England's December Covid restrictions: how areas were allocated to tiers

Simon Murphy Political correspondent
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Jessica Taylor/Parliament/AFP/Getty</span>
Photograph: Jessica Taylor/Parliament/AFP/Getty

With the vast majority of England’s population set to wake up next Wednesday to life in the toughest two tiers of Covid-19 restrictions, millions may wonder how they got there.

How did the government decide which areas were placed in which tiers?

Five key indicators form the basis of the criteria that the government has used to decide which locations are in which tiers, according to a written ministerial statement by the health secretary, Matt Hancock. They are:

  • Case detection rates in all age groups.

  • Case detection rates in the over-60s.

  • The rate at which cases are rising or falling.

  • The number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken, known as positivity rate.

  • Pressure on the NHS.

How are these indicators used to make decisions?

There are not “rigid thresholds” for the indicators, Hancock said, stressing that they needed to be examined in context. “The indicators have been designed to give the government a picture of what is happening with the virus in any area so that suitable action can be taken.

“These key indicators need to be viewed in the context of how they interact with each other as well as the wider context, but provide an important framework for decision making – assessing the underlying prevalence in addition to how the spread of the disease is changing in areas. Given these sensitivities, it is not possible to set rigid thresholds for these indicators.”

Has the government provided any explanation for how it made decisions in specific areas?

Yes, it has published a table giving a brief account of its reasoning for how tiers have been allocated. However, in a sign of apparent confusion behind the scenes in government, when the table was initially published as part of Hancock’s written ministerial statement it included question marks against a series of the regions and tiers allocations.

When will the government review the decisions on tiers?

The strengthened tiers system is set to replace the current England-wide lockdown and come into force on 2 December, with regulations requiring the government to conduct a review of allocations every 14 days. Hancock said the first review would be “complete by the end of 16 December”.

How can I check which tier I’m due to be in?

The government launched a postcode tracker designed to allow people to check which tier they will be in – but it crashed within minutes of going live on Thursday. There is also a published list here.