By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent will be placed into the highest tier of Covid rules from Wednesday (December 2) but county council chiefs are calling for a review of the county-wide approach.
Boris Johnson’s Government last week announced all 13 districts will face the same tough restrictions, despite differences in the number of cases recorded in these areas.
Kent County Council (KCC) has sent a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock raising concerns about the county-wide approach, suggesting there is a “strong case” to move to a district level.
Conservative county councillors have sided with Tory MP rebels over the restrictions faced by Kent’s 1.8million residents from Wednesday and questioned the “logic” behind the decision.
Earlier today (November 30), KCC leader, Cllr Roger Gough (Con), told his cabinet the pandemic was “more widespread” than a “couple” of Kent districts and said he was worried about the damage to the local economy.
Cllr Gough, who said it was “doubly important” to receive military aid for mass testing, said: “We are not denying that there is quite a widespread problem here. There are trends which are very, very concerning.
“At the same time we have to be very mindful of the impact that these restrictions have on our businesses..”
Swale, Thanet and Medway remain among the highest risk areas in the country, with between 464 and 557 weekly cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest data from Public Health England, although the Swale and Thanet numbers are declining.
However other parts of Kent are at the lower end of the spectrum. Tunbridge Wells recorded around 79 cases per 100,000 people and 116 in Sevenoaks.
Under tier three, pubs, restaurants and hotels and some leisure such as cinemas and soft play centres will remain shut while gyms and retailers open ahead of the busy Christmas period. Restrictions ease on hospitality businesses in tier two.
Despite warnings about “severe pressure” being put on the NHS and seven main hospitals in the county, several Kent MPs and a number of councillors have called for a district by district basis for the tier system.
KCC education chief, Cllr Richard Long (Con), said: “The fact is there is consternation in some districts, where the rates are low and falling, that they have been put into tier three with the rest.
“The impression is that Kent is simply being treated as a single area without thought for its size and its diversity.
“The population of Kent and Medway is the same as all six historic counties of Northern Ireland and two-thirds of the population of Wales.”
KCC cabinet member Cllr Mike Hill (Con) described the constant rule changes as “confusing” while his counterpart, Cllr Mike Whiting (Con) said the hospitality sector has been “badly hit” throughout the pandemic.
On Friday, calls were made by KCC’s Labour Group to hold an extraordinary scrutiny committee meeting to debate the new limitations, citing the worrying impact on the local economy.