What areas are in the new Tier 4 and what are the new Christmas Covid-19 rules?
The rapid spread of a new Covid-19 variant has prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to limit the relaxation of restrictions to Christmas Day alone and introduce a Tier 4 in the worst affected areas.
In a press conference on Saturday (December 19), he announced that those areas in the South East, London and East that are currently in Tier 3 - which include Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and much of Essex among other areas - will move from Sunday into Tier 4, which is effectively a return to the lockdown rules of November.
Under the Tier 4 restrictions:
- Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks
- People should work from home where they can
- People will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space
- People should not enter or leave Tier 4 areas, with limited exceptions
- No overseas travel will be allowed, with limited exceptions
- Communal worship can continue.
The rules will be reviewed on December 30.
For the rest of England, the Christmas “bubble” policy that allows up to three households to meet up will now apply on Christmas Day only, instead of from December 23-27, as the government seeks to discourage people from mixing as much as possible.
It comes as scientists on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) concluded that the new variant identified by Public Health England – known as VUI2020/01 – was spreading up to 77 per cent more quickly.
There is currently no evidence, however, that it causes more serious disease, more hospitalisations or will evade the existing Covid-19 vaccine.
The Prime Minister was advised of the group’s conclusions at a meeting with ministers on Friday evening, and the new regulations were signed off by the Cabinet in a conference call on Saturday lunchtime.
Mr Johnson told the press conference he was making the changes with a “very heavy heart”.
He said: “I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance, for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together.
“So I know how disappointing this will be. But we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science. When the science changes, we must change our response.”
The Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has briefed the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the group’s findings.
Under the new “stay at home” order – covering around a third of the population of England – people in Tier 4 will be told they should not stay away from home overnight and people from outside will be advised not to visit Tier 4 areas.
People throughout England are advised to “stay local” and avoid overseas travel, while those in Tier 4 will only be able to go abroad for essential business.
Exemptions to the “stay at home” message which applied in the November lockdown, will also apply in the new Tier 4 – including support bubbles, childcare bubbles and children whose parents are separated.
People will be allowed to travel for education, childcare and to go to work if they cannot work from home and they will be permitted unlimited outdoor exercise.
Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said: “I know these new restrictions will come as a bitter blow for people who were hoping to see loved ones this Christmas but it is clear that the new variant of covid is spreading rapidly. We know routine operations are being cancelled and need to be vigilant to protect our NHS. Please keep safe everyone.
“Once again the Prime Minister has been too slow. When I, and my Labour colleagues raised this earlier in the week, he laughed us off. He allowed people to pack their suitcases while he dithered. He’s made a bad situation worse again. The PM needs to get a grip.”
The changes mean people from Peterborough, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex will not be able to travel to see relatives in Cambridgeshire.
The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the new variant was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent.
It accounted for around one in four cases in London, the South East, and the East in the week commencing November 18.
By December 9, this had risen to 62 per cent in London, 59 per cent in the East and 43 per cent in the South East.
Areas that were in Tier 3 that will move into Tier 4 are:
- Bedfordshire - Bedford, Central Bedford, Milton Keynes and Luton
- London - all 32 boroughs and the City of London
- Surrey with the exception of Waverley
- Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex
- Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire
- Essex: Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree, Chelmsford, Thurrock, Southend-on-Sea (but not Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)
Watch Boris Johnson’s press conference