Lowest coronavirus restrictions ‘had very little impact’ UEA research finds

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia. Picture: UEA - Credit: UEA

The coronavirus tier system was helping to slow spread in the areas with the toughest restrictions before the national lockdown was imposed, according to Norwich researchers.

But the tier one restrictions, which Norfolk was in, had “very little impact” and “allowed exponential growth in the large majority” of areas, the University of East Anglia research showed.

And virologist Prof Paul Hunter, from the UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said that the tier system would have worked, had all authorities been moved out of tier one into tier two and had there been faster action to move those in tier two into tier three where cases were increasing.

Prime minister Boris Johnson will today announce how the country will emerge into a restructured tier system when the national lockdown ends on December 2.

The UEA study used publicly available data from more than 300 local authority areas to estimate the coronavirus R reproductive rate (the R rate) in more than 300 local council areas, in various tiers.

In tier one areas, such as Norfolk and Suffolk, businesses and gyms were allowed to open, restaurants and pubs had to shut at 10pm and the rule of six was in place.

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Tier two saw tougher restrictions - that people must not mix with other households or bubbles inside, with the rule of six still applying outside.

But tier three saw pubs and bars closed, unless they served main meals; households and bubbles banned from mixing indoors or in private places outdoors; the rule of six in outdoor public spaces and people urged not to travel.

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The UEA research, from October 14 when the tiers were introduced, up to November 12, found that by day 14, the R value in tier three areas had dropped to about 0.9 and about 1.0 in tier two, but was at about 1.5 in tier one.

Prof Hunter said: “My view is that tier three restrictions almost certainly work in the vast majority of areas. Tier two works in some areas and not others and if the worst offenders in tier two had been moved up, I think that would have nailed it.

“The problem with the tier system was not actually the tiers, but the inability of the government in England to allocate local authorities to their most appropriate tier quickly enough.”

MORE: Lockdown may have made things worse, says expert

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