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Plans to fight a Leicester-style Covid outbreak in London with a string of measures including local lockdowns were revealed today — but town halls warned they needed more information on how they would work.
The plans show how public health chiefs will seek to stop a surge in local cases spiralling out of control and sweeping across the capital.
Many of the blueprints say local lockdowns could be imposed and highlighted existing powers which could be used to combat a coronavirus outbreak, including restricting gatherings and events, closing premises that pose an infection risk to the public and detaining individuals who pose an infection risk to the population.
However, many of the plans also warned that there is a lack of detailed information from the Government on how local lockdowns should be introduced if other measures have failed to stop an outbreak.
Councils also raised concerns over the effectiveness of the test-and-trace system, called for more detailed, up-to-date information on new cases in their area to swiftly identify outbreaks, and pleaded for more funding to tackle the epidemic, particularly in boroughs hardest hit by the killer virus.
Professor Neil Ferguson, head of the Covid-19 response team at Imperial College London, said more local outbreaks were “inevitable” as lockdown is eased, with pubs and restaurants due to re-open on Saturday.
“What’s critically important is that we detect those early and adopt the measures necessary to then locally reduce transmission,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Current areas of concern included the North West, as well as Leicester, Doncaster and Bradford.
Twenty-eight schools will close from tomorrow for most pupils in Leicester as the new emergency restrictions tighten, following the closure of non-essential stores. Mayor Sadiq Khan warned the capital is also at risk of a “deadly second wave” and needs more powers so a local lockdown can be imposed if necessary, with more than 8,000 Londoners having already lost their lives in the pandemic.
At a meeting of the London Health Board, he stressed: “Leicester has just announced an extension of lockdown. We could well be having local challenges.”
While the Government has been accused of major mistakes over Covid, potentially costing thousands of lives, critics have also said that the Mayor could have acted more quickly.
Public health chiefs moved to calm fears of apparent increases in cases in some London boroughs, saying the overall infection rate was “low and steady”. Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director of Public Health England, said: “We can expect increases in cases but we are in a significantly different place now than we were at the beginning of the pandemic.”
The biggest increases in new cases in London in the last three weeks have been in Hounslow (39 new cases, taking its total to 789), Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham, (both 28), Brent and Ealing (both 26), and Kensington and Chelsea (21), according to Public Health England data.
Many town halls have just finalised their local outbreak control plans which generally follow a seven-pronged strategy: preventing and managing outbreaks in specific settings such as schools and care homes; preventing and managing outbreaks in other high-risk locations such as workplaces and religious settings; deploying local testing capacity effectively; contact tracing for complex settings and groups; access to local data needed to prevent outbreaks; supporting vulnerable people; and good communications.
Town halls are also planning “surge capacity” to deal with a spike in cases and to call in help from neighbouring boroughs under “mutual aid” arrangements if needed.
Hackney and the City of London Corporation stressed guidance from the Government is still awaited on powers for local lockdowns. Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea also highlighted the lack of guidance on lockdowns from Whitehall.
Brent said that town halls had not been given new lockdown powers but it believes “control measures based on transparency, communication and consensus are much to be preferred being proportionate and likely to be more effective than attempts to enforce behaviour change”.