By Anne North
Cornwall Council’s ability to protect public health against Covid infection will be tested in the next few days, following the English government’s refusal to follow the examples of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and close nightclubs.
Boris Johnson’s gamble – hoping that the National Health Service will not be overwhelmed next month – means that New Year’s Eve parties can now go ahead. Several parties are planned in Newquay, which already has the highest level of Covid infection in Cornwall and is above average for England.
The infection rate in Newquay West is currently 1,152 new daily cases per 100,000 population, having nearly doubled in the week before Christmas.
Mandatory Covid rules announced by the government as part of its “Plan B” on 8th December require anyone seeking entry to a nightclub to produce either a vaccination passport or proof of a negative lateral flow test.
But although the rules were voted into law by Parliament, Cornwall Council insists that it has no responsibility to enforce them – and that it is up to events’ organisers to provide their own checks. Anyone concerned that the rules are not being followed can then complain to County Hall, whose “Covid enforcement team” might investigate later.
The passport rule applies to “nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees.”
Practical difficulties with enforcement led County Hall to abandon its own planned New Year’s Eve fireworks’ party in St Ives. Officials decided the risk of having to investigate themselves for failing to apply the "Plan B" rules would be politically indefensible.
Scientists have reacted with dismay to the government’s abdication of responsibility for public health, and elevation of commercial interests in the hospitality sector above pressures on the NHS. Health workers say Mr Johnson’s policy is driven by fear of a Conservative Party leadership challenge, rather than the reality of what is happening in hospital wards.
Cornwall’s New Year looks set to contrast sharply with those in the devolved nations:
Eat, drink and be merry - for tomorrow you may die. Covid has so far killed 731 people in Cornwall.
Indoor events are now limited to 100 people standing or 200 people sitting, while outdoor events will be capped at 500 people
One metre physical distancing will be required at public events.
Pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms have to ensure a one metre distance between groups of people
Groups of people meeting limited to three households
Table service required in hospitality venues offering alcohol
No more than six people can meet at pubs, cinemas and restaurants
Outdoor events are limited to 50 people, and there is a maximum capacity of 30 for indoor events, including in private homes
Two-metre social distancing is required in offices and public places
Nightclubs have to close
In Northern Ireland:
Nightclubs must remain closed and indoor standing events are banned. Pubs, cafes and restaurants have to provide table service only, while no more than six people from different households will be allowed to sit together.