Following the Governments imposition of strict new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus Bridgwater, Sedgemoor and Somerset Councils have moved today to a state of lockdown. Measures introduced include a ban on public gatherings of more than two people, leaving home only to exercise once a day, travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary, shopping only for essential items and medical or care needs. This also now includes the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods. As of this morning 338 people have died with the virus. A National Emergency has been declared and the message is that staying at home was necessary to protect the NHS, save lives and tackle “the biggest threat this country has faced for decades”. Police and local authorities will have powers to disperse gatherings, including through fines.
Bridgwater Town Council
BTC has closed down and adopted emergency powers which means all meetings have been cancelled, all offices and public buildings closed and the Town Clerk (David Mears) retaining the authority to make decisions in consultation with the relevant portfolio holders.
Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley says “The government is stopping all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies – but funerals attended by immediate family members are allowed. Cemeteries fall within the remit of BTC which has only just taken this on. Premises such as libraries, non-essential shops, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have been ordered to close. Hotels, hostels, campsites and caravan parks must also close unless key workers need to stay there, or if others staying there cannot get back home.”
Businesses that will not need to close include supermarkets, petrol stations, post offices, launderettes, bike shops, pet shops, hardware stores and banks.Parks will remain open for exercise but people are not allowed to gather in groups. Community centres can stay open but only for the purpose of “hosting essential voluntary or public services” such as food banks or service for homeless people. There are to be no more than 10 at family Funerals.
Cllr Smedley added “BTC has fully supported the Bridgwater Coronavirus Community Help Group which can be contacted through Facebook or by email ([email protected]) and which is currently working with Village Agents to establish a network of neighbourhood contacts.”
Although BTC meetings have been cancelled, there will be weekly Exec ‘catch ups’ on Zoom and monthly Full Council ones. Information will be put out via the Councils website. www.bridgwater-tc.gov.uk
Sedgemoor District Council
“The Doors are closed but we’re still working” says Sedgemoor Press Officer Claire Faun, who will be putting out regular briefings. “Sedgemoor District Council’s Reception in Bridgwater House will be closed with immediate effect in line with Government advice but that does not mean that residents and businesses won’t be able to contact council staff for help and advice. 350 staff have been working at home over the past few days and managed to carry on with day to day business. Alternative ways of contacting the council are by phone 0300 303 7800, via the website www.sedgemoor.gov.uk or email via [email protected] “
Further updates will be given as to alternative arrangements for people if they are not on line or have access to a phone -for instance an external public phone is being installed outside Bridgwater House immediately.
Sedgemoor District Councils planned Meeting for Wednesdays 25th has now been cancelled and political group leaders are working together to keep the wheels of democracy flowing, with future legislation to approve ‘remote meetings’ awaited to facilitate this.
Chief Executive Allison Griffin has set up a Gold Team of officers and top of their list is the subject of Community Resilience –Allison says “ There have been meetings to discuss this and a programme of work has been put in place, subject to further guidance from the government. Much of this is data gathering to enable us to support the distribution of food and medicines locally to those in need. You will be aware that the government has already announced that it has in place a list of around 1.5 million elderly and vulnerable people who will need to be supported in this way in our communities but it remains unclear how they wish us to deliver on this. Whatever happens we can be sure we have a major role to play in this. “
On the subject of Open spaces Allison says “We have been discussing the closure of parks and beaches and are looking to take steps to try and reduce the use of these by large numbers without the social distancing required. Enforcing will however be very difficult.”
On Lifeline services she adds “These are an absolute priority and we are training more staff to be able to work in this service. We are also planning to trial home working for these staff as well.”
On Waste services “We are working closely with SWP to co-ordinate continued service and ensure waste collection is maintained. They are clearly facing staffing pressures already.”
Somerset County Council
SCC Cabinet member for Public Health and Wellbeing Cllr Clare Paul, put out a statement ahead of the Government announcement saying “The Government announced it was asking 1.5m people across the UK who have specific health conditions to self-isolate for the next 12 weeks. The Government also guaranteed that those same people will be supported to stay at home for the full 12 weeks by national and local government working with supermarkets, the military and volunteers.
