Our round-up of local news across the area (and a bit beyond) this week including a briefer than usual survey of the news around the towns and parishes, the lock-down, Singapore’s virus hunters, evidence-based degrees, exponential fines, volunteers, take-aways, financial advice for businesses, Lord Gnome’s offer, a new CV, wild animals, virtual meetings, a well-run market, life at GWH, fish and chips all round, council announcements, parking charges, the EU’s ventilators, Crab Hill from the air, Dad’s Army, a snarky puppy and black bananas.
Police, transport and council contacts
Information on police, transport (including roadworks) and district councils can now be found on a separate page here.
Links to the websites for town and parish councils can still be found in the appropriate sections below.
Across the area (and further afield)
• And so, the lock-down has arrived, here and in about 25% of the world, enforced according the views of the respective governments and the perceived will of the respective populations to abide by it. The reduction in the transmission rate that should result from social distancing or isolation is a good practical example of an exponential increase. If an infection rate of 1:3 can be reduced by these methods to 1:2, then after four further re-infections by the same ratio, the number of further infections is reduced from 255 to 80. Everyone agrees that this, and regular hand-washing, are major steps in reducing the infection. This realisation has stuck different governments at different times. There’s been a similar disparity between the measures each has taken, partly due to the differences in political systems, likely levels of public acceptance and size. I would, for instance, rather rule Singapore than Italy if I wanted to get an edict obeyed.
Every country is comparing its performance with those of others. One big problem here is that three of the largest, the USA, China and Russia, are run by inveterate liars. In the last two cases, the de jure or de facto system of government allows for very little scrutiny. From a cursory glance at various media sources, it seems to be the case that the crisis is passing (China), will be over by Easter (the USA) or doesn’t really exist at all (Russia). Each also regards the others’ roles in the outbreak with suspicion. China at one point blamed the outbreak on a US plot: the US, with slightly more justification, has referred to it a ‘Wuhan flu’. This kind of name-calling can best be left for another day. What does seem certain, though, is that the virus originated from cross-species contamination and that the breeding ground was the wild-animal markets in China at which humans and animals from vastly different areas mixed freely, so allowing this rare but catastrophic jump to take place. (These were outlawed after the avian flu outbreak; then crept back into existence; and have now been banned again. At present it seems crazy to think that this should ever be lifted: however, as the industry is a multi-billion-dollar one that satisfies some deep-seated if not particularly edifying local human requirements, anything is possible.)
Some countries are clearly handling the situation better than others. Few would see the USA’s response hitherto as being that impressive; among other issues, its strongly federal structure probably hasn’t helped. At the other end of the scale, countries like Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore have gone about their business with a level of efficiency and effectiveness that few others can match. Singapore – rich, highly organised and densely populated – at once introduced a sophisticated tracing programme which has held the disease in check and resulted in no deaths. A report by the WHO, quoted on the BBC website on 26 March, suggests that ‘acting early’ – mainly introducing widespread testing and introducing strict social distancing – could cut mortality rates by 95%.
Social distancing is now a widespread regulation. Testing is a bit more tricky. The testing rates achieved by various countries perhaps give some guide as to how well each is acting. By 9 March, for instance, South Korea had tested over 4,000 ppm (people per million). On the same date, the UK had tested 387ppm and the USA 26ppm. However, widespread testing presents massive logistical challenges and is of little use unless it can be allied with Singapore-style tracing and isolating. If the transmission rate is too high, the exponential increase in cases will make the task impossible. Say, for example, that 100 people had the virus and each passed it on to four others (entirely possible). It would only take nine subsequent re-infections on the same basis for this have spread to about 26 million people, about half the UK’s population (the reality is more complex as populations are not evenly spread, different people have different number of social contacts and some people are infectious for longer than others). If the disease has already spread to anything like this extent it might be good news, for clearly most people in any given country are physically well. It’s estimated by various experts that the actual infection rate amongst the population is between two and ten times higher than the figure suggested by testing results.
It remains vital, however, that front-line staff are tested to avoid health or other public workers (a) being asymptomatic but infectious; or (b) needlessly self-isolating. In one town in Italy where the whole population was tested, about half of those infected had no symptoms at all: they would, however, still have been infectious, though perhaps not to the same extent. With over 500,000 NHS volunteers having been recruited this week, this becomes vitally urgent; and it’s on them that any new testing needs to be concentrated.
Viruses can and do mutate (the flu one does this all the time) but there’s evidence that most mutations tend to make the disease less and not more virulent, probably because it’s not in the virus’ interest to have a high mortality among its hosts. The virus has already split into three clades (biological groups) which broadly follow geographical areas, known as S, V and G. It seems that these and likely future variations doesn’t invalidate the possibility of a vaccine.
