Liverpool City Region back to Tier 3 - what does it mean? plus a general round-up

by Martin Malone

Well, we’ve been here before but, with the changes coming into effect at midnight on 30 December, here are the key aspects of the Tier 3 (Very High Alert) restrictions.

Friends and Family

No mixing of households indoors, or most outdoor places, apart from support bubbles. Maximum of six in some outdoor spaces such as public parks and gardens.

Bars, Pubs and Restaurants

Closed, save for takeaways, drive-throughs and home delivery.

Essential and General Retail

Open.

Work and Business

Everyone who can work from home should do so.

Indoor Leisure

Open, but excluding group activities and classes.

Accommodation

Closed (with very limited exceptions).

Personal Care

Open.

Overnight Stays

Advised against, save for households and support bubbles.

Weddings and Funerals

15 for weddings and wakes, 30 for funerals, no wedding receptions.

Entertainment

Indoor venues closed.

Places of Worship

Open but no interaction between anyone outside households or support bubbles.

Travelling

Do not travel outside your area other than where necessary (e.g. work and education). Avoid car sharing (other than households and support bubbles).

Exercise

Classes and organised adult sport can take place outdoors. Organised activities for elite athletes, under-18s and disabled people can continue.

Residential Care

Highly restricted outdoor/airtight visits only. Testing may allow indoor visits.

Large Events

No, unless drive-ins. Therefore excludes public spectator events, e.g. football and horse racing

Education

Apart from exclusion areas which are mainly in London and the South East (49 council areas), primary school children will return next week as scheduled.

There is a delay of at least one week (as matters stand) for secondary school pupils. Children of vulnerable and key workers will return on 4 January and pupils in Years 11 and 13 will get remote learning that week.

Years 11 and 13 who have exams coming up will return on 11 January with the remainder (provisionally) returning on 18 January. However, in his press conference on 30 December, Boris Johnson made clear that these dates could be changed.

Before they return, the “aim” is to introduce widespread testing for pupils “in an attempt to ensure that they test negative before re-entering the classroom”.

In a remarkably vague and unhelpful Commons statement (even by his standards) Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that university students who do not need to be on campus for practical learning are “being encouraged” to stay at home by the government. However, there has not yet been any clarification about what this actually means.

What about the vaccines?

For once, there is some clarity about what is going on. A large number of elderly and vulnerable people (including my mother) were told that they were scheduled for a Pfizer (very low temperature) vaccine but appointments have failed to materialise. It seems that this vaccine is only being administered in hospitals. The impression from the press conference is that the AstraZeneca vaccine (can be stored for a month at between 2-8 degrees) is now the focus of the government’s attention. The government expects that 530,000 doses will be available from next week. However, the further order for 100 million doses will not start to be available until February so, even with a focus on first doses (with seconds after 12 weeks), suggestions that we might start “getting back to normal” by Easter (early April) are wildly optimistic. The Australian government has suggested that its (similar) roll-out with a smaller population is scheduled to complete its initial phase by October 2021 and this looks much more realistic.

Another matter of concern is that there is currently no evidence that vaccination will prevent the transmissibility of the disease. Bearing in mind that only half the population are expected to be vaccinated in the first round (over 50s and younger adults with health conditions) this means that, contrary to what has been suggested by the government, social restrictions are highly likely to remain in force for most of 2021. After that, it’s worth bearing in mind that flu vaccines need to be updated yearly and there is every reason to think that, not least with the emergence of particularly virulent variations of the virus, this will be an ongoing process for a long time to come.

What is the local position?

Liverpool City Region moving to Tier 3 was inevitable, but there is unfortunately strong evidence to suggest that this will soon change to Tier 4.

The latest figures for the region (to 24 December) are as follows (rates per 100,000 and figures in brackets were for the previous week):

  • Halton – 209.4 (169.0)
  • Knowsley – 205.3 (122.3)
  • Liverpool – 208.2 (141.5)
  • Sefton – 189.5 (103.9)
  • St Helens – 198.8 (125.5)
  • Wirral – 206.1 (129.1)

Wirral has subsequently increased to 220, making it the highest case rate. It’s worth bearing in mind that these figures pre-date the Christmas relaxations so it’s hard to believe that they will reduce in the coming weeks, even with the introduction of the increase from Tier 2 to 3 from 31 December.

The wider picture

It’s worth noting that, worldwide, similar challenges are being faced. The “variant strains” are now popping up all over the place. Ireland has just announced a full lockdown for at least a month and, in France, 100,000 gendarmes have been deployed to enforce New Year’s Eve restrictions. France is also applying a curfew which is about to be extended to apply from 6.00 p.m. with a serious possibility that movements may be banned other than between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m.

Sweden has introduced severe restrictions after its initially relaxed approach, while Italy and Austria are in full lockdowns and Germany has introduced a “hard lockdown” and is having to come to terms with major vaccination shortages. Of course, the United States is in a state of chaos with frankly staggering projected mortality rates.

I’m sorry that I cannot provide a more positive outlook. Yes, the existence (although not yet widespread availability) of vaccines, with more to come, is great news but please don’t be under any illusion that the politicians’ suggestions that this is nearly over are in any way accurate.

Having said that, there is an end in sight of sorts, so, on that note, Happy New Year (it will get better!).