Borough councils at odds over county’s wish to move to Tier 2 Covid restrictions

Essex County Council has been attacked by a leader within the county for its decision to ask to move to Tier 2 restrictions, prohibiting people from different households mixing indoors.

The number of cases in Essex has risen from just over 700 in the week to October 2 to just over 1,000 in the week to October 9– ECC say that currently the spread is doubling about every week.

ECC says that within a maximum of two weeks the county will have reached the thresholds of Tier 2 anyway, and that asking for it now will soften the curve and avoid deeper restrictions later on.

Tier 2 restrictions would bring Essex into line with places like Manchester, which have infection rates of about 450 per 100,000.

In Southend the infection rate stands at 41.5 per 100,000 and in Thurrock it is 53.3 per 100,000.

ECC leader David Finch said: “This would mean that Essex would be a pioneer for proactive prevention based on a view that we are one of the most capable authorities in the country in this pandemic.”

Thurrock council – a unitary which has its own public health director – has said the plans are overly cautious given Thurrock’s current low rate and will remain at the lowest Tier – medium risk.

Thurrock Council leader, Councillor Rob Gledhill, said ECC’s actions could have far reaching implications for Thurrock’s businesses and residents, who may also be forced into the higher category of restriction because of this request, despite the fact that Thurrock has the 126th lowest rate of infection out of 149 local authorities nationwide.

Cllr 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.

“The simple facts are the government has announced we are in Tier 1 – medium alert. 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.

“I have voiced my opposition to Thurrock being included in any voluntary increase in restrictions at the highest levels having spoken directly with Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health on Sunday and Public Health England East yesterday.

“Any decision on further lockdown restrictions must be balanced against the harm this action would have on the wellbeing of our residents and businesses and I am sorry the data as of today just doesn’t support a call for more restrictions being imposed on Thurrock residents and I am certainly not going to impose them voluntarily.

“Whilst we are not being complacent and continue to monitor the data, Thurrock has a comprehensive plan in place to help control the rate of infection in Thurrock, this was praised by Public Health England East.

“We want to ensure that local public health decisions concerning our residents are made by Thurrock Council alone not imposed because of the issues elsewhere.”

Neighbouring Basildon Council is in agreement with the county council’s move .

Basildon now has the highest number of new cases in the county.

Council leader Gavin Callaghan said: “The advice from the director of public health is clear: do nothing and in four to five weeks’ time, 75% of intensive care beds in Essex would be filled with Covid patients.

“We cannot risk anyone who falls ill, not having access to an ICU bed, treatment or ventilator.

“So we need to act now to protect our brilliant NHS and help them save lives.

“I understand this will hit many people hard and I don’t make the call lightly, but I believe action now will help prevent a worse situation in the coming weeks and help reduce cases sooner.

“I also call on the Government to make sure those affected are properly supported.

“The people of Basildon responded fantastically during the national lockdown and I know they will respond again and we will all play our part to protect our NHS, support one another and save lives.”

In Southend urgent meetings have been called to discuss the new three-tier system and how the county’s request may impact on the borough.

However, Councillor Trevor Harp, chair of the local outbreak control plan oversight and engagement board, did not rule out the authority joining the county council in asking to be placed on a higher tier than needed.

Mr Harp said: “We continue to look at local data, digest the national announcement from yesterday, and continue discussions with relevant stakeholders today.

“This includes with our health protection board and oversight and engagement board.

“These discussions will consider a number of options for our local response, including whether or not to make a proactive request as Essex have.”

  • Additional copy by Steve Shaw – Local democracy reporter and Basildon Council

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter