Essex calls for upgrade in lockdown tier – but what is the current situation?

Essex County Council has requested to have tighter lockdown restrictions enforced on it in a bid to combat rising cases.

David Finch, leader of the council, made an appeal to health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock today for the authority to be moved up from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in the government’s new three-tier lockdown system.

Mr Finch said the decision to appeal comes as the council, alongside local MPs and the police, fire and crime commissioner, look to stem a rise in cases and help avoid further escalation into Tier 3 – the highest tier – in the future.

He hopes acting now will also help to limit the damage on the local economy.

In terms of cases, Tendring stands at the highest in the county with a coronavirus rate of 81.9 per 100,000 in the seven days to Oct 10, a rise from 39.6 the previous week.

Comparatively, Nottingham – which despite recording the highest rate in the country remains at Tier 2 – recorded a rate of 880.4, up from 510.7 the week prior.

No local authorities in Essex have reported a rate higher than Tendring.

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After writing to Mr Hancock, Mr Finch, who also chairs the Essex Covid-19 Engagement Board, said: “By acting now, we can hope to stem this increase, limiting the time that we are in these enhanced restrictions and – above all – avoiding further escalation into ‘very high’.

“All of this will limit the damage to the economy; a healthy economy is critical to everyone having better lives in future.

Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk and health secretary, is accused of breaching the 10p

Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Suffolk and health secretary, is accused of breaching the 10pm curfew. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS - Credit: Archant

“Making these painful decisions now will, we hope, bring dividends later.”

The request has gained support across political parties in Essex, with Labour-led Basildon Council leader Gavin Callaghan backing the measures in a bid to help save the local NHS, while Liberal Democrat-led Colchester Borough Council (CBC) leader Mark Cory has also pledged his support to the calls.

In a joint statement, Mr Cory, and his Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative and Highwoods Independent counterparts at CBC, called for those with “Covid fatigue” to play their part in following the rules.

Mr Cory said the decision “had not been taken lightly” and comes following careful discussion with councillors and MPs countywide.

“While recognising the impact this step could have on businesses and people’s freedoms, it is a move that we, in Colchester, reluctantly support because we want to keep our residents as safe as possible,” the statement read.

“We may not currently be at the levels seen in other parts of the country, but with the way the rates are escalating, it would only a matter of weeks before we were. Something needed to be done now to prevent us seeing the rates faced in parts of northern England.

“Many people in this great borough will do the right thing. However, there are others who are getting ‘Covid fatigue’ and those who think the rules do not apply to them. We want everyone to play their part in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

“Please do it for your friends, do it for your family, do it for yourself and do it for Colchester.”

Thurrock Council, however – which like Southend is a unitary authority and separate to Essex County Council – has lashed out at the request as it has lower case rates than elsewhere.

Council leader Rob Gledhill said: “I cannot believe that Essex County Council would make this proposal without appearing to fully consider the evidence of the impact of further restrictions it potentially also imposes on the people of Thurrock.

“We have a far lower number of infections than most Essex districts and councils in the country, fortunately we have very few of our residents in hospital and even more fortunately, we have had no residents die of Covid-19 since the middle of July.”

Suffolk County Council (SCC) and the Suffolk Resilience Forum have declined to comment on whether Suffolk would too consider making such a request in light of rising cases.

Brendan Padfield, owner of The Unruly Pig gastro-pub in Bromeswell, near Woodbridge, said he is glad SCC has not followed suit.

“Thank goodness Suffolk County Council aren’t taking the same view,” Mr Padfield said. “By doing so they are looking after their local business and tourism sector – which is one of our biggest employers.

“I am perplexed by what Essex have chosen to do, but I hope Suffolk will continue to take a balanced view which considers the health, welfare and wellbeing of all citizens and the science – which shows infections transmitted in restaurants remain lower than other settings.”

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