What the new coronavirus tiers mean for people & businesses 

man in ppe with cup of tea coronavirus protection

Last Updated: 22nd December 2020


This week has seen the introduction of a new set of local restriction tiers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. While there will be some easing of restrictions from the recent lockdown, a large part of the country has been put straight into Tier 4, the most restrictive tier available. This includes ourselves here at SAMS, with our HQ nestled in the heart of Kent.

With two major lockdowns, the four new tiers and changes to previous tiers, it’s fair to say that many people are confused about exactly what they are allowed to do, and how the new restrictions will affect them. This is particularly true in the case of businesses, many of whom now face another prolonged period of uncertainty as they have to close to visitors.

Below we’ve tried to outline the new tiers in as simple a way as possible, both for individuals and businesses. Further on, we’ll talk about how the new rules affect businesses in particular – and what you may want or need to do in order to ensure that you can operate safely moving forwards. As always, we’re available for questions or consultancy – just get in touch.

Contents

      1. The new coronavirus tiers explained
      2. How do I know which tier I’m in?
      3. Why are these new tiers being implemented?
      4. How long until things get back to normal?
      5. What does my business need to do?
      6. How can I protect my employees and customers?

The new coronavirus tiers explained

As of 20th December, the new tier system for England involves four tiers, with different rules for each one. There are some rules which apply to every tier and every location in England, including:

