The UK Government has today confirmed that Oxford city, and the rest of Oxfordshire will be moving to Tier 4 level restrictions from 00:01 on Boxing Day (Saturday 26 December).
The latest COVID-19 data shows that the infection rate is 289 per 100,000 in Oxford - a 58% increase in the past week. Across Oxfordshire overall, the infection rate is 237 per 100,000 – an 86% increase over the past week.
On Saturday 19 December, the Government announced new Tier 4 measures being introduced to try and stop the spread of the new variant of COVID-19 from spreading beyond London and the South East.
What are the tier 4 rules?
- Stay at home, except for permitted reasons. This includes shopping for food and other essentials, exercise, education, childcare, collecting prescriptions, medical appointments, essential work, and to attend a place of worship.
- Everyone who can work from home should do so.
- You cannot meet other people indoors or in a private garden, unless you live with them or they are part of your support bubble.
- You can exercise or meet in a public outdoor place with people you live with or your support bubble (or as part of a childcare bubble), or with one other person at a safe social distance.
- You must not travel to other areas, other than for legally permitted reasons, to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
- Shops selling non-essential goods and market stalls not selling food must close.
- Cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs must close but they can serve takeaways, click and collect and delivery orders.
- Personal care, hair and beauty salons must close, as should tattoo, massage and spa venues.
- Entertainment venues, indoor attractions and leisure facilities must close.
- Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised to stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend health appointments. If they cannot work from home, they are advised not to go to work and claim any support where eligible.
Oxford will remain in Tier 2 on Christmas Day.
Under Tier 2 restrictions, you may see a maximum of two other households indoors (your ‘Christmas bubble’) on Christmas Day (25 December) only.
You cannot see anyone from a Tier 4 area, unless they are part of your already existing support bubble.
You should think very carefully about the risks and only form a Christmas bubble if you feel you absolutely need to. Wherever possible, discuss alternatives to meeting up in person.
Testing facilities will also remain open across Oxford. Residents are encouraged to get tested if they think they have symptoms.
Booking is required for all testing sites, and there are plenty of slots available across all the county’s sites. Anyone with symptoms should book on the NHS website or by calling 119.
The Council will continue to work to maintain its services to residents and businesses across the city, while adjusting its operations and working practices in line with Government guidance.
Local support for residents
Locality response hubs
The Council will continue operating its six Locality Resource Hubs to help people in need of assistance to access food, medicines and essential supplies. The hubs cover Blackbird Leys, East Oxford, Rose Hill, West Oxford, Central Oxford, and North Oxford.
Support from Customer Services and the Hubs can range from simple information about local support services to providing advice and support to those with financial hardship, housing needs or needing help accessing care services.
Hubs can be contacted by phoning the Council on 01865 249 811 or using the online form.
Winter support grant
Families and households in hardship in Oxford will get a boost this winter from the Winter Support Grant scheme.
The Winter Grant Scheme is principally aimed at families with children, assisting with the costs of food and basic living costs. There will be some additional support available for families and individuals without children.
Essential support directory
The directory include food support, housing advice and support, money and debt advice, domestic abuse services, and more.
Many of the services in this directory will not be offering face to face support but are still providing help by phone, email or online.
Clinically vulnerable and shielding residents
The Council has been working proactively throughout previous lockdowns and whilst in Tier 2 restrictions to stay in weekly contact with clinically extremely vulnerable, or shielding residents to make them aware what support is available in Oxford.
Any residents who have been newly identified as vulnerable will be contacted by the Council to ensure they are made aware of the support as Oxford enters Tier 4.
Any clinically vulnerable resident with specific support needs, or who is unsure of the support available, should contact the Council on 01865 249811.
Support for those self-isolating
Financial support is available for those on low income who need to self-isolate. A one-off £500 Test and Trace Support payment is available, information about who is eligible and how to apply in on the Council web site. There is also support available to help with the practicalities like getting groceries and medicine.
Domestic abuse support services in Oxford remain available for people to access under Tier 4.
There are no restrictions on movement if you have to leave your home because it is unsafe, or if you want to get help.
You can contact Oxfordshire Domestic Abuse Service on is 0800 731 0055 or the 24 hour National Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
If you are in immediate danger please call 999. If you are in danger and unable to talk on the phone, call 999 and then press 55.
Leisure and sports facilities
Under Tier 4 restrictions, leisure and sports facilities such as leisure centres and indoor gyms, indoor swimming pools are to be closed.
This includes Council-owned leisure facilities, gyms, and swimming pools.
