Coronavirus figures suggest Norfolk tier drop hopes will be dashed
- Credit: PA
A continued rise in Covid-19 cases, contributing to increased admissions to the region's hospitals, looks likely to dash hopes Norfolk and Suffolk could move from Tier 2 of coronavirus restrictions to Tier 1.
The government will decide on Wednesday whether the post-national lockdown restrictions imposed at the start of the month should be changed.
But, latest figures, which the government will draw upon when reaching its decision, seem to suggest Norfolk and Suffolk are unlikely to be downgraded.
It comes at a time when NHS bosses are urging the government to use "extreme caution" over relaxing restrictions - as hospitals near their busiest time of the year.
A Norfolk MP said he thinks the county will remain in Tier 2, while a virus expert at the University of East Anglia believes it is unlikely many areas will go into less restrictive tiers.
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The latest rate for Norfolk, in the seven days up to December 7 is 106.2 cases per 100,000 people. There were 964 new positive cases of Covid-19 during that week.
While the rate is below the 160.9 figure for England, it is an increase on the seven days up to November 30, when it was 90.4. In Suffolk it increased from 65.3 to 84.3.
In Norwich, the rate has gone up 38pc in those seven days, with 207 new positive results contributing to a rate of 147.3, although an outbreak at Norwich Prison partially explains that increase.
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The only part of Norfolk where rates have fallen is Broadland.
North Norfolk is up from 60.1 to 70.6 per 100,000, Breckland from 56.4 to 82.2, Great Yarmouth from 98.7 to 123.8, South Norfolk from 100.8 to 102.2 and King's Lynn from 81.3 to 109. East Suffolk is up from 49.7 to 70.6.
While all below the England average, the increases are unlikely to tick the government's criteria for Tier 2 to become Tier 1.
But the overall rate and direction is not the only factor the government will consider - it will also look at the rate among over 60s, the capacity of hospitals and the percentage of positive tests.
At a coronavirus press conference last week, Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's public health director, said the number of people with coronavirus being treated in Norfolk and Waveney hospitals had gone up from 182 to 226 people in the space of a week.
And the rate among people aged 60 and over - those most likely to need hospital treatment - has gone up in Norfolk from 72.5 cases per 100,000 in the week up to November 30 to 78.6 in the week up to December 7.
Over the same period, it increased from 70.1 to 78.5 in Suffolk.
Both are below the national average of 117.1 cases per 100,000, but the government will take an increase in that age range into account.
In South Norfolk, the 119.6 cases per 100,000 in the seven days up to December 7 eclipsed the national average.
The government is also coming under further pressure not to downgrade tiers from NHS bosses.
In a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, NHS Providers, which represent England's hospital trusts, urged "extreme caution" in moving any area to a lower tier at a time of year when hospitals are at their busiest.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker said: "I think the government is likely to operate with an element of caution and would not be surprised if we remain in Tier 2.
"I remain keen to get us into Tier 1, but the progress has got to be made in every single category the government reviews.
"On the evidence, we have had improvements in some areas, but it needs to be across the board."
And Prof Paul Hunter, a specialist in medical microbiology at the University of East Anglia, said he doubts very many places will move down tiers, when rules are already due to be relaxed over Christmas.
Social distancing rules will be relaxed for five days between December 23 and 27, allowing three households to mix in their homes.
He said: "Personally, I cannot see places going into Tier 1 before Christmas, when there will be some relaxation of restrictions anyway.
"Christmas is going to be a big risk. I, personally, don't think it is going to be as big a problem as some people are suggesting, but I wouldn't bet my house on it.
"If I was in Boris Johnson's position, or that of whoever will make the decisions on tiers, I'd be very nervous about relaxing restrictions further before what is potentially a major transmission event, so that's why I don't think they will be dropped."
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, said: "he latest data and advice from Norfolk County Council director of public health on Friday is that with rising rates of Covid infection and hospital admissions there is little chance of our being able to ease off the Covid restrictions.
“With busy shopping streets and the Christmas relaxations, it looks likely that rates of Covid will rise steeply over December risking our hospitals being overwhelmed.
“Unless we all remain vigilant about Hands Face Space and try to avoid unnecessary contact, I fear we are heading for a January lockdown.”
Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council said: "The whole point of this is the data is going to drive the decisions.
"That's what the government will do on December 16 and we've got to respect that.
"What we can safely say is 'let's keep to the rules people have to follow'.
"And if we keep doing that we can make sure we can get down from Tier 2 as soon as we possibly can."
And health secretary Matt Hancock has indicated towns and villages will not be able to move alert level by being "decoupled" from nearby coronavirus hotspots.
In a letter to Conservative MPs, he said that "narrow carve-outs" of lower prevalence areas often leads to them "catching up" or "overtaking" areas with higher levels, according to the Daily Telegraph.
If tiers are changed, then the changes would come into effect from December 19.