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How close is Sheffield to a local lockdown and how is it decided?

Written by on 08/10/2020

With Sheffield’s infection rate soaring at an alarming speed, many in the city are now waiting with bated breath on news of a potential local lockdown.

The South Yorkshire COVID hotspot now has the eighth worst infection rate in the country and even the city’s health boss has admitted it is a matter of when, not if, the city will be forced to comply with stricter measures.

Until this week, Sheffield’s infection rate was worrying but not hugely alarming.

However, a computer glitch meant hundreds of cases went unlogged and when they were finally put into the system, it caused a huge surge in the city’s rate of infection.

According to the latest figures, Sheffield’s infection rate is 358.2 cases per 100,000 people.

To put this into context, only seven places in the country have a worse infection rate than Sheffield, and there are some areas that have lower infection rates are under local lockdown measures.

The likes of Bradford, Kirklees and Calderdale have all been subjected to tighter measures, yet their rates are currently 282, 186.5 and 165 cases per 100,000 of the population, respectively.

Last month, Sheffield was placed on the Government’s COVID watchlist and was designated as an “area of concern”. Then, earlier this month, it was listed as an “area of enhanced support”, with Leeds following a similar pattern until it was placed under full local lockdown.

Many fear Sheffield is heading on the same trajectory and with cases rising across the country, the goalposts have changed somewhat meaning it is difficult to put a number on when new, stricter measures can be introduced.

Just a month ago an infection rate of between 25 and 50, would put areas on a “watchlist”.

On a watchlist, you’re either an “area of concern” or an “area of enhanced concern” and if you went above 50 cases per 100k, you were placed in the “red zone” with local lockdowns likely.

In the past few weeks, both universities in Sheffield have suffered coronavirus outbreaks with over 1,000 students struck down by the virus and Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh told Yorkshire Live she expects Sheffield to be placed under local lockdown measures this week.

She said: “Very sadly, the number of infections has crept up to numbers which far surpass those that we saw in in Oldham and West Yorkshire when they were put into local lockdown, so as infection rates continue to increase further restrictions on social contact will become unavoidable.

“They will become unavoidable but it was not inevitable.

Louise Haigh won't be shaking hands amid fears of coronavirus
Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh
(Image: Louise Haigh)

“The government could have avoided this earlier on by putting in place that test, track and isolate system and instead we’ve got a completely fragmented picture, with outsourcing companies – Serco, Deloitte, G4S – completely messing it up on a daily basis and us, the public, paying the price.”

Asked whether Sheffield could be placed under lockdown this week, Ms Haigh said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

“Our infection rates are worrying, so I would just urge the public to continue following the regulations as they currently stand, avoid contact wherever possible, keep washing your hands and keep staying as safe as possible and hopefully we can avoid going into further restrictions.”

Speaking earlier this week, the city’s health boss Greg Fell corroborated Ms Haigh’s fears and admitted a local lockdown was inevitable.

He told BBC Radio Sheffield: “My sense is it’s a matter of time and it’s a matter of when, not if.

“I couldn’t judge when but I sense we’ll be in the space that other councils have had an imposed lockdown over the next month.

“I would be surprised if we last that long.”

Along with Sheffield, seven other places have been earmarked as possible locations which could be plunged into local lockdown. They include: Nottingham, Exeter, Broxtowe, Gedling, Walsall, Stafford, Oxford.

As well as looking at the infection rate, public health officials also examine the “R” virus reproduction rate and whether it is rising or falling locally.

This means that areas can have similar infection rates per 100,000 but only one can be hit with tough new curbs.

And with confusions reigning over what is and is not allowed, ministers are contemplating simplifying matters by introducing a three-tiered traffic light system which will see each area assigned a colour, with toughest restrictions in ‘red’ areas.

Pubs and restaurants in the worst-affected places would be forced to close again, and people would be banned from mixing with other households.

Each area in England will be assigned a traffic light colour – red, amber and green – with rules set accordingly.

Even in green areas, where the infection rates are lowest, the rule of six and 10pm closing times would remain in place.

This is how restrictions would vary:

Red

  • Hospitality and leisure businesses close
  • Social contact outside your household banned in any setting
  • Overnight stays away from home restricted
  • No organised non-professional sports allowed
  • Places of worship would be allowed to remain open

Amber

  • No social contact in homes or gardens outside your bubble
  • Care homes not allowed visitors
  • Only essential journeys are permitted

Green

  • Rule of six remains in place
  • Pubs and restaurants have to close at 10pm
  • Limit of 15 people at weddings and 30 at funerals