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Nine Kent areas among the most infected in the UK as cases continue to rise

Nine of the county's 13 districts have an infection rate of more than 400 per 100,000 people, the highest in the country.

This has brought Kent and Medway's overall infection rate up to 458.1 as cases rise by 30.4% to 8,520 in the week ending December 9.

Source: Public Health England
Source: Public Health England

Kent and Medway are two of just three upper tier local authorities in England with an infection rate of more than 400 - the third being Havering, London.

Swale maintains the top spot in Kent - and the country - with 643.6 cases per 100,000 people - a rise of 11% in a week, bringing the new cases total in seven days up to 966.

The largest increase was seen in Ashford, where cases rose by 120% on the week ending December 9, bringing the total cases to 591 and the infection rate to 454.5.

Ashford's MP, Damian Green, was among a number of MP's who voted against the tier system in favour of more localised rules before exiting the second lockdown two weeks ago. At the time, Ashford was the third least infected area in Kent.

The only area to see a drop in cases has been Thanet where they fell by 1%. Due to cases shooting up in other areas, Thanet has dropped out of the top three and down to the eighth most infected area in Kent.

Source: Public Health England
Source: Public Health England

Sevenoaks is now the only area with an infection rate below 200, with 217 cases in the last week causing a 32% rise - bringing the infection rate up to 179.7.

Deaths are rising rapidly alongside cases. On the week ending October 25, 15 deaths within 28 days of positive test were recorded in Kent and Medway.

Just under two months later there are almost ten times more deaths per week - with 144 being recorded the week ending December 9.

Some of the rise has been attributed to a new strain of Covid-19 being discovered in the South East, which Health Minister Matt Hancock says is no more deadly or resistant to the new vaccine.

Because of this, Kent will remain in Tier 3 alongside newly restricted London when tiers are reevaluated on Wednesday.

There has also been a plea to close schools ahead of the Christmas break and medical experts have urged ministers to rethink Christmas bubble plans which could exacerbate rising cases.

Weekly cases by area (43558607)
Weekly cases by area (43558607)

In a joint editorial, the Health Service Journal and the British Medical Journal wrote: "Members of the public can and should mitigate the impact of the third wave by being as careful as possible over the next few months. But many will see the lifting of restrictions over Christmas as permission to drop their guard."

But with an increase in testing in schools and highly infected areas and the roll-out of vaccinations in GP surgeries starting today, there are hopes the virus can be brought under control next year if rules are followed.

Dr Jack Jacobs, a GP from Hamstreet Surgery near Ashford, where the vaccine will start to be administered from Friday, said: "We're really keen for people to come.

"It has been an enormous challenge. Although the vaccine has been given all the authorisation, just the practicalities and logistics has been a real significant challenge.

"General practice is taking on that challenge and working incredibly hard, incredibly long hours to meet it."

However, Dr Jacobs adds: "It's a very worrying time, I'm really worried about the pressure on hospitals at the moment as they appear to be very busy across the patch.

"So while we start this vaccination process, it's just so vital that people listen to the rules and respect the rules. We're all under Tier 3 at the moment and, I suspect, likely to stay for some time."

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