What happens next when lockdown ends? What tier rules could be by Christmas 2020

The national lockdown which has shut pubs, cafes and non-essential shops is due to come to an end (Image: Getty Images)

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England will see yet another wave of new lockdown rules from December 2 in a nationwide shake-up.

The national lockdown which has shut pubs, cafes and non-essential shops is due to come to an end.

In its place will be the ‘tier’ system of local lockdowns, which you might remember from last month.

This means you’ll no longer be banned by law from leaving your home, apart from a set list of legal exemptions.

Millions of people will once again have more freedom to go Christmas shopping, visit a restaurant or see friends.

Christmas will be allowed – but will you be able to have your family round?
(Image: Getty (stock image))

And you’ll no longer be banned from social gatherings anywhere apart from meeting one person in a park.

But the tier system wasn’t some magic way out of lockdown – it still imposed strict rules on many of the worst-hit.

What’s more, the tiers themselves will have a redesign and could be much stricter than they were in October.

A new system will only be confirmed around the end of November, with ministers making decisions next week.

And it could take even longer to know what Christmas looks like if there are special rules for the holiday season.

So when will lockdown end – and what comes next? Here’s what we know for now.

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When will lockdown end?

England’s national lockdown legally expires at midnight at the end of Wednesday 2 December.

It can be extended if Boris Johnson decides that is necessary, but that would need a new vote by MPs.

Whatever happens, MPs will get a vote in Parliament to approve whatever system replaces the national lockdown.

That system is due to be decided on next week once the government has enough data on which way the virus is going.

It should also be unveiled next week, though when exactly a vote will take place has not yet be confirmed.

What happens when lockdown ends?

Boris Johnson will set out the next steps to Parliament next week

Boris Johnson wants to replace the current national lockdown with a version of the “tiered” system that existed in October.

Every part of England will be put into either Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 (or more – see below) depending on local virus rates.

Under the old system, Tier 1 imposed the ‘rule of six’ on gatherings and forced pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm.

Tier 2 had those rules but also banned all indoor social gatherings, be they in private homes or in pubs and restaurants.

Tier 3 went further by banning all social gatherings, indoors or out, other than in public open spaces – and told people not to travel out of the area.

Under Tier 3 rules, pubs had to shut completely unless they were serving a substantial meal. And some areas had extra ‘a la carte’ closures on top.

Will the tier system be the same as last time?

The PM hasn't finalised a new system yet
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

No.

Susan Hopkins, medical director of Public Health England (PHE), said “will have to think about strengthening” the rules in each tier.

She said Tier 3 rules had in many cases worked, but Tier 2 only worked in some areas and “we see very little effect from Tier 1”.

If England is going to get through the winter without another lockdown, we may need stricter rules than we had before.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed ministers are looking at tweaking the rules from last time when the tiers come in.

What could be different?

How Tier 1 looked before

Ministers are looking at applying a single tier to a whole wider region, rather than it changing across individual towns and cities.

Meanwhile the tiers themselves could be made stricter or more people could be put in higher tiers.

Dr Hopkins dropped a big hint that Tiers 1 or 2 could be made stricter, or used in fewer areas only where cases are really low.

Tier 3 could get stricter too. Tier 3 previously had a “baseline” menu of rules, to which local areas added “a la carte” options on top.

Robert Jenrick has dropped a strong hint that some of those “a la carte” options will now apply to every Tier 3 area in England.

That could include a ban on buying booze from shops after 9pm; or more closures of places like nail bars or tanning salons.

He said: ”There were some tweaks to the tiers that you're seeing in some parts of the country.

“It's that sort of thing that we now need to consider. Was that a sensible move? If so, should we embed that in the new tier structure?"

Some measures could be dropped though. No10 has not guaranteed some of the most unpopular measures – like the 10pm pub curfew – will make it through to the new system.

Will I be able to hug friends and family?

Probably not
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Almost certainly not – unless they’re in your household, support bubble or childcare bubble.

Social distancing rules have applied since March, advising you to keep two metres apart from people not in your household.

This can be reduced to one metre if other mitigations like masks are in place, but it certainly doesn’t allow for hugs and kisses.

Even if most other restrictions were lifted, we expect social distancing rules will stay in place.

Will I be able to go to the pub?

