Agenda item

Middlesbrough Council's Response to COVID-19

The Chief Executive and Director of Public Health will be in attendance to provide the Board with an update in respect of the Council’s response to COVID-19.


The Chief Executive delivered a presentation to update the Board in respect of the Council’s response to COVID-19.


The following information was provided:


  • In terms of responses to previous queries raised by the Overview and Scrutiny Board:


1.     What was the number of positive cases of COVID-19 amongst teachers and teaching assistants across Middlesbrough?  The figure from September 2020 up to 11 February 2021 was 310.  Currently, 51 pupils and 15 staff across all schools were isolating as a result of positive COVID-19 tests.

2.     Were those drivers, contracted by the Council to transport (vulnerable) children and adults, receiving vaccines? Whilst conversations had taken place with taxi drivers in regards to vaccinations, most were in relation to regular school transport, as opposed to vulnerable children and adults.  As taxi drivers were not listed within priority vaccination groups 1-4, and provision had been made previously (e.g. PPE, screens and face coverings), it was deemed that sufficient mitigation was already in place.  With the anticipated arrival of the mass vaccination centre in Middlesbrough on 22 March 2021, the Council would be looking to push people in particular occupations to attend for vaccination.

  • The latest local COVID-19 position, as at 9 March 2021, was 105.0 rate per 100,000 of the population (last 7 days); this had since reduced and currently stood at 90.
  • South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust COVID-19 data: hospital admission figures tended to follow a couple of weeks behind the infection figures; as at 10 March 2021, there were 65 people in hospital (14 in critical care).  Hospital planning was based on a maximum of 300 COVID-19 patients.
  • Vaccination update: in total, 46,099 people in Middlesbrough had received their first dose, which represented 32.7% of the population.  100% of those aged 70-74 had been vaccinated; 99% of those aged 75-79 had been vaccinated; and 95.4% of those aged 80+ had been vaccinated.  Chase-up work was currently being undertaken, with home visits being carried-out where required.
  • Details of the decisions taken by the Gold Command Group in January, February and March 2021 were outlined to the Board.
  • Lockdown exit planning: several work streams had been established to determine what work needed to be undertaken throughout this period up to June 2021, with Lead Officers assigned to each.  These work streams were:


-        Communications – aligning with national phased exit strategy;

-        Outbreak control (statutory responsibility to update plan) – maintaining testing/vaccinations and refreshing the Outbreak Control Plan;

-        Schools – assistance with testing, summer catch-up activity support, holiday hunger approach, etc.;

-        Business – support in town centre reopening arrangements, Tees Valley vs. Middlesbrough approach to exit arrangements;

-        Communities – support for residents and associated services; and

-        Council – reoccupation and re-induction of staff.


In light of the above, it was explained that consideration was also being given as to how those plans would link with the existing Recovery Strategy.


Following the update, Members were afforded the opportunity to ask questions.


A Member referred to statistics in respect of COVID-19 deaths in comparison to other Local Authorities and queried why Middlesbrough’s regularly appeared to be the highest.  In response, the Chief Executive indicated that there were several reasons why a) there had been more instances of COVID-19 per head of population than many other places, and b) why there had been a higher rate of deaths.  The first revolved around Middlesbrough’s ‘ill population’, i.e. life expectancy in Middlesbrough was approximately five or six years less than the national average.  Life expectancy within the town varied by 14-15 years, and healthy life expectancy varied by up to 20 years.  Reference was made to the high prevalence of respiratory issues, such as COPD, which made individuals more vulnerable to COVID-19.  In terms of individuals contracting the virus, it was also linked to deprivation; unfortunately, Middlesbrough had many of the most deprived wards in the UK.  Middlesbrough also had a significant BAME population – as at the last Census, this was 13.8%.  Finally, Middlesbrough was highly urbanised and had the same population as Redcar, which was four or five times the size of Middlesbrough geographically, and therefore more people were living closer together.  All those factors had come together to produce the statistics that had been seen.


A Member referred to ‘The White Feather Project’ and indicated that this currently operated seven days per week, sometimes for 24 hours per day.  The Member wished to convey a message of thanks and to congratulate those involved; the project had recently celebrated its one year anniversary.


In response to an enquiry regarding Council meetings and a return to the Town Hall, the Chief Executive explained that the legislation permitting remote meetings would expire in May 2021.  It was possible that a hybrid format for meetings would be followed in order to facilitate attendance, but this was currently being explored.


A Member queried the action being undertaken by Middlesbrough Council to encourage people to get vaccinated.  In response, the Chief Executive highlighted that Middlesbrough Council was not responsible for vaccinations – this was the responsibility of the NHS.  However, through the Council’s Public Health function and its normal business, the Council did wish to promote the vaccination programme and get as many people vaccinated as possible.  A communications strategy had been established in respect of this, part of which involved the appointment of a network of COVID-19 champions within local communities, which had worked work during the initial outbreak stages and the communication of key hygiene messages.  Work was currently being undertaken to examine the possibility of linking in with Middlesbrough Football Club to promote uptake, and officers were also looking at placing localised vaccination sites in communities across Middlesbrough, particularly where take-up was low.


