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by David Paton
Wednesday, 14
October 2020
Factcheck
11:46

Where is the evidence that the ‘tier three strategy’ works?

Restrictions come into force today — but the basis for the policy is dubious
by David Paton
Boris Johnson introduces the Tier 3 strategy in the Commons. Credit: Getty

Ostensibly, the Government’s new 3 tier local lockdown strategy was introduced to prevent case rises, but there seems to be little evidence that it will succeed. Indeed, it might even be counter-productive as closing pubs in tier 3 areas like Liverpool shifts socialising and drinking away from Covid-secure venues to less controlled settings like homes.

Moreover, cases in these cities do not appear to be increasing exponentially, something that was suggested in the various Government briefings to MPs and the public.

There is no doubt that Covid cases have increased rapidly in many northern cities, notably Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds, over the past couple of months. While there has been a rise in hospitalisations and deaths particularly in the North West and North East, it is nothing like the levels or the rates of increase that we saw back in March and April.

More recently the picture has been muddied by significant outbreaks among university students. These spikes have caused an explosion in positive tests in certain cities where rates were already increasing, but also in other cities like Sheffield and Nottingham where rates had previously been fairly low.

Manchester University, for example, has reported over 1,500 cases among students. Nottingham University has reported a similar number, helping to catapult the city to the top of the Covid league table.

No one wishes illness on anyone, but statistically, the student population is one in which the chances of serious symptoms developing is relatively low. Indeed, of the 770 cases at Northumbria University, 90% were reported to be asymptomatic.

One concern about the explosion of student cases is that they will lead to infections in the broader community, rates in these cities will carry on increasing exponentially. This may lie behind the Government’s thinking in imposing further restrictions in these areas.

Another assumption underlying the lockdowns is that, without additional restrictions, rates of new cases will increase continually, as prophesied in the notorious Vallance-Whitty *not a prediction* graph.

If that is the case, it would suggest that the Government and its advisors believe that the existing restrictions such as the rule of 6 and the 10pm curfew are ineffective. In which case, why not get rid of them straight away?

Ironically, on the day that the additional measures come into place this, the data seems to be showing that it is not inevitable that cases will continually increase.

If we look at the 7-day average (to take account of day-of-the-week testing effects) of new positive tests by specimen date in most of the big university cities, the rates of increase has been coming down and in some, new positive tests are already decreasing.

Data is usually reliable by specimen date after five days of reporting. As of yesterday’s reports, we can see changes up until the 8th October. But newer data can at least give us some indication of the direction of travel.

Take Manchester first. Positive tests have actually been decreasing since the 4th October, well before the new restrictions were even announced.

Positive tests are also coming down already in Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds. Nottingham looks like joining them from around the 9th October, while the increase in rates seems to at least to be levelling off in Liverpool.

What will happen over the next few days remains unclear. The path of the virus can change rapidly and without warning. It may well be that cases will start to rise again in some or all of these cities. But given the devastation that the new restrictions will cause both economically and socially, it is hard to understand why the Government did not delay their introduction for at least a few days to see if the decline in positive tests became a firmer trend. Even more incomprehensible is the suggestion that Manchester and other parts of the North West might be moved almost immediately to Tier 3 before we even get a chance to see the impact of Tier 2.

David Paton is Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School. He Tweets as @CricketWyvern

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Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

I don’t see much to suggest that people are interested in evidence, not unless it is of the cherry-picked variety that advances their position. This is what happens when people willingly outsource all aspects of risk to third parties who have no skin in the outcome. Expecting the govt to, more or less, guarantee that no one will die from the virus is ridiculous, just as the belief that if we simply hide from it, covid will go away.

worldsbestbrewer
worldsbestbrewer
3 years ago

I’m getting on a bit now, so obviously out of touch with student reality. What I’m absolutely amazed at is how students are accepting the restrictions imposed upon them, especially being locked up in their rooms.
Crikey – in years past they would have been out on the streets protesting. Leading the charge. I reckon I’m doing more protesting than them!

