Right from the start of the Pandemic over six months ago, the government has always said it was following the science. The daily press briefings were peppered with the statement “We are following the science” in answer to difficult questions from the media. That all changed yesterday, although its been on the cards for weeks.
Yesterday was another day for big announcements by the Prime Minister…..the much trailed three-tiered lockdown system, which is supposed to simplify the mish-mash of local lockdown measures in 30+ cities and districts in England.
It started by BBC programming being interrupted by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical and two colleagues giving a 40 minute press briefing giving the scientific and medical reasons for the forthcoming new lockdown system. Cases were increasing across the whole of the country and the number of people in hospital is now higher than before the full lockdown in March. A series of graphs and diagrams were produced to demonstrate the surging numbers of new cases. An example appears below :-
Later that evening, Boris Johnson, flanked by the Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance announced a new plan for dealing with Covid-19 in different parts of England. The new system places different areas in England into three tiers. The aim was to simplify the rules for local lockdowns. Instead of putting the whole country on lockdown again, now different parts of the country will have different tier levels.
The three-tier system will classify regions as being at a ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’ level of alert.
Tier three – Very high -The very high alert level is caused when there has been a significant rise in cases, so additional and stricter rules apply. Places like pubs and leisure centres would have to close and people won’t be allowed to travel between areas. People will not be allowed to mix indoors or outdoors but retail, schools and universities can stay open.
Tier two – High – Areas put into tier two or ‘high’ level will have added rules meaning people from different homes can only mix outside, as long as the rule of six and social distancing are followed. Nottinghamshire, East and West Cheshire and a small area of High Peak now come into this category, as well as Greater Manchester, parts of South Yorkshire, parts of the West Midlands, and north-east England.
Tier one – Medium – This is the lowest level and will cover most of the country. It includes current national restrictions such as social distancing, a 10pm hospitality curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than six people indoor and out.
Liverpool and surrounding areas have some of the highest infection rates of coronavirus. Liverpool recorded 600 cases per 100,000 people in the week ending 6 October, with the average for England being 74, and was the only area placed in Tier 3.All other areas under various local lockdown measures were placed in Tier 2.
During the press briefing, Professor Chris Whitty, openly declared that nobody thought the current tier-three measures being introduced around Liverpool would stop the virus. “I am not confident and nor is anybody confident that the tier-three proposals for the highest rates, if we did the absolute base case and nothing more would be enough to get on top of it,” he said. He said it would take “significantly more” to achieve control and powers to do so had been given to local authorities.
This was the critical moment that the gulf between the official scientific and medical advice and the political decisions made by government were laid bare. Shortly after the televised briefing yesterday evening, Documents released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed a call to action three weeks ago. “The re-imposition of a package of measures was required urgently,” it warned on 21 September. It added: “The more rapidly these interventions are put in place the greater the reduction in Covid-related deaths and the quicker they can be eased. “Not acting now to reduce cases will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences.”
Sage said government should consider the following policies immediately:
- A circuit-breaker to temporarily lockdown the country and drive down cases
- Advice to work from home for all those that can
- Ban all contact within the home with members of other households, except support bubbles
- Close all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms, and “personal services” such as hairdressers
- Move all non-essential university and college teaching online (click full source)
So there we have it. The key question for me is whether the government is moving away from following the establishment science and hopefully moving towards the alternative scientific view of Professor Sunetra Gupta and The Great Barrington Declaration. The government line is that it has to balance not only the impact of measures on the virus, but also their damaging impact on people’s health, wellbeing and the economy. It has clearly ignored SAGE advice for at least three weeks, and also seems to be moving away from citing the number of cases per 100,000 population as a measure for making lockdown decisions, as there are several other cities to Liverpool with similar “high” numbers of 600 cases per 100,000 (0.6%) including Manchester and Nottingham, yet they remain in the new Tier 2.
The key missing element of The Great Barrington Declaration approach is the shielding of the elderly and clinically vulnerable, which had also been rumoured to be part of the three-tier system, but has not been mentioned of discussed in the media. Time will tell.