Published: 13:13, 26 November 2020
| Updated: 16:32, 26 November 2020
Sir Roger Gale - who represents Covid hotspot North Thanet - believes residents will “skip over the boundary” into areas with softer restrictions to enjoy a pint or meal.
He and other Kent Tories had favoured a district-by-district approach to enforcing the measures, but the government today announced the whole of the county will be in Tier 3.
It means pubs and restaurants must remain shut in all areas, despite boroughs like Ashford having an infection rate five times lower than Kent’s highest, in Swale.
Sir Roger believes it will lead to people - particularly in the west of the county - crossing over to Tier 2 regions.
Tier 3 restrictions currently advise against travelling to other parts of the UK, other than where necessary
Reacting to the announcement of a single Kent-wide tier, Sir Roger told Sky News: “I think it's sad.
“I understand why, but then the object of this exercise has been trying to introduce a scheme that people will accept.
“We know that the rate's high in Thanet. In Ashford it's nothing like as high. Are they going to be happy with that? No they're not.
“What will happen of course is people will skip over the boundary and go to a pub or restaurant which is able to open, if there is one in Tier 2 or Tier 1 nearby - and that's the last thing we want.
“We have to get on top of this.”
Kent currently has an infection rate of 279.4 weekly cases per 100,000 people, with Swale, Thanet and Gravesham among the worst-hit in the UK.
All counties bordering Kent have been placed into Tier 2, meaning their pubs and restaurants will reopen after lockdown.
East Sussex has an infection rate of 136, which is higher than two Kent boroughs which share a border with it - Ashford and Tunbridge Wells.
Meanwhile, five Kent districts have a lower infection rate than the 250.5 in neighbouring Bexley, which as part of London falls under Tier 2.
Some of Sir Roger’s colleagues within the Conservative party have threatened a revolt against the new tier system, arguing the tough restrictions are not necessary.
South Thanet’s Craig Mackinlay was even among those to vote against the second national lockdown.
But Sir Roger says the measures are necessary to avoid a third wave of the deadly virus.
“I have the partner of one of my staff members in ITU at the moment,” he said.
“I have a staff member who has the disease and is staying at home.
“It brings it home to you in a very real way that there is a significant problem, that theinfection doesn't respect county boundaries and it doesn't respect Christmas.
“We have to get on top of this disease, and we are within reach of getting the vaccines that we need. We've got to sweat it out until then.
“I understand why my colleagues are saying what they're saying, because we all have small businesses, little cafes, little restaurants, the pubs, the microbreweries.
“They are all feeling the pain, very, very hard indeed.
“They will tell you, of course, there isn't enough being down to help them.
“I believe the government is trying to help, but as Rishi Sunak said, you can't help everybody.
“That doesn't mean they're not feeling the pain, they are, and people are going to lose their jobs, and in some cases they may lose their homes.
“But if we don't beat the disease we're going to have a third wave and that will be even worse.”
'It feels like a vindictive campaign against the hospitality industry and yet we have created the safest environments for people...'
Phil Thorley, director of Thorley Taverns, which runs pubs across the district, said: "We are extremely disappointed that we find ourselves in Tier 3.
"As a company we've been open from July 4 up until the second lockdown, we've served one million customers and we've only had one case of Covid.
"All our safety protocols have been put in place, costing tens of thousands of pounds, and our staff, management and most importantly our customers have felt safe.
"We are the industry being singled out in all this, we're the only ones being shut down in tier 3.
"It feels like a vindictive campaign against the hospitality industry and yet we have created the safest environments for people.
"Figures from Public Health England show only 1.6% of cases have come from the hospitality industry.
"They review the tier system every 14 days and we are hoping there will be a downturn in the number of cases and the tier will be changed.
"We know the numbers are high here and something had to be done, but we're being hit the hardest.
"We have lots of people - locals and regulars - with Christmas bookings who want to come out with their families and celebrate so we're hoping they will be able to do so."
The hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit throughout the pandemic and while Sir Roger fears residents will seek out pints elsewhere landlords across Kent fear for the future.
Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame said of the news: "Frankly, it stinks.
"We're being thrown under the bus to save Christmas. For the three million people who work in our sector, Christmas has been ruined.
