The council leader of the district with the lowest Covid-19 infection rate in England has described it as a “slap in the face” to be put into Tier 2.
Councillor Alan Connett, leader of Teignbridge District Council, said he was “hugely disappointed” for the area, which has the lowest rate of infections in England over the last seven days.
The county of Devon has been placed in the second highest level of restrictions, partly due to pressure on local NHS resources.
Teignbridge has 52.9 infections per 100,000 people, while South Hams has 60.9 and Torridge has 68.8.
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“I’m hugely disappointed for Teignbridge, and even more saddened for the businesses that will be adversely affected by this decision,” Mr Connett, a Liberal Democrat, said.
“We’re very unlucky that we’ve been placed in a higher tier than many expected, and it does feel like a slap in the face for everyone who has worked so hard to keep our infection rates low, keep our high streets and businesses Covid-safe and stick to the rules.
“But what we need to focus on now is keeping our rates down, helping get our NHS through this critical period, and supporting our local communities to recover.
“It’s not going to be easy – we’re already seeing big increases in claims for Universal Credit, council tax relief and hardship funds, and our economy is being hit hard.”
Chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty has warned that Tier 2 restrictions “hold the line” but not bring cases down.
At the Downing Street press conference on Thursday, he said: “Tier 1, which is very similar to the previous Tier 1, slowed things down but did not stop the rise anywhere.
“So the reason why Tier 1 at this time of year, with the current measures we currently got before we have any vaccines, is relatively limited, is almost certainly anywhere going into Tier 1 will rise and the only places that are there are places with very low rates at the moment.”
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw tweeted: “Anyone explain why Devon with Covid-19 rates below 100 per 100,000 has been lumped in with Plymouth and Torbay with higher rates, which seems to have pushed us into Tier 2 rather than Tier 1, when elsewhere councils have been treated differently?”
Devon County Council leader John Hart, who is chair of the county’s local outbreak engagement board, said: “Devon has done well so far in keeping case numbers relatively low and I would like to thank everyone for their actions during the latest lockdown, so I’m disappointed that we have been placed in Tier 2.
“It’s even more vital now that we all stick to the guidelines and maintain social distance, wash our hands regularly and wear masks where required so we can get cases down and get into Tier 1.
“And working with MPs and Team Devon partners, I will be strongly lobbying the Government to provide tailored support for our hard-hit hospitality industry, which is losing out significantly during what’s usually their most lucrative period.
“I’m pleased local shops will be able to reopen in the run-up to Christmas and begin to help our economy recover, but in Devon, hospitality businesses are crucial and they need targeted support.
“In the meantime, I would renew my appeal to people to stick to the rules to keep themselves and their families and neighbours safe and minimise the pressure on our local health services.
“I welcome the opening of the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter but, as Boris Johnson has conceded, the South West still lacks hospital beds and this must be urgently addressed.”
The county’s director of public health Steve Brown said: “Whilst the number of cases across Devon has stabilised, it is clear that the virus is still with us.
“Local cases were rising when previously in Tier 1, and it has only been through the additional restrictions and efforts of residents that we are now just starting to see a reduction in cases.
“Going into Tier 2 now gives us the best chance of continuing to keep a lid on cases or even continuing to bring them down.
“The number of cases still out in our communities remains a real concern, particularly in the working age population and among older people – in workplaces, care homes and other settings where people come together.
“We must not let down our guard over the next few weeks, nor throw caution to the wind over the Christmas period.
“It would take little for the numbers to start to increase again and for our hospitals to be put under increased pressure, and none of us should want to pay the price for that in a few weeks’ time or in the new year.”