Bristol City Council has introduced new measures to slow down the rapidly rising number of cases of Covid-19, which city leaders described as “Tier 1+”.
In a “critical” moment for the city, the new measures were announced today by Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and the council’s Director of Public Health Christina Gray. They said the approach, developed locally, included national Tier 1 measures plus three new elements:
- “targeted actions” developed locally to reduce the spread of Covid-19
- an enhanced test and trace capability with the council stepping to take over some parts of the national system
- Covid marshalls to encourage people and organisations to follow the rules.
The mayor said if the new approach does not work, the city would face the “inevitable” prospect of being put in Tier 2 or even Tier 3 restrictions.
The Director of Public Health said the new “Tier 1+” approach had been discussed by local authorities in the South West but that Bristol was the first one to adopt it.
Bristol’s infection rate has risen by half in the last week to 340.7 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, which is well above the English average of 222.8. In real numbers, there were 1,579 positive cases of Covid-19 in the seven days up to October 23.
The number of Covid patients in hospital has been rising, up to 55 at Southmead Hospital and roughly 40 at the BRI and Weston General Hospital. Both Bristol’s NHS trusts told the council’s Health and Wellbeing Board today that they were feeling the pressure, but most Covid patients were not in intensive care.
Gray said Tier 1+ was an enhanced version of the city’s Local Outbreak Management Plan “informed by deep dives in intelligence”.
In recent weeks, the main cause of the rise in cases has been schools and universities opening. But Gray said the most worrying rise in infections was among adults of working age – the 30 to 60 year age group.
“What we can see is it’s household mixing – we’re all tired, we want to see our families, we want to see our grandparents – we’re breaching all of that.”
Outbreaks among the student population were easier to contain, she said. In contrast, the “rising tide” of infections among working age adults was happening across the city and so was harder to pinpoint and therefore harder to manage, she said.
Household mixing was at the root of the problem and risked the virus being spread to older and more vulnerable groups, she added.
Some people have asked why Bristol hasn’t been placed in Tier 2, which would restrict household mixing indoors. But Marvin Rees said the government’s decisions on putting local authorities in a certain Tier are not made on case numbers alone, but also hospital admissions, where the virus is “landing” within the population, and whether the government considers the local council has a “degree of control”.
Gray said there will be a two- or three-week delay before we see the effect of the interventions.
“All we’re trying to do is get the behaviour change amongst the population without having to have those additional [restrictions].
“So we are in a very, very critical place, I can’t emphasise that enough”, she said.
‘Enhanced’ local Test-and-Trace
Rees said the council would be taking on elements of the national Test-and-Trace system that had failed.
Gray said the level of contact tracing in Bristol was not where it should be and that the council would be undertaking more of this locally.
She said the council had received £3 million in outbreak control money from the government and will have to pay for the additional resources for more contact tracing from within that budget.
She said she wanted to thank everyone who was coming forward for testing as it not only helped people to identify when they needed to self-isolate and get treatment, but that it helped authorities understand the pattern of spread in the community.
Rees said the “targeted actions” would be driven by local data and tailored to respond to how and where the virus is spreading.
Ms Gray said last night that the actions would focus on areas where people have become “a bit lax”.
But there was no “one single intervention” that would tackle the spread among working age adults.
It was clear that maintaining “Covid-secure behaviours and Covid-secure environments” was effective in reducing the spread of the virus.
So the data would be used to drive actions to bring this about, she said.
“Nothing’s off the table,” she said.
The hospitality sector was one of the most difficult areas to manage, she added.
The council is busy employing eight Covid marshals who should be in place within a week.
The Director of Public Health said they would be full-time but would be mainly deployed in the evenings and the weekends in areas, such as Gloucester Road, where they would be needed most.
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The mayor said the marshals are part of a drive to improve compliance with coronavirus rules by individuals and organisations so that the behaviour of Bristol’s residents and its environments are Covid-safe.
The marshals will, therefore, focus on encouraging compliance rather than having an enforcement role, he said.
But the council will have to take enforcement measures to drive behaviour change as well, he added.
Rees noted that Avon and Somerset Police had handed out more than 400 Covid penalty notices since March – 37 of them since the start of October.
He asked everyone to be “gracious” towards anyone whose job it was to ask people to follow the rules.
The council has also asked Bristolians to have Halloween at home this year.