A Member referred to the decisions taken by the Gold Command Group and the reference to Tees Valley vs. Middlesbrough in respect of the business work stream; clarification was sought regarding this.  In response, the Chief Executive explained that this was not concerned with competition; the TVCA was providing support to businesses at this time, looking at the impact of COVID-19 on the economy across the Tees Valley.  TVCA had a business support line in place; the funds to support those businesses were allocated directly to the Local Authorities to determine expenditure.  This reference was about ensuring that the two did not link.


A Member referred to the vaccination centre that would be opened in Middlesbrough and queried the coordination of appointments, as some residents were currently required to attend other areas, such as Darlington and York, which meant that some may miss out if not able to travel.  It was also queried whether the vaccination statistics for Middlesbrough included those residents that had attended other areas.  In response, the Chief Executive explained that in terms of the figures for vaccinations, that was based on residency and not where they were vaccinated.  Appointments were arranged via a national system for vaccinations - it was envisaged that the system would look up where slots were available and offer one that was closest to the individual’s home.  Unfortunately, Middlesbrough’s mass vaccination centre had arrived later than other areas; however, this would be available and operational within the next two weeks.  The centre would operate for 12 hours per day.


A Member referred to asymptomatic test sites and queried whether records would be kept for the number of people attending.  In response, the Chief Executive advised that figures were recorded for the six asymptomatic test sites in Middlesbrough; the example of 1000 people being tested at Middlesbrough Sports Village, with 10 testing positive, was provided.


In response to a request for clarification regarding the vaccination update, the Chief Executive indicated that 16,000 of the 46,099 doses issued had been to over 70s; reference was made to the percentage of doses that had been issued to each age group.  Consideration was given to the national performance of the vaccination roll-out in comparison to other countries and territories.


A Member referred to Children Looked After and welcomed the additional funding that had been made available to this group.  Regarding use of the terminology ‘holiday hunger’, which was felt to be particularly negative, it was queried whether more positive terminology could be utilised in future.  In response, the Chief Executive acknowledged this point, and made reference to an impending Executive report in which a holiday activity fund would be discussed.  Dealing with hunger was just one aspect – other areas such as anxiety, confidence building and wraparound support provided to children also needed to be considered.


In response to a comment regarding the current age range for vaccinations and the potential that school teachers be may required to leave schools during peak times (suggesting that weekend appointments be more appropriate), the Chief Executive explained that officers had been pushing for a number of roles and occupations that did not appear to be in priority groupings, such as school staff and refuse collectors, to be moved up the list. In addition, efforts had also been made for weekend vaccination appointments to be made available for such roles as teaching and non-teaching school support staff.  Unfortunately, it was a national priority list that needed to be followed and there was not a lot of local discretion.


A Member referred to vaccination appointments and commented that, in order to make an appointment at a local vaccination centre, booking via a GP could potentially assist.


A Member queried the definition of PPE in educational settings.  In response, the Chief Executive advised that schools were responsible for undertaking their own health and safety risk assessments, which meant that there would be a wide range of PPE, including hand sanitiser, visors, gloves and face masks.  It was explained that whatever PPE was needed, legally it was the responsibility of the employer to undertake a COVID-19 risk assessment, identify the mitigation that was required to make it COVID-19 secure, and then provide that mitigation.  There was a definitive list of standard PPE and the Council did have a central depository.  The Member commented upon the face coverings being worn in some areas that may not be of clinical grade.


With regards to the reopening roadmap, a Member queried how matters could potentially proceed for wedding venues and similar after 21 June 2021.  In response, the Chief Executive advised that he did not know anything further than the Members, but felt that this would depend on the success of the vaccination programme (and the percentage of the population vaccinated); the test that the Government was going to apply before each phase of the easement of lockdown commenced; and also on infection and hospital rates.  In terms of the reoccupation of office space, it was envisaged that a return to pre-COVID-19 levels would not be realised because the virus would not simply disappear.  A return to the Civic Centre was not anticipated to take place until at least September 2021, as Government guidance would first need to be released, reviewed and then initiated.  It was possible that weddings would take place and nightclubs reopened, but restrictions against attendance would be put in place.


A Member queried the percentage of BME individuals who had refused a vaccine.  In response, the Chief Executive explained that, to date, the only statistics available in terms of refusal related to care home workers; no figures had been provided in respect of ethnicity.


The Chair thanked the Chief Executive for his attendance and contribution to the meeting.





AGREED that in accordance with Council Procedure Rule No. 5, the Board agreed to vary the order of business to consider the remaining agenda items in the following order: 10, 9, 11, 12 and 13.