Today's announcement (26th Nov) from the Health Secretary confirmed that Burnley and Padiham would be placed into Tier 3 as we exit the national lockdown on Wednesday 2nd December.
Like many, I am disappointed with the announcement. We have had restrictions on our lives, and businesses restrictions on their ability to trade, for longer than most. Moving into Tier 3 will not be easy and in the House of Commons earlier today I highlighted the impact this will have, and the support we need. I will be doing all I can to help businesses and residents and explain below what the change means. I will also be posting further guidance on what the new Tier means in practice.
There are a number of important changes that will happen when we move from national restrictions to the Very High tier next week. Whilst most businesses will be able to re-open, hospitality will remain closed. I am lobbying the Chancellor to further support our pubs, bars and restaurants and the grants currently in place will be extended.
I know some have queried the local R rate, which is lower in the North West than it is in many parts of the country. This shows we are moving clearly in the right direction and as the Health Secretary says, we have halved our rate locally. But, disappointingly, other indicators including NHS bed capacity, remain worrying.
Below might be a bit lengthy but I wanted to give you all the information I have and answer a lot of questions in the process.
What does Tier 3 mean for us?
- Gyms, swimming pools, golf clubs and leisure centres can reopen, but organised classes and organised indoor sport won't be allowed, except for disabled groups. Some outdoor organised sport and fitness classes can go ahead,
- Non-essential shops can re-open.
- Hairdressers and other personal care services can reopen. That includes mobile hairdressers
- Hospitality settings have to remain closed except for take out. Indoor attractions like museums, cinemas remain closed.
- Household mixing is not allowed, but the same exemptions for childcare, support bubbles, caring responsibilities etc continue.
- Driving lessons and tests can resume.
- Weddings ceremonies can go ahead again with 15 people max but with no receptions.
- Church services etc and communal worship can start again, subject to the social contact rules.
These rules will be reviewed after 2 weeks.
Why Tier 3?
We’ve made a lot of progress over the past few weeks but our cases still remain higher than elsewhere. You will have seen that yesterday the Council actually asked the Government to put us in Tier 3. This was not a decision they consulted me on, nor one which I thought was helpful.
However it is where we are.
Every time there is a decision to add restrictions or loosen restrictions, I get a lots of emails demanding a tougher lockdown and lots of emails demanding an end to lockdown. There strong feelings on both sides.
I want this over as quickly as possible and I share many of the arguments about personal freedoms and liberties and of course the impact on the economy. However, I also keep in close contact with the local hospital and the NHS and our local public health teams. And in responding to today’s announcement I cannot ignore their warnings.
We have seen a deteriorating situation in local hospitals in recent weeks as infection rates in our area have been well above the national average.
And whilst we have been successful in reducing the rates in Burnley the rolling data over the last 7 days shows a rate of 341 per 100,000 cases. That is higher than other areas in the country, despite our R rate being the lowest.
But there is not a country on the planet that has been able to successfully limit the spread of the virus by measures other than restrictions of the kind we have in the UK - similar and agreed positions have been taken by all four nations of differing political persuasions I should add.
Be it new restrictions imposed in Canada this week, or in France or in Belgium or in many US states, the approach the UK is taking is the same as in other countries.
I hate it and I want it to end as soon as possible, but we need to be under no doubt that the situation in local hospitals and in the social care sector has been worsening locally. More deaths, more patients coming in to hospital and because the virus is spreading more widely in the community, more NHS staff, social care staff and essential workers getting the virus and having to take time off work.
Let me also say, those who point out Covid has left to deteriorating health outcomes are absolutely right. It has and that is why we have tried to balance restrictions. But turning off Covid restrictions now does not mean that the NHS would suddenly get back to doing its normal work again. It would mean more community transmission of the virus resulting in even more hospitalisations, even more NHS workers off ill with the virus and even less NHS care. That is why nobody in the NHS is demanding an end to these restrictions or a change of approach.
The good news is that rates have stabilised and fallen somewhat recently but they remain too high. We need to get these down and get these restrictions off.
Those who pretend there is some wonderful solution just waiting to be plucked off the shelf which will simultaneously get us all back to normal whilst also reducing the rate of infections, hospitalisations, deaths etc are engaging in total fantasy.
The recent news on vaccines, of which the UK has been a pioneer means we will be one of the first developed nations to get the vaccine out to its people. This is something we forget as we are constantly bombarded by a media intent on perpetuating the myth that all the problems of the pandemic are unique to Britain.
They are not and the vaccine news is positive as it offers a way out of this in the coming weeks and months.
Yes there is a long way to go but I can assure you I want us out of these restrictions as quickly as possible. I despise the fact that governments are having to tell their people who they can mix with and what they can do or where they can go.
It’s not what I got in politics for.
I hate it all but I am also not going to ignore the facts on the ground, or believe some conspiracy theory on the website or some scientist on the fringes of the scientific community.
The approach taken in the UK is one shared with pretty much every other country on the planet. It is in line with the overwhelming body of scientific and medical opinion here in the UK and globally.
And whilst none of us are happy with these restrictions I will do all I can to make sure we get the support that our local businesses need – the sooner we get out of this the better.