'Don't kill granny' message for Preston youth aims to slow spread of Covid-19

Peter Walker and Helen Pidd
·6-min read

Young people in Preston are being targeted with a “don’t kill granny” message to slow the spread of coronavirus after the area had lockdown restrictions imposed.

The Department of Health and Social Care announced on Friday that households in the city would be banned from mixing indoors or in gardens.

Adrian Phillips, the chief executive of Preston city council, told Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that the local health director had been targeting young people in particular with the stark message: “Don’t kill granny.”

He said: “The community spread we are seeing we believe in many cases are young people taking it home and catching the virus.”

Phillips noted earlier that case numbers had increased rapidly in recent days, adding: “It is also alarming to see that the under-30s are contracting it at a significant rate.”

After a review by ministers and councils on Thursday, the decision was reached that with no sign yet of worrying levels of coronavirus infections falling, the restrictions would stay in place across parts of the north-west of England, West Yorkshire and Leicester.

The meeting also, as widely predicted, added Preston to the list of restricted areas. The rules in the Lancashire city came into force at midnight on Friday.

On Saturday morning, Charlene Gardner, 38, was in Preston city centre to buy school shoes for her two children. She said: “I was happy the restrictions were brought in because I think we do need the police to get involved.

“The pubs around us were still 30 or 40 deep outside last night. It won’t mean any changes for us because we haven’t been seeing family anyway but I saw some reaction online last night and I think a lot of people aren’t going to listen to it.”

The rules will stay in place at least until they are reviewed on 14 August and mean that aside from official support bubbles, people from different households will be unable to meet in homes or gardens, although they can still do this in public places like pubs, in line with rules across the rest of England.

Announcing the lockdown in Preston on Friday, the government said the measures were being taken “at the request of the local authority”. Last Thursday, the decision to lock down large swathes of the north of England was taken unambiguously in Whitehall and imposed on local authorities at the 11th hour. Despite that, nine Tory MPs from Greater Manchester wrote to the health secretary this week blaming Andy Burnham – the region’s Labour mayor – for imposing the “crude and ineffective” lockdown on their constituencies.

If the new rules on gatherings are not followed by Preston residents there is “potential for even stronger localised measures from the local authority”, the government warned.

A statement from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority said that Burnham had agreed on the need for continued restrictions, and said local officials would undertake “targeted enforcement” such as visiting pubs and restaurants undercover to make sure they were acting within rules.

The rules apply for the City of Manchester, Trafford, Stockport, Oldham, Bury, Wigan, Bolton, Tameside, Rochdale and Salford in Greater Manchester; Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale and Preston in Lancashire; Bradford, Calderdale, and Kirklees in West Yorkshire; and Leicester.

Infections have risen week-on-week in 14 out of the 20 areas subject to enhanced restrictions.

In Calderdale – which has the fifth-highest number of cases per head, having risen to 43.3 per 100,000 people (compared with the England average of 9 per 100,000) – the local council sent employees and volunteers out on special bikes on Friday carrying advertising hoardings explaining the lockdown restrictions. All weekend the billboard bikes will be riding around central Halifax and the Park and Wardley areas, where infections are concentrated.

The continued restrictions for more than 4 million people highlight the caution in government as cases in some areas remain stubbornly high, with concern about a wider increase in Covid infection rates ahead of the autumn.

It comes as one of the affected cities, Bradford, announced it was launching its own, local version of test and trace, intended to augment rather than replace the national version, which has been criticised for not tracking down enough contacts of people who test positive for Covid-19.

Amid worries about some local outbreaks being connected to poor anti-coronavirus measures in pubs and bars, the organisation representing councils in England and Wales has called for local officials to get enhanced powers to close down venues which don’t comply.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said that, currently, the only compliance measures for pubs breaking Covid-related rules came under unwieldy health and safety regulations.

The LGA has called instead for a temporary change to allow local authorities to deal with breaches of coronavirus measures under licensing laws, which allow rapid compliance notices and the possibility of immediate closure.

Under regulations in England and Wales, pub-goers, like visitors to other hospitality venues, must maintain social distancing and meet with no more than one other household.

Pubs must also get contact details from at least one member of each group, whether in person or through a booking or app-based order, so people can be contacted and told to isolate if there is later found to have been an outbreak of coronavirus connected to the business.

But a series of reports from around the country have detailed complaints from pub customers and others that some venues are crowded with no apparent effort to gather information.

Earlier this week, Stoke-on-Trent council said it had been forced to dispatch enforcement teams after reports of overcrowding in bars, loud live entertainment – any music is supposed to be kept low, to avoid the risk of virus transmission from shouting – and people queuing closely to enter venues.

Under new powers already given to councils last month under coronavirus rules, they can close premises under health and safety rules, but only where there is deemed to be a “serious and imminent threat to public health”.

The LGA says it us concerned this could be too slow, and that moving the power to licensing rules would allow councils to act before an outbreak has potentially already started.

Nesil Caliskan, the leader of Enfield council in north London who chairs the LGA’s communities board, said: “The vast majority of businesses are implementing the necessary measures to protect people’s safety, and councils are working hard to support premises in these efforts.

“However, some councils are beginning to see isolated cases where the guidelines are not being followed and they are limited in what they can do to stop it. This is clearly a danger to communities, putting people at risk of infection.”