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National Emergency Alert; Permanent changes to Queen Street, Exeter; Strike days; Vapes; and deadline approaching for first COVID-19 vaccination

National Emergency Alert, and hidden second mobile phones

The Government’s new Emergency Alerts system is live, enabling people to be contacted through their mobile phone in the event of there being a danger to life near to where they are, for example severe flooding or fire in their area.

The Government plans to test the system by sending a national test alarm to all smartphones that use 4G and 5G phone networks, at 3pm on Sunday 23 April 2023. Older, ‘non-smart’ phones will not receive the alarm.

On that day, compatible mobile phones across the UK will sound the alarm – a siren and vibration, lasting for up to 10 seconds.

This is just a test, but the expected alarm has highlighted concern for anyone who is living with an abusive person, who then may hear the test siren and become aware of a secret or second phone.

And some charities and support groups for survivors of domestic abuse are raising awareness of this possibility.

The Government’s frequently asked questions say that it’s possible to unsubscribe from receiving emergency alerts, although they recommend people don’t because they’re potentially life-saving.

But, “you can opt out of the emergency alerts system in your phone’s settings,” they say. “Just search for “emergency alerts”, and turn off ‘severe alerts’ and ‘extreme alerts’. You will not receive alerts if your device is turned off or in airplane mode.”

The Government’s website adds that you will not receive alerts if your device is connected to a 2G or 3G network; Wi-Fi only; or not compatible.

You can read more about the Government’s emergency alert test in the story on our news page.

Permanent changes to road layout in Exeter

Work to make permanent changes to the road layout in Queen Street, Exeter, start next week.

It’s making permanent the temporary changes introduced during the pandemic, and will provide more space and improve safety for the 10,000 people that walk and cycle on Queen Street each day.

It supports our encouragement of active travel, reducing the dominance of vehicles in the city centre, which is a target of the current Exeter Transport Strategy.

Among the improvements, a new loading bay will be introduced to help serve businesses without rear access, and there’ll be improved transport access to Exeter Central Station.

It’s expected to be completed by June, and local businesses will remain open throughout the work.

You can read more about the improvements in the story on our news page. And you can read more on our website.

Repairs planned on Drake’s Trail near Tavistock

Essential repairs will also start next week to a section of the Drake’s Trail between Tavistock and Horrabridge.

Between Monday 17 April and Monday 22 May, part of the trail on the Gem Aerial Walkway will be closed from just south of the Grenofen Tunnel, to the northern end of Gem Bridge.

The repairs are to replace existing timber throughout the walkway that links to Gem Bridge. The timber has reached the end of its serviceable life and now needs replacing.

Unfortunately, for safety reasons, access can’t be maintained while the work is carried out, because the timber structure needs to be taken down. Users of the trail will need to either seek other travel arrangements or plan alternative routes.

Other sections of Drake’s Trail will remain open for use throughout, with access to Gem Bridge still available from the south. But from the north, people will be able to access as far as the northern end of the Gem Aerial Walkway, which is about 600 metres south of the Grenofen Tunnel.

You can read more about this in the story on our news page.

Further strike days in April and May

The National Education Union (NEU) has confirmed further industrial action will take place in April and May in its campaign for a fully funded, above inflation payrise.

Strikes are scheduled on Thursday 27 April and Tuesday 2 May 2023

Schools will take all reasonable steps to remain open for as many pupils as possible, however there may be some disruption and potential school closures if they do not have sufficient resources.

Individual headteachers decide whether or not to close their schools in consultation with their governors. Their decision will be based on whether the school can safely look after pupils with reduced staff on strike days.

School headteachers may decide they only have enough staff to open part of their school, in which case we’ve asked them to give priority to vulnerable children and young people as well as children of critical workers, and those taking exams this year.

Schools will contact parents if they need to close or restrict the number of pupils in school.

Our school closures webpage can keep you informed of school closures.

Smokers urged to swap cigarettes for vapes in world first scheme

One million smokers will be encouraged to swap cigarettes for vapes under a new ‘swap to stop’ scheme designed to improve the health of the nation and cut smoking rates, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Almost one in five of all smokers in England will be provided with a vape starter kit alongside behavioural support to help them quit the habit as part of a series of new measures to help the Government meet its ambition of being smokefree by 2030 – reducing smoking rates to five per cent or less.

Local authorities will be invited to take part in the scheme later this year, and each will design a scheme which suits its needs, including deciding which populations to prioritise.

Health Minister, Neil O’Brien, has also said that pregnant women will be offered financial incentives to help them stop smoking, offering vouchers alongside behavioural support, by the end of next year.

The Department for Health and Social Care also said this week that there will be a crackdown on illicit vape sales as part of measures to stop children and non-smokers from taking up the habit, which they report is growing in popularity among young people.

You can read more about this on the Government’s website.

Deadline approaches for first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccination

We recently reported that the NHS’s spring COVID-19 vaccination campaign started this month.

The NHS campaign is offering further vaccination to those people at highest risk of severe illness from COVID-19. It’s aimed at people aged 75 and over (by Friday 30 June 2023); people with a weakened immune system; and residents of care homes for older adults.

In addition, the NHS has announced that Friday 30 June is the last date of the current offer for first and second COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone who is eligible.

Anyone who hasn’t had any COVID-19 vaccinations, but would like to have both their first and second doses, needs to book and have their first dose on or before Friday 5 May.

After Friday 30 June, you will not be able to get your second dose unless you are at higher risk from severe COVID-19.

Those who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination can book using the NHS App or visit or call 119 for free.