Published: 11:22, 26 November 2020
| Updated: 16:24, 26 November 2020
Kent is among the counties which will be plunged into Tier 3 next week, as England prepares to end the second national lockdown.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock addressed the House of Commons, explaining what life would look like across the country following the introduction of the new tier system on December 2.
Prior to the announcement it was thought Kent was likely to be saddled with the toughest restrictions, as a number of districts continue to battle with some of the highest infection rates in the country.
Swale currently has the highest infection rate in England of 535 per 100,000 after recording 803 cases in the week to November 21.
That has come down from 619.7 in the previous week but the big change is its closest rival is no longer 250 miles north in Hull but a considerably shorter trip East, in Thanet.
The latest date places the district as second in England, with a rate of 493.2 (700 new cases in a week), a drop from 517.9.
And Kent now has three places in the top 10, with the unitary authority of Medway now sitting seventh with a rate of 429.4 (1,196 new cases).
While in Thanet and Swale the rate has dropped, Medway is only one of two places in the top 10 where the rate has increased, with 306 more cases recorded in the week to November 21 than in the week to November 14.
Nearby Gravesham is now 16th in England, it's mos recent rate of 391.8 (419 new cases) up from 310.5 (332).
Detailed reasoning on why Kent has been given the toughest restrictions has been published on the Parliament website, including the fact that case rates are high and continue to rise in almost every area of the county.
It also states that Kent and Medway STP are reporting an increase in hospital admissions and says mutual aid is necessary across the county.
Rising case rates in people over 60 are also of particular concern, with positivity increasing in 10 of the 13 local authorities.
Yet some parts of Kent have lower rolling infection rates than the UK average.
Despite this the whole county will be in Tier 3 for at least two weeks, when the first review will take place.
Earlier this week Damian Green, MP of Ashford - which has the lowest infection rate in the county - called for local level coronavirus restrictions that would prevent areas with low rates of infection suffering from restrictions brought in because of places with much higher rates of infection.
It follows a publican in Swale saying he would be 'spitting feathers' if he was in a low infection area and had to remain closed because of areas with much higher infection rates.
What will Kent look like from December 2?
Under the tier three rules, non-essential shops and gyms will be able to reopen and outdoor sports will be able to return from December 2.
Hairdressers and personal care services will be allowed to reopen too - but any indoor group activities and classes will not be allowed to take place.
Pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen in tiers one and two - but areas like Kent in tier three will be forced to remain as takeaway-only service.
Collective worship and weddings will also be able to continue and will be subject to social distancing.
Spectators will be allowed to attend some sporting events across England.
Educational settings such as universities, colleges and schools will remain open across England regardless of the local tier status.
Whilst the Rule of Six will return for tier one and two areas, people in Kent will not be able to mix households under the tier three status.
People will however be able to meet in certain outdoor areas, following the Rule of Six guidelines.
The government are also allowing support bubbles to be expanded - if you are the only adult in your household you can form a support bubble with another household.
You will also be able to form a support bubble if you have a child under 1 or a child under 5 with a disability that needs continuous care.
Public buildings, such as libraries, community centres and halls will remain open across all three tiers, as well as allotments, recycling and waste centres, public toilets and car parks.
The government have described tier three as a 'very high alert.' It is reserved for areas 'with a very high or very rapidly rising level of infections.'
'We're still anxious'
The news is welcomed by the thousands of local business owners who have been forced to shut up shop in their busiest time of year.
But some are still worried about opening when they infection rates are so high.
Helen Bellenie, owner of Toys N Trends in Whitstable, said: “We’re still anxious. Because obviously Covid is quite high in Kent at the moment and we’re still needing to stay safe.
“We don’t want to encourage queues and we can still have only two families at a time, so it doesn’t matter how busy it becomes, were still limited to how many people can come in.
“We still have to be completely safe with our sanitiser stations an our screens, our staff have to stay safe, so there’s a lot of thought that goes into it."
She added: “It’s not just about opening your door and taking as much money as you can, but obviously we do need to be supported, we do encourage people to buy from us because we still need yo save our jobs and our local community.”
Simon Fowle's new tea room business Bosuns in Queenborough was only open for a week before it was forced to shut it's High Street site and is excited to get going again.
Now the business, which will also operate as a gift shop, will be able to reopen this week. Mr Fowle, who is also a Swale ward councillor for Queenborough and Halfway, said: "I think it was the shortest opening in tea room history.
"We were such a young company so we weren't geared up for it and didn't have the infrastructure to adapt and do takeaways as we were so new, so instead we've used the time to get everything prepared for reopening.
"The biggest impact was on the staff as they were all new.
"In tier 3 we'll be able to operate as a takeaway providing drinks, cakes, and sandwiches this time round as as a giftshop."
The councillor took on the site, which was a historic derelict building, as a new venture after retiring.
He added: "It is what it is. We can moan until we're blue in the face but it's a pandemic affecting everyone, so what can you do?
"Tier 3 restrictions will affect pubs and hotels much more than us. We have a luxury B&B upstairs but can't open that yet."
Asked whether or not tier 3 restrictions will affect business and people coming to the site, he added: "With Christmas coming up it's difficult to say as people will want to come out. And as we're in Queenborough people visiting is usually seasonal anyway because of the weather. We'll have our fingers crossed it will be busy like it was the first week we opened."
Run up to Christmas
The pantomime at The Marlowe was cancelled during in the first lockdown but in October it was revealed a safe production would go ahead.
Nurse Nellie Saves Panto is due to run between December 11 and January 3 and has reassured audiences they will be kept up-to-date if anything changes.
Spokesman John Baker said: “We are now reviewing all of the guidance around this and planning accordingly.
"We will be in touch directly with customers whose bookings may be affected, as soon as we have further news.
"All of the latest information can be found on our website and on our Twitter and Facebook channels. We’d like to thank all of our customers for their patience at this time.”