Tuesday, 26 January 2021

MP votes for tougher tier system with reservations

MP votes for tougher tier system with reservations

JOHN HOWELL voted with the Government on the new tougher coronavirus tier system despite a Commons rebellion by 55 Conservative colleagues.

The Henley MP told the Henley Standard last week that he was disappointed to see South Oxfordshire move into tier 2, along with the majority of the country.

He was worried about the impact on the hospitality industry and said he would have preferred to see tiers decided on districts rather than counties.

But Mr Howell sided with the Prime Minister in the vote on Tuesday, the day before the second lockdown ended.

The Government won it by 294 votes for to 78 against after Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs abstained. Wokinhgam Tory MP John Redwood voted against.

Mr Howell said: “I had a lot of questions and I got answers to all of them. Forty-eight pages of information was provided.

“I asked for objective criteria to be made about how tiers could be lowered and that was also provided.

“I do wish the decision was done on the basis of districts rather than counties and South Oxfordshire was in a lower tier, but I understand there would have been problems with that.

“The question we have to ask is about hospitality and how to stop people from coming and drinking in pubs in lower tiers and spreading the disease.

“Everything is a question of balance, particularly with the news that the Pfizer vaccine has been given approval. It means this is a stop-gap measure until the vaccine can be rolled out.”

Before the lockdown, South Oxfordshire was in tier 1 — the level deemed to have the lowest risk — but the Government decided to put most parts of the country into the two highest tiers.

The strengthened system comes after Sage, the Government’s scientific advisors, said the old tiers were not effective at preventing the virus from spreading.

The tiers will be reviewed regularly and the first opportunity for this will be on December 16.

Decisions are based on how quickly cases are rising across all age groups, particularly those aged 60 and over. Consideration will also be given to the pressure on local NHS facilities.

Mr Howell said: “All I can say is I look forward to the review in two weeks when I hope we will be reduced to tier 1. I think we have got a very good case to go back.

“The number of cases is coming down and the number of over 65-year-olds is not particularly high.

“I’ve not had any indication from the John Radcliffe Hospital that it is under enormous pressure, so these are both good indications that we will go back.

“I have every sympathy for wet-led pubs and understand the enormous implications for their business and their future. It is crucial that we can look to the future and see a healthy hospitality sector.”

The key differences between tier 1 and tier 2 are:

• People in tier 2 cannot socialise with other households indoors.

• Alcohol may only be served if it is part of a substantial meal.

• Up to 2,000 spectators may attend sports events and live performances, compared to 4,000 in tier 1.

Pubs and restaurants must shut at 11pm in both tiers, with last orders being made by 10pm. People are encouraged to minimise travel and work from home where possible. Personal care, including hairdressing, is permitted in all three tiers.

Sue Cooper, leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “I think tier 2 is a good place for us to be. I don’t agree with the Government’s structure but given it is there that is the most sensible place for us.

“Although I do feel deeply for the pubs, they are not great places in terms of catching covid. They did so well in the summer because people could sit outside.”

Councillor Cooper previously pushed for a move into tier 2 under the old system and she is urging residents to be cautious.

She said: “I think there will be another spike in days after Christmas when people start mixing.

“The Christmas regulations are not logical at all. Christmas is nice, but it is only one day and if you want to meet up with people you can go out for a walk together. I think it will have to be left to the common sense of individuals.

Reading has also moved into tier 2. Jason Brock, leader of Reading Borough Council, said this came as no surprise.

He added: “We fully appreciate that the decision will cause further challenges for residents at a time of year when they would ordinarily be mixing with friends, work colleagues and family and for local businesses who will face more hardship where they cannot open in their usual way at what is a vital time of year.

“Reading’s economy remains resilient and I am pleased that what are deemed to be non-essential shops will be able to open but for those businesses which cannot operate the impact will certainly be felt.

“It has been a hugely challenging year for everyone and the reality is that it looks likely to continue until the spring.”

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