Local lockdowns could see businesses hit by outbreaks forced to close

Keith Driver, Norwich city councillor for Lakenham. Pic: Bill Smith

Keith Driver, Norwich city councillor for Lakenham. Pic: Bill Smith

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Lockdowns of buildings and businesses could be enforced if there are local outbreaks of coronavirus, but council bosses admit there is a lack of clarity on how it would actually work.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Norwich City Council. Pic: Norwich City Council.Stephen Evans, chief executive of Norwich City Council. Pic: Norwich City Council.

They still do not know who would pick up the bill, such as for furloughed workers, if a business is forced to temporarily shut down.

The government has asked for councils to come up with local outbreak control plans, to be used if there are fresh spikes in the virus.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health at Norfolk County Council - one of 11 pilot areas for the government’s track and trace system - previously said the plan would be lodged with the National Outbreak Control Plans Advisory Board by July.

But just what the government expects a local lockdown to look like has not been clarified. Health secretary Matt Hancock recently said the starting point for such a lockdown would be “a much more localised area within a part of a city”.

And Keith Driver, city councillor for Lakenham, asked questions about how they could work at a meeting of Norwich City Council’s scrutiny committee.

He said: “Am I the only councillor here, worried about coming out of lockdown as quickly as we are? Would we think about shutting down certain areas? If we have a lockdown coming on, who is going to pay for it, how is it going to be policed?”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of Norwich City Council, said the plan was being drawn up, led by data around cases.

He said: “On local lockdowns, I think it’s fair to say there’s a significant amount of uncertainty around that at the moment.”

He said it was not yet clear if such lockdowns would involve villages, towns or whole cities or whether that will be more localised lockdowns - perhaps buildings such as schools or offices.

Council leader Alan Waters said: “I think the view is you would be looking at closing a building, it could be a school, it could be City Hall, it could be Aviva.

“Apparently there are some powers going back to a time when pandemics were quite common giving local government the powers to lock down. The question of who pays is a crucial question and one we will ask of government.”

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