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26 November 2020updated 04 Sep 2021 8:14am

How fair are the new Covid-19 tiers?

New Statesman analysis reveals a disparity between the government's new tiers and the severity of coronavirus in several areas.

Most of England will still be under tough restrictions once lockdown ends on 2 December, with almost every local council area being placed into tier two or tier three.

The government used a combination of criteria to determine this. It looked at the number of overall cases, the number of cases in those over 60, and the rate at which these are rising or falling. The percentage of tests returning positive in each area, and the pressure on the NHS were also taken into account.

You can read the government’s justification for its tier placements here. Notably, it has grouped together nearby local authorities such as London boroughs into single entities, making county-wide decisions on which tier to place them in.

This might make sense in some places. After all, Covid-19 doesn’t respect local authority boundaries. However, it means that some councils can rightfully feel hard done by, having been placed into tier three based on the epidemiological performance of their neighbours, even as cases drop in their own area.

To find out which areas have been punished and which let off lightly by the new tiers, the New Statesman ranked every council using publicly available coronavirus data to calculate a Covid severity score. This took into account the local case rate, the case rate among the elderly, and how quickly these were rising or falling, as well as the test positivity rate and, regionally, the rate at which hospitalisations were increasing and how they compared to the peak of the first wave earlier this year.

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The scores ranged from 0 (the lowest severity) to 100 (the highest).

The figures show a disparity between the government’s new tiers and the severity of coronavirus, with some areas undergoing stricter measures despite lower risk, and others escaping when tighter restrictions should perhaps remain in place.


Parts of London have been lucky

Parts of London, particularly east London, have got off lightly by being placed into tier two. Havering has seen 337 cases for every 100,000 residents in the past week (the national average currently stands at 209), and 322 cases for every 100,000 residents over the age of 60 (the national average is 182). Cases among the elderly are rising (up 35 per cent on last week), and the borough is in the top fifth in England for test positivity, meaning it is likely there are far more cases beyond those being caught by tests. Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham are in a similar situation to Havering, and the easing of restrictions is likely to spread the virus in these areas.

Not all of London is affected, hence the placement into tier two. Camden scored the lowest out of any area in England for Covid severity, with 90 cases per 100,00 people (and 55.5 per 100 for those over the age of 60), with the borough’s figures falling by more than a third in the past week.

One thing that London as a whole also has in its favour is the NHS. The number of patients currently in hospital with Covid-19 stands at 1,489, just 31 per cent of the first-wave peak in the capital. That’s a lower percentage than in any other region, although in winter, beds are scarce in any case due to an increase in other illnesses.

Outside London, other tier two areas where restrictions are, arguably, being prematurely eased include Corby, South Northamptonshire, Norwich, and Basildon.

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Lancaster has been let down by its neighbours

The tier three council that scored the lowest for Covid severity was Lancaster. It has recorded 102 cases per 100,000 people in the past week, and 88 per 100 for the over 60s. Cases as a whole are down a quarter from the week before, and its case positivity rate is just over 5 per cent, which is on the lower end of the scale.

However, other parts of Lancashire have not fared so well. Hyndburn has one of the highest case rates in the country with 405 cases per 100,000 people in the latest week of data, and cases rising among the over 60s to 381 per 100,000.

Cases are also rising elsewhere in the county, meaning that people in Lancaster will have to face harsher restrictions than they otherwise would have.

Stratford-on-Avon is another area where residents have a right to be irritated by their new tier. It has 105 cases per 100,000 people – a lower case rate than the vast majority of tier two areas – and figures are falling among both its general population and the elderly.

The fact it was judged alongside the rest of Warwickshire, Coventry and Sollihull, where case rates are rising among the over 60s, meant that it was placed in tier three.

In the end, those areas that have entered tier three despite falling case numbers are likely to be among the first to exit it, and vice versa.

However, that might be small comfort to people desperate to see friends and family during the festive season after a month of restrictions.

How we did the analysis

The analysis was performed using publicly available data on Covid-19. The number of cases, cases among those over the age of 60, and regional figures for people in hospital were taken from the government’s coronavirus dashboard, and we calculated the rate of change for each using the latest week of data.

The local test positivity rate for each area was calculated using the latest NHS Test and Trace figures (18 November). With the hospital data, we looked at rate of change as well as current hospitalisations as a percentage of the first-wave peak. We then combined the figures to create an index of coronavirus risk, adding less weight to the hospital figures as they were regional rather than local.

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