Lockdown rules are changing next week in England as the national shutdown is replaced with a three-tier system.
Some 99% of the country will be in the two toughest tiers 2 and 3, where all indoor socialising is banned.
This week the government confirmed what the new tier rules will be, and which area is in which tier.
Separately, we also learned about plans for Christmas – which will allow you to flout tier rules for five days.
Under these rules, up to three households can create a one-off ‘Christmas bubble’ for five days from December 23-27.
While we’ve explained the rules as best we can, sometimes there are questions that are a bit harder to answer.
And while we’re not an official source of government guidance, we’ll do our best to help in a busy, confusing week.
The Mirror’s online political editor Dan Bloom took your questions in a Facebook Live. Here’s what he got asked – and where the rules stand.
If I own a bridal store in Tier 3, am I allow to open?
Yes, shops – even non-essential ones – are all allowed to open in all three tiers.
It is indoor entertainment (bowling alleys, soft play etc.) that are shut in Tier 3.
But this is somewhat ironic because even though you can buy a wedding dress, you can’t have a wedding with all your friends.
Only 15 guests can attend a wedding ceremony in all three tiers.
Receptions of up to 15 people are allowed in Tiers 1 and 2, but banned in Tier 3.
Why isn’t London in Tier 3?
This is a good question.
London is in Tier 2, but the complaint from a lot of places, in the North especially, is that London’s been given preferential treatment.
The government insists it has used the same five criteria to make all decisions, which include the case detection rate, how over 60s are doing, pressure on the NHS, and if cases are rising or falling.
Despite this, there are still discrepancies.
London’s Tower Hamlets has 219 cases per 100,000 but is in Tier 2, while Ashford, Kent, has 126 cases per 100,000 and is in Tier 3.
Ministers say London’s situation is not uniform across the city, but taken as a whole the situation has stabilised, and they need to have consistency across large areas to avoid people “crossing the border” into another tier.
Is midnight mass allowed on Christmas Eve?
Places of worship are allowed to stay open over Christmas and once you form a Christmas bubble (with two other households) you can go to a place of worship.
With your Christmas bubbles you can go to three places: outdoor spaces like parks, each other’s houses, and to a place of worship.
They have specifically made the exemption so people can observe religious ceremonies over Christmas.
You still will have to socially distance from other bubbles in the church.
The Christmas bubbles of three families, up to eight people, does that include children?
This appears to be a misunderstanding – there’s no limit of the number of people in a Christmas bubble (for example, eight).
The Christmas bubble limit is three households, of any number of people, joining together.
And that means – to answer your question – that it doesn’t matter how many people in that household are children.
It doesn’t matter if there’s more than eight of you, or how many are children, as long as it’s just three households.
If you’re a support bubble already (e.g. your household with a loved one who lives alone) you count as one household for the Christmas bubble rules, so can join with two other households.
So how many people are allowed for Christmas?
The rule is a hard and fast three households and an unlimited number of people within those households.
Those three households form a Christmas bubble which is exclusive and fixed for the five days (23rd-27th December).
Once the bubble is formed it is not meant to be broken, or mixed with another bubble.
But within that bubble you can break social distancing, hug, kiss, dance, eat Christmas dinner to your heart’s content.
That doesn’t mean you should, though. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty urged people not to hug their grans.
Can people in Tier 3 travel?
It’s a tricky situation.
If you’re in Tier 3 you’re not meant to be travelling in and out of the Tier 3 area or staying overnight away from your area unless for a good reason like work.
However, that is guidance and not a legal obligation.
So you’re not supposed to be travelling out of a Tier 3 area, either abroad or in the UK, or staying overnight, but there is no law to stop you from doing so.
The police can’t fine you for doing it and it’s not illegal to leave the country under the tiered system.
If we’re in Tier 3 what does that mean for the extremely vulnerable?
The extremely vulnerable are the more than 2 million people who shielded from March, in many cases not leaving home at all.
Those rules have been relaxed as time has gone on and are no longer a blanket ‘stay-at-home’ order.
The advice during the national lockdown for previous shielders is you can go out but don’t go to the shops, or to work.
Under the new tier system, this blanket guidance no longer applies and you can go to the shops and work, even in Tier 3.
Yet at the same time, shielders in Tier 3 are warned to “stay at home as much as possible” and “significantly reduce your shopping trips including to pharmacies”
Additionally, some extremely vulnerable people in Tier 3 – but by no means all of them – will have formal shielding reintroduced.
But this will only happen “in the very worst affected local areas and for a limited period of time”. People will be contacted individually.
What about cafes?
In Tier 1, they can stay open.
In Tier 2, they can stay open as long as they are not a bar selling only booze. They have to serve a “substantial meal.”
In Tier 3, cafes have to shut because they count as hospitality.
But in all three tiers, takeaways are allowed from cafes.
If you’re in Tier 3, you can break the rules for five days over Christmas, how does that make sense?
The Christmas bubble rules are the same no matter what tier you’re going into next week.
Inside your bubble the tiers are all effectively suspended for the five days from December 23.
The government has openly said this will increase the risk of coronavirus transmitting but it’s a balanced decision they’ve taken, in order to give people some kind of Christmas after a difficult year.
They also say people should exercise their own judgement about whether it’s safe to see people, and that you should not socialise unnecessarily for the two weeks before and two weeks after Christmas.
Not that you can anyway very much under Tier 2 and Tier 3.
It’s really tricky. The government is saying you’re allowed to do it, but suggesting you shouldn’t, placing the burden, and blame, on individual people.
Why are schools not shut?
