Lancashire lockdown Q&A: public health boss answers your questions

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Lancashire’s public health boss is urging the county to summon the spirit of its role in the industrial revolution as part of ongoing efforts to combat coronavirus.

Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi admitted that he was “anxious” about data showing rising Covid case numbers in many parts of the region – including Preston.

Until today (24th September), the city council area had seen a hike in its case rate every day since the start of the month and witnessed an increase on its own previous high every day for more than a week. It now regularly appears as one of the three worst-affected areas of England by the case rate measure - but has currently dropped to eleventh.

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The proportion of people testing positive in the city has also scaled new heights – reaching 7.5 percent over the course of the week to 23rd September. That means that more than one in 14 people who took a test during that period were found to have coronavirus.

Dr. Sakthi KarunanithiDr. Sakthi Karunanithi
Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi

Dr. Karunanithi said Lancashire-wide restrictions – which came into force in most parts of the county this week and apply in Blackpool from 26th September – may yet need to be tightened in the worst-affected areas.

Case rates have also recently increased in Chorley, Fylde, Ribble Valley, South Ribble and Wyre – although they have started to head back down in the latter two districts in recent days.

However, Dr. Karunanithi said that he was still full of hope, stating his belief that “we will have vaccines in the new year” and improvements in testing capacity in the coming weeks.

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He also said that Lancashire’s pivotal role in the industrial revolution gave him confidence that the county could weather the Covid winter that looks to lie ahead.

“Throughout its history, Lancashire has showed innovation, a spirit of co-operation and the ability to work hard for the benefit of each other – and I’m sure we will do that again,” he said.

Appealing to people not to forget the basics – social distancing, good hand hygiene and use of face coverings when required – Dr. Karunanithi spoke to the Lancashire Post to answer commonly-asked questions about the current restrictions in place in the county.

Do previous restrictions still apply – for example, the Rule of Six or previously-introduced measures in Preston?

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The local rules in most parts of Lancashire [except Blackpool] are now stricter in many cases than the national regulations on things like the rule of six. So you must not mix with other households in homes or private gardens [even in numbers fewer than six] and we are strongly advising people not to mix with other households in any setting. The 10pm closing time for hospitality that was introduced in Lancashire earlier this week is now the same across the country.

Can I meet a friend for a meal in a restaurant (or two friends from different households even if one is from outside Lancashire)?

Yes, but we strongly advise that you shouldn’t do that unless you are part of a support bubble – but it’s not illegal. That’s one of the weaknesses of the situation – the difference between what is in the law and what is guidance, what you must not do and what you should not do. We advise people not to [mix with other households in restaurants], because household mixing is one of the key ways in which the virus is transmitted.

Can I go on a weekend away?

Yes, so long as it’s just with other members of your household or support bubble and you don’t go into the private homes or gardens of anyone else while you are away.

Can I go to Liverpool/Manchester to meet my friends?

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We advise that you should not do that – but, again, it’s not illegal. And the advice is that people should not socialise with other households not just here [in Lancashire], but anywhere that they go.

Can I go on holiday to Spain (or any other destination at home or abroad)?

Yes, you can , but you should follow the guidance [that applies] in that destination. Also, you must stick to your own household – so hiring a cottage or somewhere to stay together with another household is not okay [for people in Lancashire, because of local restrictions on mixing in homes and gardens].

I don’t understand if I can still meet people who were in my support bubble in a private home, garden or elsewhere.

Yes, you can – that’s exactly why they were created.

Can gyms still open – and can they stay open after 10pm?

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Gyms are allowed to open, but they should close by 10pm, as they are covered by the restrictions on leisure [venues].

These rules seem to apply to takeaways - can I order a takeaway after 10pm?

Takeaways must close [to walk-in customers] at 10pm, but people can still order a takeaway after that time – however, it must be delivered to them rather than collected.

Do I need to wear a mask in the open air?

It’s certainly not a requirement, but people can if they wish to.

Can my children play with other children?

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They could only do so in private homes and gardens if [their respective households] are part of a support bubble.

Can friends and family come into my home to look after my children?

That was previously banned under the restrictions in Preston and only registered childminders were allowed to come into your home to care for children. However, the government has now issued new guidance that applies to areas of intervention [like Preston and, as of this week, the whole of Lancashire except Blackpool], enabling people to create ‘care bubbles’.

That means children under 14 will be able to be cared for by people outside of their immediate household as part of a consistent childcare arrangement [one-off play dates are not permitted].

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Are we still allowed to get a test even if we don’t have symptoms?

We are encouraging people without symptoms to get tested, but only in areas where community testing stations have been set-up [for that purpose] – so that’s in Preston [the city council area], Pendle, Hyndburn and Burnley.

Can I car share to get to work?

Our advice is that people don’t do that. However, if you have to, there is detailed guidance on how to reduce the risk of transmission – including wearing a face covering, opening windows and not facing other people [in the vehicle].

Can I stay overnight in someone else’s home?

Only if you have formed a support bubble with them.

How many people can I invite to my baby’s christening?

The national rules are that christenings can go ahead as part of gatherings within communal worship, so long as groups of more than six people do not mingle. In Lancashire, you could not invite any number of people back to your house afterwards.

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Are religious services still allowed to go ahead with more than six people?

Yes, but households should not mix [while they are there].

Is it right that I need to wear a face mask to go to the toilets in a restaurant?

Yes, as part of the new national guidance, you should be wearing a face mask in restaurants and pubs except when you are actually eating or drinking.

I was shielding during lockdown – do I need to go back to that?

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[Formerly shielded] people must really be very cautious, but they are not required to shield again.

Can pubs still play live music after 10pm if they stop serving alcohol?

No, because they should be shut by that time.

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