The present lockdown, and the revised Tier Three that is proposed as part of its replacement, is less severe than last spring’s. Schools have not been closed, travel to work is permissible, retail remains open.
Nonetheless, the rule of six will still apply in Tier One, together with other restrictions, including table service only in the hospitality sector.
But that first tier is of minimum significance – numerically speaking. Only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly are in it. They contain only one per cent of so of England’s population.
Thirty-two million people are in the tighter Tier Two, in which indoor meetings are barred to those outside support bubbles, and pubs and bars must close, unless operating as restaurants.
Twenty-three million people are in the tougher Tier Three, in which hospitality settings may only remain open for takeaways and the like, and hotels, B&Bs, campsites, and guest houses must close.
To cut to the chase, the vast majority of England’s population, 55 million people, are in the top two tiers. And 34.1 million people, 61 per cent of the population, are now in a higher tier than were before this lockdown, and the rules in each tier have been toughened up.
Essentially, the North-East, plus most of the North-East, the Midlands and Kent, plus South Gloucestershire are in Tier Three – and almost all the rest of England in Tier Two.
Conservative MPs unhappy with the proposed new tiering divide up into at least four clearly identifiable camps.
First, the 40 or so who are resistant to the thrust of Government policy for a mix of economic, health-related and civil liberties reasons. The Covid Recovery Group is reserving its position.
Second, Tory MPs in areas that saw little respite between the first lockdown and the second – and have none in view now. That’s many of those both in Red Wall seats and in more traditional blue constituencies outside the Greater South East.
Third, Conservative MPs whose constituents now face more severe restrictions after lockdown than before it. That includes those in the Tier Three areas of Kent and South Gloucetershire.
Fourth, Tory MPs who feel that Covid-10 in their constituency or local authority areas is relatively low compared to those in neighbouring constituencies or areas, but are being dragged into higher tiers because case numbers are higher in neighouring areas or seats.
The new tier proposals will be voted on next week. It’s hard to say how large the Conservative rebellion will be. But it’s not inconceivable that Boris Johnson could find the Government having to reply on Labour to get them through.
So no wonder he leaned in a permissive direction during yesterday’s press conference, stressing that tiering will be reviewed every 14 days, and that “your tier is not your destiny, every area has the means of escape”…
…Only to find Chris Whitty immediately leaning in a restrictive one, saying that only in “some months to come, possibly in some weeks to come” could more places drop down into the lowest tier.
Ministers’ strongest argument is that hospitals are now attempting, as they didn’t in the spring, to treat both Covid-19 and other serious illnesses much as normal. Which continues to leave the NHS open to the risk of being unable to cope. Which points towards a tier system of some kind.
Their weakest point is that government has not produced, to date, any significant analysis of the policy trade-0ffs – not only between lives and livelihoods, but between lives lost to the Coronavirus and those lost to other illnesses.
And there are wider considerations, too, such as the impact of lockdowns and restrictions on civil liberties.
Some six weeks after we first proposed that the Government publish an analysis of the effect of restrictions, lockdowns and the virus itself on lives and livelihoods, Johnson and the Government are now conceding that a cost-benefit analysis will be published.
But we are not declaring victory just yet. Because it isn’t clear how full this analysis will be or when it will be published.
Next Tuesday is some way off, but Tory MPs should be making support for the Government conditional, first, on the publication of the analysis in good time. That means by the end of the weekend…
…And, second, on regular votes in Parliament on the tiering system. Not fortnightly reviews undertaken by Ministers. But, say, monthly votes, in which MPs would have the opportunity to vote for the end of tiering.
It is assumed that Labour will abstain next week, at the very least, to allow the new tiers to pass. But with a possible Brexit deal in the mix, and the opportunities that offers Keir Starmer in Parliament, one can’t be sure.