Revealed: The five key metrics that will determine your area’s new Covid lockdown tier

How different parts of England rank on Downing Street’s key considerations for the new system of restrictions.

[Not so much a mutant algorithm as through a glass darkly! – Owl]

By Alex Clark and Dominic Gilbert

England will return to a tiered system of coronavirus restrictions when the national lockdown ends on December 2. While for some this will mean greater freedoms than they have enjoyed in the past, more areas will face tougher restrictions than under the previous tier regime.

The Government will announce on Thursday which areas will be in Tiers 1, 2 and 3, but has already briefly outlined the factors that will influence its decisions.

Case rates and surges, particularly among the over-60s, as well as pressures on the testing and health systems will all be taken into account by Number 10, which has declined to give any estimate of the thresholds.

Documents released by the Cabinet Office, however, reveal that “broader economic and practical considerations” will also play a part. 

Here is how local areas in England compare on these five key lockdown metrics. 

How cases fared under national lockdown

England’s worst infected areas have seen significant declines in their case rates since the second national lockdown began, the latest data shows, but other previously low-ranking areas have seen cases surge. 

Oldham was one of the worst infected areas just before the new lockdown on November 5, having already been placed in tier three along with the rest of Greater Manchester.

Though case rates have fallen significantly in the two weeks since, they still remain stubbornly high, suggesting a relaxing of rules may not be imminent. 

While rates have fallen in many areas in the North, they have spiked elsewhere, particularly in the South-East.

Swale and Thanet, neighbouring local authorities in West Kent, are among the biggest risers in the past month. Both areas may face the toughest Tier 3 restrictions when Boris Johnson announces the new lockdown map of England. 

Over-60s suffering in hotspots

The case rate among the over-60s – one of the most at-risk groups for Covid infections – will be high on the criteria when the Government sets out its new parameters.

As the graph below shows, East Lindsey, in Lincolnshire, and Corby, in Northamptonshire, are the worst affected in this demographic.

Both areas are seeing significant increases in the general rate of confirmed cases – up by 137.6 in East Lindsey and 66.4 in Corby compared to the previous week of data.

Both local authorities were in Tier 1 before November 5, but now appear to be at high risk of more stringent restrictions. But in a reversal of fortunes, many areas that had been placed into Tier 3 are now seeing week-on-week falls in the rate of confirmed cases.

In particular, Lancaster seems to have fared well on most of the Government’s criteria. Its case rate among the over-60s is currently 241st of 315 English local authorities at 88 per 100,000, and the general case rate has fallen by 91 per 100,000 over the last week.

Is the testing system coping?

Number 10 will also be looking at how well its testing system is coping in different parts of the country, guided by one key metric in particular – the positivity rate. This stat represents the total number of positive Covid-19 cases as a proportion of all tests carried out.

Countries need to keep this rate below five per cent or risk seeing cases spiral out of control, according to the World Health Organisation. Yet the vast majority of local areas in England currently exceed this limit. 

There is one notable exception: Liverpool. The city has been the scene of a rapid test trial in recent weeks, which appears to have kept the area’s positivity rate below five per cent despite its higher case rate. 

A health system under pressure

Before an area can move down the tier system, the Government will want to ensure that the local health system can handle any fresh surge in hospitalisations.

Areas in the South-West and east of England are in a stronger position in terms of spare bed capacity.

According to the latest data, from November 22, 62 patients in the South-West and 77 in the East are on mechanical ventilation beds. 

Meanwhile, in the Midlands more than 300 mechanical ventilation beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients. London, the North-West and North-East and Yorkshire all have more than 200 patients.

The cost of lockdown

Finally, the Government will also be considering the economic consequences of plunging specific areas into lockdown.

As online job advert data from Adzuna shows, hiring for new positions in England has fallen off a cliff. 

Not all regions have been hit equally though, the data suggests, with businesses in London, the South-East and the East suffering the most.