LATEST LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION COVID UPDATE

Please find below the latest Local Government Association update:

“Dear Colleague,

Against an unsettling backdrop of rising infection rates and continued uncertainty, yesterday’s announcements from the Prime Minister again dominate the agenda today.

Protecting vulnerable people has been a top priority for councils throughout this pandemic. New guidance has been published explaining the next steps for supporting clinically extremely vulnerable people in England.  It provides advice at each of the new Local COVID Alert Levels framework. The updated shielding advice is more targeted and will only apply in some of the worst affected areas and only for a limited period.

Below is a summary of announcements.

Local restrictions

The Prime Minister yesterday made a statement to the House of Commons on the response to the coronavirus pandemic where he set out a new three-tiered system of local COVID Alert Levels in England – set at medium, high, and very high. He also confirmed that the Government will expand its economic support to assist those affected by these decisions; extending the Job Support Scheme to cover two-thirds of the wages of those in any business that is required to close.

Last Friday (9 October), the Government updated the stay at home guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection to include information on actions to take in case of a negative test result, enforcement of self-isolation, and to reduce the risk of transmission.

Alert levels

Last night the Government published a full list of the areas which will be subject to the ‘high’ and ‘very high’ COVID alert levels from 00.01 tomorrow (Wednesday 14 October). The rest of England will fall under alert level ‘medium’.

They have also published information on local COVID alert levels, including what they mean, why they are being introduced and what the different levels are.

The Government has also made available an interactive map, which allows people to browse data for specific areas within the UK. The map displays weekly data including seven-day case rates and direction of change.

Regulations and enforcement

Following the announcement of the new three-tier system, the Health Protection regulations have been updated to reflect how restrictions will apply for each tier. These follow the original business closure regulations introduced in March more closely than more recent regulations. There is a clear division of enforcement responsibility, with council officers enforcing the regulations on businesses and the police overseeing the restrictions as they apply to individuals. The new regulations do not introduce significant changes to the rules that councils are already enforcing, with the exception of a new requirement in very high alert areas, that licensed premises may only sell alcohol where it is served with a substantive meal. Enforcement options include prohibition notices, fixed penalty notices and prosecution. We are continuing to call for councils to have the ability to issue improvement notices across the full range of COVID-19 regulations you are enforcing.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people and shielding

As noted above, by the end of today the Government will have:

The guidance sets out what clinically extremely vulnerable people in tier 3, very high alert level areas should be avoiding, which is significantly less restrictive than with shielding. It also outlines that those without friends, family or other support can contact councils for assistance, for example, to help access food, care and wider wellbeing services. The Government has recognised that there are cost implications for councils, and it is expected that part of the overall funding package to tier 3 areas will cover support for vulnerable people, although the exact details of what is included in the package are still being worked through. MHCLG’s shielding team have advised that they will be looking at light touch ways to help them understand how much this type of support costs and how many people are being supported in tier 3 areas. Councils should also soon receive a short readiness survey on their ability to implement and manage local shielding support.

Councils have stressed the need for effective communication with this group. Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) will be writing to people who are clinically extremely vulnerable in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, councils are advised to update their websites with the latest guidance for people in their areas depending on their tier. DHSC is encouraging councils to provide feedback on the new guidance to inform any future updates.

Given the need to support people’s self-reliance, MHCLG are working quickly to develop further information about supermarket offers available for tier 3 areas. They are also exploring what changes could be made to the clinically extremely vulnerable online registration system to enable people in tier 3 areas to register their preference for a priority supermarket slot, if they have not already done so. As ever, thank you to those who are closely involved in supporting the development of shielding processes and systems, including responding quickly to requests for feedback on data and other issues, whilst stressing this need for the support for this group to be placed in the wider context of support for all vulnerable people in local areas.

Rough sleepers

Today the Communities Secretary, and Minister for Housing and Rough Sleeping, announced a package of support for rough sleepers and those at risk of becoming homeless this winter. Measures include:

  • a new £10 million Cold Weather Fund to support councils get rough sleepers off the streets during the winter by helping them to provide more self-contained accommodation
  • an additional £2 million for faith and community groups to help them provide secure accommodation for rough sleepers
  • guidance, produced with Public Health England (PHE), Homeless Link and Housing Justice to help shelters open more safely, where not doing so would endanger lives.

