Norfolk and Suffolk to remain under Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
Norfolk and Suffolk will remain in Tier 2 of coronavirus restrictions, the government has confirmed - with the leader of Norfolk County Council urging people not to "drop their guard" over Christmas.
Health secretary Matthew Hancock announced the results of the reviews of coronavirus restrictions across the country on Thursday, as he said Covid-19 cases were on the increase across the globe.
And, as had been expected, Norfolk and Suffolk have not changed tiers - although other parts of the East of England, including Bedfordshire and Peterborough have been put into Tier 3.
Before the second national lockdown, which started in November, Norfolk and Suffolk had been in Tier 1 - which has the least restrictions.
But, when that ended at the start of December, the counties were put in Tier 2 - rated as high alert.
That was a major blow for the hospitality industry, with pubs, bars and restaurants only allowed to serve alcohol with "substantial meals", unlike in Tier 1, where they were able to serve alcohol without food via table service.
When those tiers were announced two weeks ago, there had been hopes that Norfolk and Suffolk could go back into Tier 1 when it came up for review.
But, with rates going up in the counties, albeit well below the England average, concerns over the rate among over 60s and admissions to hospitals, the government has not changed the tiers.
There has been a gradual increase in infection rates in Norfolk, with most recent figures for the county showing a rate of 122.4 cases per 100,000 people for the seven days ending December 12. The national average for this period was more than 205.
And Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, urged people not to "drop their guard" over Christmas - a period when the rules about meeting up in homes will be relaxed.
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Mr Proctor said: “The Government has given us clarity, by confirming that Norfolk will remain in Tier 2.
“While this may be disappointing for many, I would encourage everyone to continue to follow the Tier 2 rules and the government’s latest advice on Christmas bubbles, so we can all play our part in driving cases down.
“I hope that, by doing this, we will increase our chances of enjoying Christmas safely and be able to ease restrictions sooner.
"We cannot afford to drop our guard at this crucial point in the winter.”
The regulations allow for a five-day "Christmas window" from December 23 to 27 when people can form exclusive bubbles of up to three households across the UK.
The government had come under pressure from scientists and NHS bosses to rethink that, but resisted.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said the public should have a "merry little Christmas - and, I'm afraid this year I do mean little" in passing the judgment on whether to meet up in smaller numbers over a shorter period to the public.
Mr Johnson insisted the limits on meeting are maximums and "not a target to aim for" and urged "extreme caution".
And he advised people to minimise their contacts with others "to the lowest possible" for five days before mixing with loved ones at Christmas.
He also recommended against travel from high prevalence areas to those not so badly affected and against overnight stays.
London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire entered Tier 3 on Wednesday, meaning 34 million people or 61pc of England's population are living under the toughest level of restrictions.
Mr Hancock said case rates in the south of England were up 46pc in the last week. while hospital admissions are up by more than a third.
He said cases in the east of England were up two thirds and hospital admissions up by nearly half in the last week.
He told the Commons: "It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 3 measures across a much wider area of the east and south east of England, including Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, the whole of Hertfordshire, Surrey with the exception of Waverley, Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex, and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire."
Those changes will take effect from a minute after midnight on Saturday.
A handful of places have changed downwards - Herefordshire has gone from Tier 2 into Tier 1 and Bristol and North Somerset from Tier 3 to Tier 2.
Mr Hancock said the UK has "come so far" and "mustn't blow it now".
He told MPs: "As we enter the coldest months we must be vigilant and keep this virus under control.
"It's so vital that everyone sticks at it and does the right thing, especially over this Christmas period.
"It's important to remember that this can be a silent disease. One in three people who have the disease has no symptoms but can still pass it on.
"Everyone, therefore, has a personal responsibility to play their part in keeping this pandemic under control."
Leaders in Suffolk have been concerned about the increasing infection rate, which is now at 106 cases per 100,000 people.
That is triple what it was when Suffolk entered Tier 1 in October.
The number of cases in the past week increased by 62pc in West Suffolk and 57pc in East Suffolk. Ipswich, Mid Suffolk and Babergh had also seen increases.
Matthew Hicks, leader of Suffolk County Council and chair of the Suffolk’s Local Outbreak Engagement Board, said: "Given where Suffolk was just three weeks ago, the increase in COVID-19 cases is shocking.
"It is the reality that we face however, and we must stand together and strong. Suffolk needs you now.
"The actions that each of us take over the coming weeks and months, ahead of the COVID vaccine being fully rolled out, will determine when we get our everyday social freedoms back.
"We have a choice. We can play our part now or live with COVID-19 for longer. We can get out of this by following the guidance, not just a little and when it suits us, but fully and always.”
The next review of tiers will come in the New Year.