Local Covid-19 measures could ’cause division and economic decline’

Local measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 could cause divisions across the country and lead to fear and anger among communities, according to scientific advisers.

Restrictions at a local level have the potential to undermine the “we are all in this together” spirit of the national lockdown, according to a paper considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) in July.

Behavioural scientists warn that this could lead to feelings of “isolation, fear, anger, stigmatisation and shame” for those in the affected area.

It may also cause a negative long-term economic impact on towns and cities, as places identified as a coronavirus “hotspot” could be avoided over fears of the virus.

Published by the Government on Friday, the document comes as it was announced that large swathes of northern England and Leicester are to remain under tighter coronavirus measures.

The paper by the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) – which provides behavioural science advice to Sage – advises against using the term “local lockdown”, as it implies punishment of that area.

Although there was no major disorder in Leicester, the first city in the UK to have local measures reintroduced, the paper warns that other areas may not react in the same way.

It says that inconsistency in implementing local measures, such as two areas with the same infection rates but only one having restrictions reintroduced, could trigger social unrest and public disorder.

Regulating the boundaries is another key issue for policing, according to the authors, as members of the public may need to travel out for work or leisure, while some may want to travel in for similar reasons.

In terms of the economic effects, the paper says that areas where restrictions are reimposed could become known as somewhere to avoid.

This could depress local finances “through reduced business takings and local taxation”, the authors say, as avoiding “previously contaminated” areas has been noted in previous studies.

“Moreover, an area that people do not want to visit will become an area in which people do not want to live,” the authors wrote.

“If families no longer move there or current residents move away, the area will suffer long-term economic damage.”

Ethnic minority communities may be “particularly vulnerable” to the effects of local restrictions and there is a risk of racial stigmatisation, according to the paper.

“This situation could be exploited by far and extreme right-wing groups,” the authors add.

People in areas of the North West, West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Leicester face a third week banned for meeting others in their homes or gardens.

While venues including casinos, bowling alleys and conference halls across England prepare to reopen on Saturday, such buildings will not be allowed to reopen in the areas with local measures.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said on Friday that the latest evidence did not show a decrease in the number of cases per 100,000 people in these areas.

Because of this, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and local leaders agreed that the rules should stay in place.