Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced details of lockdown plans for December in the House of Commons on Monday (23 November), setting out the rules for the festive period.
The “Covid winter plan” will see England return to a regional tiered system when the national lockdown ends on 2 December, although the winter strategy includes a newly strengthened three tier system of local restrictions.
Here are all your key questions answered regarding the rule changes.
How did the original tier system work?
Under the original tier system, England was divided into Tier 1 (medium alert), Tier 2 (high alert) and Tier 3 (very high alert).
Areas in Tier 1 were subject to the same national measures that were in force nationally, including a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, and a ban on gatherings of more than six people.
Tier 2 areas saw a ban on household mixing indoors, but the rule of six continued to apply outdoors.
Areas in Tier 3 were subject to the strictest rules, with household mixing banned indoors and in private gardens, and pubs and restaurants closed, unless they could operate as a restaurant.
How will the new system work?
Mr Johsnon said more areas are expected to be placed in the higher end of the tier system in December, and restrictions will be strengthened across all three tiers.
Unlike the previous arrangements, tiers will be a uniform set of rules meaning local authorities won’t be able to negotiate restrictions for their region.
Areas placed into Tier 1 will be subject to the pub curfew, but this time last orders must be called at 10pm, with customers given an extra hour to finish their food and drinks, until 11pm.
In Tier 2, pubs will only be able to serve alcohol as part of a “substantial meal”, and customers must stay within their household groups. This rule previously only applied in Tier 3.
Outside drinkers may also have to have a meal under the changes, and households will only be allowed to mix outdoors.
As for the highest level, pubs, bars and restaurants in Tier 3 will have to close and will only be allowed to serve alcohol or meals as takeaway or delivery only. Households and bubbles will also not be allowed to mix indoors or outdoors until the Christmas break.
Indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will also have to close in Tier 3 areas.
Will shops stay open?
Non-essential shops will likely stay open in all three tiers, along with hairdressers and gyms.
Cinemas will only be allowed to reopen for areas in Tier 1 and 2.
What about sports venues?
Both outdoor and indoor sports venues in Tier 1 and 2 will be able to welcome a “limited number” of spectators to events when the national lockdown comes to an end on 2 December.
When will the tiers be announced?
Ministers will announce which areas will be placed into Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 on Thursday (26 November).
How long will the tier system last?
The Government is optimistic that restrictions can be gradually reduced in the run-up to spring, providing Covid vaccines are approved by regulators. This will allow a rollout to begin in December, before a wider programme next year.
However, with no vaccines yet approved, it is not clear when the rollout will start, and how long restrictions will need to stay in place.
What will happen over Christmas?
Mr Johnson said that Christmas will not be normal this year and confirmed the Government is working on a plan for managing Covid at Christmas, which is yet to be announced.
Reports so far indicate that households are expected to be allowed to meet up in so-called “festive bubbles” for Christmas, as lockdown rules will be paused for five days.
It is expected that up to three households will be able to come together to celebrate Christmas indoors, subject to final agreement with the devolved nations. It is hoped that these festive bubbles will be able to go out for Christmas meals together, provided they do not mingle with other households.
Plans suggest that households will be allowed to create a temporary bubble between 22 and 28 December, with the plans covering all four nations of the UK.
Restrictions on church services are also due to be lifted, allowing Christmas Day services to be held.