One of Hertfordshire's most senior officials has warned residents the county is likely to be in tier 2 restrictions "for a while".

Yesterday, the government confirmed the fate for Hertfordshire when lockdown ends on December 2 - and although the county avoided tier 3, residents will head into the new month on "high alert" with stricter rules than in the autumn.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson provided hope when he told the country "your tier is not your destiny" and said tiers will be reviewed every two weeks, the first being December 16.

But despite "really positive news" that the coronavirus case rate in Hertfordshire has declined during the lockdown period, Hertfordshire County Council leader David Williams told the media this morning it is "highly unlikely" Hertfordshire will drop down to tier 1 before Christmas - adding any change in tiers may not be for some time.

Watford Observer:

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Cllr Williams said: "Tier 2 is about being able to hold infection rates during this winter period.

"The really positive news is the extent of our case rates which have come down in Hertfordshire. Just about a week ago, we were looking at a rate of around 170 cases per 100,000 population, which has now come down to 136, so it has come down rapidly.

"We were heading upwards pretty quickly in September and October and that was a consequence of tier 1.

"We need to see how the newly refined tier 2 works for us and whether we can still see a reduction in numbers over that period."

Cllr Williams' next comments suggested Hertfordshire residents will likely face a ban on households mixing indoors for some time.

He continued: "If I'm being realistic, tier 2 is the right place for us to be at the moment. We may need to prepare ourselves to be in tier 2 for a while.

"I don’t think anyone would want to release us from tier 2 before Christmas. We’re also right up against London and what happens in London really influences us.

"I want to have dialogue with the government but it is unrealistic when it comes to decision point on December 16 and ask 'will Hertfordshire come out of tier 2 then?' – highly, highly unlikely I would expect.

"It may be four, six, eight weeks from now that there might be more of a realistic opportunity (to move tiers) but we need to manage expectations quite carefully."

Cllr Williams' comments were supported by the director of public health for Hertfordshire, Jim McManus, who urged people to "keep faith" with the new restrictions adding the "worst thing would be for people to ease off".

But Cllr Williams did say he would seek discussions with Public Health England and the Department for Health & Social Care to "consider and review" whether Hertfordshire's case numbers are "sufficiently going in the right direction" to drop down to tier 1.

One of the biggest factors is deciding on which tier an authority is in is the rate of new infections and hospital capacity.

Mr McManus said hospitals in Hertfordshire were beginning to "come under some pressure" from coronavirus patients.

There were 179 patients who tested positive for coronavirus in hospitals in Hertfordshire and west Essex on November 24.

Meanwhile, shopping and educational settings remain by far and away the most common sources of exposure to Covid-19 in November.