East London councils outline plans to fight localised coronavirus outbreaks

The ways east London town halls will try to fight a Leicester-style second wave coronavirus outbreak were revealed today with councils warning they needed more information on how they would work and better trace and test capacity.

The plans show how public health chiefs and councils will work together to try and stop a surge in local cases spiralling out of control.

Many of the blueprints say “local lockdowns” could be imposed if there are a rise in cases and highlighted existing powers which could be used to combat a coronavirus outbreak.

In most boroughs action plans have been created for outbreaks in schools, care homes, workplaces, student accommodation, homeless hostels, sheltered housing and community clusters, including religious communities.

But some plans also warn that there is a lack of detailed information from the Government on how local lockdowns, if other measures have failed to stop an outbreak, should be introduced.

They also say more needs to be done to increase confidence in the NHS Test and Trace service, launched at the end of May, which aims to ensure that people with coronavirus symptoms can get tested and people who have come into close contact with the infected are notified.

They called for more detailed, up-to-date information on new cases in their area to swiftly identify outbreaks and asked for more funding to tackle the epidemic.
Barking and Dagenham council stated: “Pan-London comms group has completed research on test and trace attitudes in London. Only 44 per cent of people would know how to get a test (less amongst over 65s and BAME groups) 35 per cent know little or nothing about test and trace, higher amongst younger and BAME groups.”

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 this weekend.

He told the Today programme: “What’s critically important is that we detect those early and adopt the measures necessary to then locally reduce transmission.”

Current areas of concern included the North West, as well as Leicester, Doncaster, and Bradford.

Town halls in London 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.

Barking and Dagenham warned: “From September onwards into the winter months we will be managing the usual winter pressures, other communicable diseases along with Covid-19. We have been advised that no modelling of demand has been done.

“Therefore, our services will have to flex to meet the peaks and dips in demand over the next 10 months. The Covid-19 Health Protection Board will need to consider where additional surge resourcing will be needed across the council as part of the business continuity planning process.”

Waltham Forest has vowed to hold “monthly outbreak scenario simulations with borough coordination partners” to test its response to an outbreak and update the local plan.

Waltham Forest council leader Clare Coghill said: “Avoiding outbreaks and managing them when they occur is essential for everyone in Waltham Forest.

“Our borough is one of the most diverse in London, and we want to recognise that BAME communities are particularly at risk. The Test and Trace service is a key component of the work we are doing to safely allow further easing of the lockdown.

“This plan will enable us to reduce the risks in the first place, and is a crucial part of the recovery. It will allow us to safely enjoy everyday activities, such as visiting local businesses, seeing friends and family or going back to school.”

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Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter