Covid Watch: It’s decision day on tiers for Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and all of England – will we be one of the few areas in Tier 1?

Covid Watch: It’s decision day on tiers for Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and all of England – will we be one of the few areas in Tier 1?

Tier 1 or Tier 2? That is today’s question. There are other questions. Will the government apply tiers across entire regions? Or will they be imposed at local authority level? Will Shropshire’s unitary area and Telford and Wrekin be treated as one unit because we have a common health system.

I am not going to speculate but I am hoping for Tier 1 status for Shropshire and Ludlow. That will be better for business and better for mental health. That will help our town’s recovery. The Ludlow Town Centre Recovery Working Group meets first thing tomorrow morning to consider the implications of whatever tier is imposed.

Coronavirus has hit our town’s economy. But the economic picture in not bleak. Unemployment in Ludlow decreased from 6.9% in August to 6% in October. Too high but travelling in the right direction. Some independent businesses have gained trade because more people have shopped locally rather than in other towns. For others, it has been a lousy year. The loss of day-to-day business and the reduction in footfall as festivals were cancelled or driven online has reduced trade. Government grants have helped. But as always, they haven’t helped some businesses, especially the self-employed. The total and subsequent partial closure of Ludlow Market, and the non-Covid related closure of Ludlow Assembly Rooms, has taken some of the spirit out of our town centre.

But we are still resilient.

Our eyes and ears are on today’s announcement on which tier each area of England will be in.

Tiers initially came in on 14 October. They became irrelevant when England went into lockdown on 5 November. The new Tiers will come in on Wednesday 2 December, the day Lockdown 2 ends.

There is a debate on whether tiers should be imposed by region or by local authority: county, district or unitary. MPs around the country are lobbying for tiers to be implemented at local authority level.

London was treated as a single region when it was declared Tier 2 on 16 October. Many borough leaders and MPs now want a borough by borough tier system. In Kent, MPs representing the leafy west south of the county are lobbying Matt Hancock not to be in a county-wide tier. That’s because high infection rates on the Isles of Sheppey and Thanet and around Sittingbourne on the north Kent coast could take the county into Tier 2.  

Closer to home, MPs Lucy Allen, Mark Pritchard and Daniel Kawczynski have said Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin should not be lumped in with the wider West Midlands region. The region had a seven day infection rate of 305 cases per 100,000 people on 20 November. That looks a clear case for Tier 2 status.

Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin had rates of 159 and 249 respectively. Rates in both areas are falling quickly. There were 73 beds occupied by Covid patients at RSH and PRH on November 17. That’s higher than the first wave but there have been fewer patients requiring ICU treatment. It makes sense for sense for our county not to be lumped in with boroughs like Dudley which has a rate of around 450.

Should Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin be treated as a single unit for the purpose of assigning tier status? This makes sense as we have a common health system. We have one principal health trust (SaTH) and will have one clinical commissioning group from 1 April 2021. But if Telford and Wrekin gets Tier 2 status, that might just drag Shropshire into Tier 2.

This is a complex calculus and I am not going to speculate on which tier we will be in. There is speculation among lockdown sceptic MPs and the media that most of England will be in Tier 2 or Tier 3. We will know our fate later today.

Data up to 25 November

Tier 1 will be more relaxed that at present. Most venues can reopen and sports events take place though with limited capacity. There can be mixing between households and support bubbles in some contexts. Social distancing, face masks and Rule of Six will continue as at present. Travel, hotel and B&B accommodation allowed.

Tier 2 will restrict capacity at events and venues further. There will be no indoor mixing of households and support bubbles. Travel, hotel and B&B accommodation allowed. Alcohol can only be served with a “substantial meal”.

Tier 3, and we are unlikely to be Tier 3, sees a total lockdown on hospitality and further restrictions.

More details on this later in the day.

Tier criteria

The government will use five main indicators to establish which tier an area will be in:

  • Case detection rates in all age groups
  • Case detection rates in the over 60s
  • The rate at which cases are rising or falling
  • Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests
  • taken)
  • Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.

The government has not published thresholds for the tiers. The working assumption has been that an area with a growing infection rate above 200 would be Tier 2, with Tier 3 coming in as low as 300 if hospital capacity is stretched. Ministers say they will publish the analysis used to allocate areas to tiers.

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