Could a return to the Covid tiers save the East of England from another lockdown?
- Credit: PA
The UK remains on its slow, deliberate path along the government’s roadmap to recovery.
With every incremental step life gets a little bit more normal. Each and every jab a baby step towards freedom.
But for the East’s economy, not going back into lockdown will be more important than getting back to normal quickly.
That was the problem last year.
We hailed July 4 2020 a day of freedom after a long lockdown — timed, none too subtly perhaps, to fall on American Independence Day.
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In August the chancellor’s flashy Eat Out to Help Out scheme put welcome cash through the tills of hospitality businesses but it has also been blamed for a spike in cases.
To combat this the government brought in the tiered system of coronavirus restrictions.
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On the face of it a tiered approach has its merits. It allows businesses in parts of the country where the coronavirus rate is low to operate normally and for financial support to be funnelled to those that are in an area of the country where Covid is more prevalent.
When the scheme was first announced it had three tiers — ranging from medium alert to very high alert.
But as the coming lockdown became more obvious in late December, a fourth tier — stay at home — was added in a vain attempt to give the system more bite.
Some places, like Suffolk and Norfolk, moved from tier two to tier four in one, devastating fell swoop.
The autumn’s scheme was also criticised for its clunkiness and the burden it placed upon some sectors of the economy.
Chief among its detractors were the region’s crucial tourism and hospitality businesses.
At the time, the East had remarkably low Covid rates making it an attractive proposition for people from other parts of the country.
This put landlords and hoteliers into awkward positions. They were forced to ask where potential guests were coming from as well as who they were coming on holiday with. On top of this, they had to make sure customers who wished to drink alcohol were ordering it alongside a ‘substantial’ meal. Put bluntly, it was a farce.
Many believe the system passed the buck and only paid those who were in the highest tiers.
But perhaps the problem was not that the buck was passed but that it was passed too far.
From the start of the pandemic the UK’s response has been run by central government.
In one of the many surreal moments thrown up by the pandemic Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, heard the news his region had been placed in tier three live on television as an aide read it aloud from a phone.
By cutting the regions out of the decision-making process it unfairly hampers them and binds parts of the country with vastly different experiences of the pandemic to one set of rules.
East Anglia, with its low population density and high rates of vaccination, is less likely to see a surge in Covid rates than other areas of the country.
These facts of our geography and demographics alongside a tweaked tier system could give our businesses a fighting chance in the months to come.