Bristol has shifted into its own Covid-19 category as city leaders attempt to limit the spread of the virus without imposing more drastic restrictions.
‘Tier 1+’, which has not been implemented anywhere else in the UK, focuses on “targeted actions” in a bid to stem the increasing number of coronavirus cases while avoiding a move into the next level tier two or three categories.
The shift comes amid concern about a “rising tide” of cases among adults in the 30 to 60 age category, as Bristol’s director of public health warns the city is “in a critical position”, trying to balance limiting the harm of the virus against the damaging impact of restrictions on jobs, education and mental health.
Speaking during a press conference on Wednesday, mayor Marvin Rees explained the focus of tier 1+ will be across three key platforms:
The first is to look at data in order to understand the numbers, where and why the virus is spreading to inform targeted actions rather than taking a “one-size-fits-all approach”.
The second step is for Bristol City Council to take on some responsibility for local test and trace systems rather than rely on a “failing” national system.
The third is focusing on compliance; ensuring places are Covid-secure and that people behave in a Covid-safe manner.
Bristol will be introducing eight Covid marshals, which are expected to be in place within a week.
Rees said that this will be a supportive role, focused on issuing guidance to people and businesses and signposting members of the public to information.
The council and police are also stepping up enforcement amid concern over the rising number of coronavirus cases.
“It’s a challenging time for us at the moment,” said the mayor. “The number of cases in the city has been growing very quickly – 5,339 is our total to date, with 1,579 positive cases reported over the last seven days.”
He said that if tier one plus measures have an impact, the city has a chance of remaining in this category, otherwise there will be an “inevitable” move into tiers two or three.
“We are doing all we can in the immediate term to avoid that,” said Rees.
The mayor warned things are happening very quickly and further decisions may have to be made in a matter of days.
He said the council and partners are working on what financial package will be needed from central government should the city move into a higher tier, adding: “We want to initiate those conversations with central government to make sure they are fully aware of what Bristol people and businesses will need to support them so they can survive through whatever measures are taken to tackle the virus.
“It’s through keeping jobs and businesses alive that we will have the pieces in place for our economic recovery and having an inclusive and sustainable economy on the other side.”
Going into more detail about Bristol’s approach, the city’s director of public health Christina Gray explained it’s about “going back to basics” and ensuring everyone is complying with measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.
The virus is transmitted via contact with other people, droplets, aerosols and touch points such as door handles. Gray said we can all play our part and stressed that Covid-secure environments and behaviours do work.
“Everyone is very fixated on young people and students,” said Gray. “That’s taking our eye off the fact that that’s not what we need to be worrying about.
“The real challenge for us is, when we did the deep dive [into data], what we could see around working adults was this rising tide. If we had been able to see an outbreak we had not seen before or clustering, it would be much easier. This is a much harder response and requires us all to do that disciplined compliance.”
She said “nothing is off the table” in terms of further restrictions, but that action will be tailored according to the data, adding: “We are in a very critical place, I can’t emphasize that enough. We are trying to balance the harms from the virus against actions to contain the virus on jobs and education and mental health. We are on that tight rope.”
Rees said during the press conference that Bristol currently has 340.7 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, well above the English average of 222.8 per 100,000 people.
He explained the decision to move an area into a higher tier is based on a number of factors, including hospital admissions, where the cases are landing within the population and whether there is a “degree of control” over what’s going on.
Main photo by Qezz Gill