‘We want to chat, not tell people off’ - Norwich’s Covid support officers enforcing guidelines
PUBLISHED: 15:24 24 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:28 24 October 2020
Hairdressers not wearing masks, shops with too many customers inside and crowding at bus stops are all in the sights of Norwich’s new army of Covid support officers.
The new team have taken to the city’s streets as part of a drive to curb Norwich’s rising coronavirus rates.
While cases remain low compared to other parts of the country and Norfolk remains in the lowest tier when it comes to restrictions, the hope is that, by urging people to take care, cases can be brought back down before harsher restrictions have to be introduced.
One way city council bosses hope to bring down the rates is a team of 20 Covid support officers now out on patrol seven days a week.
MORE: Why figures show Norwich’s coronavirus alert level doesn’t need escalating
Zoë Noble, who normally works in the council’s food safety team, said the team were taking a softly approach to encourage shoppers and business owners to adhere to guidelines.
She said: “We are making sure shops have sanitiser and one-way systems in place so they don’t have too many people and are not socially distancing.
“So far generally the reaction has been very positive. I’m not aware of anyone being offended.
“We have had people asking what we are doing because we are wearing hi-vis jackets.
“The main questions we have had from the public are whether we have any masks and sanitiser, we don’t at the moment but next week we will be giving them out.”
The council recently received almost £90,000 from the government to set up such a scheme. It had previously said it would not rule out bringing in extra resources - or even an external agency - over the busier Christmas shopping period.
Out on patrol on Gentleman’s Walk, Simone Van Doorenmalen, normally a food safety regulatory compliance officer, said: “So far we don’t get many members of the public approaching us for help but once we are handing out masks and hand sanitiser that will probably break the ice.
“Most shops have been friendly and very understanding. There has only been the odd one or two where there have been issues.
“We have raised some general issues, areas that are particular pinch points, shops where queuing is a problem, things like that.”
Her patrol partner Adrian Fordham, who usually works at St Andrew’s Hall, added: “Everyone wants normality back and not another lockdown, so businesses have generally been very welcoming when we have approached them.”
After liaising with police officers who passed on concerns about the numbers of people at the food court at Chantry Place, they paid a visit to Jones the Bootmakers, asking if people were using hand santiser and stressing the importance after people try on shoes.
“It’s a bigger store so 13 people are allowed but they seem well organised and quite confident,” said Simone. “They seem to know what they are doing. Being a larger chain, you’d expect that. It can be more of an issue in small independents.”
MORE: Coronavirus cases ‘stabilising’ in Norfolk, county’s health chief says
At a mobile phone and vape shop the duo spoke to the owner to suggest they put up the NHS Test and Trace barcode and a protective screen on the counter.
“Smaller independent shops need a bit more guidance. If they have any compliance questions we can then feed them back to the environmental health officers,” said Simone.
Meanwhile in Norwich Lanes Zoë was making note of a hairdressers where workers were not wearing both masks and visors as they are required to. Details will be passed on the environmental health officers to follow up.
Her patrol partner, Kelvin Johnston, a third year film student at Norwich University of the Arts, has volunteered to join the Covid team.
He said: “I heard that coronavirus cases were rising in Norwich so I just wanted to help out. I’ve not been living here too long, but I still wanted to do my bit for the community.
“We don’t want to freak people out going into shops wearing hi-vis vests. We just want to chat to people, not tell them off.”
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