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Government should be more open on how it decides on regional Covid tiers – Lords Committee

22 October 2020

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee says the Government should publish the data used to decide on moving regions and cities in England between Tier 1, 2 and 3 of Covid-19 restrictions.

The call comes in the Committee’s report on the five Statutory Instruments (SIs) that came into force between 14 and 17 October.

The Committee welcomes the principle of a three tier classification system, saying it is an improvement on the previous complicated system of repeatedly amended locally tailored restrictions, but urge the Government to “provide more information about the underlying data relied on in any decision to move an area between tiers”.

In correspondence with Committee the Government say that the decision to place areas in a Medium Risk, High Risk or Very High Risk tier is not just based on medical data such as the relevant ‘R-rate’ or positive tests per 100,000 and that multiple factors are taken into account. The Committee say the methodology being used for weighing these factors is not transparent enough with no explanation of the balance between economic factors, local rates of unemployment or incidence of wider ill health in the area concerned.

The Committee also raise concerns with the enforcement of the regulations, pointing out that the ban on gatherings includes 17 complex exemptions which may make it difficult for the police to enforce. The report highlights that one of the SIs examined makes corrections to the Very High Alert Regulations laid just two days previously because even the Department for Health and Social Care had difficulties dealing with the complexity of the exceptions it included.

The report also suggests the House may wish to press the Government to routinely provide more detailed explanations alongside future regulations moving areas between tiers. It also asks what lessons were learned from the previous scheme, for example on the scientific justification for 10pm curfew on hospitality venues which SAGE had advised would only have a ‘marginal’ effect on transmission.

Commenting Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Chair of the Committee, said:

“We welcome the simplification of the Covid-19 restrictions into three tiers from the complicated system of local restrictions in place previously.

“As with any set of rules they will only be effective and adhered to if people understand why they are subject to them. We are concerned that there is a lack of transparency as to why some areas are placed in the very high tier while others, sometimes with a higher recorded rate of infection are not.

“We recognise the benefit of weighing up different issues when making decisions that will restrict freedom and cause economic hardship in affected areas but the public need to understand how that process has been undertaken and we are calling on the Government to provide much more information on how it has come to decisions and how it will monitor their effectiveness. We have recommended that the House may wish to question Minister on these issues.”

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