Coronavirus Tiering Restrictions: Background Information on the data

Since the announcement of restrictions this morning, residents have asked a number of questions about the decision to put Derbyshire into Tier 3.  I had many of the same questions and have spent much of today working through the detail, meeting with Ministers and understanding the reasoning. Here are the answers to the key questions as I understand them.

In this note, I’m going to refer to some of the datasets that the Government is publishing. Ultimately, it is some of this data which is driving the decisions being made.  I realise that there is an extensive debate about the data itself and some people have questions and concerns. I accept that it isn’t perfect and can be mischaracterised or overemphasised (and if you want to have that discussion join me every Tuesday to debate further – get in touch by email for details).  Nonetheless, it is one of the inputs for making this decision and, for the purposes of answering some of the questions raised about why we are in tier 3, I am going to refer to it.

From my own personal perspective, of course I don’t want us to be in tier 3.  I have argued for the past week to go into tier 2, although I recognised that the data being used meant that the case wasn’t strong for doing so.  When the opportunity next arises, if the numbers are in the right place, I will of course fight to get us down in tier 2 and then, in time as it is possible, for tier 1.  Yet, the numbers have to be in the right place – and they don’t seem to be quite yet.

Why have we gone into tier 3?

Along with around one third of the country, we have gone into tier 3 because our county is one of the areas of the UK with higher rates of coronavirus.  Whilst it is true our rate is falling, it remains much higher than just a few weeks ago.

The decision was made by a committee (Covid-O) and the county as a whole is based on a range of different factors:

  • Cases in all age groups
  • Cases in over 60s
  • Rates by which cases are rising or falling
  • % who have tested positive for coronavirus
  • Pressure on the NHS in the areas

Ministers have published data on the country as a whole here: PowerPoint Presentation (publishing.service.gov.uk).  Slides 10 to 16 are the relevant slides for the East Midlands.  The summary is the following:

  • Derbyshire’s case rate remains high at around 275 (both city and county) whereas most of the areas that have gone into tier 2 have a case rate of less than 200 (slide 11)
  • Hospitalisations in the East Midlands are starting to level off but are still the highest in months (around 3,400 people were in hospital as of two days ago) (slide 15) (important to note that a subset will be seriously ill)
  • Death rates in the East Midlands remain high (slide 16) (the data in the grey area is incomplete and so will be revised upwards)

So, whilst we have made a lot of progress, we aren’t yet in the place where the numbers justify tier 2. 

Who has gone into what tier?

Almost all areas have gone into either tiers 2 or 3 at this time given the prevalence of the virus. 

Derbyshire has moved into tier 3 along with most of the East Midlands (other than Rutland and Northamptonshire) and South Yorkshire.

We’ve gone through national lockdown and yet, after all this time, we have ended up in a higher tier than we went in – why?

As I highlighted above, several datasets are being reviewed before a decision is made.  Yet, the best indicator throughout this has been positive tests rates in an area – and I will use the graph I put up on Facebook every week about positive tests in Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire to highlight the issue that we have.

Both North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield’s coronavirus numbers were incredibly low between June and late September but began to increase in early October.  In mid-October, discussions began about moving us up a tier (to tier 2) and this happened when our 7-day averages for positive tests were between 100 and 150 (the box labelled “2” in the graph above).  After that, cases in both Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire continued to rise quickly and peaked at just short of 400 in late October.  We know that decisions made about coronavirus often take weeks to filter through into the statistics (because the virus takes a number of days to become visible, to make people ill, for tests to come back etc.) so it wasn’t unusual that the rates continued to climb for sometime after we went into tier 2.

At the end of October, the Government announced that all areas would move into national restrictions from early November (where the box is labelled “N” in the graph above).  By that point, we were still at around 350 – 400 cases in our area and, if national restrictions hadn’t come in, we would almost certainly have been put in tier 3.

Since early November, our area has, thankfully been on a downward trajectory and cases have dropped from nearly 400 to around 220.  That is great news but, despite the substantial drop, the number of cases remains high – and higher than is deemed comfortable.  So, although we have made lots of progress and rates continue to drop, we are not yet back into a clear “tier 2” zone.

We are lower than the national average but have still gone into tier 3 – why?

That’s because most areas with rates near to the national average have gone into tier 3. 

Our rates are falling but we are in tier 3 – why?

It’s because they are falling from a very high base and, for now, they still remain high in absolute terms.

