An east London council is paying for people to self-isolate in hotel rooms to stop the spread of Covid in crowded households.
Newham is the first local authority in the country to set up such a scheme, which it hopes will help drive down high, though falling, case rates. It has decided to use what Covid funding it has from the government to launch the pilot, which will last at least two months and can support up to 15 people at a time.
The borough has a disproportionate number of people living in multi-generational households and cramped houseshares. It also has the country’s highest rate of families in temporary accommodation – 48 in every 1,000.
People in these groups are now being offered the chance to isolate in a hotel if they are contacted by Test and Trace, or develop symptoms. Alternatively, if it’s more convenient, other members of their household can move into a second hotel that has been secured for the scheme.
Newham’s director of public health Jason Strelitz told HuffPost UK having nine sites in the borough offering 40-minute testing has made the project possible, given the quick turnaround needed for it to stop the virus spreading.
Strelitz said: “Overcrowding is a major issue in our community and multi-generational households are a real feature too. And these are homes where people have to be out to work and older people stay at home, so it’s a major issue.
“We can’t say hand on heart we’re going to be able to make it work effectively, but we think it’s really, really important to try.
“We’re going to be supporting communities for a long time to come and those overcrowded households and multigenerational homes will be at risk as long as we have Covid in our community.”
Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities – who are disproportionately affected by coronavirus – make up almost three-quarters of Newham’s population.
It is one of the most deprived boroughs in the country and in the first wave of the pandemic had the second highest mortality rate in England and Wales – 196.8 deaths for every 100,000 people.
It is feared many people are defying orders to self-isolate for 10 days because they can’t afford to take time off work.
Nearly three-quarters of people in Newham said a guarantee that they would not lose their job would make them more likely to self-isolate, according to research by the council.
Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said the local authority is offering financial support – but has also demanded the government does more.
“Every day I listen to worried Newham residents who cannot afford to stay away from work,” she said, “and it’s why from the outset of this deadly pandemic, we’ve been demanding that government provide councils like ours more money through the Covid-19 deprivation premium so that we can fully support them.
“As well as that, this out of touch government needs to make higher universal sick pay and hardships grants payable immediately to support working people to self-isolate and defeat the Covid-19 virus.”
A report by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) in November found the presence of multiple generations within single households is a key factor in the risk of Covid-19 infection and death, even taking into account deprivation and other factors those households also experience.
The risk is particularly significant within households in south Asian communities, the scientists found.
Strelitz said those who do take up the offer will have their shopping delivered, health checks, and the option of a befriending service. This is seen as vital because the research found that second on the list of things stopping people from quarantining was the impact on their mental wellbeing.
Other councils have already been in touch hoping to adopt the same approach.