"It's very unfair on parts of the county that have such low infection rates. All blanket measures create massive unfairness and that's what has happened in Kent.
"But let's be clear; Tier 3 is shut, Tier 2 many pubs are shut and the rest unviable, and Tier 1 they're just about viable.
"You can't keep throwing a sector which has proven to be safe to the wolves. I do not understand why gyms and non-essential retail can open - they are no safer than hospitality.
"If it's only two weeks we can survive but if this goes all the way through to spring, it'd be really catastrophic.
"My fury is focused on the politicians who have been systemically incompetent and unelected public health officials who have made arbitrary decisions with long-term economic implications without any consideration - that is not how a properly functioning democracy works.
"I sincerely hope there will be a change when it is reviewed in two weeks. We now continue to have furlough and fear."
His fears were echoed by publicans throughout the county.
The Shipwright's Arms in Hollowshore, Faversham, took to Facebook to say Boris has 'nailed the coffin lid shut'.
Mel Evans, who runs The Plough in Swalecliffe, Whitstable, said: "It's awful - absolutely awful.
"Everyone was looking forward to next week - I had it all planned, all my Christmas menus - but we're now stuffed again.
"I've still got bills going out. In the last lockdown, they put a hold on most bills like gas, telephone, for three months.
"That hasn't happened this time round. So we're still playing our bills, and there's nothing coming in and a lot going out, and I've still got staff I've got to look after.
"They're furloughed, but I still have to pay that out and wait seven to 10 days to get the money back.
"I've been self-employed for just over a year, so I'm not entitled to any of the self-employed stuff.
"I know we will see this through. I know the minute we open the doors, our customers are amazing and they'll be coming back. And my husband still works, so we've got money coming in.
"Strong will and grit - I'm not giving up. Not in a million years. I waited 19 years to get a pub - I'm not giving up now."
Mel says the pub's extended closure will have an impact on regulars who live on their own, and enjoy visiting the pub for social interaction.
"It's just such a shame because we're such a big part of the community," she said. "it's gutting.
"People weren't coming here to get drunk, they were coming to sit with people, chat with people."
And its not just the hospitality sector that is worried. Zahra Tarjomani, managing director at Under 1 Roof Kids Thanet play centre, which opened in October, says she is devastated and admits she is worried they might not survive the next few months,
"It's been a really difficult year preparing to open as well as with the cost of opening under the new legislation -we've had to put in place a lot of extra protocols and stringent measures.
"It feels like the entertainment and hospitality industry is being targeted.
"It's OK for thousands of people to breathe on you in The Range, but people can't go into my friend's restaurant where she walks you to your table wearing a mask.
"Had the government said everything needs to shut down, except for essential shops, I'd be all for it.
"These regulations that are in place don't make Covid sense - they don't control the virus, they just control those who work so hard in our industry.
"We've reached the point that we don't know if our business will survive and whether we can get through to March."
Swale is the only place in England with a higher rate than Thanet, recording 535 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to November 21.
Sittingbourne and Sheppey's MP Gordon Henderson said: "I am sorry to see that Kent has been put into Tier 3, but not surprised based on the level of Covid-19 in Swale, Thanet, Medway and Gravesham, with rates increasing in 10 of the 13 boroughs and districts in the county.
"Kent's status will be reviewed in 2 weeks’ time and I very much hope that if we see the rate of Covid-19 fall, we will be placed in a lower tier.
"Of course, driving the rate down is in our own hands. The vast majority of my constituents have consistently followed the government's guidance to wash their hands regularly; wear a face covering in enclosed public areas; and observe two-metre social distancing.
"So I will continue to urge the significant minority of residents who refuse to obey the rules, to think not of themselves, but the rest of us who are trying desperately to protect both the vulnerable and the NHS.
"Meanwhile, being placed in Tier 3 means additional restrictions have now been placed on us.
"I feel deeply for those residents and businesses who are going to be hardest hit and I can assure them that I will be lobbying the government to increase the help available to them."
Swale Council leader Roger Truelove says residents "can't be surprised" by the outcome and outlined the boroughs priority to keep people healthy and safe.
He said: “We need to make sure that when the national restrictions end on 2 December we all know what we should be doing, and we do it.
