Published: Thursday, 8 October 2020

Local businesses will be receiving extra support in ensuring they are compliant with new coronavirus rules from the new county-wide COVID secure team.

The team, which is a joint initiative by all Oxfordshire councils, and backed by Government funding, looks to ensure that businesses are complying with the rules, to give the public much-needed peace of mind when out and about.

New penalties for breaking the coronavirus rules have come into force nationally, with fines of up to £10,000 for rule breakers. Fines for not wearing masks or following rules have increased to £200 for the first offence.

The team will be working across Oxfordshire, alongside the existing city and district environmental health teams. Where data shows an emerging risk in a locality, the team will prioritise that area, increasing the impact of local intervention measures.

They will be out and about across the county to ensure that local businesses are continuing to properly abide by regulations, such as the 10pm curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants.

Where necessary, the team will be able to take enforcement action against those who do not comply, with the support of Thames Valley Police.

Supporting business compliance

At its centre, the COVID secure team comprises community safety, environmental health, licencing and trading standards officers from across all six Oxfordshire councils. This builds on work that has been ongoing for several months to ensure businesses understand the rules around coronavirus safety and are operating within the legal requirements.

Within Oxford, the COVID Secure Team has now been in operation for three weeks, building on the work that was already being done by City Centre Ambassadors, helping businesses comply with the rules. 

During the day, the Team is made up of Environmental Health Officers with experience of checking on health and safety regulation, who can check how businesses and managing the risk and help them comply where there are issues. They have communicated with over 1,500 businesses across the city, with a comprehensive checklist for compliance, including ensuring there is enough space for social distancing, checking cleaning routines, provision of PPE, and making sure track and trace is followed. The Team is actively promoting the NHS COVID-19 app, helping businesses understand what they need to do to register and display their own QR code. 

The focus is on hospitality businesses, hairdressers and other ‘dwell time’ businesses, supporting them with the new rules. Businesses that receive a good compliance check are given a ‘covid compliant’ poster to display to show customers they are meeting the standards. As with all health and safety checks there are enforcement powers if needed.

Keeping the evenings covid secure

Evening teams work up to 1am, focused on the night time economy and ensuring customers and businesses are sticking to the rules. They are checking on adherence to the rule of six, wearing facemasks and avoiding crowding where people are out in the evening, as well as making sure that businesses are closed and clear of customers by 10pm. Later, the Team check the parks to make sure that if people are congregating outdoors the rule of six is still being adhered to.

They also act as first response in call-outs of complaints over house parties within the city.  In the evenings the COVID Secure Team, police, with their university colleagues, have dealt with over 160 incidents and compliance visits in the past two weeks.

While the COVID Secure Team has some powers the main enforcement authority is the police. Council officers work closely with Thames Valley Police with an approach of engage, explain, encourage, and enforcement as the last resort. A positive approach is successful in most cases. There is also close working with both universities including their own internal security teams to ensure students as well as local residents are engaged in COVID-safe behaviours.

“We all want to keep infection rates down in Oxford and avoid the need to add any further restrictions locally. The COVID Secure Team has a vital role helping businesses and residents comply.

“Most people and businesses are trying hard to stick to the rules, but it only takes a small number of people or businesses breaking the rules for the spread to rapidly increase. The team is there as a constant reminder that the rules are being followed, and enforcement will be used if necessary. Until medical science finds a solution, controlling the spread is down to how we behave and we all need to protect each other.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council

“We have seen nationally the impact of high infection rates resulting in local lockdowns. Our COVID secure teams will allow us to ensure that we can better help businesses comply with the latest Government guidance, better enforce the rules, and help to prevent us from seeing the kind of restrictions that we have seen elsewhere nationally.”

Ansaf Azhar, Director of Public Health at Oxfordshire County Council

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