then in just four more weeks those hospitals could be treating more Covid-19 patients than they did at the peak of the first wave.
  • The country is far better prepared for this second wave of the pandemic than it was in March; we understand far more about the virus and how it spreads.
  • We must act now to control the spread of the virus and protect the NHS, so we can keep cancer treatments, elective surgeries and other vital diagnostic services going.

What we are doing: 

Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with local leaders to tackle local outbreaks with targeted restrictions. This has saved lives, and has avoided the need to apply those measures nationally.  

However, this has led to different rules in different parts of the country. These have become increasingly hard to understand and to enforce.

We have already simplified national rules where possible; the Rule of Six and Hands, Face, Space.

And today, the Prime Minister has set out how – from Wednesday, 14 October 2020 – we will simplify and standardise local rules by introducing a three tiered system of local Covid Alert Levels in England. There will be three levels:

Local COVID Alert Level – Medium

This is for areas where national restrictions continue to be in place. This means:

  • All businesses and venues can continue to operate, in a COVID-Secure manner, other than those that remain closed in law, such as nightclubs.
  • Certain businesses selling food or drink on their premises are required to close between 10pm and 5am. Businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-thru.
  • Schools, universities and places of worship remain open
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees
  • Organised indoor sport and exercise classes can continue to take place, provided the Rule of 6 is followed
  • People must not meet in groups larger than 6, indoors or outdoors.

Local COVID Alert Level - High

This is for areas with a higher level of infections. This primarily aims to reduce household to household transmission by preventing all mixing between households or support bubbles indoors. This means the following additional measures are in place:

  • People must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place
  • People must not meet in a group of more than 6 outside, including in a garden or other space.
  • People should aim to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible. If they need to travel, they should walk or cycle where possible, or to plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport.

Local COVID Alert Level - Very High

This is for areas with a very high level of infections. The Government will set a baseline of measures for any area in this local alert level. Consultation with local authorities will determine additional measures. The baseline means the below additional measures are in place: 

  • Pubs and bars must close. They can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant.
  • Wedding receptions are not allowed 
  • People must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor or outdoor setting, whether at home or in a public space
  • People should try to avoid travelling outside the ‘Very High’ area they are in, or entering a ‘Very High’ area, other than for things like work, education, accessing youth services, to meet caring responsibilities or if they are in transit.
  • People should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if they are resident in a ‘Very High’ area, or avoid staying overnight in a ‘Very High’ area if they are resident elsewhere.

From Wednesday, Liverpool City Region will be placed onto the ‘Very High’ Local Covid Alert Level. The Liverpool City Region includes the local authority districts of Halton, Knowsley, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral, as well as the City of Liverpool. 

A postcode checker on will show which alert level applies in each area and the NHS Covid-19 app will also direct people to this information. 

Regulations for all three local alert levels are being laid today, will be debated and voted on tomorrow, and come into force on Wednesday, subject to the approval of Parliament. 

These measures will be kept under constant review, including a four-week sunset clause for interventions in 'very high' areas.

Economic Support

  • On Friday, the Chancellor announced new support to protect jobs and support businesses whose premises are legally required to shut as part of local or national restrictions. 
  • An expansion of the jobs support scheme paying the wages of staff who cannot work. The government will support eligible businesses by paying two thirds of each employees’ salary (or 67%), up to a maximum of £2,100 a month. 
  • Increasing cash grants for businesses will also be increased to up to £3,000 per month 
  • We have put in place one of the world’s most comprehensive economic responses – backed by £190 billion .
  • Protected 12 million jobs through furlough and self-employed schemes – at a cost of nearly £53 billion. 
  • We have also put in place:
    • The £1,000 Job Retention Bonus which encourages employers to keep staff on payroll.
    • The original Job Support Scheme - which is designed to support businesses that are facing low demand over the winter months.
  • Broader government support to local authorities in England due to Covid-19 includes:
    • over £3.7 billion of un-ring-fenced grant funding to help them respond to pressure across all their services .
    • over £1.1 billion ring-fenced to support social care providers, helping to tackle the spread of the virus .

