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Confusing and inconsistent restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise sharply

Confusing and inconsistent restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise sharply

Government ministers are warning that a 'second wave' of COVID-19 is likely to hit the UK, as new restrictions come in through different parts of the UK to try and tackle the virus pandemic.

The new restrictions set to effect locations in the North West, West Yorkshire and other parts of the UK in the coming days will see more curbs put on the way people live their lives, including through limiting social contact with others.

Despite suggestions that a new national lockdown may be on the cards soon, the UK Government has for some time had a strategy of targetting localised areas where cases of the virus are high. A second national lockdown, even for a short time, would no doubt have massive adverse effects on the economy and put many more jobs at risk. It also seems unlikely that schemes such as the Furlough scheme which protected jobs during the first lockdown could be replicated once more.

The implementation of localised restrictions is designed to help tackle the virus pandemic, while only limiting normality and economic activity where deemed necessary. However, with Coronavirus cases now rising across much of the UK, the approach of localised restrictions is resulting in an increasingly confusing picture.

The UK Government has a local authority watchlist for COVID-19 which has three levels - Concern, Enhanced Support and Intervention. There are currently 44 lower tier local authority areas in the most serious category of the watchlist - Intervention. Localised restrictions are generally discussed and agreed between the Government and authorities in the local area, meaning that restrictions can look rather different in different parts of the country.

One of the key measures used to measure outbreaks of COVID-19 is the weekly incidence (case) rate per 100,000 people in the population. This number gives us an indication of how serious an outbreak of the virus is in each location. For example, the latest data showed Bolton to have an incidence rate of 212.7 - the highest in the country. Generally, it is expected that the higher the rate, the more severe restrictions exist, however, this is now clearly not the case in many areas. Let's take a look at an example;

  • In Leeds, the weekly incidence rate is 75.5 (per 100,000 population). The area is currently an area of Enhanced Support - there are no extra restrictions compared with non-lockdown areas on household mixing and there is no evening curfew on pubs (despite Leeds council requesting it be implemented).
  • In parts of Lancashire, the incidence rate is significantly lower than in Leeds - in the Ribble Valley it is 18.3, in Lancaster it is 22.9 and in Wyre it is 34.2. These areas are currently areas of intervention, with restrictions on household mixing, evening curfews on hospitality venues and advice to avoid public transport except for essential journeys.

This may seem like an anomaly, but restrictions and advice across the country are now rather different from each other in many places.

New restrictions came into effect in parts of the North East last week including in Newcastle upon Tyne (which has an incidence rate of 69.6). In Newcastle and other areas, people are now advised to avoid meeting others from outside their households in public venues (though this is not part of enforceable regulations). Yet in other areas with similar-sized outbreaks, advice to avoid meeting others from outside their households in public spaces and venues is not being shared.

It would seem some areas are facing localised restrictions because they are relatively close geographically to local authority areas that are experiencing much more significant COVID-19 outbreaks. In other areas, the logic of why restrictions are or are not being implemented is not completely clear. 

Another example - In Blackpool, the incidence rate rose to 32.3 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to September 13. Despite this, Blackpool does not appear on the UK Government's local authority watchlist - not even as an area of concern. Meanwhile, other areas of Lancashire with lower incidence rates are facing restrictions as areas of Intervention - the highest category on the watchlist. 

With it being unclear as to exactly how restrictions are being decided, some sceptics have suggested that those setting restrictions may even be avoiding doing so for as long as possible in areas considered to be of more economic importance.

 

Communication confusion

Trying to keep up with the ever-changing and different Coronavirus restrictions across the UK has possibly never been more difficult.

In some areas, you can meet people inside homes, in some you can't. In some areas, you can't meet people in your garden, but you can theoretically meet them in a public place a few metres away from your house. In some areas you can meet up to five other people both indoors and outdoors - though in much of Wales, you can meet up to 29 other people outside.

The 'Rule of Six' was partially designed to make things easier to understand, but it has different meanings in different UK nations and in some parts of England, it doesn't apply due to localised restrictions. The amount of different restrictions now and soon to be in effect risks leaving people uncertain as to exactly what rules they specifically are meant to be following. Confusion about the rules could land people with warnings or fines - but it could also result in a rise in Coronavirus cases, if people don't understand the Coronavirus situation in their area. 

 

Much of last week's headlines focused on problems with the UK's COVID-19 testing system, with people being told to travel hundreds of miles to get a test and tests running out in some locations. Over the weekend, protests and online activity led to #SayNoToLockdown trending. Problems with testing, confusing and inconsistent restrictions and a seemingly growing anti-lockdown sentiment will be a cause of concern for many MPs and those working to tackle the pandemic as virus cases point to a 'second wave'.

 

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