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Health Secretary Matt Hancock warns Kent residents to be 'really cautious' as the county has a 'serious problem' with coronavirus

People living in Kent have been advised by the Health Secretary to "behave as if they have the virus and are trying not to pass it on", while the county's chief medical officer says face masks should be worn at all times due to the new strain of Covid.

The Secretary of State Matt Hancock, who confirmed that the county will remain under the tightest Covid restrictions, was answering a question from Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, and said Kent had a "serious problem".

Greg Clark questioned the Health Secretary today

He added: "Tunbridge Wells today has a case rate of 288 per 100,000 and I would say to everybody right across Kent that we really need to act with serious responsibility... no matter which part of Kent you are in.

"We have a very serious problem in Kent and the only way we can get it under control is for people in Kent to essentially behave as if they have the virus and are trying not to pass it on to somebody else.

"Be really cautious in Kent. It is the area of the country which has the biggest problem, both in terms of case rates and in terms of, therefore, huge pressures on the NHS in Kent.

"I want to thank every one working in the NHS in Kent for what they are doing. We are putting in as much support as we can."

Mr Hancock said he looked forward to working with organisations across the county, such as the county council and district councils, to get the virus under control.

Greg Clark speaking in the House of Commons. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv
Greg Clark speaking in the House of Commons. Picture: Parliamentlive.tv

"Other parts of the country have done it, and brought the case rate down," he added. "Some, so far, that we have been able to take them into Tier 2.

"I'm sure we can get there in Kent but we've really, really got to work hard to make that happen."

Mr Clark asked that the government would commit to reviewing the tiers every fortnight, and reduce levels of restrictions in local areas as soon as possible.

Mr Hancock replied: "Absolutely we will look at local areas and we've demonstrated that in the decision take today, for instance just over the border in East Sussex we've unfortunately had to put Hastings and Rother into Tier 3."

Meanwhile, director of public health for Kent County Council, Andrew Scott-Clark, has also advised people to more cautious, saying that it is important to wear face masks in public at all times, given the new strain of the virus known to be circulating in the county.

Kent's director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark says face masks should be worn in public at all times. Picture: John Nurden
Kent's director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark says face masks should be worn in public at all times. Picture: John Nurden

He said: "We know that the new variant has been found, and we do believe that it may be more transmissible and that’s a worry because that may have contributed to the significant rise in cases we have seen right across our county.

"We’re not the only area that this has been seen in, it’s been found in other areas, in London and the east of England.

“So, we are concerned but it doesn’t change what we’re doing and it doesn’t change the message for everybody out there.

“I think they should be more cautious now because if it’s more transmissible then wearing a mask in public is absolutely important particularly if you’re going to be in close contact with people.

"Particularly at this period now when people are out Christmas shopping - it’s really important to wear a mask at all times."

Swale and Medway have the highest case rates in England – growing to 725.6 and 701.1 infections per 100,000 respectively.

But Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett said it is not "all disappointing news" for the Towns.

"Medway has the highest testing rate in the south-east," he said.

"We were the first area regionally to launch community testing for people without symptoms and, although I appreciate this will identify more cases, it is helping to stop the spread of the virus of those unknowingly infected.

"This will, gradually over time, help to reduce the number of cases we see locally."

Cllr Jarrett added it was "no surprise" and "understandable" residents must follow extra rules with nobody allowed to meet indoors, following the rule of six outdoors and businesses being forced to close or only operate takeaway services.

"It is important everyone continues to play their part – if you’re contacted as eligible to book a symptom-free test, please do so.

Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett
Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett

"You can still be contagious without having any symptoms and, with Christmas just around the corner, you won’t want to spread this deadly virus, which has impacted us all so much, to your nearest and dearest.

"We have already seen nearly 14,000 of Medway’s critical workers and residents book to have a quick swab at our symptom-free targeted community testing centres and more than 100 have been found to unknowingly have coronavirus – they were immediately advised to isolate preventing them from spreading the virus across Medway.

"We all have to think about the consequences of what we do today and the impact this could have on us in the new year.

"Despite being able to form a Christmas bubble with people from no more than three households throughout 23 and 27 December, think carefully about this including who you see and whether you can social distance, particularly if you have vulnerable family or friends.

"Our NHS is already under enormous pressure and I am grateful to everyone at Medway Maritime Hospital for everything you are doing to stay on top of the ongoing strain you face.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel, especially with the roll-out of the vaccine, but we must still act now and continue to follow the restrictions and take appropriate precautions."

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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