HOUSEHOLDS in large parts of Essex will no longer be allowed to mix indoors after the a bid to move the county into a state of “high Covid alert” was given the green light by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Mr Hancock confirmed the plan in a statement to the House of Commons yesterday morning.

The new rules which include a ban on households mixing in any indoor setting - including pubs and restaurants - will come into effect from Saturday and will apply to the Essex County Council area and not to Southend or Thurrock.

Non-essential journeys will also be discouraged.

Support bubbles for more vulnerable people, however, will still be permitted and the Rule of Six still applies in outdoor settings.

Basildon Standard: Decision - Matt Hancock yesterdayDecision - Matt Hancock yesterday

Pubs and restaurants will have to close by 10pm but gyms, nurseries, schools and churches can all remain open with social distancing in force.

Following the announcement of the tier system by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, Essex was initially placed in the medium category, which is the lowest of the three options.

But County Hall bosses almost immediately pushed to be moved into the more stringent second tier.

They said it was in response to the exponential rise in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.

Positive cases in the Essex County Council area have now risen to 8,769, with an infection rate of 588.8 per 100,000. Different Essex districts and boroughs will have differing rates of infection however.

Essex County Council leader David Finch, who spearheaded the bid, said he was pleased with the Health Secretary’s decision, adding: “We welcome the Government’s announcement regarding Essex moving to the high local Covid alert category, which is clear recognition of the severity of the situation we find ourselves in as a county,” he said.

Basildon Standard: Support - David Finch Support - David Finch

“We think the Government has decided correctly, guided by the science and the fact is the number of cases in Essex is rising exponentially.

“We understand the move may affect people’s lives and businesses and understand the very strong feelings about this.

“However, we have a duty of care to the people of Essex.”

“We firmly believe this is the best route to minimise disruptions, to save lives and to protect businesses.

“These are difficult times for individuals, businesses and communities but I know that as a county we will come together to support and protect one another.”