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Councils hope to avoid any further local lockdowns in event of future Covid-19 outbreaks

Councils in west Kent have been granted fresh powers to tackle Covid-19 outbreaks - but there remains concern over the data guiding decision making.

The county’s 14 councils are now able to close shops, cancel events and shut outdoor spaces to manage isolated coronavirus outbreaks, in the hope that full-scale local lockdowns like that imposed in Leicester can be avoided.

It is hoped measures such as the wearing of facemasks on public transport can reduce the need for future lockdowns
It is hoped measures such as the wearing of facemasks on public transport can reduce the need for future lockdowns

Kent County Council (KCC) is coordinating planning for dealing with a resurgence of the virus, with borough and district councils in Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks contributing to the creation of the wider Kent and Medway outbreak control plan.

Last month Leicester became the first city to be placed into a local lockdown as data revealed a spike in infections requiring immediate action.

Restrictions on schools and nurseries in the city have since been lifted, but communal venues such as pubs remain closed.

Data on cases in Kent is being fed to local authorities in the county by national bodies - but Cllr Rob Bird, who represents Maidstone Central and leads the Liberal Democrat opposition at County Hall, has urged national authorities to improve the information it shares with local decision-makers.

He said: “I am not yet satisfied that councils are getting all the information they need from Public Health England and the Test and Trace organisation with which to make accurate judgments.

Cllr Rob Bird says councils need access to detailed data
Cllr Rob Bird says councils need access to detailed data

“To be fair, it is not easy. If you get data which says eight cases have occurred in the last 48 hours in one street or one postcode you then say that’s worrying, but if you don’t know if that is one house or six or eight houses you don’t know how worrying that is. You need detailed data to make a judgment.

“My gut feeling is that councils to date have not been getting sufficiently detailed data with which to make proper analyses. I think it’s getting better, but there are challenges.”

While KCC insists there are no plans for what it describes as “whole area” lockdowns, it recognises it could be necessary to shut down specific buildings or settings - for example a work place or a school - to control the spread of the virus.

However Cllr Bird fears more significant lockdowns could be required if the pandemic escalates again in the autumn.

This would lead to challenges that were not present during the national lockdown, because of the need for people to travel from town to town for work, shopping and schooling.

Watch: New local powers for Kent's council as PM eases restrictions

He said: “We have to recognise that local lockdown envisages you draw a line around an area, and in Leicester they used the polling districts, but you had a situation where people on the opposite side of the street were in lockdown and the other side of the street were not.”

“You have to take into account the way people travel to work, to shop, to go to school, and everything else. It’s a very challenging and imprecise science.”

A spokesman for Maidstone Borough Council said: “We have a flexible plan that will enable us to respond with our partners, including in the voluntary and community sector, according to local circumstances and any directions received from the Director of Public Health or Government departments.”

Boris Johnson played down the prospect of another UK- wide coronavirus lockdown, comparing the measure to a ‘nuclear deterrent’ he hopes never to use.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent


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