Some of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the UK will see Kent plunged into Tier 3 amid concerns over rising hospital admissions.
The whole county will face the most stringent tier of coronavirus restrictions from December 2, the Government announced on Thursday.
Two Kent boroughs – Swale and Thanet – have the two highest rates of Covid-19 infection in England, according to data analysis from the PA news agency.
But the Government is facing criticism for its decision not to split the county – which has a population of around 1.9 million – into tiers based on infection rates.
Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said the news is “disappointing” and added: “How come it all goes out the window because of Christmas?”
One Conservative Kent MP said he feared the one-size-fits-all approach for the county could tempt people to “skip over the boundary” to go to a pub.
I’m hugely disappointed that the whole of Kent has been put into Tier 3. Before lockdown we were in Tier 1 so what has lockdown achieved? We need the full analysis made public. #RoadToRecovery
— Damian Green MP (@DamianGreen) November 26, 2020
Meanwhile, Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury, tweeted that the Tier 3 restrictions in Kent are “potentially dire for our area”.
Several Kent MPs wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday asking that different areas of the county be placed in different restrictions.
However, the Government has taken a county-wide approach with all of Kent to face Tier 3.
Justifying the decision, the Government said: “Case rates are high and continuing to rise, with large increases in case rates in almost all areas in the last seven days.
“Some of the highest case rates in the country are currently seen in Kent. Rising case rates in people aged over 60 are a particular concern.
“Positivity is also increasing in 10 of the 13 lower-tier local authorities.
“Kent And Medway STP (Sustainability and Transformation Partnership) are reporting hospital admissions are increasing and mutual aid necessary across the county.”
Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief Ms James said news that the whole of the county will enter Tier 3 is “disappointing” but not a shock.
She told PA that she has already heard from several businesses.
“I have spoken to a few and they are absolutely devastated by it but on the whole it was expected,” she said.
“I think there is no doubt about it, it’s disappointing that we have been placed in Tier 3.
“I can understand why, because we do have some of the highest levels of infection in some of our districts, but, that said, we do have some of the lowest levels of infection.
“It’s such a shame that somewhere like Kent, that is one of the biggest counties in the country, has to be taken as a whole.”
She said she wished it could have been split into three or four parts.
She added that “it doesn’t quite make sense” to have areas of Kent in Tier 3 where just over the county border people will be living in Tier 2.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale criticised the decision to place all of Kent in Tier 3 and said he fears people will “skip over the boundary” to go to a pub in Tier 2.
He told Sky News: “The objective of the exercise has been trying to introduce a scheme that the public will accept.
“We know that it’s high in Thanet, in Ashford it’s nothing like as high (in terms of infection rates).
“Are they going to be happy with that? No they’re not and what will happen of course is people will skip over the boundary, or try and skip over the boundary, to go to a pub or a restaurant that is able to be open if there is one in Tier 2 or in Tier 1 fairly nearby.
“That’s the last thing we want.”
Roger Truelove, leader of Swale Borough Council, said he agrees with county-wide Tier 3 restrictions for Kent.
He told PA: “I appreciate that that is what we have to be, we have to be in Tier 3. I hope that that’s an incentive for local people to comply as much as possible with the guidance so we get our numbers down.”
In the seven days to November 21, Swale recorded an infection rate of 535.0 per 100,000, the highest in England.
Mr Truelove added: “I fully understand other boroughs that have not got such a high rate as us, but the fact is that the level of Kent is going up … and I think it is much better from a public health point of view if you are all in the same tier.”
He told PA that if different boroughs in Kent had different restrictions he believed there would be “a lot of migration of people from one borough to another”.