Why are we in Tier 3 and London isn’t?

The short answer to this one is that we have a higher rate than London – and, despite some of the misinformation on social media, Derbyshire has been consistently been higher than London for a number of weeks.  The average number of positive tests on a 7-day period in London has been between 150 and 200 since the beginning of the month.  In Derbyshire (excluding the city), it has been more than double that at points and, although we making real progress and the gap has narrowed, it’s still higher than the capital.

The North is being treated unfairly – why?

It’s not. I know there are lots of comments going around on social media (some using some pretty misleading data) about what’s happening.

The approach being used is based on the numbers and the blunt reality is, unfortunately, that rates are higher in the North and some of the Midlands than in the South. My experience of Government is that it tries hard to be fair to all parts of the country and I think we have made good progress in getting our share in the last three years.

And, looking at the numbers underneath these decisions on coronavirus tiers, I cannot see any unfairness here. Where areas have high rates of coronavirus, they have generally gone into higher tiers – irrespective of whether they are in the North, South or Midlands. Similarly, where there are lower rates, they have gone into the lower tiers – irrespective of where they are. That’s why, along with us, Kent, Slough, Bristol and Medway are in tier 3. And it’s why, York, North Yorkshire, Warrington, Cheshire, Cumbria and Rutland are all in tier 2, despite not being in the South.

Why are we being dealt with on a county, rather than District basis?

This is a very fair question. Yesterday, the whole county of Derbyshire was taken as a single unit in order to make the decision about tiering. I don’t agree with that approach.

Different units have been used at different points in the pandemic (ranging from individual Districts to groups of Districts to whole counties to regions and then, as is happening currently, nationwide). There is no “right” answer here although my personal view is that we should avoid country and regional restrictions as they are, most of the time, too broad. Equally, I think individual towns or villages are probably too small for us to set different rules. I think it would become pretty unmanageable, quickly, if Ashover had different rules to Clay Cross which had different rules to North Wingfield.

That said, I do think that county is too big a unit to use yesterday – and I argued against it. Dronfield is very different from Swadlincote or Ashbourne from Ashover and I think it could, in theory, mean that one part of Derbyshire is kept in a higher tier than it should be in the future.

As it happens, though, looking at the numbers yesterday, it was unlikely that a smaller or different unit would have resulted in a different outcome. North East Derbyshire District and Chesterfield Borough remain above 200, a combination of North East Derbyshire + Chesterfield + Bolsover is higher (because Bolsover has an average of around 300 and so drives up the numbers). And, if we were to make the case we were part of Sheffield, we would have been in tier 3 aswell I’m afraid.

I think a “North Derbyshire” unit of some sort would be the best to use and I will continue to make the case in the coming weeks for that.

But parts, particularly rural parts, of North East Derbyshire are very low – so why can’t they be exempt?

This tiering decision has been taken on a county basis, rather than on individual Districts.  My own personal view is that the county is too big an area to use and I would personally prefer us to go back to a smaller unit (perhaps a North Derbyshire area or equivalent).  I have highlighted that multiple times to the East Midlands teams, the Department and the Minister.

I’m afraid, though, there are issues across our area and there isn’t any area, even rural, where there aren’t issues.  Here are figures from a few days ago which break down rates across North East Derbyshire:

  • Arkwright & Temple Normanton: 350 (13/11), 123 (20/11)
  • Dronfield Woodhouse & Holmesfield: 343 (13/11), 179 (20/11)
  • Clay Cross: 294 (13/11), 612 (20/11)
  • North Wingfield & Pilsley: 292 (13/11), 217 (20/11)
  • Ashover & New Tupton: 284 (13/11), 232 (20/11)
  • Eckington West & Coal Aston: 252 (13/11), 45 (20/11)
  • Dronfield South & Gosforth Lane: 230 (13/11), 176 (20/11)
  • Dronfield Town & Unstone: 225 (13/11), 146 (20/11)
  • Wingerworth & Holymoorside: 216 (13/11), 201 (20/11)
  • New Whittington, Hollingwood & Barrow Hill: 216 (13/11), 292 (20/11)
  • Grassmoor & Holmewood: 201 (13/11), 241 (20/11)
  • Staveley & Norbriggs: 189 (13/11), 101 (20/11)

The good news is that rates do seem to be coming down in more areas than going up (with some exceptions) although data, at this relatively low level, does tend to bounce about a bit.

