How do the new Covid tier rules affect me? Everything you need to know

Ninety-nine per cent of England is under Tier 2 and 3 rules now lockdown has ended under a tougher three-tier system.

The measures were voted in by 291 votes to 78 in the House of Commons on December 1, just hours before the national lockdown expired. Though this is a success for the Prime Minister, 55 Tory rebels voted against the restrictions, while another 16 abstained after they shared their disapproval for the rules of the new tier system. This was the biggest rebellion of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Under the new rules, spectator sports, concerts and business conferences may take place; non-essential retail, gyms and hospitality can reopen; and communal services may resume at places of worship.

Millions of people have been placed under Tier 3 restrictions in areas including Manchester, Birmingham, Kent, Bristol, Leicester and parts of Essex.

London, Liverpool, Suffolk and the majority of England are in Tier 2, meaning pubs and bars must close unless operating as restaurants that serve substantial meals.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News there is "every reason" to expect some areas to move into a lower tier after the first fortnightly review on December 16.

As it stands, only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly have returned to Tier 1 measures. 

People have been urged to work from home "where possible" and avoid using public transport where they can.

The system of local restrictions will be in place until spring, but rules will be relaxed for five days over Christmas. 

Dampening expectations, Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told BBC Radio 4: "I can’t imagine there will be huge changes at that point, just simply because I don’t think we will have accumulated much data by then."

Who opposes these new measures?

As many as 70 Tory MPs are opposed to the strict tier system, however, the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, argued that the health service could become “overwhelmed” without them.

The Prime Minister has promised MPs that the tiers would be decided on a more “granular” basis after the review in mid-December. 

Boris Johnson was interrupted numerous times before he was able to complete his statement, as MPs from both parties were critical of areas with low infection rates being placed into high tiers because of his regional approach. 

In response to these concerns, he said: "As we go forward, and I mean this very sincerely, the Government will look at how we can reflect as closely as possible the reality of what is happening on the ground, looking at the incidence of the disease, the human geography and spread of the virus." 

However, despite hopes of ‘granularity’ raising hopes among backbenchers, Sir Keir Starmer argued that it is highly unlikely” that anything would change dramatically in the next two weeks.

The Prime Minister’s decision to impose this tier system will cost the economy £900 million a day, a leading economic forecaster has suggested.

How many people are under the harshest tier restrictions? 

More than 41 per cent of the population across England are enduring Tier 3 restrictions. This is as many as 23.3 million people. 

This sum is a total of 119 local authority areas, with the largest population (1.1 million people) coming from Birmingham.

Despite 119 locations entering Tier 3, only eight are showing signs that their Covid-19 cases are rising. Seven of these are located in South East England, and the eighth is in Hyndburn in the North West.

A further 32.2 million people, 57.3 per cent of the population, have entered Tier 2. 

Use our postcode tool to find out which tier your area is in.

New Covid-19 tier restrictions – What’s changing and what’s not

Hospitality

Pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels are required to close in Tier 3 areas, with services limited to takeaway, click and collect and delivery only. 

Under the previous system, restaurants and pubs that served "substantial meals" were permitted to stay open in "very high alert" level areas. However, the changes mean customers are banned from dining in altogether. 

Venues in Tier 2 areas have been placed under the previous Tier 3 restrictions, meaning alcohol can only be served when accompanied by a meal.

A Government official has warned that pub-goers in Tier 2 must leave after finishing their ‘substantial meal’. He stated there should be “no lingering”, and visitors must leave “once their meal is finished”. 

Furthermore, the Local Government Association has argued that a “two hour turnaround” is the “maximum amount of time” needed for “a meal of multiple courses”. 

People are only be able to dine in their household bubbles indoors, although the "rule of six" applies in beer gardens and other outdoor dining areas. In Tier 1, the "rule of six" applies both outdoors and indoors.

Venues in tiers 1 and 2 must also abide by a new closing time of 11pm, with last orders called at 10pm. 

People drink outside a London pub shortly before the start of the second lockdown

Credit:  Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket/via Getty Images

Spectator sport and concerts 

The Government’s winter plan allows thousands of fans back into stadiums.

Indoor and outdoor amateur sports can resume in all three tiers but crowd sizes will be determined according to each area’s tier. Stadiums remain empty in Tier 3 areas.

Sports stadiums and arenas can reopen for the first time since March, with up to 4,000 people permitted entry in Tier 1 areas, falling to 2,000 in Tier 2 or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lower. 

For indoor sports, concerts and business conferences, a maximum of 1,000 people are allowed to attend. The lower limits reflect the advice from the Government’s scientific experts, who warn that indoor social contact is associated with "a far higher degree of transmission risk".

Spectators may not return in Tier 3 areas unless the events are drive-in. Those in attendance are required to abide by social distancing rules and the limits on household mixing in their areas. Elite sport can continue to take place in all tiers. 

The announcement marks a major development in the pandemic and brings to an end months of football, rugby and cricket matches taking place behind closed doors. 

