What are Suffolk’s chances of leaving Tier 2?

Ipswich on the first day of the coronavirus Tier 2 system. Picture: JAQUILINA LANDIM

Ipswich on the first day of the coronavirus Tier 2 system. Picture: JAQUILINA LANDIM - Credit: JAQUILINA LANDIM

Will Suffolk leave Tier 2? That is the question on everyone’s lips as neighbouring counties were unexpectedly plunged into Tier 3 Covid restrictions. 

As neighbouring Essex is carved up into districts with different tiers, there is a chance parts of Suffolk will follow suit when the Government announces the results of its review on Wednesday - with some areas put under tighter rules than others. 

The numbers tell us that the most likely area to face the highest level of restrictions is Ipswich – with key metrics likely to influence the decision, such as positive case rates, NHS pressure and over-60s infections, soaring in recent weeks.  

Data for other districts isn’t strong enough right now to lower them into Tier 1, with cases continuing to go in the wrong direction in most areas. 

And while MPs feel it’s unlikely the county town will be singled out and placed under Tier 3 at this stage, significant community transmission and rising hospital cases mean it cannot be ruled out. 

The latest figures point to the whole county staying in Tier 2 until after Christmas, but the final decision lies with the Government.

Infection rates 

Ipswich’s infection rate, at 200 cases per 100,000 as of Monday, is higher than the England average and - crucially - some areas of Essex which are entering Tier 3 from midnight on Wednesday. 

Maldon – where infections are growing at a faster rate than most areas of England – had 186.4 cases per 100,000 in the week to December 10, up from 115.5 the week before. In the same time frame, Ipswich had 199.4 infections per 100,000. 

In stark comparison, the four other districts in Suffolk have far lower rates, with the latest numbers staying well below the England average of 182.7 per 100,000. 

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Such a gap has sparked calls for the other districts to be lowered into Tier 1. This also looks unlikely as infections are still rising in most areas - and the Government wants to see a sustained decrease before lowering tiers. 

Over 60s 

There has also been a spike in infections among over-60s in Ipswich, another key indicator of coronavirus spread which civil servants will factor into their decision. 

The latest figures reveal there were 266.8 cases per 100,000 in those over 60 during the week to December 9. In comparison, all other districts kept infection rates in older people under 100 cases. 

Soaring over-60s rates in Ipswich have been put down to general community transmission which has spread to the most vulnerable, as opposed to random outbreaks.

In Ipswich care homes, there are currently four outbreaks and last week there were no deaths recorded. 

But there is another factor that could come into play when deciding our next Covid tier - the demographic make-up of Suffolk poses challenges for divorcing Ipswich from the rest of the county.  

This is because many people travel to the town for work, socialising, and shopping – sparking logistical issues and significant problems for the economy should the county be put under different coronavirus restrictions.  

Ipswich on the first day of the coronavirus Tier 2 system. Picture: JAQUILINA LANDIM

Ipswich on the first day of the coronavirus Tier 2 system. Picture: JAQUILINA LANDIM - Credit: JAQUILINA LANDIM

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said a move into Tier 3 for Ipswich was unlikely at the moment but cannot be ruled out in future. 

A few weeks back, he said he wanted to see Suffolk kept in Tier 1, but now feels rising rates in Ipswich will keep the whole county in Tier 2. 

“It’s difficult in Suffolk to disaggregate or take the county town outside of the rest of the county when there are a lot of people who will travel into Ipswich for Christmas shopping or work,” he said. 

Dr Dan Poulter MP

Dr Dan Poulter MP feels it is more likely Suffolk as a whole will remain in Tier 2, than districts being split up and put under different restrictions - Credit: Archant

“As much as I would like to see Suffolk in Tier 1, especially the more rural parts of Suffolk should be in Tier 1 in isolation, but you can’t treat them that way because of how many people will be visiting Ipswich." 

NHS pressure 

Last week, Ipswich and Colchester hospitals boss Nick Hulme confirmed the local NHS was under pressure with more than 110 Covid patients being treated at Ipswich and around 35 at Colchester.  

Numbers of beds occupied appeared to peak on December 3, just after the second national lockdown. The latest numbers for December 8 show 119 patients in beds with Covid across the trust. West Suffolk had 18 at this point, a slight fall on 23 the previous week.

The Government's assessment of this and the hospitals’ ability to continue routine surgery will play a part in deciding to put Suffolk in a high tier.  

There were 10 Covid-19 deaths reported in the past week, up to December 14, across Ipswich and Colchester, with another three at West Suffolk.  

Bosses at the Department of Health and Social Care are expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss the new Covid tiers.  

Health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock outside Downing Street

Health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock is expected to discuss the next coronavirus tiers on Wednesday - Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth

Any decision is understood to come into force at midnight on Saturday. 

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