Suffolk to be in Tier 2 in local lockdown system

The entire East of England has been put in Tier Two when the lockdown ends next week – meaning pubs cannot serve alcohol without a substantial meal.

The news comes as massive blow to hospitality businesses in Suffolk and Essex where there are relatively low levels of Covid infection – but the government’s decision to stick with large regions put this area alongside Luton and towns near the M25 which have much higher infection levels.

Health Secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock said it was a difficult decision to place his home county in Tier Two because he knew the figure here was so low.

He praised local NHS services in Suffolk for their role in combatting the virus. However despite his own constituency having the lowest coronavirus case rate among the over 60s, Mr Hancock said it is necessary for Suffolk to be placed under Tier 2 restrictions.

MORE: Tier 2 explained as Suffolk and Essex to be placed under ‘high’ restrictions

He said: “My own constituency of West Suffolk has the lowest case rate for over-60s in the whole country and I want to thank (council leaders) Matthew Hicks and John Griffiths and their teams for this achievement.

“But despite the fact that Suffolk has the lowest case rate outside Cornwall and the Isle of Wight our judgement, looking at all the indicators, and based on the public health advice is that Suffolk needs to be in Tier 2 to get the virus further under control.

“I hope Suffolk and so many other parts of the country can get to Tier 1 soon and the more people stick to the rules the quicker that will happen.”

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Ipswich Central chair Terry Baxter was disappointed by the announcement. “After so much hard work, the decision to move Ipswich into Tier 2, alongside London and Liverpool, is highly disappointing for businesses in Ipswich.

“It is time to support our local economy and, given all that businesses have been through this year and the importance of the run-up to Christmas period, if there was ever a time to choose ‘local’, it is now.

“However, for pubs and hospitality venues, they now find themselves even more restricted despite their creativity, stoicism and pluck. They can now only reopen if they serve substantive meals and will not be allowed to have more than one household together.

“The current grant compensation scheme which pays £3,000 for each four-week period of forced closure will not be sufficient to save local businesses and jobs and we are calling for substantial additional financial support for those businesses that are worst affected together with a clearer understanding of the scientific evidence to support this hugely disappointing decision.

“We must all remain vigilant and focused on social distancing, wearing a mask and washing our hands and driving the infection rate down in Ipswich. These simple steps will help ensure that our town has the chance to trade up to and beyond the Christmas period and recoup some of the financial losses suffered during this horrendous year.”

Public sector organisations in Suffolk have set out their goal to get the county out of local restrictions as quickly as possible.

They say that while Suffolk has so far seen comparatively lower levels of infection than elsewhere in the region and country, the current infection rate (85 cases per 100,000 people) is more than double what it was when Suffolk entered Tier 1 on 14 October (35 cases per 100,000 people).

MORE: Leaks from government earlier this week suggested the whole region would be in Tier 2

At the beginning of September, there were just five cases per 100,000 people. Parts of Suffolk, especially in Ipswich and Hadleigh, are seeing much higher numbers of positive Covid cases than anticipated.

This all puts pressure on Suffolk’s hospitals which need to protect Suffolk’s vulnerable residents whilst still treating non-Covid patients. There were 116 Covid patients in Suffolk hospital beds as at 23 November.

Stuart Keeble, Suffolk’s director of public health, said: “I fully understand that many people will be disappointed that Suffolk has not emerged from the national restrictions in a lower tier, or indeed no tier at all. I am too. Suffolk has done well at keeping our infection rates lower than many other areas in the country, and for that, I would like to thank people for what they have done.

“The facts facing us today are clear however. With current infection rates and pressure being put in health services, we need to do more of what we have been doing. We need to stick with it.

“We know what we need to do to get Suffolk back on track. Every one of us needs to keep following the rules to stop the spread of Covid-19. We need to ensure our hospitals can continue to care for people who urgently need help, including those without Covid. We need to be responsible today for a better tomorrow.”

Rachel Kearton, Suffolk’s deputy chief constable and chair of the group of public sector organisations leading the fight against Covid-19 in the county, said “This week’s news about the success of vaccine trials shows us clearly that there is light at the end of this tunnel, but there is still some way to go.

“Suffolk has been at the forefront of following Government guidance and it is precisely that which has kept infection rates relevantly low for so long.

“Now is not the time to give up and deviate from our course. Now is precisely the time to keep following the rules and stop the spread of Covid-19 so that we can get back to the social freedoms we miss so very much.”

David Burch, Director of Policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce said “We are naturally disappointed for businesses in Essex that the Government has placed the county in Tier 2. Ever since the start of the pandemic businesses have complied with Government regulations and done all they can to protect their customers, staff and residents in Essex”

“The continuing restrictions on the hospitality sector are particularly disappointing as many pubs are at the heart of their town centres and local communities. In the coming weeks as we approach Christmas we would encourage people to think about supporting their local retailers and other businesses first.”

“We hope that when the tiers are reviewed that Essex will be moved into Tier 1 but in the meantime any businesses requiring support should look at our website along with those of their local council where information on available support can be found.”

The website revealing which tier local areas were in crashed as soon as it was launched by the government – but it soon emerged the whole region was in the same tier.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that: “The disease is no respecter of borough boundaries” and regions had to be “sensible and large enough”.

Despite the expectation that most of England will continue to face major restrictions, Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted that people would notice a “tangible” difference from the lockdown.

He told Sky News: “Whichever tier you’re in, I think people will see a tangible change. That said, things are obviously not normal and I can’t pretend that next week things are going to feel like they were before the spring.”

The tiers will be reviewed on December 16 but experts have warned that people must continue to face restrictions ahead of the UK-wide easing of measures over Christmas.

Mr Hancock said: “Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice made by people up and down the country, we are able to move out of national lockdown and into more targeted local, tiered restrictions.

“I know for those of you faced with Tier 3 restrictions this will be a particularly difficult time but I want to reassure you that we’ll be supporting your areas with mass community testing and extra funding. By following the rules together we can get out of these tough measures.”

The Department of Health said decisions on tier levels were based on a number of factors, including case detection rates in all age groups and, in particular, amongst the over 60s.

How quickly case rates are rising or falling and the impact on local NHS services are also taken into account.

The final decisions were made by the Prime Minister at the Covid Operations Committee.

Mr Johnson, whose coronavirus self-isolation period has ended, is expected to hold a press conference later. Areas placed in Tier 3 will be offered support from NHS Test and Trace and the armed forces will deliver a six-week rapid community testing programme, making use of rapid lateral flow tests which give results within an hour.