  • Wearing a mask in most indoor public settings (e.g. shops)
  • Meeting people in a safe manner
  • Attending school or university as normal, unless self-isolating
  • Walking or cycling where possible (i.e. avoiding public transport)
For businesses, the following can remain open across all tiers:
  • Both essential and non-essential retail, including markets and boot sales
  • Most leisure and sporting facilities, excluding indoor group activities (e.g. yoga)
  • Personal care and beauty (e.g. barbers, beauty salons & tattoo artists)
  • Essential public services (e.g. medical services, legal and job centres)
  • Public buildings (e.g. libraries)
  • Allotments
  • Recycling centres
  • Car parks
  • Public toilets
  • Places of worship
Tier 1 is the lowest level, described as ‘Medium alert’ by the government. This tier includes:
  • Not socialising in groups larger than six people in any setting (the ‘rule of six’)
  • Implementing ‘COVID secure’ protocols in eligible businesses & venues
  • Where serving food or drink on premises:
    • Providing table service only where alcohol is served
    • Closing between 11pm and 5am (excluding transport service outlets)
    • Not taking orders after 10pm, other than by delivery, click-and-collect or drive-through
  • Most entertainment venues must close by 11pm, excluding performance venues where a performance starts before 10pm
  • Outdoor and indoor events (including performances, shows, sport or business events) may allow 50% capacity, 4,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors; whichever is lower
  • Places of worship must follow the ‘rule of six’
  • Weddings, wedding receptions and commemorative events (e.g. wakes) are limited to 15 people, while funerals are limited to 30 people
  • Organised outdoor sports, physical activities and exercise classes are unaffected
  • Organised indoor sports, physical activities and exercise classes must follow the ‘rule of six’, unless a disability sport, educational activity or activity for under-18s
  • Residents in Tier 1 areas should avoid travel to (but not through) Tier 3 areas unless necessary
Tier 2 is the second level, described as ‘High alert’ by the government. This includes:
  • No indoor socialising with anyone who is outside your home or support bubble
  • Outdoor socialising must follow the ‘rule of six’
  • Implementing ‘COVID secure’ protocols in eligible businesses & venues
  • Pubs and bars not serving food must close
  • Where serving food or drink on premises:
    • Providing table service only where alcohol is served
    • Closing between 11pm and 5am (excluding transport service outlets)
    • Not taking orders after 10pm, other than by delivery, click-and-collect or drive-through
  • Most entertainment venues must close by 11pm, excluding performance venues where a performance starts before 10pm
  • Outdoor and indoor events (including performances, shows, sport or business events) may allow 50% capacity, 2,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors; whichever is lower
  • Places of worship are limited to socialising with your household or support bubble
  • Weddings, wedding receptions and commemorative events (e.g. wakes) are limited to 15 people, while funerals are limited to 30 people
  • Organised outdoor sports, physical activities and exercise classes are unaffected
  • Organised indoor sports, physical activities and exercise classes are only allowed where it’s possible to avoid mixing outside of households or support bubbles. Again, this excludes disability sports, educational activity or activity for under-18s
  • Reduced journeys to venues or amenities is advised
  • Residents in Tier 2 areas should avoid travel to (but not through) Tier 3 areas unless necessary
Tier 3 is the second highest level, described as ‘Very High alert’ by the government. This includes:
  • No indoor socialising with anyone who is outside your home or support bubble
  • Outdoor socialising is limited to outdoor public spaces (e.g. parks, beaches and gardens), and must follow the ‘rule of six’
  • All hospitality settings are limited to takeaway, click-and-collect or drive-through
  • All accommodation businesses must close, unless required for personal accommodation or work, education and training
  • All indoor entertainment and tourist venues must close, including:
    • Indoor play centres and areas
    • Casinos and bingo halls
    • Bowling alleys and skating rinks
    • Amusement arcades and adult gaming centres
    • Laser quests and escape rooms
    • Cinemas, theatres and concert halls
    • Snooker and pool halls
  • Indoor attractions within outdoor entertainment venues must close, including:
    • Zoos, safari parks and wildlife reserves
    • Aquariums, visitor attractions at farms, and other animal attractions
    • Model villages
    • Museums, galleries and sculpture parks
    • Botanical gardens, biomes and greenhouses
    • Theme parks, circuses, fairgrounds and funfairs
    • Visitor attractions at film studios, heritage sites (e.g. castles) and stately homes
    • Landmarks, including observation decks and viewing platforms
  • Leisure and sports facilities may stay open, but may not allow group classes, saunas or steam rooms
  • Indoor events of any kind should not have any public attendance
  • Large outdoor events should not take place (excluding drive-in events)
  • Places of worship are limited to socialising with your household or support bubble
  • Weddings, wedding receptions and commemorative events (e.g. wakes) are limited to 15 people, while funerals are limited to 30 people
  • Organised outdoor sports, physical activities and exercise classes can continue unless they involve higher-risk contact activity (e.g. rugby)
  • Organised indoor sports, physical activities and exercise classes cannot take place indoors unless disability sports, educational activity or activity for under-18s
  • Reduced journeys to venues or amenities is advised
  • Residents in Tier 3 areas should avoid travel to any other area of the UK unless necessary
Tier 4 is the highest level, designed to combat the spread of a new strain of the virus. This includes:
  • Not leaving your home or garden unless you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. These include:
    • Work and volunteering, if this cannot be done from home
    • Fulfilling legal obligations
    • Education and childcare
    • Respite care (e.g. for elderly relatives)
    • Visiting your support or childcare bubble
    • Outdoor exercise and recreation
    • Medical reasons
    • Worship and life events (e.g. wedding or funeral)
    • Moving home
  • One person may meet outdoors with one other person from a different household
  • Most businesses must close, including:
    • Non-essential retail
    • Hospitality venues, other than those offering food for takeaway or delivery
    • Accommodation
    • Leisure and sport facilities
    • Entertainment venues
    • Indoor attractions
    • Personal care facilities (e.g. barbers and salons)
    • Community centres and halls
  • No travel into or outside a Tier 4 area unless you have a reasonable excuse, particularly to stay overnight

How do I know which tier I’m in?

The government has compiled a detailed list of cities and regions and the tier they currently fall into, with the latest rules coming into effect from Sunday 20th December 2020

The only three regions currently in Tier 1 are the Isle of Wight, Isles of Scilly and Cornwall. This information is subject to change, so we recommend visiting the link to find out the latest details.

What are the rules for Christmas?

