In the UK the epidemic of COVID-19 continues to pose a significant threat to public health. On the 14th October the English government introduced a tier system for control of the epidemic but just 3 weeks later a National lockdown across all areas of England was implemented. When English areas emerged from Lockdown many were placed in different tiers (most typically moved up at least one tier). However, the effectiveness of the tier system has been challenged by the emergence of a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which appears to be much more infectious. In addition, from early November a trial mass testing service was being run in Liverpool. We used publicly available data of daily cases by local authority (local government areas) and estimated the reproductive rate (R value) of the epidemic based on 7-day case numbers compared with the previous 7-day period. There was a clear surge in infections from a few days before to several days after the lockdown was implemented. But this surge was almost exclusively associated with Tier 1 and Tier 2 authorities. In Tier 3 authorities where hospitality venues were only allowed to operate as restaurants there was no such surge. After this initial surge, cases declined in all three tiers with the R value dropping to a mean of about 0.7 independent of tier. London, The South East and East of England Regions saw rising infection rates in the last week or so of lockdown primarily in children of secondary school age. We could find no obvious benefit of the trial mass screening programme in Liverpool city. We conclude that in Tiers 1 and 2 much of the beneficial impact of the national lockdown was lost probably because of the leak of its likely implementation five days early leading to increased socialising in these areas before the start of lockdown. We further conclude that given that the new variant is estimated to have an R value of between 0.39 and 0.93 greater than previous variants, any lockdown as strict as the November one would be insufficient to reverse the increase in infections by itself. The value of city-wide mass testing to control the epidemic remains uncertain.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2021

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