New tiers: Lockdown rules for Christmas and December

London and parts of Hertfordshire and Essex are to move to a higher tier from Wednesday

Olivia Petter
Wednesday 16 December 2020 11:55
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Matt Hancock announces 'tougher' tiers

England is currently operating in a three-tier system and the government announced this week that certain areas in the south, including London, Essex and Hertfordshire will be moving up to tier 3, due to rising coronavirus cases.

The announcement has come after a two week period for those regions spent in tier 2, and a review of the case numbers.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced on 14 December that London, plus parts of Essex and Hertfordshire would be placed under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions from 00.01 Wednesday 16 December.

This has not only meant millions more people are now in Tier 3, and businesses have had to reclose, but has also led to questions about the suitability of the five-day Christmas bubble scheme, if a move to the highest tier is deemed necessary this week.

Here’s everything you need to know about the tier system for England.

Read more: London tier 3 rules: Latest restrictions as capital to move to 'high alert level'

What is the tier system?

In October, the prime minister introduced a three-tier system of local lockdown measures for England to help control the spread of coronavirus.  

Different parts of the country were split into medium (tier 1), high (tier 2), and very high (tier 3), local coronavirus alert areas, with respective sets of rules depending on the categorisation of risk.

The measures came after the number of coronavirus cases in England began to rise, with the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 higher than when the UK went into lockdown in March.

This tier system has been resurrected for December but will be slightly different to October.

What are the rules of each tier?

Rules have been implemented in each tier under a tighter system, which came into effect on 2 December.

In tier 1 (medium) areas, people have to stick to meeting in groups of six or fewer indoors or outdoors and pubs and restaurants are only permitted to offer table service and must stop taking orders at 10pm and shut at 11pm. Overnight stays are permitted in groups of up to six people.

In tier 2 (high) areas, the rule of six also applies, but people are banned from mixing indoors. Pubs and restaurants are only allowed to stay open if they serve “substantial” meals. Additionally, hospitality venues can only serve alcohol with substantial meals. As with tier 1, last orders are at 10pm and pubs and restaurants must close at 11pm. Overnight stays are permitted only with those in your support bubble.

Read more: Which tier am I in? How to check the Covid alert level in your area

In tier 3 (very high) areas, there is a complete ban on household mixing indoors and most outdoor places apart from public spaces such as parks, public gardens and sports courts, where you can meet in groups of six or less. The hospitality sector can only remain open for takeaway, drive-through or delivery. Overnight stays are banned.

How are the rules different from last time?

Unlike the previous tier system, gyms, swimming pools, beauty salons, places of worship, hairdressers, and non-essential shops are able to remain open in all tiers. Wedding ceremonies can also resume in all tiers, subject to social distancing and a maximum of 15 guests. However, wedding receptions are not permitted in tier 3.

As for large events, such as live sport, live performances and business events, in tier 1, these are limited to 50 per cent capacity, or 4,000 outdoor spectators and 1,000 indoor spectators, whichever is lower. In tier 2, this is also reduced to 50 per cent capacity, or 2,000 spectators outdoors and 1,000 indoors, again, whichever is lower. Social distancing also applies across both tiers. Large events are banned in tier 3.

Additionally, the rules have been relaxed in pubs and restaurants in tiers where they are allowed to stay open for table service. They are permitted to remain open until 11pm to give people an extra hour to finish their food and drinks after last orders at 10pm.

Support bubbles have also been extended. From 2 December, you are able to form a support bubble with another household, if at least one has:

• only one adult; (including a household where any children are under the age of 18)

• only one adult carer (ie living with any additional adult(s) in the household that have a disability and require continuous care)

• a child under 1 (regardless of how many other adults are in the household)

• a child under 5 with a disability that requires continuous care (regardless of how many other adults are in the household)

Read more: Covid tier rules: Everything you can and can’t do in tiers 1, 2 and 3

How do I find out which tier I’m in?

If you want to find out what tier your local area falls under there are a number of ways you can check.

There is a postcode search available on the government website, while the NHS Covid 19 app will show which local alert level applies in which area.

You could also refer to a full list of which areas have been allocated to which tiers here.

How will the rules differ for Christmas?

Mr Johnson has confirmed that the tier system will be temporarily paused over the festive period to allow families to spend Christmas together, however, the regulations are “under constant review”.

Currently, the four-nations of the UK are under the agreement that from 23 December to 27 December, three households will be able to form “Christmas bubbles” so they can spend time together in one another’s homes, places of worship, or outdoor spaces. The government has come under increasing pressure from Labour leader Keir Starmer and ministers of the devolved nations to revise its Christmas regulations as a result of increasing coronavirus cases.

Under current rules, bubbles will have to be fixed, which means you will not be able to mix with two households on Christmas Eve and two other households on Christmas Day. 

Households you are in a Christmas bubble with also cannot be in others.

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