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Royal Borough 'in daily talks' over potential COVID tier 2 move

George Roberts

A decision is yet to be made on whether the Royal Borough will face tighter coronavirus restrictions – but talks with the Government continue on a ‘daily basis’.

On Friday, council leader Andrew Johnson said the council ‘will be asking Government to consider moving us to the high tier next week’ as COVID-19 cases in the borough increase at a ‘worrying and alarming rate’.

Under the high risk tier – tier 2 – residents would be unable to meet with people they do not live with indoors, including at pubs, restaurants and at home.

Speaking to the Advertiser this week, Cllr Stuart Carroll, the cabinet member for health, insisted the borough has not asked the Government to move the borough into tier 2.

But he confirmed talks have taken place with the Government, and that more data will be looked at before a decision is made.

The Advertiser asked Cllr Carroll for more details on the council’s current position – and the evidence behind it.

Has the council asked the Government to move the Royal Borough into tier 2?

We haven’t asked the Government to move us into tier 2, what we did is ask the Government to check the data to make sure what was feeding through to the Royal Borough was accurate and up to date, but also to get the view from Government and Public Health England as to whether we were in the right classification, tier 1 vs tier 2.

What we don’t want to do is unduly move to tier 2 because we’re acutely aware of the impact that has on businesses, particularly the hospitality sector, and also the impact it can have on individuals.

What data is informing your decisions?

The principle measure being used by Government is cases per 100,000. That is a very important measure because it effectively gives you an insight into the rate of infection in your population. The second one is the overall case count, and the third is the number of hospitalisations.

What are the figures?

From October 7-13 the rate of COVID was roughly 119.5 per 100k, so that is a fairly significant increase when you look at the data trend over the last month or so.

There’s a lag effect between when you see an initial increase in the rate per 100,000 and you see that then pull through in terms of overall cases and hospitalisations.

(According to Government data, the total number of cases confirmed in the Royal Borough since the outbreak began is 1,147 and the number of patients admitted to hospital in the South East from October 10 to October 17 was 269, a 31 per cent increase on the previous week.)

What is causing the cases to rise so rapidly?

At this point it’s difficult to attribute where the increased rate and number of cases are coming from in terms of source, this is where we really need to have an enhanced track and trace system nationally which will then pull through locally in terms of being able to get to the bottom of that question.

What appears to be the case, and this is also the case nationally, is the single biggest contributing factor to an increase in the rate of infection is household mixing.

That’s why it's so important that people stick to the guidance, and that guidance does apply in households, so if you’re going to someone else’s house or mixing with someone from another household it’s vital you keep that two-metre social distance as well as washing hands and wearing a mask where needed.

That’s not to say there aren’t other factors like general non-adherence, or people coming in and out of the borough, it’s highly possible that is a portion of the reason, but I would tend to point to household mixing being the biggest contributing factor.

What have the Government said?

We’re speaking to them on a daily basis. It looks likely that what we’ll seek to do is allow this week to proceed so we can gather more data and look at that data before making any decisions about a tier reclassification.

What we don’t want to do is move to a higher tier when we can’t fully nail down the source and the reasons for the increase in infections.

We have got to be very mindful that we only do that move when it’s right and based on data because we’re very aware of the impact that could have on businesses.

If we do move up to tier 2, will the council seek financial support from the Government?

100 per cent. If we were to move to tier 2 it’s essential that the Government does provide enhanced financial support for those businesses that are going to be affected.

Businesses need to be assured that we are rigorously representing them and we’re ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

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