Towns and villages across Britain were furious tonight after Boris Johnson confirmed all but three places in England will be plunged into the toughest brackets despite many of the local cases being in small urban hotspots in the same authority areas.
The move prompted fury from rural areas in Kent, which was placed under the Tier Three coronavirus restrictions today, who said they had been unfairly locked down by spiralling cases in urban centres.
The county has an overall infection rate of 260.6 cases per 100,000 people in the week ending November 20, according to the latest data from the Department of Health, putting it into the top third most-infected areas in England.
But they vary drastically between the boroughs, with rural Ashford recording the lowest levels at 120 per 100,000, almost four times less than Swale at 541.7 per 100,000.
Under the allocations announced today, just 700,000 people – one per cent of the population – will be subject to the loosest grade of restrictions. Before November 5 there were 29million in the lowest tier.
Meanwhile, around 55million residents will be in the toughest two levels after the blanket national lockdown ends on December 2.
The new rules have sparked a huge backlash, with anger at the lack of firm thresholds for entering and leaving Tiers, and many local MPs in low-infection areas enraged at being lumped together with nearby hotspots.
The government has published a narrative explanation of why each area is going into each tier, but has dismissed calls to use numerical trigger points.
This week Swale hit the headlines after it recorded the highest level of Covid-19 infections in the UK, although this has since begun to decline, Government statistics show. As many as eight of Kent’s 12 boroughs are seeing declines in their Covid-19 case numbers.
Kent MP Damian Green, who represents Ashford, said he was ‘hugely disappointed’ with the Government’s decision to plunge Kent into Tier Three and said their full analysis must be made public.
Above is the county of Kent alongside its varying infection rates. The highest levels are in Thanet, Swale and the separate county of Medway
Department of Health data shows a closer view of the areas in Kent with the highest infection rates. Exact numbers weren’t revealed in the areas in white because fewer than three people tested positive
WHAT’S THE INFECTION RATE IN KENT BOROUGHS?
% urban residents
The data in the columns infection rate and % change is from the Department of Health. The figures in the column % urban residents are from a 2019 report from Kent County Council on the local population.
And North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said he feared it would mean people would ‘skip the boundary’ and go to the pub in neighbouring Tier Two areas. But Swale’s council leader Roger Truelove said he agreed with the county-wide restrictions, saying we are ‘all in this together’.
Several Kent MPs wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday asking that different areas of the county be placed in different restrictions, in recognition of the wildly varying levels of infection. Ministers said they had looked at Geography to determine Tiers and how people travel through the county.
Tory MP Damian Green has said he was ‘hugely disappointed’ by the decision to move Kent into Tier Three
Infection rates across Kent – which was under Tier One in the first system – were markedly higher in urban areas, suggesting picturesque rural villages were dragged into tougher restrictions with them.
In Thanet – the most urbanised borough according to a 2019 report by the council where 95 per cent of the population live in large towns – the second highest infection rate of the 12 boroughs was recorded at 491.1 per 100,000.
And in the second most urbanised areas of Dartford and Canterbury – where 88 per cent and 83 per cent of the population live in large towns – the infection rates were the fourth and sixth highest, respectively, at 282.4 and 251.1 per 100,000.
But in the most rural borough of Sevenoaks – where just over half the population live in big settlements – the third from lowest infection rate was recorded at 168.9 per 100,000. And the second most rural where 63 per cent are in large towns, Tunbridge Wells, had the second lowest infection rate at 120.4 per 100,000.
In Ashford, which has the county’s lowest infection rate, 65 per cent of the population lives in towns.
Eight of Kent’s boroughs are also recording declines in Covid-19 infections, according to the Department of Health, suggesting the outbreak may no longer be growing in the county because of the national lockdown.
Hospitals are running low on beds in some parts of Kent and having to rely on their neighbours in the county for assistance, a Department of Health spokesman said.
But Dartford and Gravesham Hospitals, East Kent Hospitals, and Maidstone and Kent hospitals – three of the biggest in the county – all had between 86 and 88 per cent of their beds occupied in the week ending November 22, according to NHS data. Ashford and St Peter’s Hospital had 93 per cent of beds occupied.
The Derbyshire Dales and Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire have suffered the same fate, lumped into the toughest restrictions because of their neighbours.
Both will enter Tier Three from next Thursday when national lockdown lifts, but have infection rates significantly below the average (204 per 100,000), and falling.
In the Derbyshire Dales the rate is 171 but it is part of a Tier Three rule across the entire county and Derby City, which PHE data shows had infection rates of 212 and 249, respectively.
In Stratford upon Avon there were just 108 positive tests per 100,000 people in the week to November 22, but the town will be subjected to a Tier Three lockdown for the whole of Warwickshire (195).
Authorities bordering Stratford have similar rates – Daventry (123) and Cherwell (100) – but escape Tier Three because they’re over county lines in Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire.
Under Tier Three restrictions restaurants and pubs are forced to remain offering take-away only, which it is warned has crippled many local businesses.
But in Tier Two they are able to re-open, offering many a vital line of income to allow them to stay afloat.
Most of England has been placed into Tier Two including areas with a higher Covid-19 infection rate than Ashford, Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and others.
Havering, in London, is in Tier Two despite having an infection rate at 318.6 per 100,000, alongside Redbridge, where the rate is 295.8 per 100,000 and Barking and Dagenham, where it is 248.5 per 100,000. In some parts of East London the infection rate is even rising.
Mr Green, MP for Ashford, wrote on Twitter: ‘I’m hugely disappointed that the whole of Kent has been put into Tier Three.
‘Before lockdown we were in Tier One, so what has lockdown achieved? We need the full analysis made public.’
Sir Gale also criticised the Government’s decision, telling 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 Two or in Tier One fairly nearby. That’s the last thing we want.’
Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was ‘disappointing’.
‘I have spoken to a few (businesses) 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 Three.
‘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.’
Swale has the highest infection rate in the UK at 541.7 per 100,000, according to the Department of Health. Its high street is pictured above
Under the new rules all but three places in England will be plunged into the toughest brackets despite many of the local cases being in small urban hotspots
Several Kent MPs, including Sir Gale and Mr Green, wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday asking that different areas of the county be placed in different restrictions.
They wrote in their letter: ‘We must allow businesses to prosper and not be held back by restrictions not suitable for their area.
Roger Truelove, the leader of Swale Borough Council, said he supported the decision to move to Tier Three
‘We trust that the Government will introduce restrictions on a Borough or District basis to ensure that the right approach is used across each community.’
Justifying its decision to place Kent in Tier Three, the Department of Health 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.’
Roger Truelove, leader of Swale Borough Council, said he agrees with county-wide Tier 3 restrictions for Kent.
He said: ‘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.’
‘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 added that if different boroughs had different restrictions it was likely there would be a ‘lot of migration of people from one borough to another’.
Officials have refused to reveal the threshold a county would need to drop its infection rate to in order to get out of Tier Three.