CORONAVIRUS cases are falling and the R rate is below 1 – so more regions ending up in Tier 3 is “disappointing”, a top expert has blasted.
Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE Covid Symptom Study, said data from his team’s app shows new cases fell 14 per cent in a week.
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There are currently 29,311 daily new symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK on average over the two weeks up to November 22, according to app data.
This compares to 34,279 daily new symptomatic cases a week ago.
The app data also suggests the R rate is at 0.9 across England and at 1 in both Wales and Scotland, he said.
Yet 99 per cent of England will be plunged into the harshest Tiers 2 and 3 when the lockdown ends next Wednesday, it was announced today.
Just the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in the lowers Tier 1 – who will face very little restrictions.
But Prof Spector said the most recent app data, from the fortnight up to Sunday, suggests cases are falling across the country.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics also showed coronavirus cases are levelling off in England.
A regional breakdown from the Covid app, which is based on swab test data from five days ago, shows that cases in the North West have now returned to the same levels as mid-September – before the second wave.
While, in the North East and Yorkshire cases are now comparable to where they were at in early October, he said.
For the first time, cases in the Midlands have fallen and the R rate is now at 0.9, while in London and the East of England cases remain stable.
In the South West and South East, the R value has dropped to 0.9 and cases have fallen since this time last week.
Reassuringly, the app shows the number of cases in the over-60s is now either decreasing or stable in every region of the UK.
It’s one of the key measures being used to determine which tier each area is placed in.
Prof Spector said: “I’m disappointed to see so many regions going into Tier 3 when the latest data suggests that symptomatic cases are continuing to fall.
“Our data shows that the UK R value is now below 1 at 0.9, mirroring ONS data, and probably reflects voluntary behaviour changes.
“Importantly, the NHS continues to cope even with the addition of winter pressure.
“These heavy restrictions may have greater costs to public health than benefits.
“We need to consider more carefully the wider physical, social and mental health implications of excessive mandatory restrictions if they are not justified by the recent data.”
He’s not the only scientist that things the Government’s route out of the nation’s second lockdown is tough.
Prof Karol Sikora, a cancer specialist and former WHO director, suggested a more localised approach would be better.
He tweeted: “Is the Government’s action balanced and thoughtful? Is it even local?
“Huge areas, with many different situations, have been lumped together and to me it seems too blunt.
“Take Kent. Everywhere in tier three despite huge variations. A more localised approach would be fairer.”
Professor Carl Heneghan, an epidemiologist at Oxford University, claimed the tier system may be “unjustified” and “outdated” based on recent data.
He pointed to recent Government figures, which show new infections halved in a week – from 18,626 last Tuesday to 9,854 seven days later.
If this trend continues, he said that by the time the national lockdown ends next week, the country could be in a similar place to where it was before the second wave in September when there were minimal restrictions.
Speaking on the eve of the tiered announcement last night, he told MailOnline: “By the time we get to December 2 we will be in very different position than we are now, therefore we need to be much more flexible and reactive, and set out clear criteria.
“[There is] no point in saying to people ‘this is where you are now [in terms of Covid] and you’ll be in this tier next week’ — we should be explaining to people the two important criteria that should decide which areas go into which tiers – symptomatic cases and hospital rates.
“For instance, say Kent is announced to be in Tier Three and that it has 50 per cent of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients, you could tell people they have to adjust that to 30 per cent to come out of Tier Three. That’s objective criteria.”
But not everyone agrees and many experts have suggested that a return to the tier system is to be welcomed.
Dr Flavio Toxvaerd, who specialises in the economics of infectious diseases at the University of Cambridge, said: “The updated tier system is more restrictive than the one that was in place before the lockdown and this could have the desired effect of more effectively keeping infection under control.
“Now that vaccines are on the horizon, it is even more important to redouble our efforts to contain the disease, so more people can make it safely through the winter and benefit from the protection that they provide.”
Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, said: “There has been much focus on what the Christmas festivities will be like, but the announcement that much of England will be experiencing severe restrictions up to then is a stark reminder that the virus is very much out there and still circulating freely.
Now that vaccines are on the horizon, it is even more important to redouble our efforts to contain the disease
Dr Flavio Toxvaerd
“It will be important for everyone to take the threat seriously and to minimise the risk to themselves and others by reducing social interactions – especially indoors – as much as possible.
“The announcement of the real possibility of effective vaccines being ready soon provides light at the end of the tunnel.
“So we need to do all that we can between now and then to minimise the harm that the virus can do to vulnerable people in our society and to our NHS.
“We might have come out of lockdown but that doesn’t mean the party season should commence.”
The Department of Health said decisions on tier levels would be based on a number of factors, including case detection rates in all age groups and, in particular, amongst the over 60s.
How quickly case rates are rising or falling will also be taken into account, as will local pressure on the NHS, including current and projected capacity.
How are the tiers decided?
Decisions on tiers are made by ministers based on public health recommendations informed by the following factors:
- Case detection rate (in all age groups and, in particular, amongst the over 60s);
- How quickly case rates are rising or falling;
- Positivity in the general population;
- Pressure on the NHS – including current and projected (3-4 weeks out) NHS capacity – including admissions, general/acute/ICU bed occupancy, staff absences; and
- Local context and exceptional circumstances such as a local but contained outbreak.
In Tier 1, the rule of six applies indoors and outdoors, people are urged to work from home if they can and pubs are limited to table service.
The majority of England will be in Tier 2, where the restrictions mean a ban on households mixing indoors and pubs, and restaurants only able to sell alcohol with a “substantial meal”.
Tier 3 measures mean a ban on households mixing, except in limited circumstances such as parks.
Bars and restaurants will be limited to takeaway or delivery services and people will be advised to avoid travelling outside their area.
Setting out the tiers today, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “These are not easy decisions, but they have been made according to the best clinical advice”.
He told MPs: “Thanks to the shared sacrifice of everyone in recent weeks, in following the national restrictions, we have been able to start to bring the virus back under control and slow its growth, easing some of the pressure on the NHS.
“We will do this by returning to a regional tiered approach, saving the toughest measures for the parts of the country where prevalence remains too high.”