England's Covid Tier system 'worst of all worlds', public health expert warns

The way the tier system has been applied is leading to political paralysis, MPs have been told. Credit: PA

England’s coronavirus restrictions tier system is “the worst of all worlds”, an expert has said.

Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews, told MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus that the three-tier approach was a “good idea in principle” if it provided clarity and equity.

However, Prof Reicher, who is also a member of Sage, said there was a lack of clarity over what criteria was being used to place areas in different tiers, with variations of measures even within certain tiers.

He said: “So we have the worst of all worlds, we have a system where there is no sense of clarity. There is a growing sense of inequity and resistance.”

Prof Reicher warned if resistance was “politicised” it could risk bringing “polarisation”, as seen in the United States.

He added: “A tier system isn’t bad in and of itself, the way it’s been applied I think has been disastrous and is leading to political paralysis when we need action really quickly because infections are spiking.”

Rules regarding England's tier system need 'clarity and equity'. Credit: PA

MPs also heard from a public health expert who warned of the inequality of impact experienced by people living under coronavirus restrictions.

Alice Wiseman, director of public health for Gateshead, told the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus: “Telling me to work from home for the next couple of weeks really doesn’t make a difference to my income.

“Telling one of my residents who’s potentially working three jobs, minimum wage, that actually they need to isolate and they therefore can’t afford to feed their family, is something that isn’t going to enable people to comply with the guidance no matter how much they want to comply.”

She said the UK needed to have a “robust” test and trace programme during the summer months, providing results within 24 hours in order to effectively tackle the pandemic.

Covid tiers: - What are the differences between each alert level?

  • Medium (Tier 1) - Rule of six applies indoors and outdoors. Pubs and restaurants close at 10pm.

  • High (Tier 2) - Households must not mix indoors in any setting including pubs and restaurants. Rule of six applies outdoors

  • Very high (Tier 3) - Households must not mix indoors, or in private gardens. Rule of six applies in outdoor spaces including parks. Pubs and bars which don't serve meals will be closed

Another expert said the country is on to a “losing game” if it tries to use local lockdowns alone in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, Devi Sridhar, professor and chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said using lockdowns are “a last-resort measure”.

Prof Sridhar added: “There is something fundamentally wrong here when we are needing to look at who is being given contracts to deliver what and with what expertise, because it is public taxpayer money that is being spent.

“We are going into another lockdown because that test and trace system is not working, and it’s not because we are not putting enough money in.”

“It’s not about lack of money here, countries that are far poorer are doing better on it.”