DRACONIAN powers forcing a person to self-isolate for up to 28 days are available to Southend Council as part of a targeted control plan to avoid a local lockdown.

The new infection control plan spells out a series of measures the council can use as a last resort in the fight to stop Covid-19 spreading.

The council can apply for a court order to make someone self-isolate and can “close or destroy” properties and keep children away from school.

The majority of the powers would require approval from magistrates before they can be enforced.

But under Public Health legislation, they include the council being able to force an individual to quarantine for up to 28 days if they are or may be infected with the virus.

The council also has the power to order “infected premises to be closed or cleaned or destroyed”. This power, the plan notes, is “potentially useful”.

Other powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act can immediately put a stop to work at a specific business where there is a possible infection risk.

Under health protection regulations the council can order a parent to keep a child away from school “who is or may be” infected.

Independent councillor Martin Terry, responsible for community safety, stressed the powers would used as a “last resort”.

He said: “They are there for situations such as where we have someone behaving irresponsibly and refusing to support the community in efforts to stop the community spread.

“They are generic powers given by the Government and I have no doubt someone, somewhere in the country will behave irresponsibly and there will be a need for more these more draconian powers but I don’t envisage that happening in Southend.

“What it does do is highlight the seriousness of the situation and the reason for the powers is the virus is so dangerous and if we don’t control it, people will be killed.”

The council documents further show that there is no “general power” to require people to stay apart or at home, and places cannot be closed only as a precaution and without reason.

Mr Terry added: “Not having the more general powers acts to counterbalance the more draconian things.”

The powers will work alongside the council’s contact tracing service, launched with Essex County Council.

The service will target cases linked to high-risk groups including the elderly, bedsit tenants and special schools.

When someone within these groups tests positive for the virus, contact tracing will help identify anyone who has been in contact with them and the councils will then make a decision on who should self-isolate and whether further lockdown measures need to be taken.