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Coronavirus will 'test council services to the maximum' - Durham County Council leader on measures to cope with Covid-19

The coronavirus outbreak will ‘test council services to the maximum’, the authority’s leader has said.

By Chris Binding
Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 1:19 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd March 2020, 4:16 pm

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Durham County Council is introducing measures to help stem the spread of Covid-19 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s drastic address to the nation on Monday.

Council leader Simon Henig updated the county’s ruling cabinet on the council’s response to Covid-19 as cases continue to rise across the UK.

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Councillor Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council.

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Changes to services are expected with further updates on the council’s culture, sports and library offer set to be announced this afternoon.

Council meetings are also set to be cancelled this month.

Council bosses have stressed steps are being taken to “provide community leadership and support to our communities in what are truly unprecedented, uncertain and challenging times for everyone.”

“The current situation will, without doubt, test and stretch our ability to deliver services to the maximum,” council leader, Simon Henig, said.

“We’re working tirelessly to plan and deal with the impact of the coronavirus with an absolute focus on protecting and maintaining services for vulnerable adults, children and other priority services our communities rely on.

“We’re working closely with our partners locally and across the region and following national guidance which is changing very quickly from day to day.

“Given the latest information and guidance from Government, there are likely to be implications for the delivery of services as some staff work from home wherever this is possible or have to self-isolate.

“Through our planning we’re looking at ways we can work differently to ensure business continuity wherever possible.

“We will ensure that any service disruption or change is communicated to residents – and ongoing engagement with communities will be a priority.

“In reviewing the way in which we work, we’re taking sensible and pragmatic decisions around how we meet and where we work from – and will continue to make decisions based on the most up to date advice and guidance.

“Based on current guidance on social distancing we have taken the decision that no further council meetings will take place or be convened in March.

“We will keep this under review as we await further information from Government on council meetings going forward.”

Coun Henig said that the council has already had several offers and ideas related to volunteering and recognises the “important role the community and voluntary sector organisations play in supporting people.”

“We recognise that when people are in isolation, they’re going to need support and assistance and for many, this will be provided by friends and family,” he said.

“Where this is not possible, it is important we all act as good citizens and neighbours for those we live alongside.”

As part of a “focus on local need”, the council aims to work with the voluntary and community sector alongside coordinating activity through the council’s Area Action Partnerships.

The council leader added he was conscious of the economic impact of coronavirus on local people, families and businesses and the associated effects on well-being.

He pledged that the council would support communities and businesses and implement any Government backed initiatives as “quickly as possible” once details are revealed.

Coun Henig said: “Our staff are hard-working and loyal and I would like to pass on my thanks for everyone’s work in these challenging times.

“We will continue to do everything we can to help the people of our county. We have dealt with emergency situations although with reduced resources this is likely to be our greatest challenge.

“Our success in County Durham has been achieved through working in partnership and it is more important than ever that we work together to protect our most vulnerable residents and our communities the best way we can.

“Regrettably it will be necessary for the council to make some changes to the services that we normally provide with further announcements to be made today regarding our culture, sports and library offer.

“We do this with the priority of protecting our residents and staff whilst adhering to the advice we’re receiving from Government.”

At the time of writing there were 1,950 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK including one in County Durham.

The illness can affect the lungs and airways and symptoms include a high temperature and a “new, continuous cough.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced drastic measures in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

These included asking people to avoid pubs, restaurants and social gatherings, and to work from home where possible.

For more information, visit: www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus