Councils have powers to force residents to self-isolate and destroy buildings to stop spread of coronavirus

Councils can force a person to self-isolate for up to 28 days, close or destroy properties and keep children away from school under draconian new laws for local lockdowns.

The documents, published as part of the Southend Council’s Local Outbreak Plan, lay out wide-ranging legislation that can be used by the authority to contain the spread of Covid-19 on a local level.

The majority of the legal powers will require approval from the Magistrates before they can be enforced, but under public health legislation, they include the council being able to force an individual into quarantine for up to 28 days if “they are or may be” infected with the virus.

The council will also have the power to enforce an “infected premises to be closed or cleaned or destroyed” within a matter of days. This power, the documents note, is “potentially useful”.

Other powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act can immediately put a stop to work at a specific business where there is a possible infection risk and under Health Protection regulation, the council can order a parent to keep a child away from school “who is or may be” infected.

Councillor Martin Terry (Ind), who is responsible for community safety, said the powers were there to be used as a “last resort”.

He said: “These are very, very last resort. They are there for situations such as where we have someone behaving irresponsibly and refusing to support the community in efforts to stop the community spread.

“They are generic powers given by the Government and I have no doubt someone, somewhere in the country will behave irresponsibly and there will be a need for more these more draconian powers but I don’t envisage that happening in Southend.

“What it does do is highlight the seriousness of the situation and the reason for the powers is the virus is so dangerous and if we don’t control it, people will be killed.”

The council documents further show that there is no “general power” to require people to stay apart or at home, and places cannot be closed only as a precaution and without reason.

Mr Terry added: “Not having the more general powers acts to counterbalance the more draconian things.”

The powers will work alongside the council’s new contact tracing service which has been launched in collaboration with Essex County Council.

Through that service, the two councils are responsible for monitoring Covid-19 cases with links to high-risk groups such as rough sleepers, the elderly, people living in bedsits and special schools.

When someone within these groups tests positive for the virus, contact tracing will help identify anyone who has been in contact with them and the councils will then make a decision on who should self-isolate and whether further lockdown measures need to be taken.


Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter