The Tier System Just Isn’t Working


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

Authors note: This article was first drafted before the announcement of a third national lockdown, and as such daily case rates and death tolls will be out of date. It has been discussed that counties will eventually come out of this new lockdown depending on their rate of infection, and move again into a tier system. That, in my view, would be a mistake, unless fundamental changes are adopted to the way in which the tier system has been implemented previously, as discussed here. This is also not an incitement to break the rules or breach lockdown restrictions. Stay inside.

As we enter 2021, we were all hoping to put the past year behind us, and the Coronavirus pandemic with it. Unfortunately, it seems that will not be possible for a long time to come. We have consistently broken records for the highest number of daily cases in the UK, with over 50,000 infections per day in the last week of 2020. In plain terms, the UK Government’s response to the crisis has not been good enough, and their latest solution, the Tier system, is not enough to keep the virus under control.

The system of Tiers was introduced on the second of December following the second national lockdown, as a way to judge and control the areas worst affected by the virus. The idea is that the areas worse affected would have stricter regulations, whereas areas with fewer cases would be allowed more freedoms. The three levels they created were: Tier 1: Medium Alert; Tier 2: High Alert and Tier 3: Very High Alert. It’s a nice idea, based on (probably) good intentions, as well as the desire to help keep the economy going where possible.

But it isn’t working.

Less than 4 weeks after their introduction, there were a series of revisions. Counties urgently swapped between the different tiers and a higher set of restrictions were introduced: Tier 4. As of New Year’s Eve, the whole country moved to be in either Tier 3 or 4 (except the Isles of Scilly, still sitting comfortably in Tier 1).

A large part of this disaster is due to the new variant of Covid-19, driving case rates up. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has acknowledged that ‘Tier 3 is not enough to control the new variant’, which is thought to be up to 70% more contagious than the original virus, requiring stricter regulations.

However, the prior government response to Covid-19 had been abysmal throughout the whole year. The new Tier system came after a second wave and second national lockdown – the new variant builds on an uncontrolled disaster that was already present.

There are many reasons why the Tier system, alone, isn’t the answer. Fundamentally, it just doesn’t go far enough. The scenario it presents is that those with high cases will be in higher tiers with higher restrictions; when their cases rates go down, they move to lower tiers with lower restrictions. Unless anything radical changes, the lower restrictions will allow case rates to rise again, and therefore not solve anything. We have seen this happen already. Firstly, the trend of movement between Tiers has been almost entirely upward, towards Tier 3 and 4, to where we all are now. Secondly, many of the counties and cities which have moved down a Tier during the last month, have promptly moved back up again. For example, Bristol, in Tier 3 from the second of December, was moved into tier 2 as of the 19th of December, only to return to tier 3 as of Boxing Day on the 26th. There are other examples following a similar pattern. The Tiers aren’t enough on their own.

So what do we need alongside it? The public is getting increasingly weary of lockdowns and restrictions, and the first two evidently weren’t enough to stop Covid-19. So do we just sit tight until we’re all vaccinated? That doesn’t seem very feasible either considering just how long it will take to do that, by which point the virus will be even more out of control.

I’m not an expert, and I don’t claim to have the answers. That said, the government is making mistake after mistake in their handling of this virus. The defence that ‘They’re trying their best, this is all new to them’ just isn’t acceptable. Over 70,000 people are dead in the UK alone. 70,000 human lives and counting. This number is a stain on our country, and I fear that their lives will be forgotten and cheapened as a collateral loss within the political sphere. They were not inevitable.

The dialogue surrounding Covid-19 back in March that ‘it’s just flu’, or ‘it only kills old people’ should never have been allowed to get off the ground. Even now, people still think that masks don’t work. The government should have had much stronger, accessible and clear information from the start. People still are just not aware of the dangers of their non-compliance with Covid safety measures. People still don’t know what it does to them. The government should have had much stronger control of this narrative from the start, but they haven’t, which means that people just haven’t taken it seriously enough.

I won’t go into all the ways that the government has failed here. I’ll leave that for another time. But it is obvious that the Tier system just isn’t doing enough on its own, which those at the top seem to have no grasp of. Without such, nothing will change and a cycle of rising and falling cases will continue. I’m not advocating that anyone disregard the rules in place – we must all do our part to try and stop the spread – but as far as national policy goes, we can’t rely on this alone.

Let’s hope that in the new year someone might come up with a better plan. For now, though, hang in there and stay safe everyone.


History student and Sub-Editor for Politics and Features

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