Covid-19: Most of the West Midlands enters tier three

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The second England lockdown ends on 2 December

Most of the West Midlands will be under the toughest Covid-19 restrictions when the region comes out of England's second lockdown on 2 December.

The region will enter tier three - the highest alert level - in Birmingham and the Black Country, Solihull, Coventry, Warwickshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

It is the first time local areas must obey the tier system's stiffest rules.

Tier three measures include a ban on households mixing indoors.

Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin are set to enter tier two where restrictions are slightly more relaxed.

Nowhere in the region will face the lowest level of restrictions, tier one.

It means all local areas have moved up one level compared to their status before the second lockdown, with Warwickshire leaping from tier one to three.

The government says it will review the tier allocations on 16 December, although there will be a UK-wide relaxation of rules for five days over Christmas.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Dudley saw a sharp rise in cases during the second national lockdown and emerges from it in tier three

England's first tier system was brought in this autumn to curb a second wave of coronavirus, but it was replaced with a four-week national lockdown from 5 November that applied stiff and uniform measures across the country.

But the nationwide approach will make way for varied restrictions again from 2 December under new tiers.

Can households mix?

Differences between the new tiers include restrictions on where households can meet up:

  • Tier two: The rule of six applies outdoors but there is no household mixing anywhere indoors
  • Tier three: Can only meet other households in outdoor public spaces like parks, where the rule of six applies

Any other rules?

Pubs and restaurants in tier two can only open to serve "substantial meals", while those in tier three can only operate as a takeaway or delivery service.

Gyms and close-contact beauty services like hairdressers will be able to open in all tiers.

Guidance says people in all tiers who can work from home, should continue to do so.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock used a government webpage to outline his reasoning for each area's status.

Warwickshire, where restrictions have jumped from tier one to tier three, is listed as part of a group with Coventry and Solihull, which were previously both in tier two.

Mr Hancock says high yet falling infection rates and pressure on the local NHS are behind the grouping's tier three status.

But Izzi Seccombe, Conservative leader of Warwickshire County Council, said the news came as a shock, and queried the method used and whether one of the trio had skewed the outcome for the others.

She said: "I'm going to be asking about the validity of the rates that they've put us in.

"Coventry and Warwickshire are nip and tuck on the rates and right at this moment Coventry is slightly lower than Warwickshire. Solihull is higher, and we're in a grouping, a regional grouping together, so I will be checking with government about whether the evidence that they have used is fair and is reasonable."

Media caption,
What is the new three tier system for England?

Ms Seccombe also raised fears the measures would impact on the local hospitality sector - concerns echoed by businesses.

Among them was the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) based in Stratford-upon-Avon.

"We are deeply disappointed by the news that [Warwickshire] has moved to tier three Covid restrictions," said executive director Catherine Mallyon.

She said the RSC had planned to welcome back audiences for the first time since March to events set for 19 and 20 December, but they would now be streamed online instead.

Ms Mallyon added: "The announcement today means further difficulties and hardship to theatres and freelance colleagues around the country on top of those already faced over the last eight months."

For Alcester-based Hillers Farm Shop and Restaurant there is an unusual frustration.

The Warwickshire venue is set to enter tier three restrictions, forcing its restaurant to close, while businesses over the road go into tier two - because they fall under Worcestershire.

Director Emma Taylor said she had been preparing for the venue's reopening, expecting her part of rural Warwickshire to be tier two at the worst.

She said she had to respect the situation and hoped something would change when the tiers were reviewed.

Meanwhile, a businessman behind a luxury boutique hotel set to open in Coventry on 4 December said the city's move to tier three was "just devastating".

Ian Harrabin, director of Complex Projects, said: "It's just hard to understand the logic - and it's the wrong move from the government."

A pop-up experience at the hotel's rooftop bar was planned for the launch. Mr Harrabin said: "We had over 400 bookings for our rooftop experience, and it doesn't make sense you can't sit outside yet you can go into a gym - where's the logic in that? We're just gutted."