Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville has pledged that the Town Hall will “constantly evolve and listen” in response to the coronavirus crisis.
The borough leader was speaking as the council moves to support residents and businesses already affected.
A volunteer hub to help people support one another is expected to launch today in response to the community’s “call to action” over the weekend.
An online form has also been set up for businesses, which will allow the council to gather evidence to lobby and feed back to central government as cases continue to grow in Hackney, with 20 now confirmed across the borough and neighbouring City of London.
The borough leader confirmed he has now met with all key agencies within the council and all London council leaders in response to the crisis, as well as consulting with local government secretary of state Robert Jenrick and council chief executive Tim Shields as to how financial aid for businesses and the Town Hall itself will be deployed.
Mayor Glanville said: “We extend our sympathies to those already living with the virus, those at risk and those anxious about the outbreak.
“All of us share those concerns, and we’re making sure we’re showing that visible political leadership as well as the officer leadership going on behind the scenes on this crisis.
“I’d like to acknowledge the outpouring from Hackney residents and those who want to help fellow citizens to respond to this crisis, and the interest in building community resilience and identifying the borough’s most vulnerable residents and providing them support in the community.
“How we do that is what we’re keeping under consideration and we will be announcing more in the coming days.”
The Mayor added that the “fundamental focus” of the council’s work as the crisis develops will be to support its health partners and the NHS, alongside acting as a communications channel for advice from Public Health England (PHE).
The borough leader has also spoken of the importance of information going out to residents through council freesheet Hackney Today, in order that “those that rely on printed materials in our libraries or community spaces… have up-to-date information around public health and safety measures.”
The council is also seeking information from local charity Healthwatch Hackney on how locals are feeling as the virus continues to spread, which the Mayor has identified as just as important a factor as the raw PHE data received by council public health director Dr Sandra Husbands.
Dr Husbands said: “We are making good progress in testing our plans. We are invoking our pandemic plans, which we already had and had already tested. We’ve been testing them annually for over ten years.
“We learnt a lot from the swine flu pandemic in 2009, and that’s the basis on which we’re dealing with this pandemic, partly because there are pretty robust plans for almost any high consequence infection. The only thing that needs to change is how you deal with the immediate concerns around each particular infectious disease.
“We have some strategic structures working in the council, making sure that there are good business continuity plans for all different parts of the council business, but also making sure that we are disseminating appropriate public health advice in line with what PHE are publishing, making sure that’s current and up to date with what they’re publishing.”
The council’s health boss added that the Town Hall is also working with other neighbouring local authorities in planning for mutual aid around various elements of council business should that become necessary “if things get a lot worse”, but stressed that there are “good plans in place” for these eventualities.
One issue described as a “challenge” by officers and politicians sitting on the borough’s Health & Wellbeing Board is around the translation of official advice into other languages, in particular specialist advice published through PHE for businesses.
It is understood that some information has been translated with support from PHE, with other materials available through Doctors of the World in Kurdish and Vietnamese, but that this does not currently cover the whole range of languages spoken in the borough.
The most recent census data available for Hackney is from 2011, which shows that though the borough has high levels of proficiency in English, it had the fifth highest proportion of residents in the country who cannot speak English at all, which at the time accounted for one per cent of the population, or 2,046 people.
Councillors are also raising concerns over the postponement of elections as a result of the crisis, with the government deciding to reschedule the 7 May London Mayoral race following warnings from the Electoral Commission over the virus’ “impact on voters, campaigners and electoral administrators”.
Cllr Jon Burke, cabinet member for energy, waste, transport and public realm, said: “Coronavirus is being used as cover to erode our democratic rights.
“Fascists are delighted by the decision to postpone the London Mayoral Election because they understand what the government is up to more than all those nodding this through as if it’s normal. It isn’t.
“Remaining a functional democracy at all times is essential.”