In Tier 4 areas, multiple households are not allowed to meet up unless they form an existing support bubble. In all other areas of England, up to three households can merge to create a ‘Christmas bubble’ on Christmas Day only. This must not include an overnight stay, and the government has advised people to ventilate well or meet outdoors where possible. Students returning from university are considered part of the household they are returning to, and do not constitute a second household.

Why are these new tiers being implemented?

The new tiers are being implemented to ease the UK back out of lockdown, and ensure that infection rates remain low enough for the ‘Christmas break’ (a period of relaxed rules between the 23rd – 27th December. During this break, up to three households will be allowed to travel and mix together across the entire UK, as long as this bubble of households does not change.

The lockdown and new tiers are both necessary because the ‘R rate’ (the number of people an infected person will go on to infect) remains above 1 across most of the country. The most successful areas in combating the virus, such as Liverpool and Cornwall, are either sparsely populated or have implemented mass testing. Elsewhere, the virus continues to cause issues.

People in badly affected areas can help to prevent the spread of the virus by continuing to follow the rules outlined for all tiers, including the ‘rule of six’, regular handwashing, mask-wearing, and limiting trips to shops or other areas that are likely to be busy. This will help to ensure that the rate of transmission stays low, and that Christmas plans can go ahead in a (relatively!) normal way.

How long until things get back to normal?

It’s not possible to put an exact date on this yet. However, the recent approval of the first coronavirus vaccine for imminent rollout is very promising. The government has stated that it aims for some normality to return by the spring, and for an end to coronavirus restrictions by next summer. 

While we are likely to continue under some form of restrictions well into next year, the government has promised to regularly review the tiers different areas are placed in. It’s possible that as the infection rate drops, tier 2 and 3 areas may be downgraded, allowing more businesses to open and fewer restrictions to be applied. 

What does my business need to do?

All tiers are advised to work from home where possible, but it is legal to work from your premises as long as you adhere to the ‘COVID-19 Secure’ protocols. 

Businesses should follow the rules laid out for their tier, which may include closing entirely, or limiting the services they offer. If your business is allowed to remain open, you should do your utmost to fulfil the requirements of your coronavirus risk assessment, and may even want to exceed them in order to ensure that your staff and customers stay safe. 

If you have not yet carried out a coronavirus risk assessment, or wish to update yours in light of recent developments, SAMS can help. We offer one-off risk assessment services as well as a range of consultancy options, including our Bronze, Silver, Gold and Corporate packages for ongoing support. Visit our Consultancy section to learn more or get in touch with us today.

How can I protect my employees and customers?

The biggest risk from the coronavirus is widely accepted as being airborne transmission, followed by contact with surfaces. As such, your focus is likely to be on ventilation, distancing and mask wearing. Most workplaces should mandate mask wearing unless sat at distanced workstations, including in all common areas. 

Windows should be kept open where possible, and air conditioning systems should be well maintained, ensuring that air recycling modes are not used. People should also be kept 2m apart at all times where possible. This may include the use of one-way systems in buildings, wider aisles, limiting the number of people in premises, and spacing workstations apart.

Hand sanitiser stations should be positioned at entrances and key areas of your site, and cleaning rotas should be increased to ensure that communal areas in particular are regularly disinfected. You may also want to end or limit the use of such spaces, as well as common resources such as printers, photocopiers and even kettles or coffee machines.

You should also consider how your employees are going to get to work, and whether this elevates their risk. Carpooling for instance may be preferable to using public transport, although neither is ideal. You may also want to think about the tier you are in – working from home may for instance be advisable in tier 2 and tier 3 areas, but less of an issue in tier 1. 

You should ideally take the views of your employees into account, as they may not feel comfortable travelling to work, particularly if they live with vulnerable friends or family. This is especially pertinent in the run up to Christmas, where many people will be congregating together with their loved ones.

While the coronavirus continues to present challenges for businesses, news of a vaccine rollout has shown that the end is in sight. Until such time as all high risk groups are inoculated, businesses must do their utmost to ensure that infection rates remain low, and both employees and customers have the peace of mind to work and shop in confidence.