Why is West Berkshire in Tier 2?
The Prime Minister has warned that without maintaining stricter measures now we run the risk of further national lockdown measures in the New Year which it is his priority to avoid. With the focus on keeping businesses and schools open the easing of restrictions for the Christmas period, the situation does remain precarious.
As set out by the government on Monday, the criteria for determining the tier level of each local authority is as follows:
- Case detection rates in all age groups;
- Case detection rates in the over 60s;
- The rate at which cases are rising or falling;
- Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken);
- Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.
I understand that it is disappointing to be placed under Tier 2 restrictions. As of 22 November, West Berkshire’s 7-day rate of cases was 82 per 100,000, compared to an average in the South East of 153.1.
As you will see from the graph above (taken from Public Health Berkshire), Covid cases have been rising steadily since late October, peaking between the 11th and 14th November. The following points are specifically relevant to West Berkshire:
- Infection rates remain higher than they were prior to the lockdown;
- This second wave (between September/November) has seen higher numbers of infections locally than the first wave in March/April;
- We are in close proximity to areas where there is now a much higher incident of the virus – particularly Slough, but also Reading.
Hospital and ICU admissions remain consistent across the South East. Until these numbers begin to fall, the pressure that local NHS service could face remains precarious and it is important that a greater degree of restraint remains in the short-term to preserve capacity over what could be a long and difficult winter.
What is tier 2 and what does it mean for us?
- You can only socialise indoors with those in your household or support bubble.
- You can socialise outdoors, including in private gardens or public spaces, in a group of up to six people.
- Businesses and venues can continue to operate in a Covid secure manner. Pubs and bars can open if they are operating as restaurants. They must close at 11pm, take last orders at 10pm and serve alcohol with a substantial meal.
- Cinemas, theatres and concert halls can stay open beyond 11pm to conclude performances that started before 10pm.
- Public attendance at events and spectator sports will be subjected to whichever is lower- either 50% capacity or either 2,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors.
- Places of worship may open, as can outdoor attractions. Outdoor sports and exercise classes may resume. Organised indoor sport and exercise classes will only be permitted if it is possible to avoid mixing with people who are not in your household or bubble.
- Non-essential shops and personal care services (such as hairdressers) can open from Wednesday 2 December.
- Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers, with up to 15 people able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions and up to 30 people attending funeral ceremonies and 15 linked events, such as wakes.
- If you live in a tier 2 area you must continue to follow the tier 2 rules when travelling to a tier 1 area and, if possible, avoid any travel to tier 3 areas. More information in Tier 2 guidelines can be found here.
Support for Businesses:
Businesses in tier 2 are able to apply for financial support through this period:
- Local Restrictions Grants are available for businesses who pay business rates on their premises and have been forced to close because of the restrictions. These are cash grants of up to £3,000 a month and applications are made via West Berkshire Council. More information can be found here.
- The Additional Restrictions Grants is discretionary funding from West Berkshire Council for businesses affected by restrictions who need additional support. Eligibility falls broadly into four categories:
- Part A - You do not pay business rates, but you have been forced to close and have ongoing property related costs, e.g. rent in a shared workspace.
- Part B - You have not been forced to close, but your business is ancillary to the hospitality, retail and leisure industries but you have not received any grants administered by West Berkshire Council to date.
- Part C -You pay business rates and you may have received the Local Restrictions Support Grant, but you did not receive any of the previous grants administered by West Berkshire council and you require further support due to demonstrable financial vulnerability.
- Part D -You do not pay business rates, you have not received any previous grants administered by West Berkshire Council to date and you do not fit into parts A - C, but you require support due to demonstrable financial vulnerability.
Application should be submitted to West Berkshire Council. More information can be found here.
The full range of support for businesses, from furloughing employees to HMRC’s ‘Time to Pay’ scheme, can be found on the Government’s website here. You can also access free advice and support from the Berkshire Growth Hub, details of which can be found here.
Support for individuals:
West Berkshire Council will be sending out leaflets about the support available to residents over the winter. They will also be launching their Winter Hardship Fund utilising central government funding to support individuals and families in need, with applications open from December 1st.
This scheme will provide financial support for people and families in need, from helping to meet the costs of food and utility bills and the provision of Meal Vouchers for 5 to 16 year olds currently eligible for free school meals in terms time, as well as children who are not in receipt of vouchers but schools judge to be vulnerable.
People must apply for additional support and I encourage anyone in need this winter to do so. Applications are not means tested and judged on a case-by-case basis. Application forms can be found on the website here, and you can contact the Community Support Hub on either 01635 503579 or firstname.lastname@example.org for advice and support in applications from 1st December.