Sheffield has two chances to escape Tier 3 lockdown before Christmas – and how likely it will be
Sheffield will be placed under Tier 3 restrictions from next Wednesday, December 2, once the national lockdown ends.
But what must happen for those rules to be relaxed and South Yorkshire to be moved down to Tier 2, enabling restaurants and pubs serving meals to open and different households to mix in their gardens, among other changes?
The Government has said which areas fall into which tiers will be reviewed by December 16 and then every 14 days after that.
Any changes will be based on the same criteria used to determine the tiers in the first place, including the infection rate among the general public and in over-60s, how quickly cases are rising or falling and pressure on the NHS locally, with the final decision resting with the Prime Minister.
Downing Street has not given any information about the thresholds which must be met, but the figures for Tier 2 areas give some indication.
Explaining its decision to place South Yorkshire in Tier 3, the Government said the number of new cases remained ‘very high’, more than one in 10 tests was coming back positive and there was pressure on the NHS.
The infection rate in parts of South Yorkshire is already below that in some London boroughs which are in Tier 2, and the number of new cases has been falling in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
The latest London-wide infection rate is 174.2 cases weekly per 100,000 people, compared to 223.6 in Sheffield, 232.1 in Rotherham, 245.3 in Doncaster and 256.8 in Barnsley.
Should the current rate of decline continue across South Yorkshire, the overall rate there would drop below 200, making a strong case for the region to be moved to Tier 1.
As for pressure on the NHS, there are positive signs that is reducing too.
Both Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals reported a drop this week in the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted, though they are still caring for more than 400 people with coronavirus between them.
Health chiefs have previously suggested it may be harder for areas to move down a tier because this risks giving the impression that the crisis is over and encouraging them to lift their guard.
But communities secretary Robert Jenrick said there was ‘every reason’ to expect some areas to be moved into a lower tier on December 16, with a number of places having been ‘on the cusp of different tiers’ when the initial list was decided.
Professor John Edmunds, from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), however, sounded a more cautious note.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “I can’t imagine there will be huge changes at that point, just simply because I don’t think we will have accumulated much data by then.”
Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis warned that every extra day South Yorkshire remains in Tier 3 ‘could be the difference between a business surviving the pandemic or going under’.
"It is now essential we get a roadmap to get us out of Tier 3 as a matter of urgency. Lockdown must not become limbo,” he added.