England’s three-tier strategy: Key questions answered

By PA Reporters
·4-min read

Details of the coronavirus restrictions for England will be revealed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.

The winter strategy will enter into force after the current national lockdown finishes on December 2 and will include a strengthened three-tier system of local restrictions.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the key questions surrounding the plans:

– What was the original three-tier system?

England was split into three in October in the original tiered strategy, with areas in the first tier – medium alert – subject to the same national measures which were in force at the time across the country including a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and a ban on most gatherings of more than six people.

Under the second tier – high alert – household mixing was banned indoors while the Rule of Six continued to apply outdoors.

Tier 3 – very high alert – banned social mixing both indoors and in private gardens, while pubs and bars were told to close unless they could operate as a restaurant.

– How will this system be different?

More areas are expected to enter the higher end of the system, and restrictions in each of the areas are expected to be altered.

Under the old system, local leaders were to help determine whether venues such as gyms or casinos should be closed in very high alert level areas, and this may change in the new system.

Ministers will announce on Thursday which tier each area will enter.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK (PA Graphics)

– How else will the system change?

It is understood pubs and restaurants will be allowed to stay open later than the 10pm curfew which previously existed.

The plans will mean that, while last orders must be called at 10pm, people will get an extra hour to finish their food and drinks, with opening hours to be extended until 11pm.

There are reports suggesting that pubs will have to serve a “substantial meal” with any drinks and people must stay within their household groups.

– Will England’s lockdown definitely end in December?

The Government has emphasised that it wants to see England exit its four-week lockdown on December 2.

This is its legal endpoint, with any extension requiring a vote in Parliament.

But what comes next will depend on a review of Covid-19 case data to assess if the lockdown has had an effect.

– Is the vote on the Covid Winter Plan a done deal?

Not entirely – Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be wary of a rebellion from backbench Tory MPs who are opposed to new restrictions.

During a vote on the current four-week system earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and 17 more, including former prime minister Theresa May, abstained.

A “Covid recovery group” led by former chief whip Mark Harper and ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker has been formed to resist new measures, with suggestions 50 Tories have enlisted.

– How long will the new system last?

The Government is optimistic that restrictions can be gradually reduced in the run-up to spring, providing vaccines are approved by regulators, allowing a plan for the rollout to begin next month before a wider programme in the new year.

But with no vaccines having been approved it is still not clear exactly when the rollout will be able to begin.

– What is expected over Christmas?

Several households – potentially three – could be allowed to create a bubble temporarily between December 22 and 28, with the plans covering all four nations of the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Restrictions on church services are also due to be lifted, allowing Christmas Day services to be held, the paper said.

But while plans have not yet been set out, ministers have made clear that the festive season will be different from normal.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove held discussions on Saturday with Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford, and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, on shared arrangements for the festive period.

The ministers “endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”, the department said.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

– What’s happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland will go into a strict two-week lockdown from Friday, with non-essential retail, the hospitality sector and close-contact services required to shut.

Tougher restrictions were imposed for parts of Scotland on November 20, requiring non-essential shops, the hospitality sector, gyms and beauty salons in 11 council areas to close for three weeks.

The Level 4 restrictions, which apply to parts of west and central Scotland, will be in place until December 11.

Meanwhile, the 17-day “firebreak” lockdown in Wales ended on November 9.