John Chestwig
John Chestwig
3 years ago

The author’s comment regarding not wishing illness on anyone yet highlighting the fact that students, on the whole, are likely to be very lightly affected, is absolutely key here.

I cannot for the life of me understand the excessive lockdown-type measures over summer and early autumn, when those were exactly the times when you’d want the virus to be spreading, especially amongst the young – not during December and January when people’s immune systems are reduced and there’s a plethora of other diseases flying round.

This comes from the Government having no clear idea of what it wants to achieve. It is hoping for a vaccine to solve its problems – it may well have killed off hundreds of thousands of people from the results of lockdown, before such a vaccine might become available, which might then save a fraction of that figure.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  John Chestwig

Your middle paragraph hits the point – the virus spreading over the summer would have meant a greater number of ‘positive’ tests, and that has somehow become the sole metric. There are far too many who tend to equate positive with death, even though the death rate among the student cohort is extremely low.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

We all know that there is no evidence that these absurd and wicked measures will work. Nothing that these people do ever ‘works’ because not one of them has ever spent a day in the real worlds. As such, they have no understanding of cause and effect.

It has been obvious for some decades that we are ruled by corrupt morons, whoever is in power. But even I am astonished by the sheer incompetence and evil of the response to Covid. And don’t get me started on the so-called ‘scientists’.

As the writer points out, much of the increase in so-called positive tests is among students, who are in no danger whatsoever. The universities, demonstrating a scarcely imaginable level of evil, have confined many of the students to their rooms and take the opportunity to charge them 100 pounds a week for deliveries of unhealthy food. (To put this in context, I generally eat very healthily for about 15 pounds a week).

Everywhere you look across the UK and much of the West, the authorities and those in any form of media and corporate power have become irredeemably wicked and incompetent over the last 20 or 30 years. The reasons are complex and there is not the time or space here to explore them fully. One can only hope that the response to C19 has awakened people to something that has been evident to some of us for years.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

With respect, you seem to be seriously afflicted with Covid Derangement Syndrome.

It would be incredible to see you as Prime Minister, not.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

I have Response to Covid Derangement Syndrome! Covid presents next to zero danger to any healthy person under the age of about 70. And for this we are destroying countless lives and entire sectors of the economy. Meanwhile, all the useless non-jobbers in the employ of the state continue to be paid in full. The whole thing is evil.

Richard Ceen
Richard Ceen
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

Your contribution is not too well thought out. Could you expand on what you don’t agree with. Everything Fraser Bailey has said seems entirely correct. The only thing i seek answers for is how the students are putting up with this evil treatment.

penangtom
penangtom
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Ceen

I think Mr Gwynne means that he disagrees, point court.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

I think those with CDS are those who unquestioningly swallow the decrees from the likes of Ferguson (I mean really?) and SAGE – was there ever a more inappropriate acronym?

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
3 years ago

Something must be done! Here’s something, let’s do it and claim it’s the only solution.

david bewick
david bewick
3 years ago

Newcastle had1600 students testing positive so a very high infection rate (as far as we can accept that from a dodgy PCR test) but in the suburbs such as Scotswood, Walker and many others the rate is as low as 16 per 100k. The city rate has been skewed by this (maybe Simpsons paradox at work?) and there is an argument that the student population should be excluded from the numbers.

It shows the changes across generations as when I was a student there is no possible chance that being locked up would have been accepted. There would’ve been marches on the streets.

It does remain that lockdowns are hopelessly ineffective and the cost benefit outcome is beyond what any society should accept.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
3 years ago

There are no winners in a pandemic, but nations will do better and worse relative to each other, and that matters. We could have done better than the rest, got through it faster, come out of it leaner and tougher and better off (in other words, less damaged) than our neighbours and competitors in the EU, and the rest of the world.