Shops will reopen
(Image: Getty Images)

In most areas, yes.

Pubs can remain open in Tiers 1 and 2, and even in Tier 3 if they can serve substantial meals.

Mr Jenrick said pubs, restaurants and shops in “most parts” of the country will be able to reopen in time for Christmas.

The Communities secretary said he wanted a "somewhat more normal December" in parts of the country.

He added: “What we do want to see is a very significant easing, and that was the purpose of going the hard yards in November – so that in most parts of the country, December will be somewhat easier and people's businesses and the hospitality venues and so on will by and large be able to reopen.”

Will I actually be able to meet people in the pub?

Ah, there’s the problem.

Both Tier 2 and Tier 3 rules, as they’re currently written, ban you from having any social gatherings anywhere indoors.

That would mean you can go to a pub, cafe or restaurant, but only with members of your household or bubble.

In Tier 2 you’re allowed to sit in a terrace area or beer garden, but not many people will brave that in December.

And Dr Hopkins (above) has hinted many areas could have to end up in Tier 2 or Tier 3.

Will I be able to go round people’s houses?

This is a problem too.

In Tier 1 as currently written, you can have a gathering of up to six people in a private house or garden.

But in Tier 2, you’re banned from meeting anyone not from your household anywhere indoors.

And in Tier 3, that ban extends to private gardens too.

This means if you’re in Tier 2 or 3 after December 2, you can’t have a big family lunch.

And as Dr Hopkins suggested, this could go on for months.

Does this mean no family Christmas?

Family Christmases are still in doubt
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

We don’t know yet.

Ministers have looked at a possible special easing of the rules over Christmas, but this will depend how bad the virus is.

SAGE drew up the possible scenarios for Christmas in a paper on October 28. If the virus remains “high and controlled”, there will be “little to no scope for loosening of social distancing rules over Christmas.”

But if it falls to “low and controlled” levels, there will be scope for a temporary easing of the rules, SAGE said.

Mr Jenrick was asked if the Government might be forced to ban indoor meetings over Christmas if Covid-19 cases are still high.

He told Times Radio: "We don't know that yet. The hard yards that we've done in November were designed to enable most people in England to have a much more normal December so that we can go to the shops, we can use hospitality and, as far as possible, we can be together as families at Christmas.”

When will I know if Christmas can happen?

Mr Jenrick told Times Radio: "We can see from the data that the tiered approach in October and early November was having an impact, particularly in some parts of the country.

"It's too early to say the true impact of the new national measures because there's a lag time of two or three weeks, but hopefully by the end of November we'll be in a position to take that judgment."

Of course, there are also talks between the UK’s four governments about a potential Christmas system.

That could mean it takes longer to come up with an agreed approach with a decision only some time in December.

But won’t I get a vaccine before Christmas?

Err, not quite.

Two vaccines have passed Phase 3 trials – one from Pfizer/BioNTech and another from US firm Moderna.

But they have not yet passed safety tests and will take time to roll out.

Pfizer’s jab could be available from December 1 at the earliest, but only a small proportion of doses will be before the new year.

Moderna’s jab is not available until Spring 2021 at the very earliest.

The UK has ordered enough of the Pfizer vaccine for 20million people and enough of the Moderna jab for 2.5million people.

That means we do not yet have enough of a working vaccine to cover the whole population.

A priority list has been drawn up which would put over-80s, NHS and care staff and care home residents very high.

Younger people down to age 50, and under-50s who are at risk, would also be on the priority list.

What about mass testing?

A top scientist declared he was “optimistic” lockdown will be scrapped for Christmas – but it’s important to note this is not the government’s actual plan.

Immunologist Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, believed mass testing would mean restrictions can be eased for the festive period.

Prof Bell told the BBC: “There are real opportunities to use rapid turnaround lateral l flow tests at scale to actually help manage the disease and keep this thing under control so I know there are big efforts to try and make that happen. I am optimistic that we wont have to go into the Christmas period in a lockdown. That would be a real problem, in my view.”

He said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine study, which is due to report soon, should give "some sense" of the effect on transmission.

He added: "I'll be very surprised that these vaccines don't substantially reduce transmissions.

"They may not completely eliminate the ability to grow virus in your nose, so there may be still a risk of transmissions out there, at a low level, but obviously that's something that we have to explore."

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