Why is Portsmouth in tier three? Public health boss explains why and says 'virus won't be taking a holiday at Christmas'

WITH increasing infection rates across all age groups and pressures on the NHS, the city and surrounding areas will be placed into the highest measures just before Christmas rules come in.

By Millie Salkeld
Thursday, 17th December 2020, 6:23 pm
Updated Friday, 18th December 2020, 10:37 am

Portsmouth has been in tier two since December 2, but now it will be moved to tier three along with Gosport and Havant from Saturday.

The new rules mean no mixing with other households indoors and pubs, restaurants and theatres must close.

We asked Portsmouth City Council public health director, Helen Atkinson, more about the measures.

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Helen Atkinson, director of public health at Portsmouth City Council

Why has Portsmouth gone in to tier three but not other areas in Hampshire?

We are in tier three because we have seen the infection rate in Portsmouth growing over the last two to three weeks.

We had the national lockdown which did undoubtedly slow the rise of infections. We started to see an increase in adults and then an increase in all of the age groups and we are particular worried about our over 60s and even more so our over 80s because they are the most vulnerable.

We have recently seen quite an increase in secondary school children which is an issue across the whole region.

We are now over 200 in terms of a coronavirus rate. It has gone up more quickly than other areas in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

In September and October we saw really high rates in the north of the country and not so much in the south east and west but we have areas now in this region like Kent that are now higher and into the seven hundreds in terms of case rate. When you take Portsmouth with just over 200 we are not at the same level but we are moving quite quickly

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Does the council and local NHS get a say in tier reviews?

It is a government decision that is based on certain indicators that we regularly look at as well.

One of them is the pressure on the NHS, the others are infection rates in all ages and how quickly the rate is going up week on week and then how many people are testing positive.

On a weekly basis we have a regional meeting with public health about the data but we are not as local authorities consulted about the decision.

We discuss the data but not the tier we will be in at each review.

Why have we moved into tier three just before Christmas rules start? Should we have had a tier review earlier?

It is my job to protect the health of people in Portsmouth so from my perspective going into tier three is the right thing to do.

But I am aware about the impact on mental health and emotional wellbeing and we are seeing an increase in those issues. I am also really conscious of is the economic damage the pandemic is doing. People’s health is impacted by where they live and employment which has been impacted by the pandemic.

The hospital is seeing huge pressures at the moment not only from Covid but coupled with normal winter pressures so I do think we needed to be in tier three.

We really need those stricter rules ahead of the Christmas relaxation to start to have an impact on slowing down our rate and although it is only a few days ahead I think it is important and I want encourage people to follow the rules and not to have a final blow out on Friday.

The virus isn’t going to go on holiday at Christmas.

What do you think 2021 will look like?

I am expecting January and February to be really bad in terms of the infection rate because we will see the consequences of next week. We have a high infection rate already and it will continue to go up.

I don’t know if there will be further national restrictions but it is possible.

The good news on the horizon is the vaccine and I encourage people to have it when they are invited because the more people who are vaccinated the earlier the situation will improve.

But the reality is the vaccine won't help us through the next few weeks and I think we will see a very difficult Christmas period, January and February.

In other countries, like in the far east, face coverings are quite normal practice and that might end up being more normal here but I am really hoping with good uptake of the vaccination that we start to see a return to normal life by the summer.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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