The Town Hall’s health boss expressed his hope today that any easing of lockdown measures in the near future will be “relatively limited”.
Speaking ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promise that any loosening of existing guidelines in his widely anticipated announcement on Sunday would be carried out with “maximum caution”, Cllr Chris Kennedy said that in his opinion lockdown should continue for another couple of weeks.
Against a background of widespread speculation as to whether regulations around certain outdoor activities or businesses could be relaxed, the Hackney Wick councillor questioned how people could keep two metres apart in offices with shared toilets, entranceways and canteens.
Cllr Kennedy said: “Whatever happens on Sunday, what I’d want to see is clear guidance about how that can proceed with appropriate social distancing and measures to make sure that were anyone possibly asymptomatic or presymptomatic carriers of the virus, that practices were in place in that workplace to make sure they couldn’t pass it on.
“That involves surface-cleaning, handwashing, possibly the wearing of facemasks in tight situations, for instance if those workers had to be less than two metres away from each other, I’d expect them to be asked to be wearing masks.
“We had a steep rise [in the weekly death rate], then lockdown measures started working. There was a horrid two weeks in April where there were lots of people dying, and that rate is coming down, but it’s a gentle slope down. The reason it’s going down is because we’ve been in lockdown. Any unlocking risks that slope changing and flattening out and possibly going up again.
“I don’t sit on [the government’s] Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), and I don’t have the benefit of having had the guidance. From where I sit now, I think it’s too early, and given what limited knowledge I have, I think we should carry on lockdown for another couple of weeks.”
The health boss added that he shares the views of education chief Deputy Mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble on any move to open schools.
Brmable joined calls from teachers’ unions on government that any reopening of educational settings should happen only when assurances could be provided on safety.
Cllr Kennedy added: “There is talk of Years 5 and 6 at primary and Year 10 at secondary being the first ones back, which is roughly just under a third of pupils at any given institution.
“That gives you the chance to spread them out across classrooms, but even things like a third of the school going back raises practical questions that I haven’t yet heard answers to.”
It was revealed on Friday that Hackney has the third highest Covid mortality rate in England and Wales, according to the most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.
In the ONS report, which shows that residents in more deprived areas are dying at double the rate of those in more affluent neighbourhoods, Hackney has 127.4 deaths per 100,000 people involving Covid-19 between 1 March and 17 April 2020 – just over 3.5 times the average for England and Wales.
Cllr Kennedy voiced his distress at the rate of deaths in the borough, while adding that the figures are “not unexpected” given what is known about health outcomes and inequality amongst Hackney residents.
The health chief said: “It’s to do with our levels of deprivation and poverty, and the fact that we’ve got nearly a third of a million people living in a relatively small space. The system knows it, and the government knows it.
“The Marmot Review in 2010 [into health inequalities in England] said unless you solve the wider determinants of health, you will always have unequal health outcomes. It’s no good saying everyone has a hospital and a doctor, you have to look at poverty, unequal income, mental health, substance misuse.”
Kennedy has called on the government to provide community-level resources to help the Town Hall address the determining factors of health inequality, arguing that Covid-19 has “doubled down” on the case to address these issues and that it should be “used as a springboard to finally sort out health inequality in our society”.
He also praised the efforts of Town Hall officers who have been sourcing PPE for the council as “quite astonishing”.
It is understood that the council only dipped below a three-day supply of equipment – after which local authorities must apply for emergency support – twice in the early weeks of the crisis.
According to the most recent internal data, the shortest number of days’ supply left on some items was 15, with the Town Hall able to provide aid to other boroughs and the NHS within the last fortnight.
Cllr Kennedy said: “I’ve been blown away by the competence of our officers at senior level and the speed with which they reacted to this and got things in place. To now be delivering really quite smoothly and regularly to about 1,500 households a week is just astonishing.”