It’ll end in tiers

Tell them the North remembers.

Smile, they said, for things could be worse. So, I smiled, gentle reader, and lo, things were indeed, worse.

The three-tier system has been launched whereby every district in the country has been given a ranking depending on how many people in that district have caught Covid-19. What the people in different areas are now permitted to do is a bit of a minefield. I went out with five friends on Saturday night. Proper out. Out-out. To a restaurant where we put masks on to go through the door, checked-in via a QR code on our phones, took the masks off to eat and drink and were served by a waiter who wore a sheet of plastic over her face. We put the masks back on to go to the loo and to walk through the restaurant at the end of the night, which, thanks to the 10pm curfew, was earlier than it would have been normally. It was almost like old times. Except it was absolutely nothing like old times.

The restaurant we went to is one of the lucky ones. It’s independent, run by a local team and is remaining open, thanks to the fact that, in Kent, we are in Tier one. Down here, I can still see other households as long as we stay below the magic number and I can go to the pub as many times as my wallet will allow, as long as I sit at a table and my drinks are brought to me. That’s fine, I’m middle-aged, I only ever go to places I can sit down.

Our Friends in The North, however, are different. One couldn’t book a table to go out with a colleague because they are from different households, others can’t even go to their local pub in a household bubble because the pub doesn’t serve substantial enough meals to count as a restaurant.

The tiers aren’t set in stone, either. It will be perfectly possible, likely even, for an area that’s currently dealing with Tier two restrictions to find itself suddenly in Tier three due to a surfeit of positive Covid-19 test results or a surge in hospital admissions. I’m not sure what the threshold is for areas to drop back a tier either. My local area has seen a big spike in the last few weeks which was quite concerning until someone dug a little deeper and found out that most of the positive results are from university students who were testing in their halls of residence but still n the books of their GPs at home.

three tiers not three tenors
I said three tiers, not three tenors.

The government appears to have lost control of the narrative on this and now Sir Kier Starmer has come out and said that the Labour Party position is that the government should have done what SAGE and the scientists have been talking about for weeks – a two week shut-down, encompassing the October half-term holidays, in order to act as a circuit-breaker to try and stem the rising number of cases. There has been plenty of talk about this circuit breaker; many of us have been expecting it, Northern Ireland announced theirs this morning, so the Three-Tier system has just confused matters. Now though, should Boris Johnson decide that SAGE was right after all and bring in a two-week short, sharp lockdown, Starmer will be able to claim the moral victory for it. Nicely played, Kier. Well done.

We cannot afford a long lockdown again, no matter how bad the case rate gets. If we had a proper, working Track and Trace system, maybe that would help. The one we have is most definitely not world-beating, however much Boris and Matt Hancock might wish it to be so. Good citizen that I am, I downloaded the App and have been zapping the QR cods every time I go anywhere. To be honest, that’s hardly any places at all, but I still seem to be suddenly getting a huge number of spam text messages since I started. If people felt they were able to self-isolate without losing money, maybe they would stay home, save lives and protect the NHS. Remember when that was the mantra? Since then we’ve had Eat Out to Help Out and Hands, Face, Space and there’s probably another one or two I’ve forgotten about.

There will be an end to this, we just don’t know when, or how or what that end will look like. In the meantime, we just keep on keeping on. Builders are still building, merchants are still merchanting, distributors still distributing and manufacturers are still manufacturing.

And, if all this gets too much for you, might I recommend you dispense with the 6pm pressers, the 10 O’clock News and Twitter and take a trip over to BBC iPlayer. For nestled there you will find several series of The Repair Shop. Every episode, experts in their fields painstakingly repair, remake and restore precious items belonging to people who’ve brought them in.

The care and love that the nimble-fingered team lavish upon items that belong to complete strangers is heart-warming and up-lifting. It’s like a great big televisual hug, and we all know how much we could do with one of those right now.



About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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