© Jacob King People in Birmingham city centre after it was announced on Friday that the city has been added to a watch list as an “area of enhanced support”, moving it closer to localised lockdown-style restrictions if the rise in cornavirus cases continues to rise. (Jacob King/PA)
By Richard Vernalls
New enforcement measures allowing pubs to be shut and public parks to be closed down are being introduced aimed at curbing Covid-19 infections in Birmingham.
The latest Birmingham City Council-proposed steps were approved after local authority chiefs met with the Government’s gold command, and come on the back of concerns about a recent rise in infections in the city- although the rate is now falling. The city was placed on the Government’s national watchlist on Friday as an “area of enhanced support”, meaning it would be provided with extra resources and support to help boost testing and manage outbreaks if needed.
The move came after Birmingham’s seven-day infection rose above 30 cases per 100,000 at one stage earlier in August. However, the latest figures show the rate holding at about 20 cases, according to data from NHS Digital.
The council’s focus is now on keeping Covid-19 under control as school pupils prepare to return to the classrooms and thousands of university students are expected back at lectures. In a statement, the local authority said the “enhanced measures” would tackle the fact much of the current guidance in force is “not legally enforceable. City council chiefs said making the changes “strengthens our position to take action where required”.
The measures give powers to council officers and police to warn and, if necessary, shut businesses like restaurants and bars, if they are failing to manage Covid-19 risk properly and keep the public safe. The powers would also give authority to ban events, including weddings and funerals, based on maximum size limits, and restrict access or close public outdoor spaces and parks, in the interests of public health.
Earlier this month, the council warned premises of a crackdown as the infection rate began to rise, amid a noticeable “dropping-off” at pubs in particular, in recording of customers’ names and addresses for test and trace purposes. On Wednesday, a pub in the Hockley area of the city became the first in Birmingham to have its licence suspended for continual breaches of Covid-19 measures.
The PB’s bar had been reported for at least seven breaches of the Government guidelines in August before a closure notice was slapped on the premises, with a full licensing review set to take place next month. The new measures will also allow the shutting of public spaces on public health grounds, amid a rise in gatherings where social distancing is being flouted.
West Midlands Police said it had to disperse up to 100 people from a park in the neighbouring Solihull local authority area on Saturday, and broke up 96 illegal gatherings across the region, including Birmingham. Ian Ward, Birmingham City Council leader, said: “These new powers will allow us to intervene when businesses are putting staff and customers at risk of infection. By all working together to take action now, we can hopefully bring the numbers down, prevent further restrictions and protect the health and jobs of people across the city. Mr Ward said:
“While the recent figures show our rates are going down, we cannot be complacent. We must all continue to follow all the relevant safety guidance in order to protect our families, friends and work colleagues.
“Most importantly staying disciplined now is a price worth paying when compared to the cost of damaging the future life chances of our city’s children – which may happen if there is a spike in the rate of infections and schools have to close, or parents do not send them due to concerns about the potential risks. While the impact of Covid-19 may be felt over the next few years, the negative impacts upon children not being present at school will last a lifetime. He added that staying within the guidelines would support the city’s “fragile economic recovery”.
Mr Ward said while most businesses were following the rules, it was introducing new powers “for those that are not. He added. We want citizens to be able to feel safe when they support the local economy, so if you are eating out or just going for drinks remember the restaurant or bar should be asking for your contact details and the staff should be doing all they can to make you comfortable. “If not then you can leave and make the council aware of your concerns.”
The council launched a whistleblower hotline last week allowing people to report businesses flouting Covid-19 rules, either online or over the phone. Earlier this week, the city council’s ex-leader Professor John Clancy branded preparations for a local lockdown in Birmingham “ridiculous. He said other big cities and built-up areas had “fared far worse”, pointing out Birmingham was 79th in the table of English and Welsh councils for Covid-19-related deaths.
Prof Clancy said “just-in-case lockdowns” based on what he claimed was “dodgy data” were unacceptable.
Source: PA Media