Lancaster launches new Covid safe accreditation scheme in bid to reassure customers
This week, Lancaster City Council has launched a new accreditation scheme to support local businesses and attempt to give shoppers the confidence to return to the high street.
The aim of the scheme, which is free to join, is to reassure customers that an establishment has in place the necessary risk assessment, safety measures and staff training to operate safely.
Although the Lancaster City Council area still has the lowest Covid case rate in Lancashire, the figures are rising - with 45.9 cases per 100,000 people in the week to September 25.
This is an increase from 28.8 cases recorded per 100,000 in the week up to September 18.
To put this into perspective, the 45.9 case per 100,000 rate is equivalent to 0.0459% of the population testing positive in that week.
More than 1,085 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the Lancaster district, which has a population of 144,000, since March.
175 people have died after testing positive at hospitals run by Morecambe Bay's health trust, with the numbers roughly split between the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Furness General Hospital, in Barrow.
More than 400 people have been discharged from University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust after making a recovery.
UHMBT recorded four new deaths between September 24 and 28, after a period of five weeks with no recorded deaths.
There has been huge uncertainty over how to balance public safety against the economy and ultimately jobs, and the council hopes the new scheme will provide people with the reassurance they need to return to shops, bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants and other venues, to boost the local economy.
Following a successful pilot, the first seven businesses have received their Covid Safe awards.
But last week, residents right across Lancashire were given “strong advice” not to socialise with anyone outside of their household in any setting - whether outdoors or indoors.
Although the national "rule of six" still applies legally, and you can sit at a table in a pub or restaurant, for example, with five other people from different households, the "strong advice" is not to.
County-wide restrictions brought in last week outlawed mixing between households in private homes and gardens.
Additional guidance introduced at the same time recommended that households did not "mix" in indoor public settings such as pubs and restaurants.
However, that advice has now been significantly strengthened to incorporate all settings everywhere in the county.
The changes come against a backdrop of rising hospital admissions across Lancashire due to the virus, with the number of Covid inpatients rising from 10 a fortnight ago to 86.
There were 12 Covid-related deaths in Lancashire last week.
The new accreditation scheme in Lancaster has the backing of Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement Districts in Lancaster and Morecambe, Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, Lancashire Constabulary and Lancashire County Council.
Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, cabinet member with responsibility for sustainable economic prosperity, said: “The lockdown has had a major impact on our local businesses and consumer confidence has not yet fully returned.
“Our local businesses have already spent time, effort and money on making their premises as safe as possible for their customers and staff, but the public health emergency has not ended, and the impact is a reluctance for consumers to return to our shops and venues.
“The council's and businesses’ response to Covid-19 is an evolving situation, and as such, safety can never be completely guaranteed.
"However, it’s very important that we aim to introduce consistency in how shops and venues operate.
“The aim of the Covid Safe scheme is to help reassure the public that establishments have in place all reasonable measures and controls so that customers and staff feel safeguarded when in the venue.”
Vicky Lofthouse, CEO of Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce said: “We are pleased to support the new Covid Safe Scheme and urge businesses to get involved. Businesses are playing a key role in this fight against Covid-19 and the Covid Safe scheme is a great tool for their armoury.
"It helps to reassure customers and employees, as well as business owners and managers, that everything is being done to make the business as safe as possible.”
Kath Simpson, from Giggles Play and Adventure Ltd, added: “The past six months have been very challenging and we continued to remain positive, working hard to ensure that when we did reopen we could do it in a safe and secure environment.
“Lancaster City Council and the Environmental Health Officer have been invaluable with assisting us with the changing guidelines and regulations.
“We are very proud to have received the Covid Safe award issued by Lancaster City Council which refreshes and highlights our commitment to keep the Giggles team and our customers safe and secure in these unprecedented times.”
Tim Tomlinson, from the White Cross in Lancaster, said: “Lancaster Pub Watch and the city council have worked closely together to make sure all our premises are safe and compliant with the current regulations.
“The Covid Safe award is the stamp of approval which will give customers the confidence to shop, eat out or go for a drink in any accredited venue knowing the required conditions are being met and regularly checked.
"I am sure this will help give a lift to all the accredited business during these difficult times.”
But Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF) chair Angie Ridgwell said coronavirus was “biting back quite significantly” and appealed to residents to take the situation “incredibly seriously”.
"Our strong advice in Lancashire to all our residents and businesses is that people should not socialise with anyone outside of their household either inside or outside," she said.
She also warned people only to use public transport for "essential purposes".
Meanwhile, Blackpool has now been brought under the Lancashire-wide rules, having been exempted from them by the government when they were first announced a week ago.
The county-wide Covid regime also incorporates all of the national rules – including the 10pm-5am closure period in the leisure and hospitality industry, table-only service in bars and restaurants and advice for people to work from home where they can.
Lancashire's public health boss Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi said that it was important to try to win “the hearts and minds” of residents in an attempt to avert a full-on local lockdown of the type seen nationally at the start of the outbreak – something which he said the government could find easier to impose regionally than across the whole country once again.
“No public health practitioner would want such a draconian lockdown on the economy or people’s movements.
“We really want to act on the precise factors that are causing the virus to spread and not [take] a sledgehammer and still not crack a nut.
“Our intelligence suggests that the key behaviour that is driving this is people from different households mixing.
“When we say inter-household transmission, it’s not all [about] people going into each other’s houses and passing the virus on – it’s people from various households coming in close contact for a prolonged period of time, whether that is indoors or outdoors.
"My plea is let’s avoid a complete lockdown in Lancashire and let’s follow the rules - if you have symptoms, have tested positive or have been asked to stay at home by NHS Test and Trace, then please stay at home.
"We know a number [of people] are not doing that and it’s a key factor," Dr. Karunanithi said.
Lancashire Police deputy chief constable Terry Woods thanked the majority of the public for doing their best, but warned that Lancashire was now back in the “emergency response” phase to Covid - and told those flouting the rules to change their behaviour.
“For clarity, you must wear face coverings [where mandatory] - it’s not guidance, it’s regulation.
"Please wear face coverings in shops, petrol stations, taxis, indoor hospitality venues.
“Anybody who is symptomatic must self-isolate – it’s not guidance, it’s [the law].
"The consequence to the general public of you not [doing that] is really clear.
“The spread of the virus could end up in somebody’s death,” said DCC Woods, adding that the force had already issued £1,000 fines to people who had not complied with quarantine requirements.
He said that the police were prioritising Covid-related activity, because they regard it as "a real threat to our community".
For more information on Lancaster City Council's free scheme and how to take part visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/covidsafe.