Why Norfolk districts cannot be in different Covid tiers - yet

Coronavirus testing. Picture: PA Images

Coronavirus testing. Picture: PA Images - Credit: PA Images

The government has come under fire for imposing the harshest coronavirus restrictions on the bulk of England, including Tier 2 for Norfolk, with only a handful of areas in the least restrictive Tier 1.

While Norfolk and Suffolk were put into Tier 2 - a blow for the hospitality industry - there was relief among MPs that Norfolk was, at least, being treated as a separate county and not lumped in with neighbouring councils under an East of England tiers.

The rates of the virus among over 60s was given by the government as one of the reasons for Norfolk being in Tier 2.

But, in a county which is 86 miles across, there are big differences between rates in, for example, North Norfolk compared to Great Yarmouth.

As some, such as Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman have previously said,  in a county as large us ours it means Hunstanton could find itself in lockdown because of an outbreak in Great Yarmouth.

So, couldn't tiers have been further honed down to apply on district by district levels?

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For instance, Wymondham recently saw a surge in positive cases. If such a thing happens again, could that create a scenario where Norfolk as a whole misses out on Tier 1 (or worse - goes into Tier 3) as a result?

The simple reality is that a line has to be drawn somewhere. And the virus does not recognise district boundaries - boundaries which people cross every day to go to work or to go shopping.

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Ultimately rural areas have been treated by the government in the same way as more urban areas, which can feel frustrating in a county like Norfolk.

Virologist Prof Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said the government could have chosen to apply the restrictions on a constituency or district basis - but could understand why they did not.

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school. Photo: Bill Smith

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

He said: "They could have done that and it is a strategy which, in a rural area like Norfolk, potentially could have worked.

"Technically, you could even go further and apply it to ward level within districts.

"But the problem is that the smaller an area you have the more difficult it is to manage it.

"In Norfolk, where districts are generally separated by fields, that's not such an issue, but in a big urban area it creates situations where people can't go in a pub on one side of a road, but can cross the street to go in one.

"It creates situations which are an absolute nightmare to manage, so I think that's why the government has gone down the route it has."

Prof Hunter, however, said, next year, as the vaccine was rolled out and more mass testing was introduced, there could yet be more nuanced tier systems.

That, he said, could lead to a more localised approach to restrictions.


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