Council not expecting to get powers to enforce local lockdowns - but this how they might work in South Tyneside
Local lockdowns to suppress outbreaks of coronavirus in South Tyneside are likely to be targeted at specific sites, rather than the entire borough.
Public health chief Tom Hall said measures would most likely be targeted at particular locations that have reports of Covid-19 cases, such as care homes, businesses or schools.
The nationwide lockdown was eased earlier this month to allow up to six people to meet outside and for primary schools to reopen for some pupils.
Further announcements have included the return of outdoor markets, non-essential retail reopening from June 15 and single adult households being able to form a ‘support bubble’.
The Government has previously said local lockdowns could be used to combat any future spikes in coronavirus infections.
However, director of public health for South Tyneside, Tom Hall, said it is uncertain whether geographical lockdowns will become a reality.
“As a nation we have become quite clear about what we think lockdown means, so that’s people staying at home, working at home as much as possible and not going out,” he explained.
“But it’s very difficult to say what a local lockdown would mean. There’s no published details and we’re not necessarily expecting any new powers at this stage.
“So if we were to take action on cases or multiple cases that we might then consider an outbreak, we have to rely on the levers that we already have available to us, such as existing environmental health powers or looking to the Health and Safety Executive.
“However, in reality, we wouldn’t really want to rely on any powers. Up until now, the public, businesses and other settings have been extremely responsible and informed with advice on public health measures.
“People have really taken those messages to heart by washing their hands more, staying at home and socially distancing.
“So when we see that level of compliance, we’d hope that those levels of responsibility would continue if we needed to [use powers] in particular situations.”
Geographical lockdowns ‘quite unlikely’
The borough’s public health boss said tackling coronavirus locally will be influenced by a range of factors – including residents following public health messages, risk assessments, supporting the public to follow measures and targeted actions.
This includes ‘countermeasures’ in particular settings to reduce transmission rates – from social distancing and protective equipment to infection control.
The NHS Test and Trace system will also be used as a “mitigation tool” to gather local data, helping public health bosses monitor emerging cases and potential outbreaks.
Tom Hall said: “I think geographical lockdowns like communities being locked down or areas of the country being locked down seems, from my personal perspective, quite unlikely.
“I think it’s much more likely that it will be based around things like businesses, schools or care homes having to take further action if they’re seeing cases in those settings.”
In the case of schools for example, joint decisions would be made about the type of public health measures that might be needed if they have one or more confirmed Covid-19 case – including the option of temporary closures.
As the country adapts to a ‘new normal’, South Tyneside’s public health chief has urged residents to continue to “act responsibly to protect themselves, their families and their community.”
“People have wanted to get back out and about more and reach out for something that feels more normal and in many respects, that’s understandable,” he said.
“I think we need to encourage people to follow public health messaging as much as they can and try and reduce risk by avoiding crowded public spaces as much as possible.
“If you are going to use the beach, foreshore or the parks keep your social distance and also look after it as much as you would do under normal circumstances by using the bins provided or taking your rubbish home.
“So we’re encouraging people as much as possible not just to behave responsibly for their own health and well-being but also to be responsible for the environment as well.”
The public health boss said he hoped South Tyneside can learn from lessons of the early coronavirus outbreak period and operate “confidently in a new future”.
This includes collaborating with schools and care homes on health protection and infection control, increased walking and cycling, new ways of working for businesses and more children “learning in the environment that is right for them.”
He added: “I would urge people to follow the advice of the council and its leadership, including myself, through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic which is going to be much more based on local messaging and the situations that we’re dealing with.
“I encourage people to listen to our advice on that as much as possible and recognise that we will be communicating as broadly as we can with the public to make sure that we’re responding in the best way that we can.”