Council leaders across the county have urged the UK Government to move Oxfordshire into Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions.
In a statement, Cllr Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said that “all the council leaders in Oxfordshire supported the recommendation of the Director of Public Health that because of rising numbers of cases in older age groups in the county we should move to Tier 2 with its restrictions on household meeting up”.
Cllr Brown said that she was “disappointed” that the Government had not moved Oxfordshire into Tier 2, despite the warnings of council leaders and the county’s Director of Public Health. Cllr Brown called on the Government to “reconsider” the decision and implement “an improved winter economic support package” for local businesses affected by Tier 2 restrictions.
Under current rules, areas of the UK under the ‘High’ COVID alert level have been placed under Tier 2 restrictions, which say that people cannot socialise indoors with anyone who does not live in their household.
If Oxfordshire were to be moved into Tier 2, it would have a limited effect on many students, as Oxford colleges have widely prevented students from entering different households, and universities can remain open under Tier 2.
In a press release yesterday, councillors from across the county asked the public to remain “extra vigilant” as coronavirus cases rise among older age groups. The county’s Director for Public Health, Ansaf Azhar, said that the shift was “a really concerning development”.
“With half-term approaching, as well as events such as Halloween, Bonfire Night and Diwali coming up, it’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of meeting up and celebrating with friends and family. But we mustn’t forget about COVID. We need to do everything we can to keep our families and communities safe and stop the spread.”
Cllr Emily Smith, leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, added that “I am convinced that this delay on restricting households mixing will put local lives at risk. While numbers are lower than some other parts of England, the exponential growth in cases that occurs means we need to act urgently.”
Speaking to The Blue, a spokesperson for Oxford City Council said that “it was not the COVID situation in the city that led to the collective decision to seek Tier 2 status across Oxfordshire. It was the rise in cases across neighbouring districts and among non-student demographics that was of particular concern.”
“Within Oxford, the intensive joint working between universities, public health, and the City Council including interventions by our COVID Secure Team, alongside other partners had helped contain the outbreak across the campuses. These tools are much less effective in the dispersed environment of residential homes across the towns and villages of Oxfordshire.”
On Wednesday, The Oxford Mail reported that the city’s weekly infection rate had fallen, but there is uncertainty about whether Oxford University’s testing figures are included in the overall numbers.
Oxfordshire County Council told The Oxford Blue that its data covered university testing figures, but that it recognised a “discrepancy” in data released by Oxfordshire’s universities.
Vale of White Horse District Council has also been contacted for comment.