Restrictions tighten as Cornwall enters tier three

West Cornwall Hospital, Penzance | Jaggery/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

As Cornwall moves into the new year, its classified tier has changed rapidly from tier one before Boxing Day to tier three on New Year’s Eve. From today, the county, alongside neighbouring Devon, is in tier three, meaning very high alert.

In summary, tier three rules state that:

• People cannot socially meet indoors with anyone outside their household or bubble. The rule of six applies in some outdoor spaces, including parks and beaches, but not private gardens

• Hospitality settings, such as pubs, must close except for delivery and takeaway

• Travel is allowed within your area for work, education, and providing care or medical assistance. However, people should keep journeys at a minimum and avoid leaving their area

• Non-essential businesses, including shops and gyms, can open. Places of worship can open, and weddings are allowed

• Accommodation providers, such as hotels, must close, unless required for work purposes where people cannot return home

• Outdoor sports can continue, as well as amateur team sports, such as football. However, spectators cannot watch sport in a stadium

• People should work from home if they can

• If people travel to a lower tier, they must continue to follow the rules of their original tier

Councillor Julian German, leader of Cornwall Council, said: “Cases have been rising rapidly in Cornwall and everyone now needs to step up and play their part in stopping the spread of the virus.

“We know how tough the last year has been but as coronavirus ups its game, so must we. The vaccine is being rolled out as we speak but we can’t drop our guard now. We must all take responsibility, follow the guidance, protect the NHS and look after each other.”

Why are restrictions tightening in Cornwall?

According to the COVID-19 Winter Plan, the government decides each area’s tier based on five main factors:

• Case detection rates in all age groups

• Case detection rates in the over-60s

• The rate at which cases are rising or falling

• Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken)

• Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy

The government has not signalled that these indicators are weighed equally, and tiers are “primarily” based on these factors, giving the government some wiggle room.

While Cornwall’s case rate remains below the national average, numbers are increasing in the county. Cornwall has only one major hospital—the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. The Royal Cornwall Hospital, West Cornwall Hospital, and St. Michael’s Hospital, run by the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, share around 750 beds. During the pandemic, Cornwall is being supported by NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter.

Cornwall moved into tier two from Boxing Day. This decision was justified by the government, observing that while numbers remained at a low level, the prior week had seen a 245% increase in Cornwall’s case rate, including a rise in cases in over-60s. Additionally, while remaining relatively low at 2%, the positivity rate had increased from the prior week. Daily hospital admissions were also increasing significantly, although no one had been in critical care. The government stated: “Whilst they have increased from a relatively low level, the current trajectory of the epidemiology indicators and case levels is concerning and warrants escalation to Tier 2.”

Recently, a new variant of COVID-19 has begun to draw attention. By the end of December, the new variant was spreading at particularly high levels in the South West, faster than expected. Therefore, the government stated that stronger measures would be required to control the virus.

According to the government, the new variant emerged in September 2020 and began to circulate more widely from mid-November. It can transmit more easily, but there is no evidence that it is more severe and that existing COVID-19 vaccines will not work against it. Furthermore, tests are being adapted so that this new variant can be detected. 

Cornwall’s move to tier three was explained in a government press release, stating: “While rates in the South West may be lower than other areas, the data shows a sharp upwards trajectory.” Additionally, it noted that winter is typically a more difficult time for the NHS, and pressure on hospitals was a concern.

The tier system is set to be reviewed every two weeks, and the specific restrictions for Cornwall may change accordingly.