COVID Christmas and a ‘grim’ new year as move to tier 3 looms

A leading doctor at Broomfield Hospital specialising in respiratory infections has indicated Essex is heading for Tier 3 restrictions – warning that January looks “very grim”.

In a sober message on Facebook Dr Steve Jenkins, a respiratory consultant, warned that he could not be certain the NHS will be able to provide comprehensive emergency care as we head in into deep winter.

“I cannot be certain that the NHS will be able to provide comprehensive emergency care as we go into deep winter. At the moment things are very bad, much tougher than Wave 1 due to overlaid winter pressures. Relaxation over Christmas will make it a lot worse. January looks very grim.”

He added that it looks like Essex is heading for Tier 3 restrictions –meaning pubs and restaurants can open until 6pm, but alcohol cannot be served, leisure and entertainment venues are closed, non-essential travel in or out of the area is not allowed and gyms are restricted to individuals and not groups.

“The COVID rates per 100,000 are alarming,” Dr Jenkins added listing the Covid rates per 100,000, headed by Basildon at 504, followed by Havering at 429, Brentwood at 346 and Chelmsford at 180.

He has also called on people to keep Christmas “very low key” adding he is not planning on seeing anyone outside his immediate household.

“My mum, who is 86, would rather see a vaccine needle than me right now,” he added

His comments echo that of the Government.

The situation is so serious that last Thursday, (December 10), Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock announced that rapid testing will be carried out in some secondary schools in Essex – where the spike in cases is happening more than anywhere else.

Rapid testing for those with no symptoms has already been set up in Basildon town centre.

Essex County Council says it is working with MPs and lobbying Mr Hancock, demonstrating that a move to Tier 3 is unnecessary and would be devastating for businesses, particularly in hospitality, where Christmas and New Year trading is crucial.

In a regional meeting with Public Health England, the council was reassured that it was taking every step possible to try to stem the increase in cases currently being seen in parts of the county.

Leader of the council, Cllr David Finch, said: “The county council’s position is clear – Tier 2 remains the right place for Essex to be this Christmas.

“We are doing everything in our power, including the continued roll-out of testing, working with schools, businesses, and our health and voluntary sector partners, to stem the increases we are seeing. It is our absolute, top priority. We will continue to do everything in our power to reduce the infection rate in the south and across the whole county.

“Our current infection rate across the whole county is 169.4 per 100,000, which would be a clear Tier 2 position. Equally we are addressing as a matter of urgency those areas with much higher infection rates, particularly in Basildon where they are the third highest nationally, and neighbouring boroughs and districts.

“Tier 3 would be a disaster for Essex. The majority of our population live in areas well below the Tier 3 threshold. While there are some hospital pressures in Basildon and Southend, taking the county as a whole there is good capacity. There is also high confidence in the Essex approach, recently recognised by a Cabinet Office taskforce and the latest remarks from Public Health England affirming we are taking all possible steps.

“Essex test and trace is one of the strongest in the country, and we have recently added additional funds to further enhance an already top-class operation.

“Ultimately, Tier 3 will, in the view of our experts, do little to reduce infection and do much to destroy our economy; any decision to change tiers coming into effect on December 18 or 19 and relaxations to arrangements over Christmas starting on December 23, will mean going to tier 3 next week is nonsensical. It would be far better to look at the position in January.”

The council is reminding residents that remembering to social distance and follow the rules may be the difference between a happy Christmas and New Year or a relative or loved one ending up sick or in hospital.

Cllr John Spence, cabinet member for adults and health, has appealed to everyone to make a special effort in the run up to Christmas, with infection rates continuing to rise in parts of Essex.

He said: “If people can work from home, follow the social distancing rules, and self-isolate if they are told to by the NHS or Essex Test and Trace, they will be playing their part in reducing the incidence of the virus.

“The greatest gift anyone can give this Christmas is keeping yourself and your family safe. No-one wants to see a further rise in cases after the holidays.

“This is in our hands, so please, remember, work from home, hands, face, space, and keep your contacts outside of home to the minimum.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter