Local lockdown review meeting as Government announces new self-isolation payment

27 August 2020, 06:53

People on low incomes who need to self-isolate due to coronavirus will be able to claim a payment from the Government
People on low incomes who need to self-isolate due to coronavirus will be able to claim a payment from the Government. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Local lockdowns will be on the agenda when officials meet later to discuss whether they should continue in England.

The meeting comes as the Government confirmed it will compensate those who have been forced to self-isolate with payments of up to £182.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is set to chair a meeting of the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty on Thursday morning.

The group is set to make an announcement after on restrictions in parts of Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and west Yorkshire, areas which have been plunged into local lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases.

Last week Mr Hancock announced a more targeted approach to restrictions, in which the views of MPs would also be sought to gain "the maximum possible local consensus".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said providing increased financial support to those asked to self-isolate in areas of high Covid-19 prevalence would help the NHS Test and Trace programme meet its target.

He told LBC radio that local lockdowns were "working" but further support was required to help encourage those contacted by NHS tracers to stay at home.

"One of the challenges is we want to get NHS Test and Trace up to over 80% of contacts, getting them to self-isolate - we're at just over 75%, so we're nearly there but not quite there," he said.

"We talk to all these people because NHS Test and Trace phones them up and has a conversation, and one of the things, especially in areas of low income, that is causing some people to say 'I can't do that' or 'I can't give you the contacts' is because they need to go to work.

"Bringing in extra support, in addition to the Universal Credit they get, if people self-isolate is one of the things that people have been asking for to get those rates up because it really matters that the people that need to self-isolate do because that's how we stop the spread of the virus."

People living in specific wards in Pendle and Blackburn in Lancashire, along with the borough of Oldham, Greater Manchester, were told not to socialise with anyone outside their household from midnight on Saturday, and only to use public transport if essential.

The meeting comes as Mr Hancock confirmed that as of Tuesday September 1, people on either Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit, who are required to self-isolate and are unable to work from home, in areas with high incidences of Covid-19, will benefit from a new payment scheme.

Starting with a trial in Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Oldham, eligible people who test positive for the virus will receive £130 for their 10-day period of self-isolation.

Other members of their household, who under the current rules have to self-isolate for 14 days, will be entitled to a payment of £182.

Anneliese Dodds, Labour's shadow chancellor, said: "Labour has been warning for months that the Government needs to make sure that people can afford to do the right thing, but once again ministers have taken far too long to realise there's a problem."

She added: "It's concerning that this will only apply to a limited number of areas with high rates of Covid-19.

"The instruction to self-isolate applies to everyone in the country, so everyone should get the support they need to self-isolate."

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: "I am pleased they have at last acknowledged this issue but am sorry to say this move goes nowhere near far enough.

"The Health Secretary has already said that he couldn't live on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) at £95 a week. So how can an announcement like this work?

"For many workers in Greater Manchester, this will not provide the support people need to cooperate with NHS Test and Trace."

Meanwhile, the leader of Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire said the restrictions in place are "confusing" and urged the Government to lift restrictions for the whole of Kirklees.

Shabir Pandor said: "My position is clear, these restrictions are confusing and are not working.

"We can bring our rates down without them in place. We understand our communities and we will continue with the great work we're doing on the ground to target areas in Kirklees with higher rates, making sure people have all the information and support they need to stay safe and prevent infection.

"The current restrictions are keeping us from visiting our friends and families in a safe way.

"How is it right that you can go to a pub or restaurant that is full of people you don't know, but you cannot visit a relative in their garden?"

There will also be concern among thousands of holidaymakers who could have to self-isolate on their return from Czech Republic and Switzerland.

A seven-day rate of 20 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people is the threshold above which the UK Government considers triggering quarantine conditions.

The Czech Republic is currently recording a seven-day rate of 19.4 cases per 100,000, up from 16 a week ago.

Switzerland is also over the threshold, with a seven-day rate of 21.2.

Last week, Scotland took Switzerland off its list of countries from which people do not need to self-isolate on arrival.

The rest of the UK could follow later this week.

On Wednesday, a school leaders' union recommended all secondary schools ask pupils and staff to wear face coverings in communal spaces, despite the Government advising it is only required for those in local lockdown areas of England.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said ministers were following the "best scientific and medical advice", adding that it was not necessary for face coverings to be mandatory in all schools across the country.