Finally, there’s the question of testing for antibodies. Many of us may have had Coronavirus and been unaware of it. It’s not yet clear to what extent re-infection can happen, but cross-referencing antibody presence with those who had been tested positive would show how many people developed antibodies: if the sample were large enough, the number of people who had antibodies would be a good guide to how many had been infected in the first place. I don’t know how long these tests – and the infection tests for front-line staff – can take to become widespread but it can’t happen quickly enough.
• In writing the above paragraphs, I’m grateful for the help and advice offered to me by two university friends of mine, now senior scientific academics. During our email exchanges, one suggested than any evidence-based degree was a good foundation for being able to understand science (as anyone who writes about Coronavirus needs to some extent to do) and was kind enough to include history, which he knew I’d studied, as an example of this. I suspect he’s being too kind, with to me and my subject. The further back you go, the thinner the evidence becomes and you often have a do the equivalent of deducing the nature of an animal from its jawbone.
This has its risks. A theory about Anglo-Norman feudalism that held sway for several decades relied, like an inverted pyramid, on a single charter of 1141 which was later claimed to have been mis-translated. Perhaps a medieval history degree is a better preparation for making one piece of evidence do the job of ten or of drawing inferences from it which it cannot support and which can easy turn into conjecture. In writing about contemporary and technical matters the problem is otherwise, with no shortage of information (indeed, often far too much of it). The trick is (a) having the time to study the available sources and (b) knowing which are likely to be suspect and which arguments fallacious. This is where scientists are of more use than medieval historians; or than politicians, who all too often start with the point they wish to prove and then search for evidence which supports it, ignoring all else. I think both historians and scientists would agree and what a poor approach this is.
• And speaking of politics, this story on the BBC website suggests that the government has not signed the UK up to an EU scheme which could have provided more ventilators. It will not have escaped your attention that the UK has left the EU – how long ago all that wrangling seems now to be – despite which the UK was invited to participate in this but declined to do so so. Then, after the predictable backlash, the government announced that it hadn’t meant that at all – the whole thing was a misunderstanding caused by an email on the subject not having been received. The UK government has form on this kind of thing, having since the referendum opted out of many European organisations covering matters ranging from the testing of medicines to the international movement of radio-active materials even though these have nothing to do with the EU and even though no steps had been taken to replace the regulatory structure these afforded.
• Another example of ‘exponential’ (see above) can be found in the fines the government is imposing for breaches of social distancing. These start at £60 but double with each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £960.
• To repeat what I said last week, our parish and town councils are assuming an important role in fighting this war. Your district council is doing what it can and should, or so we all hope, but the parishes are in this emergency of particular importance. A number of ad hoc and often informal volunteer organisations are being set up all across the country. In general, parish and town councils cannot run these but they can help co-ordinate activities. The Councillors and the Clerks will also probably know more about what is going on in their area than any other group and will probably also have contact details of people who either need help or are able to provide it. If you’re thinking of setting up a voluntary scheme for, for instance, arranging shopping deliveries or merely checking in on people, then I’d advise that your PC or TC should be your first port of call. it will be able to advise what local services are available and may be able to contact these on your behalf.
• In a time of crisis it’s easy to forget that life goes on in many other ways. So far as councils are concerned, there are several things such as planning applications which started their journey through the system some time ago and in some cases it’s unclear if the process has been paused. Irksome as it may be, parish councils (statutory consultees in this) will still somehow need to scrutinise these lest an unwelcome or problematic application slip through the net. West Berkshire Council’s decision a couple of years ago to provide all documents digitally rather than on paper, though introduced for financial reasons, makes this much easier. Councils are also obliged to hold meetings with certain levels of frequency but this is clearly not possible at present. Discussions are obviously taking place virtually but I’m not sure whether matters such as voting procedures and quorums can be firmly established this way. Also, it’s going to be a lot harder for the public or press to attend these. This isn’t very important at the moment in the scheme of things but it may become so later if the regulations aren’t clarified. None of these envisaged the need for virtual council meetings – indeed, most would have been drafted at a time when the idea didn’t exist – so technically councils’ decisions could be open to legal challenges in the future unless this is cleared up.
• West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon Councils have, of course, set up their own web pages relating to the outbreak. It seems pointless to summarise what advice each is giving or to provide more than the highest-level links, so click here depending on what area you’re in: West Berkshire, Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire and Swindon.
