THE county has been rocked today by the news Essex County Council is set to apply to put tighter restrictions in place across large parts of Essex to lower the coronavirus infection rate.

County Hall will apply to the Secretary of State for Health to be placed into the new ‘High level’ banding of Covid-19 restrictions tomorrow.

The move by the county council is somewhat controversial and has understandably left residents with many unanswered questions.

Here is what we know so far:

What is being proposed?

Under the Government's new three-tier lockdown system, which is based on infection rates, Essex is currently in the 'medium' category.

County Hall wants to see areas under their control, the whole county except Southend and Thurrock, moved into the High level category.

Many of the rules are the same as we have now, but some would change.

The move would mean a band on people meeting loved ones indoors, unless they are in your support bubble.

The rule of six must be adhered to outside at all times.

Businesses can continue to operate as before but some businesses will be required to ensure customers only consume food and drink whilst seated, and must closed at 10pm.

Schools, universities and places of worship would remain open and exercise classes and organised sport can continue outside - they are only permitted indoors if you can avoid mixing with people you do not live with.

Residents could continue to travel to venues or amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but should look to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible.

Where in Essex will be covered?

Essex County Council is the one making the move, so areas under its jurisdiction would be included.

This means the majority of the county, excluding Southend and Thurrock, which are run by unitary authorities.

Areas like Colchester, Basildon, Braintree, Maldon, Tendring, Chelmsford and Harlow will be included.

Southend and Thurrock could eventually end up following suit.

Why is Essex County Council making the move?

The county’s Director of Public Health and Wellbeing, Dr Mike Gogarty, has called for tougher restrictions amid concerns about the rise in cases in Essex.

Cases have been steadily on the ride for several weeks now in many areas.

These figures, for the seven days to October 9, are based on tests carried out in laboratories (pillar one of the Government’s testing programme) and in the wider community (pillar two).

The rate is expressed as the number of new cases per 100,000 people.

The data below gives the rate of new cases in the seven days to October 9 and the number (in brackets) of new cases recorded in the seven days to October 9.

  • Tendring 80.5 (118)
  • Basildon 60.4 (113)
  • Chelmsford 57.2 (102)
  • Thurrock 53.3 (93)
  • Colchester 49.3 (96)
  • Maldon 44.7 (29)
  • Southend-on-Sea 41.5 (76)
  • Braintree 38.0 (58)

Bosses say the majority of cases are in the younger age groups but rates are now increasing in older age groups as well.

They also say hospital admissions are rising, and deaths are also now being reported.

Council leader David Finch said: "By acting now, we can hope to stem this increase, limiting the time that we are in these enhanced restrictions and – above all – avoiding further escalation into ‘Very High’.

"All of this will limit the damage to the economy; a healthy economy is critical to everyone having better lives in future.

"We already have one of the best track and trace operations in the country, but we will also be aiming to push its performance still higher alongside strengthening enforcement capacity and visibility.

"Making these painful decisions now will, we hope, bring dividends later."

Dr Mike Gogarty, Essex’s Director of Public Health and Wellbeing, added: “Across the county we have moved from gradual to exponential growth with number of cases rising exponentially.

“We want act now to minimise the impact on the public health and the economy and by doing so we believe we can shorten the period of enhanced restrictions.”

So what happens next?

County Hall is expected to submit a formal request to move up to the 'high' alert level to Health Secretary Matt Hancock tomorrow.

He is then expected to make a decision on Thursday.

If the plans are approved, it is understood the new restrictions would likely be enforced at the weekend or early next week.

Essex County Council's health boss John Spence said: "It’s not a good thing that we are the first county to voluntarily want tougher restrictions but we are being courageous.

"We don’t want to wait on the national advice to go into tier two, which we could do in a couple of weeks.

"The longer we leave it to take action, the higher the second peak is going to be to overcome.

"We want to get ahead of this so we can avoid going into tier three.

"There is no guarantee doing this will prevent us having more restrictions, but we believe this will give us the best possible chance."

Read more:

Live updates as council bids to put county into 'high' Covid alert level

County Hall asks Government for tougher restrictions in Essex

In full: Leader reveals why Essex should be put into higher tier of Covid restrictions

Here's when tougher coronavirus restrictions could be enforced in Essex