Councils are supporting the multi-agency response to COVID-19 to assess risk, provide advice and prevent it spreading further.
The outbreak of coronavirus is a rapidly evolving situation that local authorities in the UK are monitoring carefully. Councils such as Wirral, Brighton & Hove, Milton Keynes and York have been at the forefront of the national response.
At a national level, the LGA has been involved in supporting those authorities directly affected through our conversations with the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England, and, in particular, the Resilience and Emergency Division of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
“Councils are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus”
Councils are using tried-and-tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus. A very extensive and complex contact-tracing operation is under way, with health protection teams around the country diligently talking to people that might have been in close contact with carriers of the virus to assess their risk, offer advice and prevent further spread.
Local councils, through their directors of public health, are providing important public health leadership to local responses both within the NHS and wider local resilience arrangements. Councils are working very closely with public health partners to support the current containment phase and to plan for other emerging scenarios.
As Category 1 responders, local authorities already have a significant role around planning, response and recovery to a range of major incidents, supported by local resilience capacity.
Councils have statutory responsibilities around health protection and are active in helping coordinate joint responses across health and local government, particularly the important interface with social care and wider community services.
Councils are responsible for a wide range of services – including adult social care and children’s services – and local community assets, such as libraries, leisure centres, call centres and community centres, which are critical local infrastructure. Areas have well-tested plans in place to manage and mobilise these resources across a range of scenarios, including pandemic flu. Councils are actively reviewing business continuity plans and looking at how, in the event of increased and sustained pressure on NHS services, we could most effectively deploy these resources.
Learning from major incidents has shown how critical mobilising trusted community spokespeople is to maintaining community cohesion. We have seen a rise in racist incidents linked to coronavirus in several areas, and local authorities are responding rapidly to provide accurate information and strong communication with community leaders.
At a local level, directors of public health are working with directors of adult social care and of children’s services to make sure the right local responses are mobilised and that councils rapidly escalate any significant issues nationally, through Public Health England and NHS England and via local resilience forums to the MHCLG.
We recognise that the current situation calls for clear, careful and consistent communications and that this needs strong liaison across a range of central government departments. This will clearly evolve and potentially become more complex as the current picture develops.
As Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP has reminded us, dealing with this outbreak will be a marathon not a sprint. At the time of writing, the current risk to UK resilience is ‘moderate’ and the risk to individuals remains low. Of course, councils are working night and day to keep it that way.