SEVERAL authorities in England have some of the lowest Covid infection rates in the country – but are stuck in Tier 3.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave a gloomy update in the first review of the tiered system yesterday.
Only three areas in England have moved down a tier, a far cry from what was hoped, while a bundle of others were moved up into Tier 3.
It will leave millions outraged, especially in those areas that have seen cases drop drastically over the past month.
There are 11 areas still in Tier 3 restrictions that are among the lowest 5o for case numbers of England – most of them in the North West and North East.
Given there are 150 local authorities, it means they are among the one third of places where case rates are lowest.
Tameside and Stockport, in Greater Manchester, both have less than 100 cases per 100,000 people.
They have the 16th and 19th lowest infection rates in the whole of the country, sitting alongside places such as Devon and Hampshire – which are firmly in Tier 2.
Their infection rates have been sliding down week-on-week, from 384 and 322, respectively, four weeks ago.
For comparison, the average across England is 204, with the highest being in Medway, which has 696 cases per 100,000.
Several North East authorities have also been lumped into the “very high alert” level – even though their cases are below the country average.
And the cities of Sheffield and Leeds were also dealt a huge blow yesterday, finding out they have to remain in Tier 3 despite huge improvements in case numbers.
The Government consider a range of factors when deciding the tier levels, and not just infection rates in the population.
It means if cases are worryingly high in the over 60s, or if there is pressure on the NHS, an area can be pushed into Tier 3 even if its cases are not considered that high.
Infection rates in neighbouring areas are also considered because people travel inbetween areas for work.
But “disappointed” leaders said the North of England is being treated differently to the South, after swathes of the North West and North East were kept in Tier 3 despite hope they would be freed just before Christmas.
WHICH TIER 3 AREAS HAVE LOW INFECTION RATES?
The data comes from Public Health England data which yesterday reported new cases diagnosed in the week to December 13.
The lowest infection rate is in Isle of Wight, where just 21 cases per 100,000 were recorded in those seven days.
Which Tier 3 areas have lower cases?
These places are in the top 50 of England where cases are lowest:
16th: Tameside 94 cases per 100,000
19th: Stockport 98 cases per 100,000
22nd: Gateshead 103.93 cases per 100,000
26th: North East Lincolnshire 110.93 cases per 100,000
28th: Trafford 111.65 cases per 100,000
37th: North Tyneside 121.69 cases per 100,000
44th: East Riding of Yorkshire 136.59 cases per 100,000
45th: Leeds 137.18 cases per 100,000
46th: Sheffield 137.81 cases per 100,000
48th: Redcar and Cleveland 139.26 cases per 100,000
49th: Bolton 141.54 cases per 100,000
UK average: 204 cases per 100,000
Source: Public Health England
Tameside, Stockport, Trafford and Bolton – all in Greater Manchester – are among the 50 places with the best infection rates.
Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham – who has vocally opposed the Government’s decision making against the area – said he was “not surprised but very disappointed” that his region was staying in Tier 3.
In the lead up to the review, Mr Burnham had said there was a “clear case” for the region being eased into Tier 2.
He said there have been “steady decreases” across all of the region’s 10 boroughs – which have faced tougher rules since the summer.
“We are below London and below Liverpool when they went into Tier 2 originally,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Manchester City Council’s Labour leader Sir Richard Leese said yesterday: “I cannot say that this announcement is not bitterly disappointing so close to Christmas. For many of our businesses the possibility of trading, even in a limited way, would have been a brief respite in what has been a devastating year.”
In its review of the tier system, the Government explained all five indicators suggest moving Greater Manchester into Tier 2 would be a mistake.
Although cases are lower in Tameside, Trafford and Stockport, they are at risk of rising again because of the “interconnectedness of these areas with the rest of Greater Manchester”.
It also said although fewer people are being admitted to hospital with Covid per day, there are still “high” numbers of patients taking up NHS critical care beds.
Greater Manchester has the highest infections in the over 60s than any other English county.
It has 193 per 100,000, according to the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, which tracks the outbreak.
In the North East, Gateshead has the 22nd best infection rate in England, at 104 – four times smaller than four weeks ago.
North Tyneside and Redcar and Cleveland are also in the top 50, with 122 and 139 cases per 100,000 respectively.
Leaders of the North East said yesterday they understand today’s decision – but will be pressing the Government around how Tier 3 is decided in the New Year.
In a statement, the officials said they will push for “fair decisions and the right level of economic support”.
Cases in the over 60s in the parts of the North East under Tier 3, know as the LA7, are 88 per 100,000.
The Government said it had kept the LA7 in Tier 3 because parts of the area had “concerning” case rates – although bed occupancy is “stable” generally.
Meanwhile, Redcar and Cleveland is showing rising cases among over 60s.