• On 19 March West Berkshire Council set up a Community Support Hub. Like so many things in these times this is constantly evolving but its main aim at the moment is to provide support and information for people who need advice. The phone number, 01635 503 579, is staffed by the Building Communities Together team. Much of the information may be available elsewhere: this service is helping to pull this together and provide a single point of contact.
• One of the reasons people have been contacting the Hub has been because they wish to offer their services as volunteers. West Berkshire is fortunate in that it already has an excellent and well-established organisation to co-ordinate this, the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire (VCWB) – click here to visit the VCWB website. One way that you can express your interest is to complete the VCWB’s online form.
• In addition, a large number of volunteer organisations, often fairly informal, are springing up to address the particular needs. If these are in West Berkshire, there’s no obligation that they contact VCWB but we strongly advise that they do. This will not result in VCWB controlling or regulating its activities. If the VCWB is aware of your group’s existence it will, however, be able to advise on any other groups doing a similar job in your area and will be able to point any volunteering offers it receives your way. Also, if your group needs any advice on matters such as insurance or data protection, the VCWB will be able to help provide this. See also this article on the Penny Post website which provides information about local volunteer groups. If you know of any others that should be added, please let us know.
• We also have a post about the financial support available to businesses as a result of the virus, which is amended as necessary – click here to see it. Many thinks to Charlotte and Tim from Monty Accounting in Hungerford for helping to keep this up to date.
• And click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. As with the volunteers’ post above, if you are aware of any others, let us know.
• This week’s Newbury Weekly News, Wantage and Grove Herald and doubtless every other local paper have a number of articles about changes to council and other services and information about new volunteer groups.
• If you’re unable to buy toilet paper, then the latest (48-page) Private Eye has a solution: ’48 sheets of toilet paper free with this issue!’ the front cover proudly and usefully proclaims.
• When all this is over, we’re going to think of a new abbreviation for curriculum vitae: the phrase ‘I’ll send you my CV’ is not one any of us want to hear. Perhaps we might have to fall back of the Franco-American ‘resumé’.
• Away from Coronavirus, West Berkshire Council is consulting on its Housing Allocations Policy, which details how it will allocate social and affordable rental properties in its area. Click here to take part. Comments must be made by 3 May 2020.
• The M4 will be closed between J13 and J14 over the weekend of 27-29 March to carry out ‘significant repairs’. Further details here.
• West Berkshire Council has suspended parking charges ‘until further notice’ in a bid not to attract casual shoppers but to make life easier for key workers and for those who need to visit shops for essential supplies.
• The animals of the week are all the wild animals in the world, every single one of you, who have escaped being caught and sold in markets in China, which is where all this CV business probably started. We need as many things as possible in this planet to be left in, or returned to, their proper places.
• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News this week includes a letter from Italy, criticisms of some of the arrangements at supermarkets, two views of tree planting and another request for a rethink on Faraday Road.
• A number of good causes have received valuable support. We’re not going to single anyone out – there are too many to name at present – but instead just give a general shout-out for all the volunteer groups in the area which have sprung up like the daffodils to provide assistance to those in most need of it. We’ve listed some of these here. This also seems like a good place to mention Greenham Trust which has set up a Coronavirus Emergency Fund for donations to local groups with full 1:1 match funding for all sums received.
Hungerford & district
• There are currently three vacancies on Hungerford Town Council – see here for the official notice.
• Congratulations to the four recipients of the 2020 Freedom of the Town award – they may have been denied their moment on the stage at the Hungerford Annual Meeting (which has been cancelled) but the quest for personal glory of this kind is not a quality that the awards celebrate. Congratulations to them all: richly deserved.
• Congratulations also to the Town and Manor for a brilliantly organised Wednesday market this week, with a limit to the number of people allowed into the trading area and orderly queues for those waiting. This has got to be more hygienic than going round a supermarket. With meat, bread, cheese, fruit and veg all available, that caters for most of life’s essentials –
• …except, this is, wine. The Naked Grape is, of course, just on the other side of the road. However, despite the recent government statement that off licences could re-open, both this shop and Grapesmith in Barrs Yard have decided that doing this in their stores isn’t consistent with the 2m-apart advice and the general objective of minimising social contact. Both are open for online and telephone orders, however.
• And what else is important? Books, of course. The Hungerford Bookshop, like the off licences, is not open physically but very much so digitally. Click here for their latest newsletter on the subject.
• We shall, as usual, be publishing Penny Post Hungerford next week – email firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t get this but would like to. One of the things we’ll be looking at is the work go Hungerford Town Council at present – what it’s still doing, what is stopped doing for the moment and, most interestingly, what it is now doing that it wasn’t doing before.
