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UK coronavirus three-tier lockdown rules: Ultimate guide to the latest restrictions, from face masks to Covid tests

Further measures to stop the spread of coronavirus have come into effect, so where are we now?  Here is everything you need to know

Sarah Young
Saturday 24 October 2020 16:25 BST
London set to move to Tier 2 of lockdown restrictions

On 29 January, the first case of coronavirus was reported in the UK. Since then, the nation has experienced more than 600,000 officially-recorded cases and a rising death toll that currently stands at more than 43,000.

In March, prime minister Boris Johnson implemented a nationwide lockdown as cases began to rise, meaning everyone – other than key workers – was asked to stay at home and only allowed to leave for essential reasons, such as food shopping.

Eventually, the move was reversed and over the summer Mr Johnson began urging people to return to work and Eat Out To Help Out at restaurants and pubs, all while “staying alert”.

However, in September it became clear that Covid-19 case numbers were escalating once more and, on 12 October, Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, warned that the number of people in hospital with the virus was higher than when the government first introduced lockdown.

The stark warning pre-empted a new set of measures to be introduced in England, known as the “three tiers” of lockdown.

Designed to keep the spread of coronavirus under control, the rules involve different parts of the country being split up into risk categories, including “Medium”, “High” or “Very High”, depending on the number of cases and the growth rate in each region.

On Thursday 15 October, 24 hours after the three-tier system was established, it was reported that London was moving from tier 1 to tier 2, meaning that the city was going into the “High” alert level.

Tier 3 restrictions were imposed on Greater Manchester on 20 October, following a breakdown in negotiations between local leaders and Downing Street over funding to support contact tracing and enforcement.

Meanwhile, the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own policies and roadmaps. On 9 October, new rules in Scotland meant that pubs across central Scotland closed for just over two weeks as part of circuit-breaker measures, while first minister Arlene Foster announced a four-week partial lockdown across Northern Ireland.

Similarly, on  19 October,  the Welsh government announced it would be implementing a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown for Wales to combat the rising number of coronavirus infections in the country.

Mr Drakeford explained that the short-term lockdown was a “short, sharp shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus and give us more time”.

With so many different rules in place, it can be difficult to know what you should be doing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

To help you stay up to date here, The Independent examines the latest rules, from understanding which lockdown tier you’re in to where you should be wearing a face mask.

The new three-tier lockdown means that different levels of restrictions apply to different areas of England. So, how do you know which one applies to you?

To make it easier for people to find out what alert level their area is in, the government has released a postcode checker on the official website and via the NHS Covid-19 tracing app. 

Simply enter your postcode and you will be told what you can or cannot do depending on where you live.

Every local government area in England has been given a Covid Alert Level (CAL): Medium, High or Very High. But, what does that mean?

Medium Tier – This tier covers the baseline restrictions currently in place across the country, such as the rule of six and the 10pm curfew on business operating hours remains in place. 

High Tier – People living in areas under the High Tier have to abide by the rules for the "Medium Tier" in addition to not being allowed to socialise with different households or support bubbles indoors.

Very High – The final level involves the most dramatic changes, including a ban on meeting other households indoors or in private gardens and the closure of pubs and bars, unless they are operating as restaurants.

You can read more about the lockdown tiers here.  

(PA Graphics)

On Monday 14 September, Boris Johnson announced new restrictions on socialising in England, with groups of more than six people banned from meeting, or even mingling together.

Under the new legislation, it is now illegal for people to gather in, with flouters facing fines of £200 for a first time offence.

However, the prime minister stated there are “some limited exemptions” to the restrictions, including:

  • Large families and support bubbles – Households and support bubbles of more than six people are exempt from the new rules
  • Weddings – On 14 September, the government said weddings would come under the exemption category for the rule of six. But the number of guests is capped at 15, rather than the previous number of 30
  • Funerals – Funerals with up to 30 people in attendance are still allowed to take place
  • Schools and workplaces – Schools and workplaces will continue to operate under existing Covid-secure guidelines.The guidelines state that exemptions include work, voluntary and charitable services, registered childcare and education or training
  • Pubs and restaurants - While pubs and restaurants are allowed to stay open, depending on their local alert level, groups are limited to six. So, although there will be more than six people in the pub in total, you can only visit with a group of six, including yourself
  • Places of worship – Places of worship, including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples will stay open, but congregations will be required to adhere to social distancing rules
  • Providing support – The rules also exempt groups of people who are providing support to a vulnerable person or providing emergency assistance, and to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm. Support groups - formally organised groups to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support - also are exempt

You can read more about the full list of exemptions here.

