Norfolk needs own Covid tier, say MPs ahead of restrictions decision
- Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Norfolk should not be covered by a regional tier which could mean an outbreak at Haverhill in Suffolk triggers a lockdown in Hunstanton, say MPs who have been trying to persuade the government the county should have its own.
The government will, on Thursday, announce which tiers local areas will be in, but there has been speculation that may not be done on a county by county basis.
Instead, a ‘regional tier’ may be used to cover the East of England, which could encompass an area spanning from Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex to Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
And MPs have been trying to persuade ministers that Norfolk should not be absorbed into such a structure, given the relatively low coronavirus rates in much of the county.
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, said: “When we come out of this national lockdown, it is vital that Norfolk is allowed to set our own Covid control policy, not lumped into an NHS regional structure, meaning an outbreak in Haverhill triggers a lockdown in Hunstanton.
“We need local management. Even within Norfolk, 86 miles wide, with three hospitals, it can’t be right that King’s Lynn is shutdown because of an outbreak in Great Yarmouth.
“As the success of South Norfolk Council in Wymondham has shown, it is local management that is key.”
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said there needed to be a “sensible regional area” and that Norfolk should be a “region on its own merit” and not “absorbed” with other counties such as Suffolk.
He said there needed to be local focus and control, so Norfolk’s level, which was tier one before national lockdown, was not affected by “outbreaks in Essex”.
He said Norfolk remained substantially below the national average of infections and they had been broadly falling.
The Conservative MP said: “We don’t know what the regionality will be, however it’s unlikely that it will be based on constituency or district, it’s likely to be more regional than that. I think it’s only sensible that Norfolk is looked at as a whole.”
And North West Norfolk MP James Wild said he had been making the case with ministers for Norfolk not to be treated as part of the East of England.
He said: “Norfolk has got a lower average than other parts of the country and we should be treated as a county, rather than being grouped with the rest of the East of England.
“And we should be in the lowest tier possible that’s consistent with minimising the transmission rates.
"They are going to be looking at the latest data tomorrow and that’s when the decision will be made.
“I obviously want us to be in the lowest tier which is sensible for the area and the situation.”
Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, said he hoped tiers would be applied at county level and that Norfolk would be in the least restrictive tier.
He said: “From how well people in Norfolk have responded, I would like to see us in the lowest possible tier. It all comes down to a recognition of balancing lives with livelihoods.”
The government has said data which will be taken into account when making the decisions includes coronavirus cases across all age groups, and specifically among the over-60s who are considered most at risk.
They will also consider whether infection rates are rising or falling and the prevalence of the disease per 100,000 of population.
Admissions to hospitals and pressure on the NHS will also be factored in.
MPs in Suffolk have been making a similar case to government that an East of England tier is not appropriate.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter said he and his colleagues were hoping the government would recognise the differences within the East of England region.
Dr Poulter said: “We think the government was looking at a regional decision – but some of us are hoping to persuade them that there is a great difference between counties like Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire and communities near the M25 which are effectively part of Greater London.”
He said MPs were hoping to persuade the government to consider the issue on a “sub-regional” basis – possibly looking at Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire as one entity separate from the communities nearer to London.
The government has said there will be no negotiations with local councils about which tiers areas are put into.
The government will be placing areas in strengthened tiers, but there is speculation that, when lockdown is lifted on December 2, only a handful of areas will be placed in tier one.
National newspapers have reported Whitehall sources saying very few areas would be in that tier, with most places in tiers two or three.
What are the coronavirus rates in different parts of the East of England?
Some parts of the East of England have infection rates three times higher than others, as concern grows over the makeup of next month’s Covid-tiers.
Norfolk and Suffolk’s rate of infections for the week ending November 19 was 112.6 and 81.8 respectively, with Suffolk’s the lowest recorded in the region.
The highest rate was seen in Luton, where a rate of 297.1 infections per 100,000 was returned – more than double Norfolk’s rate and more than three times that seen in Suffolk.
Bedford recorded a rate of 159.3 was recorded in same week– almost double the rate seen in Suffolk.
Essex and Hertfordshire also have much higher rates than other areas in the region.
A rate of 151.7 was recorded in Essex for the week ending November 19, while Hertfordshire saw a rate of 147.4.
But both Cambridgeshire and Central Bedfordshire returned lower rates than Norfolk, with 95 and 97.7 per 100,000 respectively, further demonstrating the differences across the region.
Hertfordshire returned the highest number of total cases, with 2,259 – more than double Norfolk’s 1,113 cases and eight times higher than Suffolk’s 282.
Hospital figures also show the disparity between different areas in the region.
NHS England data shows there were 977 patients with coronavirus in hospital beds in the region as of Monday (November 24), the lowest number of all seven NHS regions.
Although the numbers are smaller than the other areas the amount of people in beds with the virus has been rising steadily in the east of England since September.
But the latest Public Health England figures for individual trusts, published for the week ending November 17, show the Mid and South Essex trust had 905 virus patients taking up hospital beds that week, more than three times higher than the Norfolk and Norwich’s 274 – which was the highest in the county.
East Suffolk and North Essex admitted or diagnosed had 609 patients in beds, while the West Suffolk trust had 147.
Admissions data for individual trusts also shows disparity. Mid and South Essex trust admitted or diagnosed 134 virus patients in the week ending November 15, and the Bedfordshire Hospitals trust the next highest on 99.
Meanwhile in Norfolk, 44 patients were admitted to the NNUH in the same time – the highest in the county.
East Suffolk and North Essex admitted or diagnosed 66 patients in that time, while the West Suffolk trust admitted or diagnosed 26.
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