Published: 06:50, 05 January 2021
| Updated: 15:17, 05 January 2021
Kent is likely to be in lockdown until March.
Last night Boris Johnson ordered the country to stay indoors other than for limited exceptions and bowed to significant pressure to close schools and colleges.
The move meant primary pupils in some part of Kent, including Canterbury, Thanet, Folkestone, Dover and Hythe, returned to school for just one day before being told to stay home again.
They, along with children in the rest of Kent and Medway, are now relying on home learning until at least the end of February half term.
People have also been told not leave home unless it is absolutely essential, along with a host of other restrictions.
The most severe restrictions since March are needed to get the most vulnerable vaccinated, a target Mr Johnson say could be achieved by the middle of next month.
Now senior cabinet minister Michael Gove has said while restrictions will be reviewed on February 15 they will be "progressively" and not suddenly lifted.
When pressed for a time frame he told Sky News: "I think it's right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all."
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has this morning announced £4.6 billion of new grants to support businesses until the Spring in response to. The money will go to businesses previously eligible.
Around 600,000 retail, hospitality and leisure firms will be able to claim a one-off grant of up to £9,000.
Businesses, parents and politicians have been reacting to the announcement overnight.
As the country faces a seven-week shutdown, Covid-19 vaccines can “lead us into a Spring dawn”, says North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale.
The Prime Minister hopes 13 million people - everyone over 70 and the most clinically vulnerable - can receive a jab by mid-February. Government scientists have previously said this could prevent 88% of all coronavirus deaths.
Sir Roger (Con) said: “We are heading into the darkest hours but if we all pull together then the vaccination programme can lead us into a Spring dawn.”
The MP also called for more help to be provided to “businesses, hosptality and entertainment” to survive the next seven weeks. He also wants priority to be given for teachers to get vaccinated so schools can return as soon as possible.
Sir Roger added: “I believe that the right decision has now been taken.
“Stay at home. Save the NHS. Save lives and we can get through the lockdown and begin to breathe again.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay (Con) said vaccines are the “route out of this wretched situation”.
He also urged anyone who has doubts as to whether they might have Covid to get tested.
This week Thanet’s second rapid-test site opened - at The Centre in Birchington.
The Isle’s first symptom-free test site began operating at the Port of Ramsgate last month.
In Maidstone, salon owner Maxine Faulkes - who runs Flicks Hair Studio in Tovil - called on the authorities to do more to support struggling firms.
She said: "We need all the help we can get. It's just a case of no money coming in, but the bills still going out.
"Our staff are suffering because they are self-employed, they are not entitled to anything, and at the moment there is nothing we can claim.
"We spent a fortune getting screens installed and PPE in place, which we have been continuing to do, but there doesn't seem to be any help with that ongoing."
Ms Faulkes said she believes there are some unscrupulous businesses continuing to cut hair despite the restrictions in place.
"There are many still doing it on the sly," she said. "But they are not getting caught for it."
One mum in Dover welcomed news of school closures after the majority of her family were struck down with the virus.
Samantha Heath is now warning parents to keep children at home after hers caught Covid-19 from school mates.
Reacting to the news of the lockdown, Alan Jarrett, leader of Medway Council, said: "I know the last thing any of us wanted to face in the New Year was another lockdown; however, if this will help save just one life from being taken by this deadly virus it has to be worth it.
"The pandemic is relentless and we’ve all had to adapt to a new way of living over the past year. It’s also been a difficult couple of weeks for us all, with many spending the festive period away from loved ones for the first time.
"I appreciate you may be fatigued by the changing of restrictions, but it is so important that you continue to follow the guidelines.
"Infection rates in Medway are still very high and we know that the new COVID-19 variant spreads incredibly quickly. Whilst we have started the COVID vaccination programme, it will take a short time before we get enough people vaccinated to protect our community. Until that time, we must all act now to protect our family and friends."
Roger Gough, leader of Kent County Council, wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Sunday calling for all Kent schools to be closed.
He said last night: "The latest Coronavirus figures clearly show the virus is surging and this third national lockdown is, however regrettably, undoubtedly necessary to get the number of infections down.
"I know how hard another lockdown will be – not being able to see loved ones, being stuck indoors yet again, a huge impact on businesses and livelihoods – but this is a moment in which we can save lives and prepare for a post-Covid future."
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, said: "I’m sorry it’s necessary but I welcome two positive things - the exams reset will help students have confidence their achievements will be judged on their merit and the vaccine roll out. We’ll get through this together."
Canterbury Labour MP Rosie Duffield worried about whether some pupils have access to the technology or broadband required for home learning.
