By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
The tough coronavirus restrictions currently faced by the county’s 1.8 million residents will likely continue beyond next Wednesday, says the leader of Kent County Council (KCC).
Cllr Roger Gough (Con) said he does not expect the area’s covid tier status to change when a Government review is carried out in five days’ time (Dec 16).
Yesterday, he told KCC’s scrutiny committee that the county’s infection rate remains “uncomfortably high” and “widespread” with half of the areas among the UK’s top 20 hotspots.
They include Swale, Medway, Gravesham, Thanet, Maidstone, Dover and Canterbury, ranging from 375 to 676 cases per 100,000 people. Weekly case rates in Thanet have been reducing but all other districts in the county have a rising rate.
Cllr Gough, who says “rapid progress” is being made on mass testing and local contact tracing, warned: “We do not expect a change to our status at the most immediate checkpoint next week.”
Meanwhile, KCC’s public health cabinet member Cllr Clair Bell (Con) added: “The way things are going, I can’t see our status changing when we come to the review next week, but we have to keep working on it.”
The situation was discussed during an extraordinary scrutiny meeting yesterday (December 10) as county councillors remain divided about the way forward.
It was revealed that Kent was poised to move from the lowest restrictions up to tier two shortly before the second national lockdown was imposed on November 5 as hospital admissions began to rise.
Since then, cases and the number of deaths have continued to increase. At KCC’s scrutiny, council chiefs were probed about the underlying causes.
The chairman, Andy Booth (Con), of the Isle of Sheppey, said: “What we have seen exhibited in Kent over the nine months is a degree of complacency.”
Cllr Gary Cooke (Con), of Maidstone, said shops were far stricter in the first lockdown as staff limited the number of people entering the store, strongly enforcing social distancing and mandating one-way systems through the aisles.
He said: “Going into the supermarkets for Christmas shopping, it is open season.”
Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) said she suspected the rise in cases had been in areas of high deprivation and among adolescents. She said: “Young people think they are indestructible and do not think in long terms of time.”
KCC Labour leader Cllr Dara Farrell probed the council executives on how Kent can move out of tier three. In response, Cllr Gough said there were a series of key indicators, but the Government remains “unspecific” about the tests.
The main tests include the Covid rate of infection, the number of people who have the virus that are aged over 60 and the pressure on the NHS, including capacity of beds.
New measures introduced to tackle the concerning spread include tougher rule enforcement by the police with more fines issued; the launch of Kent’s local test and trace system and mass testing in Swale, Medway and Thanet.
However, Cllr Bell said the “real way” out of the pandemic was with the vaccine.