From Wednesday, 2 December, Kent as a whole has been placed into Tier 3, the highest level of restrictions. I joined a number of Kent MPs who wrote to, and met with, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, to express disappointment. However, having discussed this in detail with Health Ministers, they have explained Kent has areas among the worst-hit in the country. Cases have been rising here in the Dover District area and Thanet has been particularly hard hit. Our hospitals are utilised across five districts, Dover, Thanet, Canterbury, Ashford and Folkestone & Hythe, and are facing very real pressure. Hospital admissions are compounded by rising case rates for people over the age of 60.
Indeed, current and projected pressure on the NHS is one of the five criteria on which tier allocations are based. It is a reminder that, even with improved treatment for Covid, and vaccines coming online, we are not through this yet. So while disappointing, the best way to reduce the prevalence of the virus in our area is to remain vigilant in our adherence to the rules.
The new tier arrangements are by no means the same as the lockdown back in March. In all tiers from 2 December essential and non-essential retail, gyms, sports courts and facilities, leisure centres, fitness and dance studios, golf courses, swimming pools, riding centres and outdoor playgrounds, hairdressers and barbers, beauty salons, tattoo parlours, nail salons, spas and beauty services, massage parlours and tanning salons, libraries, community centres and halls, allotments, recycling and waste centres, public toilets, car parks, and communal church worship, can all resume subject to relevant social contact rules and some activity specific rules, such as no indoor group exercise classes.
Recognising the significant economic impact on businesses still required to close, including pubs, businesses can continue to apply for Government grants, as well as making use of the furlough scheme until the end of March. There continues to be a range of other business support available.
Additional health support is provided to a Tier 3 area, including prioritisation for mass testing. I have pressed for rapid testing to be in place at our local hospitals, and public health funding per head will be twice that for Tier 2 areas.
And Christmas is still on. The easing of restrictions at Christmas between 23rd and 27th December will apply regardless of tier allocation – people may travel between tiers and stay in a hotel during the Christmas period to meet with other households within their Christmas bubble. My website has more information about the provisions that apply for the Christmas break, as well as links to information about the current restrictions.
It has been a long and difficult year. But after a well-needed Christmas break, we must look forward with hope towards a brighter Spring and Summer.