Oxford’s COVID Secure Team has already completed more than 1,400 business spot checks to help stop the spread of coronavirus in the city.
The team visits businesses to provide them with the latest information and guidance about how to comply with the Government’s coronavirus rules – and take action against those that are not.
During lockdown only certain businesses were allowed to open, and even then could only operate in a certain way or at certain times. For example, hospitality businesses could only operate as takeaways and retailers only as click and collect.
Oxford and Oxfordshire will move into Tier 2 yesterday (2 December), which will free up more businesses activities – but new restrictions will be placed on key areas, such as hospitality and indoor activities.
The COVID Secure Team is a joint initiative by all Oxfordshire’s councils and is backed by Government funding. In Oxford, the team is operated by Oxford City Council.
Three months of operations
The county-wide COVID Secure Team was created in September and comprises officers from community safety, environmental health, licensing and trading standards teams from across all six Oxfordshire councils.
The team also works closely with Thames Valley Police and both universities, including the university’s internal security teams.
As well as daytime business visits, the COVID Secure Team also carries out evening and night-time work.
Team members always carry official identification and wear face coverings.
More than 1,400 hundred spot checks
The COVID Secure Team has now carried out more than 1,400 visits to almost 1,000 businesses across Oxford, providing them with information and guidance about the latest rules, and checking that they are complying with them.
The team has also sent regular letters to more than 1,500 businesses in Oxford with the latest information to help them comply with Government rules.
The rules for businesses have changed several times during recent months, as Oxford moved from Tier 2 to lockdown. From 2 December, the city will enter a new Tier 2.
The COVID Secure Team carries out spot checks routinely in areas with high footfall, in response to complaints from members of the public, or because a particular type of business is believed to need additional information or attention.
Since March, the team has responded to more than 500 complaints from members of the public about businesses in Oxford failing to meet the Government’s coronavirus rules.
The most common complaints include a lack of social distancing at a business, employees or customers not wearing face masks, and businesses staying open when they should be closed.
Action taken against two takeaways
The COVID Secure Team has the power to issue fines of up to £10,000 to businesses that fail to comply with the coronavirus rules.
However, where possible the team aims to persuade business owners to comply with the rules before issuing any fines.
The team issued its first fines last month – to KFC and Bodrum Kebab in Cowley Road – after observing both businesses breaching the rules repeatedly. As it was a first offence for both businesses, they were only fined £1,000. Both businesses have been fully compliant since then.
Residents can report issues and concerns by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Further support for businesses
Alongside providing information and guidance about the latest Government rules, the City Council has also worked quickly to make Government grants available to businesses in Oxford.
The City Council has also supported businesses in Oxford by pedestrianising roads to create space for outdoor dining, installing new bike racks across the city, and making parking at Oxford’s five park and rides free throughout August.
“Typically, we visit about 50 businesses a day. Most businesses welcome our visits and welcome our support. They know they’re being asked to protect public health, and they take that responsibility really seriously.
“But we are seeing some that are flouting the rules and putting people’s health at risk – things like providing customer seating during lockdown or letting customers in when it should be click and collect only, and in the evening there are several that have traded later than they’re meant to.
“It’s our job to check the rules are being followed – just like we check restaurant kitchens pass hygiene standards – to protect the public.”
Nick, a member of the COVID Secure team
“We are doing everything we can to support people and businesses through lockdown and into the new Tier 2.
“Most businesses have been great about working with us on the new rules, and we have a responsibility to these businesses as well as to residents that any rule breakers are challenged, and fined if need be.
“The team is doing a difficult job, their work is helping keep us all safe from the virus. They know businesses are finding this tough and are there to be constructive within the rules, but businesses that knowingly break them are putting other people’s jobs and health at risk.
“We want this lockdown to be as effective as possible at stopping the spread, as we have to live with the restrictions let’s make it really count.”
Councillor Louise Upton, Cabinet Member for Safer, Healthy Oxford