Millions of people across England are now living under a strict Tier Four lockdown, with “stay at home” restrictions in place.
Non-essential businesses are closed, outdoor socialising is strictly limited, and the public is advised not to leave or enter a Tier Four area.
The government created the strict fourth tier in response to a new, highly contagious variant of coronavirus that is spreading in the South East of England.
17 million people were plunged into Tier Four when it was first created, then an additional six million people were added as new areas joined the “stay at home” tier on Boxing Day.
Boris Johnson has committed to reviewing the tier system on a fortnightly basis, and the government will move areas depending on how they’re coping with the virus.
Here’s what to expect at the next review:
When is the next Tier 4 review?
The tiers will next be reviewed on Wednesday 30 December.
The government will decide which areas need to move tiers – whether that’s into a lower tier with lesser restrictions, or a higher tier with harsher measures.
However, with the situation changing so rapidly, the government may decide to move places from tier to tier before the official review date this week.
Areas including Oxfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk were plunged into Tier Four on Boxing Day as part of the government’s efforts to control the spread of a newly-detected COVID variant.
While this does not make people any sicker, it is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible than earlier iterations of the disease.
How are the tiers decided?
The government considers a number of factors when deciding the tier level for a certain area.
Officials look at how quickly cases are rising or falling, but also at what percentage of people who are tested get a positive result. They examine case rates in the entire population, but will pay close attention to case rates in people over 60.
They will also consider how well local NHS services are able to cope, looking at daily hospital admissions, COVID bed occupancy, and projected COVID bed occupancy.
The government will also take any special circumstances, or local context, into account.
When an area moves tier, the full reasoning is published on the government’s website.
Will there be another national lockdown?
Boris Johnson has failed to rule out a third national lockdown.
In a press conference on 18 December, he said: “We’re hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that.
“But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”