Covid-19 infection rates in almost all parts of the West Country now below England average

The current tier system across the West Country sees the majority of the region in Tier 2. Credit: ITV News West Country

Covid-19 infection rates across the whole of the South West have continued to fall and this week, for the first time in weeks, Bristol's infection rate (141 per 100,000) is lower than England's average (149 per 100,000).

Ahead of last month's national lockdown, Bristol has been well above the national average, with South Gloucestershire and North Somerset not far behind.

That is one of the reasons why the three areas were the only parts of the West Country to be put into Tier 3 on 2 December.

Ministers will review the tier allocations on 16 December and are coming under huge pressure to move most parts of the West Country down a tier.

Hundreds have been enjoying Christmas shopping out in Truro. Credit: ITV News West Country

As things stand, only Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are in Tier 1.

Some MPs believe that they have been promised that parts of the region will be weighed up at district council level rather than larger unitary authorities. For example, the Cotswolds has a very low rate compared to other parts of Gloucestershire. 

That said, I think it is likely the Government will be cautious about moving many parts of the South West down a tier, especially ahead of Christmas when it is likely rates will increase because of five days of people being allowed to make a 'Christmas Bubble'.

Right now, the only part of the region with rates higher than the England average is Gloucester. It has rates of 158 per 100,000 - so only slightly higher than the national average.

People in Bristol still need to follow the rules of their Tier 3 until the next review of the system. Credit: ITV News West Country

Overall, though, the South West's infection rate is 80.7 per 100,000 and it is the only region with rates below 100. This is good news.

However, as ministers review the tiers next week, it isn't just infection rates that they will look at - hospital admissions will be a major part of their decision.

We are now two weeks out from the peak of infections during lockdown so we should be seeing a fall in hospital admissions now.

It is beginning to happen. According to the NHS, admissions in the South West peaked at 1138 on 24 November. They have since fallen to 822.

We will get the data tomorrow, 10 December, about which hospitals they're in, but recent data shows Bristol's hospitals have the largest number of patients as well as the RDE in Exeter.

The fall in overall admissions is likely to be welcome news for ministers, however our hospitals have been under much more pressure in terms of quantity of patients in the second wave compared to the first. 

I've spoken to a number of MPs who're hopeful places like Devon and Gloucestershire could move into Tier 1 next week, however none of them are confident.

I think a place to watch is Dorset as it has very low rates and was mainly placed into Tier 2 because of neighbouring Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.