Essex County Council has refused to be drawn into speculation over which coronavirus tier the county will emerge from lockdown in just weeks after the council leader claimed it would be Tier 1.

At the beginning of November council leader Cllr David Finch said the council was “confident” the county would be placed into Tier 1 restrictions on December 2 when the second national lockdown ends.

Mr Finch said because Essex had entered Tier 2 restrictions early, the county would be well placed to recommend it goes into “the lowest level of restrictions”.

Essex was entered into Tier 2 restrictions in October, earlier than other areas with similar or higher rates of infection, at the request of county politicians.

Read more: Essex expects to emerge from national lockdown in Tier 1 coronavirus restrictions​

However, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s unveiling of a revamped tier system, with tougher restrictions and a warning more areas would be placed in higher tiers, the county council has refused to be drawn on whether it still sees Tier 1 as a realistic target.

Speaking at the launch of the new tier system, Mr Johnson said: “We are going to go back instead to a regional tiered approach, applying the toughest measures where Covid is most prevalent.

“And while the previous local tiers did cut the R number, they were not quite enough to reduce it below one, so the scientific advice, I am afraid, is that as we come out is that our tiers need to be made tougher.”

When questioned if Cllr Finch still believes Essex was likely to emerge in Tier 1 following the PM’s announcement, the County Council did not offer a direct answer.

When Cllr Finch made the claim the rate of infection in Epping Forest – one of Essex’s worst affected districts – was hovering above 150 cases per 100,000 residents.

That number has since climbed as high as 230, before falling back down to 203.5 in the latest available Public Health England data.

A spokesperson for the council said: "We welcome the announcement by the Government to move out of the national lockdown and a return to a regional, tiered approach. The Government will make the decision around the tier that Essex will exit lockdown into later this week and this will be determined by the latest data. Once we understand this we will consider the implications for Essex, our residents and businesses"

On Thursday, Ministers will announce where the county is placed in the new system.

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