She said: "As we enter another national lockdown, which sees our schools close (with the exception for children of keyworkers and the vulnerable) our children will be educated by remote learning again.
"Many of you have contacted me, very concerned about the lack of access for some pupils to technology and broadband to allow them to learn remotely.
"Without access to a device like a laptop or tablet, (nationally there are 1.78 million children who do not have access to these devices) school children will automatically be put at a disadvantage as they won’t be able to participate in online lessons.
"While the government has promised that more children will have access to devices the reality is that there is still a massive shortfall. What’s more, pupils still need broadband to connect to their teachers and classmates and continue their education. It is estimated that nationally, nearly 900,000 households have internet only though their data from their mobile phones.
"The government has had nearly a year to produce a strategy to support our school children but yet again we have seen a last minute, slapdash approach to our children's schooling."
'Billions have already been spent helping good firms to survive this unprecedented crisis and to save jobs. These businesses must not be allowed to fail now, when the vaccine rollout provides light at the end of this long tunnel....'
Speaking before Rishi Sunak's funding announcement Jo James, head of the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said: "Businesses will understand why the Prime Minister has felt compelled to act on the spiralling threat to public health, but they will be baffled and disappointed by the fact that he did not announce additional support for affected businesses alongside these new restrictions.
“The lockdowns announced in England are a body blow to our business communities, hard on the heels of lost trade during the festive season and uncertainty linked to the end of the Brexit transition period. Tens of thousands of firms are already in a precarious position, and now face a period of further hardship and difficulty.
“Billions have already been spent helping good firms to survive this unprecedented crisis and to save jobs. These businesses must not be allowed to fail now, when the vaccine rollout provides light at the end of this long tunnel. The financial support for businesses needs to be stepped up in line with the devastating restrictions being placed on them. Otherwise, many of these firms may simply not be there to power our recovery when we emerge once again.
“Enhanced support for businesses, a turbo-charged vaccine rollout, and delivery of existing promises on mass testing must be delivered to enable the UK to restart, rebuild and renew.”
Helen Grant, MP for Maidstone and the Weald, said: "Unfortunately, these new restrictions are necessary in order to get Covid-19 infection rates back under control and protect capacity in our local hospitals, which are currently under huge pressure.
"I know however the coming weeks are going to be very difficult and I want to remind people across Maidstone and The Weald that support is available. If any constituents need assistance with, for example, deliveries of essentials such as food and medicine then I would advise them to email me anytime at email@example.com or call my office on 02072197107. My team and I will then link them up with the truly inspirational community volunteers who are doing such a fantastic job supporting vulnerable people across our area."
MP for neighbouring Faversham and Mid Kent Helen Whately said: “This is not the start to the year any of us would have wanted.
“I know going back into lockdown will be incredibly tough for people – especially parents and children. The government has done everything possible to avoid these restrictions, but it’s clear this is the only option to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed this winter.
“We’ve seen in Kent just how quickly this new strain of the virus can spread and the pressure it is putting on our local NHS. This picture is now sadly being seen across the country with more people in our hospitals with Covid than at any time during this pandemic.
“We’re stepping up support for businesses and rolling out the vaccine at pace to help get through these dark days as quickly as possible. I’ll continue to work hard both locally and in Parliament to do everything I can to support people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and at risk.
“We can all help get through this difficult time by following the guidance and looking out for each other. That sense of community spirit we rediscovered at the start of this pandemic will be needed more than ever.
“We face a tough winter ahead, but we will get through it together.”
Jonny Benjamin MBE's youth mental health charity Beyond is hosting a festival for 600 primary schools next month to educate students and teachers about wellbeing.
He said: "Student, teacher and parent wellbeing is under more strain than ever during this pandemic and news of this latest lockdown comes at a time when emotional resources are well and truly depleted.
"With no meaningful government plans for mental health or wellbeing provisions at this time, our festival on February 3 will go ahead as planned to provide essential support to pupils and teachers all over the UK. Never before has it been so important to prioritise wellbeing."
Meanwhile, Dartford councillor Laura Edie has resigned from the Labour Party in protest at what she claimed to be its "refusal to stand by unions and protect school staff".
The SEN teaching assistant will now serve her Newtown ward as an independent and penned an open letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer outlining the full reasons for her departure.
It read: "I have tried to remain steadfast, but time and time again the Labour leadership has gone against core socialist principles and not put up a fight when the country is in a desperate situation.
"With the death toll rising, as an opposition we needed to be standing up for citizens of the UK.
"From not protecting human rights, voting for an incredibly flawed Tier system, a Brexit deal that will be detrimental to our living standards, and more recently an utter refusal to stand by unions and protect school staff."
