Do not help your flood-hit neighbours, a council has warned amid concern "gestures of kindness and goodwill" could fuel the spread of Covid.
Hundreds of properties in England and Wales have been flooded after days of heavy rain caused by Storm Christoph, leaving families displaced during a national lockdown.
A severe flood warning - meaning danger to life - was in force on Friday for the River Dee at Farndon, Cheshire, while 138 flood warnings, indicating that flooding is expected, were issued across other parts of the country.
The Coastguard released footage of a particularly daring rescue effort which saw three people, including a child, lifted into a helicopter by a winch from their flooded home in North Wales.
Social distancing has this year been at the heart of councils’ emergency response as public health officials try to prevent rescue operations turning into the scene of viral outbreaks.
On Friday, a local authority in one of the worst-affected parts of the country even sought to stamp out the displays of community spirit that can follow destructive storms as volunteers rush to assist the relief effort.
Warrington Borough Council released a statement, co-signed by its director of public health, urging the public to “avoid going to any community venues that may have opened”.
“People congregating indoors poses significant risks of coronavirus being transmitted,” it continued.
The authority said it had seen “many gestures of kindness and goodwill from our communities who are supporting those affected”, but added: “Coronavirus can, and will, spread very easily and will take advantage of any occasion where people are gathering or sharing supplies that may be being passed around.”
— HM Coastguard (@HMCoastguard) January 22, 2021
The Environment Agency (EA) said, by Friday afternoon, around 400 properties had been flooded in England and warned families in northern and central parts of England to “prepare for the risk of significant flooding into the weekend”.
It came as George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said the Government was planning to give the public body more power to influence development on flood plains.
"We are looking at strengthening the role for the Environment Agency in the planning system, so that if a local authority ignored their advice, it would have to be escalated to the Secretary of State for decisions," he said.
He added that it would be "tougher on the presumption against building in areas where there's a flood risk.”
The EA advises on flood plain development, but has no power over whether local authorities follow their guidance when granting permission.
Despite a warning last year from EA chief James Bevan that building on flood plains should be avoided, more than 10,000 homes are planned for areas at the highest risk.
A planned review of the policy from Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has yet to be completed.
The Met Office has said Storm Christoph is now set to give way to colder winter weather over the weekend as rainfall begins to ease.