A leading politician has questioned whether people were taking the latest lockdown seriously or just carrying on as normal.
The former Labour council leader Nancy Platts said that the more virulent strain of the coronavirus and higher infection levels meant that the situation was more serious than in March.
But she contrasted the levels of traffic on the roads then and now as public health chiefs and fellow leading councillors echoed the government’s message to “stay home”.
The opposition leader told a Brighton and Hove City Council meeting: “The day after the first lockdown the city went quiet. You could hear birds singing. There was no traffic.
“The day after the national lockdown this time, I went down towards the seafront and the roads were like the rush hour as normal.
“There were lots of people about. It is coming across to me as if people are not seeing this in quite the same way as the March lockdown.”
She asked a virtual meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources (Recovery) Sub-Committee what councillors could do to ensure that people were aware that the situation was more serious than in March.
Councillor Platts added: “It strikes me that people are carrying on as normal right now. People have almost got into a new routine and are just carrying on.
“I’m not sure where people are going in their cars but it is really busy out there.”
The council’s executive director for health and adult social care Rob Persey said that more accurate testing had helped to provide a better picture of the situation.
He said: “It is, undeniably, incredibly important that we take this lockdown really seriously and it should feel more like the March/April lockdown than the November lockdown.
“We need to stress that point.”
Mr Persey said that the infection rate at the start of the week was 550 per 100,000 people in Brighton and Hove, or about 1 in 45. He said that the rate had since risen to 650 per 100,000.
He added that the region was not in crisis at the moment but the health and emergency services were coming together to prepare in case the situation worsened so that they could reduce pressure on the NHS.
In the spring the number of care homes with covid-19 infections at any one time could be counted on one hand, he said.
But yesterday (Tuesday 5 January) 18 care homes in Brighton and Hove were closed to new admissions for 28 days because of coronavirus outbreaks.
Mr Persey said: “The scale of it in this current wave is much more significant than in the first wave.
“We need to be working together in a state of preparedness with a variety of plan Bs to ensure we can support the city and the safety of the people in the city as much as possible over the next few weeks and months which will be challenging.”
And council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty warned people that they faced the hardest weeks yet since the pandemic began.
The Green councillor said that the new covid strain was of “really serious concern” during the meeting this afternoon (Wednesday 6 January).
He said that the evolved version of the virus was 70 per cent more transmissible and, as of Tuesday 29 December, the infection rate for Brighton and Hove was 700 per cent higher than when the November lockdown ended.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “That sharp increase in cases is sadly continuing. We have moved as a council quickly to understand the impact of the new strain.
“As a council we will continue to support residents, especially those who are more vulnerable, those in business and those in education, as we have done since the start.”
The meeting was told that the council was in the process of closing outdoor sports courts and skate parks and in public spaces the council was refreshing its signs to remind people to keep two metres apart.
New banners would be put in place where they are not at risk from damage from the weather and new markers stencilled onto the lower promenade.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “Given some concerns about crowds at the seafront, I also want to remind residents of the many wonderful open spaces and parks across our city, available for exercise near people’s homes.”
As well as the existing covid-19 marshals, a further four marshals would be employed to patrol the seafront to support the police and provide advice to people on following social distancing guidance.
But it remained the police, not marshals, who would be responsible for enforcing the national lockdown.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that the council was supporting the NHS with the covid-19 vaccination programme.
He said: “There is no one action that will be delivered across our population in time to fully put a stop to the scale of the crisis we face in the here and now.
“We have to think of the most vulnerable so we have to stay at home and only leave home for the reasons allowed.
“These coming weeks will be the hardest we’ve faced yet as we fight the more contagious B117 strain of the virus that is spreading fast.
“And I know we are all determined to support our communities as we have done throughout.”
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