Council says it is ready to support local communities as national lockdown begins

Cheshire East Council says it is ready to support local communities, businesses and vulnerable people following the imposition of additional measures to combat the rapid raise in Covid cases.

The government last night placed all of England under a national lockdown amid growing critical pressure on hospitals.

The prime minister announced measures that included the closure of all schools until at least mid-February – except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers – and warned that 'the weeks ahead will be the hardest yet'.

Cheshire East Council leaders say they recognise these new measures are needed in response to the rapid spread of Covid-19 – and are ready to step in with support.

The lockdown measures mean people must stay at home except to:

● Shop for basic necessities such as food;

● Work, if they cannot reasonably do so from home;

● Take exercise locally, once a day, with up to one other person outside their home;

● Meet their support bubble or childcare bubble, where necessary;

● Attend childcare or education, for those eligible; and

● To escape domestic abuse.

All non-essential shops are now closed, leisure centres will remain closed as will all libraries – except for click and collect and for limited support services. The council's household waste recycling centres will remain open.

The prime minister said schools would switch to remote learning with GCSE and A-level exams unlikely to go ahead and alternative assessment to be devised.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people are being told to shield once more and await further guidance by letter, the PM added.

The national lockdown will last for at least seven weeks, with measures reviewed during February half-term week.

Councillor Sam Corcoran, leader of Cheshire East Council, said: "It is very regrettable to have to go into a third national lockdown but it is clear that additional measures are needed to tackle the rise in new variant Covid-19 cases, protect vulnerable residents, prevent hospitals being overwhelmed and to save lives.

"I also welcome the removal of uncertainty around the opening of schools – which will now remain closed, except for vulnerable children and children of key workers.

"I would like to reassure our residents that we have been preparing for this lockdown and have had plans in place at every stage of the government's changes in restrictions – to ensure support for our vulnerable residents, communities and businesses. I can assure you we will do whatever it takes to get through this."

The government today announced a £4.6bn package of grants to help firms through the new lockdown. Firms in retail, hospitality and leisure will be eligible to get one-off grants of up to £9,000. The council has a database of those businesses, which had applied for grants previously, and they will receive the payments in due course.

Councillor Craig Browne, deputy leader of Cheshire East Council, added: "We recognise that the next few weeks will be tough for everyone – the young, their parents, vulnerable people and our local businesses – and the council is there to help provide support.

"Our People Helping People service has been excellent and is in place with more than 3,900 volunteers signed up and we have 931 vulnerable residents registered for support.

"We hope this latest lockdown will allow infection rates to reduce and help schools to prepare for rapid testing and support the roll-out of vaccinations to care home residents and staff, health and social care workers, the over-70s and clinically extremely vulnerable people."

Dr Matt Tyrer, Cheshire East Council's director of public health, said: "We are now seeing infection rates in Cheshire East of more than 350 cases per 100,000 people in the latest seven days. This is a significant increase on the numbers we saw just a few days ago when we moved to tier 4 and is evidence that new restrictions are necessary.

"We have heard this week that a second vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and vaccinations are now taking place across the borough. This is great news, but our optimism must be tempered by a resolve to stick to the basics – don't forget 'hands, face, space' and make sure that, if you have symptoms, you self-isolate and get a test."