“If we don’t, we will be stuck with the toughest restrictions for longer. More people will become ill, or much worse.
“The NHS is already under increasing pressure, and we need to try to make sure we don’t see other treatments being delayed or cancelled.
“Businesses are also struggling, and jobs are at risk, so we absolutely must do everything we can to get the figures back under control.
“I am glad to see that the Government has promised to roll out mass testing for areas in tier 3 to help.
“As we have seen in Liverpool, this can make a massive difference to stopping the spread of this virus, so I look forward to hearing from them about when this will be rolled out locally.”
Medway's rate is climbing and it now is the seventh highest in England at 429.4.
The council leader Alan Jarrett (Con) has written to residents following today's announcement.
He said: "I understand how disappointing and concerning this news will be for residents and affected businesses, especially following a month-long lockdown. However, these restrictions are absolutely necessary to help slow the spread of this deadly virus which has already taken too many lives.
"Between 13 November and 20 November, Medway unfortunately saw 1,161 new cases, and since the beginning of the pandemic Medway has tragically lost 216 family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours."
He added: "The difficult year has not eased up for businesses and I am pleased the government put more financial support in place to further protect our economy.
"Now is the time to take action for us all – we each have an individual responsibility to do everything we can to slow down the spread of coronavirus in Medway to protect our loved ones, save lives and reduce the pressure on our local NHS services."
Elsewhere Canterbury MPRosie Duffield said residents were "obviously upset, confused and disheartened by new measures", which are "potentially dire for our area".
She said she was particularly concerned about small independent businesses and the hospitality/arts sectors.
"We simply must get our infection rates down again before the next review in a couple of weeks time so that our economy can start to pick up," Miss Duffield added.
Maidstone and the Weald's Helen Grant added: "I am disappointed the whole of Kent has been placed in Tier 3. I think it would have been more appropriate, especially for many small businesses in our area, for restrictions to be applied on a borough by borough basis; taking account of local infection rates.
"However I do understand the government’s decision and the need for a clear message about the rules for our community.I hope that if we all continue to follow the rules in the coming weeks, we may be able to move into a lower tier when these measures are reviewed on December 16."
Helen Whately, MP for neighbouring Faversham and Mid Kent, said: “While I’m glad to see the national lockdown coming to an end, I know
some people will be frustrated that the whole of Kent is going into Tier 3.
“These have been hugely difficult decisions. The government has tried to keep restrictions on people’s lives to a minimum. Throughout this pandemic, decisions have been based on the best possible evidence along with local opinion.
“Most of Kent has high or very high infection rates, and some of the areas with lower rates are unfortunately showing a worsening trend. We cannot ignore the pressures this is continuing to put on our local hospitals."
Damian Green, MP for Ashford which has seen no week-on-week rise in infection rate according to the most recent data, said: "I’m hugely disappointed, I think it would have been much better to do it district by district particularly in Kent.
"It throws up huge anomalies like Tenterden, where there are no cases. All their businesses are closed, but people could drive from there to the Sussex border – where incidents are higher - and have a drink in a pub.
"I don’t think this is a sensible approach and I’ll continue to try to persuade ministers that the regular reviews should adopt a different approach, one that could maybe release some areas from the highest level of restriction.
"In an ideal world, the numbers will start coming down in Swale and Thanet so the whole of Kent can move down a tier.
"We’re in a ridiculous situation where were in Tier 1, we then had a lockdown and now we’re in Tier 3. So you have to ask what the lockdown actually achieved?
"Even in Tier 3 we can do outdoor exercise and places of worship are open, so it’s not as bad as the lockdown which we’ve been having and I should acknowledge that as a step forward.
"However I think we could have done more to help particularly hospitality businesses in Ashford. It’ll be damaging, there’s no doubt about it, and it means it’ll take us longer to recover.
"I’m especially worried about the risk to small pubs. The only glimmer of light is councils in Tier 3 are given more money to do with as they please, and hopefully that can be used to support these smaller businesses.
"I’ve spoken to the health ministers over the last couple of weeks and today in fact, and I’ll obviously be continuing close discussions with the health minister alongside my other Kent MPs."
Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, who was part of the group of Kent MPs calling for borough or district level restrictions, said are asking the government to look at the boundaries.