And, whilst there is some variation in different parts of North East Derbyshire (and I accept that these configurations aren’t brilliant in terms of separating out easily the rural versus non-rural parts of the constituency), even with the general reduction in rates in most places it remains the case that villages and towns in very close proximity to each other have high positive test rates.

So, what does this mean – are we still in lockdown?

No; from next Wednesday morning, restrictions will be loosened in North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield.  Shops will re-open.  Gyms will return.  Churches will allow communal worship again.  Life will take a step back closer to normal.

What is true is that there will still be significant restrictions on what we do and, in particular, on some businesses, particularly hospitality.  I’ve spent much of the last few days talking to businesses about this and recognise the acute difficulty this is going to cause over the next few weeks.  I hope those businesses will continue to make use of all of the support that the Government has offered and will look at where they can still operate in the current restrictions.  Hopefully, if our numbers continue to trend in the right direction, we can get into a lower tier in the coming weeks and allow hospitality (and other sectors) some freedom.

Where do we go from here and how do we get out?

These tiers, subject to a parliamentary vote, will come into force next Wednesday morning.  They will be reviewed again in two weeks’ time and, if the numbers are in the right place, I will be the first to make a clear case to get us down a tier.

Bluntly, we need all of the indicators listed above to be in a better place to make a case to reduce the tier next time or in January. Positive test numbers need to be lower as do number of people in hospital. All of these numbers can be influenced by what we do (although, I accept, it takes some time for the results of your efforts to feed through). Please keep going and doing everything you can to reduce the transmission and prevalence of the virus.

And, the ultimate solution will be the vaccine and mass testing which will come in the New Year / Spring.

Why don’t you just vote against the tiering system and us going into tier 3?

I know lots of people are frustrated about where we are and I share that frustration, too.  I wish we weren’t here and I want this virus to go away and let us get back to a normal life – and it will, hopefully soon.  Yet, in the meantime I have a judgement to make, listening to constituents, about what to do.  Whilst I don’t like any of this, I do accept there is a problem and I do accept that it is reasonable and proportionate to, on a temporary basis until 2021 when the vaccine is available, make changes to how we live our lives. 

I’m afraid I respectfully disagree with those who believe that coronavirus either (i) isn’t harmful (it is) or (ii) that it can be dealt with solely by personal choice (I absolutely wish it could but I’m afraid the last few months have shown us the contrary).  I’ve spoken about this in Parliament on several occasions: Covid-19: 28 Sep 2020: House of Commons debates – TheyWorkForYou and Covid-19: 11 Nov 2020: House of Commons debates – TheyWorkForYou

So, given a vaccine is coming, I accept that the Government does have a role to play and that some restrictions (temporarily) are proportionate.  As a result, and given there is no clear cut alternative with an acceptable level of risk, I will support further measures being taken (particularly restrictions that take us away from national, blanket restrictions).  I know many of you agree and thank you for your support and feedback.  Some of you are implacably opposed to restrictions of any sort and we have spent many hours, over many weeks, discussing and debating those points.  I respect your position and I hope that you respect mine.  Some of you remain unsure and, if that is you, I have a weekly meeting to help and to talk this all through on a Tuesday – please email lee.rowley.mp@parliament.uk if you want to join.

Why don’t we just stop testing if this causing so many issues?

It won’ solve the problem, I’m afraid. Stopping testing will reduce any chance of us getting on top of the issue (and will disregard the progress we have made in recent weeks). Also, it wouldn’t help us with the tiering assessment because stopping testing won’t stop the virus transmitting (in fact it would probably make it worse) and the data on hospital admissions would still, eventually, show a problem and prevent a re-evaluation.

What will you do next?

I’ll continue to make the case for North Derbyshire to come out of tier 3 at the earliest opportunity.  I’ll also continue to highlight issues that I see with the rules – in the last few weeks, I have highlighted concerns about churches, swimming, tennis, gyms golf and we have had some success on those.  I will also continue to highlight the concerns of hospitality given the very profound impact on what the sector.

Will this affect Christmas?

No – Christmas is being dealt with by a different set of temporary rules.  From 23rd to 27th December, whatever tier we happen to be in then, there will be special Christmas rules across the country which will allow us all to mix with up to three households.  As I understand it, no tiering decision will change that.  You can find out more about Christmas here: Making a Christmas bubble with friends and family – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)