On Tuesday 22 September, Boris Johnson announced new rules on face coverings, increasing the number of places in England where it is mandatory to wear one.

People were already required to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets, as well as on public transport. However, under the new rules people are now also expected to wear them in taxis, private hire vehicles, and hospitality venues when you are away from your table, for example going to the toilet.

But, just how effective are face masks at stopping the spread of Covid-19?

Despite the UK government, World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA, all shifting their position on wearing masks during the pandemic, numerous studies have shown that wearing any type of face covering over the nose and mouth, can help in reducing spread of viral droplets when a person coughs or sneezes.

An international report published in The Lancet on 3 June, which analysed data from 172 studies in 16 countries, found that by wearing a face mask there is just a 3 per cent chance of catching Covid-19. And a study by Cambridge University, published on 10 June, says even basic homemade masks can reduce transmission – and could even help prevent a second wave.

The majority of studies suggest that wearing a face mask is mainly about stopping asymptomatic transmission. Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, previously told The Independent that the benefit is largely for others, not yourself: “They’re more beneficial if you have a virus and don’t want to pass it on than to prevent catching anything.”

You can read more about the effectiveness of face masks here.

To date, there have been more than one million deaths from coronavirus globally. However, most people infected with Covid-19 virus have mild disease and recover, according to the WHO.

But, just because you recover from the virus does not mean you cannot catch it again, WHO confirmed in a statement released on 24 April.

“There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” the organisation said.

According to Li QinGyuan, director of pneumonia prevention and treatment at China Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, those who have been infected with Covid-19 develop a protective antibody – but it isn’t clear how long the protection lasts.

“However, in certain individuals, the antibody cannot last that long,” Li told USA Today. “For many patients who have been cured, there is a likelihood of relapse.”

In August, researchers identified a 25-year-old man in the United States who was reinfected with the virus. In the report, it states that the man tested positive for the virus in April, at which point he showed mild symptoms. He later tested positive again in May and developed more serious symptoms of Covid-19.

In a statement to Reuters, Kristian Anderson, professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, said: “Reinfections are possible - which we already knew, because immunity is never 100 per cent.”

You can read more about coronavirus immunity here.

Since 18 May everyone over the age of five in the UK with symptoms of coronavirus (a fever, persistent new cough, loss of taste and/or smell) has been eligible for a coronavirus test.

On the government website it says you need to book a test within five days of your symptoms first developing in order for it to be effective. The ideal time is within three days of symptoms first showing.

How to book

For people in England there are several choices for testing. You can go to a regional drive-through centre, where someone will administer the test for you. In order to go to a regional centre, the government says you or someone you live with must have a car to use.

Alternatively you can request an at-home test kit, when the tools will be delivered to your door and you can administer the test yourself in the privacy of your home. You will be asked to complete an identity check to get the test sent out.

Tests can also be self-referred where you fill in the details yourself, or your employer can apply on your behalf. If your employer applies for you, you will receive a text message with a unique invitation code to book your appointment.

Both these booking routes are available for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For people in Wales – there is a different, and separate, booking system for accessing tests.

What happens in the test?

The coronavirus test involves taking a swab of the nose and back of the throat – this can be done by the person themselves or by someone else. The test is done using a long cotton bud.

You will receive your test results by text message. The government says most people will receive a response within 48 hours but it can take up to five days.

While you wait for your results you (and anyone you live with) must continue to self-isolate.

If your test turns out to be negative you can safely return to work as long as you are well enough, have not had a high temperature for 48 hours and anyone you live with also tests negative for Covid-19.

You can read more about coronavirus testing here

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