Lib Dem Council Group leaders from all of the Oxfordshire Councils are calling on the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, to move Oxfordshire to Tier 2 status following a worrying trend in COVID-19 cases.
In an emergency meeting on Wednesday with Council Leaders, the Oxfordshire Director of Public Health, Ansaf Azhar, confirmed that we are starting to see concerning community spread of the virus beyond the city of Oxford into surrounding districts. The virus is beginning to spread again amongst older and more vulnerable residents.
This increased spread prompted a request from Mr. Azhar to the Secretary of State, supported by all Council Leaders to move to Tier 2 restrictions across the county from this weekend.
The Director of Public Health has proposed taking brisk, firm action now to prevent a much bigger spike in coronavirus cases over the school half-term break and beyond, and our councils support this approach.
Tier 2, or High alert Level, is designed to prevent households mixing and would help to head off a spike in cases at a critical time. His recommendation is fully supported by the Oxfordshire Health Protection Board, which includes representation from both our world-renowned universities, local health professionals, and other key partners.
It now looks likely that the request will not be confirmed by the Secretary of State due to ‘a lack of local political consensus’.
We have been informed that local Conservative MPs in Oxfordshire approached the Secretary of State directly to lobby against the collective and shared position of all Oxfordshire Councils, undermining the Director of Public Health’s advice.
We are extremely concerned about what appears to be politicised meddling into public health decision making. The Director of Public Health is, and should remain, at the centre of the local Covid response, guiding decisions in the best interests of public health for the county. He has our full support.
Our councils will continue to follow his lead and channel our energies towards keeping residents safe and making sure the necessary support reaches them We urge all Oxfordshire’s MPs to do the same, and to push for proper financial support from the government for residents, businesses, and local councils affected by these temporary restrictions.
We call on the Secretary of State to make the decision based on clear, evidence-based advice, from the health professionals within the local area as they are best placed to reflect the prevailing local conditions, not political expediency.