The number of coronavirus patients being treated in hospitals in Liverpool fell by 15 per cent in the week before the second national lockdown, according to official NHS data that further calls into question whether the autumn shutdown was justified.
Number 10 caved into pressure and hit the lockdown panic button in England earlier this month, after its scientific advisers warned hospitals were on track to be completely overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients by the end of November.
Ministers abandoned their tiered scheme, which only came into force on October 14, and went with the crude national intervention, claiming that beds would soon be overrun and doctors would be forced to choose whose life to save.
Yet NHS England figures show there were 413 people with Covid-19 at Liverpool University Hospitals, the city’s biggest trust, on November 5, the day the country went into the second lockdown. This marked a 13 per cent drop from the 475 who were being treated the week prior, on October 30.
Liverpool – the country’s former Covid hotspot – was one of the areas in England living under the strictest Tier Three restrictions, which prohibited residents from meeting people they didn’t live with and saw pubs forced to close.
It offers more proof the tiered system was starting to work in controlling the epidemic – experts say interventions take about three weeks to have a statistically-noticeable effect – and casts doubt about whether the economically-crippling lockdown was needed.
However, it is true the trust is treating more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave – for comparison, there were 346 people with the virus in Liverpool’s hospitals on April 12. But the trust is thought to have at least 1,600 total beds, and, as of November 5, 1,268 were occupied by patients of all conditions. It suggests the trust, which cancelled scores of non-urgent operations to make room, is currently operating at 80 per cent occupancy – making it quieter than it was last December.
Major trusts in other Tier Three areas also saw declines in the number of Covid-19 patients in their hospitals before the second lockdown, suggesting the most stringent local measures were not given enough time to work.
For example, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in Merseyside was treating 105 people with the disease on November 5 compared to 118 the week before. A similar story is playing out in Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where beds occupied by Covid-19 fell from 188 to 142 in the same time period.
But other Tier Three areas like Manchester and Lancashire have not seen a fall in Covid-19 hospital admissions – yet. Though the measures were not enforced until late October in these areas, which means the benefits could take another week or so to translate into the hospital data. This is because of the lag in time it takes for Covid-19 patients to fall seriously ill enough to need treatment.
Meanwhile, MailOnline analysis of Public Health England figures revealed more than eight in 10 local authorities under Tier Three restrictions saw coronavirus cases fall in the week before the national lockdown was imposed.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘I’ve got no doubts that Tier Three was working, personally I think the data is very clear that Tier Three was sufficient to bring down cases and I think most local authorities in Tier Two were working as well.’
NHS England figures show there were 413 people with Covid-19 at Liverpool University Hospitals, the city’s biggest trust, on November 5, the day the country went into the second lockdown. This marked a 13 per cent drop from the 475 who were being treated the week prior, on October 30
Major trusts in other Tier Three areas also seen declines in the number of Covid-19 patients in their hospitals before the second lockdown, suggesting the most stringent local measures were not given enough time to work. For example, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in Merseyside was treating 105 people with the disease on November 5 compared to 118 the week before. A similar story is playing out in Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where beds occupied by Covid-19 fell from 188 to 142 in the same time period
In the final days of the tiered system, 26 out of 31 councils (82 per cent) under the then-harshest restrictions recorded a dip in their Covid-19 cases. Tier Three allowed restaurants, nonessential shops and gyms to stay open but pubs were forced to shut and people weren’t allowed to mix with other households.
Tier Two areas with the lockdowns with 22 out of the 64 councils (34 per cent) under the measures recording a fall in Covid-19 infections in the week up to November 5. Tier Two only restricted people from mingling with people they didn’t live with.
Only 22 per cent of councils under Tier One – which limited people to groups of six and enforced a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants – recorded a fall in infections, or 12 out of 54.
Boris Johnson is known to be considering returning to a revamped tiered system when the UK comes out of lockdown.
As many as 70 Conservative MPs are already backing a rebel group which will oppose any attempts from the Government to impose a third lockdown in the UK, with an additional 25 politicians understood to be considering joining the group.
It comes after unofficial statistics suggested Britain’s coronavirus outbreak had already started to shrink before the second national lockdown began on November 5. The REACT-1 project – which has been swabbing tens of thousands every week – found there had been a significant ‘slowdown’ in daily infections heading into November following a wave of cases in the two months beforehand.
They even said the R rate – or number of people someone infected with the virus passes it on to – had fallen as low as 0.85 at the start of this month. The R represents the average number of people R rate is below one it means the outbreak is in retreat.
WERE THE TIERS REALLY WORKING?
Tier imposed in local authority
Tier Two & Tier One
Councils with fall in infection rate
26 out of 31
22 out of 64
12 out of 54
34 out of 104
Percentage with falling infections
*The data above is taken from Public Health England’s weekly report on infection rates across England.
Speaking last week, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, Kevin McConway, told MailOnline that infections data suggested the tiered system, especially in the North, was working.
‘(That decline) is good, and a lot of the ones where have gone up, a lot of them are in the south of England, where rates are particularly low,’ he said. ‘Things could look a lot worse, but it’s reasonably positive.’
He added that surging infections in the south, where rates had been lower, suggested more action was needed to suppress the rising tide of infections and that maybe local authorities there should have been moved up the tiered system faster.
‘You can imagine the country in two bits; in the north, before this new lockdown started today, there were these pretty severe measures in a lot of places,’ he said.
‘But when you go into the south, the rates were lower, but then they are tending to go up quicker. So maybe something more was needed in the south, as well as continuing in the north because infection rates haven’t come down far enough yet.’
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert from the University of the East Anglia, told MailOnline the data suggested infections across England had ‘slowed’ over the last week.
‘Tier Three seems to be reducing numbers on average whereas cases may have been continuing to increase on average in tier 1 on average,’ he said. ‘Tier Two has a small decline but far too early to be sure.’
‘I think that the tier system may indeed have been having a good impact but perhaps not as much as it could due to delays in moving local authorities into higher tiers even when needed. However, still too early for me to be confident.’
When the tiered system was replaced with the national lockdown nearly two thirds, or 95 out of 149, were under tightened measures.
Despite signs pointing to the tiered system working, Britain announced another 33,470 positive cases yesterday which marked a 40 per cent rise compared to last Thursday.
The case count is the highest since the Covid-19 outbreak began and comes a week after England’s second national lockdown started. It is an increase from 22,950 Wednesday.
Scientists believe said the sudden spike may have come from people rushing to socialise ahead of the lockdown, which began last Thursday.
One expert Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre of Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, told the Telegraph: ‘These figures are going through the roof, and it’s not really surprising when we saw scenes like Christmas Eve last week before we went into lockdown.
‘The problem is when these policies are drawn up the Government assumes everyone will behave the same way, and they just don’t take account of the fact that many people saw it as a last chance to get out.’
Professor Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, also said socialising ahead of lockdown may have been a factor in the spike.
He told the paper: ‘If cases remain this high for another day or so then it will pretty much be down to people having more social contacts – partying before lockdown.’