The government has ruled that Telford and Wrekin will move to Tier 2 (high alert) restrictions from one minute into Saturday morning. The main impact will be on those socialising indoors and businesses that rely on people socialising indoors. We are fighting a disease of that dies with loneliness. Until we get a major rollout of a vaccine, we must distance ourselves further from each other.
If you are in Telford and Wrekin from the end of tomorrow, you will not be allowed to pop into the pub for a drink with your mates after work. Unless, that is, your friends are in the same household or support bubble. The restrictions apply to almost any indoor venue, with some exceptions. Outdoors, the Rule of Six applies in Telford and Wrekin as it does here in Shropshire.
Shaun Davies, the leader of Telford and Wrekin Council, sounded unconfident in a radio interview with Eric Smith on BBC Radio Shropshire this morning. Davies is a man on top of his job. But it became clear he has had little influence over the move from Tier 1 to Tier 2. The decision was made by civil servants and it was to be communicated to him and the world at Whitehall’s convenience.
This episode shows how centralised decision making has become during the pandemic. The coronavirus emergency might sometimes require a strong central hand but my worry is it will lead to a permanent change in the locus of power. In many areas, control is being stripped from accountable local government to the remote Westminster bubble of distant politicians whose priorities are controlled by whips and distorted by their ambitions. Localism is well and truly dead.
Let’s put that to one side. It is an argument for later.
The matter to hand is dealing with the growing rate of Covid-19 infections across the country, in Telford and Wrekin, and here in the Shropshire unitary area. The graphs at the end of this article show how fast infection rates are growing.
Shaun Davies is worried that Telford and Wrekin could be booted up into Tier 3. That would be tough for the economy of Telford and its residents. The challenge is bringing the spread of infection under control before Tier 3 is triggered under the opaque rules used by central government to determine which authority is in which tier.
Covid-19 dies of loneliness. It exploits our biggest vulnerability as humans. We are naturally sociable. Our society has evolved to encourage sociability. We have locations and events. Bars, restaurants, cafes, sporting events, parties, festivals. We engage in physical and emotional actions. Hugging, handshaking and kissing.
These are all in danger of becoming a memory rather than a normal part of our social and business life.
But our immediate priority is to be friendly and neighbourly. That means we must not pass on Covid-19 to our friends and neighbours.
Tier 2 status for Telford and Wrekin will bring with it an impact on local businesses. I do not know how the tier will policed. Four blokes turn up to a pub for a few lagers after work. That’s obviously not allowed in Telford and Wrekin after tomorrow. They should be be shown the door. Two people turn up for a drink moments later. How do the premise’s supervisors know whether the two are in the same household or bubble?
Government advice is that you take your “tier” with you when you travel. That means if you travel from Telford to Shrewsbury for Sunday lunch, you must obey Telford Tier 2 rules, not Shropshire Tier 1 rules. How is that going to enforced?
Physical contact has diminished during the pandemic. Our visits to locations and events have been reduced. The idea of Tier 2 is to reduce that sociability further. It’s aims are laudable. Essential. But I worry about how Tier 2 will be enforced and about its long term impacts on mental health and wellbeing.
There is little we can do as individuals to fix some of the problems with the government response to the Covid-19 epidemic. What we can do individually is to adjust our behaviour to norms of the day. We can reduce social contact and stick with the rules.
Sticking to the rules will get boring. But we look to have a tough winter ahead. We must all do our best to ensure that we come through this bleak period as healthily as possible, as individuals and as a society.
What it means for Telford and Wrekin to be in Tier 2
- People are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting.
- Tradespeople can continue to go into a household for work.
- The Rule of Six continues to apply for socialising outdoors, for instance in a garden or public space like a park or beach.
- Businesses and venues can continue to operate, but pubs and restaurants must ensure that customers consume food and drink only while seated, and close between 10pm and 5am.
- Takeaway food can continue to be sold after 10pm if ordered online or by phone.
- Schools and universities remain open.
- Places of worship remain open, but people may not mingle in groups of more than six.
- Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the numbers attending (15 and 30 respectively).
- Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors but will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with those they do not live with (or share a support bubble with), or for youth or disability sport.
- Travel is permitted to amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but people are advised to reduce the number of journeys where possible.