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Leeds leader calls for increased powers to stem Covid-19 rise

The city was added to the Government’s coronavirus ‘watchlist’ of areas of concern this week.

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Judith Blake said a more personal touch was needed (Danny Lawson/PA)

Judith Blake said a more personal touch was needed (Danny Lawson/PA)

Judith Blake said a more personal touch was needed (Danny Lawson/PA)

The leader of a city added to the Government’s Covid-19 watchlist has called for the council to be granted greater powers to intervene in order to stem the spread of the virus.

Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said “personal contact” with local people would be more effective in convincing them to self-isolate than the centralised over-the-phone NHS Test and Trace system has been.

Leeds, along with South Tyneside, Corby, Middlesbrough and Kettering, was added on Friday to the list of areas which ministers are concerned about.

Personal contact is so much more powerful than down a phone lineJudith Blake

On Saturday, meanwhile, Bolton Council announced it was introducing tougher measures to avoid the need for a local lockdown, with residents asked not to mix with other households in any setting – either indoors or outdoors – and to only use public transport for essential purposes.

The council said the coronavirus infection rate had recently risen to 99 cases per 100,000 people per week, the highest in England.

In Leeds, Labour councillor Ms Blake told BBC Breakfast on Saturday that she feared there was “a bit of complacency coming in” and that more needed to be done to remind people in the city of the precautions they needed to take.

She reiterated a call made by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham this week for test and trace powers to be handed directly to the council.

At present, those who have tested positive for coronavirus, and people they have been in contact with, are phoned by a national NHS Test and Trace team and asked to quarantine.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “We’re saying to central Government that actually, in line with other local authorities, if they give us the powers and resources they need, actually these things are far better dealt with at a local level.

“We have the experience through our public health teams, our environmental health teams, and we’re saying to Government, ‘Let us do what we do well and do best’.

“We know our communities and we know how to get out there and reach people in terms of self-isolating.

“Personal contact is so much more powerful than down a phone line.”

Mr Burnham, speaking on Wednesday after the Department of Health’s U-turn on lifting restrictions on the Greater Manchester boroughs of Bolton and Trafford, told BBC’s Radio 4’s PM: “I’m very clear about what we need: local control of Test and Trace with door-to-door teams – in Oldham, that is what got their numbers down and that is what we need across all of Greater Manchester.”

In Middlesbrough, the town’s mayor has announced interventionist tactics to tackle the growing rate of coronavirus on Teesside.

Andy Preston said public health officials will visit pubs, bars and other venues with police on Saturday and would immediately close down those found to be flaunting public health regulations.

Speaking to BBC News, Mr Preston said: “Where we see bad practice, if we think the public’s health is in danger, we may well close those venues down.”

In a video posted on Twitter, he said every household was being provided with a supply of face coverings meaning there was “no excuse not to use one”.

Mr Preston added that residents should remember to do the “bloody obvious” in washing their hands regularly and keeping a safe distance from others.

He warned: “If they impose a lockdown or restrictions on us, that would be really bad news for jobs and mental health, so we need to avoid it.”

As well as those on the watchlist, it was announced on Friday that Norfolk, Rossendale and Northampton will be classed as “areas of enhanced support”, meaning the Government will work with local authorities to provide additional resources – such as testing or contact tracing.

Newark and Sherwood, Slough and Wakefield were removed from the watchlist altogether.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We must stay alert and I continue to encourage everyone to play their part by following local rules, self-isolating and requesting a free test as soon as they get any symptoms.”

PA