Physical and mental health
The numbers of people feeling isolated and suffering mental health impacts may rise as a result of Tier 4 measures. Residents are encouraged to find out what support is available, from help with financial issues to tackling isolation to keeping active.
Accessing council services
The Council will be stopping its face-to-face operations from Friday 25 December to Monday 4 January at St Aldate’s Chambers and Rose Hill Community Centre. The Council will be continuing an online and reduced telephone customer service over this period.
From 4 January the Council will recommence an appointment based service for those residents that require face to face support.
However, the Council is encouraging customers to use online services where they can, through the Council's website, where they can talk to officers through the webchat service. Video calls from home are also available by phoning the Customer Contact Centre on 01865 249811.
Support for businesses
The Council will continue to support business across Oxford during Tier 4.
The City Council’s web pages contain links to useful information for business including financial support and operational matters. Businesses can find out more by visiting the Council’s business support pages.
The Council has also created a list of Oxford businesses open online which contains fresh food, flowers, homeware, bicycle repair and more.
Under Tier 4 hospitality businesses can only operate for takeaway, meaning that outdoor dining areas across Oxford on St Michael’s Street Cornmarket Street and elsewhere in the city cannot be operated. The recently announced North Parade Avenue pedestrianisation is also to be paused at this time.
COVID Secure team
The COVID Secure Team will continue to operate to protect public safety, ensuring that businesses are complying with the new requirements imposed by entering Tier 4. As with all checks, the team have enforcement powers if needed.
The team will also continue checking public spaces, to ensure that no people are meeting with no more than one person from another household outdoors.
While the COVID Secure Team has some powers the main enforcement authority is the police. Council officers work closely with Thames Valley Police with an approach of engage, explain, encourage, and enforcement as the last resort.
The Council will continue to work closely with the universities in Oxford around the staggered return of students in the Spring term.
“For many of us, Tier 4 restrictions will start after we have already experienced what will have been a very different Christmas day, and as we approach the New Year. None of us want to be in this situation so it is really important that we follow the guidance, ensure we are not mixing households outside support bubbles and spend New Year’s Eve in our own homes.
“We all wish for a better 2021. To help ensure that, we must all pull together and take steps to slow the spread of the virus over the next few months until the vaccination is fully rolled out.
“To our Oxford businesses, who have just faced a really challenging Christmas and year, and are worried about the future, I want to reassure them that the Council will continue to work to provide all the support we can, while pressing the Government to offer further assistance. I am as frustrated as you are about the lack of planning, support and thinking ahead.
“To our residents, and in particular to those who are shielding, I want to remind you that support is available and you do not need to go through this difficult time alone. I know many people will have had a lonely year. We want you to reach out so that we can put you in touch with people to talk to and support you. If you need support you can contact us on 01865 249 811.
“To our NHS and care workers across the city, and to all those key workers keeping vital services going from transport to retail, as well as our own City Council staff, and all those who have volunteered in their communities I want to say a big thank you. You have all worked so hard both during this festive period, and throughout the year.
“While this feels a sombre moment, and we are leaving 2020 under stricter measures, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccine is already being delivered to some of our most vulnerable citizens, and if we all play by the rules and support each other, we can help to keep Oxford safe.”
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council
“We are in a very serious situation, which means that people are once again being told to stay at home. The new variant of COVID-19 spreads extremely quickly and these rules are being applied for our own safety and protection. The numbers of cases across the county have risen very steeply and we have also seen sharp rises in hospital admissions.
“When we compare our current situation with that of just a few weeks ago, we can clearly see how quickly things can change and how aggressively the virus can spread if we let our guard down even by a fraction. We have seen during 2020 that this virus thrives on human contact. That seems to be even more the case with the new variant, which is 70% more transmissible and is increasingly becoming the dominant strain across the country.
“Tier 4 is a stark warning that we need to be extra vigilant. Unless we all take personal responsibility as individuals and families throughout the coming weeks, we risk creating a situation in the early weeks of 2021 that will see further steep rises in the number of cases at exactly the time of year when viruses thrive. This means putting even more pressure on our NHS at its busiest time of year.
“The COVID vaccine has started to be rolled out to the over 80s and health and care staff across Oxfordshire. However, it will be some way into 2021 before this begins to provide protection to larger numbers of the population and make a material difference to the overall situation.
“I would therefore urge everyone to adhere to the new tier 4 rules and to take every precaution. We need to protect ourselves, our communities and the NHS as we enter 2021.”
Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Public Health