Steep rises in COVID-19 cases in Oxfordshire have prompted the government to place the county into the new tier 4 level of restrictions from Boxing Day, joining many neighbouring areas in the south-east of England.
Tier 4 is the highest alert level in the national four-tier system, and it means that Oxfordshire residents must stay at home, except for a limited number of purposes. These include essential work that cannot be done from home, buying food, taking exercise, or getting medical treatment. In tier 4, you cannot meet other people socially indoors, unless you live with them or are part of a support bubble.
Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Public Health, said: “We are in a very serious situation, which means that people are once again being told to stay at home. The new variant of COVID-19 spreads extremely quickly and these rules are being applied for our own safety and protection. The numbers of cases across the county have risen very steeply and we have also seen sharp rises in hospital admissions.
“When we compare our current situation with that of just a few weeks ago, we can clearly see how quickly things can change and how aggressively the virus can spread if we let our guard down even by a fraction. We have seen during 2020 that this virus thrives on human contact. That seems to be even more the case with the new variant, which is 70% more transmissible and is increasingly becoming the dominant strain across the country.
“Tier 4 is a stark warning that we need to be extra vigilant. Unless we all take personal responsibility as individuals and families throughout the coming weeks, we risk creating a situation in the early weeks of 2021 that will see further steep rises in the number of cases at exactly the time of year when viruses thrive. This means putting even more pressure on our NHS at its busiest time of year.
“The COVID vaccine has started to be rolled out to the over 80s and health and care staff across Oxfordshire. However, it will be some way into 2021 before this begins to provide protection to larger numbers of the population and make a material difference to the overall situation.
“I would therefore urge everyone to adhere to the new tier 4 rules and to take every precaution. We need to protect ourselves, our communities and the NHS as we enter 2021.”
Cllr Michele Mead, Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Obviously I am very disappointed that we have had to move to Tier 4 but it is essential that we all stick to the rules so everyone can stay safe.
“The vaccine programme is rolling out rapidly so hopefully this will be the last time we see these severe measures being imposed. In the meantime, remain vigilant, follow the rules and stay in touch with each other, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities.”
The number of cases in Oxfordshire stood at 236.5 cases per 100,000 of the population as of December 18. This represents a rise of 86% since December 11. There were 1,636 cases up to December 18 compared to 878 in the week ending December 11.
What are the tier 4 rules?
Stay at home, except for permitted reasons. This includes shopping for food and other essentials, exercise, education, childcare, collecting prescriptions, medical appointments, essential work, and to attend a place of worship.
Everyone who can work from home should do so.
You cannot meet other people indoors or in a private garden, unless you live with them or they are part of your support bubble.
You can exercise or meet in a public outdoor place with people you live with or your support bubble (or as part of a childcare bubble), or with one other person at a safe social distance.
You must not travel to other areas, other than for legally permitted reasons, to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Shops selling non-essential goods and market stalls not selling food must close.
Cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs must close but they can serve takeaways, click and collect and delivery orders.
Personal care, hair and beauty salons must close, as should tattoo, massage and spa venues.
Entertainment venues, indoor attractions and leisure facilities must close.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend health appointments. If they cannot work from home, they are advised not to go to work and claim any support where eligible.
Further information can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home
Clinically extremely vulnerable people
Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend health appointments. If they cannot work from home, they are advised not to go to work and can claim any support where eligible.
Libraries and cultural services
The Oxfordshire Museum and Oxfordshire History Centre will need to close. The county’s libraries will also close but some will provide a limited number of services, including IT access, which must be booked, online services, home library visits and click and collect.
In line with national guidance the county council’s Registration Service will only be conducting wedding or civil partnership ceremonies in exceptional circumstances such as the iIlness of a couple or member of family due to attend ceremony. This would also include a military deployment at short notice, life threatening surgery or debilitating illness as well as for couples where one of them is seriously ill and not expected to recover.