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What are the new tier rules? December restrictions explained as lockdown ends in England

Matt Hancock has announced which tiers each area of England will fall under, after Boris Johnson said a new strengthened system would replace the lockdown on 2 December.

The restrictions will be tougher than those that were in place over all three previous tiers. “Without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or new year surge,” said Mr Johnson on Monday.

“We’re going to go back instead to a regional tier approach, applying the toughest measures where Covid is most prevalent.”

The prime minister said that the previous tiers “weren’t quite enough”.

Here’s everything we know so far about the new tier system for England.

What is the tier system?

In October, the prime minister introduced a three-tier system of local lockdown measures for England to help control the spread of coronavirus.  

Different parts of the country were split into medium (tier 1), high (tier 2), and very high (tier 3), local coronavirus alert areas, with respective sets of rules depending on the categorisation of risk.

The measures came after the number of coronavirus cases in England began to rise, with the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 higher than when the UK went into lockdown in March.

This tier system has been resurrected for December but will be slightly different to October.

What are the rules of each tier?

In tier 1 (medium) areas, people have to stick to meeting in groups of six or fewer indoors or outdoors and pubs and restaurants will only be permitted to offer table service and will have to stop taking orders at 10pm and shut at 11pm. Overnight stays are permitted in groups of up to six people.

In tier 2 (high) areas, the rule of six will also apply, but people will be banned from mixing indoors. Pubs and restaurants will only be permitted to stay open if they serve “substantial” meals. Additionally, hospitality venues may only serve alcohol with substantial meals. As with tier 1, last orders are at 10pm and pubs and restaurants will close at 11pm. Overnight stays are permitted only with those in your support bubble.

In tier 3 (very high) areas, there will be a complete ban on household mixing indoors and most outdoor places apart from public spaces such as parks, public gardens and sports courts, where you can meet in groups of six or less. The hospitality sector may only remain open for takeaway, drive-through or delivery. Overnight stays are banned.

How will the rules be different from last time?

As for large events, such as live sport, live performances and business events, in tier 1, these are limited to 50 per cent capacity, or 4,000 outdoor spectators and 1,000 indoor spectators, whichever is lower. In tier 2, this is also reduced to 50 per cent capacity, or 2,000 spectators outdoors and 1,000 indoors, again, whichever is lower. Social distancing also applies across both tiers. Large events are banned in tier 3.

Additionally, the rules will be relaxed in pubs and restaurants in tiers where they are allowed to stay open for table service. They will be permitted to remain open until 11pm to give people an extra hour to finish their food and drinks after last orders at 10pm.

Support bubbles will also be extended. From 2 December, you can form a support bubble with another household, if at least one has:

• only one adult; (including a household where any children are under the age of 18)

• a child under 1 (regardless of how many other adults are in the household)

• a child under 5 with a disability that requires continuous care (regardless of how many other adults are in the household)

How do I find out which tier I’m in?

If you want to find out what tier your local area falls under there are a number of ways you can check.

There is a postcode search available on the government website, while the NHS Covid 19 app will show which local alert level applies in which area.

You could also refer to a full list of which areas have been allocated to which tiers here.

How will the rules differ for Christmas?

Mr Johnson has confirmed that the tier system will be temporarily paused over the festive period to allow families to spend Christmas together.

After a four-nation agreement was struck, it was announced that from 23 December to 27 December, three households will be able to form “Christmas bubbles” so they can spend time together in one another’s homes, places of worship, or outdoor spaces.

The bubbles will have to be fixed, which means you will not be able to mix with two households on Christmas Eve and two other households on Christmas Day. 

Households you are in a Christmas bubble with also cannot be in others.