The new Covid tier system is a joke – a very British type of nonsense

James Moore
·4-min read
<p>The British government has carved England into three tiers of risk in a bid to slow the spread of a resurgent coronavirus</p> (AP)

The British government has carved England into three tiers of risk in a bid to slow the spread of a resurgent coronavirus


Covid tiers are coming back and it’s clearly going to end in them. That is, the salty, watery type, spelled with an “e” and an “a”.

Does the government imagine people are waiting with bated breath to find out what tier they’re in (and how many tears they’ll shed)? Quick, tune into BBC Parliament, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is coming on. Everyone crossed their fingers? We need a “2”. A “1” would be best, but a “2” would do because if we can just squeak in under the line, we’ll be able to wrap up and host a winter warmer garden party! Shh, he’s on. Yes! T2 it is! Call up the neighbours and let’s get us down to Tesco for some booze. Hey, maybe someone has a Black Friday deal on outdoor heaters. Google it! Google it!

This is turning into one of those very British exercises in nonsense. The tiers, with their apparently arbitrary restrictions, are a joke, the sort that would have the rotten tomatoes flying in the direction of a would-be-comic if they tried it out at an open mic night. Hey, they might be open for socially distanced shows in, um, let me check… Tier 2?

Here’s how it works (I think). Tier 1, you can meet up anywhere, just so long as you obey the “Rule of Six”. So if you have four kids, you ain’t meeting anyone. Then you slide up to Tier 2, where you can meet outdoors but not indoors. So the garden is good. Tier 3, however, and it’s to the park with you. You can meet up there. Gyms are good in T2. But alcohol in pubs isn’t, unless you have a “substantial meal”. More on that later.

Guided by the science? This is all about as scientific as Baby Yoda’s telekinesis powers. You’ll know what I mean by that if you’ve added a Disney+ subscription to your lockdown survival kit.

These tiers are the sort of nonsense you get when politics looks at science and gives it a one- or two-fingered salute. Politics has won the day. Bad politics. And so every regional leader with a line into Whitehall has been furiously lobbying to get their locality into T2, at least, which means socially distanced football spectating, “Rule of Six” get-togethers in private gardens, and alcohol in pubs “with a substantial meal”, whatever the hell that means. There will doubtless be publicans who’ve worked out new ways to maximise their revenues by finding loopholes, perhaps resting on the debatable definition of “substantial”.

A couple of months ago, I’d have condemned them for that. When it comes to Covid, I lean towards “safety first” because I’ve had the damn thing. It’s pure evil, and the wards in hospitals are full of dying people whose stories we in the media could do with paying a little more attention to as a means of counteracting the “kill granny” brigade on social media.

But you know what? The tiering system is so confusing and illogical, I don’t think I blame them any more, especially after taking into account the fairly desperate financial situation some of them are in.

One of the consequences of said confusion is that people are inevitably going to scratch their heads and then make their own decisions on how to proceed, based on what they feel is right for them and their families. No, it’s OK. Come on over, no one’s going to notice if we have a cup of tea together indoors. And where’s the harm because I’m pretty sure we’ve not been near anyone that’s infected?

The problem with this virus is, you can’t possibly tell. But the government’s messaging hasn’t effectively got the point across.

It’s true that the fines for breaking the rules are potentially very heavy. There’s a hairdresser in Oakenshaw, near Bradford, which has been opening in defiance of lockdown and has racked up £27,000 in penalties so far. The proprietor has taken to quoting the Magna Carta, incorrectly as it turns out. It wouldn’t give her the right to open even if she were a medieval baron, although she’ll be alright next Wednesday because personal care is allowed in all three tiers.

The reason she got hit is because she’s visible. Most people’s rule breaches won’t be. Taking liberties with them is going to end up like speeding on a motorway. It’s potentially dangerous but lots of people do it and if there aren’t any cameras around and you don’t go really crazy, you’re probably not going to get caught.

As I write, the Office for National Statistics has tweeted that the infection rate “may be levelling off” with one of those graphs that you’d hope would assume the shape of a bell. But will it? The way this is being handled, I fear that we’re soon going to have to start talking about a third wave.

As I said, the tiers are going to end in tears.

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