Coronavirus: What could local lockdowns look like in England?

coronavirus what could local lockdowns look like in england - Coronavirus: What could local lockdowns look like in England?Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption As the national lockdown eases in England, more local measures will be used to stop the spread of coronavirus

Leicester could face a local lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC that there would be support going to the city, including help with testing and resources for the local authority.

However, it is still unclear what measures could be introduced to try to stop the spread of the infection.

What’s meant by ‘local lockdown’?

On 27 May, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that local restrictions, or lockdowns, could be used in specific areas in England if there were localised “flare-ups”.

He said the Joint Biosecurity Centre (which advises the government on the Covid alert level) would work with local health teams “to address local spikes in infections”.

What remains unclear is whether a local lockdown would focus only on the exact location where the outbreak takes place – a school, a care home or a workplace, for example – or would it cover a whole area, such as a postcode, a town, or even a city.

The power to lock down a premises if it presents a health hazard, is something which local councils already have. But the idea of locking down a whole city has also been hinted at by the government. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC on 31 May, “We will target specific settings or particular regions or geographic areas.”

However, local politicians say they do not have the powers to enforce such measures, and have called on the government to give more clarity on how they expect them to work.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care has said it would be publishing further guidance on containing local outbreaks “shortly”.

What could happen?

A few examples of outbreaks being dealt with locally, have been seen recently at meat factories in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, and Anglesey in Wales,

The factories were closed, with all staff told to self-isolate and get tested.

People who had been in contact with those who tested positive were asked to isolate for 14 days, while at the Cleckheaton factory those deemed healthy enough were later allowed to return.

Councils say the plan would be similar for schools. If enough cases were detected, a school could be closed and all staff and pupils could self-isolate for 14 days.

Risk assessments could be carried out afterwards to decide when a premises might be reopened.

Public health officials have also suggested people in areas with an outbreak might be contacted by councils via leaflets or even visited by local health workers or politicians to spread awareness of the virus.

Local lockdowns could also mean more widespread testing, according to Krishna Ramkhelawon, director of public health for Southend-on-Sea Council: “The most important thing would be to define the scope of an outbreak, and possibly test everyone in an area.”

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Officials say buildings where lots of people congregate would be more likely to be outbreak hotspots

Could a whole area be locked down?

Local councils say they do not currently have the power to lock down whole areas, such as a town or city.

What’s more, many of them doubt such a plan could be put into practice. The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has said he “struggles to see how it can be effectively enforced”.

He added that singling out a particular area for restrictions would also cause tensions.

Short of barricading the streets, councils say they are not sure how they could enforce heavy restrictions such as travel bans in any single place.

Have other countries tried local lockdowns?

In Germany, local authorities have the power to vary the level of restrictions in individual states, and a number of small lockdowns have been imposed recently.

On 23 June the state of North Rhine-Westphalia re-imposed lockdown measures in two districts, after a spike in infections connected to a meat processing plant. Bars, museums, cinemas and gyms were closed, stricter social distancing was reintroduced, and an appeal was made to local residents “not to travel to other districts”.

However, there has been resistance to this approach. In the town of Gottingen, police were called in to enforce quarantine on a tower block, where 120 residents had tested positive for Covid-19.

Meanwhile in China, following a recent outbreak in Beijing, a local lockdown has been enforced in parts of the city.

People in medium or high-risk areas are currently prevented from leaving their neighbourhood, rail and flight services have been cut, and schools, swimming pools and gyms closed.

What has been said about local lockdowns in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Public Health Wales said that a local lockdown was under consideration after the recent outbreak in Anglesey. However, First Minister Mark Drakeford said that any decision would be not be taken lightly, given the likely heavy cost on people”s lives and freedom.

The Scottish government – for which public health teams work for the NHS, rather than councils – says it is developing a “responsive system of community surveillance” at a national, regional and local level to identify outbreaks quickly.

In Northern Ireland, the government says that any potential clusters or outbreaks will be handled using “appropriate infection control” in line with its normal guidelines for handling an outbreak of a disease.

Additional Reporting by: Ben Butcher and the Local Democracy Reporter Service

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