The short answer is that children’s education took such a blow in the first lockdown, it prompted a lot of fears about how the most vulnerable and the poorest children were slipping further behind than they already are.
It was very damaging especially for children who were more vulnerable like children in care, or children with special education needs.
The government made a political decision that it is the last resort to shut schools, because the long term damage of not being in school would be too great a burden on those children.
Of course, some students already have a large number of pupils off due to self-isolation or having Covid-19.
Whilst the vast majority of schools are technically open, attendance has plummeted in the past few weeks.
Almost three-quarters of secondary schools have at least one pupil self-isolating due to a suspected coronavirus case in the school.
Can I go to Somerset, they’re in Tier 2, in December?
If you’re talking about before or after Christmas, then it depends on what tier you’re in.
If you’re in Tier 1 or 2, then yes, you can travel between areas. But you can’t gather indoors, which limits your options as you can’t go to their house, or the pub or a restaurant.
If you’re in Tier 3, you shouldn’t visit Somerset because you shouldn’t go outside your tier.
If you’re wanting to go for the Christmas break from the 23rd-27th, the answer is yes you can.
No matter what tier you’re in, for that break you can travel wherever you like in the UK to form your Christmas bubble.
Are gyms going to be open in Tier 3?
Yes. They are open in all tiers, as are swimming pools, hair salons, nail bars and other non-essential shops.
Do you think we will end up in lockdown after Christmas?
It depends what you mean by lockdown.
If you mean being banned from seeing family and friends indoors, then yes.
When we move to the tier system 99% of the country are effectively banned from meeting anyone they don’t live with indoors.
Government scientists expect that to drag on for at least a couple of months, with very few areas moved into Tier 1.
If the question is will we end up in a national lockdown, then that’s trickier.
If the current lockdown is strict enough, we won’t need it, but of course the government has ruled nothing out.
So as a journalist covering the government, I can’t rule anything out either.
Can hospitality open in the five days of Christmas?
This was discussed between the four nations when coming up with their Christmas plan.
They decided they wouldn’t change the tier rules when applying to hospitality, so for the 23million people in Tier 3, all the cafes, pubs, restaurants, hotels etc. won’t reopen for Christmas.
Even if you’re in a place where they are open (Tier 1 or Tier 2), you can’t go to a pub or restaurant with your Christmas bubble.
You can only go to a park, private houses, or place of worship with them.
I work in New Look, will we be open in Tier 3?
Clothes shops will be open in Tier 3, as all non-essential shops are open in Tier 3 (and Tier 2 and 1 as well).
The places that are closed in Tier 3 are places like cinemas, bowling alleys, bingo halls, soft play centres.
But clothes shops remain open in Tier 3, so enjoy going back to work next week!
When will the tiers be reviewed?
As far as we’ve been told, they are stuck for two weeks from December 2 and then will be reviewed weekly.
So they will be reviewed for the first time on December 16.
We’re currently expecting that every Thursday there will be a new data dump, about how the virus is doing in various areas of the country.
Then we’ll get an announcement, we hope, of whether different areas are moving up or down tiers.
When do you think we’ll be out of these restrictions?
I wish I could tell you, my holiday plans have been scuppered like everyone else’s.
Things will hopefully start to look up around spring/Easter and that’s the point ministers are looking at as well.
The tiers we’ve got now last until the end of March when they’ve got to come up with a new system or extend this one.
Coupled with that you’ve got the fact in spring the virus transmits less easily, and the progress of vaccines offers hope for then too.
But it is not the case that they will stop the restrictions as soon as the vaccine starts being given out, because you need a lot of people to be vaccinated to achieve any kind of herd immunity.
Can I go home to Wales, from England, to see my family?
Before the Christmas break (23-27) it depends on what tier you’re in in England.
If you’re in Tier 3, you shouldn’t be travelling in or out of your area – although that’s guidance, not a legal ban.
It also depends on the Welsh government’s rules. Currently they ban anyone from travelling into Wales from England without a reasonable excuse. We’ve asked the Welsh government if this will change after December 2.
But over the five-day Christmas period, you can travel freely across tiers and national borders to form your Christmas bubble.
If hospitality can’t open over Christmas, can football fans still go to matches?
Both hospitality and football matches have to stick to the same rules as they already have under the tier system.
So just like going to a pub, going to a football match at Christmas depends on which tier you’re in.
One of the unexpected announcements this week was the allowing of people back into spectator sports like the Premier League.
In Tier 1 or Tier 2 you can go to football matches but with different crowd sizes in these tiers.
Tier 1 is allowed a bigger crowd, a maximum of 4,000, but only a maximum of 2,000 people are allowed in Tier 2.
No spectators are allowed in Tier 3, sorry Manchester.
Can we visit our second homes from Tier 2 to Tier 2?
Hats off to a problem I am very envious of, but yes, you are allowed to travel outside Tier 2 and have an overnight stay.
If you’re travelling either from or to Tier 3 you cannot do that.
Of course, in Tier 2, you can’t visit your second home with anyone you don’t live with, but as long as it’s it’s just you and your household/support bubble that is entirely fine.
Will hairdressers be open?
Yes, and after a month in lockdown many of us are needing a haircut.
They will be open in all three tiers. This was a big thing the industry lobbied for and managed to get.
If you’ve been placed in Tier 3, but have a holiday you’re due to fly out to on December 20, are you allowed to under the new rules?
If you’re in Tier 3 you’re not supposed to travel outside your area or stay overnight unless it’s for a good reason like school or work.
However, that is guidance and not law.
So, summary: You shouldn’t go, but you can’t be fined by police if you do.
You may have to quarantine at your destination or when you get back or both, depending what the rules say. That bit is a legal requirement.