Council leaders in Cheshire and their partners have written to the Government laying out their concerns about the vaccination rollout, current lockdown arrangements and schools.
The letter highlights that for most over-80s, ‘attendance at the Manchester city centre vaccination site is not a viable or safe option’, and there needs to be a greater focus on ‘more accessible and community based sites’ if progress with the vaccination rollout is to be made rapidly.
The letter from the leaders of Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Warrington and Halton Councils, the police and crime commissioner and the chair of the local enterprise partnership also said that while they ‘support the need for a lockdown’, the regulations ‘left too many areas of social and economic interaction subject to uncertainty’.
Sent jointly to local government secretary Robert Jenrick and health secretary Matt Hancock, the letter said that last Spring ‘there was widespread public compliance with a simple but effective message’.
But it added that currently ‘the clarity of the “stay at home” message is undermined by ambiguity between the regulations and the guidelines; making compliance more difficult to secure, and creating challenges for our enforcement authorities’.
For example, ‘regulations enable people to exercise far from home, congregate in beauty spots and public places, and travel for click-and-collect shopping’, it added.
The ‘more liberal interpretation of lockdown in the current regulations’ means that ‘many more people are required to work away from home, increasing the risks that their communities will continue to be disproportionately affected’, the letter continued.
It said travel in private and public transport is more significant than in the previous lockdowns, and they had ‘evidence that mask-wearing is not sufficiently enforceable in indoor public places or outdoor areas where people are in close proximity’.
The council leaders and partners said they would support additional measures ‘to tighten these areas further, to be implemented alongside further financial support for businesses and their employees, and the self-employed’.
The letter also called the process for partial closure of schools ‘chaotic and poorly communicated by government, ‘leaving our school staff, parents and pupils to deal with a terrible conflict between the education of children and the protection of public health’.
The councils and their partners ‘would also oppose a premature lifting of the lockdown’ until there was a sustained period of reduced infection, the immediate pressures on hospitals had been resolved, and the vaccine has protected those at highest risk of hospital admission and serious illness.
It welcomed the extension of asymptomatic testing under local management and the progress being made to roll out the vaccine. The letter said councils are ‘playing an important role in support of the local NHS’, but that ‘more local discretion would enable us to target specific communities, groups and individuals, based on evidence of the local public health benefit’.
Community-level data is still not available publicly, according to the letter, ‘despite the huge public interest in understanding the roll-out of the vaccine locally, and the links to our local outbreak plans’.