Ahead of the PM's announcement Labour leader Keir Starmer had called for an urgent national lockdown.
But the former shadow leader of Dartford council took exception to the party's handling of the schools situation and launched a petition calling for staff working in special educational needs settings to be prioritised for vaccinations alongside healthcare workers.
In the petition, which has amassed more than 5,000 signatures to date, she wrote: "They [SEN staff] work in environments where it is impossible to maintain social distancing, the use of masks may be very difficult and they are expected to carry out personal care."
Extending the jab programme to them would not only protect staff but vulnerable children in their care, she claimed.
'They work in environments where it is impossible to maintain social distancing, the use of masks may be very difficult and they are expected to carry out personal care...'
A tweet from the Dartford Labour party said: "We are sad to announce the resignation of Cllr Laura Edie, of Newtown ward, from the Labour Party.
"We would like to thank her for all of her hard work and her dedication to her role. We wish her all the best in her future as an Independent councillor."
Elsewhere Cllr Roger Truelove, leader of Swale council, said keeping children away from schools was hard but "necessary".
"Given the alarmingly rapid rise in infections across the country, the move to Lockdown was inevitable," he said.
"Whilst Swale’s infection rate has levelled off and started to decline, we know it is wrong to try to control this pandemic through patchwork measures.
"The Tier system has not worked, perhaps because of the new variant. Lockdown is going to be hard for us all.
"Its purpose is to stop the spread of the virus from person to person and so the stay-at-home message, however harsh, is necessary.
"Keeping children away from school is very hard but it is necessary.
"The amount of time youngsters have lost means that assessment of students at GCSE and A levels cannot be done by external examination and I am pleased that is now acknowledged."
Elsewhere, the latest funding announced for pubs means they can apply for grants of up to £9,000, dependent on rateable value.
John Brice chairman of Medway’s Licensed Victuallers’ Association said his members eagerly awaited such parachute payments but voiced concerns over the speed with which they would reach their coffers.
He said: "The Chancellor has today announced financial grants so that has got to be welcome.
"But it is going to be interesting to see actually what the details are and how quickly they are going to be paid.
"One of the issues my members all say is the speed they being paid out because they need enough for them to cover their outgoings."
The landlord went onto explain many publicans would have ongoing commitments tied up in "masses of little contracts" covering everything from licensing and insurance to more discrete requirements such as hand dryers and rodent control.
To avoid last orders this would need to be met head on, he added, alongside ongoing commitments to cover staff wages under the extension to the furlough scheme.
However, for embattled pubs across Kent and Medway, who have remained shut since the last lockdown, he says the "real anger" has been the latest decision to scrap takeaway pints.
'The real anger is pubs can now only deliver people their beer...'
The controversial move was criticised when it was last deployed – and later u-turned – during the second lockdown.
Takeaway beer was credited as providing a "lifeline" for many struggling pubs during the first lockdown in March and April with many making ends meet on the back of sales.
"The real anger is pubs can now only deliver people their beer and people are not allowed to come and collect beer which has changed," said John.
Mr Brice, who owns both the Frog and Toad pub in Gillingham and the King George V pub in Brompton, claimed the move had yet again penalised pubs while strengthening the hands of supermarkets profiteering from the lockdown.
"It is really irritating," he continued, explaining people can walk to a supermarket and purchase beer but not a pub.
The landlord also slammed what he perceived to be double standards in terms of health and safety and believes more checks should be carried out in supermarkets.
"In the last lockdown you had to go in, the person had on hand santiser, you had to wear a mask and sit at the table served by a waiter," he said.
But in supermarkets he said the attitude had become more "lax" and was frustrated to see people "bumping into each other" in aisles.
Mr Brice added members wanted to ensure their clientele were safe and supported restrictions where needed but asked that there be a "level playing field" for businesses.
He also feared repeat lockdowns would likely lead to long term cultural changes whereby more people would choose to spend their money and drink at home.
"The longer it goes on the more people's attitudes are changing," he warned.
But the pub landlord said there was some cause for optimism and believes things too will pick up when pubs are allowed to open once again.
"When pubs open I'm sure there will be a massive surge back. I think they will have a boom month or so.
"But when that is gone that is the telling time of what the damage will be to the industry."
Parliament will be recalled so the new measures can become law.
In last night's bleak statement, the PM said the new variant of coronavirus, which is up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” manner and warned that the number of Covid-19 patients in English hospitals is 40% higher than the first peak.
“The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we’re entering the last phase of the struggle, because with every jab that goes into our arms we’re tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people,” he added.