With COVID-19 cases rising across the UK, local lockdowns to combat spikes in the virus are becoming more common. One such lockdown is currently in place in Caerphilly, Wales.
After recording over 130 new cases in a seven-day period, equivalent to a rate of 55.4 cases per 100,000 population, the Welsh government announced on Tuesday 8 September that various measures to mitigate further spread of the virus were to be implemented in the area.
These include people being prohibited from entering or leaving the Caerphilly County Borough Council area without a reasonable excuse. Everyone over 11 years of age must wear a mask in indoor public places such as shops, and people from different households are only allowed to meet outdoors.
The lockdown came as a shock to some, but for others served as a confirmation of their concern.
“It did feel like some people were getting quite comfortable,” says UNISON Caerphilly branch secretary Lianne Dallimore. “Normal life was starting to creep back into Caerphilly, some people were in their workplaces, meeting friends and family in pubs and restaurants and being more relaxed about social distancing.”
Council workers were among those slowly returning to offices, on rotas. But now, after a brief semblance of normality, everyone in the area has been told to revert to working from home wherever possible.
“It feels at times like we’re back to square one. A lot of people in the area are disappointed, even angry,” Lianne continues.
“Imagine having shielded for months and as soon as you feel you can come back out, cases rise and you’re put straight back into a local lockdown.
“I’m sure it will affect people’s mental health – we’ve certainly been hearing from a lot of anxious people.”
When asked if the lockdown had caused a dip in morale amongst staff, she says: “I don’t think it has hit morale as such. It’s more a sense of frustration. I think they understand that these measures are necessary and Caerphilly council has a great workforce who, time and again, show they are willing to roll up their sleeves and get on with it.”
This attitude is no better demonstrated than by their work in providing free school meals.
Knowing the importance of free school meals to many families, the council jumped into action when schools were closed in March, building a scheme to provide locally sourced school meals delivered to doors completely free of charge (pictured above, council colleagues in their makeshift packing and distribution centre). The scheme provided over 700,000 meals through the closure and school holidays. With schools reopening, it’s due to finish at the end of September.
That reopening remains a thorny issue. Monday 14 September marked the first day of the return of all pupils, and schools are due to remain open throughout the local lockdown.
“Schools are a real source of concern,” says Lianne. “Children over 11 have to wear face masks in public indoor spaces, but they don’t in a crowded classroom, where they’re going to be spending a lot more time. We understand it’s a difficult situation with a lot of considerations, but the safety of our school staff and the pupils has to be paramount.”
Nevertheless, Lianne (pictured above), who was voted ‘rep of the year’ in the Cymru Wales Awards 2019, thinks the Welsh Government did the right thing in acting quickly, and that the swift action should avoid the lockdown lasting too long.
“Now it’s just a case of everyone in the community pulling together and doing their bit to stop the transmission of the virus.”
This message was emphasised by a joint trade union statement to the people of Caerphilly by the local branches of UNISON, GMB and Unite.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder – two metres apart – with everyone in lockdown, but this must be a collective effort,” the statement says.
“Hundreds of your council workers have fought tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep services running for the benefit of the community.
“School support staff, care workers, refuse workers and others continue to put themselves on the front line for the sake of residents and their family members. The very least we can do is abide by the rules that will make them, and us, safer.”
The Caerphilly lockdown will be reviewed next week. Lianne will be speaking for everyone in the county when she says: “Hopefully, that can show us a light at the end of the tunnel.”