With Uttlesford reporting rapidly rising rates of Covid-19 infection rates, the prospect of a localised lockdown – which could involve the closure of non-essential retail and schools – looms large over the district.
Shutting down local businesses and bringing the entire district – with a land area half the size of Greater London – would be an unnecessary over-reaction that puts jobs and livelihoods at risk, even with Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s pledge to cover 80 per cent of wages.
The Stansted and Elsenham area has been identified as a hotspot in the district, along with High Easter, and have helped push up infection rates to 65 per 100,000 – the highest level in Essex. Tier 3 measures, requiring a ban on households mixing and the shutdown of non-essential retail, are supposed to kick in when infection rates exceed 50 per 100,000. Uttlesford District Council leader John Lodge said: “If we continue to see a rise in infections we will face greater restrictions which will then have an impact on our local businesses that have been trying so hard to get back on their feet.”
It would be unjust to shut down Dunmow and Saffron Walden for infection rates in Stansted, the district’s third largest settlement where the local economy is far more oriented towards Bishop’s Stortford and the airport than it is towards Saffron Walden.
A lockdown in Stansted, which would close businesses, restaurants, pubs and leisure activities, would not stop local residents from simply going to Stortford for shopping and entertainment. As such, it probably would not reverse the rates of infection.
The government’s localised measures do not identify the cause of local outbreaks. Growth in infections could be related to a care home, a specific venue or workplace, or be brought in by workers commuting to infected areas, such as London. If the cause is not identified, we cannot possibly hope to reverse the trend with blanket draconian measures.
Local residents have been highly observant of Covid measures: most people mask up in shops and maintain social distancing. Local pubs, restaurants and shops have kept within the rules under the watchful eye of PCSO Nikki Morris. The Mountfitchet Romeera leisure centre has maintained high hygiene standards and Forest Hall School has imposed masks and one-way routes around its premises.
Conscientious local businesses that have invested heavily in adhering to government advice should not be put in peril and jobs put at risk for a shutdown policy that has failed elsewhere, particularly when our major source of local employment – the airport – is shedding jobs by the hundreds every week.
Confusing rules that are not based on evidence cause more problems than they solve. They wreck jobs, they cause mental health problems and disrupt children’s education.
People are tired of the scatterbrained approach of Boris Johnson’s administration, which lurches from one edict to another with no direction. At one point we are encouraged by the government to go back to work places and get subsidies to use restaurants, at another point these actions are blamed for rising infection rates.
Confusion breeds distrust, making it harder to maintain the high levels of compliance that have been instrumental in preventing yet more infections and deaths.
Uttlesford District Council should follow local authorities elsewhere in England and oppose damaging and unproven measures. It should take the lead in identifying potential causes and working towards realistic measures to combat this pandemic in our communities.