It’s the wrong time to ease the Covid rules as cases continue to grow locally

Every week at present feels like a crucial point in the battle against Covid-19 and the struggle to keep the country together – but this week feels more important than most as the government introduces the new three-tier approach to fighting the disease, writes Paul Geater.

The three tiers of Covid restrictions Picture: ARCHANT

The three tiers of Covid restrictions Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

The whole country has been divided into three areas – Medium, High and Very High Risk – thank heavens the whole of East Anglia is in the Medium Risk area which means that the current restrictions are to stay in place, but we should all be very careful and try to ensure that our behaviour does nothing to spread the disease.

That is undoubtedly the right decision – but there is absolutely no room for complacency and, like most people who have expressed their views in surveys, I cannot believe there is any room for any relaxation of the current restrictions at this time.

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I know there are calls for a relaxation of the 10pm shutdown of pubs and restaurants. I feel those calls are misguided for a number of reasons – although I could understand one slight amendment.

There are concerns about the possibility of a 10pm stampede out of bars. For that reason, it would make sense for the government to tweak the rules so pubs and restaurants had to stop serving at 9.30pm, but customers had until 10.30 to leave the premises – that would reduce the risk of everyone piling out at the same time.

Relaxing the closing times would, however, send all the wrong messages. There is evidence the restriction has reduced the rate of increase of transmission of Covid-19. When the restrictions were introduced at the end of September, experts were talking about 50,000 new cases a day by mid October. The average now is about 15,000.

Of course statistics on this are very difficult to understand – the free-market economists at the IEA came up with the stats that 5% of Covid infections came from the hospitality sector. Government health chief Dr Jonathan Van-Tam said they had figures that 20% of infections come from hospitality with 9% from pubs. Who do you believe? I know where my money is.

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With all of this conflicting data and cases still rising very fast (case numbers in Suffolk might be low – but they’re the kind of figures that were causing alarm in other parts of the country a few weeks ago) it just doesn’t feel the right time to be thinking about relaxing the rules.

The same applies to spectators at sporting events.

MORE: Ipswich MP wants fans back at Portman Road

I have no doubt that it would be perfectly possible to have 5,000-6,000 spectators inside Portman Road to watch a match with safe social distancing – especially as some would be in family groups.

What worries me is the problems you would have getting in and out of the ground – and what about the issues with spectators trying to buy food or drinks at half times? What about the queues for the toilets?

Even when there have been comparatively small crowds at matches at the ground, you get quite serious crowding in Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way behind the main stands and I really don’t see how that could be avoided – stewards have no authority outside the ground itself.

Psychologically, too, it is the wrong time to be considering this. At a time when cases, hospital admissions, and deaths are on the rise, it feels wrong to be looking for more relaxations.

I am also concerned that Dr Chris Whitty this week seemed very uncertain about whether the new Three-Tier system would bring infection numbers down – and that government ministers rejected the idea of a two-week “circuit-break” from their own SAGE committee even though they claim they were being “guided by the science.”

And one last point, I am getting really fed up with the number of people who still think the pandemic is some kind of sick joke:

“It’s only like the flu.” No it isn’t, coronavirus is unrelated to flu and the death rate is about 10x that of flu.

“Face masks don’t offer protection.” Yes they do. Evidence of their efficacy was unclear at the start of the pandemic. As it went on, it became clear that they protect others from your breath – and now there is increasing evidence that they protect the wearer.

Many experts, including the BMA and many SAGE members, believe face masks should now be compulsory for anyone in an indoor workplace.

“Covid is only dangerous to the very old and those with underlying health problems – and we all have to die of something.” It’s true that vulnerable people are at much higher risk – but as a society are we really ready to condemn them?

And if we are prepared to treat victims then that puts huge strain on the NHS – and seriously restricts its ability to treat other serious conditions including cancer and heart disease.

Covid-19 is a blight on this planet – and could well continue to be so for years ahead. Its affects on our physical, mental and economic health are still incalculable. But however much we’d like to wish it away, I just cannot accept this is the time to relax our battle with the disease.

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