OXFORDSHIRE has been blocked by the Government from entering into Tier 2 restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid.

The decision was taken after the county's public health director Ansaf Azhar applied to Government for heightened restrictions earlier this week.

Mr Azhar had the backing of all Oxfordshire's different council leaders for the move, but the Department of Health and Social Care did not agree there were grounds to increase restrictions in the county.

The request to move into Tier 2 came because of the trend in Covid cases across rural areas outside of Oxford.

READ THE LATEST here: A divide between Tory MPs and Oxfordshire's councils has opened over moving to Tier 2 restrictions

Mr Azhar warned that in these areas the infection is spreading to vulnerable and elderly people, while in the city Covid is still largely contained among students.

Director for Public Health Mr Azhar said: “Across all areas of the county, we are starting to see a significant shift in the spread of the virus from people in their teens and 20s to older and more vulnerable age groups. This is a really concerning development. We know that, once the virus starts to spread to more vulnerable groups, then hospital cases will rise and deaths will inevitably follow.

“We have seen what’s been happening across the north of England and how the virus has quickly taken hold across huge swathes of the community. Based on the current trajectory of the virus, we could well find ourselves in a similar position in just a few weeks’ time if we do not take collective action now.” 

Oxfordshire is currently under Tier 1 restrictions, currently the lowest level of controls.

Under Tier 2, people would be prevented from visiting friends and family at their homes or from meeting other households at restaurants and cafes. The 'rule of six' applies outdoors, and restaurants and pubs have to close at 10pm.

ALSO READ: What would Tier 2 mean for Oxfordshire? 

The decision to stop Oxfordshire moving up into the next Tier could be reviewed as early as next week.

There was disappointment from local council leaders that Oxfordshire would not be allowed to move up into a more high risk tier.

Susan Brown, the Labour leader of Oxford City Council, said: “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 households meeting up.

"I am disappointed that a decision has been made in London to ignore the considered view of the Director of Public Health and the councils who are looking after people’s health and wellbeing on a daily basis."

Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council Ian Hudspeth said: “In light of the escalating situation across the county, we are pushing hard for Oxfordshire to be moved to a high alert level. This would be a preventative measure to stem the spread of the virus and protect the county’s most vulnerable residents.

“We are aware that some businesses, particularly the hospitality sector, would be affected if we moved to a high alert level, and we welcome the announcement from Government today that additional support will be available."

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And the Lib Dem leaders of Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire district councils, Emily Smith and Susan Cooper, were also disappointed by the delay.

Ms Smith said she was 'convinced' the delay in restricting household movement would 'put local lives at risk', while Ms Cooper said it seemed 'illogical' the Government was not listening to local knowledge.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “These decisions are made in close consultation with local leaders and public health experts, informed by the latest evidence from the JBC and NHS Test and Trace, PHE and the Chief Medical Officer for England. We constantly review the evidence and will take swift action where necessary.”

Earlier today, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced new measures to help businesses in areas which are under Tier 2 restrictions.

There had been concerns that there were gaps in support available for areas under these restrictions. 

But the Chancellor today changed his new Job Support Scheme, so that the Government will pay a larger portion of the wages of staff who have been prevented from working due to restrictions.