GOT Déjà vu? Cheshire will be back in Tier 2 restrictions once again following the end of the national coronavirus lockdown on December 2.

Both Cheshire West and Cheshire East were also in Tier 2 pre-lockdown, so there is a temptation to assume that we can return to the routines which we held at the end of October.

Sadly, that’s not the case, as the post-lockdown Tier 2 restrictions are much stricter than before.

CWAC leader Louise Gittins even went as far to call the new Tier 2 restrictions ‘really the old Tier 3’.

So the obvious question is: why has the government felt the need to, in effect, tighten Cheshire’s controls compared to before the lockdown?

Why is Cheshire in Tier 2?

Almost immediately after Health Secretary Matt Hancock made the announcement to the House of Commons at 11.30am, the government published its reasoning behind each area’s placing.

On Cheshire and Warrington, the statement said: “Case rates are continuing to decline across Warrington and Cheshire, with a 27.4 per cent fall to 209 people per 100,000, in line with Liverpool City Region. 

“However, case rates in those over-60 remain high (175/100,000), though falling. Positivity is 8.1 per cent. Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has 150 inpatients with Covid-19.”

Mr Hancock singled Liverpool out for special praise in his statement, claiming the fall in its infection rate ‘shows what we can do when we work together’.

The announcement of Tier 2 also broadly confirmed the expectation of Cheshire’s council leaders.

CEC’s Cllr Sam Corcoran, speaking earlier in the day on Twitter, said: “If you go by today’s numbers, then we should be put back into Tier 2 — but our [case] numbers are definitely falling, and the number of hospital admissions is flat.

“So by December 2 I am confident that the numbers will suggest we will be in Tier 1.”

This followed Cllr Gittins telling the LDRS: “I don’t know what the criteria are — I think it will be Tier 2.”

The latest Public Health England data — from November 20 — suggests CEC is experiencing 169.7 cases per 100,000, down from 250.9 just nine days earlier.
In the western half of the county, the rate was 208.1 on November 20.

This again represents a significant fall from the November 11 peak, when the borough was recording 323.8 cases per 100,000.

Will the restrictions work in Cheshire?

Both leaders say they were kept in the dark by Ministers on the tier announcement, which also meant there was no room for negotiation with councils.

When asked if she felt the restrictions would continue to help the infection rate fall, Cllr Gittins painted a quietly confident picture: “If you look at the drop in infection rates in the Liverpool City region, it is [decreasing] everywhere and they were in the old tier 3 before, so [new] tier 2 would help in bringing it down.

“Household mixing is the biggest issue.”

Her sentiments were echoed by CWAC chief executive Andrew Lewis, who told the council’s Covid-19 outbreak board that the prospect of a vaccine and falling cases meant the borough could ‘go into 2021 with a hope of normality’.

Cllr Corcoran has not publicly commented on the efficacy of the restrictions, but has said he expects to see ‘peaks and troughs’ in CEC’s infection rate as it continues to fall.

One key difference in Tier 2 this time is that authorities have more resources to trace the contacts of positive tests.

Both councils officially launched their own tracing services yesterday (Wednesday November 25), which ‘complement’ the national NHS Test & Trace system.

Council staff will now work from ‘daily lists’ of Covid-19 positive cases, provided by the national Test & Trace team, who they have been unable to contact within 24 hours.

CWAC Leader Cllr Louise Gittins commented: “We had informal working before with the NHS. Now we are using our own call centres so it will be more of a formal process.

“This is done in a proper, managed way. We are hoping as it goes on we will get more responsibilities. It was more ad-hoc before. Ideally the government wants more and more done on a local level in terms of targeted testing.”

In Cheshire East, Director of Public Health Dr Matt Tyrer said the scheme would be rolled out to certain postcodes experiencing ‘higher positive tests’ before going borough-wide.

He added: “It’s important that residents who have symptoms self-isolate immediately and only leave home to get a Covid-19 test. If this test comes back as positive you must continue to self-isolate to avoid spreading the virus further.”

The advice remains to follow the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance, and to stick to the new Tier 2 restrictions in order to slow the spread of Covid.