Just what would a local lockdown mean for Shropshire?
A local lockdown could soon come to the doorstep of Shropshire.
For the first time on Tuesday, public health officials warned Wolverhampton was at risk of having measures imposed.
As a county, we should be concerned. Thousands commute to the Black Country each day, especially from Telford. The town also houses a large University of Wolverhampton campus at Priorslee.
And, as the spread in Greater Manchester has shown, coronavirus has no respect for borders between local authorities.
What happens in Wolverhampton should very much be on the radar of both Telford and the wider community of Shropshire.
The signs had actually been positive in Wolverhampton for weeks. The infection rate had remained low in the city as other parts of the UK, such as Leicester and Greater Manchester, suffered.
The warning signs have been there just down the road in Birmingham, which has been closely monitored by ministers over recent weeks as Covid-19 cases have continued to rise.
Now the same is happening in Wolverhampton. It should be stated that the infection rate in the city is nowhere near the level in Bolton, which became the latest town to be subject to tougher restrictions on Tuesday following an alarming rise in cases. The rate there is more than four times higher.
But it is the speed in which cases have risen which has sparked concern in Wolverhampton. The current infection rate is 27 per 100,000 for the seven days to Saturday, up from 12.6 the week before.
That was the reason for the direct intervention from public health chief John Denley, who warned everyone needed to do their bit to keep cases down.
All eyes will be on next week’s figure to see if the city is given some breathing room or if officials may need to consider taking action.
So what could a ‘local lockdown’ look like in Wolverhampton? It’s reasonable to assume that the city would likely follow towns in Greater Manchester in implementing measures to try and get cases back under control.
Unless there is a sudden, meteoric rise that requires much firmer action, health bosses may decide to tread gently initially in the hope that asking the public to comply with minor changes to their daily lives could help stem the tide.
In Bolton, people cannot meet others who do not live with them in their homes, unless they are in their support bubble and people from different households cannot meet anywhere inside or outside. People have also been told only to use public transport if it is essential.
Restaurants and bars can only be opened for takeaway service and have to stay closed between 10pm and 5pm.
Similar measures are in place in nearby Oldham. People can go to pubs, but managers have been advised not to allow walk-ins. Families are only allowed to visit places such as parks as one household, and must stay socially distanced from other households.
Tough action was also taken in Leicester, which became the first city to be put into local lockdown in June. Non-essential shops were closed and pubs and restaurants were not allowed to reopen.
Councillor Jasbir Jaspal, cabinet member for public health at Wolverhampton Council, said restrictions on households contact and team sports could be considerations should measures need to be brought in.
But she said she hoped this week’s warning would serve as a reminder that everyone needs to follow the guidance.
Councillor Jaspal said: “If there was a potential lockdown there are things we could explore and that’s something we’re having discussions about every day. One would be restrictions on house-to-house contact.
"We would look at restrictions that mean there is less chance of it passing but keep the economy going. If we are in our little circles or bubbles there is less chance of it spreading.
"Other restrictions could be relaxing team sports and not have that interaction or any close contact.”
She added: “Let’s hope people think ‘do I really need to meet up, do this and what precautions can I take?’. It’s up to the individual. If everyone did that we would be fine.”
Aidan Flynn, a senior lecturer in law at Staffordshire University and an expert in Government powers around coronavirus, believes Wolverhampton would most likely follow other towns which have brought in restrictions.
He said: “The two main issues would be the number of people gathering together in one area and restrictions on how certain businesses might operate in relation to times of opening. Broadly speaking, that’s what’s going on in Bolton at the moment. There could be restrictions on food outlets.
"If there was to be a decision to tighten things in Wolverhampton in a similar way to Bolton then we could be looking at that situation of restricting opening hours.”
He added: “There is the chance of the law being discredited if it is not properly enforced. The chief constable and the police and crime commissioner may be thinking about how they can get more out of their special constables.”
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