An official graph laying out coronavirus outbreaks across the country suggests there are parts of the North of England and Midlands that could be ‘de-escalated’ in January.
The chart, published by Public Health England, shows that some parts of the country are seeing the fastest falls in infection rate and health bosses are monitoring their ‘continued improvement’.
Although much of the north of the country and the Midlands will end up in the toughest Tier Three rules when lockdown ends next Thursday, many areas may be on the way to seeing rules loosened.
Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire are already close to dropping into Tier Two thanks to falling infection rates, the graphic suggests, with them appearing closer to the yellow Tier Two group than they do to Tier Three in red. Stratford upon Avon, was one place that caused uproar when it was revealed to be in the toughest restrictions, because the infection rate there is only around half of the national average.
And the graphic shows rapid declines in cases in South Yorkshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire could stand them in good stead in the coming weeks.
PHE’s report said: ‘This chart shows some decreases in weekly case rates in the north of England, and other areas where case rates are high but declining. Continued improvement over the coming period may make these areas candidates for de-escalation in the New Year.’
Meanwhile, Suffolk is one of the least affected areas in Tier Two and it could even be on course to enter the coveted Tier One, currently only afford to Cornwall and the Isle of Wight.
It comes as SAGE today revealed the reproduction (R) rate of the virus has dropped again for the third week in a row and is now thought to be below one for the UK as a whole for the first time in three months.
A row broke out last night over the Government’s tiering decisions as MPs and members of the public in many Tier Three areas were outraged at having to face the harshest rules despite relatively low or improving infection rates.
MPs will vote on the measures next week and Boris Johnson is facing the rebellion of as many as 70 Tory MPs who are angry that their constituencies face rules that are too harsh after it emerged that only people in the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will be allowed to socialise indoors in December.
The entire of Kent, for example, is being thrust into Tier Three despite high infection rates only in a handful of areas, while Stratford upon Avon is dragged into the toughest rules along with the rest of Warwickshire, even though coronavirus cases there are lower than average.
The graph, drawn up by the Joint Biosecurity Centre, works by comparing infection rates in the week that ended November 19 to those in the week to November 12.
Areas further to the right had higher infection rates in the most recent week, while those closer to the top had higher case rates the week before.
A larger circle dictates a higher rate of coronavirus cases among people who are 60 or older, which is one of the most important elements of judging an area’s outbreak.
All the places with blobs above the diagonal dotted line saw their infection rates fall in the week between November 12 and 19. Those below the dotted line had an increase in infections – only Kent had a severe increase.
There are clear divides between the colours of different levels of restrictions on the graph, with noticeable gaps between each tier.
Some outliers look as though they could already be in a tier too harsh, with Suffolk in yellow despite being grouped with the green, and Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire in red despite grouping together with yellow areas.
And while some areas look as though they could be poised to drop through the ranks after lockdown lifts in the coming weeks, Cheshire, North Yorkshire and Shropshire currently sit at the top of the Tier Two section, meaning they could face tougher measures if their outbreaks grow any more.
However hard-hit Northern areas like the Humber, West Yorkshire, Tees Valley and Staffordshire, as well as Birmingham and Sandwell in the Midlands, do not look like they will be able to escape Tier Three measures any time soon.
Their infection rates remain high and the large circles on the graph indicate a lot of cases among elderly people, which will inevitably translate to more pressure on hospitals at the beginning of December.
The Government’s local tier rules will come into force next Wednesday, December 2.
Lockdown rules generally last for a minimum of four weeks before being reviewed by ministers, but the incoming tier restrictions are expected to be interrupted by a period of rule relaxation over Christmas. Tougher measures may then be needed afterwards to stop people infected at Christmas from spreading it further.
SAGE has warned the Government that coronavirus cases ‘could easily double’ over the Christmas period if people are allowed to do away with social distancing rules for a brief period.