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‘Like Napoli or a busy bank holiday’ at Branscombe yesterday. I have asked police to patrol, EDDC for warning notices, and DCC to press Government to lock down the SW

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Alas, Branscombe beach wasn’t as quiet yesterday as the picture shows. Locals tell me it was ‘like when the Napoli happened, or a busy bank holiday’. People were thronging around, not at all observing social distancing.

It’s like many younger and middle-aged people just don’t understand – this is a lethal disease, causing a pneumonia for which there is no cure. The youngest person to die in the UK was 18. A 36-year-old nurse is fighting for her life in Birmingham. Half of the people with it in London hospitals are under 65.

If there are a dozen people with Covid-19 in the Seaton area today, and each infects 3, there’ll be three dozen in a few days and three hundred in a couple of weeks. If it’s the same across the area and 10 per cent need hospital treatment, there won’t be enough beds, ventilators, or nurses to give all the sufferers a chance. Many will die at home without treatment.

I’ve asked the police to patrol beaches at busy times, and for EDDC to put up notices demanding people keep their distance. I’ve written to John Hart, leader of the County Council, and Phil Norrey, the chief executive, asking them to pile the pressure on government to lock down the South West, using police and troops if necessary to stop all non-essential travel.

Phil has replied saying they’re doing all they can. Now do yours – stick with your immediate family. Keep your distance from others. Isolate completely for a full week if you get any cold, flu, throat or temperature symptoms. Call 111 if you have difficulty breathing.

STOP THE SPREAD: Everyone of ALL AGES in Devon should immediately do the MAXIMUM possible social distancing they can, to save thousands from death and the NHS from collapse.

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THE NEAR FUTURE WHICH FACES US – SEVERELY ILL PEOPLE ON CAMP BEDS IN EMERGENCY HOSPITALS? (picture from Italy last week)

I’ve just republished figures showing that the SW’s critical care capacity needs to be increased by 600 per cent to deal with expected demand from coronavirus sufferers. Put another way, across the region we need 7 times more critical care beds than we had at the start of this crisis. In Devon, that figure could well be even higher. And that’s without thinking about ventilators or staffing.

  • I’m sure that NHS managers are working night and day to increase the capacity of the system. But unless we reduce the demand, by slowing the spread of the virus, their efforts will be insufficient. Our NHS and our extraordinarily dedicated NHS staff will be overwhelmed. Thousands of Devon people will die without the best possible care, quite likely at home.

The victims will be primarily people who are older or with underlying conditions – but they will also include many healthy middle-aged and even some younger adults who are unlucky and get severe disease. You’re not safe under 70!

  • EVERYONE OF ALL AGES, not just the elderly, MUST IMMEDIATELY DO THE MAXIMUM SOCIAL DISTANCING THEY CAN.
  • THE GOVERNMENT MUST ACT FASTER TO SLOW THE SPREAD. Their delays over the last few weeks have been appallingly irresponsible. They have begun to change course, but must now follow almost all other countries and take more decisive action to suppress the epidemic:
  1. Forcibly close down all except essential shops and public places, and prevent all but essential movement.
  2. Support everyone to take the action we need: immediately guarantee full compensation for all workers, including the self-employed, who cannot work, and for all affected businesses; increase statutory sick pay to a real living income like other countries.

The terrible crunch coming to the SW in the next few weeks: we have more older people and fewer critical care beds than any other region. These beds need to be increased by 600 per cent.

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The Health Service Journal has published these stark graphs which show the availability and occupancy of critical care beds in each region. The SW has fewest acute beds and least spare capacity of any region. We already have the highest level of mortality from Covid-19 compared to the number of acute beds available. If the virus spreads through our older population in the community and in care homes, we face the worst crisis of any region.

The HSJ concludes ‘the shortage is largest for critical care where between 130 per cent (London) and 600 per cent (south west) additional beds are required to meet expected demand in the coming weeks, even without considering the demand from patients without covid-19. For hospital beds, the shortage is less significant with an additional 23 per cent (London) to 94 per cent (south west) additional beds required to meet demand, although far more of these are required in total.’

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Statement by five Devon County Councillors calling for more assertive social distancing measures against the Coronavirus

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Photo Claudio Furlan/Lapresse 10 March 2020 Brescia (Italy) Tents and emergency structures of the Civil Hospitals of Brescia for the coronavirus emergency

We are gravely concerned that the people of Devon are being excessively exposed to the threat of death through the coronavirus, because the Government is failing to introduce the social distancing measures needed to contain the epidemic.

The UK has fewer hospital beds, fewer Intensive Care Unit beds and fewer specialist respiratory beds than other European countries. In Devon we have more than our fair share of the elderly population who will be especially vulnerable to the epidemic.

A Government adviser, Dr David Halpern, has suggested that we can ‘cocoon’ the vulnerable while the epidemic runs through the rest of the population. This is false, because if there is a high level of contagion, the elderly will inevitably catch the virus too, and it is NOT true that the young and fit people are safe. In Italy, people of 20, 30 and 40 are also suffering life-threatening pneumonias, and hospitals are are leaving people over 60 to die because there is not enough specialist equipment (such as ventilators) to save all the victims.

It is estimated that we have four weeks before we are in the extreme situation currently faced in Italy. As Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Health Select Committee and former Health Secretary, has suggested, we should be using this time to introduce radical social distancing measures to protect our population. These have been shown to slow down and contain the epidemic in China and South Korea and they should be used here while we have the chance.

If we can slow down the epidemic even for a few months, we have a better chance of restricting the severe cases to the numbers which the NHS can treat. Meanwhile, medical researchers may identify drugs which can help treat the worst cases, and a vaccine to protect against the virus.

Boris Johnson has said that many more families will lose loved ones. But his policy is unnecessarily condemning many people to die when the NHS becomes unable to cope. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen. Until we can vaccinate against this virus, we need to accept radical restrictions to our lives, in order to save lives. We call on our Devon MPs and Councils to press the Government to immediately change direction.

This statement is issued on behalf of County Councillors:

  • Hilary Ackland (Exeter, Pinhoe and Mincinglake)
  • Marina Asvachin (Exeter, Wonford and St. Loyes)
  • Martin Shaw (Seaton and Colyton)
  • Nick Way (Crediton)
  • Claire Wright (Otter Valley) 

(All members of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, but this statement is issued in our personal capacities.)

Dealing with Coronavirus (3): My policy on home working as a County Councillor

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As of today I am working from home and will not be attending meetings until further notice. I have taken this decision because I believe that it is in the interests of the community that direct social contact, which places people in close proximity with each other, be reduced as far as possible, so as to reduce transmission of the disease.
I am also taking account, of course, of the fact that I am over 70 and therefore in a vulnerable category. I want to emphasise, however, that I think that there is a common interest in people of all ages in reducing opportunities for the virus to spread. I don’t want to be an agent spreading the virus within the community.
Younger people
While many cases are mild, COVID-19 has proved to be a dangerous disease, not only for older people and those with particular conditions, but also for many people in younger age groups. In Milan today, at least one major hospital is not providing ventilators to people over 60, because there are so many people under that age who need them.
Pressures on the NHS
In the UK we have fewer acute beds, Intensive Care beds and specialist respiratory beds than in Italy and most other Western European countries, and we in Devon risk a particularly severe crisis because of the age profile of our population.
Minimise contact
I think it is in all our interests to minimise contact, including meetings, in order to help slow the progression of the virus. We should all make the decisions that fit our situations and remember the need to support those around us who are in need of help.
 
While I am working from home, I will of course be available as usual by email and phone if you need any kind of assistance.