We are better prepared but we must protect the NHS’s ability to provide vital care.

We have built the largest diagnostic network in British history:

  • One of the best testing rates in the world outpacing Germany, Spain, and Italy.
  • Capacity for over 310,000 PCR tests on 9 October – this doubled over the summer.
  • We will increase this to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.
  • 7 Nightingale hospitals (2 of which are being used to tackle cancer backlogs). Today (12 October) Nightingales in Sunderland, Manchester and Harrogate are being asked to prepare to accept patients.
  • Over 3.8 billion items of PPE delivered since the start of the outbreak – and we are building a strategic stockpile and domestic pipeline to ensure our resilience.
  • 30,000 ventilators, up from 9,000 in March.
  • 99 per cent of GPs able to offer video consultations – from 3 per cent pre-pandemic.
  • Two of the world’s leading vaccine programmes, here in the UK – and the first country to discover a proven therapy with dexamethasone.


Will decisions be taken on a local authority or regional basis?

  • The Government will work with local leaders, as well as JBC and PHE to decide changes to alert levels.
  • Tougher restrictions will only be introduced in areas or regions with high and increasing rates of transmission. We will keep this list under constant review.

What is the trigger point?

  • Decisions will be made based on a number of factors including the rate of transmission, how quickly it is increasing and the effectiveness of current interventions.
  • That is why we aren’t setting a benchmark for the infection rate per 100,000 for moving between Local Covid Alert Levels.
  • We will keep the measures under constant review, including a four-week review point for interventions in 'very high' areas.

Why are so many areas in the North under restrictions where we’re seeing similar infection rates in the South?

  • We are seeing coronavirus cases rise across the entire country, but they are quite clearly increasing faster in parts of the North.
  • And it is not just the young and the strong who are being affected.
  • In the past four weeks, the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in hospitals in the North East and North West has increased sevenfold.
  • If infections continue to rise at this rate, then in just four more weeks those hospitals could be treating more Covid-19 patients than they did at the peak of the first wave.


Jim said...

Recently Alexander told us that the number of covid cases in the uk was "flashing at us like dashboard warnings in a passenger jet".

I have often said the westminster bubble is removed from society in general, which is why representitive democracy is so poor, basically those who are supposed to represent cant do so.

But now its getting daft, a PM talks about "dashboards" in aircraft, and then the government put out a 3 tier scale that starts at "medium". Are they even of this world?

Chris Whiteside said...

It starts at medium because, I regret to say, there is nowhere in Britain at the moment where there isn't a rising threat.

Jim said...

Chris, you dont start a scale at medium, you just dont. Fine there may be nowhere that is at very low or low, but you dont have a 3 part scale and start it at medium.

it may be that some places stopped selling "small" drinks so for a short while had medium, large and extra large, but they quicky caught on that you dont start something at medium so changed it to regular, large etc

As it is with the dire handling of things there is a general feeling that the current adminstration is totally incompetent. Endless little things like starting scales at medium and talking about dashboards in aircraft just add to that.

Chris Whiteside said...

If you are trying to keep things simple, a three point scale with the three levels you actually need at the moment is a lot simpler than trying to have a five point scale with no areas in the bottom two.

You might have been happy if they had announced a five tier system with nowhere at all in the "No Risk" and "Low Risk" tiers but I suspect most people would have asked "what on earth is the point of that?

Jim said...

If you want to look competetent at all you would call it , level 1, level 2 and level 3.

Medium by its very definition means the one in the middle.

Chris Whiteside said...

You might have something there - a scale using three numbers with the worst at level one and moderate risk at level three would enable low risk and very low risk to be added as four and five at a later stage when hopefully we need them.

I will think about the possibility of passing that suggestion up the line.

The slight difficulty with it is that systems which allocate risk of the scale of a threat or event using numbers to designate the stages more often - although not in every case, so you will be able to throw exceptions to this at me and I'm not ruling out the idea - use higher numbers to indicate higher risk or more extreme events e.g. Def Con Five is the highest security threat, similarly the Beaufort, Decibel and Richter scales use larger numbers for faster wind, worse earthquakes or more noise.