Tier 4/extremely high
Those in the highest tier of restrictions may feel a sense of déjà vu as these areas are plunged back into strict restrictions similar to those first experienced in the November lockdown.
Residents in these areas must now stay at home, with limited exemptions.
Non-essential retail, restaurants, personal care, leisure facilities and indoors gyms must close.
People should work from home when they can, but may travel to work if this is not possible. This applies, for example, to the construction and manufacturing sectors.
The Government has said local and regional travel is not advised.
Those in Tier 4 areas will not be permitted to travel abroad, apart from limited exceptions such as for work purposes.
Unlike the March and November national restrictions communal worship can continue to take place in Tier 4 areas.
Mr Johnson emphasised that these restrictions must be adhered to on New Year’s Eve.
What stays the same?
- Pubs, bars and restaurants will only be able to serve takeaway services, and hotels will have to close their doors until the tier level in the local area drops back into Tier 2.
- Essential shops are allowed to remain open, as are schools, universities and workplaces.
- Households in the highest tiers are still not allowed to mix households indoors.
- People should try to avoid travelling outside the ‘very high’ area they are in, or entering a ‘very high’ area, other than for things like work, education, accessing youth services, to meet caring responsibilities or if they are in transit
- Organised indoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes cannot take place indoors. (There are exceptions for indoor disability sport, sport for educational purposes and supervised sport and physical activity for under-18’s)
When will we see an end to the tier system?
Despite a rebellion from dozens of Tory MPs at the House of Commons vote on the tiers, and backlash from businesses, Matt Hancock said the restrictions were here to stay for the “forthcoming few months”.
Mr Johnson also told MPs at the Commons vote on Dec 1 that tiers would be decided on a more “granular” basis after the review in mid-December, raising hopes among backbenchers.
With the news that a vaccine has been approved in England, Mr Hancock encouraged people to “hold their nerve” and stick to the rules.
However, the Health Secretary has stated that the new Tier 4 restrictions could be in place for a couple of months until the vaccine roll out has been completed.
Could there be a third lockdown in the new year?
Boris Johnson failed to rule out the possibility of a third lockdown on Dec 18, saying infection rates have increased “very much” over the past few weeks. The issue was not addressed at the press conference on Dec 19.
On Dec 18 he said: “We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that.
“But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
A source from Whitehall has stated that “the expectation now is that we can get through Christmas, but after that the chances of a full lockdown in the New Year look pretty high.”
“If the new variant continues to bleed across the country, and we see more cases of it in the North, then there isn’t much of a case for keeping anyone out of Tier 4, so it amounts to a national lockdown, whether it is called it or not,” the source said.
Around 68 per cent of people in England were put in Tier 3 on Dec 17, after infection rates rose by up to two thirds in some areas. Many areas across England entered tighter restrictions at 00.01 on Boxing Day including, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire
There is also concern that cases will rise in the North and the Midlands following the mass exodus of London and the South East as it entered the highest tier of restrictions.
Furthermore, on December 28, the UK reached a daily record of Covid-19 infections, as Government statistics announced 41,385 new lab-confirmed cases. This brings the current number of cases in the UK to 2,329,730.
A further 357 people have also died within 28 days of testing positive with the virus.
In response to the latest figures, Whitehall sources also suggest that as much as two-thirds of England could face the highest tier restrictions in the coming days,, with “sizeable chunks” of the North and the Midlands expected to enter Tier 4 by this week.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the furlough scheme until the end of April, interpreted by some as an indication tighter restrictions are coming in the New Year.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Sage scientific advisory panel, said: “I think we are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them up, we really will.
“It’s a horrible thing to have to say but we are in quite a difficult position.”
Schools minister Nick Gibb and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove have both said another national lockdown could not be ruled out.
Will things change now we have a vaccine?
On Dec 2, the same day the UK approved the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine, Boris Johnson spoke out regarding the strict three-tier system. He acknowledged the restrictions are “tough” but are nevertheless essential to “keep the virus under control”.
The Prime Minister hopes certain areas will move down before Easter. However, he emphasised the tier system will remain necessary alongside the vaccine. He shared: “For the time being you’ve got to take it that tiering will be a very, very important part of our campaign against coronavirus.”
Mr Johnson also said we still had “some months before all the most vulnerable are protected” and so, we must remain cautious, and not be “carried away with over optimism”.
He emphasised the Government’s plan relies on the public’s continued sacrifice “for those we love”.
Although it is currently unclear that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is effective against the new variant of the coronavirus, experts are positive that the vaccine will work, although further tests need to be conducted.
Ugur Sahin, the chief executive of BioNTech, said on Dec 22 that “we don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” but because the proteins on the variant are 99 per cent the same as the prevailing strains, BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.
On the same day that the Government announced a new daily record of coronavirus infections, Sir Jeremy Farrar, the Wellcome Trust director, who advises Sage, warned that one million Covid-19 vaccinations a week would not be enough to bring the pandemic under control.
He revealed: “We’re not going to be free of this pandemic by February; this is now a human endemic infection.
If we do manage to hit the target of a million [vaccinated] a week, frankly I don’t think that’s enough to speed that up if we wanted to get the country covered.”
Will there be a Tier 5?
A Whitehall source has indicated the possibility that parts of the UK could enter a new Tier 5 following the tier review tomorrow, Dec 30.
As the NHS is straining under the pressure of coronavirus and new variants of Covid-19 continue to spread, millions could be under Tier 5 come the new year.
The current Tier 4 Covid-19 rules don’t appear to be working, according to a Whitehall source.
The Government’s scientific advisers have reportedly urged Boris Johnson to tighten the highest restrictions, which may result in a new tier forming.