Call for government to listen to Norfolk over Tier 1 move
- Credit: PA
Norfolk must be trusted - and listened to - if efforts to bring coronavirus rates in the county down bear fruit, say MPs and council leaders.
When the government announced which tier each area would be put in after national lockdown ends - with Norfolk and Suffolk placed in Tier 2 - it was made clear local councils would not be able to negotiate.
However, community leaders say it is essential local public health teams are listened to by Whitehall should they - working with district councils - be successful in driving down infection rates and hospital admissions.
The government has said it will review restrictions on December 16 - raising the hope Norfolk could go into Tier 1, which it was in before lockdown.
A new graph produced by Public Health England shows Norfolk was at the lower end of the scale for Tier 2 areas. And Suffolk was even closer to the few counties in Tier 1.
Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk, said he recognised the government had felt the need to be cautious, but that it was now essential that voices from the county are listened to when it comes to getting out of Tier 2.
The MPs had a conference call with public health chiefs and hospital bosses on Friday morning and Mr Baker said: "I did ask them how much consultation did they have with the government and they said they hadn't, it was done centrally.
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"I have made the point that the government needs to be listening to them as well."
Mr Baker said the conference call had made clear there were grounds for optimism, with infection rates generally moving in the right direction.
He said the number of over 60s testing positive needs to be brought down, along with the number of people in hospital and the percentages of people getting tests and coming back as positive.
And he said, if the situation does improve further, the government must listen to what Norfolk is telling them.
He said: "When I go to them and tell them that the health chiefs are telling me it's moving in the right direction, then I think they will need to take notice of what they are saying."
Mr Baker said, should rates be low in some parts of Norfolk, but high in others, a future discussion of whether the county could be split, with different tiers, should not be ruled out.
Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, said it was essential that everybody stuck to the restrictions - and that the government recognised local knowledge is key to combating the virus.
He said: "Local is best and we are best placed in terms of the knowledge of what goes on in our communities.
"When you're far away, it is numbers on a piece of paper, but government needs to trust that we have the local knowledge."
Virologist Prof Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said he did not think many areas would move tiers before Christmas.
But he said, as vaccines become available and more mass testing starts, the role of public health teams locally would be even more crucial - and different parts of Norfolk could yet be covered by different tiers.
He said the government could have chosen to apply the restrictions on a constituency or district basis - but could understand why it had not.
He said: "They could have done that and it is a strategy which, in a rural area like Norfolk, potentially could have worked.
"In Norfolk, where districts are generally separated by fields, that's not such an issue, but in a big urban area it creates situations where people can't go in a pub on one side of a road, but can cross the street to go in one.
"It creates situations which are an absolute nightmare to manage, so I think that's why the government has gone down the route it has."