Q&A: Norfolk on the government’s coronavirus watchlist - will that mean local lockdowns?
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Norfolk has been placed on the government’s national ‘watchlist’, with the county designated as an area to get ‘enhanced support’ in the wake of more than 100 positive cases connected to Banham Poultry.
But what does that really mean and could it mean all or parts of the county could be subject to local lockdowns?
What is the government’s coronavirus ‘watchlist’?
Public Health England publishes a weekly surveillance report, which lists areas which have seen spikes of Covid-19 cases.
It includes data from a variety of different sources to build up a wider community picture.
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That helps the government to plan the national response to the pandemic and help local councils with their planning. The government can decide to intervene based on what that report shows, which is what has happened with Norfolk.
While being on the watchlist will not mean any further restrictions on Norfolk at this stage, it does mean increased monitoring of cases and potential additional steps in future if infection rates do not start to fall.
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What does enhanced support mean?
It means Norfolk will be given priority for any extra testing capacity, while it will continue to get priority for mobile testing units.
NHS Test and Trace call centre tracing resources will be ringfenced to help make sure contacts of people who have tested positive are traced.
Norfolk will get priority for test results and data sharing.
Senior and experienced public health experts will be on hand to give support.
Council leader Andrew Proctor said: “Support means exactly that. Support around better access to data, speedier access to data.
“The important aspect of anything to do with this virus is to contain it as much as possible, That’s where you need the maximum amount of resource in play to do so.
“We have a maxim of protect Norfolk, this is way of adding to that too.”
Will this now lead to local lockdowns?
The county council is quick to stress that they do not believe Norfolk is in that position. They say the outbreak has been contained, with the positive cases among Banham Poultry workers and their households.
Local lockdowns are where local authorities or central government use new powers to enforce closures of specific businesses, cancel events, reduce the size of gatherings and introduce restrictions on where people can and cannot go.
In areas which have seen local lockdowns, such as Blackburn, Leicester, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, the interventions there were prompted by wider issues than single outbreaks.
There are no set figures which prompt a lockdown, but the Banham Poultry outbreak is not dissimilar to what happened in Northampton, where a leap in cases last month was connected to an outbreak at the Greencore sandwich-making factory.
There were 300 positive coronavirus cases linked to that factory. It was temporarily closed, but there was no local lockdown enforced in Northamptonshire, although factory workers were ordered to self-isolate.
Is this a recognition that there are problems with test and trace in Norfolk?
Norfolk County Council says the answer to that is no. They say: “This is about giving us a better link with national resources and services.
“We are pleased the government recognises that we need data and support more quickly, to fully support our local efforts to contain this outbreak. All the evidence so far is that we have contained it. They have already been giving us more support with mobile testing than other areas have received.”
How worried should I be and should people stay away from Norfolk?
Norfolk County Council leader Andrew Proctor says people should not stay away and people should keep doing what they have been doing - washing hands, maintaining social distancing and staying alert.
He said: “Can I just reassure everybody coming to Norfolk ‘please come along, as visitors as business people we welcome you here’.
“This is all about how we can work together to contain the virus, but more importantly give you, the people in our communities and people coming to visit, the reassurance that we are doing the best that we can to protect everybody in Norfolk.”