It comes as analysis by the County Councils Network (CCN), which represents 36 of the largest councils in England, reveals that the number of new Coronavirus cases has almost tripled in the space of two weeks across the 36 county areas, with over 26,304 new cases recorded last week compared to 9,000 just two weeks before: a 190% increase.
County leaders say that everyone has played their part during this extremely difficult period but have issued a plea for residents not to get complacent.
They say residents must act now by taking extra precautions to prevent further extensive lockdowns in their areas, which could be devastating for local economies and can only be if we slow the spread of the virus.
Yesterday Lancashire become the first county to be placed in tier three restrictions. Nottinghamshire, Durham, and Northumberland, plus parts of Derbyshire, Surrey, Cumbria and Leicestershire have gone into tier two local restrictions. On Tuesday, Essex County Council became the first shire county to ask the government to place the area in tier two.
CCN is also calling for government to provide more powers and funding over local test and trace to help councils ‘get ahead of the curve’ on rising infection rates. Currently, government has said it is only planning on giving greater control over the national system of tracing to councils in the ‘very high’ level of local Covid tiers.
The latest NHS test and trace figures, published on Thursday, show that 57.6% of close contacts were successfully traced by the national system handling cases online or by call centres in the period October 1 to October 7. In contrast, 97.7% of the complex cases handed to local teams have been traced successfully. Many of these teams will include local authorities, who have set up local test and trace programmes in addition to the national scheme.
While the rate of infections remain significantly lower than urban metropolitan areas, the percentage increase in weekly new coronavirus cases over the past three weeks is higher than London and metropolitan cities: in counties it is 190%, whilst in London it is 142% and in the metropolitan boroughs that make up many northern cities and towns it is 105%.
Councils warn that higher infection rates and more staff having to self-isolate could impact on local services, such as social care, libraries, and road repairs.
CCN says that if only the areas that are on high alert can take over test and trace efforts this will be “a huge missed opportunity” in suppressing the virus. They argue centralised tracing efforts are no substitute for local knowledge and expertise and localised schemes have proved more effective in the areas where they are deployed alongside national tracing.
Research earlier this summer for the network showed that England’s counties are the most vulnerable areas in England to the economic impact of Coronavirus, with almost six million employees working in ‘at risk’ job sectors and the vast majority projected to have a GVA decline greater than the national average.
Some 5.9million employees in county areas – over half the total workforce at 53% – work in sectors Grant Thornton identified as ‘at risk’ due to the pandemic, such as manufacturing, retail, and tourism. This is compared to 44% for the eight biggest cities in England and 38% for London.
Cllr David Williams, chairman of the County Councils Network, said:
“County areas have not yet seen the kind of exponential increases that the large cities are dealing with, but the latest data show that we simply cannot afford to be complacent. If cases continue their current trajectory many areas will have no choice but to take action: a move we will be extremely reluctant to do.
“The tiering system and a government commitment to working closely with county and district councils will ensure we can use local knowledge and expertise to contain spread of the virus. Everyone has played their part during this extremely difficult period, but we need residents in county and rural areas to act now by taking extra precautions and follow local guidance to prevent the type of restrictions now impacting some areas, which could be devastating for local economies.
“Effective local test and trace measures will play a big role in preventing further lockdown measures in counties, which contain a range of communities and rural and remote areas. If only the areas that are on high alert are allowed to take over test and trace efforts, then this will have been a huge missed opportunity.
“Counties are ready to roll this out quickly – but this should be for all areas rather than ones with the highest cases in recognition that it will be a truly national effort that will suppress the virus.”
|Authority Type||Week ending 25th September||Week ending 2nd October||Week ending 9th October||% increase in weekly total – w/e 25tth September compared to w/e 9th October|