Damian Collins MP

This week sees the end of the national covid lockdown and all parts of the country will experience positive changes to community life.

High Street shops will be able to re-open including hairdressers and nail salons. Churches and other places of worship will open their doors once more. Outdoor activities like golf will be able to resume, as well as grassroots team sports like football. This is all welcome news, but the new system of covid restrictions imposed by regional tiers will mean different rules will apply depending on the level set, with the toughest being for communities in Tier 3, like Kent.

At this level, hospitality businesses will remain closed, except for takeaways, and people will not be able to meet with those outside of their family bubble, within their own home.

Since the proposed tiering restrictions were announced last week, I have argued that the government should set rules not just based on the average rates for whole counties, particularly those the size of Kent, where infection levels can vary greatly.

We currently have the highest levels in the country along the north Kent coast, and some of the lowest in the west and the south of the county.

On Sunday, along with other Kent MPs, I met with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, to discuss our local situation. We asked that the government consider which tier communities should be placed in on a borough and district level rather than countywide. He said that he would look at more localised data to inform changes to the tiering system for the review in two weeks, and at each fortnightly review thereafter. This commitment was restated by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson when he introduced the new regulations to parliament on Tuesday.

We also told Matt Hancock that more needed to be done to support the hospitality sector, and again I was pleased that the Prime Minister has committed more money to support pubs that are most badly affected by the covid restrictions.

That still leaves the question as to why Kent has been placed in Tier 3. Overall, the national lockdown has been effective, and the Office of National Statistics believes that the rate of infection nationally has fallen by a third. One of the exceptions to this is Kent, where the average rate has flattened since its peak in November, but not fallen.

In some places infection rates are still rising. That is certainly the case in the Folkestone and Hythe constituency where the infection rate was higher on 1st December, than it was when the tiering restrictions were announced the week before.

We have also seen a concerning spike of covid cases in New Romney, which in the figures reported on 30th November, suggested the infection rates were close to the high figures seen in places like Thanet and Swale.

We cannot ignore this data. Our experience of the coronavirus so far is that infections in one location can quickly spread to those near it, and in our local area we cannot say that the virus is under control and that rates are clearly falling.

It is for these reasons, that I decided to support the introduction of these new covid regulations.

I hope that over the next two weeks we will see a sustained fall in infection rates, and that we will be able to make the case to the government that Folkestone and Hythe should be taken out of Tier 3.

Some people have said that given we entered the national lockdown in Tier 1 but left it in Tier 3, surely that means it hasn’t worked.

I do not believe that is the case, but that without restrictions on contact, to try and hold back the spread of the virus, the situation locally and nationally would have been much worse.

By Ed

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