Published: 16:45, 20 November 2020
| Updated: 18:02, 20 November 2020
Additional reporting by Chloe Holmwood
Swale council has explained why an urgent meeting to discuss the borough's soaring Covid-19 cases will be held in private.
This morning, the authority announced it had called an emergency meeting to address the high number of coronavirus cases across Swale.
It had also invited senior representatives from partner agencies, such as Kent County Council, Kent Police, the prison service, Department for Work and Pensions and the local voluntary sector.
However, when asked when the critical meeting would be held and how the press could join, a council spokesman said it would be a "closed virtual meeting", that would not be "open or recorded". This also means members of the public won't be allowed to hear the discussions.
They added: "Not all council meetings are made public, and this will be a roundtable, non-political, operationally-focused meeting with a range of partners who are not obliged to hold some of their meetings in public as we are."
It is not known when the emergency meeting will take place but the authority said it would release action points after it concludes.
The meeting announcement comes as nearly 1,000 residents in the borough tested positive for the virus since last Friday.
Andrew Scott-Clark, Kent County Council's (KCC) public health director, was probed about the underlying causes of the surge in cases during a virtual meeting earlier today.
He said: "The majority of transmission is with residents and the public, rather than just an outbreak in care or custodial settings."
Mr Scott-Clark said the pandemic had 'shone a light' on more 'deprived' areas in Kent's 13 districts, as households that had lower incomes had seen a rising number of infections including Sheppey and Thanet.
Explaining more, he said: "They are effectively some of our care workers and key workers who have to go out and are more likely to be exposed by the virus.
"Particularly those communities where there are multi-generational homes or are really challenged in their ability to self-isolate.
"As we know Covid clusters, which means the whole family is likely to come down with the virus."
In Swale, Mr Scott-Clark said there had been a 'significant' number of cases linked to prisons, as over 90 inmates in a cell block at HMP Elmley in Eastchurch were put into quarantine last week, after some tested positive for coronavirus.
Two care homes had also seen a 'large outbreak' on the Island, he told a panel of councillors who sit on KCC's public health committee today.
But this amounts to less than 20% of the total number of cases which were recorded in Swale last month, as Kent council chiefs and the national body, Public Health England, continue to carry out a 'deep dive' into the root causes.
Mr Scott-Clark said: "We can see from some of the postcode data that residential settings and whole families are being affected on the Island.
"Of course those areas where people can work at home are probably less affected and you can see that pattern across Kent."
'We can see from some of the postcode data that residential settings and whole families are being affected on the Island....'
Cllr Ken Pugh (Con), who represents Sheppey at county level and is also a KCC public health committee member, described the surge as 'worrying'.
Swale's current rate of coronavirus infection sits at around 619 weekly cases per 100,000 people, second only to Hull in the north east (754).
At the meeting, KCC's Labour opposition leader, Cllr Dara Farrell, suggested that 'deprivation' was a key factor after seeing spikes in areas of Liverpool, Greater Manchester and other parts of northern England.
Meanwhile, Allison Duggal, KCC's deputy director of public health, said there was 'confidence' that Kent's test and trace system would launch next Thursday, November 26. The service could provide more learning about where the virus is.
It will also bolster the government effort and trace people the national system has not reached. This could involve 'knocks on doors' at residential homes.