• Click here for information on the Hungerford Self-isolation Network which has recently been set up in the town by local resident Geordie Taylor. In its first eight days it signed up 200 volunteers and is providing services for over 70 local households.
• Inkpen Parish Council has announced that there will be some road closures and diversions in and around the village until late March due to work on the local Gigaclear cabling.
• On Friday 13 March Lambourn Surgery announced that due to the Coronavirus outbreak, with immediate effect all appointments would be changed to telephone ones – please do not come into the surgery. You will instead be called by a GP or nurse at your allotted time and triaged over the telephone by a doctor. More information is available here. (It’s likely that other surgeries have or will be adopting similar measures.)
• As mentioned last week (and for several weeks before that), the sewage problems in and around Lambourn continue. Last week I received some further information from Thames Water which has been added to this post in which we’ve pulled together a number of comments, opinions and suggestions from various organisations and individuals. We welcome further comments on this: please see the post for how to get in touch.
• Click here for the latest news from Lambourn Surgery.
• Eastbury’s flood alleviation scheme seems to be doing its job – click here for further information.
• 4 Legs Community Radio Station will on continue broadcasting during the CV crisis – click here for more.
Newbury & district
• Click here for some recent announcements by Newbury Town Council.
• West Berkshire Council is looking to introduce a new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) for Newbury town centre and a consultation has just been launched about this. Further information can be found here. You have until 6 April to contribute.
• Newbury Town Council is running a consultation on the Skyllings Playground: click here for details.
• The Newbury in Bloom 2020 campaign is now underway (and should be one of the events that the virus will not affect). More information is available from the Town Hall in the Market Place; by emailing email@example.com; by calling 01635 35486; or by visiting the Town Council’s website. Keep your eye on this as the situation may obviously change.
• Please click here for Hamstead Marshall.net, which provides an excellent round-up of what’s going on in and around the villag (including recently-updated information about the village’s new volunteer group). It also publishes the quarterly Hamstead Hornet – if you’d like subscribe (which is free), contact Penny Stokes at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest issue dropped into my inbox last week and you can click here to see it.
• Click here for the latest NTC News from Newbury Council.
• Click here for the latest information from Growing Newbury Green.
Compton & Downlands
• Latest news from Hampstead Norreys Parish Council, Compton parish Council, Ashampstead Parish Council, Chaddleworth Parish Council, Brightwalton Parish Council, West Ilsley Parish Council and East Ilsley Parish Council.
• A reminder again about the group in Chaddleworth which is putting into practice the #viralkindness scheme that emanated from Falmouth. We’ve devoted a brief post to it here, partly to publicise the group’s request for further volunteers and partly to describe how it works in case others elsewhere want to launch something of their own (we understand that several communities already have).
• The March 2020 issue of West Ilsley Parish News can be found here.
Thatcham and district
• If you want to nominate someone for the 2020 Thatcham Town Council Civic Awards, click here for more information. You have until 3 April to make your nomination.
• Thatcham Town Council is looking for ambassadors, aged 16 and above, to help in a number of ways, promoting events, assisting with welcoming artists, suppliers and audiences and assisting with stewarding. Click here for details.
• This week’s NWN reports on p2 about the positive response to the appeal for volunteers in the town.
• Click here to see the latest Cold Ash Community Bulletin.
Theale and district
• As reported last week, in line with changes to legislation, the areas around the AWE Aldermaston and AWE Burghfield Nuclear Licensed Sites, each known as a ‘Detailed Emergency Planning Zone’ (DEPZ), have been reviewed. As a result, the Aldermaston DEPZ is unchanged, but the Burghfield DEPZ has been expanded. West Berkshire’s statement on the matter stresses that the Burghfield increase ‘is not the result of any change in activity at the site, and there is no greater risk to the public’ than there was before. You can read more here. Graham Bridgman, one of District Councillors for the area, said that this ‘does, in my view, affect major planning applications and I personally think it throws the whole of the Grazeley project into doubt.’
• The District Councillor for Theale, Alan Macro, has referred to some local planning issue in his latest newsletter which you can read here.
Marlborough & district
• Information here from Aldbourne Parish Council about what to do in case of flooding.
• Click here for a statement from Wiltshire Council about financial grant support for small businesses as a result of Coronavirus.
• A very useful article here from Marlborough News about preparations at the Great Western Hospital for the expected peak of the Coronavirus cases.
• Wiltshire Council is running a consultation on Green Infrastructure and Open Space. As part of this consultation it is asking all households to complete a short survey. The survey can be found by clicking on this link.
