SWINDON is likely to stay in Tier 2 until at least Christmas, the town’s public health chief says.

The borough council’s director of public health Steve Maddern told reporters yesterday that Tier 2 was the “safe place for us to be”.

The government plans to review which tiers towns are sorted into on December 16, with areas assessed against five criteria including case rates and bed capacity at local hospitals.

Mr Maddern said: “I don’t think we’ll go down to Tier 1 before Christmas. I think people need to be consistent in the messaging and continue to keep what you’re doing to keep the case rates dropping and keep them low.

“I don’t think we’ll see a change in our tier before Christmas, because obviously the reduction in tiering gives more mixing freedom and I think at this moment in time particularly for Swindon to prevention of household mixing is really key to us along with the testing to driving our case rate down.

“At this moment in time I think Tier 2 is a really safe place for us to be.”

Restaurateurs and bar owners have previously expressed fears that their businesses would not survive if the Tier 2 restrictions continued into the new year.

Reacting to Mr Maddern’s latest comments, Jamie Stapleton, co-owner of Old Town pub The Tuppenny, said the business would struggle if Tier 2 restrictions were in place beyond Christmas. On Wednesday, the first night the pub was allowed to open, 22 customers visited the pub; just three came through the doors on Thursday.

He suggested council officers should be able to authorise the reopening of Covid-safe pubs and restaurants in the same way as they certified food businesses.

“I don’t think that going into B&M Bargains to buy a Live, Laugh, Love canvas is essential,” Mr Stapleton said. “But I do think that for the overall wellbeing of the nation, being able to visit a pub with friends, in a Covid-safe manner, to reset themselves from the stresses of work and busy family lives, I think that’s essential. After all we’re a social species that need to be around each other.”

Swindon’s case rates have come down from a high of around 216 new cases per 100,000 people at the height of the second lockdown to 137.3 per 100,000 in the past seven days.

That compares to a south west average of 91.2 new cases per 100,000 and 152.2 per 100,000 across England in the past week.

The government says it will assess tiering of areas against five criteria.

First, the case rate in the general population. Ministers will also look at the case rate among over-65s, which in Swindon stands at the equivalent of 68.2 cases per 100,000. They will assess whether cases are going up or down.

Also in the government’s sights will be the “positivity rate”, or the proportion of people being tested for coronavirus who receive positive results. In Swindon in the past seven days, around 3,300 people have been tested – with 7.4 per cent testing positive.

Finally, ministers are said to look at the situation in local hospitals. Great Western Hospital has seen a fall in the number of beds occupied by coronavirus patients, down from 55 in mid-November to 36 on December 1, according to NHS England figures.

Mr Maddern said: “We are constantly looking at that data, but [we do not know] what the threshold is and the government seems to be quite clear they won’t publish what their methodology is.”

He urged people to keep to the restrictions around social distancing and said the council’s coronavirus marshals would be stepping up efforts with police to make sure people were abiding by the rules. Members of council staff were also visiting shopping hotspots to speak to people about the restrictions and hand out face masks.

Health officials were said to be dealing with 38 “situations” including cases in 29 schools, with 1,150 children and staff self-isolating as a result.

Sixteen staff members had tested positive at two “healthcare settings”, understood to be care homes.