UK Government issues Guidance for English local authorities responding to localised Covid-19 outbreaks

Writing an article in the Telegraph on 12 July 2020, the health secretary Matt Hancock revealed that more than 100 outbreaks of Covid-19 are cropping up every week. In response, he announced that small localised lockdowns in affected communities are targeting those localised spikes to bring them under control "swiftly and silently." Leicester has already been subject to a localised lockdown following a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases, with legislation being enacted to ensure the lockdown can be enforced in the form of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020.

Hot on the heels of the Regulations applying to Leicester, the UK Government enacted The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 3) Regulations 2020 which came into force on 18 July. These Regulations allow upper tier local authorities in England to respond by way of a direction to a serious and imminent threat to public health and to prevent Covid-19 transmission and spread in the local authority's area where it is "necessary and proportionate" to manage that spread. On the back of these Regulations, the UK Government has issued Guidance, which can be viewed here local authorities in England on what the new Regulations allow them to do, how they should exercise those powers and how they should be enforced.

The Guidance covers the three conditions which a local authority must be satisfied is met in order to make a direction under the Regulations. Powers which can be exercised are also covered, including closure of or restriction of entry to individual premises, notification of directions concerning premises, restrictions on events, notification of directions concerning events, guidance on the closure of a public outdoor place and notification of directions concerning public outdoor places, as is the requirements for local authority directions, including public notice of directions, notification of directions to the Secretary of State and other authorities and Crown authorities. For members of the public, the Guidance explains the method of appeal and/or representations to the Secretary of State. Enforcement of requirements made by directions, including offences and penalties, is also included.

The Regulations and Guidance are only applicable to local authorities in England. Whilst First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did not rule out a "regionally varied approach" mid-May, the Scottish Government's approach to localised outbreaks has, to date, shied away from adopting an approach similar to that of the UK Government in its enactment of these Regulations and issuing of Guidance, demonstrated by the Scottish Government's response to the outbreak in Dumfries and Galloway early July by seeking cooperation with the general public by the issuing of advice in respect of travel and care home restrictions.

With Boris Johnston's recent announcement that a second wave of Covid-19 may be upon Europe, local authorities in England face the task of utilising their powers under these Regulations to take swift and effective action against any outbreak. As to whether the Scottish Government follows suit and enacts legislation with guidance conferring similar powers on local authorities north of the border to tackle localised lockdowns as the pandemic unfolds remains to be seen.


Eileen Grant