Editorial: Why isn’t the government telling us what local lockdowns could mean?

(04 June, 2020)

Councils across the country need better data and a functioning tracking system if they're to enforce local lockdowns

36276Image of coronavirus tests / stock

As the lockdown is eased slightly, the government is pledging local action to tackle any coronavirus outbreaks.

We are told that localised lockdowns could prove a solution to the ‘one size fits all’ model imposed across England on March 23.

“We are attempting to move the system from these national, blanket measures to a more targeted approach,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock this week.

Theoretically, it means at some point in the future, Southwark could have special lockdown measures to combat any sudden increased number of Covid-19 infections.

But in practice? We simply don’t know. The government has yet to outline what measures this could involve – could your school be closed? Estate shut down? Street quarantined?

These are questions that town hall chiefs, who would be responsible for any localised lockdown, also don’t know the answer to.

Southwark’s top boss, Cllr Peter John, tells the paper this week of a frustration felt in local government over a lack of communication from Westminster.

Sometimes, he says, local authorities having to carry out the government’s wishes are only learning about them the same way the rest of us are: by watching the telly.

This is not good enough. We are, as the government’s scientific and medical advisers take pains to rightly remind us, at a critical juncture.

The R rate is only slightly below one, the crucial measure which means cases are shrinking. Deaths are still in the hundreds daily across the country.

Infections are still running at more than a thousand new cases daily.

As we have previously reported, it is our poorer communities which bear the brunt.

This is a running theme. We have before questioned whether it was safe for Southwark schools to reopen this week. Concerns were raised by the council, teaching unions, parents, and schools themselves over making sure they are ‘Covid secure’. And is it really now safer for shielded people to come out of their homes?

This, ultimately, was a symptom of the same problem: that those who should be in the know about changes to the lockdown aren’t.

If we are to make it through this delicate and dangerous phase in the safest possible way, the government must do more to engage with councils and other stakeholders on its approach.

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