• Homestart Kennet is looking for volunteers to help with its projects in the area – click here for more information.
Wantage & district
• As in West Berkshire, residents of the Vale have been volunteering their time to help support those who need help during the Coronavirus outbreak. Few organisations in the area provide better examples of this kind of attitude than the Ray Collins Charitable Trust which along with the Town Council and other groups is engaged in co-ordinating volunteering activities in and around the town.
• The Herald reports on p2 of the story of a local philanthropist who has paid the local pub to provide fish-and-chip dinners for all 171 residents of Denchworth every Friday for the next three months.
• The Vale Council is inviting people to make comments on a draft Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) on how it gathers feedback from the public, businesses and other organisations on its planning matters. The consultation will run until Thursday 9 April.
• The fire stations at Wantage and Farringdon are appealing for more recruits. Click here for more information.
• Julie Mabberley’s regular column on p8 of the Wantage & Grove Herald refers to background to the awarding of the Freedom of the Town to HMS Queen Elizabeth, the ceremonies relating to which have been cancelled due to the virus (click here to read our article on the subject).
• Information here from the Vale Council here about waste collection services in the area.
• The Wantage and Grove Campaign Group’s latest newsletter confirms that Crab Hill Forum due to take place this week has been cancelled and building work seems to have stopped. A new video of the site has been published and there is a video here if you want to see latest progress. W&GCG has received an update from the developers this morning and this will appear on the group’s website soon.
• The same newsletter reports that Persimmon (Grove Airfield) has just submitted a revised infrastructure delivery plan as part of their latest planning application but it still says that they will provide a replacement pitch and facilities and a temporary community building by the time 50 homes are occupied: however, 50 homes are occupied now and and neither the pitch or the building are in place. W&GCG will ask the Vale’s Enforcement team what it plans to do about it.
The W&GCG’s public meeting with David Johnston MP, Yvonne Constance, and Emily Smith which was planned for 22 May has been cancelled: however, the group has added a discussion forum to its website so that we can discuss the issues with you and then send our questions to these people. Anyone registered to receive the W&GCG’s emails should be able to join in – click here to sign up for these.
• All charges are suspended in the District Council car parks at The Beacon and on Limborough Road until 1 June and during this time you do not have to display a ticket. Any outstanding car park permits, recently expired or due to expire, will also be honoured until that date – permit holders therefore do not need to take any action before then. This has been designed not to encourage unnecessary trips into town but to enable key workers and essential shoppers to park.
• Click here for other news from the Wantage and Grove Campaign Group.
• Click here for information the Didcot, Abingdon and Wantage Talking Newspaper (DAWN) for the blind and partially sighted. The organisers are currently appealing for help to keep the service going – click here for details.
• Click here for information on the location of defibrillators in and around Wantage.
Swindon & district
• Latest news from Swindon Borough Council.
• Click here for information from Swindon Council about how Coronavirus is affecting its services as well as other useful information.
• Swindon Borough Council will prioritise certain waste collections over the coming months amid the continuing Coronavirus crisis.
• Swindon businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality industry which are eligible for the Government’s 12-month business-rate holiday will see it reflected in their bills from April 2020.
• Bus-pass restrictions have been lifted for older and disabled people in Swindon.
• The Health Hydro on Milton Road has benefited from a £1.5m investment from Swindon Council which will go towards building maintenance works as well as improved services and facilities for customers.
• Swindon-born archaeologist Craig Alexander currently lives and works in the Italian town of Brescia. He has been subject to the country-wide lockdown as the Italian authorities struggle to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. He has told He has told Swindon Link what life is like there now.
• A package of measures has been put in place to support workers affected by the closure of Swindon’s Honda factory in July next year.
• Click here for details of the many volunteering opportunities at Great Western Hospital.
The song and the quiz
• The Song of the Week (not technically a song as it has no words) is again something I’d never heard of before supplied to me by a friend, a lively piece from the oddly-named Snarky Puppy – Ready Wednesday.
• And so the Quiz Question of the Week winds things up. This week’s question looks back at an earlier national emergency and is as follows: How many episodes of Dad’s Army were recorded? Last week’s was thanks to Susan Pitts who supplied this from the recent quiz held at the Acland Hall in Cold Ash in aid of the Cold Ash Tennis Club and was as follows: What colour does a banana appear under red or green light? Apparently it appears black – I have no read or green lights to hand (though we do have bananas, thanks to Hungerford’s market this week) so no means of testing this. However, who am I doubt the wisdom of the quizmaster?
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