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England set for three-tiered lockdown regime

By Gareth Jones
01 October 2020

By Gareth Jones, Newgate Public Affairs

Coronavirus restrictions will be extended to the Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, the government announced today. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that, in these regions, households have been banned from meeting in any indoor social setting and there is guidance against all but essential travel (although going to work or school is deemed as essential). These regions now join other parts of the UK, including Greater Manchester, Lancashire, West Yorkshire, the North East, Leicester, Glasgow, and South Wales, which are experiencing greater restrictions on household mixing, hospitality and travel.

It had been hoped that a regional lockdown approach would contain local outbreaks, with Hancock adding today that "I know individual rules are challenging but they are necessary and there are early signs they are working". However, it has also become apparent that this patchwork approach of different lockdown rules is causing significant confusion which, in turn, is hindering compliance rates in the affected regions. This confusion was at its most apparent on Tuesday, with the Prime Minister unable to confirm details of new tighter coronavirus restrictions in north-east England at a press briefing.

There are other concerns about the current regional approach. Imposing lockdown restrictions without providing the type of financial support for the key industries that are most severely affected in the region (most notably the hospitality sector) will cause significant economic damage and hinder people’s ability to comply with rules and self-isolate where required. The Health Secretary said that £7m funding would be provided to support areas affected by today’s announcement, but this has not prevented local authority leaders from criticising the government’s approach, with Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson saying that the funding announced was a "drop in the ocean" and he was "deeply, deeply worried" about businesses – a sentiment echoed by many other local leaders.

These concerns have prompted a revised approach from government, who are now reportedly adopting a new standardised "three-tier" approach to coronavirus restrictions in local areas of England and are looking to roll this out in mid-October. According to these reports, tier one areas (which will have fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 of population) will maintain current national restrictions such as the "rule of six", tier two areas (where cases are above 100 per 100,000) would experience restrictions similar to those mentioned above, such as bans on household meetings, and tier three areas would have significantly higher rates and would face full lockdowns. Additional government funding would be provided for tier two and tier three areas.

Should this approach be rolled out, it should ensure the rules are better understood by local residents (as well as politicians), but it will also underline the regional disparities and unequal impact of the virus during this ‘second wave’. It was highly apparent in the slides presented by Chris Whitty at yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, that the North-West, Yorkshire and North-East were being hit by severe peaks, while in other regions – East Anglia, South East and South West – infection rates remained relatively low and stable (London and the Midlands were in-between, with smaller but still noticeable increases). Should this trend continue, this different tiered approach to containing the virus will undoubtedly shape the politics and the political debate in the coming months.