What to expect from a possible Tier 5 lockdown - are restrictions likely to change?
As of 31 December, 44 million people – around three quarters of England – are now living under Tier 4 restrictions.
This is due to a continuous rise in coronavirus cases, despite the roll out of both the Pfizer and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
So could we see a further tightening of restrictions, and what would the rules be in a Tier 5 lockdown?
This is what we know so far.
What is the likelihood of a Tier 5 being introduced?
Following the tightening of restrictions for over 20 millions English residents on New Years Eve, from Tier 3 to Tier 4, Boris Johnson said on January 3 that things will "probably about to get tougher", but has yet to announce what this could look like in practice.
Currently, there is no structured tier above level 4, so there is no obvious guide as to how this could look.
One thing is certain, despite most of the UK now experiencing the highest levels of lockdown, the infection rate continues to rise in England and other parts of the country.
Therefore, it might be necessary to increase restrictions to significantly decrease pressure on hospitals and A&E departments throughout winter, as president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Dr Katherine Henderson explained on 27 December.
She told BBC Breakfast: “The chances are that we will cope, but we cope at a cost - the cost is not doing what we had hoped, which is being able to keep non-Covid activities going.
“It is always challenging in winter, nobody would say that it wasn't, but at the moment the level of patient need is incredibly high.”
The next official tier review will be announced by the Prime Minister on Wednesday, 13 January
What restrictions would be in place under Tier 5?
While there has been no official mapping out of a Tier 5 - currently the highest official tier is level 4 - there are restrictions that we lived under back in March which have not yet been applied to this lockdown.
In Tier 4, schools can remain open, you are not limited to how many hours a day you can spend outside, and no one is being asked to shield.
Therefore, we could see a return to:
- School closures and online learning.
- A one hour allowance of exercise each day.
- Only being allowed to leave your home to shop for necessities such as food and medical supplies.
- Travelling to second homes or holiday homes was also forbidden and hotels were closed.
This would be in addition to Tier 4 measures, which are:
- Only leaving home for essential journeys such as to school and work which cannot be done at home.
- Non-essential retail and beauty salons/hairdressers closed.
- Indoor entertainment venues closed.
- All indoor sports halls, gyms, and swimming pools closed.
- No social gatherings indoors unless they are with a member of your bubble.
- Only meeting one person in an outdoor public space if you are both alone.
- No travel into tiers which are above the tier you live in - Tier 4 residents cannot travel outside their local authority or abroad.
- Weddings and civil partnerships are banned except in exceptional circumstances.
Is it likely schools will close?
On 30 December, Education Minister Gavin Williamson announced that the government would delay secondary school returning until 18 January, in a bid to reduce the infection rate.
However, government advisory group SAGE has reportedly suggested keeping schools closed for a longer period during the festive break - as well as staggering the return of pupils to the classroom throughout January.
For the time being, English schoolchildren are expected to return between 4 January and 18 January.
Mr Williamson stated some primary school pupils would be the first to return, key workers’ children and vulnerable children will be prioritised, with secondary school not due back in the classroom until later in the month.
This was a u-turn from cabinet minister Michael Gove’s comments just two days prior, when he stated all students would be back by 11 January.