Team helping to keep businesses COVID secure

Local businesses will be receiving extra support in ensuring they are compliant with new coronavirus rules from the new county-wide COVID secure team.

The team, which is a joint initiative by all Oxfordshire councils, and backed by Government funding, looks to ensure that businesses are complying with the rules, to give the public much-needed peace of mind when out and about.

New penalties for breaking the coronavirus rules have come into force nationally, with fines of up to £10,000 for rule breakers. Fines for not wearing masks or not following rules have increased to £200 for the first offence.

The team will be working across Oxfordshire, alongside the existing city and district environmental health teams. Where data shows an emerging risk in a locality, the team will prioritise that area, increasing the impact of local intervention measures.

They will be out and about across the county to ensure that local businesses are continuing to properly abide by regulations, such as the 10pm curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants.

Where necessary, the team will be able to take enforcement action against those who do not comply, with the support of Thames Valley Police.

Keeping infection rates down

Ansaf Azhar, director of public health at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “We have seen nationally the impact of high infection rates resulting in local lockdowns. Our COVID secure teams will allow us to ensure that we can better help businesses comply with the latest Government guidance, better enforce the rules, and help to prevent us from seeing the kind of restrictions that we have seen elsewhere nationally.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “We all want to keep infection rates down in Oxford and avoid the need to add any further restrictions locally. The COVID Secure Team has a vital role helping businesses and residents comply.

“Most people and businesses are trying hard to stick to the rules, but it only takes a small number of people or businesses breaking the rules for the spread to rapidly increase. The team is there as a constant reminder that the rules are being followed, and enforcement will be used if necessary. Until medical science finds a solution, controlling the spread is down to how we behave and we all need to protect each other.”

Cllr Andrew McHugh, lead member for health and wellbeing at Cherwell District Council, said: “This new COVID Secure Team builds on council officers’ local knowledge and expertise to make sure residents and businesses are in no doubt about what they need to do to stop the spread of the virus.

“The team will be a firm but friendly presence; they are there to inform and advise in the instance, but we take the risk coronavirus poses extremely seriously and people who fail to respect the rules will be left in no doubt that we are ready to use these new powers if necessary.”

Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: "While the rate of transmission and the overall cases of Coronavirus thankfully remain low in South Oxfordshire it would only take one or two reckless individuals or premises to cause a problem. Therefore, I'm pleased that we now have this additional resource in place to assist our Environmental Health officers in ensuring businesses understand and follow the new rules."

Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council said: "I know everyone is desperate for things to return to normal as quickly as possible. However, until we have a widely available vaccine the only way for us to achieve this is to significantly reduce the infection rate across the country. This means everyone following the new laws and our new COVID secure team working in partnership with the existing district resource will help to ensure that happens across Oxfordshire.”

Cllr Michele Mead, Cabinet Member for Health at West Oxfordshire District Council, added: “Above all, this team is here to help residents and businesses understand their obligations. Understandably there is some confusion as guidance has changed in recent weeks.

“The aim is to ensure that everyone follows the rules and that way we have a much better chance of keeping infection rates as low as possible in West Oxfordshire.”

Update on COVID rates in Oxford and Oxfordshire

The COVID secure team is a timely proactive step in light of rising cases both nationally and locally.

Ongoing discussions are taking place locally, regionally and nationally as regards the number of COVID-19 cases in Oxford. A very close eye is being kept on trends and data and if decisions are made as regards the introduction of any new measures in coming days or weeks they will be shared quickly with the appropriate advice.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Public Health Director Ansaf Azhar said: “Numbers have risen all over the nation following the technical glitch in recording cases at national level and the situation a week ago and before. There are other parts of the country with cases that are in the 300-500 cases per 100,000 range. That’s well above Oxford and Oxfordshire generally.

“Although Oxford’s case rate has risen a lot as a result of the much-reported national issues, the city is ranked 67th in the country. The cases remain predominantly in the 18-24 age range.

“For now the strong message from me remains to ask people to take responsibility for their own actions as families, individuals, colleagues and neighbours. Keep a distance, wash your hands, wear a face covering and observe the rule of six. The only way we can drive down the number of COVID cases is through collective action on the part of everyone of all ages.”