The details are still emerging but we are already assessing and progressing with that task here in Somerset. Over the coming days, we will have a vital role to play on contact and wellbeing, emergency food and supplies. While it appears the food parcel scheme will operate on a national level, we are developing a workforce-based Somerset model to fill the inevitable gaps and provide a framework for volunteers in Somerset.
This will clearly be a major task and we are reviewing resources and redeploying our staff to ensure we WILL rise to the challenge. It does mean some of our current services will slow, withdraw or stop completely, but it is right that we focus our support on our most vulnerable residents.”
Social distancing – keep a ‘physical distance’ from others
The guidelines for ‘social distancing’ are to encourage everyone to reduce the number of social interactions they have with other people to help reduce the spread of the virus. Older people and those with underlying health conditions should be particularly stringent when following this guidance.
Many people have taken these new measures on board and are now reducing the contact they have with friends and family. However, with the good weather this weekend we saw some areas of our county extremely busy with visitors.
COVID-19 spreads through droplets in coughs and sneezes and we think that every person who gets the virus spreads it to at least another 2-3 people, who in turn will then infect another 2-3 people. The sacrifices we make now to reduce our social interactions are the best thing we can do to not only protect us as individuals but stop the spread of the disease through our communities and give our NHS and wider health and care system the best possible chance. If you do have to go out, for work, essential travel or for exercise, then you need to keep a ‘physical distance’ of at least 2 metres from other people.
Self isolation –
Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 (a new, continuous cough and/or a high temperature) must stay at home for 7 days from the onset of their symptoms. All members of the household must stay at home for 14 days from the onset of symptoms. As much as possible, when self-isolating, you should not even go out of the house to buy food and other essential items.
It is very important that people stay in their primary residence at this time, and for the foreseeable future and do not travel to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, either for isolation or holidays. Doing so puts additional pressure on local communities and the health and care services available.
Following Government guidance, educational sites are now closed to most students until further notice. Vulnerable pupils and children of key workers can continue to attend but we must not put an unnecessary burden on our schools and we are encouraging staff – even those allocated as key workers – to keep their children at home wherever possible.
Individual schools should be making their own arrangements to provide online learning resources and parents should contact their child’s school or college directly if they have any queries.
Further details about schools, provision and school meals are available here.
Somerset Waste Partnership –
All 16 recycling centres were closed 23 March. This decision was taken by Viridor, which operates the sites for the partnership, to ensure the safety of the public and staff with concerns about being able to maintain the required physical distancing. Viridor have said the sites will remain closed until they can be operated safely.
All garden waste collections have been suspended until further notice, due to Coronavirus-related staff absences, however, all today’s recycling and refuse collections were scheduled to take place as normal today.
For the latest information on service disruption and guidance on disposing of potential contaminated waste, please visit www.somersetwaste.gov.uk/coronavirus and follow @somersetwaste on Twitter and Facebook
GP practices in Somerset moving to phone and online triage. As the Chief Medical Officer has said, as coronavirus expands, routine services will come under pressure, but the NHS will flex its response in line with well-established escalation plans, backed by regular guidance to local health services, including GP practices, which is being regularly updated.
As a precaution to protect patients, staff and the public, GP appointments will be triaged online or over the phone to make sure that patients are cared for by the right person, in the right place for their illness and GP surgery doors will be kept open where possible.
Working from home
The Heart of the South West LEP’s Digital Skills Partnership is supporting communities that are increasingly working from home by formulating a guide to digital tools and freely available digital training to support the use of those tools. They have a list of free online learning facilities that cover topics for all skill levels. The resources are available by subscribing to their newsletter, you can sign up here. Another useful guide to working from home can be found at cosmic.org.uk.
Please visit our website for more useful advice for businesses.
How communities can help
We continue to urge everyone to look out for friends, family, neighbours and the community, but most of all yourself. It’s important you stay safe, so you can continue to help others.
If you represent a community group, or would like to join one, please visit our website for useful links.
Stay up to date
Latest Somerset County Council Coronavirus service updates can be found online at www.somerset.gov.uk. And to keep up-to-date with all the latest COVID-19 information, visit the NHS site at www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/