What is the difference between Tiers 1, 2 and 3 as lockdown comes to an end?

Lizzie Edmonds and Barney Davis
·10-min read
<p>A man wears a face covering while on Oxford Street</p> (PA)

A man wears a face covering while on Oxford Street


MPs have voted to approve the new tiers each local authority will fall under after the end of the national lockdown tomorrow.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock reveal today in the House of Commons which areas of the country will enter Tier 1, 2 or 3.

The previous tiered restrictions saw different areas of England placed into medium, high and very high alert levels depending on the number of coronavirus cases, with curbs on hospitality, leisure and household mixing implemented accordingly.

Now, as England looks ahead to exiting the national lockdown, how have the tiers changed?

- How many people are to face tough restrictions?

More than 55 million people will be placed into Tier 2 and Tier 3 measures on December 2, meaning mixing between households indoors will effectively be banned for the vast majority of the country.

Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – accounting for little more than 1% of England’s population – face the lightest Tier 1 coronavirus restrictions.

Large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West are in the most restrictive Tier 3, which accounts for 41.5% of the population, or 23.3 million people.

The majority of authorities – including London – will be in Tier 2, which will cover 57.3% of the country, or 32 million people.

- Will England's lockdown definitely end in December?

Boris Johnson has confirmed that the national lockdown will end on December 2, to be replaced with the new tier system.

- So what do the new tiers mean?

As before, there will be three tiers, with Tier 3 being the most restrictive.

Boris Johnson announced that non-essential shops, gyms, leisure centres, swimming pools, sports pitches, hairdressers, beauty salons, synagogues, churches and mosques will be allowed to reopen under all tiers. There are some varying conditions under each tier.

However, there are different rules for the hospitality industry, indoor entertainment industry, socialising and travel under each tier.

– What are the key indicators that will primarily determine the restrictions in each area?

Five factors are considered:

– case detection rates in all age groups;

– case detection rates in the over-60s;

– the rate at which cases are rising or falling;

– the positivity rate – the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken;

– Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.

– Why are there not rigid thresholds?

The Government has said it needs to maintain flexibility to weigh the indicators against each other – such as whether hospital capacity in neighbouring areas is lower.

Another example given in the coronavirus winter plan is that case detection rates would need to be weighed against whether the spread of the virus is localised to particular communities.

The plan states “given these sensitivities, it is not possible to set rigid thresholds for these indicators, as doing so would result in poorer quality decisions”.

Hospitality and indoor entertainment

In Tier 1, bars, pubs and restaurants will operate table service only, and must stop taking orders at 10pm, before closing at 11pm. Indoor entertainment venues – such as cinemas, theatres, bowling alleys and casinos – will be allowed to stay open but live indoor performances will be limited to 50 per capacity or 1,000, whichever is smaller.

<p>Details about the lifting of current lockdown restrictions are expected this week</p>PA

Details about the lifting of current lockdown restrictions are expected this week


In Tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal, before last order at 10pm and venues being forced close at 11pm. Indoor entertainment venues can open with and social distancing and limits of 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 people.

In Tier 3, hospitality venues must close apart from delivery and takeaway. Indoor entertainment venues – such as cinemas, theatres, bowling alleys and casinos – will remain closed.

Spectator sports

Under Tier 1, spectator sports can resume with a maximum crowd of 50 per cent of stadium capacity or 4,000 spectators, whichever is smaller.

Under Tier 2, it can resume with 50 per cent of capacity or 2,000 spectators, whichever is smaller.

Under Tier 3, it cannot resume.

Socialising, travel and overnight stays

Only those in Tier 1 areas will be able to meet people they don't live with indoors. They can also meet with people outdoors, subject to the rule of six.

In Tier 1, the stay home message is also being lifted although people will still be encouraged to minimise their movements and to work from home where possible.

Overnight stays will be permitted if they are limited to a support bubble, household or up to six people.

