‘Prevent, manage, reduce, suppress’ – Hertfordshire’s local outbreak plan to beat COVID-19
- Credit: Archant
In a Downing Street press briefing on July 18, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “It has to be right that we now 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.”
It was confirmation that local authorities will now lead from the front in the second phase of the country’s recovery – a shift which has long been expected by councils.
The government had previously informed local authorities that they must produce a ‘local outbreak plan’ by the end of June and execute so-called ‘lightning lockdowns’.
This means that Hertfordshire County Council now has the authority to implement a local lockdown, close shops, schools and workplaces, and impose quarantines – and will be able to use the force of law to suppress a COVID-19 outbreak.
Hertfordshire’s local outbreak plan will work in tandem with the recently launched public information campaign ‘Play Your Part’, designed to engage communities and encourage responsible behaviour.
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Hertfordshire will seek to prevent, manage, reduce and suppress COVID-19 infection, a sensitive balancing act demanding a collective, cross-agency effort – including input from district and borough councils, the NHS, businesses, volunteer groups and the county council.
Public Director of Health in Hertfordshire, Jim McManus, has said that the county is effectively “planning for a second wave” – even though it currently remains at Level 1 – and admitted that there is now a far greater “volume and understanding” of how to combat the virus, and a much vaster “testing infrastructure” in Herts.
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Mr McManus warned against the specific dangers of food plants and abattoirs, as seen by outbreaks elsewhere in the country, and has highlighted the importance of protecting particularly vulnerable communities.
In the event of an outbreak in Hertfordshire – which is defined as two or more linked cases of COVID-19 in any setting within a 28 day period – the county council will not hesitate to declare a major incident and use its new powers.
In developing the outbreak plan, HCC has identified four levels of alerts. The existing system is designed to cope with Level 1 and 2 outbreaks. Level 3 would require a ‘major incident’ to be declared, while Level 4 would essentially be a second wave, and demand a national response.
On a local level, Hertfordshire will complement the government’s test and trace system with its own resources, and use epidemiological modelling to assess the R (rate of reproduction) number in Hertfordshire.
Testing will be based at the regional drive-through test centre in Welwyn Garden City, open seven days a week, and at temporary sites in Stevenage, Hertford and Hemel Hempstead. A mobile testing unit can be deployed to schools and workplaces and other settings where appropriate.
A ‘strategic coordinating group’ will convene a daily surveillance meeting where the regular modelling data is reported, and they will work in tandem with the Health Protection Board – which is ultimately responsbility for delivering on Hertfordshire’s response.
The county council is also responsible for mapping the picture in schools, colleges, universities, and care settings, such as residential homes. It is understood that two disused care homes have been repurposed as temporary step-up beds for elderly residents leaving hospital. These will be used if required.
In an open letter to Hertfordshire residents, county council leader David Williams said: “This plan is designed to help us prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 wherever possible and manage them where they do occur.
“You may have seen that other areas of the country have had to impose local lockdowns. We want to reassure you that we too have a plan for Hertfordshire. Our local plan builds on our existing health protection plans and puts in place measures to protect all of our health.
“Although current lockdown restrictions are now being gradually lifted, COVID-19 is far from over and it is still circulating widely in our community. We need you to keep playing your part, to keep up preventive measures until we have finally stopped this virus circulating.”
To view the Hertfordshire local outbreak plan, visit the ‘coronavirus guidance for residents and businesses,’ section of the county council’s website.