Across the UK, there are increased restrictions on hospitality and groups gatherings. In some places, the rule of six applies; in others, there is a blanket ban on socialising. It's confusing, yes, but it's also vital to be clued-up before you travel – especially as hefty fines have also been threatened for those ignoring orders.
But what does this mean for your staycation? And who exactly will police your holiday, if it is now illegal?
What are the rules for socialising?
In England, the number of people that can attend social gatherings has been slashed to six. While there are some exceptions, this applies to all groups mixing in public and private – even in the confines of a holiday rental property. Also, hospitality venues must be closed by 10pm: this applies to hotel restaurants and bars, too.
Anyone caught breaking the six-person rule must pay a £200 on-the-spot fine, which will double on repeat offences up to £3,200.
Pubs across central Scotland have closed for just over two weeks as part of circuit-breaker measures aimed at reducing close-contact transmission. Five health board areas – Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire & Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley – are under strict restrictions, with pubs and licensed cafes shut to all but takeaway customers for the same period. While a travel restriction is not being enforced on people in these areas, Nicola Sturgeon urged residents not to travel beyond their own health boards, and for those elsewhere in Scotland not to visit them.
In Wales, there are now local lockdowns in place in various parts of the country. This means that social gatherings of any sizes in affected areas are illegal. In other areas of the country, the comparatively lenient rule of six applies. From Friday October 16, the border will also be closed to any visitors from areas of the UK classed as 'high risk'.
In Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster has also announced new restrictions. Pubs and restaurants will close for four weeks, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries, while schools will shut for two weeks over the half-term Halloween break in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
In England, from September 28 if you refuse an order to self-isolate (due to testing positive or being traced as a close contact of someone who has) you could be charged up to £10,000. Fines will start at £1,000 rising to 10 times that number for repeat offenders and "the most egregious breaches." Discussions are ongoing as to whether to extend the charges to the whole of the UK.
The fines are in line with those for people who fail to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the UK from a country not on the travel 'green list'.
I’ve booked a group holiday – is it illegal now?
If you have booked a holiday rental property or Airbnb for a group of people that exceeds the legal local limit, then you will be in breach of the law. The rules apply to social gatherings such as parties and family get-togethers, as well as mixing in restaurants and bars.
For those who have booked group holidays for half term, the news is devastating. Hannah Marshall is just one of the estimated thousands of people who will now need to cancel their holiday. "We have booked a family trip for 12 of us, to the Lake District in November," she tells Telegraph Travel. "I'm trying to get hold of the rental company now, to see if we can get our money back – but I haven't been able to get through yet.
"I'm so disappointed. We'd worked so hard to find a date and place to get everyone together – it's looking like a very grim winter indeed."
Can I get a refund for my self-catering holiday?
The prospect of refunds and rescheduling for mass bookings will likely depend on the individual rental company – so we recommend that you contact them directly.
Those with affected bookings may benefit from Covid-19 flexibility within rental companies' booking terms. Many have made booking alterations more generous – giving customers the option to move dates, request vouchers or obtain refunds should the pandemic affect their ability to travel.
A spokesperson from Rural Retreats, one of the UK's leading holiday rental companies, says its team is speaking to all affected customers directly: "Prior to contacting the guests, we are contacting the property and agreeing a refund based upon a lower number of people staying from next Monday. If this offer does not work for the guest then we are offering to move their booking to a future date or a full refund.
"Clearly this new restriction will have a major effect on our owners with larger properties and if, as looks increasingly likely, the restriction remains in place over Christmas it will have a devastating effect on many inter-generational family plans."
When booking a holiday rental property in the UK, you may now be asked to assert that your group size complies with the law.
How does the law apply to hotel stays?
In the unlikely event that your entire group of more than six people will be staying in the same room, your gathering will be illegal. If, however, you will be staying in separate rooms, there will be no issue... until breakfast-time.
For meals, and any other socialising in the hotel's dining areas, the general law for bars and restaurants applies. So, your details will be taken for tracing, and you will not be able to socialise in groups that exceed local laws.
Any pubs, restaurants and other venues that are found to not be complying, will be fined £1,000 and potentially shut down.
Is a group camping trip off-limits too?
Yes, if it breaks the local rules on socialising.
"The onus is on individuals to take responsibility for their actions," says Dan Yates, founder of outdoor accommodation online booking platform Pitchup.com. "Most site-owners already contact guests ahead of their arrival, so they will have the opportunity to remind guests of the tighter regulations at that point. And if a customer no longer wants to go away, our flexible transferable deposit policy still stands."
What about group walking holidays in the UK – will they be cancelled now?
Potentially, yes – if the trip involves more than six people from up to six different households getting together. "We are revising our group numbers," says a spokesperson from Ramblers Walking Holidays, which specialises in hiking tours throughout the UK. "Our England holidays departing from 14 September will operate at a ratio of five clients and a walk leader, to ensure that we are adhering to the new guidelines.
"We are making contact with all customers due to travel in departure date order."
Can I go to Wales?
Wales has announced that visitors from other parts of the UK with high case rates will not be permitted to enter the country from Friday, October 16, at 6pm. It remains unclear how this will be policed.
Can I go to Scotland?
Yes. You can cross the border, and hotels remain open. There are, however, new social distancing rules which mean you can only mingle with your own household indoors, which throws group holiday plans up in the air. Outdoors, you are allowed to meet with one other household.