People in Tier 2 can't socialise with other households indoors but can meet people outside under the rule of six.

Overnight stays will only be permitted for those in the same household or support bubble and accommodation can open.

People will be encouraged to reduce the number of journeys they make and to avoid travelling into Tier 3 areas, except for reasons of education or work.

Those in Tier 3 can't mix with other households indoors, or in private and pub gardens. They can meet under the rule of six in outdoor public spaces, such as parks and sports courts.

People will be told to avoid travelling out of the area other than where necessary and to reduce the number of journeys.

No overnight stays will be permitted outside the local area, except for work or education, with accommodation to stay closed.

There are exceptions for childcare and support bubbles.

People are advised not to travel to and from Tier 3 areas.


Under all tiers, 15 guests will be allowed at weddings and civil partnerships, increasing to 30 for funerals.

But wedding receptions are banned in Tier 3.

Places of worship

Places of worship can reopen, but people must not interact with more than six people.

<p>The PM outside Downing Street</p>AP

The PM outside Downing Street


Under Tier 2 and Tier 3, people must not interact with anyone outside their household or support bubble at places of worship.

Setting out other measures that will be eased as the lockdown lifts, Mr Johnson said: “From next Wednesday, people will be able to leave their home for any purpose and meet others in outdoor public spaces, subject to the rule of six, collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, and shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector can reopen.

“But without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or New Year surge.”

On spectator sports, he added: “In Tiers 1 and 2 spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside with capacity limits and social distancing, providing more consistency with indoor performances in theatres and concert halls.

"We'll also strengthen the enforcement ability of local authorities, including specially trained officers and new powers to close down premises that pose a risk to public health."

On spectator sports, the official guidance states: “In Tiers 1 and 2, spectator sport and business events can now resume inside and outside with tight capacity limits and social distancing, providing more consistency with indoor performances in theatres and concert halls."

It goes on: “The Government will also introduce spectator capacity limits for sports stadia, business events and live performances in tiers where these are permitted.”

<p>Christmas scenes in London</p>PA

Christmas scenes in London


– When can any changes be made to the new tier system?

The first review of the tiers is set for December 16.

Mr Johnson has said the allocation of tiers will be reviewed every 14 days from that date and suggested mass testing could make households exempt from restrictions.

He also said that at the first review of the measures in mid-December he would move areas down a tier where there is “robust evidence” that coronavirus is in sustained decline.

He has written to Tory MPs offering them another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year, saying the legislation will have a “sunset of February 3”.

That vote after Christmas will determine whether the tier system stays in place until the end of March.

- What will happen over Christmas?

The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period, allowing friends and family to hug for the first time in months.

Three families will be able to spend Christmas under the same roof and travel restrictions will be lifted across the country between December 23 and 27.

Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public location, but existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and other venues will be maintained throughout the period.

The bubbles will have to be exclusive over the five-day period, meaning people cannot shift from one group to another – although children whose parents are separated will be allowed to move between them.

People aged over 65 in care homes will not be able to join their loved ones for Christmas, and in families where three children live away from home, they would not all be able to return for the festive period.

<p>Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour  Party, has criticised the tier system</p>Sky News

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, has criticised the tier system

Sky News

Boris Johnson acknowledged the measures would not add up to a “normal Christmas” and urged people to exercise caution, particularly when meeting with the elderly or the vulnerable.

“We can’t afford to throw caution to the wind. The virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas and we must all be careful,” he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

- What were the details of the original three tier system?

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.

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.

- 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.

– What are the scientists saying about the prospect of easing measures?

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said it would be a “terrible mistake” to relax restrictions just months before vaccines “start to have an effect”.

Prof Openshaw, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said: “We scientists are very concerned indeed about relaxation of precautions at this stage. The rates are still too high, there’s too many cases coming into hospitals, too many people dying.

“And if we take the brakes off at this stage, just when the end is in sight, I think we would be making a huge mistake.”

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