The Guardian view on England’s Covid-19 tiers: a licence to divide | Coronavirus

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From Saturday, two-thirds of England will be in tier 3, the most severe category of the UK government’s Covid restrictions. This change, announced by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, on Thursday, is the product of two contradictory things. The first is that coronavirus cases are rising fast in the south-east and east of England, while case numbers also remain high in much of the urban north. The second is that the government has also committed to a temporary UK-wide Christmas lifting of restrictions in less than a week’s time, after which the new tighter tier restrictions will resume.

These are contradictory approaches, and they cannot be reconciled on a scientific basis. If the virus is surging, there is no public health logic in lifting the restrictions over Christmas. The reason why the lifting of restrictions will go ahead is largely political. It is because Boris Johnson promised a nearly normal Christmas long ago and does not want the embarrassment of an unpopular U-turn. Many households took him at his word and have made preparations that would be difficult, expensive and distressing to abandon – though there is evidence that plenty are now doing just that.

There is a further political motive at work. Across Europe, governments are battening down the hatches against a fierce second wave. Even President Macron has been infected. The rise in Covid cases in parts of Britain is also steep. Cases are up by two-thirds in eastern England, Mr Hancock said on Thursday, and 46% in the south-east. In Wales, the infection rate has rocketed even more, leading the first minister, Mark Drakeford, to limit the Welsh festive loosening and announce an immediate post-Christmas lockdown.

Mr Johnson, who never wishes to be a bearer of bad news, is anxious to avoid going down that route. But he still faces a similarly steep rise in cases. So the severe message delivered by Mr Hancock on Thursday was designed to privatise responsibility for the problem that Mr Johnson’s promised lifting of restrictions is certain to trigger. Ministers are devolving the responsibility to behave wisely over Christmas on to individuals and households rather than imposing the tougher regulations that the circumstances call for.

This is a failure of leadership. It may get Mr Johnson out of a hole next week. But it could quickly plunge him into a deeper one the following week, and continue through January, as pressure on hospitals reaches a winter peak. The prospect of a third national lockdown in the new year is now real. This was enhanced on Thursday by another extension of the furlough scheme. Instead of ending in October as intended, furlough will now be in operation until at least the end of April 2021.

The truth is that the tier system has not worked. Tiers have been another attempt to embody Mr Johnson’s overoptimistic wish for the economy to be kept running near to normal while the battle to control the pandemic continues. But the tiers have failed to stop the rise in Covid cases. They have also set one part of the country against another. Many rural districts resent being hostages inside counties whose rates are shaped by local towns where cases are higher. Even worse is the discriminatory treatment towards the north. The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, is right that when cases rise in the north, the north is locked down, whereas when cases rise in the south, the south is locked down and the north is kept there too. If the government thought the roll-out of vaccines would make the politics of Covid simpler, it is learning the hard way that the opposite is true.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Guardian view on England’s Covid-19 tiers: a licence to divide | Coronavirus

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