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Coronavirus: What will three-tier lockdowns look like?

Prime minister announces new three-tier lockdown system in Parliament on Monday

Kate Ng
Tuesday 20 October 2020 10:35 BST
What is a local lockdown and how do they work?

Boris Johnson has announced a new three-tier lockdown system for England to keep the spread of coronavirus under control.

Different parts of the country will be split up into "Medium", "High" or "Very High" local coronavirus alert areas under the new system, which the prime minister outlined Parliament on Monday and will later detail in a televised address to the nation.

Mr Johnson held a telephone conference with cabinet colleagues on Sunday to discuss the situation and ongoing negotiations with local leaders in the north of England.

To make it easier for people to find out what alert level their area is in, Mr Johnson said a postcode checker will be released on the official website and via the Covid-19 app.

What will a three-tier lockdown look like?

The three alert levels will span from the minimum level of restrictions applicable to all of England to the most stringent measures reserved for the highest level, if cases cannot be contained.

The new system is due to be approved by MPs on Tuesday and will come into effect on Wednesday. Every local government area in England will be given a Covid Alert Level (CAL) or Medium, High or Very High - but the entire country is covered by the Medium alert level.

Medium Alert Level

The Medium Alert Level covers the baseline restrictions currently in place across the country, such as the  rule of six and a maximum of 15 guests at weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, but 30 for funeral services.

Residents under this alert level - which covers “significant parts of the country” - will continue to be told to observe existing national restrictions.

Significant event gatherings and support groups are limited to 15 attendees, and no mass events are allowed. Organised sports can only take place outdoors.

In terms of business, all sectors that are permitted to open by law can remain open as long as they comply with Covid-secure guidance.

The 10pm curfew on business operating hours remain in place in this alert level, but wherever possible, working from home should be encouraged.

High Alert Level

Tier-two restrictions are expected to be similar to rules currently in place in Middlesbrough and parts of the North East. Most regions and cities already under local restrictions fall within the High Alert Level, which bans members of different households or support bubbles from meeting up indoors.

Visiting indoors in hospitality, leisure or retail environments would be restricted to one household, unless they are in a support bubble.

The second alert level also restricts visits to care homes to exceptional circumstances only, and people can only travel for essential reasons. The number of people allowed to attend funerals will also be reduced to 15 instead of 30.

Team sports will only be allowed if formally organised by a sports club or similar organisation, and attending any sporting events as a spectator in affected areas will be discouraged.

Very High Alert Level

The final level involves the most dramatic changes and can be triggered in geographical areas or nationally when measures from the previous alert level have failed to contain the spread of the virus, or where there has been a significant rise in transmission.

Residents living in these areas will be banned from meeting other households or support bubbles from meeting up either indoors or in private gardens. Meeting in outside public areas is limited to two households, and must stick to the “rule of six”.

Pubs and bars within Very High Alert Level areas must shut down, unless they are operating as restaurants, and alcohol can only be served as part of a meal.

Further measures, such as the closure of parts of the entertainment industry, tourist attractions, casinos or betting shops could also be imposed after discussion with local authorities in affected areas.

Mr Johnson told MPs that Merseyside will be placed in this tier from Wednesday onwards.

How will businesses survive the new lockdowns?

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new furlough scheme for businesses that may be forced to close in the coming weeks and months.

The scheme will pay two-thirds of workers’ wages in industries directly affected by local lockdowns — although mayors of cities and regions across the north of England have already said it’s not enough to prevent severe economic hardship and a widening of the north-south divide. 

How effective will this new system be?

With policy and regulations around the pandemic fluctuating so quickly, the efficacy of a new system might be thrown into question.

Professor John Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Essex who has researched preparedness communication in the UK, US, Germany, Japan and New Zealand, said the new alert level system could “impose another layer of information on an already-crowded landscape of emergency levels and warnings” in addition to the national Covid-19 alert system and NHS App-driven alerts.

“Simplicity is welcome, but evidence shows that a bottom-up approach to preparedness and response, as in New Zealand, is most successful,” he said.

“Policy makers [in the UK] have always found it difficult to decentralise policy on emergencies and to give local authorities and citizens responsibility to make their own informed decisions.”

Dr Flaxio Toxvaerd, a researcher in infectious disease control at the University of Cambridge, believes that the new system is the right approach, but could be “difficult to achieve”.

“Controlling the spread of the disease while safeguarding economic and social activity is a fine balancing act so it is right that local conditions should dictate local policy,” he said.

“As a general principle, the targeting of measures to specific groups or geographical areas is preferable to one-size-fits-all measures, because they allow us to minimise the damage that social distancing inevitably imposes on society and the economy.

“Having said that, it is sometimes difficult to achieve. Shielding the elderly and vulnerable, an example of targeting based on the age and health status of people, has proved extraordinarily difficult.

“Geographic targeting may bring large benefits, but also comes with practical challenges and needs to be coordinated with neighbouring regions. If a town closes pubs and entertainment venues and the next town doesn’t, then we may inadvertently help the disease spread from one to another.”

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