Today's announcement from the Health Secretary confirmed that Northumberland would be placed into Tier 3 as we exit the naitonal lockdown on Wednesday 2nd December.
There is more information on the Covid Winter Plan, the Christmas bubbles, expansion of support bubbles and the route out of measures on my coronavirus advice page HERE.
What is tier 3, what does it mean for us?
Tier 3 means you cannot mix socially with anyone outside your household or bubble, including in a private garden. Socialising in a public open space is limited to 6 people. Pubs and restaurants may only serve takeaway customers, and accommodation providers (hotels, B&Bs etc) may only open to those who need to stay in them for the reasons presently exempted under the current national restrictions. You can find that list HERE at the end of page 20.
Places of worship may open, outdoor attractions may open, outdoor sports and exercise classes may resume. Non-essential shops can open from Wednesday, and weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers. Residents in Tier 3 should only travel outside the area for work, education, health or other essential reasons.
The primary difference between tiers 2 and 3 is the closure of hospitality venues to non-takeaway customers. The full outline of Tier 3 is HERE.
Support for businesses
Unlike Tier 2, businesses in Tier 3 are able to apply for additional financial support. The Chancellor has announced additional funding to support cash grants of up to £2,100 per month primarily for businesses in the hospitality, accommodation and leisure sector who may be adversely impacted by the restrictions in high-alert level areas. These grants are available to businesses in England, including hotels, restaurants, B&Bs and many more who aren’t legally required to close but have been adversely affected by local restrictions nonetheless.
The CRJS (furlough) scheme is open until the end of March and pays up to 80% staff wages, and the self-employment scheme is also open for a third round from Monday. Full details available HERE.
Access to mass testing
The recent pilot in Liverpool of mass testing of residents, even if they have no symptoms, has been a huge success. Over 125,000 were tested, and among them 1,200 positive cases were found in people with no symptoms. The ability to isolate positive cases when people are asymptomatic, has helped bring the infection rate down in Liverpool at such a pace that Liverpool is to be placed in Tier 2.
This system is being rolled out to all areas in Tier 3, with the help of the military. It is my hope that this will really help Northumberland get infection rates down even faster.
Why is Northumberland in Tier 3?
I am still being asked this, with many thinking we have been “lumped in” with the rest of the north east. Whilst the Council did originally ask to be included in the LA7 area, Northumberland would be in Tier 3 on its own merit based on the present figures.
As set out by the government on Monday the criteria for determining the tier level of each local authority is as follows:
a. Case detection rates in all age groups;
b. Case detection rates in the over 60s;
c. The rate at which cases are rising or falling;
d. Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken); and
e. Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.
The Health Secretary's written statement gives an overview explanation of why each area is placed in each tier, which you can read HERE.
Those who have been watching the Northumberland figures will know they remain very high, although the rate of new infections has started to fall. You can explore them further HERE.
I also receive emails from those who believe there are low numbers in the north of Northumberland. Again, sadly not the case, although rates in the south of the county are higher. More from me on why we have to have restrictions can be found HERE.
Covid cases are increasing in our hospital at Cramlington. Regardless of where in Northumberland we live, we all rely on critical care beds being available in Cramlington should we need it. I want there to be a bed for any of us or our family members should we need one. Each week I receive an update from the Trust with the updated figures and the numbers continue to rise. As of Friday 20th November Northumberland had 138 patients hospitalised with Covid, 17 of whom are in critical care beds. That is 138 beds which cannot be used for cancer care, or hip operations. That is 17 critical care beds that cannot be used by stroke patients or the victims of serious road traffic accidents. We must continue to get the numbers down, not least as we head towards the winter period with all the pressures that places on the NHS.
How can we get out of Tier 3?
If you chart the infection rates in the county, they are heading in the right direction. The Health Secretary announced today, that today's decision will be reviewed in two weeks. I think there will be a strong case to make if we can get our numbers down, for Northumberland to be treated separately from the rest of the region. However, I cannot make that case unless our numbers continue to fall.
I am still receiving reports of people locally being fined because they ignored a test and trace directive and went to work, putting others at risk. There are still outbreaks across my constituency in north Northumberland. We must all follow the rules in place to keep us all safe. If you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace you must self-isolate. There is financial support available for those on low incomes (details HERE). There is support available for everyday tasks such as shopping and collecting prescriptions which you can read more about HERE.
We are very much on the home stretch of this pandemic and the limitations it places on our lives. We have three vaccines which have been proven effective and await approval from the regulator. The NHS is gearing up to ensure they can be distributed quickly and effectively with the most at risk at the top of the list. Mass testing capacity has sky-rocketed enabling us the chance to return to closer to normal even before the vaccines are rolled out. We must do all we can to help suppress this virus whilst these measures are put in place, and to protect the NHS through its most difficult months. I want it to continue to be there for all of us and our families should we need it, so we must all play our part. The more we follow the rules, the quicker we can return to normal.
I want to be able to make the case to my colleagues in Government that Northumberland should be moved down to Tier 2. Please help me do that by continuing to follow the rules to suppress this virus.