Guide to protecting our communities

Directors of public health are being asked to provide advice which balances the need for interventions to protect our communities from COVID-19 whilst minimising adverse impacts on the economy, social life, inequalities, and overall health and wellbeing. Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) remain a core part of the set of tools available to reduce the spread of the virus. The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) have produced a guide to support local authorities, and partners, in considering the range of interventions that might be most appropriate.

Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme

We know that some councils are still experiencing issues joining the eligibility checker for the Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme, offering £500 to those asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, on a low income, unable to work from home and will lose income as a result.

Funeral attendance

On Monday, 28 September, the updated Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 came into effect in England. The Regulations now allow for COVID-19 positive people (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic) to leave their self-isolation for specific purposes, one of which is to attend the funeral of a close family member (see Section 2(3)(b)(v). Previously, the guidance for managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic outlined that those showing symptoms should not attend a funeral. The Government has not yet updated the guidance to reflect these legislative changes; we are aware it is currently under review, although we have not been provided a timeline for delivery.

Education, childcare and children’s social care

Guidance on safe working in education, childcare and children’s social care settings during the pandemic has today been updated. The guidance covers preventing and controlling infection, including the use of PPE, and has been updated to include new guidance on the test and trace process, social care visits, shielding, staff who have been in close contact with a positive case and the use of face coverings.

Guidance for managing playgrounds and outdoor gyms

The Government has today updated its guidance for owners and operators of playgrounds and outdoor gyms to enable their use while minimising the transmission risk of coronavirus (COVID-19). It offers practical advice on the assessment and management of risk, compliance with relevant public health legislation and keeping staff safe.

Qualifications in COVID-19 support packages

Yesterday the Government updated its guidance on the qualifications the Education and Skills Funding Agency will fund to support economic recovery following the coronavirus outbreak, to include an updated list of the level 2 and level 3 qualifications included in the high value courses for school and college leavers.

These are one-year courses to prevent young people from becoming NEET (not in employment, education or training). The list will be updated monthly until the end of July 2021.

Sports and physical activity

Sport England’s new Autumn and Winter Activity Toolkit contains advice on running activities safely through the pandemic, including a key message on not having spectators at amateur events. UK Active have also published information on the low rate of transmission of COVID-19 within gyms and leisure centres, at 0.34 cases per 100,000 visits.

Remembrance Day and Armistice Day events

The LGA has collated information and advice to help plan local Remembrance events and pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Current advice for councils is that event organisers should follow general COVID-19 guidance on outdoor events. Any events should also comply with local restrictions that are in place at the time of the planned event. There is an exemption made for local Remembrance events if the gathering takes place to commemorate Remembrance Sunday, and those attending the gathering are limited to:

  • those there as part of their work or providing voluntary services in connection with the event
  • members of the armed forces
  • veterans of the armed forces or their representatives or carers
  • spectators who participate in the gathering alone or as a member of a qualifying group.

Many councils are planning to live stream scaled back events, so that they can still engage the wider community.

Business support

The Chancellor’s statement yesterday confirmed that the Local Restrictions Support Grant will change so that businesses can receive:

  • grants of £1,334 per month, or £667 per two weeks, for properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under
  • grants of £2000 per month, or £1000 per two weeks, for properties with a rateable value of between £15,000-£5,000
  • grants of £3,000 per month, or £1,500 per two weeks, for properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over.

Councils will continue to receive 5 per cent of the funding, which they received for the Local Restrictions Support Grant scheme as a discretionary fund. The Government are encouraging this to be used to support business that have been legally mandated to close by the Government but are outside of the business rates system.

The scheme will apply after the very high level of restrictions has been in force for two weeks. We understand that it will apply to councils within the Liverpool city region if their Level 3 alert is still in place on 28 October, in which case it will be backdated to 14 October.

The Chancellor also said that from 1 November the scheme will be extended to include businesses which have been required to close on a national, rather than a local basis, or which have not been legally able to reopen since the first lockdown in March, including nightclubs, dance halls and hostess bars.

Further guidance from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is expected to be published in the next few days. We will continue to discuss the details of the scheme with councils and government.