It comes after ministers faced widespread criticism at the beginning of the crisis after they allowed the Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool’ Champions League match against Atletico Madrid to take place just days before the first lockdown was announced. 

On Monday November 23, Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, said: "This is a big step forward for sport. I’m delighted we are able to get the turnstiles turning sooner than expected, taking a cautious approach and starting with the lowest-risk areas first."

Socially-distanced fans watch a match at Blackpool's Bloomfield Road ground in September

Credit: Shutterstock/Phil Oldham

Amateur sport 

Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools can reopen in all three tiers, with outdoor amateur sports such as Sunday league football, tennis and golf also permitted to resume.

However, in Tier 3 areas people are encouraged to avoid higher-risk contact sports, which suggests that amateur rugby may not be able to take place.

Following the launch of The Telegraph’s Keep Kids Active campaign, the Government has also confirmed that children’s sports can start again. 

Spectators can attend amateur events in line with Covid-secure guidance for each tier.

Restrictions differ for indoor sports depending on the tiers, although organised activities for under-18s are exempt.

For those in Tier 1, indoor exercise classes and sports have to comply with the "rule of six". For example, people from different households could play three versus three volleyball, or four people from different households could play doubles tennis or badminton.

Group activities such as training sessions and exercise classes can take place in larger numbers, provided people are in separate groups of up to six.

In Tier 2, the ban on mixing indoors means exercise classes and any indoor team sports may not take place if there is any interaction between people from different households. This would allow people to play a singles tennis match indoors with someone from another household.

In the highest tier, people are restricted to household bubbles only, meaning there should be no group activities such as exercise classes.

Socialising and household bubbles

There have been few changes to the original system, with people living in Tier 1 areas still expected to comply with the ‘rule of six’ both indoors and outdoors. Families or households that exceed this number are exempt. 

In Tier 2 areas, household mixing is banned indoors, with the "rule of six" applying outdoors. 

The restrictions are tightened further in Tier 3, where household mixing is banned indoors and in most outdoor spaces, with the exception of places such as parks and beaches, where the "rule of six" applies. Those with second homes are still permitted to travel to and from their main residence.

In Tier 3 household mixing is banned indoors and in most outdoor spaces

Credit: Robert Melen

Due to the heightened risk of transmission, people living in the top tier are limited to exercising indoors with their own household or bubble. 

However, the Government has expanded the eligibility of support bubbles – which allow two households to link together – to include parents who have a child aged under one. Children under five requiring additional care due to a disability are also included.

The move benefits couples such as Mr Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds, whose son Wilfred was born on April 29.

A support bubble can also be formed if at least one household has only one adult, including a household where any children are under the age of 18, and where there is only one adult carer living with other adults with a disability requiring constant care.

Shopping 

Christmas shopping sprees and Boxing Day sales have been salvaged after the Government announced that non-essential retail would reopen in all three tiers across England. 

It comes after the Chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledged November and December were "very important months" for the high street.

Rishi Sunak acknowledged that November and December were 'very important months' for the high street

Credit:  Danny Lawson/PA

Ministers had previously expressed concerns that elderly people who are unfamiliar with online shopping could struggle to purchase presents for friends and family unless stores reopened. 

Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: "Opening non-essential retail is a huge boost. The run-up to Christmas will be vital for companies, many of whom have invested significantly in becoming Covid-secure. It is now imperative that directors ensure their organisations and customers stick to the distancing guidelines."

The British Retail Consortium added that the move will save thousands of jobs and that data from the Government’s scientific experts showed that retail was a "safe environment".

It said in a statement: "Shops – from high streets to retail parks – play an integral role in the run up to Christmas. While retailers have stepped up their online delivery over the course of 2020, the bulk of Christmas shopping tends to be done in store."

Beauty and hairdressers 

Hairdressers and beauticians can reopen their doors across England. The relaxation of lockdown restrictions also applies to barbers and other related services, although social distancing measures will be used. 

It comes after Millie Kendall, chief executive of the British Beauty Council, told The Telegraph that there was "no evidence whatsoever that keeping hair and beauty closed will have an impact on the ‘R’ rate".

While the hair salons and beauticians provide more close contact services than other industries, the Department for Health in November suggested that their closure would only reduce the rate of transmission by "up to 0.05 per cent".

The relaxation of lockdown restrictions will also apply to barbers 

Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Entertainment and recreation

Indoor entertainment venues including cinemas, theatres, bowling alleys, casinos and soft-play areas are allowed to reopen in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas, but remain shut in the highest-alert level areas. Downing Street signalled that the same rules apply for museums and galleries. 

While these venues were previously allowed to stay open in Tier 3 under the regional system, the decision to close them follows warnings from scientific experts they could be contributing to the spread of the virus in coronavirus hotspots. 

It represents another major blow for the movie industry and comes a month after Cineworld temporarily suspended operations in all its 127 UK sites. Cinema companies Vue and Odeon have also announced partial closures.

