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Covid alert levels: Essex County Council asks Government to move it from 'medium' to 'high' risk tier

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A request to increase Covid-19 restrictions on the border with Suffolk is being considered by the Government.

Essex County Council (ECC) has lodged a formal request with Health Secretary Matt Hancock to be moved from ‘medium’ (tier 1) to ‘high’ (tier 2) in the new three-tier alert level system introduced this week to curb coronavirus; tier 3 is ‘very high’.

Health Secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock. Picture by Mark Westley (42705664)
Health Secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock. Picture by Mark Westley (42705664)

Such a move would mean a ban on households visiting other homes.

It is believed Conservative-controlled Essex is the only local authority in England to have requested tighter restrictions – but in Suffolk, fears are also growing of a further clampdown.

Last week East and West Suffolk were placed on an East of England watchlist by Public Health England , due to a continuing rise of Covid-19 cases.

In Essex, the county council has decided it cannot wait and a pre-emptive strike against the pandemic is required after advice from its director of public health and wellbeing, Dr Mike Gogarty.

He said: “Across the county, we have moved from gradual to exponential growth, with the number of cases rising exponentially.

“We want [to] act now to minimise the impact on the public health and the economy, and by doing so we believe we can shorten the period of enhanced restrictions.”

Read more: The new three-tier Covid-19 system explained and what the restrictions are for each level.

Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council, and Chair of the Local Outbreak Engagement Board said: “I ask that all Suffolk residents, especially those in East and West Suffolk, remind themselves of the importance of washing your hands, covering your face and keeping your distance from others.

“We simply must stop the transmission of the virus between people. You can still meet people you don’t live with, in groups of up to six – but you must still keep two metres apart. We are not living in normal times: if you’re visiting the shops, don’t stand directly next to others in the checkout queue or when browsing shelves; give people space when passing in the street; if you visit somewhere that looks busy, come back later.

“Residents in East and West Suffolk have done exceptionally well to keep the number of cases to some of the lowest in the country. However, if we simply carry on as we are, we will be moving towards the tougher restrictions which we are seeing elsewhere in the country.”

Cllr David Finch (42675349)
Cllr David Finch (42675349)

Yesterday (Tuesday), ECC leader Cllr David Finch, who also chairs the Essex Covid-19 Engagement Board, said: “By acting now, we can hope to stem this increase, limiting the time that we are in these enhanced restrictions and – above all – avoiding further escalation into ‘very high’. All of this will limit the damage to the economy; a healthy economy is critical to everyone having better lives in future.

“We already have one of the best track and trace operations in the country, but we will be aiming to push its performance still higher alongside strengthening enforcement capacity and visibility. Making these painful decisions now will, we hope, bring dividends later.”

Under ‘high' level (tier 2) restrictions, people must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place. They must also not meet in a group of more than six outside, including in a garden or other space.

The Government could make its decision on Essex's request as soon as tomorrow (Thursday).

Read More: Get the latest headlines from across Suffolk.