I know people have been concerned about recent reports of increased cases of coronavirus in Hertsmere. At the time of writing, Hertsmere has now been designated as an area of concern by the Department of Health.
I want to reassure you that I am working closely with the Health Secretary, the Borough Council, Herts County Council, and relevant local public bodies. We are confident that whilst the case level remains high we have measures in place to control the outbreak.
The recent rise in cases stems from inappropriate social gatherings amongst younger people. The County Council and the headteachers of local schools are working together to remind pupils of the need to follow the social distancing rules which are in place as they keep all of us safe.
Contact tracing and the isolation of contacts for those who have tested positive is ongoing and I hope you are reassured to know that the Department for Education provides schools with home Covid testing kits to enable children who suspect they have Covid-19 to get a test as quickly as possible.
However, this rise in Covid cases, and the rise we have seen nationally, has meant that we need to tighten the social distancing rules to limit social gatherings in order to effectively control and suppress the spread of coronavirus.
As a result, we have introduced new legislation to clarify that social gatherings inside and outside are limited to six people. The new lower limit will make it easier for the police to identify and disperse illegal gatherings and, where they do take place, the police will have the power to issue fines which can reach up to £3,200.
We continue to reinforce the message of hands, face and space. People should wash their hands frequently, wear a face mask as appropriate and observe social distancing.
I hope that this message provides reassurance. I will, of course, continue to monitor developments in Hertsmere extremely closely whilst I work with the Health Secretary, the Borough and County Council and relevant local authorities.