England will return to a tighter three-tier system of Covid restrictions next week when the current lockdown ends on December 2.
Boris Johnson set out his Winter Covid Plan to the Commons today and said he was “sorry to say that we expect more regions will fall, at least temporarily, into higher [tier] levels than before”.
These “tougher tiers” combined with “rapid-turnaround tests on an ever greater scale to drive [the R number] below one and keep it there” will help areas “move down the tiering scale”, said Johnson, whose plan sees non-essential shops reopening and the return of the “rule of six”, among other measures (outlined below).
At the Downing Street press briefing this evening, Johnson warned the country it is entering “the season to be jolly careful” while welcoming the announcement from Oxford and AstraZeneca about its Covid vaccine, which the PM called “incredibly exciting news.”
Major community testing programme announced
Earlier in the Commons, opposition leader Keir Starmer described the return to the three tier system as “risky” given the failures of the system led to the second lockdown. Conservative backbencher Sir Desmond Sway reminded the prime minister that what “happened to the last person” who interfered with how people celebrate Christmas, Oliver Cromwell, “didn’t end well.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted his response to the government’s plan: “Allow businesses to open safely, scrap the 10pm curfew and make sure Londoners’ sacrifices don’t go to waste.”
Number 10 have also announced “a major community testing programme” will be launched giving all “local authorities in Tier 3 areas the opportunity to participate in a six week surge of community testing.”
The new tiers in England from December 2
All tiers have been tightened but the prime minister resisted the calls from some quarters for an additional fourth tier to be added for England, as is the case in Scotland. What tier applies to what area will be announced on Thursday – a week before England’s second lockdown ends on December 2.
Support bubbles that allowed a single household to pair with another household will be widened for all tiers. The new rules will allow single adult carers in households to form a support bubble. Parents with one child under 12 months old can bubble, as too parents with a child under five who requires continuing care.
Shops, personal care salons, gyms and other parts of the leisure sector can reopen in all tiers with collective worship and ceremonies also allowed to resume, subject to restrictions and limits of up to 15 people.
Tier 1 – the hospitality sector will be allowed to stay open until 11pm but will be subject to table service and last orders at 10pm. The “rule of six” remains for social indoor meetings and while people will be encouraged to work from home (where possible) and to restrict their travel, limited numbers of sports fans will be able to return to indoor and outdoor stadiums.
Tier 2 – Pubs and bars serving only drinks will stay closed as only venues serving a “substantial meal” can stay open until 11pm with last orders at 10pm. No indoor gatherings or social mixing of households or support bubbles will be permitted indoors and the “rule of six” will apply outside.
Indoor entertainment centres such as cinemas, bowling alleys and casinos will stay closed but limited numbers of spectators can return to indoor and outdoor stadiums.
Tier 3 – hospitality venues will stay closed with only takeaways allowed to operate. Hotels and other accommodation providers will only be allowed to host guests for specific work purposes that prevent the person returning home. Outdoor sports can continue but no spectators will be allowed to attend.
Christmas could be ‘impossible’ for cops, warns Police Federation
The details of the Christmas loosening of restrictions across the UK will be confirmed once agreement between London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh is reached.
The Police Federation of England and Wales has warned the relaxation of rules for four-or-five days over the festive period “will be next to impossible to police”.
The national vice chairman of the federation, Ché Donald, has called for more clarity from the government and said: “A limited break in restrictions may also introduce scenarios where travelling across the UK to visit family could be a breach of regulations one day and not the next.
“My colleagues will step up to this challenge – as they have many times since the lockdown began in March.
“But our message to the government is police officers need clearer and more consistent rules which can be enforced fairly, and the public need clearer instructions so that they know what they are allowed to do within the law.”