Boris Johnson placed London, the South East and the East of England into Tier 4 on Saturday evening due to the steepening rise of a new strain of coronavirus that is thought to be up to 70% more transmissible (increasing the R rate by as much as 0.4). The emergence and explosion of this new strain is a deeply worrying development for policymakers. While it is hoped that Tier 4 will be enough to contain the new strain in these areas, it is important to consider whether the new strain is prevalent enough in the other regions to warrant escalating the whole of England into the toughest tier.
WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?
During the weekend’s press conference, Chris Whitty stated that this new strain is prevalent in all of the English regions. This is backed up by data gathered from the ONS, which shows the percentage of new variant cases in all nine regions. Excluding the three Tier 4 regions, there is still a sizeable percentage of new variant cases elsewhere. This is cause for concern.
At present, no other region is experiencing the “explosion” of new variant cases as is happening in London, the South East and the East of England. However, all the other regions bar Yorkshire & The Humber have seen a slight increase. Though minor, this number will soon grow given its exponential nature, increasing our problems along with it. This conclusion is supported when situating this data against the total number of positive cases per region.
Yorkshire & The Humber
An examination of the 7-day averages show that cases are increasing in all other English regions. As overall cases are increasing, this means that the overall number of people with the new strain is also increasing. Given its exponential nature, this suggests that it is only a matter of time before the other regions start to experience a similar steep growth in new variant cases. The South West appears to be near this point, with the trend pointing to being on the brink of a steep increase. This cannot be allowed to happen as more cases equals more hospitalisations, which equals more deaths.
THE ARGUMENT FOR A BLANKET TIER 4
We already know that this new strain was able to increase exponentially in London, the South East and the East of England during the second national lockdown, while also continuing to thrive in Tiers 2 and 3. Whilst we do not know definitively that Tier 4 will be enough to contain this new strain, it stands a better chance of succeeding given that schools are closed for the Christmas break, which means less mixing among the young. We also know that it will contain the new strain better than the lower tiers. This is significant as it is the strongest argument for pre-emptively moving the whole of England into Tier 4 before numbers increase steeply elsewhere as they were able to do in London, the South East and the East.
In addition, given Christmas Day will lead to more households mixing and inevitably more cases, there is a strong argument for implementing this change immediately. However, the chances of the government choosing to do this are low due to its high political cost. Therefore, a blanket Tier 4 should be implemented in the first few days after 25th December in order for Christmas infections to be contained as quickly as possible. It would also allow time for the other regions to be in Tier 4 while schools are closed, maximising their chances of success without further impeding young people’s education. It is time this government was proactive instead of reactive.