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Swale could be in lockdown for Christmas, warns council leader

Swale is bracing itself for an even tougher lockdown when the current one ends on December 2. And the leader of its borough council says those restrictions should apply across Kent.

The borough, which covers Sittingbourne, Faversham and the Isle of Sheppey, has the highest coronavirus infection rate in Kent and the third highest in England, second only to Hull and Hartlepool.

Swale council leader Roger TruelovePicture: Swale council
Swale council leader Roger TruelovePicture: Swale council

Cllr Roger Truelove, Labour leader of Swale council, warned: “Unless we can level off the rate of growth in covid infections we risk a longer period of high-level restrictions beyond December 2.

"If we don’t do something to contain it, we risk spending Christmas in lockdown."

Infection rates have surged to 584 per 100,000 people.

One ward, Sheppey East which covers the Island's three prisons and several holiday parks, has a rolling rate of 1,940.9 and reported 168 cases today - as many as the whole of Ashford.

The day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced the new nationwide restrictions Cllr Truelove revealed that the borough was already being pressed to go into the higher Tier 2.

Welcome to the Isle of Sheppey
Welcome to the Isle of Sheppey

He said: "Clearly it will be bad for our economy and people's lifestyles if we go into a higher tier. But if that is the case, I think it would be best if the whole of Kent went up a tier, as they did in London."

He said if districts next to one another were in different tiers it would create "problems with compliance" as people moved between areas.

Asked if that would be unfair on boroughs with lower rates he replied: "That implies it is all our fault, which is extremely unfair.

"The fact is, the rate of increase in Kent is very sharp now. Everywhere is going up but different boroughs are going up from a different base."

He added: "It is impossible to say exactly why our figures are so high but the fact is that areas which have pockets of deprivation seem to be the highest.

Covid-19 infection rate table showing Swale and Thanet compared to some of Englan's other hotspots between October 15 and November 12. Data: Pubic Health England (43189126)
Covid-19 infection rate table showing Swale and Thanet compared to some of Englan's other hotspots between October 15 and November 12. Data: Pubic Health England (43189126)

"Swale and Thanet (currently second in Kent) have known for a long time we have areas of high deprivation so I think it is hard not to think there is a link. It's an area of concern to me. I can't wave a magic wand overnight to get ride of deprivation. That has to be a long-term mission which we ought to be working on."

He went on: "There is an argument that this lockdown is not a lockdown, that it is a partial lockdown.

"Clearly people are fatigued. We have all been at it since March so it is possible people aren't observing things as tightly. But when I go around I see people distancing and wearing masks and washing their hands. But I also hear people saying others aren't doing that.

He said: "Clearly there are people in Swale not following the rules but there are people in Folkestone and Canterbury not following the rules either so I think it would be unfair to focus on the people of Swale.

"I would like everybody to follow the rules to wear a mask, wash their hands and keep their distance but the problem for us seems to be spreading through schools, care homes and certain work places.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson during a debate Picture: parliamentlive.tv
Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson during a debate Picture: parliamentlive.tv

"We are doing all we can to ensure people follow the rules and we have people checking on businesses. The fact we are now the top in Kent again is very disappointing but it won't do any good simply saying it is the fault of the people in Swale."

On schools, he said: "Sending children back to school seemed the right thing at the time but it's not working out as we would wish in Swale with schools having to close and whole year groups having to be sent home."

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson, who along with South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, voted against a second lockdown, insisted: "The vast majority of my constituents are following the rules and are not responsible for the spread of the infection.

"They will be frustrated and disappointedand let down by the irresponsible minority who are refusing to abide by the rules so I suspect they will be very cross.

"Unfortunately, the irresponsible minority will just continue with their inresponsibility. In their minds this won't affect them. I'm just hoping we can get them to think of other people before December 2."

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Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne

Read more: All the latest news from Faversham

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