More than six million people in England live in areas on a Covid-19 watch list, which could end in a tight lockdown like in Leicester and parts of the north if the coronavirus is not brought back under control . What happens if your city is on the list?
Every week, Public Health England (PHE) publishes a list of areas of concern based on new rates of coronavirus infection and other local information.
These places are classified as “areas of concern”, “areas of enhanced support” or “intervention areas”.
Measures range from increased testing to tighter lockouts.
Areas of intervention
The government has placed Greater Manchester, parts of eastern Lancashire and West Yorkshire in the highest risk category, needing the most support.
People were told not to meet those from other households indoors or in private gardens.
In Leicester, the city returned to a tighter lockdown than the rest of England in July, with non-essential shops and businesses closed and travel limited.
Luton and Blackburn were marked for intervention on July 23, meaning gymnasiums, swimming pools, fitness and dance studios and other sports facilities remained closed, even though elsewhere in England they were allowed to reopen on July 25.
And while Luton stepped down one rung on Friday, Blackburn is still in a tighter lockdown.
When Blackburn saw a spike in cases, officials introduced measures such as:
- Limit the number of people allowed to meet from different households
- Restrict physical contact, such as hugs and handshakes
- Expanding the use of face coverings in all enclosed public spaces
- Increase social distance to two meters
Council chief Mohammed Khan said the authority had received support to increase testing, including home testing and testing for people with and without symptoms in the most affected areas.
But Mr Khan also said more testing capacity was needed, and had asked the government for resources to set up a new testing center in the region before it was moved to “intervention”.
Areas of enhanced support
Domains in this category receive additional resources, such as more mobile testing.
In Pendle, Lancashire, people were given more stringent guidelines for the rest of England. On Friday he joined the eastern part of Lancashire, parts of Yorkshire and all of Greater Manchester to switch to ‘intervention’.
Luton and Oadby and Wigston moved from intervention to enhanced support.
Lancashire Director of Public Health Dr Sakthi Karunanithi said being placed in a higher risk category on the watch list meant there had been additional support similar to that seen in high risk areas.
This included the ability to test people with or without symptoms, additional test kits, and help with data analysis by national experts.
“If these areas are to be on the list for a long time, that has to be balanced with the right level of resources,” he said. “We are able to manage at the moment, but if more domains [in Lancashire] make the list then we will ask for more support. ”
He said more resources would be needed to help test and trace efforts, support community and businesses, and connect with people.
Areas of concern
The areas of concern are those that are low on the PHE watchlist, but will have some of the highest rates of new infection in the country.
In these cases, the local council will take action. For example, they may do more testing in nursing homes or work with communities they have identified as being at higher risk.
Under their existing Covid-19 powers, councils could shut down a place, such as a pub, but wouldn’t be able to order all of them to close.
Sandwell’s advice was one of two areas, with Eden in Cumbria added to the watchlist on Friday after cases more than tripled in three weeks.
Its director of public health, Dr Lisa McNally, said he has dealt with outbreaks before, with an improved local testing and tracing program and more direct involvement with businesses.
She added that support for the national testing and traceability system had “failed” and the board was doing its part.
“We have said over and over again that when we get the daily data on people who test positive, we need names and places of work,” she said.
Dr McNally said the PHE data the council sent had a column for occupancy, but was often empty or limited to things like ‘engineer’, ‘healthcare’ or even just ‘citizen. Rather than containing information about where the person worked.
She said language barriers were one of the main issues with testing and tracing in areas where English was not the first language of many people, so staff who spoke d other languages had been redeployed to help.
What if my region is not on the list?
Getting off the list doesn’t mean it’s all over.
Oldham, which has recorded the largest increase in new cases in the country this week, was of concern only a fortnight ago to be eliminated last week as cases began to rise.
Now the area is back to the highest alert level.
Sheffield dropped off the list of concerns last week. Public health bosses said that meant they were categorized as “business as usual”.
“If cases increase in Sheffield and we meet the criteria for any of the other three categories, we expect to be reclassified accordingly,” a spokeswoman said.
Barnsley, in Yorkshire, was on the list, but was removed on July 23 after the number of new infections fell.
Julia Burrows, director of public health, said the region now has a better chance of bringing the spread of the virus under control, thanks to additional testing.
However, the area would “definitely not” be relaxing.
“The virus is still with us and will be for the foreseeable future,” she said. “We continue to urge adherence to guidelines, to ensure we continue to prevent transmission of the virus, so that we do not start to see infection rates rise again. ”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Affairs said: ‘As demonstrated in Leicester, we will take all necessary measures to stop the spread of the virus and we continue to urge the public to play their part by following the guidelines of the government. ”
Additional reports: The information service on local democracy