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Thu, 21 January 2021

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The tiered system must be fair, so should be applied at a local level

The tiered system must be fair, so should be applied at a local level

If you apply Tiers at a county, or even worse regional level, you will very likely to find yourself punishing rural areas which are adjacent to large towns or cities, writes Damian Green MP. | PA Images

3 min read

Constituents who have seen their local rate steadily decline since the start of the pandemic will feel let down if they are placed under tough lockdown restrictions next month. We must ensure the system is fair.

I have every sympathy for Ministers facing the decision of how to implement the new tiered system of restrictions following the end of the national lockdown. These will not be easy decisions, and they will have a big impact on the lives and livelihoods of everyone in the country.

For the long months of this dreadful pandemic, the vast majority of the British people have shown common sense and restraint, as well as a willingness to obey the rules. For us to reach the promised land of normality, either through vaccination or regular fast testing, the public will need to remain willing participants in this unprecedented curtailment of their freedom.

Ashford has a rate (at the time of writing) of 120 per 100,000 and falling. Next door, the Borough of Swale has an incidence five times as much. What logic would put these in the same Tier?

This is one of the reasons I think it is really important that the new Tiers, which will bear down particularly hard on the hospitality industry, are accepted as fair. And that in turn is why I argue they should be applied at the most local level which is practical. Much of the attention about this issue has focussed on London, as different Boroughs have such widely different incidence of the virus. But it is a big national issue.

To generalise, if you apply Tiers at a county, or even worse regional level, you will very likely to find yourself punishing rural areas which are adjacent to large towns or cities. This might seem convenient in administrative terms, but it is bound to reduce public acceptance of the restrictions. There is a real danger in this. If we do see a fall in public observance of the rules, it will be longer before the new testing regime, or the vaccine as it rolls out, allow a return to normality.

Worse than this, it is not just a rural/urban issue. In a county like Kent, with a number of medium size urban centres, there is an extraordinarily large divergence in the Covid rates in different boroughs. My own constituency of Ashford has a rate (at the time of writing) of 120 per 100,000 and falling. Next door, the Borough of Swale has an incidence five times as much. What logic would put these in the same Tier?

The argument is made that Covid does not recognise Borough boundaries. But I am not aware that it recognises County boundaries either, or even the national boundaries between England and Scotland or Wales. If this is the clincher, then we can only have a UK-wide policy at any one time. This is not what we have been doing, nor is it what we should be doing.

Everyone knows which borough they live in, and everyone in the areas with a high incidence knows about it. So they are highly likely to want to follow the rules strictly, even if they are in the highest tier with the most severe restrictions. At the same time those like my constituents who have seen the local rate steadily decline since the early weeks of the pandemic will feel let down if they are locked down hard when the new measures come in.

I hope Ministers recognise the logic of this position, and act on it.

 

Damian Green is the Conservative MP for Ashford. 

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