Robert Jenrick: Newark's problem of car sharing to work, like at Bakkavor, could see the town into local lockdown
The challenge of car sharing for work in Newark could see the town into local lockdown, says Newark MP Robert Jenrick.
Mr Jenrick told the Advertiser although Newark was in a category just below the most at risk communities for local lockdown like Preston and Leicester, car sharing could tip the town over the edge.
He said to avoid the issue becoming of more significance, those who car share and don't have any other means should wear a mask in the vehicle; wash contact areas; and if socialising after work — distance themselves and respect guidelines.
It comes after 39 cases of coronavirus were confirmed at Newark's largest employer Bakkavor last week, with all of its 1,600 staff to be tested from Wednesday onwards.
"We have heard there is quite a large number of cases linked to Bakkavor and it is less clear whether there's a wider rise of cases in the community," said Mr Jenrick.
"Employers of the town should focus particularly on this challenge about car sharing.
"It is the one things the public health experts consistently say is an issue in the town, and have seen that in other towns and cities that have had to go down the path of local lockdown.
"The evidence the county council and Public Health England have seen suggests the transmission around work places is more through getting to work and contact with colleagues immediately after work, than it is actually in the building.
"That seems to be the main reason the virus is transmitted locally."
Mr Jenrick added members of the public should continue to do their bit by washing their hands, staying apart from others and trying to limit interaction between different households.
He said: "As a result of having testing now available with the mobile unit in the town (lorry park behind Castle House) we hope we get a better sense of how many cases there truly are in the town this week.
"With Bakkavor committed to testing its whole workforce I think within a few days we will have a clearer sense of whether the spike in cases is truly concerning or whether it's something that is more managable.
"If it is of a magnitude that is at all comparable to some of the other parts of the country like Preston and Leicester, local lockdown would be in place then.
"The county council and the government I'm sure will want to take decisive action to protect communities and so it doesn't grow into a bigger issue.
"If more members of the community who have symptoms come forward and get themselves tested, then we will be able to see whether it is at all comparable."
On how important it was for the people of Newark to get tested if they had symptoms, Mr Jenrick said: "Is really important because we have now got a mobile testing unit here behind the council offices, you can go online, book yourself an appointment and come down.
"It's Monday, it doesn't seem particularly busy so far so there should sufficient capacity for anybody in or around the town who wants to take advantage of it.
"And then, obviously if you do test positive, fully cooperate with the track and trace system and fully isolate yourself."
Mr Jenrick said although the county council stated Bakkavor was taking the right steps and could continue to stay open, that this was to be kept under review — and necessary action taken if needed.
"I've not heard of cases rising in any other factory that warrants particular attention," he said. "But I think other employers of the town should take note and follow the same sort of steps Bakkavor are taking.
"I'm in contact with Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, who is aware while Newark is not in the category that we denoted as a watchlist of communities — it is in a group that is somewhat below where we need to be careful.
"I would encourage you to continue to enjoy the summer, taking advantage of local pubs and restaurants, but it's just showing common sense when doing that."
Coronavirus guidance is now available from the district and county councils in multiple languages. Guidance is also available on the gov.uk website.