County – and districts – on knife edge over uncertain Covid restrictions

Purple indicates infection rates above 400 per 100,000

By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

Kent remains on a knife edge as politicians remain undecided about what coronavirus restrictions the county will face from next week.

The Government is expected to make a crunch announcement tomorrow (November 26) about which areas of the country will be in tier one, two or three after England’s lockdown ends on December 2.

Seven Kent MPs, including North Thanet’s Sir Roger Gale, earlier today called for Covid rules to be imposed on a borough or district level rather than county-wide in a letter sent to Health Secretary Matt Hanock.

County councillors in Kent met behind closed doors tonight to discuss the fate of the 13 districts. It was revealed that no decision from Whitehall has been made.

This comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a growing revolt from his backbench MPs over unfair tight rules in “extremely diverse” communities, such as the Garden of England.

Swale and Thanet have now recorded the highest rates of infection in the country, despite weekly case data showing a reduction earlier this week.

Government dashboard data show 110 positive tests reported today for Thanet, making 753 in the last seven days. Unfortunately the dip in numbers has not been sustained and the rate is now up 3.9%.

Thanet has 491 cases per 100,000 people (as of November 20). The England average is 208.8.

The total number of people in Thanet who have had a confirmed positive test result is 3,538.

There were 18 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for Coronavirus reported for the week to November 25 for Thanet. The total number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Coronavirus as of November 24 was 145. Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate but may not be the primary cause of death.

A top tier of restrictions is likely to be imposed. It would mean pubs, hotels and restaurants will remain shut.

However, some districts, such as Tunbridge Wells, have reported around 137 weekly cases while in one part of Sevenoaks recorded just three.

Tier allocations will be reviewed every 14 days but the system will be in place until the end of March.

Tier decisions have been based on:
a. Case detection rates in all age groups;
b. Case detection rates in the over 60s;
c. The rate at which cases are rising or falling;
d. Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests
taken); and
e. Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy

Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat, who sent the letter to the Government, said: “We must allow businesses to prosper and not be held back by restrictions not suitable for their area.

“We trust that the Government will introduce restrictions on a borough or district basis to ensure that the right approach is used across each community.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that Kent County Council (KCC) has also invited the army to help with the rollout of mass coronavirus testing despite saying earlier this week that military assistance would not be available due to pressures on the service.

The “lateral flow” device will give out results within 30 minutes and is similar to a pregnancy test.

Around 2,000 soldiers were drafted into Liverpool to deliver tests in a city-wide pilot this month.

KCC’s public health director, Andrew Scott-Clark, warned last Friday that widespread testing would be a “huge logistical exercise” and Kent will need the right infrastructure in place for it to work effectively.

This evening, county councillors were also told about worrying outbreaks of coronavirus in Kent hotspots, including Swale prisons and a care home in Dover.

Hospitals remain under severe pressure, especially Medway Maritime Hospital, which has seen more than half of its intensive care beds filled with Covid patients.

Meanwhile, Kent’s local contact tracing system is expected to go live by the end of this week to bolster the national effort. People will be contacted and told to self-isolate by local call handlers.

A final announcement on the tier system will be made tomorrow in the House of Commons at 11.30am.