Coronavirus pandemic could last into 2021, warns Haringey Council’s emergency planning chief
- Credit: Haringey Council
Haringey Council is curbing its parking enforcement so staff can be redeployed to help care for the vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak.
The council’s emergency planning chief Andrew Meek announced the plan as he revealed the authority expected the pandemic to last roughly a year.
Speaking exclusively to the Ham&High, he said staff were working “all the hours that are available” to adapt council services and keep them running.
Mr Meek described how staff were having to take on new responsibilities whilst coping with additional demand for some existing services – particularly those which support local businesses, many of whom were struggling as a result of lockdown measures.
He said: “The pandemic probably won’t be over until sometime into 2021, so we’re having to look at the sustainability of everything that we’re doing, making sure we’re planning for the long haul and not just the immediate response.”
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Mr Meek said the council was reprioritising work, after the pandemic created new responsibilities for civil servants, such as delivering aid to vulnerable residents who have been told they must not leave their homes for 12 weeks.
He said: “We’re doing food deliveries to vulnerable people, so a lot of the staff whose normal work has been suspended have been diverted to help with that task.
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“For example, we’re not doing parking enforcement in the way that we normally would. That’s partly because people aren’t driving as much, so there’s no need, and it’s also partly because it would just be, I think, not a good use of council resources at this time.
“Obviously, we are not taking a lax attitude to people just parking on double yellow lines. There is some enforcement. But it’s a different regime to what we would normally do.”
Mr Meek has been in charge of Haringey’s emergency planning for 15 years, tackling incidents like the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning, the 7/7 terror attacks and the 2011 riots.
He also led the council’s response to the swine flu outbreak of 2008, which he described as “almost like a dress rehearsal for what we are dealing with now”.
Mr Meek said the council had an emergency plan for a pandemic outbreak but that it had been modelled on seasonal flu, not something as highly contagious as covid-19.
He explained: “We knew infection control was going to be important. But what we didn’t anticipate was the specifics of how that would play out.
“This idea that everybody has to stay two metres apart – that wasn’t there. The idea that everybody would have to stay at home also wasn’t there. So we’ve had to adapt to that.”
Mr Meek was himself forced to stay at home in self-isolation after exhibiting possible coronavirus symptoms, but they never became serious enough for him to be tested.
He said staffing levels at the council were “holding up well”, with sickness rates “only slightly above what they would normally be”.
He added that over 80 per cent of social care staff were still working and, for now, had enough protective equipment (PPE).
“It’s been a difficult issue,” he said when asked about reports of a national PPE shortage. “Initially, supplies were quite scarce and it took a bit of time for that to get unblocked nationally. But we’ve got a local stockpile now.
“We don’t have lots and lots of it. We’ve got some and we’re having to monitor that very closely, day by day.”
He said the council mounted a major operation to locate all rough sleepers in the borough, as Government demanded they all be immediately housed to prevent the spread of the virus. Mr Meek said staff were now seeking additional capacity, as some facilities were overcrowded, making it difficult to comply with social distancing rules.
“We have had offers of space and obviously we’re really very grateful for those,” he said.
Mr Meek said services were being changed so they could continue under lockdown.
Adult learning courses have moved from libraries to online and even democracy may have to be conducted remotely.
Officers are exploring whether councillors can hold debates via video calls, webcasted live to the public.
He said: “People’s public service ethos has really come to the fore. People have been doing some absolutely amazing work and I’m very proud of them.”