A number of temporary changes are being made to a North East council’s services in line with the latest government guidance during the Cosmopolitan Flu outbreak

Following an announcement from the Prime Minister last night, Monday 23 March, which told residents to stay at home and practice social distancing as much as possible, Durham County Council will be working to maintain essential services, especially to support the most vulnerable.

All Customer Access Points have been closed until further notice to avoid any spread of the virus through face-to-face contact. However, the customer contact centre is still open and responding to online and telephone enquiries by calling 03000 26 0000.

Details of these can be found at www.durham.gov.uk/customeraccesspoints

While parks in County Durham will remain open to local residents for exercise, all play areas and beaches are closed to the public to help prevent any further spread of the virus. Similarly, all household waste recycling centres are closed until further notice.

Rubbish and recycling collections remain as normal, however the council is asking members of the public who are homeworking to park appropriately and leave access for bin crews to get lorries into estates and down small roads. As usual, residents should put their bins out for collection at 7am on their collection day but are being asked to be patient with bin crews during this difficult time.

To support rubbish and recycling collections, Garden Waste Collections will be delayed until Tuesday 28 April. Residents will still receive all 17 collections as part of their subscription and the council is contacting all customers to let them know of the changes.

Some registry ceremonial services, such as weddings, civil partnerships and non-statutory celebrations, have also been suspended in line with government advice. Funeral services will continue to be held but attendance will be limited to 15 people, and a free webcast will be available to download of services the following day for those who are unable to attend.

As passenger numbers on public transport are expected to fall significantly during this time, Durham’s park and ride service will run on a reduced service. From Wednesday, 25 March, the Howlands site will not be running a service although the car park will remain open for those who wish to park and walk into the city centre. This will allow the council to continue operating a good level of service from the sites at Belmont and Sniperly which link to both the City Centre and the University Hospital. In addition, the council will be suspending parking charges in all of its car parks both on and off-street to assist key workers.

Council pest control services will also be reduced and will only be accepting bookings relating to treatment of rats, mice, bed bugs, cockroaches and fleas. This will be kept under review in line with current government advice and will be monitored on a weekly basis.

Parents who are struggling to buy formula milk at the supermarket due to low stock can alternatively order from their local pharmacy. For any further advice or support contact local health visiting teams on 03000 263 538, while pharmacies can be contacted at www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-pharmacy

While schools remain open to pupils who are either vulnerable or children of key workers, parents are being reminded to only send their children to school if it is absolutely necessary. Transport to school, if needed, will continue to run for the foreseeable future.

Parents who have children in nurseries or with childminders can check the latest closure and key worker information at www.countydurhamfamilies.info

Free school meals for eligible children continue to be provided by schools and from today, the council has introduced new measures to make it easier for schools to purchase food vouchers for families if this is their chosen way to provide a meal. This interim measure is in place while the council waits for government guidance on a national voucher scheme.

In line with government guidance on social distancing, Durham County Carer Support Service will focus on telephone, email and social media. The service will not be delivering face-to-face support unless it is exceptional circumstances. All training, support groups and events over the next few weeks have been cancelled, and this decision will be reviewed in four weeks.

Carers in County Durham who need advice and support can continue to contact the service by telephone on 0300 005 1213 or keep up to date through Facebook.

The council has received guidance on two key business grant schemes, where the Government wants authorities to make the grant payments on or around 1 April. The council’s finance team is busy working through this guidance and making arrangements to get this support to eligible businesses as soon as possible.

For details of the schemes, go to www.durham.gov.uk and www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-support

Business Durham’s engagement staff are also available and can be contacted via telephone on 03000 261261 and online for support and business advice. The team continue to provide updates through daily news, on their website and through social media channels. For details visit www.businessdurham.co.uk

All roadworks will stop with the exemption of critical and emergency works which includes emergency repairs, winter gritting, road traffic accidents and emergency highway defects. It will take site workers three days to close down sites and to leave them in a safe position. The cones and temporary signs will have to remain in place for the safety of all road users, so drivers are asked to be mindful when passing through and report any incidents.

The council will be supporting key voluntary services through its 14 Area Action Partnerships (AAPs). Each AAP’s Facebook site will also be used to highlight the support that is available locally.

You can find a link to your own AAP at www.durham.gov.uk/AAPs

Geoff Paul, Durham County Council’s corporate director of regeneration and local services, said: “Following the Prime Minister’s latest advice, we have been working hard to ensure that essential services are delivered for residents and communities throughout the county. We are committed to supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, and I am delighted with the positive response from all employees.’’

“We have also had fantastic response from many volunteers and all residents are being urged to be good neighbours during these uncertain times and think about who is living next door.

“In the meantime, we would like to stress the importance that residents stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary. This is to stop the spread of Coronavirus and protect lives. We will continue to deliver these essential services and appreciate the support we continue to receive from members of the public.’’

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