United Kingdom

'Don't kill granny': Preston youngsters are urged to stick to social-distancing

Council chiefs in Preston have launched a powerful 'don't kill granny' message to encourage youngsters to follow the rules after it was revealed half of new coronavirus cases in the newly-locked down city are under the age of 30.

All residents in the Lancashire city - home to 140,000 people - are now banned from mixing with any other households indoors or in a garden, in a last-ditch attempt to curb soaring rates of coronavirus. 

They have also been urged to avoid meeting with friends in any setting, such as pubs and restaurants.

Government data yesterday showed Preston's Covid-19 infection rate has risen to 36 new cases for every 100,000 people in the week ending August 4, compared to little over 13 just a fortnight ago. 

Health chiefs warned the measures will be kept under review but threatened tougher action if people don't abide by the restrictions.

It comes as the Local Government Association has called for councils to be given more powers to shut down pubs which don't comply with the rules, with Preston's director of public health claiming mixing in watering holes was to blame for the area being put back into lockdown.

A man wears a face mask at Preston Market yesterday before the city went into lockdown overnight

Passengers in Preston were seen respecting social distancing and wearing masks before new restrictions came into effect from today

Preston is one of a number of areas in the north of England to be locked down in recent weeks

LGA calls for councils to be given more powers to shut down pubs not following the rules

Licensing laws currently do not allow councils to take action on public health grounds, such as where Covid-19 guidelines are not being followed, instead relying on general health and safety legislation, which is less specific and makes it harder to intervene.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, wants to see the introduction of a temporary public health or Covid-19 objective, allowing town halls to take action where premises are not protecting the public during the pandemic – such as collecting people's contact details or maintaining social distancing.

Current government guidance says pubs are only asked to voluntarily roll out such rules, but the LGA insists it should be made mandatory and legally enforceable.  

It says most are working hard to comply with the guidance but councils have concerns that some pubs are not collecting contact details of customers so they can be reached in the event of a local outbreak.

Local authorities have recently been given powers to close premises, but these can only be used where there is already a serious and imminent risk to public health. 

The LGA says extending licensing powers would mean they can act quickly and proactively in cracking down on places that flout the guidance, to prevent problems in the first place instead of only being able to act when it is too late.

It says the sanctions available under the Licensing Act – such as requiring a business to apply new conditions to operate safely, or in the worst cases revoking a licence – would be better suited to preventing the risk of infection spreading than the tools available under health and safety laws.

The city council's chief executive today urged youngsters in the area to follow the rules by delivering a stark message. 

Adrian Phillips told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I know our director of public health has said 'don't kill granny' to young people to try and focus the message.

'Young people are inevitably among the brave and the bold, they want to be adventurous and out and about but we know that they have the virus, are more likely to at the moment, they often have less symptoms but they do take it back to their household and the community spread we are seeing we believe in many cases are young people taking it home and catching the virus.

'We're going to have to repeat it and whether Radio 4 is the correct channel for that I'm not quite sure but we're using multiple channels and we're working with community groups who are doing peer to peer comms around.

'It's just trying so many different ways to get the message to all communities, to all areas of our city that the virus is still something to be really wary of.'

He also backed the LGA's call for councils to have greater powers to close pubs to slow the spread of the pandemic.

'You need responsive powers,' he said. 'It is useful to have something that can move quickly and we can make it entirely clear to the licensee or the operator what the consequences are.'

Licensing laws currently do not allow councils to take action on public health grounds, such as where Covid-19 guidelines are not being followed, instead relying on general health and safety legislation, which is less specific and makes it harder to intervene.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, wants to see the introduction of a temporary public health or Covid-19 objective, allowing town halls to take action where premises are not protecting the public during the pandemic – such as collecting people's contact details or maintaining social distancing.

Current government guidance says pubs are only asked to voluntarily roll out such rules, but the LGA insists it should be made mandatory and legally enforceable.  

It says most are working hard to comply with the guidance but councils have concerns that some pubs are not collecting contact details of customers so they can be reached in the event of a local outbreak.

Preston city council's chief executive Adrian Phillips has welcomed calls for councils to be given more powers to shut down pubs which don't follow the rules

Local authorities have recently been given powers to close premises, but these can only be used where there is already a serious and imminent risk to public health. 

The LGA says extending licensing powers would mean they can act quickly and proactively in cracking down on places that flout the guidance, to prevent problems in the first place instead of only being able to act when it is too late.

It says the sanctions available under the Licensing Act – such as requiring a business to apply new conditions to operate safely, or in the worst cases revoking a licence – would be better suited to preventing the risk of infection spreading than the tools available under health and safety laws.

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: 'The vast majority of businesses are implementing the necessary measures to protect people's safety, and councils are working hard to support premises in these efforts.

'However, some councils are beginning to see isolated cases where the guidelines are not being followed and they are limited in what they can do to stop it.

'This is clearly a danger to communities, putting people at risk of infection.

'It needs to be mandatory for premises to follow this government safety guidance and councils need the right powers to intervene and take action if necessary.

'It does not take long for this virus to spread if allowed. While councils do not want to have to shut anywhere down, business owners need to know that councils have the power to act if local communities are put at risk.'

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