When I started this article yesterday, the message was to be that the Shropshire unitary area might well join Telford and Wrekin in Tier 2 (high alert) next weekend. A meeting will be held on Monday to discuss this, though the final decision will lie with the Department of Health midweek. The way numbers are going are going all of Shropshire will be in Tier 2 by Saturday. It would have made more sense to stepped up a tier with Telford and Wrekin today.
But this morning’s media reports that Boris Johnson is to give way to his scientific advisers and will announce a nationwide lockdown. England will join Wales, France, Germany and Belgium in a second wave ‘circuit breaker’. It he announces that on Monday, it will make any decision in Shropshire irrelevant.
The rate of positive tests for Covid-19 in the Shropshire unitary area is growing inexorably. And that growth is speeding up. Telford and Wrekin was bumped up from Tier 1 to Tier 2 this morning (Saturday 31 October). It looks inevitable that the Shropshire unitary area will follow maybe by next Saturday. Infection rates are not the only factor in decision-making about tiers. The pressure on hospitals is another important consideration. Shropshire shares the same hospital system as Telford and that makes it logical the two unitary areas move together. The decision in principle to move up a tier could be made as early as Monday and announced Wednesday or Thursday.
The main impact of going to Tier 2 will be on social life and hospitality businesses. It could put a damper on much of what we enjoy at Christmas if it is not lifted before then.
It has been widely reported the West Midlands is to go into Tier 3 in the coming week. I don’t think this will apply to the West Midlands region but to the West Midlands Combined Authority lead by Mayor Andy Street.
Some will think increased restrictions are not needed. My view is they are. But I am far from happy with the way the tier system is being implemented. We would have been better having a short national lockdown and easing off areas or regions as the infection rates fall.
However, considerations about which tier we should be in may well be overtaken by events. It is widely reported that Boris Johnson has accepted the principle of a lockdown across England. Discussions this weekend will decide on its timing and how locked down the lockdown will be:
- The Times: Everything could be closed except essential shops and “educational settings”, including nurseries, schools and universities, from Wednesday until 1 December.
- The Daily Mail: Same as the Times.
- The Telegraph: Ministers discussed closing down all but essential retailers and schools, with universities and nurseries also staying open.
- BBC: A new “stay at home” order could be announced on Monday, with schools, colleges and universities exempt.
The message is consistent but the media has been wrong before.
Boris Johnson’s was indecisive in the spring, despite warnings, thinking the country was well prepared. His reticence nine months ago and his cautious reaction now is because he believes the “nuclear option” would wreak further havoc with the economy. With the second wave well underway, he must still face down opposition from anti-lockdown MPs within cabinet and on his own backbenches. It will not help in his mind that both Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, and Ed Davey, Leader of the Lib Dems, have called for a circuit breaker. That makes it politically unpalatable for the government to follow where opposition leaders have led. But unpalatable medicine is what is needed right now.
Science is not an exact science. Facts and interpretations are contested as different groups of scientists using different methodologies and come to differing conclusions. Two days ago, scientists in the Medical Research Council Biostats Unit said they estimated the number of new cases is 55,600 across England. A different study by Imperial College estimated 96,000 cases. Either study presents the scariest scenario we will see this Halloween.
We need to act locally. We need to act nationally. We need to act now.