Councils ordered to keep parks open during coronavirus lockdown

18 April 2020, 17:05 | Updated: 18 April 2020, 19:28

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick gave Saturday's press conference
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick gave Saturday's press conference. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The communities secretary has ordered councils to keep parks open amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking at the government’s daily press briefing on Saturday, Robert Jenrick said he had "made it clear" to councils that all parks must remain open after some closed their gates in recent weeks.

But he warned people must abide by social-distancing rules, and not congregate in the green spaces.

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Mr Jenrick said lockdown measures were harder for those without gardens or open spaces and that "people need parks", saying they needed to be accessible for "the health of the nation".

During the press conference, the Secretary of State also asked councils to keep cemeteries open to allow families to grieve for their loved ones and said the government would be publishing further guidance on funerals.

His comments came as the UK's death toll rose 888 to 15,464, with 114,217 confirmed cases.

Mr Jenrick also announced an additional £1.6 billion of new funding to support councils "with the pressures that they face as they respond to Covid-19".

He said it took the total amount provided to councils to help them through the pandemic to more than £3.2 billion.

Mr Jenrick said the Government will pay out £850 million to councils this month to help the most vulnerable.

At the briefing, he said: "We are also helping councils with inevitable cash flow challenges by deferring £2.6 billion in business rate payments to central government, and paying them £850 million in social care grants upfront this month.

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"Working with councils and charities, we have made huge progress in protecting the most vulnerable during this national emergency."

Mr Jenrick also discussed the shortage of PPE in the NHS, with many doctors and nurses fearing supplies could run out entirely this weekend.

The communities secretary said "a very large consignment" of PPE - including 400,000 gowns - is due to arrive in the UK from Turkey on Sunday.

He said: "Today I can report that a very large consignment of PPE is due to arrive in the UK tomorrow from Turkey, which amounts to 84 tonnes of PPE and will include for example, 400,000 gowns - so a very significant additional shipment.

"But demand is also very high. We are working with British manufacturers to ensure that they can make a contribution, and you've heard of some of the more prominent ones like Burberry and Barbour but there are many SMEs as well being involved in that, and my department is also involved in trying to ensure that the supplies that we have get out, not just to the NHS, critical though that is, but also to social care, often to smaller establishments like care homes, all across the country.

"There's over 50,000 healthcare settings like that in the country, and we're using local resilience forums, backed by almost 200 military planners to do the logistical task of taking the stocks that we do have, and getting them to the front line, but I completely accept that this is extremely challenging.

"Supply in some areas, particularly gowns and certain types of masks and aprons, is in short supply at the moment, and that must be an extremely anxious time for people working on the front line, but they should be assured that we are doing everything we can to correct this issue, and to get them the equipment that they need."

Asked about PPE, Professor Stephen Powis, who also spoke at the briefing, said: "I'm a doctor, I've worked for many years on the front line and I can absolutely assure you for me and my clinical colleagues, this is very personal.

"These are my friends, colleagues, extended family."

He said the Government was working "incredibly hard" to deliver PPE to frontline health staff, including a shipment arriving on Sunday, but stressed there was a "global emergency" and strains on supply chains across the world.

He added: "The Government does stockpile PPE for pandemics, and that has been incredibly important and useful in our response to this."

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