Published: 13:17, 23 November 2020
| Updated: 15:21, 23 November 2020
A borough in Kent now has the highest coronavirus infection rate in England.
According to the latest government figures, Swale had 631.7 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to November 18 - that is higher than Hull, which was the country's worst-affected place last week.
It comes as an emergency meeting to address the high number of Covid-19 cases across Swale, which is made up of Sheppey, Sittingbourne and Faversham, is taking place but is being held in secret, with members of the public and press not invited to hear the talks.
Swale council called the meeting on Friday and had invited senior representatives from partner agencies, such as Kent County Council (KCC), Kent Police, the prison service, Department for Work and Pensions and the local voluntary sector.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, which started at 12.30pm, council leader, Cllr Roger Truelove, said he had not yet been given the latest figures but that it was "possible", considering the borough had been in second place.
When asked why he thought Swale had been hit so hard, Cllr Truelove said: "I think it's very difficult to say. People talk to us about reasons. There's obviously a fair number at the prisons, we've got a fairly large number in care homes and we have, clearly, got a lot just in the community, within households.
"People are saying it's the meeting of children outside of schools and play dates and people aren't social distancing.
"We don't have so many people in Swale who work from home either, so maybe they're working in settings where distancing is hard or not possible - there is no definitive answer.
"But, the fact is, we have got a real problem so we are having a meeting today to see if we can intensify the message to people.
"Unless we get these figures down, we are going to suffer restrictions on a higher level than others throughout this winter."
There has been a lot of discussion about whether the council would push for a district lockdown after December 2, when the national lockdown is set to end, or for Swale to be put in the highest tier.
But Cllr Truelove said this would not be for the local authority to decide.
"The decision will be made by the government based on criteria that's being worked on. They will do it in consultation with KCC.
"It's not for me or the council to say, we are not a public health authority. We will be told where we are and we won't have much choice about it.
"But we are vulnerable to go into a higher tier."
"It could be Kent as a whole," he added. "As far as the government is concerned, they tend to do it by public health authority and Kent is a public health authority.
"I think it should be Kent rather than just Swale. Although some places have got lower cases than us, nevertheless their rates are going up at a rapid pace as well and I don't think it's very easy for one borough to comply if somewhere next door has different restrictions.
"You wouldn't be able to stop migration from the different areas.
"It would be hard to administer if we put different places in different restrictions."
In regards to testing, Cllr Truelove said: "I am hoping that in the not-too-distant future, we will have mass testing, particularly on the Isle of Sheppey, to find asymptomatic people who are spreading the disease - although that's not confirmed yet."