Politics

Coronavirus: Councils in England get new powers for local shutdowns


People wearing face masks as they shop at an open fruit and vegetable market in LeicesterImage copyright
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People wearing face masks as they shop at an open fruit and vegetable market in Leicester

Councils in England have been given new powers to close shops, cancel events and shut outdoor public spaces to manage local outbreaks of coronavirus.

The Local Government Association (LGA) hopes the move will avoid the need for stricter local lockdown measures.

Leicester, which has been under tighter restrictions since 29 June, will see some easing in areas from 24 July.

But the city’s mayor has accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of “playing silly games” with its local lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Friday’s Downing Street press briefing that ministers would also receive clearer guidance on where they can intervene to “close whole sectors or types of premises in an area” and advise people in specific postcodes to stay at home.

“It has to be right that we take local action in response to local outbreaks – there is no point shutting down a city in one part of the country to contain an outbreak in another part of the country,” Mr Johnson said.

Government guidance says the move “significantly” increases councils’ powers, and as such, should be used “with discretion”.

Mr Johnson said the additional powers would allow local authorities “to act more quickly in response to outbreaks where speed is paramount”, in what he called “lightning lockdowns”.

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Media captionPM announces powers to tackle local outbreaks

James Jamieson, chairman of the LGA, which represents council leaders in England, welcomed the announcement, saying the extra powers will hopefully lessen the need for stricter measures being introduced locally.

“Councils know their local communities best and know how to address each unique outbreak,” Mr Jamieson said.

He added that the use of enforcement powers “should be an option of last resort” and called for more “granular-level data” to be made available to councils to allow them to be “better able to act in real time to increases in infection rates”.

The new powers come amid a row about how lockdown measures were applied to Leicester and parts of the surrounding region.

Leicester was the first UK city to see a localised lockdown implemented following a spike in cases last month.

The city’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has criticised the continued blanket restrictions, saying that 90% of Leicester’s lockdown should be lifted.

He also disputed claims made by Mr Hancock that he had declined to put forward suggested changes within the city boundary.

Speaking on BBC Radio Leicester, Sir Peter said Mr Hancock had asked him to “draw a line on a map” in the middle of a Skype call, and accused him of playing “silly games”.

Meanwhile, Mr Hancock has called for an urgent review into how coronavirus deaths have been recorded in England after Public Health England said that deaths may have included people who tested positive months before they died.

Other UK nations only include those who died within 28 days of a positive test.

The publication of the daily death figures will be paused while the issue is “resolved”, officials said.

At Friday’s briefing the PM unveiled plans for a “significant return to normality” by Christmas.

Advice for employers will change from 1 August, Mr Johnson said, and people may use public transport for journeys immediately.

Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the power to set their own timings for the easing of restrictions.

On Friday, a further 114 coronavirus deaths were announced, taking the total number of people who have died with the virus in the UK to 45,233.




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