He said: “This is extremely disappointing for our community. Our Covid19 rates in Tonbridge and Malling Borough and Sevenoaks District are among the lowest in Kent.
"We were in Tier 1 before the national restrictions because no further controls were needed. Only because the government is treating the whole of Kent as a single unit are we being pushed into Tier 3. This isn't what we need.
“We need to start opening up our economy, saving jobs and businesses, so that our efforts can support the areas where cases justify controls."
Cllr John Burden, leader of Gravesham Borough Council, said: “This is the news none of us wanted to hear but we all quietly expected we would, and is a hammer blow for our local economy as we head into the height of what should be the Christmas shopping season.
“It is no secret that the infection rate in Gravesham has been rising faster than almost anywhere else in England. Set against that backdrop, and with high rates elsewhere in the county, the announcement won’t have come as a surprise to many people.
“So many people in Gravesham have made so many sacrifices in the fight against Covid. To all those who have worn face coverings where required, who have worked from home, who have limited their trips out to the absolutely necessary, and who have forgone seeing family, friends and loved ones, I say thank you and please redouble your efforts.
“The data available to us suggests that outside of care and education settings, the driving force behind our figures is people mixing households in indoor settings. This is not allowed under lockdown and still won’t be allowed from Wednesday.
“The government will be reviewing our tier level every 14 days. Only if we all play our part will we have hope that our infection rate will decline sufficiently to allow us to drop to tier 2 and enjoy the greater freedoms that brings.”
Cllr Jeremy Kite, leader of Dartford council, said: "The news is disappointing but it reflects the stark reality of Covid transmission statistics in the county.
"Here in Dartford, we saw a significant rise in recent weeks and although some measures are now heading in a better direction we cannot be complacent.
"Without a change in the direction of the transmission rate, more cases will spread and local NHS hospitals will come under extreme pressure to deliver not just Covid treatment, but the care that is crucial for all conditions and all patients.
"Our local hospital, Darent Valley, is not yet amongst those in Kent facing the greatest pressure and we must keep it that way.
"If we respect and love the NHS, now is the time to protect it."
Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe and Natalie Elphicke for Dover and Deal would also support different parts of the county being in different tiers.
He said: "I'm very concerned to see the whole of Kent put into Tier 3 when infection rates are so different across the county.
"Over the last seven days the rate per 100,000 people with at least one positive Covid-19 test in Folkestone and Hythe 192.9.
"This compares to the Kent average of 279.4 per 100,000 people. In Swale in north Kent the rate is 541.7
"The infection rate per 100,000 people in Folkestone & Hythe is lower than the London Boroughs of Greenwich (200.7) Bexley (250.5) Barking and Dagenham (258.3) as well as Thurrock in Essex (226.6).
"These are all in Tier 2 and are closer to Swale.
"The government needs to explain why it won't consider the different levels of infection in the Kent districts and boroughs.
"I'd also like to know if it will continue to base its covid policy in Kent on a county-wide view at the review point on 16 December. I would like to know the government’s response to these points before the House of Commons votes on the new covid restrictions on Tuesday next week. I have written to the Health Secretary asking for this information.
"The Tier 3 restrictions for Folkestone and Hythe are disappointing not just because we have lower infection rates than some Tier 2 local authorities, but because the latest figures show that the national lockdown has started to bring the infection rates down from their peak."
Natalie Elphicke said: "It is very disappointing that Kent as a whole has been placed in Tier 3. I and my team will continue to be available to work with people and businesses most affected. I am meeting with Health Ministers later today and will be pressing for rapid testing facilities at our local hospitals together with additional support.
“Unfortunately, there has been a recent rise in infections in our local area, with very high of numbers of cases in neighbouring districts, particularly Thanet. Older people in our area have been particularly affected compared to some other areas, and this adds to concerns about local hospital admissions.
“I have been pressing for clear criteria and review dates, so I welcome the Government’s publication of criteria for assessing tiers. I also welcome the re-opening of churches and outdoor sports, including in our area.
“Now we must do all that is needed to aim to move to a lower tier. I will also be exploring with Ministers whether we can be considered for a smaller area, district led, approach as we move through the pandemic.”