Instead, we seem destined to have a long, slow miserable slog, and emerge spiritually crippled, traumatised by our own incompetence, and with the financial hangover of all time. This didn’t need to happen, and I think that the responsibility lies with this rather cowardly government which seems driven by political fear instead of having the courage to get the nation behind them, united in self-belief and the grit we were once known for.

It hard not to conclude that the ultimate responsibility for that lies with Boris Johnson. He had the chance to channel his own hero Winston Churchill, and we’d given him the huge majority to be a real leader but instead, he seems to be inspired by John Major – bland, indecisive, frightened, and grey.

It is such a disappointment.

Andrew Nugee
Andrew Nugee
3 years ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

I could not agree more.

A constructive suggestion: every time any news outlet mentions Covid deaths, let alone cases, let’s make it obligatory that they contextualise this somehow.

This could be by mentioning the condition that caused the highest number of deaths over the same period (cancer perhaps, or RTAs for example). Or it could be to provide the change in the case fatality rate over the same period. Or the average age of death of Covid and the other ‘control’ group. Slowly, this way, we’d come to understand the real ‘lives vs lives’ tradeoffs.

Our apparent single minded focus on minimising one source of illness is terrible public health policy, very bad science, and is simply trashing our children’s inheritance. Again. It’s a monumental failure of leadership I’m afraid, and just wholly depressing.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

To begin your piece with the assertion that cluster transmissions are less likely in the home settings (compared to pubs) where households should not be mixing in tier 2 areas or the rule of six applies, shows you are not really qualified but just offering an informed opinion.

Of course, the point of the tier system is to regionalise covid restrictions and create more of a polycentric approach, especially as much of the covid infrastructure has been built. This will hopefully enable more local engagement so that regions can decide the balance between lives and livelihoods for themselves.

Placing university cities that are experiencing increased infection rates in tier 2 is specifically to curb transmission into the broader community.

Ostensibly, the current approach is a gradual herd immunity strategy alongside a gradual economic recovery strategy with restrictions applied based on transmission rates and hospitalisation rates.

If the rate of transmission is going down, as your graphs suggest, then that is good. However, overly hysterical adjectives such as ‘devastating’ are not helpful. All you are doing is adding to the Covid fire of hysterical extremes as often demonstrated by Libertarians or Marxists.

Ben Scott
Ben Scott
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

“overly hysterical adjectives such as ‘devastating'”

If you had spent years building a business or becoming as good as you could in your chosen profession or art, only for Government policy to render either your business or profession ‘unviable’, meaning you lost your job, your income, your house, your marriage, etc. What would be a suitably non-hysterical adjective?

Andrew Nugee
Andrew Nugee
3 years ago
Reply to  Ben Scott

Quite. I’ve spent ten years building my business. I accepted the need for the spring lockdown completely, to build capacity in the NHS. It’s these latter lockdowns which don’t work but cause extended damage to businesses large and small, which are illiterate.

david bewick
david bewick
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Nugee

Yup, I gave them the benefit of the doubt in March but that dissolved in the middle of April when it became obvious that the lockdown was a hopeless strategy as the data started to come out. Later in the SAGE paper releases it further became clear that they knew the approximate IFR by age on 6th March and the effect on children from a study done by public health Holland which they had before the lockdown. How they were taken in by the Ferguson model beggars belief. Courageous leadership would’ve shown him the door. It is now known that the Imperial study was based on 687 people on 6 flights out of Wuhan which had 6 positive tests. As Anders Tegnell described it “rubbish in, rubbish out”

penangtom
penangtom
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

The author wrote that closing pubs in tier 3 areas like Liverpool shifts socialising and drinking away from Covid-secure venues to less controlled settings like homes. So, you agree with him that cluster transmissions are not less likely in the home setting. Have I read you both right? If so, why the denigration of the article?

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago

“Ironically, on the day that the additional measures come into place this, the data seems to be showing that it is not inevitable that cases will continually increase.”
You’d almost think that the new restrictions are timed to take advantage of a decline and therefore claim success for it!