Outbreak plan reveals how coronavirus lockdowns could work in Norfolk

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson - Credit: Archant

The ways lockdowns could be brought into place in Norfolk if there are sudden outbreaks of coronavirus have been revealed, with the county’s director of public health warning “we are not out of the woods”.

Norfolk County Council has published its coronavirus local outbreak control plans. Pic: Ben Birchall

Norfolk County Council has published its coronavirus local outbreak control plans. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

As Leicester becomes the first city to have a geographical local lockdown restriction imposed following a spike in Covid-19 cases, the plan to control Norfolk outbreaks has been published.

That plan, under the strapline Protect Ourselves, Protect Others, Protect Norfolk, details the measures which will be triggered when there are confirmed or suspected outbreaks of coronavirus in the county.

That could see schools, factories or businesses where outbreaks - defined as two or more people - are found or suspected asked to close - with the potential for court orders to be sought to force closure if necessary.

And if there are spikes across a wider geographical area, then local lockdowns like the one in Leicester could be sought, although that would require Public Health England and the secretary of state to get involved.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Neil Perry - Credit: Archant

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A geographical local lockdown could see travel restrictions, schools shut, closure of non-essential shops, people told to stay indoors again and restrictions on public gatherings.

However, Dr Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, said everybody could play their part in preventing such extreme measures needing to be taken.

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She said: “We have put together this plan to do everything we can to prevent outbreaks and to co-ordinate it so, when we do have outbreaks we can respond to them as quickly as possible.

“As the number of cases drop, so our strategy needs to change. We are now looking at very small numbers of cases in Norfolk, so the idea is that we get in and respond when infections do occur before the transmission spreads.

“At the core of the our plan is prevention. It is vital that people do everything they can to adhere to the guidelines, to social distance, to keep washing their hands and to not go out if they feel unwell.

“It’s vital that people who do feel unwell with symptoms of the virus self-isolate and get a test. That will protect them and it will protect others.”

Dr Smith said the NHS test and trace system would help to establish who those people had been in contract with, while a new outbreak centre, in place for at least 12 months, would co-ordinate and monitor data to spot spikes in cases and control them.

She said: “In terms of an outbreak, that is defined as where there are two or more cases, but in a setting such as care home, one case will trigger an incident.

“What we are seeing in somewhere like Leicester, where there is a local lockdown, that’s when there’s a rise in the number of cases and test and trace is not enough to keep it down.

“Our ambition is that we put every effort we can into responding to our outbreaks as fast as possible, with prevention at a very local level.”

That would involve working with the owner of the setting, such as a headteacher or business owner, asking them to close all or part of the building, to allow workers to isolate and get tested, while deep cleans took place.

Dr Smith said she was confident most owners would do so willingly, but that there was the possibility court orders could have to be sought if people refused.

Where it is not clear from the data what or where the source is, that is the stage where it could be escalated to a geographical local lockdown.

Norfolk is some way off the sort of figures which have triggered the local lockdown in Leicester. There have been 3,126 confirmed cases in the Midlands city, while the whole of Norfolk has had 2,244 confirmed cases, only 233 in Norwich.

Dr Smith said: “If we got to the point where we could not give an explanation and we have what we call efficient transmission in the community, that would be when we would have to call on the resources of the Joint Biosecurity Council, which is what we are seeing in Leicester.

“We would bring mobile testing units in and would need support from the Department of Health to do that. If the numbers were still going up then we might need legislative powers to lock things down.”

There would be a number of local boards, including an engagement board chaired by county council leader Andrew Proctor.

Dr Smith said: “This plan will be in place for at least 12 months and possibly 18 months. We are not out of the woods.”

Suffolk County Council has also published its outbreak control plan.Suffolk currently has 1,551 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Stuart Keeble, director of public health at Suffolk County Council, said: “Covid-19 has had a significant impact on all of our lives and sadly, we will be living with the threat of the virus for many months to come.”

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