Tier 1 restrictions in England had “little impact” on coronavirus transmission, according to a new study.
Researchers analysed how well the UK Government’s tiers worked in England, before the second national lockdown came into effect.
Tier 1 restrictions were largely inadequate and Tier 2 rules were only effective in around half of local authority areas, according to the University of East Anglia study.
Tier 3 restrictions seemed to be effective in most areas, the research which has not yet been peer-reviewed found.
However, the researchers say the real problem lies with regions not being allocated to the most appropriate tier swiftly enough.
They hope their findings will help make the tier system work more effectively as the country comes out of lockdown next week.
Lead researcher and Covid-19 expert Professor Paul Hunter, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We show quite clearly that Tier 1 restrictions were inadequate.
“They had little impact on transmission and allowed exponential growth in the large majority of authorities such as Kingston upon Hull, until it was moved into Tier 2, and Kings Lynn and West Norfolk.
“We found that the impact in Tier 2 areas was mixed.
“Exponential growth was being seen in about about half of authorities so the restrictions were not adequate in those areas.
“However, the infection rate declined in other areas so the restrictions seemed to be enough in some places.
“Tier 3, which barred all indoor household mixing in areas such as Rossendale and South Ribble authorities in Lancashire had the most impact and was effective in most of the authorities in that top tier.”
Prof Hunter said that based on the analysis, almost all of the regions in Tier 1 should have been in Tier 2, and about half of Tier 2 should have been in Tier 3.
He added: “Whilst an additional even more restrictive tier may be needed, the evidence from Tier 3 areas so far suggests that few local authorities would have needed such a more restrictive tier.
“In our view, the main problem was not actually the tiers, but that local authorities were not being put in the most appropriate tier quickly enough.
“The three-tier system would likely have been sufficient to control the epidemic if all authorities had been moved out of Tier 1 into Tier 2, and if those authorities where the epidemic was still increasing in Tier 2 had been moved into Tier 3 more swiftly.
“If authorities were not moved up a tier until the number of rising cases had already gotten out of control, the horse had already bolted.”
Prof Hunter said that as England moves out of national lockdown, a faster mechanism is needed to identify the areas where the epidemic is not being controlled so it can be placed into a more appropriate tier in a timely manner.