Covid: What could the new tightened tier system look like?

Boris Johnson is expected to announce his plan for tightened tiers in England after its lockdown ends. Credit: PA

England will return to a tiered system for regional coronavirus restrictions when lockdown ends, but the rules will be more strict than they were before.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce his plan for winter on Monday, which will see the tier system of local restrictions strengthened in order to restrict the spread of Covid-19 ahead of Christmas.

Downing Street has said this is expected to come into force when the national lockdown ends on December 2.

So what is this new tier system going to look like?

  • What was the original three tier system?

Mr Johnson announced the original three-tier strategy in October, which splits different areas of England into medium, high and very high alert levels.

Areas in the first tier – medium alert – were subject to the same national measures which were in force at the time across the country including a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and a ban on most gatherings of more than six people.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Under the second tier – high alert – household mixing was banned indoors while the rule of six continued to apply outdoors.

Tier 3 – very high alert – banned social mixing both indoors and in private gardens, while pubs and bars were told to close unless they could operate as a restaurant.

Local leaders were to help determine whether other venues should be closed, such as gyms or casinos, in very high alert level areas.

But the system faced criticised as not being strong enough to reduce the spread of the virus.

  • Why was the tier system criticised?

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the toughest tier of restrictions was “a gateway to weeks and weeks, more likely months and months, of agony from which there’s no likely exit”.

Local leaders also complained that once an area was placed in Tier 3 it was not clear what it had to do to get out of it.

The British Medical Association (BMA) also said that the previous system was “inadequate” and did not contain the spread of the virus.

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  • Will England’s lockdown definitely end in December?

The Government has emphasised that it wants to see England exit its four-week lockdown on December 2.

This is its legal endpoint, with any extension requiring a vote in Parliament.

But what comes next will depend on a review of Covid-19 case data to assess if the lockdown has had an effect.

  • Did the tier system work?

There has been some indication that the system helped in parts of the country.

Dr Susan Hopkins, a Public Health England director advising the Government’s coronavirus response, said recently that Tier 1 restrictions had “very little effect”, Tier 2 varied across areas and Tier 3, especially “Tier 3 plus”, had reduced case numbers in the North West.

She said the Government may have to think about “strengthening” tiers “in order to get us through the winter months”.

Experts on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), which advises the Government, believe infections will rise at the same rate as before if the same three-tier system is brought back in December.

  • So what is the government planning?

The “Covid winter plan” is expected to place more areas into the higher tiers to keep the virus under control to ensure further restrictions are not needed, No 10 said.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

And while some local measures will be the same as those in the previous system, some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the national lockdown.

Tier 3 will be toughened, in that hospitality will remain closed (the previous Tier 3 rules allowed pubs and restaurants to open to serve proper meals to single households and for business meetings).

Where hospitality is allowed to open, in Tiers 1 and 2, last orders will be at 10pm but people will be permitted to stay in pubs and restaurants till 11pm, to avoid crowds and crushes on the way out.

In all three tiers, non-essential shops will re-open, hairdressers and personal care services will reopen, gyms will re-open and outdoor sports will resume.

  • When will the new system be introduced?

The national lockdown in England is due to end on December 2 so either it will need to be extended or a new system put in place to replace it.

The Cabinet is expected to discuss and sign off the new plan on Sunday before Mr Johnson announces it to Parliament the following day.

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

  • Is the vote a done deal?

Not entirely – the Prime Minister will be wary of a rebellion from backbench Tory MPs who are opposed to new restrictions.

During a vote on the current four-week system 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 been formed to resist new measures, with suggestions 50 Tories have enlisted.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

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

  • How long will the new system last for?

The Government is optimistic that restrictions can be gradually reduced in the run-up to spring, providing vaccines are approved by regulators, allowing a plan for the rollout to begin next month before a wider programme in the new year.

But with no vaccines having been approved it is still not clear exactly when the rollout will be able to begin.

  • What is expected over Christmas?

Several households – potentially three – could be allowed to create a bubble temporarily between December 23 and 27, with the plans covering all four nations of the UK.

"For those five days, a typical family will be able to enjoy festive meals indoors with both sets of grandparents, or two groups of friends, or whomever is most special to them," says ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston.

Restrictions on church services are also due to be lifted allowing Christmas Day services to be held.