Last reviewed 21 December 2020

With the latest data showing the new variant of the coronavirus spreading more rapidly in London, the South East and the East of England. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new restrictions taking effect on Sunday 20 December.

“There is no evidence the variant causes more severe illness or higher mortality,” Mr Johnson said, “but it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford has made similar announcements about new restrictions and changes to plans for Christmas with regard to Wales as has his counterpart in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.

England

In the most affected areas (parts of London, the South East and the East of England, see below) which are currently in tier 3, a new tier 4 will be put in place with rules which will be broadly equivalent to the national restrictions which were in place in England in November.

That means:

  • residents in those areas must stay at home, apart from limited exemptions set out in law

  • non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities, and personal care services must close

  • people must work from home if they can, but may travel to work if this is not possible, for example in the construction and manufacturing sectors

  • people should not enter or leave tier 4 areas, and tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home. Individuals can only meet one person from another household in an outdoor public space.

However, communal worship can continue to take place in tier 4 areas, the Prime Minister confirmed.

“We are asking everyone, in all tiers, to stay local,” he went on. “People should carefully consider whether they need to travel abroad and follow the rules in their tier. Those in tier 4 areas will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from limited exceptions, such as for work purposes.”

People in tiers one to three are advised not to travel into a tier four area.

With regard to Christmas, those living in tier 4 areas should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, though support bubbles will remain in place for those at particular risk of loneliness or isolation.

Across the rest of the country, the Christmas rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only, rather than the five days as previously set out.

“As before,” Mr Johnson concluded, “there will be no relaxation on 31 December, so people must not break the rules at New Year.”

Tier 4 in England

The affected areas are:

  • Greater London (all 32 boroughs and the City of London)

  • Kent

  • Buckinghamshire (including Milton Keynes)

  • Berkshire

  • Surrey (excluding Waverley)

  • Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth

  • Rother and Hastings

  • Bedfordshire

  • Hertfordshire;

  • Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)

  • Peterborough.

Wales

Mr Drakeford confirmed that the latest evidence suggests the new strain of the virus is present throughout Wales.

“We have therefore reached the difficult decision to bring forward the alert level four restrictions for the whole of Wales, in line with the action being taken in London and the South East of England,” he announced. “These new restrictions will come into effect from midnight tonight (Saturday 19 December) instead of during the Christmas period.”

Non-essential retail, close contact services, gyms and leisure centres and hospitality must close at the end of trading on 19 December with stay-at-home restrictions also in effect from midnight.

As in England, the rules allowing two households to come together to form a Christmas bubble over a five-day period will now apply on Christmas Day only. Throughout the alert level four period, a single person household will however be able to join with one other household.

Scotland

Ms Sturgeon also began her statement by referring to concerns that the new strain is driving what appears to be a faster transmission in some hospitals and care homes in Scotland.

Most school children in Scotland will be taught online until at least 18 January, she announced, as there will be a phased return to schooling in the New Year. the children of key workers will be able to return from 4 January with others back at school from 11 January.

The First Minister advised against cross-border travel and said “increased enforcement” was planned as part of new restrictions over the whole festive period.

As with other parts of Great Britain, the planned five-day relaxation of restrictions over the festive period has been cut back in Scotland to just Christmas Day.

“A maximum of eight people from three households will be allowed to meet on Christmas Day, but again our advice will be to minimise those numbers as much as possible", Ms Sturgeon said.

All of mainland Scotland will go into the toughest level four restrictions from Boxing Day and this move will last for weeks and apply to all areas except the Islands which will remain in level three.