How will tier four Covid restrictions be different to tier three?

Ministers are reportedly considering adding a new tier of restrictions if coronavirus infections soar after Christmas.

It is thought a ‘tier four’ could be introduced in England if the current three-tier system struggles to put case rates on a downward trend.

A Whitehall official told The Times: ‘There is a case for going further than tier three and it is getting stronger.

‘[That could mean] closure of non-essential retail, stay-at-home orders. That would have to be actively considered in conversation with the local authority.’

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies previously warned in November a fourth tier may be needed if the three-pronged system did not work.

A statement said: ‘Given that the impact of tiers will vary depending on the characteristics of different areas, a “tier four” needs to be considered for those parts of the country where tier three is not able to shrink the epidemic.

‘This is particularly important in the run-up to the winter festive period if relaxation of measures is under consideration. Keeping incidence flat or decreasing between now and then is crucial.’

So while 38 million people are set to live under the strictest tier three rules from tomorrow until at least the end of the year, there is the possibility large numbers of them could be placed into a new, even tougher tier from January if it becomes available.

So what could a tier four lockdown look like? breaks it down below.

Stay at home orders

Tier four rules could see the Government enforce ‘stay at home’ orders, similar to during the first national lockdown. It would be a lockdown in all but name.

The ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ campaign was launched on March 19, but ended at the start of May as lockdown restrictions were eased.

Those rules meant the public could only leave their homes for a limited number of reasons, including exercising close by, buying food or medicine, seeking medical attention or going to their job as a key worker.

At the moment under the toughest tier three restrictions, people are advised to reduce the number of journeys they take and avoid travelling out of the local area except where necessary.

So tier four could limit this even more and suggest people should only travel for limited reasons, like during the first national lockdown.

The work from guidance – which applies under all three tiers currently anyway – would continue in tier four.

At the moment the toughest tier forbids different households from mixing indoors, and the ‘rule of six’ applies in outdoor public places, so six people from any number of households can go to the park or beach together.

But tier four rules could limit this further perhaps similarly to the second national lockdown, allowing only two individuals to meet outside at a time.

Schools reopening later

Schools may reopen slightly later than planned in January – perhaps by a week – to allow a kind of ‘firebreak’ to stop the further spread of infection after Christmas mixing.

But it is unlikely the Government would allow schools to be closed for any longer than that, as ministers have repeatedly stressed keeping children in education is a priority.

London authorities which tried to close schools a week early, including Greenwich and Islington, were forced to backtrack after the Government threatened them with legal action.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: ‘We have been clear throughout on the importance of schools, both in terms of the learning that children require but also the development and mental health gains it brings by being able to attend school.

‘We have been clear that it’s in the best interest for all children to attend.’

Their insistence comes despite a spike in coronavirus infections among 10- to 19-year-olds across the country, particularly in the capital where mayor Sadiq Khan called for the early closure of schools.

Gyms closed

A rule which has caused much contention during the pandemic could be reintroduced – the closure of gyms.

Gyms were shut during both the first and second national lockdowns, which led to several facilities defying the rules and attempting to stay open in the second lockdown. A number of gym owners were fined as a result.

Current tier three rules have allowed gyms to remain open, but a tier four may force them to close.

This may see the Government return to rules seen in lockdown two, where people were allowed to take unlimited amounts of exercise outside.

Grassroots sport and outdoor sport like tennis and golf were not permitted however, so this also may be a restriction under a new tier four.

Hairdressers and personal beauty closed

The second national lockdown saw a return of the dodgy lockdown haircut as hairdressers were closed, as well as personal beauty services like nail, eyebrow and tanning salons.

Due to the nature of the close-up contact of these services, they could be shut again under tier four restrictions to help stop the spread of Covid-19 in areas with higher infection rates.

Non-essential shops closed

During the first and second national lockdowns, all shops which weren’t deemed essential were closed.

Essential shops have previously included supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, hardware stores, banks, pet shops and post offices.

All other stores, which are not deemed essential for everyday life, were not permitted to stay open – and this could happen under tier four restrictions.

Under current tier three restrictions, non-essential stores are allowed to remain open.

Of course the majority of retailers would still offer online order and delivery options.

What shops are deemed non-essential?

Pubs, restaurants and bars are likely to continue to offer takeaway and delivery services only, as they do currently in tier three.

Weddings stopped

Under tier three rules, weddings are allowed with a maximum of 15 people, but wedding receptions are not allowed.

In the first and second national lockdowns weddings were banned, except where one of the partners was seriously ill and not expected to recover – known as a ‘deathbed wedding’. Only six guests were allowed to attend these.

It is possible a new tier four could reintroduce a ban on weddings.

However, both in tier three and in the second national lockdown funerals were allowed to continue with 30 guests attending, so it is safe to assume this would also be the case if a tier four is brought in by ministers.

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