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COVID-19 winter plan

Restrictions will end at midnight on 1 December, with England returning to local tiers from 2 December

The Prime Minster has launched the Government’s ‘COVID-19 Winter Plan’. National restrictions will end at midnight on 2 December, with England returning to local tiers. But exactly how much ‘tougher’ will these tiers be and what does this mean in practice?

The plan seeks to bring the “R” number below 1, find new ways of managing the virus and enable life to return closer to normal. Vaccines are at the centre of the Government’s plan, with a UK-wide vaccination programme ready to begin in December, providing regulators approve the vaccines. However, the virus is still present and so targeted measures in areas where it is most prevalent will be reintroduced. England will therefore move back into a regional, tiered approach with the aim of enabling life to gradually return closer to normal by spring 2021, and to ensure testing and vaccines can have maximum impact.

The tiers are going to be tougher as SAGE have been clear that, while previous tiers reduced the R rate, they were not enough to bring it below 1. The Government guidance has stated that these tiers will be uniform, without negotiations on specific measures, and will be based on the following criteria:

  • Case rates in all age groups;
  • Case rates in the over 60s;
  • The rate at which cases are rising or falling;
  • The number of cases as a percentage of tests taken
  • Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.

The Government has now confirmed which area will be in each tier, and the local restrictions to which they will be subject. These allocations will be reviewed every 14 days, and the regulations will expire in law at the end of March 2021.

Some examples of how the tier system will be toughened are as follows:

  • In tier 1 (medium alert), the Government will reinforce the importance of working from home wherever possible.
  • In tier 2 (high alert), pubs and bars must close, unless operating as restaurants. Hospitality venues can only serve alcohol with substantial meals.
  • In tier 3 (very high alert), all hospitality will close except for delivery, takeaway and drive-through.

But what about Christmas? As Boris rightly put it: “we all want some kind of Christmas – we need it”. The Government has now confirmed that between 23-27 December 2020 families can form an exclusive ‘Christmas bubble’ composed of people from no more than three households. Further details of the rules can now be found in guidance on the Government website, and you can also read a full copy of the COVID-19 Winter Plan.

This is not the first time we have had to get our heads round a new set of COVID-19 regulations and guidance. Weightmans are well-versed in advising clients on the impact of these on their organisations.

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