Following on from yesterday’s widely-reported decision by Essex County Council to apply to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to pre-emptively place Essex under the Tier 2 (High alert) Covid-19 restrictions, the Health Secretary has this morning confirmed in the House of Commons that, on reviewing the case presented by the County Council, he has agreed to the request.
I completely recognise that this decision will cause immense worry and anger, in equal measure. I know that many of you disagree bitterly with this decision and I very much respect and sympathise with the concerns that have been raised with me by residents.
The past few months have been incredibly hard for everyone, both residents and local businesses across Billericay and the wider Basildon Borough. I want to thank everyone in our community for the commitment and dedication they have shown in the fight against this awful virus. For many, it has been exhausting and has taken a severe toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing. I know that the thought of once again having to stop mixing households, and being unable to see family and friends, will be a source of real anguish.
“I completely recognise that this decision will cause immense worry and anger, in equal measure. I know that many of you disagree bitterly with this decision and I very much respect and sympathise with the concerns that have been raised with me by residents.”
Not being able to see my parents, my brothers, and my friends is no more palatable to me than it is to you and I very much regret its necessity.
But the bare facts are these. County councillors were presented with some very stark figures (and I certainly don’t feel qualified to dissect them and poke holes in them, though I know many do). The picture that was painted for them was one of Covid-19 once again spreading at an alarming rate in Essex. Although the worst rates of infection and transmission are in the north of the county, the rates have been increasing across Essex, with Basildon being no exception. Our infection rate has apparently being doubling every few days and, while we had previously not had a death in Basildon since the end of July, recently we have seen the number of deaths in our borough go back up again.
The advice from Dr Mike Gogarty, Director of Public Health at County Hall, is that with these increasingly rapid rates of transmission, if the Council did not act now to try and control the spread of the virus, we will see an exponential rise in cases and risk finding ourselves in the same situation as we are tragically witnessing in the North of England, leaving Basildon Hospital and other hospitals across the county under too much strain to bear the Autumn / Winter weeks ahead.
Based on this clear professional advice, I cannot fault my colleagues’ decision to submit the request to the Government to move Essex into Tier 2. By doing so, they are hoping to curtail the high rates of transmissions and avoid us going into a full localised lockdown later. It is notable that this decision has received cross-party support, including from Labour/Independent-controlled Basildon Borough Council (certainly no stranger to disagreeing with the County Council!).
I will not say I have no concerns. These decisions have a massive impact on ordinary people’s lives and livelihoods. It is incredibly difficult to know what the right thing is to do for the best. But, on balance, I have taken the view throughout this crisis that I will support the scientific advice when it is given. That advice has now been corroborated by the Health Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer, who have approved the request on the evidence the County has presented.
As a consequence, we in Billericay now move from Medium to High Covid restrictions from midnight on Friday 16th October, as outlined in the graphic below.
I want to be clear… I am very, very concerned about the consequences that this decision will have for all of us, including my constituents – the people who voted for me – and businesses in my ward.
“I want to be clear… I am very, very concerned about the consequences that this decision will have for all of us, including my constituents – the people who voted for me – and businesses in my ward.”
I do not believe – as I know many of you do – that the County Council has been motivated by ‘money’. Even by the standards that seemingly permeate every level of British politics nowadays, I find that appallingly cynical.
I have seen a graphic that has been floating around, suggesting that there is extra funding available for local authorities in Tiers 2 and 3. Essex County Council have stated categorically that they do not expect to receive any extra funding as a consequence of moving to Tier 2. Having now spoken with several county councillors, I am entirely satisfied that financial considerations did not form any part of this decision. Not one of them had any idea whether there was any extra money available or not, as it had never come up at any of their meetings and simply was not a factor in their deliberations.
That said, I am very worried about how these new restrictions will impact upon my constituents and businesses without additional support, so I do very much hope that there will be additional support! As the High Street is in my ward, I am particularly concerned about the impact High alert will have on hospitality businesses. So I for one hope that Government will offer some extra support where it is needed.
I know how difficult this pandemic has been for everyone. Loved ones have not been able to see each other properly, businesses have had to make difficult decisions, and we have experienced an unprecedented curtailing of our daily lives and liberties in ways unheard of in living memory. I can only stress that no politician – from my relatively lowly level, all the way up to the Prime Minister himself – are taking these decisions lightly. Nobody in their right mind wants to see any of this continue for longer than it absolutely has to! Now more than ever, it is important that we work together in this national fight against Coronavirus to save lives, stop the NHS from being overwhelmed, and bring the transmission rates of this horrible virus back under control.
*For more information, please visit: https://www.essex.gov.uk/…/the-data-that-shows-why-we…