Those living in Leeds, Sheffield and East Riding of Yorkshire have all been told they will not be moved down to Tier 2 on Saturday.
That’s despite the fact those areas each have infection rates just under 140 cases per 100,000 – more than halving in a month.
Leeds council leader Judith Blake told a press conference yesterday it had been a “difficult and quite frustrating morning”.
Ms Blake said she believed an earlier statement from Mr Hancock had given Leeds optimism it would be dropped to Tier 2.
She said: “It’s the uncertainty, the sense that there is a changing of the rules and I think, quite honestly, a real sense of a lack of fairness in the way that some of the decisions are made.
“We have to manage the real sense of frustration that our communities are being regarded in a different way in the South of England.”
Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis criticised the Government for again making decisions affecting millions of people without consultation.
He said: “Once again, mayors and local leaders have been cut out of the decision-making process and not even afforded the basic courtesy of being consulted, or informed in advance, about this decision.”
Top 5 areas in Tier 2 by infection rate
Warrington: 162 cases per 100,000
Oxfordshire: 138 cases per 100,000
Cheshire West and Chester: 134
Swindon: 126 per 100,000
Norfolk: 123 cases per 100,000
Gloucestershire (130) and East Sussex (252) are also in Tier 2, but parts of the counties are in Tier 3.
Mr Jarvis, who is also the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, said: “I know this decision is absolutely the last thing our communities and businesses wanted to hear, another hammer blow to follow so many others.
“After the endless grind and hardship of this extraordinary, terrible year, simply having an ordinary Christmas would have been a huge relief.
“For many of our businesses, these days and weeks are critical to their survival.”
Explaining the situation in Yorkshire, the Government generally said the picture is “improving”, but bringing the region down into Tier 2 would be premature.
North East Lincolnshire has a case rate of 111 per 100,000 people, down from 507 a month ago.
But the authority, alongside the rest of Lincolnshire, has not been moved down to Tier 2.
The Government said the outbreak in Lincolnshire is “mixed but concerning”, but said cases in the over 60s are over 150 per 100,000.
Martin Vickers, MP for the Cleethorpes Constituency, told The Sun: “Of course my constituents would welcome a move to Tier 2 but only if all of the measures indicate it is safe to do so.
“Yes, the infection rate has fallen significantly but the pressure on our local hospitals, that also serve the neighbouring rural areas where infection is rising, continues.
“Local people are still overwhelmingly in favour of the tightest restrictions, with generous support for the businesses affected.”
ANGER IN THE NORTH
Mr Hancock update to the nation just a week before Christmas dashed the hopes of people in Manchester, Leeds and parts of Birmingham who were urging to be marked down.
There are 93 areas, of 150, that have a lower case rate than the national average.
England as a whole recorded 204 new cases per 100,000 in the week to December 13, Public Health England data shows.
Birmingham, Derby, Hull and Bradford are just some of the local authorities with a lower case rate than this.
Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard said the Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s announcement that the city would stay in Tier 3 was “bitterly disappointing”.
The council leader said: “Additionally, without a Covid-safe hospitality offer during Christmas week, we now run the risk of people finding other ways to socialise which will only increase the number of infections.”
Mr Burnham said: “One can only conclude that it’s the changed context in London and the South East which has changed the national context which has led to everybody in the North of England staying in restrictions.
“It feels like if the North has rising cases, the North goes under restrictions; if London and the South East has rising cases, everyone stays under restrictions.”
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers and a Greater Manchester MP, questioned what more the region could do to get out of Tier 3.
“The statement will be greeted with dismay in Greater Manchester where we have had severe restrictions for nine months, where in nine of the 10 boroughs rates are below the national average,” he said.
Fury erupted after Mr Hancock moved only three areas moved down a Tier, while pushing millions more up into tighter restrictions.
The areas moved down were North Somerset and Bristol, from Tier 3 to Tier 2, and Herefordshire, from Tier 2 into Tier 1.
Mr Brady, who is MP for Altrincham and Sale West in Greater Manchester, said his area had lower cases than neighboring areas in Tier 2 – and Bristol which has just been dropped down.
The furious MP said today: “Exactly what do we have to do to go down to Tier 2?”
A string of areas including Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Peterborough and Surrey, will be bumped up into the top level of restrictions, closing businesses and causing hardship for thousands.
The change means around five million more people into Tier 3 at 12.01am on Saturday – facing a near lockdown in all but name.
Steve Baker of the Covid recovery group fumed: “After a full and damaging national lockdown, millions more people and businesses across the country are heading into tougher restrictions.
“The Government must urgently clarify what the criteria are for moving areas between, and especially down, the tiers.
“Finally, Government must now show how they will lift restrictions as the vaccine rolls out.”