SOLIHULL SUPERMARKETS: Concern as Covid variant takes hold
Solihull supermarkets are facing fresh calls to introduce stricter rules to keep customers safe, in light of alarming new data on the “mutant strain” of Covid.
In recent weeks, senior councillors have voiced frustration that too many of the measures introduced last year had been set aside.
And there is concern this exposes some visitors – who rarely go out otherwise – to the risk of catching the virus.
Public health bosses are worried by anecdotal reports of people who seem to have been infected while grocery shopping.
Systems to reduce the risk of transmission are seen as even more critical, given that a new variant of the virus now makes up almost three quarters of new borough cases and can be passed on far more easily.
Cllr Ken Meeson, cabinet member for children, education and skills, said this week that stores had responded to pressure but needed to go further.
Addressing Solihull’s health and wellbeing board, he said: “Whilst the supermarkets do seem to be a little stricter than they were … there still doesn’t seem to be anything happening around ensuring an effective one-way system around stores. Nobody seems to be doing that.”
As essential shops, supermarkets are coming under renewed scrutiny during the latest lockdown – although the range of other businesses opening is slightly wider than last spring.
Ministers are this week pushing local authorities to carry out further checks to ensure that retailers are Covid-secure and enforcing rules around social distancing, masks and numbers allowed in.
Ruth Tennant, Solihull Council’s director of public health, said: “Compliance in supermarkets is really, really crucial.
“It’s one of the few places that people can go and actually with the new variant we know it spreads much more quickly.”
According to the latest data, the mutant strain of Covid-19 – which is far easier to transmit – now accounts for 70 per cent of new cases recorded in the borough.
This shows how rapidly the variant, thought to have originated in Kent, has become the dominant strain in the region.
In December it had been suggested that it was responsible for just one in 10 cases in the West Midlands.
As Solihull grapples with the “toughest” period of the pandemic, the council has also stepped up enforcement action and spot checks more generally.
Within a week, two restaurants have been served with directions to close over concerns about failures to follow Covid rules.
The notices – issued under powers made available to local authorities to enforce coronavirus restrictions – were handed to Shirley Spice, on the Stratford Road, and Saleem Bagh, in Dorridge.
The new variant:
The new variant was first detected in September but the increased risk it posed only came to public attention last month.
Originally concentrated in London and the South East, its dominance started to become apparent in hotspot areas during the November lockdown.
Analysis suggests it is no more likely to cause serious illness than the older strain, but it transmits more easily, driving up cases – which will inevitably lead to more hospitalisations.
Critics have said that the high levels of community transmission in the UK made the chances of a new variant emerging here more likely and the government should have done more to keep the virus in check.
Other strains causing concern have originated in South Africa and Brazil.
While scientists do not believe the virus has changed enough to evade vaccines, the concern is that a variant may eventually arise which is resistant to the jabs – or greatly reduces their effectiveness.
Words: David Irwin, Local Democracy Reporter
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