Indoor entertainment venues including cinemas, theatres, bowling alleys, casinos and soft-play areas are allowed to reopen in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas

Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley 

The UK Cinema Association claimed the decision to keep venues shut in Tier 3 made "absolutely no sense". Chief executive Phil Clapp said: "Cinemas provide vital support for good mental health at this time – much in the way that gymnasiums – which will be allowed to open it seems – do for physical health.

"But unlike gyms, cinemas are able to deliver an experience where people are sat socially distanced for much of their visit in strongly air-conditioned theatres, all the while wearing face coverings."

Meanwhile, many theatres are unlikely to reopen even in the lower tiers as social distancing measures mean they are forced to operate significantly below capacity, leaving many unable to turn a profit or break even.

Jon Morgan, director of the Theatres Trust, said: "We are encouraged by positive developments in finding a vaccine and the introduction of mass testing. However, if there are any delays in the timetables for these, theatres are only supported by the extension of the furlough scheme and Government grants until the end of March.

"It is therefore essential that work continues across the sector and with the Government to identify mitigating measures that might allow fuller audiences to return safely to theatres as soon as possible."

Work, commuting and education 

People in all areas of England have been asked to continue working from home for the considerable future, in spite of the Government lifting blanket guidance.

It comes after ministers revealed that while more than a third of people had stayed away from the office during the first lockdown, a significant proportion returned to work over the summer, with the trend continuing despite the work-from-home guidance being reinstated.

While more than a third of people worked from home in the first lockdown, a significant proportion returned to work over the summer which may have helped fuel the spread of the virus in the second wave

Credit: Gustavo Valiente/Parsons Media

This may have helped fuel the spread of the virus in the second wave, with the Government’s scientific experts warning that a third of people’s contacts are made at work and are often "of long duration and highly clustered".

As a result, the Government has issued fresh guidance urging employers to "enable a greater degree of home working" and making clear "that anyone who can work from home should do so". However, those working in industries such as manufacturing and construction, where home working may not be possible, will still be allowed to attend work.

The exemption for business lunches, introduced to allow freelancers and the self-employed to meet contacts, remains in place in Tier 2 areas. In addition, the public have been urged to avoid travelling on public transport where possible and to "minimise" social contact. 

Schools and universities remain open, with the Government looking to deliver more tests for students before they return home for Christmas. 

Weddings and worship 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has taken further steps to preserve a traditional Christmas by confirming communal worship can resume, meaning Advent and Christmas Day services can go ahead.

The number of people permitted to attend church together is determined by the level of restrictions on household mixing in their areas. 

In Tier 1 areas, churchgoers can attend in groups of no more than six, while in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas they are required to stay within their household bubbles. The relaxation applies to all places of worship, including temples, mosques and synagogues. 

Weddings can resume in all tiers, although receptions are not allowed in Tier 3. Couples seeking to tie the knot are allowed up to 15 guests. 

Samantha Fuller walks down the aisle with her brother, watched by guests in masks, at the first wedding to be held at St George's Church in Hanworth Park, London, after the first lockdown

Credit: Roger Garfield/Alamy Live News

Travel and holidays

The ban on foreign travel has been lifted, with people free to go on holiday overseas providing they abide by quarantine and the Government’s travel corridors system. 

However, those living under Tier 3 restrictions have been advised not to travel outside their areas except for work, education and other exceptional circumstances. 

Blanket quarantine restrictions will end in time for Christmas so that families can travel to high-risk ‘red list’ countries to visit relatives and reduce their time in self-isolation by up to nine days on their return. They will need to pay for a test from a private firm after five days, at a cost of between £65 and £120.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Blanket quarantine restrictions will end in time for Christmas so that families can travel to high-risk 'red list' countries to visit relatives

Credit: Alan Dawson/Alamy Live News

People living in Tier 1 areas have been asked to walk or cycle where possible rather than taking public transport, while those in Tier 2 have been asked to reduce the number of journeys they make. 

People in both tiers are advised to avoid entering top tier areas, where residents have been asked to avoid travelling to lower tier areas other than for work, education or for medical reasons.

Grottos allowed, but no sitting on Santa’s lap

Grottos are allowed to open across all tiers, new government guidance has confirmed, but sitting on Santa’s lap is banned. 

Venues must put in place appropriate Covid-secure measures and families are required to maintain social distancing from Father Christmas.

Door-to-door carol singing is permitted as long as groups are outdoors and keep apart from each other.

However, those in Tier 3 are not able to attend school nativity plays and will have to live stream or watch a recording instead.

Performances need to be within existing school bubbles, with no mixing across groups.

In Tiers 1 and 2 audiences are able to attend “subject to appropriate safeguards being in place”.

Tier 1 lockdown rules: what you can and can’t do in ‘medium risk’ alert areas

​Tier 2 lockdown rules: what are the restrictions for ‘high’ alert areas?

​Tier 3 lockdown rules: what are the ‘very high’ alert level restrictions?

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