Covid-19: Strengthened tier system for England after lockdown

People wear masks next to a social distancing sign in London's Oxford Circus

PA Media

A tougher three-tiered system of local restrictions will come into force in England when the lockdown ends on 2 December, Downing Street has said.

Boris Johnson is expected to set out his plan – including details of how families can see different households at Christmas – to MPs on Monday.

More areas are set to be placed into the higher tiers to keep the virus under control, No 10 said.

And some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard lockdown progress.

It is not yet clear exactly how restrictions could change. Full details of the so-called “Covid winter plan” are expected on Monday, after cabinet discussions on Sunday.

Some local measures will be the same as those in the previous three tier system, used in England to tackle the spread of coronavirus up until the current lockdown began.

But the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is expected to publish papers on Monday saying that measures in the previous tiers were not strong enough.

The prime minister will acknowledge that the measures are difficult, while making clear they are not to last longer than is absolutely necessary, and that the need to support the economy is being taken into account.

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English tier system – at a glance

Pre-lockdown, there were three tiers of restrictions – medium, high, and very high:

  • Medium / Tier 1: Rule of six if meeting indoors or outdoors; pubs and restaurants shut at 10pm
  • High / Tier 2: No household mixing indoors; rule of six applies outdoors; pubs and restaurants shut at 10pm
  • Very high / Tier 3: No household mixing indoors or in some outdoor spaces; pubs and bars not serving meals are closed

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It comes after newspaper reports suggested families could be allowed to meet for up to a week over Christmas as part of a UK-wide relaxation of coronavirus rules.

According to the Daily Telegraph, several families could be allowed to join in one “bubble” and mix between 22 and 28 December.

The plan will include guidance on how people will be able to celebrate Christmas, but ministers have made clear the festive season will be different to normal – with some restrictions expected to remain in place.

The government will set out what tier each area will be placed into on Thursday and MPs are expected to be given a vote to approve the new tier system in the days before it comes into force.

Earlier this month, Mr Johnson promised MPs would have a say on any restrictions imposed after the current lockdown ended.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “Everyone’s efforts during the current national restrictions have helped bring the virus back under control, slowed its spread and eased pressures on the NHS.

“But the prime minister and his scientific advisers are clear the virus is still present – and without regional restrictions it could quickly run out of control again before vaccines and mass testing have had an effect.

“That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS.”

The PM will be wary of a rebellion from backbench Tory MPs opposed to new restrictions.

During a vote on the current lockdown 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 since formed to resist new measures, with suggestions 50 Tories have enlisted.

It is hoped restrictions can be gradually reduced in the run-up to spring, providing vaccines are approved by regulators, allowing then to start being rolled out next month.

Downing Street will hope this – combined with an easing of restrictions over Christmas, will lessen the scale of the rebellion.

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Labour has so far been supportive of the need for restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19, making a full-scale Commons defeat on the plan unlikely.

But the opposition party has been urging the government to lay out its plan for what will happen when the national restrictions end.

Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, in a speech on Saturday, said the nation could not be allowed to return “to the shambles we had before this lockdown”.

She called for clarity about what economic support package would accompany different types of restrictions.

Under England’s previous three-tiered system, regions were classified as either tier one – “medium”, tier two – “high” or tier three – “very high”, and each one had different lockdown rules.

There are also different rules in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On Saturday, the United Kingdom recorded another 19,875 new coronavirus cases and 341 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus within 28 days, the latest figures showed.

The number of deaths was down from 511 on Friday, and 462 on Saturday 14 November.

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