As you will all be aware, the Prime Minister has announced a new three-tier system of local lockdown rules, to help slow the spread of Covid-19.
Essex is, for the time being, at the ‘Medium’ (Tier 1) alert level, which means that we here in Billericay and the rest of the Borough of Basildon will be largely unaffected and the restrictions remain unchanged. Our area is under the existing Covid protocols, with no additional local rules.
However, at a meeting of their Full Council this morning, Essex County Council agreed that they would make a formal request of the Government that the county move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 (‘High’ alert). This is in response to rising levels of Covid-19 in Essex, including Basildon, which is leading to increasing numbers of Covid-related hospitalisations and, sadly, a rise in the number of Covid-related deaths.
My understanding, from speaking to county colleagues, is that this is to try and head off the threat of being in Tier 3 (‘Very High’) by Christmas. Cases are currently doubling weekly and, as things presently stand, the Director of Public Health at County Hall believes we will be in Tier 2 in a fortnight anyway. The hope is that, if we implement Tier 2 restrictions now, we can slow it down and head off bigger problems later. Clearly, nobody wants to see Essex in full lockdown over Christmas!
This will now be a decision for the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care, Matt Hancock. He will need to assess the County Council’s request and decide whether to change our status. Clearly, if the Health Secretary agrees, that will mean tighter Covid controls, most notably that we will no longer be able to mix households.
These are very difficult decisions and I know that, for many people, this will be deeply unwelcome news. Some will be frightened. Some will be furious. There are no easy answers to any of this and we must be guided by the science. For my own part, as a borough councillor for Billericay East, I will continue to support the Government, Essex County Council, and our local public health officials.
I do not want to see Essex move into Tier 2 provisions. The thought of having to stop seeing our wider family and friends again is deeply unpalatable. But the Coronavirus is, sadly, rising exponentially in our area and, reluctantly, I accept the logic of acting now, whilst the virus is at manageable levels, to head off a worse situation later. The earlier we cut off the chain of infections, the quicker we can get this under control, help save lives, and return to Tier 1 in time for Christmas, giving our local economy the best fighting chance to bounce back.
In the meantime, I send my profound thanks to all our excellent NHS staff, particularly at Basildon Hospital, our contact tracers, Essex Police, other emergency services, and our hard-working officers at Basildon Council, who are all working flat out to get us through these strange and worrying times.
If any resident has any concerns, please feel free to get in touch with me.